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Vegetable Growing : Site and Soil

Sweet corn growing in good soil in full sunshine

Sweet corn growing in good soil in full sunshine

Vegetables grown quickly are more succulent and have the best flavour. To encourage quick growth, vegetables should have full sunshine. They must not be shaded or they will grow poorly.

Some low shelter is useful because it increases the air and soil temperature levels in the vegetable area and improves growth. A slight south, or south-west, slope is ideal, because the soil warms up early in the year and stays warm later. But hedges and tree-roots too close to the vegetable garden can starve vegetables of moisture and nutrients. Vegetables need to be at least 1.5 metres from a hedge and even more from trees.

Good fertile soil is essential for quick growth of vegetables. Drainage should be good because wet soil delays the start of growth in spring and brings it to an early stop in autumn. However, the soil must be capable of retaining enough moisture to support strong growth in summer.

Light, sandy soil is ideal for carrots, onions and early vegetables. Heavier limy soil is good for the Cabbage family. A medium soil, well supplied with organic material, is ideal for most vegetables. It is open, easily worked, warms up quickly and retains moisture in summer. The ground must be completely free of perennial weeds.

A high level of soil fertility must be maintained and good soil structure encouraged. To maintain soil structure, organic material, such as well-rotted manure, or compost or peat, should be dug in to part of the vegetable area each year.

Some compost placed under potatoes

Some compost placed under potatoes

Lime also improves soil structure and should be added to acid soils in the south, south-east and west, at 300-400 grams of ground limestone per square metre, or hydrated lime, every three or four years. Most vegetables prefer soil pH to be about neutral. A soil test kit can be used to estimate soil acidity and lime can be applied if necessary.

Vegetables are hungry feeders that remove large quantities of nutrients from the soil. Manure and compost add back some of these nutrients, but it will also be necessary to apply general fertiliser, such as 7:6:17, or 10:10:20 at about 100 grams per square metre before sowing or planting each year.

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