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A Little Knowledge

As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Worse than that is plain misinformation and sadly there’s a lot of that doing the rounds.

Chilli Peppers

Chilli Peppers – from left to right: Padron, Piri Piri, Tabasco.

Chilli Growing

I was recently contacted by a reader who had gone to a Chilli Festival. He was told that chilli plants benefited from a period of drought. Since this contradicted everything he knew about growing he decided to ask what I thought about this. It’s never a bad idea to double check things that seem out of the expected.

Well I’d not heard of this and my experience is that chilli peppers like most plants benefit from a constant level of moisture in the soil. That’s something my Chilligrow and Quadgrow planters provide. Certainly the results of constant moisture but not waterlogged are excellent.

Plants need water but waterlogging drowns them. The roots need the air in the soil to grow properly. And before anyone asks about hydroponics, they aerate the water to fulfil that need for air. However, peppers grow best in heat so perhaps they’ve evolved to need a period of drought.

Happily I’ve a pal who knows a lot about peppers so I asked him. He explained that if you stress the plant when it is fully fruited by drought and or removing about a third of the leaves the plant will react by producing more alkaloids to defend itself. So a period of drought – when the plant is fully fruited – will result in hotter chillis.

Useful if you’re going for a record hot chilli but otherwise not so useful. It’s always worth getting all the information before taking action.

Crop Rotation – Do you need it?

Crop rotation has been practised since Roman times in various forms, But do you need to?

The latest fad popping up on Youtube with click-bait titles is that crop rotation is some sort of unnecessary, old-fashioned idea that modern growers can and should ignore.

Crop rotation  has been around since Roman days although it got lost in dark ages for a while. But for the best part of the last 300 years 3 and 4 course crop rotations have been the basis of western agricultural practice. From agriculture it crossed to small scale vegetable growing and became the basis of good gardening practice.

There is sound reasoning behind crop rotation. It helps to prevent the build up of pests and disease, evens out the depletion of nutrients and, with the addition of lime, composts and manures enables sustainable volume production of nutrient-dense vegetables from a small area of land.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule – asparagus, rhubarb and other permanent plants – but there are risks in breaking the rules. Like any crime, you can get away with not rotating for a while – sometimes quite a few years – but eventually, inevitably the law of nature catches up.

Why are they saying this?

What I don’t understand is why this fad seems to be gaining popularity. I can’t see it even saves time. As a gardening friend said when we were talking about this, “It takes but an hour to work out his placings and rotation plan each year.

So why are the promoters of this fad pushing it? Well, new growers are faced with a huge learning curve. They look up crop rotation and find all sorts of complicated systems. After a bit it’s all too much to take on board, too complex to understand when you don’t even know your brassicas from your legumes yet.

So when someone says that you don’t need to know all this stuff – “just stick the same things in the same place year after year and all will be well” it really appeals. Hit that subscribe button and press that notification bell.

My Plan for Fame!

Maybe I should get in on this Youtube thing – I’ve a great idea to gain subscribers..

Make friends with your weeds. You’ll get huge crops if you let the weeds grow to support your crops.

Or maybe I’ll leave that one to publish on April Fools Day.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
23 comments on “A Little Knowledge
  1. Sean James Cameron says:

    Regarding YouTube I’ve noticed that same trend and have been shocked by some of the information being given out re: don’t crop rotate. We don’t get the hard winters like we did when I was a child in the 80s and therefore crop rotation has even more importance now to stop the build up of pests and diseases. I don’t know why they are actively pushing the wrong information other than gaining attention and views. If one YT channel gets a lots of views then others will copy that video just to gain the views.

    Around 10 years ago a man came on the gardening scene and gave out information that went against the norm. He has become very popular with his ‘new method’ of gardening but what viewers/creators may not know is that he did trials for over 20/30 years before preaching to the masses. A few YT gardeners have seen this and thought “ah, give out advice against tradition and I’ll be famous as well” – that’s the only reason I can think of.

    Back in the Spring I saw a video where a YT gardener completely lambasted a UK product he felt didn’t work because he had run a trial over 1 season. Trials should be over several years not just a year. The problem with YT is that viewers will take information as gospel without doing their own research. People seem to have forgotten how to research themselves.

