Speaker: Kelvin Mason
Date: 25th April
Kelvin Mason is a lecturer from the horticulture department at Sparsholt College, Secretary of the Hampshire Federation of Horticultural Societies, and an established garden club speaker. We were expecting expert and comprehensive advice and we were not disappointed. He spoke for an hour with no slides but held our attention throughout.
His talk was on ‘Growing Vegetables’, in general. His detailed knowledge of soil structure and ways to improve it included advising members on how to enrich the soil with organic compost and provide aeration. He is an advocate of deep digging to get the oxygen into the soil as roots take in oxygen and give of carbon dioxide. Do the preparation in the autumn and leave over the winter. He also advised using a “green manure” which should be sown after the bed has been cleared in September. We learnt that choosing the correct variety of seed for our particular soil and conditions would provide the best of vegetables.
When making that decision it is important to distinguish between growing for showing or for eating, large show specimens do not always equal tasty vegetables. F1 hybrids are bred for disease resistance and for commercial use so that cabbages for instance all mature at the same time, so we should sow only a few seeds at a time. And if you want to know if it is warm enough to start sowing in the spring, (at least 4oC) drop your trousers (or pull up your skirt) and sit your bare bottom on the soil, he advised! (Or use similarly a soil thermometer) Only cultivate the top 2ins of soil greater depths may be too cold and the sprouting seed may not have enough energy to get to the surface. He advised sowing in drills and to water the bottom of the drill before planting, and never water afterwards and don’t sow too thickly as this avoids thinning out.
Keep the weeds down either by hoeing or hand weed but don’t stand on the beds to weed as this compacts the soil. Kill top pests by hand or use biological/organic controls, and don’t crush carrot tops or the carrot fly will smell them. Don’t have too many narrow beds as this wastes soil, ideally 15’ long x 4’ wide with paths of 15/18ins between.
On the subject of irrigation, Kelvin told us he never waters any vegetable. But if you do, water must get to the roots. Peas and broad beans should only be watered after they flower, runners and french beans need to be kept moist and need a lot of water, as do cabbages and lettuce. Carrots, onions, beets, courgettes, marrows, tomatoes need watering as do early potatoes but don’t bother watering main crop potatoes. Water sweet corn when the flowers go brown.
Kelvin gave us a lot to think about and remember but our vegetables should be magnificent next year!