How to grow vegetables

PUBLISHED: 10:09 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013

Create your own 'no dig' vegetable patch using cardboard

Create your own 'no dig' vegetable patch using cardboard

Cotswold life has teamed up with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to give a practical view of how we can all appreciate and celebrate the wildlife and landscapes in the Cotswold area each month

We live in one of the most fertile counties in England, yet how many of us actually grow anything apart from grass or flowers? Growing your own food is seriously good for body and soul. It's not just cheap and easy, it's also good for the earth which is great news for our wildlife.

By planting and harvesting some of your own vegetables or fruit this year, you can help keep the county fit and healthy as well as yourself, especially if you use home made compost.

The great news is that you don't even need a garden to grow food. Everyone could manage a window box at the very least, or a few containers on a balcony or back step. And in the end you get some fabulous food for virtually nothing, that tastes all the better for being home grown.

Although it's still cold and grey outside, this is actually the best time of year to make a start. You can plan what you're going to grow and where you're going to grow it.

Start thinking about recycling old pots, boots or other containers and turning them into planters. You can also get going on transforming any weed-covered areas of rough ground into fertile vegetable patches - without digging a single spade of earth. Simply use our 'no dig' sheet mulch technique where the worms do the work for you:

Creating a 'no dig' vegetable patch

Let the worms do the work - use this 'no dig' technique to transform a patch of weedy waste ground into a fertile veg patch over the spring and summer:

o Lay cardboard over the weeds, overlapping by at least 20cm to keep out the light (this will encourage the worms)

o Cut slits in the card and poke a seed potato through each

o Cover with 15-20cm of home made compost or well rotted manure

o Top with a thick mulch of straw or lawn mowings to stop weeds establishing

o Keep topped with mowings or straw

o Watch as the compost, cardboard and weeds rot down over the spring and summer to a lovely mulched bed - the ground will be loosened by the potatoes and the worms will have done your digging.

o Now lift the potatoes and you're all ready for autumn sowing - overwintering broad beans for instance, then in the Spring you can follow on with peas, runner beans, squash and tomato plants - the sky's the limit.

What's so good about this technique?

Worms hate light and frost, so exposing soil by digging it drives them deeper which means they can't get on with chewing up dead material and enriching your soil.

'Mycorrhiza' fungi vital to plant health are killed by exposure to light, so not digging keeps them happy

This technique kills weeds without using chemicals. It also stops dormant weeds from germinating

The humus-rich soil this creates is the building block for a food chain for all garden wildlife, including the gardener.

The worms do the work for you - no sore back.

Once you've created a vegetable bed like this you don't need to repeat the process, but always try to keep a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil to continue benefiting from no-dig gardening. This will attract blackbirds and thrushes as well as keep your soil fertile and moist.

TOP TIPS - give growing a go

Get something for nothing - turn your organic waste into lovely rich compost.

Grow in a bag - roll down a strong plastic sack and put a couple of seed potatoes in some compost at the bottom. Water regularly and keep topping up with rottable kitchen waste, unrolling the sack as it fills up. When the potato plants die back you'll have a lovely crop of new potatoes and a sack full of reusable compost.

Put old boots to good use - cut holes in an old Wellington boot or shoe and use it as a strawberry planter, just spike holes in the sole for drainage.

Box clever - fill a sturdy cardboard box with compost and sow with 'cut and come again' salad leaves - just 1.20 from any garden centre. Compare that to the cost of a prepared salad bag!

Acquire land - see if there are any allotments available nearby, then get together with some friends or neighbours and work it together. Many hands make light work.

Call the Compost Hotline for a free information pack on how to start composting - 01452 313761 or email

The recent flooding in parts of Gloucestershire has focused many minds on the possible long term effects of climate change, and the need for individuals in the county to take action to help mitigate it. Using gardens, allotments, courtyards, balconies and window ledges to grow food at home will help reduce food miles and, if home made compost is used, reduce waste going to landfill too.

Wildlife garden diary

Believe it or not, it's beginning to get lighter again now we're past the winter equinox which means that a new cycle of life is about to start in your garden.

Lots of species are still in hibernation, but it's worth looking out for some early appearances from overwintering butterflies, particularly the Red Admiral which is being spotted earlier and earlier as our winters get milder. If you do see one please log the sighting on our Red Admiral survey via the Wildlife Trust's website - - to help us monitor the effects of climate change in Gloucestershire.

If January is quite mild it would also be worth keeping an eye out for frogspawn in ponds.

Tawny owls are often very active at this time of year as they're early breeders. Keep an ear out for their calls - high pitched screeching as well as ta-wit-ta-woos - especially around dusk.

Anyone with big trees in their gardens or backing onto woodland could think about mounting an owl box, which is a long oblong shape - a bit like a toblerone box but square.