    • John Harrison says:

      I really couldn’t agree more, Sean. Plus YT is global so people follow methods that may well work well in Texas but not in Scotland!
      As for research, well even some professional reporters seem to have forgotten how to fact check beyond wikipedia.

  2. Arthur Roberts says:

    YT has a really excellent video on pruning Wisteria.The cameraman was up a ladder next to the primer and covered summer and winter pruning.
    I found other videos less interesting.
    You have to pick and choose.
    I am an experienced gardener so know what to reject _ less easy if you are a beginner.

  3. Philip Kingsley says:

    Crop rotation is, essentially, not optional – it must be practised for the previously stated reasons pest/disease build-up and nutrient depletion plus a lot of people dig a runner bean trench to take all the old stalks and stems. This trench should be moved up the plot 2/3 feet each year to gradually improve soil depth/structure.

    Bean trench – in autumn dig a trech 1 spit deep, 2 spits wide, turn over the subsoil with a fork, fill trench with all the old brassica/sweetcorn stems,tomato/bean vines etc, etc, any compost or manure, overwinter, fill trench early spring ready for this years climbing beans.

  4. steve evans says:

    The problem is there are a lot “new” growers with lots of “knowledge” all gained from the internet.

    We have a few on our allotment site and they are a pain literally arguing with some “old boy” gardeners over the right way to do things. Fortunately (or is it unfortunately), many give up when they realise it is much harder than it looks than on Gardeners World as they don’t have an army of gardeners behind the scenes helping out.

    One “expert” covered the majority of her 250 spm plot with membrane and then piled wood chip on top. Then grew a bits and pieces on top. Then joy o joy she planted hazel and buddleia because these are good for wildlife. In years to come neighbouring plot holders will be fighting these on their plots let alone what will happen to the soil once all that carbon comes out of the wood chips into the soil.

    Another refuses to add anything to there plot in terms of manure, compost, fertiliser etc. As they don’t know where it has come from and want to be “organic”. However, they don’t produce their own compost and take their waste to the tip. Needless to say over the last 3 years their produce has been getting poorer and poorer.

    At least it provides a talking point for the rest of the plot holders

    • Mel Smith says:

      Steve,about 7 years ago (when the “I want an allotment” boom was on ),we had an “expert” arrive on our site who knew a lot ! I was talking to a friend (Gordon) when he joined us in a chat and started to tell us that growing organic was the new way to grow veg ! The chat went something like,Gordon,Oh really ? Expert,oh yes,none of that chemical stuff..Gordon,So if organic is the “new way” to go,what do you think growers and farmers have been doing for hundreds of years ? With a bemused look on his face the expert walked away..I won’t say what Gordon called him,but you can imagine ! Also he stayed for one season and we didn’t see him again..”Experts”,don’t you just love’em ! ps Gordon at the time was around 82,so I think he knew “a bit” about growing veg,sadly he now grows on his plot in the sky.

  5. Steven House says:

    I’m a bit each way on this. I do not rigidly follow a 3 or 4 bed rotation or X must follow Y. I plant what I need to plant in the space available at the time. If a bed had brassicas there 2 years ago and I have brassicas then I plant brassicas.
    As a farmer said to me a few months back, “I grow onions, do you see me leave a field empty for 3 years? No, I grow onions in the same field year after year”

    • John Harrison says:

      Don’t forget that farmers have access to a wide range of chemical treatments we don’t when things go wrong. That’s a major reason for growing your own using organic or minimal input systems. You don’t need to be a slave to rotation but you should keep it in mind.

      • Rowan Bowman says:

        My Gran’s gardener, Mr French, swore by having his autumn bonfire on his onion patch every year because the heat sterilised the soil and the ash helped the onions grow. Onions didn’t suit his particular 3-year rotation scheme so they had their own dedicated bed.

        I still use his other rotation systems, like popping in leeks as soon as each potato row is harvested and then following these with my peas and beans in spring as fast as we eat the leeks.

        Mr French was born in 1890. Good gardeners go straight to heaven.

  6. Steven House says:

    They do John but many can be sourced online, not that I have ever needed any. Hygiene is one of the most important factors in disease control eg if you have 2 onion beds disinfect your tools before going from one to the other to stop transferring white rot etc etc 5-10 years to get rid of white rot is no laughing matter.

