Going potty

That first time at The Bistro Chez Snail

The past year has seen many changes in our approach to life. In particular, our relationship with ‘home’ has evolved as we have been forced to spend so much time here. I don’t think this has been a bad thing, and there are certainly new habits that are really positive. For example, early on in the first lockdown in 2020 we were feeling glum about not being able to eat out, so I created “The Bistro Chez Snail” in the limery, and immediately we realised how lovely it was to play at going out and to make use of our growing space as our eating space. There have followed, for more than a year now, many excursions to our fantasy eateries, and even when we are not pretending to go out, we continue to eat in the limery almost every night. It was never really the plan to do anything much but grow plants in the limery, but I’m very happy that we have found that it’s good for nurturing us as well.

All this time at home, however, has raised the issue that our garden was very full of growing things and there was hardly any space for people. This hasn’t been a problem whilst it was just me and Mr Snail – we had a lovely corner to occupy where our two deckchairs and a small table would fit. However, as it’s been increasingly clear that welcoming visitors to our home is safest outdoors, we came to the conclusion that we need to make more space for this. I outlined my ideas for some changes to Mr Snail and he launched himself enthusiastically into the project(which he’ll be blogging about very soon). However, making space for people means less space for crops, so I’ve decided to move over to growing more things in pots. On a recent visit to Sue (Going Batty in Wales) I was impressed by potatoes that she has growing in large plastic pots. Mr Snail measured them and worked out that they have a volume of 50 litres, so once we were back home I sought some out online. I could have got very cheap ones, but I was determined to buy some made of recycled plastic (if I am using plastic, which is essential for such large pots if the are to be moved about, I’m certainly going to make sure it’s made from existing stuff). So, the pots were found, an order placed and a few days later, I had more mobile growing space. Combined with some 30 litre pots that I bought a few years ago and lots of other containers collected over the decades, we’ve now got various options. Currently, many of the new large pots are planted with potatoes and these are out on the tarmac at the front/end of the house in a space that is otherwise pretty useless and where I’ve done some container growing before. We had to dig up the horseradish during our garden remodelling, so that’s in a 30 litre pot, as is the oregano, which also had to be moved.

The combination of the garden remodelling and the very cold weather this spring mean that lots of crops are still indoors, but hopefully the weather will be kinder from now on (an incredible hail storm two days ago notwithstanding) and I can plant some things out and sow some seeds outdoors without fear of them being killed. I’m toying with the idea of buying a large wooden trough on legs for growing herbs in, and I’m sure I’ll have other ideas about suitable containers, so watch this space.

Round and around

Most annual crop growing systems benefit from some sort of rotation, where you grow different crops in the beds from year to year so that you don’t get a build up of pathogens and a depletion of specific nutrients. Your rotation can last three or four years, and there is lots of information available on how to plan; for example the Royal Horticultural Society give¬† a brief outline of both three- and four-year rotations here. In practice, many vegetable gardeners either do not have the space to practice a rigorous rotation (for example not growing potatoes at all, or only growing them in containers) or simply can’t be bothered.

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

In my small garden, I could be strict with a four-bed rotation as I do have four raised beds. However, I’m not consistent with the crops that I grow, so sometimes I want more than a quarter of the space given over to one type of crop and sometimes less. Also, I like mixing crops in the same bed, which sort of puts a spanner in the works. And anyway, I’m just too disorganised. I like to be creative and spontaneous, so basically I plant what I feel like where I feel like with the proviso that I don’t plant either onions or potatoes in the same place two years running. In fact I try out new crops each year and some of the less conventional ones (like Aztec broccoli or oca) almost certainly have fewer diseases than the standard offerings¬† and different nutrient demands. I do try to move my beans around each year because (a) they always get a healthy dose of compost dug into their bed before planting and (b) they are nitrogen-fixers, so should help boost the fertility of the place they have been.

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it's being used for mangetout

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it’s being used for mangetout

In addition, in my garden, I do lots of container growing. I make use of loads of home-made compost for this purpose and, of course, it doesn’t just get used once.You can’t, however, plan a rotation for your pots in the same way as for land. Last year I used lots of my fresh compost for potato-growing in dumpy bags. After I harvested the potatoes, I left the compost in the bags, but folded the tops down to protect it. I don’t want to grow potatoes in the same compost this year, so that has been transferred into some big pots for growing mangetout up the fence. Compost that has had tomatoes or peppers growing in it usually gets transferred into a bed that will be used for squashes. Because tomatoes and potatoes both get blight, I try to avoid transfer of spores in compost so don’t use compost from tomato pots in potato beds.

It all sounds quite complicated, but actually, I don’t have any difficulty remembering what I grew where (especially since I always take lots of photos) and deciding where to plant. I’m sure there are some of you out there who love an organised rotation, but you are clearly not scatty like me!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

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