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Planning, with three examples

You need an idea of what to plant where, so it’s good to write down your ideas. ‘Plan’ sounds grand, like an architect’s drawing. Better to call it a sketch, which can and will evolve as weather and pests modify growth.

What counts most are the details within your sketch. You need two main types of knowledge to make it successful:

  1. Timings for your climate – when to sow and plant each vegetable, and when they are likely to finish cropping. These details can be found in other lessons within this book (Lesson 4 in particular).
  2. Spacings for each vegetable – close, but not too close (see Module 3).

Bonus knowledge includes what you can intersow and interplant, also mentioned in this and later chapters.

The sketch shown here was for the no dig trial bed in 2019. If a beginner, your sketches probably need more detail than mine, such as the dates (!), and spacings for second plantings, although these may use the same placements as the first.

My sketch for planting the Two-Bed Trial in 2019 – the left-hand column was written in February and the right-hand column in May; 189 in (4.8 m) is the bed length

Know your half-season vegetables, and which need a whole season

You can plan more easily, and therefore grow more, through knowing which vegetables need about one half of the growing season to mature (most, depending on climate), and which ones take longer, such as the celeriac you see below. In Lesson 4, there is a table that shows the finish times of vegetables from first sowings – many of these are half-season vegetables.

Vegetables of a first half season finish cropping in late spring and summer; you can then replant the now empty space with more half-season vegetables. They may be more of the same, such as beetroot and carrots, or different ones such as endive, chicory, leeks and oriental vegetables.

The timing of sowing becomes more important as summer progresses. In spring, late sowings can catch up, but in autumn they cannot. All the vegetables in the photo, below right, harvested on 10th September, were sown in different weeks or months.

Making the most of every growing moment in your season is important, to increase the chances of a half-season harvest, followed by a second one. Here are four ways to increase your growing season:

  1. Sow under cover in late winter.
  2. Cover new transplants in early spring.
  3. Interplant in early summer.
  4. Increase the soil temperature (see ‘Going Further at the end of this course).
Celeriac sown in March, planted in May and this is November – eight months of growing
Harvests of 10th September with transplant dates: celery Loretta F1, 28th June; broccoli Marathon F1, 4th July; pak choi Karaoke F1, 13th August; chicory 506TT, 4th July; leek Philomene, 2nd July

A year of sowings, plantings and harvests

For my market garden areas, I do an approximate and not 100% complete sketch in February, which concentrates on siting the earliest and highest value planting of lettuce, and also early plantings such as onions, beetroot, cabbage, calabrese, carrots, potatoes and peas. They fit around existing plantings from the previous year, of broccoli, spring onions and cabbage, kale, leeks and winter salads.

This, together with my perennials (asparagus mainly), fills at least three quarters of the available space. During spring, we are already clearing beds of overwintered vegetables, and in May I fill remaining beds with transplants of celeriac, courgettes, squash and tomatoes. In case you are wondering, I grow little sweetcorn because of badgers eating it, but it would be a May transplant.

  • Siting the first plantings is mainly about finding beds that have not had vegetables of the same family growing in them the previous year. This is a ‘rotation’ of sorts, however it’s not an abiding principle and I don’t always do it, especially in beds with close planting of many vegetables. My rotation intervals are often one year, rather than the common four.
  • Site the second plantings through summer by matching how long each one needs to mature, from when the first plantings finish (see Lesson 4 for details of first and succession planting).

The difference between sowing and planting:

  • ‘Sowing’ is for sowing seeds directly into the soil.
  • ‘Planting’ is for anything with leaves and a stem (although sometimes I may use the word ‘transplant’ to make it clear that I am planting a plant, not a seed).

This makes a clear boundary between sow and plant, except for large seeds like garlic and potatoes, which are an exception because we normally ‘plant’ them.

I clarify this to avoid confusion. For example, I notice that in North America ‘planting seeds’ is often written, and on courses at Homeacres people often ask, ‘When was this planted?’, when it turns out they want to know when it was sown.

An evening view to the house on 1st June, showing a mostly full garden
Early November, and two thirds of the garden still has vegetables; this is just after 22 mm / 0.9 in of rain

Replanting for more harvests – three examples

1.The no dig trial bed, from my two-bed comparison – 1.5 x 5 m / 5 x 16 ft

Over the last eight years, this bed has averaged 107 kg / 236 lb of kitchen-ready harvests per year. I divide the sowings and plantings into two periods, spring and summer, hence there are two columns in the sketch (above), for first and second plantings respectively, and two tables showing the harvests (below).

Each year, the first plantings happen during March, some from sowings in February (see the dates in the tables). 2019 was a mild spring, with most plantings in by mid-month, while 2018 was a colder spring, with all plantings made on 31st March. The beds are then covered with 30 gsm of fleece for four to five weeks, until the sun is strong.