  7. Alan says:

    Charles Dowding’s YouTube channel advocates not being a slave to crop rotation. John do you think his no dig approach of feeding the soil annually helps in replenishing nutrients taken away by the same crop the previous year?

    • John Harrison says:

      There’s a big difference between not slavishly following a rotation plan and binning the idea. Certainly adding a large amount of compost annually will ameliorate nutritional imbalances and reduce the build up of diseases and pests. However, rotation is a system that has served us well for hundreds of years. There’s little benefit to not rotating (a small saving in thinking time!) and potentially a lot of problems. Sorry but I think it’s a dangerous lesson to teach inexperienced gardeners who can’t judge for themselves as they lack experience.

      • Alan says:

        John,I agree with the principle of crop rotation and I would certainly be not foolish and bloody minded enough to just repeat same crop type,same plot year in year out .However,Charles Dowding informs me that from an initial no-dig 150mm mulch followed by annually adding 75mms of compost to feed the soil in a polytunnel,he’s grown for 14 consecutive years same summer crop followed by winter crop healthily using no-dig method ,although he concedes the point of not being sure how much longer it will last ,just food for thought .

        • John Harrison says:

          Alan – I’m sure he has those results but people are extrapolating particular results to create general principles.
          The Parisian market gardeners in the 1800s didn’t rotate but they added huge amounts of horse manure based compost (of which there was a lot!) to their plots each year. Some were literally 15 metres higher than when they started.
          A standard allotment of 10 rods = 250M2 – adding 75mm of compost to that each year would require 18.75M3 of compost annually.

          • Alan says:

            John,I take on board what you’re saying (although this examples about polytunnel usage )the point I am trying to make is ,let’s not hear one voice and all nod in agreement,without listening to others views with the proviso of sound logic and reasoning behind them .you don’t have to take their advice it’s up to you ,let’s not condemn without a trial .the concept of crop rotation is BRILLIANT ,but every original idea should have an option to be able to be tweeked.I agree whole heartedly with everybody about old boys and girls advice on allotment issues being invaluable .a little knowledge is a dangerous thing ,but knowledge is power

        • John Harrison says:

          Just a further thought.. if you add 75mm of compost annually and assume it shrinks by half each year after 14 years the surface would be 525mm (20 inches) higher than year one… sort of reduces the headroom 🙂

          • Dion Jones says:

            I add 100mm every year and the level stays the same. The plants & worms etc use the goodness and the soil gets enriched without digging. My topsoil is now just about 12″ deep after 4 years of piling compost on top. My plot neighbours still double dig every year – I just push a few wheelbarrows around.
            Each to their own.

          • Alan says:

            Charles only applies 50mms of mulch annually (not 75mm,my mistake )he explained that the compost eaten by soil organisms excrete it in a much denser form and his poly tunnel by measuring the grass outside the polythene rose by no more than 10cm (4inches ) after 14years….John you ‘re correct it did sort of reduce the headroom .

  8. christine dinsdale says:

    I agree absolutely, crop rotation is a must must must; and yes it took me a while to get my head round it. I am a newcomer to allotment growing – 2yrs in now, I wouldn’t be without the old boys on site and of course this web site .

    • Mel Smith says:

      Christine,when I was in the UK I had a “Lottie” for 10 years..We had a man there that had been on the site for nearly 30 years,he was a mine of information and advice,always willing to share with people,as he knew the growing conditions on the site.I always found that listening to him was a good thing and I learnt a lot from him albeit I had been growing veg for some 20 years .I have lived in Corfu for 5 years and the growing conditions are,(as you can imagine) totally different.This year has been very hot and humid and yields have been very low.BUT I will carry on regardless..Have fun and listen to the “Old boys”,you won’t regret it.

      • John Harrison says:

        You need to find some local ‘old boys’- they’ll have it sussed. Our friends in Spain grew very differently to how we do but with good results, thanks to an elderly neighbour who wasn’t up to growing anymore but could still tell them what to do.

  9. Alan says:

    Had a quick re run through the YouTube videos and Charles dowding doesn’t appear to be stooping,although he may have acquired a taller poly tunnel ,I shall e mail him and ask .

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