Veg, veg, veg. This has been going through the minds of many of us the past couple of weeks. It was always part of our plan to one day create a larger, fully functioning market garden as it is an essential foundation of whole-basket farming and is key in our journey towards becoming a serious food producer.
Newly equipped with more time, hands, and motivation to expand our vegetable growing further, we have begun building our new market garden right next to the house on a lovely South East facing plot! The main reason we chose this space was due to the vast amount of direct sunlight the spot receives and because it is easily accessible by the kitchen, so the chefs can easily nip out and get fresh produce when they need it. Other aspects to consider when deciding to build a vegetable patch are; zonal location, sunlight aspect, undulations, utilities, shelter, processing and pests. All of these need to be considered to reduce workload in the future and make sure you start growing in the best possible location.
Our friends at the Old Tree Brewery kindly donated us an amazing polytunnel which they used to grow ingredients for their cafe when they were based at the Lewes Road Barracks. Polly is a welcome addition to our market garden, enabling us to start lots of seedlings early in the year to give them the best chance when they hit the ground - this can also be done on your windowsill. We will be growing more exotic fruits and vegetables in the polytunnel throughout the year, including; chillies, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergine to name a few.
We used upcycled slate, stone, and bricks which we no longer had use for to form our vegetable, herb and flower beds. Most beds have been designed following the principles advised by Huw Richards, who recommends narrower beds that you can reach into the middle of for ease of tending and harvest. The medicinal flower bed, however, has been designed wider and with stepping stones, to facilitate a stacking effect in blooms. Lasagna mulching is the technique we have been using to build the beds, which uses different forms of carbon and nitrogen to create the perfect soil to grow in. We used a cardboard foundation with a layer of nitrogen-rich compost on top, followed by a layer of carbon-rich mulch, and finally the fine topsoil on top to sow the seeds into. This should provide a slow release nutrient-rich bed with effective weed suppression.
Companion planting and succession planting is essential when choosing what to grow in which bed. Again using Huw Richards as a guide (see his book, Veg In One Bed) alongside other research, we have found some great combinations to plant out. One such nifty trick that we will be using is to plant carrot rows alongside onion rows in order to confuse and deter carrot flies, resulting in more delicious carrots for the kitchen! It is also a good idea to think ahead and incorporate a mixture of fast and slow growing vegetables in the same bed, having one vegetable take over in the bed once the earlier vegetables have been harvested. This will keep you producing for longer and increase your yearly yield!
One of our main focuses is to create long lasting local vegetables. One way that we will achieve this is by preserving our harvests through pickling and fermenting, such as by pickling our vegetables in our own cider vinegar (and adding even more health benefits to the food!) Future longlife products will include; pickled beets, pickled radishes, pickled onions, sauerkraut, kimchi, leekchi and lots of different chutneys! We believe that processing and preserving locally grown food can massively benefit our country’s food security and allow us to eat locally all year round!