The second plantings are more spaced out time-wise, because they follow harvests of vegetables that all finish at different times. Occasionally there is time for a third harvest, for example, spinach, French beans then lettuce – as in the sketch.

In 2019, radish and turnip were also interplanted as ‘catch crops’ between the potatoes and peas, also shown in the sketch, in brackets. They used the space between the potato and pea rows, and finished cropping before the potato / pea leaves grew into that area.

I use the word ‘plantings’ because most vegetables are raised in modules in the greenhouse. This results in a sowing date and a planting date.

My seed potatoes, in this case, were unchitted (a chit is a sprout, the first stage of a potato’s growth) but it’s not vital that they are.

December 2018, after spreading two wheelbarrowfuls of compost – half horse manure, a quarter homemade and a quarter mushroom
By 23rd March, the whole bed has been planted and sown, and covered with fleece all the time – we had almost no weeding to do
Two months later on 21st May, and growth is strong – you can match these vegetables to the planting sketch

27th July, showing new plantings from one end to the other, apart from the endives which are about to go in after the onions
Just eight days later on 4th August, and the bed looks full again, showing the speed of growth in high summer
By the end of August, all planting has finished for the year and it’s just harvesting now, no weeding and little watering
The bed on 10th November, after harvests through the year of over 100 kg / 220 lb; the last harvest is in late November, to fit with the needs of the dig bed

Radish were the first harvest, on 8th April, and turnips were the second, on 24th. Through May we were picking lettuce and spinach every week, then June cascaded nicely with exciting new harvests, as well as a super-busy period of new sowings and plantings.

There was a month, from mid-July to mid-August, when the only harvests of any significance were cucumber, onions and beans. Then, as autumn began, there was a lot to pick every week, up until November. Some vegetables were for eating later, such as onions and beetroot. One bed like this can make a fair contribution to your vegetable requirements over a year.

The only amendment all year was compost applied in December, two large wheelbarrowfuls. I add none for second plantings in summer, nor do I use any feeds or fertilisers.

Watering is by hand when the surface is really dry and the weather is hot, every three days in high summer, and we give more water to cucumbers, French beans and salad plants (see Lesson 12 for more information on watering).

2. Bed by the shed – 1.2 x 2.3 m / 4 x 7.5 ft

The first five years of this bed’s cropping, from 2015 to 2019, are detailed in Lesson 17 of my No Dig Gardening course. Here we look at 2020–21, the sixth and seventh years.

Each winter, I apply a mulch of my compost or old manure, just 2.5 cm / 1 in, which is enough for a whole year of growing. There are two main planting seasons, March and then June to July, with a few plantings in late summer to keep the bed full.

The bed had sides that were 15 x 5 cm / 6 x 2 in of treated softwood, used as a weed barrier because three sides of the bed are grass. I removed them in November 2020, and found many slugs on their insides. I prefer beds without sides, to avoid any issue of treated wood, as well as the expense and the slugs. However, in grassy areas like this, you need a clear edge or path around beds.

So, in November 2020, and again in March 2021, I laid cardboard on the surrounding grass and weeds. This slightly increased the size of the planting area. I placed a little wood chip on top of the cardboard, adding to fertility, and also added new compost around the edges, to change their profile from vertical to sloping at 45°.

My plan for cropping this bed in 2020 was to have a wider range of salads and vegetables growing at any one time. I was not influenced by what had grown here in previous years, and you can see in the photos below how closely the new plantings are spaced. Plus I paid no attention to statements such as ‘Bulb fennel does not like other plants’! In my experience, all plants like others as long as they have sufficient space and light.

10th April is still early, but a fleece cover makes this possible; plantings from 16th March of seedling salads at one end, and root vegetables at the other
22nd April, and there have already been 2.3 kg / 5.1 lb of spring leaf harvests after some warm weather – lettuce, pak choi, spinach and rocket
27th May, showing the fennel close to lettuce and spinach
2nd August, and spring plantings have all finished except for parsnips on the left, while the outdoor peppers are slow because of some cool winds
12th October, and the celery has all been harvested; there is Brokali on the far left, sugarloaf and some hearting Luisa chicory in the middle, and endives for leaf harvests on the right
22nd November – the same bed after I had removed the decaying wooden sides; there are still salad plants and parsnips for winter

2020 was ‘lockdown spring’ in the UK, and the weather was unusually warm and dry. This was great for early vegetable planting, and very different from the subsequent spring.

In both cases, the cover of fleece, sitting directly on plants, proved a fantastic enabler of early growth. By late May, the pak choi and rocket were already flowering, with some flea beetle damage to their leaves.

