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Vegan Organic Growing by Graham Cole, Vegan Views 100 (Spring 2004)

VV subscriber Graham Cole has worked on several large gardens since 1978. He is a strong supporter of the Vegan Organic Network, and will be the presenter on their forthcoming videos on stockfree organic agriculture.

Spring is Sprung!

Now the warmer and longer days are here and plant growth is increasing we can think about the sowing of more tender and "exotic" crops. These can be started on a warm windowsill, in a frame or the greenhouse.

The family of Courgette/Pumpkin and Squash can be started in individual pots or plastic plant cells with the large seed sown on its edge (to avoid damping off) an inch deep and planted out when all chance of frost is gone. Last year I grew the Squash variety "Buttercup" which produces quite a few to a plant and are of really nice quality and kept until March in cool conditions. It makes a nice steamed veg and excellent soup. The plant trails all over the shop, mine didn't need much persuasion to climb up and over a 6 foot high Beech hedge! The growing site should have a good hole filled with garden compost or leafmould to keep them going and hold moisture. Starting plants off in a greenhouse in spring

Sweet Corn must also be sown now (mid late April). Good individual plants can be raised in the trusty reusable cell trays to get them to a good size for planting out where they will be able to get away with little damage as robust plants. The trailing Squash and Pumpkins can be planted at the edge of the Sweet Corn block and left to trail between the rows where the shade from their leaves can help to conserve soil moisture for the cobs above. This was and still is a traditional planting scheme in South America going back to the time of the Incas.

The climbing beans, which are a must in any kitchen garden because they yield heavy crops for the area they take up, are also started off indoors for the first sowing. These are best in pots for their large roots, and again give us a bit of a start if conditions are cool or wet so that a nice strong plant is ready to go out. Later sowings can, of course, be direct sown next to the support poles. This year I am growing the old Runner Bean varieties "Painted Lady" (red/white bicolour flowers) and "Sunset" (the only pink type) as well as the longer newer ones.

Out in the open

As conditions allow and the top of the soil is workable with a rake to a fine tilth, seed drills for our direct sown crops can need a little watering if the top dries out like last summer with all that prolonged heat. Getting a succession of salads by sowing little and often (about every 2-3 weeks) will avoid gluts and gaps....

Many annual flowers can be scattered to give colour, cover and a source of food for many insects I have always tried to grow lots of these amongst the fruit and veg. Sometimes people are surprised to see that the kitchen garden can be so colourful and we are encouraging our little friends to balance the ecology.

It's a Mad World

Uniquely in the EU, Britain has chosen to exclude the growers of apples, pears, plums and cherries from payment under a new EU farm subsidy scheme. Orchard owners will get nothing unless by January 1st 2005 they grub up all their trees, then they get the full £230 a hectare per year! This is particularly absurd in view of all the efforts in recent years to revive England's apple orchards and to try and encourage the buying and consumption of local food. More reasons to grow our own and choose from the many superb varieties selected and raised in the past without any GM madness. I live in hope that the UK has a rethink.

Vegan Organic Trust

Finally, look out for the launch of the Stock-Free Certification by VOT and Soil Association this summer the world's first Vegan-Organic Standards for growers.

VOT also have many very useful fact sheets see Vegan Organic Network.

Useful Information

Seed catalogue: Suffolk Herbs, Monks Farm, Coggeshall Rd, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG. Web: www.suffolkherbs.com.

Animal-free compost: B&Q Organic Peat free Multipurpose compost. Alternatively, composted municipal waste (i.e. grass and tree cuttings) is available in some areas try your local recycling centre.

Vegan Organic organisations: Vegan Organic Network, Plants for a Future, and Movement for Compassionate Living.

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Cross-reference: Growing Fruit & Veg