Don’t believe everything you read

When did you sow your peppers this year?

When did you sow your peppers this year?

In all areas of life there seem to be people who will tell you the ‘right’ way to do things. Gardening is a case in point. There are those who will tell you that you must double-dig your vegetable garden (the BBC website says that it is ‘fundamental to good gardening’) and others who will tell you to employ a no-dig system (see what Charles Dowding has to say about it here); and both are equally adamant that theirs is the right way. Of course, this appeals to many of us: follow a recipe that tells you exactly what to do and what can go wrong?

But there are two problems with this. First what do you do if the recipe doesn’t work? My friend Deano tried to get high productivity from his land by employing the much-recommended (in permaculture circles) approach of no-dig, but in the end had to acknowledge that on his heavy clay soil, it simply wasn’t working. He is now having more success with his land by digging it. (you can read some of his thoughts here). Do you repeatedly move from one recipe to the next until you find the right one? It seems a bit inefficient to me, and I would advocate being rather more thoughtful about the solutions that you apply rather than blindly doing something because someone who you don’t know and doesn’t know your situation has said that it works.

Left to right: Alberto's Locoto chilli, Amy wax pepper, Lemon drop chilli: all planted in January 2012 and still healthy in September 2013

Left to right: Alberto’s Locoto chilli, Amy wax pepper, Lemon drop chilli: all planted in January 2012 and still healthy (and fruiting) in September 2013

The second problem is that by following a single approach to the letter there is no room for creativity and innovation, so you might miss out on something really useful. For example, for many years, at the end of each growing season I allowed my sweet pepper and chilli plants to die off and then composted them, as suggested in every gardening book I had read. Then one year I realised that these plants are not annuals and I could try to over-winter them. Now, each year I select some plants to bring indoors; I cut them back otherwise they are very prone to greenfly and I water them sparingly over the winter. Not all of them will survive, but the chilli plants in particular seem to do ok and I have some plants with a head start the next spring.

September 2013: broad beans!

September 2013: broad beans!

I’m also prepared to plant seeds at unusual times if I happen to discover a packet that I have forgotten. This is why now, at the beginning of September, I’m about to start harvesting this year’s broad beans! Having a go at something different doesn’t always work, but it can be worth giving it a try… often that’s how we learn.

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10 Comments

  1. Heather

     /  September 9, 2013

    I had a pepper plant on my kitchen window ledge, that my friend planted from a seed, as a joke whilst we were preparing a salad one evening, it lived on my kitchen window ledge for 4 yrs and fruited every year. Hope your broad beans are nice.

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  2. I didn’t know about the chillis! I shall dig ours up and bring them inside. If you plant really early broadbeans and take your crop early cut them above the first set of good leaves. They will regrow and give another set of beans around October. Of course not all the plants do but those that sprout will have two flowering stems per root stock. It works in good years. Course sometimes we get snow and frost early but it’s worth a go. 🙂 We have a heavy clay soil as well and use chicken muck to break it up. It seems to work better than cow or horse.

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  3. I try to do things the ‘right way’ out in the garden but I always end up just doing what I feel like doing. If you have to stick to a plan or a schedule it takes all the fun out of it. Of course I try to plant things at the right time but if I feel like putting some seeds in a bit early or late or in a completely inappropriate place I just do it anyway and hope for success. Sometimes it works out for the best anyway! 🙂

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  4. I’ve overwintered chillis, and like you, I’ll happily plant things at the ‘wrong’ time if I find them – what’s to lose? My brother in law, who is an 80 year old gardener of the old school, always used to say to me, when I hadn’t planted my runner beans in June, ‘I don’t know why everyone plants ’em so blessed early. They’ll catch up’ and they did.

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    • I have a friend who I have finally convinced that sowing everything as early as it says you can on the seed packet is not necessarily the best approach. She was quite astounded to discover that plants don’t all grow at the same speed irrespective of time of year!
      (ps I edited your comment so it said what you meant!)

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  5. I agree about planting at different times, we also have many broad beans for a much longer season
    merav

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