Inadequately pollinated sweetcorn
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Getting it right

From Sarah's garden to yours

For some gardeners, it would seem they just put seeds in the ground and up springs an amazing garden with magnificent harvests. But for others, it seems as if anything that can go wrong will go wrong. More often than not, the difference between the two is experience, however a good season with ideal growing conditions can also work in the favour of a successful garden. While there is nothing we can do to achieve a good season - except to hope for one - there is helpful advice that can give you a head start in creating a garden to be proud of. Generally speaking, these tips will help with most of the plants in your garden.



Make sure your soil has what it needs. Regardless of whether it is a new garden or a seasoned one, the soil always needs taking care of. Find out what kind of soil you have, then ascertain if it needs any kind of adjustment in terms of the nutrients it provides. A basic soil test kit is a good place to start. Plenty of well-rotted organic matter never goes amiss either.

Take into consideration what was grown in the location before. You can’t just keep harvesting crops and removing plants without replenishing the soil. Some crops are hungrier than others, and the soil will need more of a top-up of nutrients before planting again with new season vegetables. Ideally, you should plant something different in each spot, each season to avoid disease build up or nutrient deficiencies forming.


Please your plants

Find out what your plant needs. The label or seed packet should tell you, but you may need to do a bit of research. You can push boundaries a little bit by planting ever so slightly out of season or with a touch more shade than the plant would like, however plants will perform better if they have exactly what they need.


Water well

Watering deeply for a good amount of time every few days is much better than a short sprinkle daily. But there is no exact advice for how long to water as every garden is different. The best way to really tell if watering is needed is push a finger into the soil and see if it is damp or dry. Experience will teach you how to interpret your garden’s needs.


Extra care

Once you get the basics right, there are some plants that are just tricky to grow. Here is some helpful advice for some of the more notorious vegetables:

Often carrots can come out misshapen, stunted or, even more disappointing, can be a show of lovely, luscious leaves but nothing underneath. Tips for successful carrots start with the soil. Carrots don’t like a nutrient rich soil loaded with organic material as this can cause them to fork. Avoid adding compost or manure to the spot you want them to grow.

Carrots also prefer a loose fluffy soil with no lumps, sticks or stones, which can also cause them to fork. If carrots are stunted it can mean the soil was a little too hard for them to push through, so when preparing the soil for planting. make it lump-free, loose and fluffy. Dig as deep as you want the carrots to be long.

Carrots need to be sown directly into the garden where they will grow. They don’t like to be transplanted, you might end up with mishappen carrots if they are. When sowing the seeds, it is best to sow thickly so the collective strength of small seeds can push through the soil easily. You will need to thin them out later. If you find they are all top and no bottom, this will mean you have too much nitrogen in the soil for happy carrots.

These have a reputation for being difficult to germinate, however the key for immediate success is use fresh seeds. Parsnip seeds don’t store well and will have low germination rates if they are more than a year old.

Most Brassica, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli to name a few, really don’t like to dry out. If they have become moisture starved at any point in their life – including as a small seedling, there is an increased chance they will bolt to flower and seed, completely bypassing the desirable edible stage.

They also like firm soil, not compacted but firm, so gently shuffle over your soil before planting seedlings. Ordinarily it isn’t a good idea to walk on the soil, but brassicas would appreciate it if you did. If the soil is loose and fluffy you can end up with loose heads.

Coriander and Lettuce:
In the heat of the summer, lettuce and coriander will bolt to seed quickly and can make your salad a little bitter. We like to eat salad in the summer, but both plants prefer cooler weather. To get around this, you need to succession plant – that is starting new plants often throughout the growing season. Decide how much you would eat in a fortnight and every two weeks start that many new plants for a continuous supply. If you can provide some shade from the heat of the midday summer sun and ensure they get plenty of water, you will always have tender young delicious plants to harvest.

It can often be tricky to grow, but starting the seeds early in the season – from late winter – will help. Make sure the soil is rich with plenty of organic material. Most importantly, don’t skimp on the watering because they are very thirsty plants.

This is relatively easy to grow, provided you get one thing right. Don’t plant them in a row. Corn is wind pollinated, which means the pollen falls on the silks that are attached to the ears, from tassels at the top of the plant. There is a better chance of good pollination and full and fat corn cobs if the plants are grouped together so plant them in a block. The minimum number of plants for good pollination is three rows of three plants, but more is better.

Early bolting broccoli