Healthy Soil = Healthy Vegetables by Andrew Trott

These four words should be the most important for the keen vegetable gardener. A healthy soil contains all of the organic matter, minerals, elements and moisture that are necessary for healthy plant life. These items are also vital in sustaining life in the soil food web which comprises of microbes, fungi and earth worms. There is no big mystery to successful vegetable gardening – or any gardening for that matter – the answer really does lie in the soil..!!

September is probably the most important month of the year for preparing the soil in the vegetable garden for growing next season’s crops. It is time to dig in that “green cover crop” of blue lupins or mustard that has been growing over winter. Set the mower to full height and mow the lupins into mulch. Mowing the tops off the lupins before digging them in makes the task a lot easier. The lupin stems and leaves, but particularly the nodules on the roots, are a fantastic source of natural nitrogen and fibre for your soil. Before digging, spread blood & bone, lime and sheep pellets over the garden, then start digging a trench right along the back of the garden. Spread some of the lupin mulch along the bottom of the trench, along with some compost. Dig another row, throwing the soil of this second row up on top of the first row that you have dug, leaving another trench right along the garden. Spread more lupin mulch and compost along the bottom of the second trench. Repeat this process until you eventually reach the front of the garden. Digging in lupins, compost, blood & bone, lime and sheep pellets at this time of the year organically revitalises the soil. This process will provide all of the natural nutrients that the garden will need for the next cropping season. Summer crops need this type of natural food to help create strong and healthy plants. Pests and diseases tend to target weaker plants first, so the healthier the plants, the less vulnerable they will be.

If you have not grown lupins over winter just dig in the compost, blood & bone, lime and sheep pellets, as above, and aim to grow a green cover crop of lupins next winter.

This month you can buy your certified seed potatoes and start sprouting them in egg cartons. Keep them in a cool dark place in the garage or garden shed. Last year I grew early cropping Swift potatoes, which were harvested in December before the potato psyllid could find them and cause any damage to the crop. This year I have bought Jersey Bennes seed potatoes, another early cropper. The shoots on the seed potatoes should be 3cms to 5cms long by the time that they are planted out next month.

This month you can sow vegetable seeds in seed-raising punnets. Use a good quality seed raising mix. Keep the seed punnets in a cloche or inside where they are warm and sheltered from frosts. Keep the seedlings moist, but not drowned, by using a spray bottle to mist them. Sow seeds of tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers and courgettes now so that they are ready for planting out around Labour Weekend, by which time the frosts should have finished.

Happy Gardening