Vegetables need to be grown evenly spaced in straight rows surrounded by bare soil. Some gardeners feel the need to lavish them with chemicals to make them grow bigger and spray them with yet more chemicals to stop pests devouring them.

Here, at Nant-y-bedd garden we don’t do any of the above and yet we still managed to win the First Prize and Challenge cup at the local Llanthony Show for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden for the second year running.

So how do we grow vegetables here?  Here’s one view of our ‘vegetable garden’…

the onion beds

There are a few basic rules that apply to any system of growing veg organically and we follow these:  get to know your soil and growing conditions and look after your soil;  rotate crops to reduce the risk of pests and diseases affecting your crops; use organically-approved methods of dealing with those pests and diseases.  None of this is particularly earth-shatteringly different.  Any gardener keen to produce tasty, fresh veg with the minimum of artificial inputs would be doing the same.

However, some of what we do here challenges devoutly-held perceptions of what constitutes good gardening practice.

Top of the list is that we ’embrace our weeds’.  We do this for a number of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Ground elder, Hogweed and Rose Bay Willowherb, for example, are undoubtedly not what you want in your veg beds because they are invasive if not controlled but the insect pollinators on which we depend love them, so we allow them to have their place around the veg beds.

Heritage bean Blue Coco in the foreground with Rose Bay Willowherb in the ‘path’

We don’t weed out self-sown seedlings just because we didn’t sow them there.  If they are not compromising the crop they can stay because the bees like them/they look pretty/they confuse the pests looking for the crops/we eat them – any or all of these reasons apply.

 

Celery inter-planted with leeks and self-sown purple toadflax

Poached egg plant self-sown providing Winter and Spring ground cover with foxglove and teasels

Onions, sorrel, hawkweed and wood spurge

We save our own seed thereby over time developing our own strains of veg which are best adapted to our growing conditions rather than buying seed from a supplier where the seed may have come from an area with very different growing conditions.

Red cabbage allowed to set seed

Munchen Bier radish grown for its edible seedpods and for seed collection

Runner bean ‘Scarlet Emperor’ grown from our own seed for many years

We do follow basic crop rotation rules but also favour inter-planting to make maximum use of the available space, look more interesting and possibly confuse the pests…

Calendula and carrots

Chard, courgettes, lettuce and chicory

We have other favourite ways of foiling pests – for example, ducks and copper for slug control and netting and collars to protect brassicas.

Ducks eat slugs. Our resident Black East Indies in the Potager

Not pretty – but effective – netting against cabbage white butterflies and felt collars

Copper rings protecting courgette plants from slugs

As well as saving our own seeds, each year we try different Heritage varieties to seek out those which might do well here.  We belong to the Heritage Seed Library.  The greatest success this year has been discovering the Climbing French Beab ‘Blue Coco’ which we have been picking all summer.  We will save the seed and grow it again but of course the weather this year has been exceptional – perfect even here at 1200 feet in the Black Mountains for growing French beans – next summer might be very different!

Heritage Climbing French bean ‘B;ue Coco’

Veg basket includes Heritage varieties Dwarf Borlotti and Crimson-flowered broad bean

Monarda and flowering celeriac in the foreground with teepees of Heritage beans Black Pod and Czar

We eat our weeds too – it’s called ‘foraging’ but that’s the subject of a future blog…

Ground elder flowering. Did you know that you can eat it?

Oh yes, and we are growing our veg the ‘no-dig’ way these days – putting a layer of compost on top of the soil to avoid disturbing the magical networks which operate in the top layers of the soil about which we know so little.  Mimicking, in effect, how ‘nature’ does it.

Perhaps I’ll add a new workshop to the Nant-y-bedd Programme for 2019 – ‘Introduction to veg growing Nant-y-bedd style’?  Let us know if you would be interested.