Apart from that January is still quite a quiet month in the garden, which makes it ideal for planning the year ahead. If you haven't already, give some thought to what you can do in the coming year to attract more wildlife to your garden Why not make it a New Year's resolution to do one of some of the following:

- Start composting

- Dig a wildlife pond

- Establish a wild flower lawn

- Leave a log pile for mini-beasts

- Plant a climber or hedge

- Put up a bird box

- Grow some veg

Countryside diary

In January Gloucestershire is a particularly good place to see all three British species of swans in the wild. The most familiar is the non-migratory Mute Swan, which is present all the year round nesting on many lakes, ponds and small stretches of water in Gloucestershire. This is the 'Swan of Avon', with an orange bill that has a large lump on it.

It is the world's heaviest flying bird and also one of the most aggressive - the sight of a male bearing down on any other swan impudent enough to enter its territory, wings arched and puffed up, is impressive to say the least.

However, this is the time of year to look out for the two species of really wild swans, the Bewick's Swan and the Whooper Swan, both distinguished from the Mute by their yellow bills. The Bewick's Swan is the famous one, well know from studies by Sir Peter Scott and his colleagues at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It's named after Thomas Bewick, a famous British naturalist and artist from the early nineteenth century, who was the first person to realise that there were two species of yellow-billed swan.

The Bewick's Swan nests in the Russian tundra and migrates in autumn through the Baltic to winter in the relatively warmer climes of western Europe, from Germany west to Britain. They arrive in Gloucestershire from late October through to January so now is the time to see them when numbers are at their peak. They use Slimbridge as a roosting site at night, but during the day they often fly off in search of suitable feeding grounds up and down the Severn Vale (in the 'Severn Hams'). They particularly like Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's reserves at Ashleworth Ham and Coombe Hill Meadows, which were set up precisely to provide wintering habitat for swans, geese and ducks. They will return to their arctic breeding grounds in late February or early March.

The Whooper Swan is so called because it makes a whooping sound when in flight or greeting new arrivals on the ground. The Whoopers that winter in Britain come exclusively from Iceland and undertake a dangerous sea crossing to get here. Most will winter in Scotland, Ireland and northern England, but a small number come as far south as Gloucestershire. For some years now, a small group of up to a dozen has wintered in the Severn Vale and seem much hardier than their smaller cousins the Bewick's - if the water ices over the Whoopers simply stay put, whereas the Bewick's go steaming back to Slimbridge.

Climate change

The status of Bewick's Swan in Gloucestershire is already being affected by climate change. As winter conditions become milder to the east, the swans have tended to stay back in Germany and the Netherlands, so the numbers of Bewick's wintering in Gloucestershire has gone down to just a few hundred.

Places to visit:

Where to see wild swans in Gloucestershire:

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge - especially Bewick's and Mute Swans can be seen in enclosures and from viewing hides (entry fee payable)

Walmore Common (beside the A48 between Minsterworth and Westbury on Severn) - particularly Bewick's and Mute swans

Ashleworth Ham Nature Reserve (SO 830 265) - all three species

Coombe Hill Nature Reserve (SO 887 272) - all three species can be seen from viewing hides.

Mute Swans are much more widespread all year round and may be seen anywhere with pools or running streams.

My Favourite Place

by Sarah Mason, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Community Development Manager

As someone who lives and works in the Cotswolds, I feel hugely privileged. We are surrounded by such breathtaking landscapes, huge skies, majestic woods and meandering streams. The Cotswolds for me are defined by the views and one of my favourite is from a bench positioned on the Cotswold Way just above Broadway. I am always amazed by the vista which opens up before me as I turn and sit to take a breather on the way up to Broadway Tower. From here, you are not so high for the quaint village below to be out of view, with its honey-coloured houses and the unmistakeable tree-lined High Street. But you are high enough to see the Malvern Hills, Bredon Hill, May Hill and on a clear day the Welsh mountains.

If you take a look at the field that you are actually sitting in, some fascinating things can be found. A little owl can often be seen proudly sitting on a fence-post in broad daylight. It bobs its head up and down when alarmed and in flight it has rapid wingbeats. Green woodpeckers "laugh" as they fly in their undulating way, off to the next anthill or down to the nearby orchards. In autumn the scattered hawthorn bushes attract redwings and fieldfares to gorge on the mass of berries and in summer pyramidal orchids and quaking grass sway in the breeze.

I often feel this area has an ancient feel to it, a reminder of long ago farming, with the sheep roaming freely and the pastures alive with wild flowers and insects. And for a moment, far away from the traffic below and the hustle and bustle of modern life, I could be transported back to that ancient time. How lucky we are to have such wonders on our doorstep.

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