Simple steps for creating a small but productive vegetable plot
WHATEVER space you’ve got, there’s always room for edibles. You could either squeeze a few plants into a patio or use all-year-round goodies from a large kitchen garden. And if you have a small piece of ground, you could create an attractive compact veg bed.
Bear four things in mind at the planning stage: it needs good shape and structure; there should be a three or four-year crop rotation (see my column of March 18); the plants must look good; and, with limited space, your plants must pull crop well.
Whatever the bed’s shape, it needs a focal point, such as a permanent structure for climbing plants. This will stay put for years and should enhance the overall appearance of the garden, which means it’s worth spending time and money to get it right.
In a restricted space, you’ll enjoy a larger harvest by growing climbing vegetables. It’s also better for your back to pick peas at shoulder rather knee height.
You’ll need a two-metre tall structure and it can be one of three shapes. Many gardeners and manufacturers favour the wigwam style, believing it to be strong and better able to cope with a heavy mass of runner beans crowning the top.
The alternative, a cylinder, stops the plants throttling each other at the top and allows for good air circulation, thereby preventing fungal diseases. Both types of obelisk can cost between £20 and £190.
The dearer frames are durable and look good, even when they’re not supporting plants (try harrodhorticulture.com). Flimsy efforts will struggle to support a hefty weight of beans during an autumn gale. As ever, you get what you pay for.
However much you shell out, these frames will probably have smooth metal poles which plants find hard to clasp firmly. So you usually have to tie the stems to poles and then run the risk of damage during a windy spell. This limitation also applies to bamboo canes which you might want to use for a homemade construction.
As you’d expect, I’m all for homemade versions as they add a rustic touch to the garden. This is where native ash, willow and hazel poles come into their own, because their rough texture suits climbers down to a tee. You’ll find it fairly easy to bind the poles together with willow wands. If you don’t have access to these materials, they’re readily available online and in some garden centres.
A simple design using three to five poles works well. There’s plenty of information online for making cylindrical structures.
There’s a third equally good shape that’s also homemade. Form a square from four 2.5m-long poles, with 45-60cm between the poles. Angle the diagonally opposite ones so they meet in the middle at 1-1.5m above the ground. When tied together, the poles make a rigid structure and the plants will scale the poles and leave an open centre.
As with other parts of the veg garden, you need to rotate the crops on the structure: runner or French beans, followed by cucumbers, or climbing squashes; tall podded or mange-tout peas; and finally nasturtiums to give you an attractive mass of edible flowers. Since runners are perennial plants, you can safely break the normal rotation rules and grow them instead of mangetout peas.
Climbing beans and tall peas are prolific and offer you a wide choice. Look out for bright yellow, red, black or maroon pods, or bi-coloured flowers. Browse the catalogues for lots of ideas – there’s no shortage of attractive low-growing vegetables to surround an impressive centrepiece.
Growing plants such as runner beans vertically is a logical decision for those with limited space