This area looks very different from pictures taken in the early years of the garden. When the gardeners first started to cultivate this area back in the mid 1990s, the soil was full of stones and rocks and totally impoverished. However, they weren't daunted and started a regime of double digging for the first four years that really brought the soil into good condition. It was really hard work but we are now reaping the benefits. The soil structure and consistency are just great and we can now grow a wide range of vegetables.
Originally, there were two vegetable plots. However, over the winter of 2007 the organic veg plot and the chicken run were converted to a new Family Orchard, leaving the traditional plot as our only vegetable area.
The traditional plot is divided into quarters, which makes up a traditional "4 Course Rotation"each quarter to grow a specific group of vegetables, which change, or rotates, on an annual basis. We start with potatoes, then gross feeders including legumes (peas and beans), then brassicas and finally root crops. This enables us to get the best out of the soil and prevent a build up of soil-borne pests and disease since each group is grown in a different quarter of the plot every year. Once the last of the crop is harvested, the plot is dug over and the rotation system starts again.
Depending on what stage of the four-course rotation a quarter is at, we might single dig, adding spent mushroom compost, or we might simply fork over the soil, or we might add some lime to the soil. We tend to use granular fertilisers in this plot and we will also use seaweed extract to improve the quality of the vegetables. However, we rarely use any pesticides (unless for a trial) as we find cultural methods for controlling pests such as carrot fly and cabbage white are much more efficient.
Although we grow the same groupings of vegetable every year we always aim to try some new varieties. The promise of increased yields, better disease resistance and better flavour really whets our appetite. Another aim we have is to produce vegetables for as long a period as possible. Certain veg, like broad beans, have their season and we can only enjoy them for a limited period. There are other crops like lettuce that we can keep on sowing for months on end. We do need to start some of the vegetables in the greenhouses because the soil doesn't warm up here until mid April and sometimes later (remember, we are in NE Scotland). For instance, all the brassicas start life under glass, as well as tender herbs and runner beans. We tend to get better onions when we use sets rather than seed. Even as mature bulbs, the onions need to be lifted into the greenhouses to cure, as the weather is never dry enough to do so outside. Still, we can eat them freshly harvested and, boy, do they taste good.
People often ask where all the vegetables go once they are harvested. Well it's a big team that contributes to the making of the programme: on a filming day there can be 15 or more people in the garden - cameramen, director, soundmen, researchers, presenters and of course the gardeners. We try to harvest the bulk of the vegetables, fruit and cut flowers on a filming day for the crew to take home and enjoy. When there's a bumper crop, we donate the remainder to organisations that can use it.