By: Justin Russell | December 14, 2018
There are two main ways to propagate plants on a market garden scale: grow seedlings that can be planted out once they’re semi-mature, or sow seed directly into the garden. To produce seedlings, you’ll need a small nursery area that’s well positioned for your climate. In cold climates, a spot in full sun and perhaps a greenhouse/polytunnel will be necessary. In warmer areas, a spot that gets dappled light or afternoon shade is ideal. A greenhouse won’t be necessary in warm climates, but a shade house covered in 30–50 per cent shadecloth can help enormously.
Cell trays and soil blockers
When producing seedlings you’ll need something more than punnets to grow them in. Go for cell trays, available from nursery suppliers in a range of sizes to suit different plants. An alternative to using plastic trays is to make soil blocks using a soil blocking tool and a specially blended potting mix.
To sow direct into the garden you can broadcast by hand onto prepared soil (best for green manures and small-scale grain crops), sow into furrows made with a wheel hoe, or easiest of all, use a row seeder. These efficient little machines sow seed evenly along a row. They’re perfect for crops such as corn, bush beans and onions, and get the job done quickly. For sowing closely spaced rows of things like baby spinach, rocket and mesclun mix, an even better option is the pinpoint seeder, which can sow up to six rows in a single pass.
Weed and pest control
The biggest challenge for any intensive market garden is weeds. They love growing in rich, moist soil as much as vegies do and if left unchecked, can quickly overwhelm your crops. The best strategy is to get them either before they germinate or not long after, when they’re still at the “white root” stage.
The best tool for controlling weeds before germination is a flame weeder. These are available with a single burner, but for market gardeners, the best option is a multi-burner model designed to cover a whole row of soil. The intense heat from burners kills weed seeds and tiny seedlings without affecting soil biology in layers below the top centimetre or so. Flame weeders aren’t cheap, but by comparison, hand hoes are.
A lot of market gardeners swear by oscillating stirrup hoes, which are available either as hand-held models or as attachments for wheel hoes, but there are dozens of different hoe types on the market. A good combination would be a slicing hoe (eg stirrup hoe, collinear hoe – used for cutting tender weed roots), a chipping hoe (for digging larger weeds and making furrows), and a wire hoe (for precision work between plants). Another option gaining popularity is tine weeding rakes. These have a series of flexible tines that work a bit like lots of small hoes, and the larger sizes can cover a whole row in a single pass.
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