Knowing your onions
Freemason Medwyn Williams, eight time gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show talks to Iris Jardine on how to grow your own vegetables
Medwyn Williams has been 'growing his own' from the age of ten when his father gave him his own square metre vegetable plot. Since then he has founded his own specialist vegetable seed business, Medwyns of Anglesey. He is a fellow of the National Vegetable Society (NVS) and a member of numerous committees including that of the NVS/Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Liaison Committee. He was awarded best overall exhibit for all the RHS Shows in 2001, for which he was awarded the Lawrence Medal.
"There is nothing more delicious and satisfying than eating fresh vegetables that you have grown yourself" says Medwyn. He recommends starting with easy vegetables that germinate quickly such as mustard, cress, radish and lettuce.
This is particularly rewarding as it makes you feel you have achieved something without too much effort. Vegetables that are easy to grow include potatoes, peas and broad beans. Most start off with seeds, but there are some, such as potatoes, which can be grown from tubers - potatoes that have begun sprouting.
Medwyn advocates starting off in a small way, primarily deciding on the piece of ground that is to be used. He stresses that one should not grow too many things at once that will ripen at the same time or in too large quantities.
He says: "It is much more enjoyable to grow small quantities that can be appreciated and leave room for other varieties. One of the biggest mistakes people make is growing larger quantities than is needed for one's own use."
Having the right soil is important, but Medwyn maintains that there is no such thing as a poor soil, and medium loam, made up from sand and clay, is ideal. Make sure it has enough nutrients in it such as manure, green waste and composting material.
Even heavy clay soil can be good soil if it is rich in minerals and trace elements. The secret with clay is to separate the particles by adding grit and plenty of organic matter.
It is very important to look at the Ph levels: 6.5 - 7 lime/acidity level is required for growing vegetables. If you know someone who already grows their own, they may be able to guide you, otherwise buy a testing kit from a horticultural centre.
To get started, the right time of the year is important. If you have a greenhouse with heating, you can start earlier in the year with your seeds than those with no heating. If you have neither, early spring is the best time. However, some vegetables, like flowers, are better sown at certain times of the year.
Catalogues are great, as they tell you exactly what you want to know - when the seeds should be sown, at what time of the year, and if they are easy to grow etc. You should also be able to find a lot of this information on the back of seed packets.
Watering is important. Vegetables that lack water get stressed and lock themselves up, and so are unable to take in any nutrients. If a vegetable thinks it is going to die, its first purpose is to perpetuate itself. It does this by throwing up a seed head called 'bolting'.
In theory, although not always in practice, the bolted head will flower, and the resulting seed will fall on the ground to grow again. The secret is to ensure the soil is always moist.
The National Vegetable Society 33 Newmarket Road, Redcar, Cleveland Tel: 01642 484 470. Medwyns of Anglesey Llanor, 0ld School Lane, Llanfairpwll, Anglesey Tel: 01248 714 851
HARVEST SHALLOTS Dry thoroughly outside on wire mesh prior to storing. Continue to remove side shoots from tomato plants and water and feed on a regular basis using a high potash concentrate. PEAS Sow a row of Feltham First peas to harvest fresh during Oct. sow radishes, spring onions, lettuce and globe beetroot in shallow drills that will be ready to eat before winter.
SOW a row of dwarf-growing French beans such as The Prince, (harvest in 10-12 weeks). Sow Kohl Rabbi, as well as a row of turnips. FEED greenhouse cucumbers regularly with a nitrogen liquid feed to remove bitterness and sweeten. PLANT over wintering japanese onion sets towards the end of this month to mature late May and June.
HOE between vegetable and flowers to help in keeping moisture close to roots and minimise weeds. HARVEST crops as soon as they become available. Make sure Brussels sprouts are firmly in the Soil, TREAD OR HEEL carefully to anchor them. Tie plants to short stout cane if windy. Allow some pods to ripen on the bines before drying indoors. Store seed in air tight containers. Always save straight varieties - not hybrids.
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