Notes from a Dartmoor Veg Plot

Peter Clements, who grows his own vegetables on a large plot in Drewsteignton, Devon, looks at the jobs to be done in March and reflects upon the joys of growing cabbages on Dartmoor for Devon Life

Comprehensive advice on seed varieties and how to grow each vegetable can be found at Seed to Plate (www.seedtoplate.co.uk). The site’s plot-designer will also design a plot and recommend vegetables that suit the space you have, the time you can spare and culinary tastes.

Peter Clements, who grows his own vegetables on a large plot in Drewsteignton, Devon, looks at the jobs to be done in March and reflects upon the joys of growing cabbages on Dartmoor

We had an amazing crop of cabbages this year. All were whoppers that were also massive on flavour – so much so that by the middle of January we’d devoured the lot, and had to opt instead for supermarket fare. The supermarket Savoy cabbages definitely looked the part – perfect globes wrapped in earthy green leaves – and felt lovely and firm, but once cooked, they turned out to have practically no taste. To our home-grown-acquainted palates they were, and you’ll excuse the pun, not a patch on the cabbages we’d grown ourselves.There are plenty of reasons for growing your own veg – convenience, cost, organic, environmental – but for me the overriding reason is taste. I guarantee you’ll be blown away by the flavour, even more so having grown it yourself from seed.Failure to prepare the ground, however, can lead to disappointment. The secret to an abundant harvest is a well-prepared plot, and March is the month to do just that. The days are getting longer, the soil is warming up, and the plant world is coming back to life after the winter. Once your plot is ready you’re all set for the year’s big sowing months – April and May.

Do you have a Devon Veg Plot, tell us about it at the bottom of this feature

If this is the year you finally take up that spade and decide to give growing veg a go there are four key factors involved to guarantee a good harvest:

Lots of sunshine

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Sounds obvious, but sunshine is essential for a healthy and productive veg plot. Ensure your plot is well positioned. Most plots will get sunshine for a good proportion of the day, but watch out for north-facing walls. A plot directly in front of a north-facing wall will only catch the sun in the very height of summer.

Don’t take on too much

It’s amazing how much you can grow in a relatively small area of ground, providing you grow the right varieties of veg. My advice is start small – perhaps with one or two 8ft x 4ft beds.

Put some welly into it and dig!

 Dig over the ground, taking care to remove weeds, particularly any thick white roots that can quickly sprout into new plants. At this stage you can convert the ground into ‘raised beds’. Raised beds are simply four planks of wood fixed together and filled with soil so they are slightly higher than the surrounding ground. They allow you to create clearly defined weed-free areas that make the whole process of growing easier.

 Pack your soil full of goodness

Compared with many garden plants, vegetables are incredibly fast-growing, going from seed to large plants within just a few months. To do this, they need lots of nutrition. If you’ve got homemade compost, or some well-rotted farmyard manure, spread it out and dig it in. Otherwise buy some compost from a shop and add that, along with a good general-purpose organic fertiliser.

Do you have any hints and tips on getting the best out of your veg plot, share them at the bottom of this feature

March is really a month for preparation, with the bulk of seeds being sown in April and May. That said, a few can be started off right now so, if you’re still brimming with energy and keen to get planting, I suggest you start with the following:

New potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most rewarding crops you can grow. It’s quite magical how a wrinkled and sprouting seed potato popped into the ground in March can transform into handfuls of golden potatoes by the time summer arrives.

Tomatoes

Home-grown tomatoes also taste delicious. Gardener’s Delight and Sungold are my favourites for outdoor growing. They’ll produce masses of deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes right through the summer.

 Peas

Fresh peas are rich in natural sugars, which quickly transform into starch once they’re picked. Freshly picked they have an incredible sweetness. Mange-tout or sugar snap peas are a better bet than ‘shelling’ varieties because you can eat the pods as well.

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