My one failure in 2020 was the pepper plants, for which our climate did not offer enough warmth. I removed them in August after a small harvest of red peppers. The bonus was the creation of space for planting chicories and endives.

2021 plantings

In January, the bed was clear except for parsnips, and I spread 2.5 cm / 1 in of well-decomposed horse manure over the whole bed, including the parsnips. I took a final harvest on 18th March, walked on the bed to make it firm, and then planted. All the seedlings were four-week-old, module-grown transplants from the greenhouse; only carrots were sown direct.

18th March – with the last parsnip harvest, just before making new plantings
18th March – close plantings include beetroot, lettuce, spring onion, carrots sown direct, radish, peas and bulb fennel
25th April, during a cold spell with frost almost every night – fleece is invaluable; this is five weeks since planting

2nd June, showing strong growth of spring plantings; I do not worry about rotation and plant closely
Second plantings in mid-September – dwarf beans, carrots, celery, Cima di rapa, scarole endive and Kailaan Rafiki

Spring growth was very strong and harvests were continuous from early May, when the first radishes, spring onions, spinach and lettuce leaves were ready. By early July, only the pea plants remained, and I decided to leave the final harvest unpicked so the pods dried and made seeds for the following year. We picked and shelled them in late July.

New plantings in July were chosen according to what we wanted to eat, not according to rotation or a strict plan. After the peas I planted a mix of chicories, autumn brassicas such as kohlrabi, and Oriental leaves such as pak choi.

This bed will begin its eighth year of mixed plantings in 2022.

3. Creating and planting a new bed in 2019 – 1.6 x 10 m / 5 x 33 ft

This includes the principles of creating a no dig bed on weeds. It applies whether you make one bed, or take in an area to make many beds. Remember to always mulch paths as well as beds, in order to be 100% weed-free. Edges are important, otherwise weeds / unwanted plants invade the lovely bed.

You can create a bed on weeds (see Lesson 2), and then plant as soon as the season is right; there is no need for the weeds to die first.

Normally I make beds with compost only, but I had some spare soil from building work and we used 5 cm / 2 in as the base layer. Soil as a base layer means the bed sinks less – you may or may not want this, but it’s useful if you want a high bed.

The first plantings were of beetroot, calabrese and kohlrabi, from February-sown modules, and carrots direct-sown in March.

The second plantings were 1) leeks in late July from a multisowing in April, with modules moved into pots to keep growing, and 2) chicories in early August, from July sowings.

11th March – using cardboard on weeds and grass, then adding soil and compost to create a new bed
25th March – the bed is finished, with the right side tamped by rake; the path mulch is wood shavings on cardboard, but we have yet to mulch the outer path, where wood is keeping the grass at bay
25th March – we had just planted multisown beetroot and are about to sow carrots
Two weeks later – we planted calabrese and kohlrabi, then laid fleece over the whole bed
27th May – after a month of warm weather, some beetroot and kohlrabi are ready to harvest
Harvesting carrots from this new bed – the white path mulch is a trial of miscanthus grass

In November we tidied up the edges:

  • We unscrewed the sides and cut some slugs that were hiding there.
  • We used cardboard for a final time on the edges to smother a few remaining buttercups and couch grass.
  • We spread 2.5 cm / 1 in of green waste compost on top of the card, to hold it down and feed the path soil.
  • We pushed down on the bed edge to make it a 45° slope rather than a vertical edge, using our feet.
4th August, after finishing the first harvests and plantings of leeks and chicory, now well watered; the cover is against leek moth and rabbits
The cover was removed in September; we have tidied the leeks of rusty leaves and are harvesting chicories
Early November, after we had removed the wooden sides, rounded the edges using our feet, and laid card and 2.5 cm / 1 in of compost on the path

The chicories made firm hearts from October to December and the leeks stood all winter, for harvests in March and April.

After final harvests of the chicories, I spread 2.5 cm / 1 in of compost, and did the same after the final leek harvests in April.

Results of planning and seasonal growing

This photo was taken during May’s hungry gap. I had a garden group visiting, and was fortunate to have a professional chef, Daniel Hughes, helping in the garden for a week – he made the beautiful food. I am always encouraged when chefs want to grow vegetables – it seems a natural linkage. Their difficulty is finding sufficient time for it, which can often be underestimated.

Daniel’s dishes in May

By late summer, the food is so different. There is never a dull moment when you grow a range of vegetables. The bread is my own rye sourdough,made without kneading – no knead! Like no dig gardening, it’s simple (the recipe is in my book, No Dig Organic Home & Garden).

Summer vegetables are part of a Homeacres course lunch by Kate Forrester – September 2021

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems