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Please help a novice...


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I know there are some keen gardeners here and I'd be grateful for some pointers...[:)]

I am in the process of buying a small plot of land, part of which will become a small veg patch measuring approximately 8m x 5m.

The plot used to be a veggie patch, but has been neglected over the last 2 or 3 years and it will probably be another 2 or 3 months before I can call it my own and start clearing the weeds.

It is south-west facing and the soil is rich, more sandy than clay.


There's only 2 of us, so huge quantities are not required. If we have

anything over our needs, it will be frozen, but the idea is to grow for

us rather than for the freezer...

If need be, I can "requisition" another 20m² for the veg patch.

I have done tomatoes and herbs in pots, but it's been a good few years since I have actively grown anything in the ground (and even then it was only radishes and tomatoes!)

I would like to grow the following veggies, except that I don't know when to start planning for them, bearing in mind the time frame re purchasing and clearing the plot:

celeriac, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, Chinese greens, courgettes, pumpkin, leeks, peas, beans.

In my mind, I visualise several mini-plots with wigwams, rather than row after row of carrots and leeks... I suspect it is a bit ambitious, but is it possible?

Any tips, pointers, sowing / planting calendar or list would be very welcome... [:)]

If you had to start from scratch with the above, what would you do?

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First step:  Book the services of a chiropractor or physiotherapist [:D]

No, seriously, that's a nice plot and what you propose is fine with the following caveats

Potatoes put in ground that was previously medow will be suceptable to wireworm attack

Parsnips have deep roots so like well dug soil

Pumpkins need a LOT of water.

Right now you can prepare your plot.  You will need to skim all the grass and weeds off the top layer (this can be the start of your compost heap) then dig the wole lot to at least 1 spade depth.  The thinking used to be 2 spade depths by fairly recently the RHS (I think) revised their opinion - the jury is still out on this. This is why you may need someone to straighten out your back!

  Maybe you can get a friendly neighbour/farmer to rotovate it for you.

You might want to add some well rotted animal poo (cow/horse/chicken) to enrich the soil but for the first year there might well be enough fertility in the ground not to bother.  Others may comment on this I'm not sure.

Good luck and I'm ever so slightly envious


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[quote user="Clair"]If you had to start from scratch with the above, what would you do?[/quote]

Get a gardener. [;-)]

It will be lovely Clair. I'm no expert but here are a few things I've learned.

Raised beds = less digging.

Make making your own compost a priority = less digging next year. It helps if you set up some (at least) cubic metre bays, as they produce compost faster, and look better, than a nebulous heap.

Make the gaps between beds wide enough for the lawn mower.

One couple cannot eat the fruit of more than one courgette plant. I started with six [:'(] now I grow two; enough for fresh carpaccio of baby courgette with lemon juice and olive oil eaten fresh, and to make ratatouille for the freezer.

One couple can eat the basil leaves of 20+ plants (freeze the leaves to make pesto in the winter) I prefer to grow produce that doesn't require much processing, for storage, at the time of year when you're already busy harvesting.

I don't think you had spuds on your list but since Pierre mentioned them, there is a great method to grow them above ground on ChrisPP's site, HERE. Would that prevent the wire worms, Pierre?

Do put in some garlic in November, one of the easiest things to grow, I find. (virtually no weeding in the winter, it's great!)

I think your ideas sound completely possible and very attractive. We dug too many beds in the first year, gave ourselves too much work and grew far too much produce... start small. 8x5m is fine, another 20sq.m is a market garden!

If you're due a birthday/anniversary present, a subscription to The Kitchen Garden Magazine is nice to follow for the first year. There is probably an equally good French language equivalent.

Happy plotting.

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Hi, my future veg plot looks about the same. It also used to be a veg plot before. Now all weeds and nettles with roots the size of my little finger and 6 ft long! I have decided to cover the whole lot with tarp for a couple of months to kill off as many weeds as poss. then will have to pull out all nettle roots (and NOT compost them! and book my shiatsu treatments before starting) - and other weeds before I borrow rotivator from one neighbour and beg a whole trailor full of well rotted manure, both cow and horse to mix in.

It will therefore be a late start this year- but never mind - will catch up soon. Bonne chance

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I used to subscribe to Kitchen Gardens but it's far too expensive to have it sent here and there are plenty of excellent French mags. with deal with potagers directly and they're really worth buying.

There's also a good number of Brit/French growers on the Grow Your Own Magazine Forum - The Grapevine - and there's loads of information about growing veggies on there.

Don't knock yourself out is the main rule.  In our garden we have raised beds but in our chum's garden, in which I'm installing a potager, it's soil based because it's on the Dordogne flood plain and not clay bound like mine.  I'd see what type of soil you have there first before deciding what to grow because some things may flourish whilst others don't.

And plan it on paper, if not you're likely to get confused.  If it's 3 months before you're on there, I'd go for the winter veggies that can be planted out/seeded in late summer, and start thinking about what you can overwinter - cabbages (under cover) onions and poireau and what permenant stuff you can get in in late summer/autumn like rhubarb.  And have your planting planned for next spring, buy if you can''t bring the stuff on yourself from seeds nor have somewhere to raise them.  And buy some labels, nothing worse than setting seeds and then wondering what the hell they are - or so I'm told  

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Oi!!! Wot about the asperges??

Seriously Clair, this is the ideal moment to think about creating a small asparagus bed, especially since you say the soil is more sandy than clay. I would say that 10 crowns would be ample for two of you and might even leave some for the freezer (asparagus soup is easy to make, freezes well and is very tasty). It's very simple to make a bed, just add more sand and plenty of compost below the crowns. It's usually said that you shouldn't harvest asparagus for the first two years but my opinion is that you should but don't cut too much, let some go to flower. An asparagus bed is quite easy to maintain (tips available) and continues producing for years. My asparagus bed was created about 15 years ago and I'm currently cutting a good few handfuls every other day - mind you, this is an especially good year possibly due to the late start to Spring and plenty of moisture during the last month or so. Oh, by the way - green asperges is far superior to white in my opinion.  http://www.gardenaction.co.uk/fruit_veg_diary/asparagus-grow.asp

So far as other veggies are concerned - having done it, enjoyed it but got fed up with the hassle of watering and weeding and the fact that in high summer it may be too hot for many plants to produce much I've ended up with a simplified version of the original which now consists of: runner beans (seeds available if you would like), tomatoes of course (recommended tasty type available if you would like), lettuce, spring onions, courgettes, cucumbers, haricots vert and a few potatoes for early cropping. For the rest I prefer the local market or LeClerc!

My potager motto is: don't be a slave to your garden! [:D]

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Thanks a lot for all the suggestions, much appreciated [:)].

I have spent hours surfing for tips for beginners!

I gather it's already too late for the parsnips.

I like the idea of the asparagus bed, but don't they need a lot of space?

Potatoes are not a priority, but I'd like to try sweet potatoes if there's enough time to start the spud-in-a-glass process (http://www.completefrance.com/cs/forums/1044921/ShowPost.aspx)

Water supply is not a problem, as we have our own supply.

As for watering, I'm thinking of a drip-feed system from a water butt for the thirsty plants (http://www.ecpgroup.com/Irrigation/DripwateringforBedsandBorders/WaterButtPipe.aspx)

Courgettes: I have grown them before and I agree that six plants is way too many for two![:D]

Garlic: like the sound of that!

Soil type: the previous owner used to grow huge straight carrots, leeks, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbages, cauliflowers, potatoes...

Tony, thanks for the GYO tip, now bookmarked (http://www.growfruitandveg.co.uk/grapevine/)

There's a huge rhubarb plant in another part of the plot. The previous owner told me she had been given it over 30 years ago [blink]. Can it be moved in the autumn?

I will get my pen, paper and seed catalogues out and start planning the 2010 planting...

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Clair, with the rhubarb, if it's that old and assuming it's in the wrong place, I'd move it in autumn and if it's very woody, chop it in to smaller pieces with a spade and replant it, compost the woody bits.

The advantage of the French potager mags is that they frequently make allowances for the different climatic conditions in France (I seem to recall that there are technically 8, maybe 6, different regions in France) so us lot down here are different to that lot up in Flanders or those over near Strasbourg.  And they all seem to include good recipes so if you do have a glut of anything, there's some spiffy ideas on what to do with the glut. 

Edit:  it's never too late for parsnips tho getting any of any great interest in France (seems Guernsey are the favourites with seed suppliers) can be a bit problematic.  If you get the plot in 3 months, clear a bit and get so pre-germinated seeds in, you will then have some for Xmas and remember that usually you can overwinter them in situ.

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I agree with a sub to the kitchen garden mag its a very good mag that gives you lots of tips. Also see if you can pick up the Luna calendar .. this will tell you when to plant things on a daily basis .....There is a good site called Pigs in france that has a forum they are all very nice and happy to impart there information to you ... and have a luna calendar section where one of the ladies writes each week for the week ahead what to plant. They also have other sections about other things to do with your land ( have you thought about a couple of chickens for eggs ?)

This year once you wait to get the land and then get it ready to go you will find its probally getting to late in the year to start much .... but trust me you will have your hands full with just getting it ready ...Some one mentioned raised beds which is a good Idea, once you have them made and filled with soil get some good well rotted maure or compost... mix in well with your soil then cover with black membrane for the rest of the year until you need them next year , this will keep the weeds away, warm the soil fasted come spring and encourage worms to raise through your bed which will air your bed and they also do a good job of mixing the manure and soil together .....then all you have to do is take the membrane off come spring give it a light dig over and you will be ready to go.... mean while while you waiting start growing things in seed trays for planting out later ... like aspargus seeds and things you plant and go on for years... then they will be ready to go out next year and you can consentrate on the annual things later ...

Come the end of the summer by time your ready to go you can plant onion sets and garlic for the next year. and maybe some fast growing lettuce spinnach ect.... 

Im buying some land like you at the moment with the aim to turn it into raised veg beds ... but sadley only have holiday time to sort it ... but hopfully the beds will be raised filled and covered ready for when I move out and if ever I can find some one to water them ...I may be able to grow things when Im not there as well...

Good luck .... Its an exciting time planning and making your first veg plot ( if your a sad git like me [;-)] ) Make sure you plan it well ....take time to see where the sun comes up and down ... where there is shade and where gets full sun each day and plan your planting accordingly... dont for get most of the info you need is on the back of the seed packet ... if you read them carfully...then its all down to Mr sun and Mr rain[;-)]

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Re potatoes and wireworm.

I only ever grew potatoes in the ground once, and this was in an area that was previously unkempt grass, the whole crop was ruined with wireworm, absolutely riddled.  Since then I have occasionaly  grown them but in an old leaky water butt and had no problems.

I should have known better as I remembered from school history lessons (amazing what sticks isn't it?) about WWII and 'Digging for Victory'.  An admirable sentiment to not only provide food but keep up moral. BUT people were encouraged to cultivate lawns and meadowland and grow veg including of course spuds.  I remember bering told (and I accept it could be memory playing tricks) that most of the first year's crop of spuds and some other root veg was ruined with wireworm as mine was.  I think Iremember it as an example of a good idea not thought through.

Apart from growing spuds in barrels, I don't know what the cure is, sorry.

The best gardening tip I can give is to listen to Gardener's Question Time BBC Radio 4 on a Sunday afternoon (Gosh I sound sad don't I?)



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[quote user="Clair"]As for watering, I'm thinking of a drip-feed system from a water butt for the thirsty plants (http://www.ecpgroup.com/Irrigation/DripwateringforBedsandBorders/WaterButtPipe.aspx)[/quote]

Definitely, this method uses much less water as it goes straight to where it's needed: the roots.

[quote user="Clair"]There's a huge rhubarb plant in another part of the plot.[/quote]

Very low maintenance. My (experienced organic grower) BIL planted mine in a semi-shaded spot under a fig tree.  He cut up two old tyres and stacked them to make a double height cylinder (to shade the roots?) then dug in manure.  After one year of not picking the new plant, I now add a cowpat annually and pick lots of rhubarb at this time of year.

Have you thought about other fruit?  Blackcurrants are good.

Very envious of straight carrots. Mine turn out in rather special shapes but still taste better than anything I've ever bought.

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Back to the rhubarb...

I went over to nip a few flower stems this morning and there are at least two if not three "plantlets" which could be separated.

Bearing in mind that the veg plot is right in front of the house and that we have paying guests this summer, it's important that it looks reasonably tidy. I like the neatness and flexibility of the raised beds on this little site (picture at the bottom of he page).

Rhubarb and apple crumble is on the menu for tomorrow... Custard or ice-cream with it?[:)]

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DEar Claire


I have lots of books on the subject matter and will gladly let you have one of them if it will help you.

Claire how about a soil test first to see what you soil does or does not have?

I have no financial involvement here but use Yara Labs in York and Tony F will correct me but most veg like a neutral soil but some acid.  So find out first what it will or will not support.  Again if you have lots of stones then stuff like carrots and parnsips will not do so well.

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Dragonrouge, thanks for the offer, very kind of you, but my order is already on its way and I wouldn't want to deprive you [:)].

The potential veg plot is clear of stones (if not clear of weeds), as it has been a veg plot before.

As an aside, we were told that, long before we bought it, the house had been rented to some "marginals" who used to grow strange and unusual herbs... [8-)]

Pads, Rustica of course! How did I not think of that? A wealth of info there... Thanks for the reminder [:)]

WB, there are already flowers and a few shrubs on the edge of the plot but I will also look at flowers in the veg beds.

Sweet, it has to be cold custard for me! Dare I suggest you try the Crème Anglaise sold near the cakes mixes...?

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The whole plot needs fencing along two sides. It is bordered by two chemins communaux and the edges and hedges (hazels and holly) have been very neglected.

It will also tidying up before the summer guests arrive: the concrete rabbit hutches and the partridge cage all need removing, the stone walls need some T&C.

As for the veg plot, I don't expect to be able to do any actual planting until late summer but I do need to work out a calendar of some sort, so that I know the best time to start preparing for the autumn/winter/spring planting. I don't want to find myself in April 2010, still wondering when best to sow tomatoes and courgettes!
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