Lazy Beds

Doreen Moody remembers growing her first crop of potatoes

It is difficult to imagine but when I was married 50 years ago there were very few vegetables to choose from – potatoes, carrots, turnips, kale and cabbage – so when I went to live in a house with a large neglected garden I couldn’t wait to experiment with vegetable growing.

The best presents I received were the ABC of Vegetable Gardening by WE Sherwell-Cooper and the ABC of Flower Gardening.

Living in the country the days were long, with one small daughter to look after and my husband all day in business in Derry. It was a gigantic task but a challenge I was determined to face.

My first try was the potato. I read in my ABC that one could grow potatoes in 'lazy beds', which was also a good way to clean the ground.

My husband scythed off the top of weeds, coarse grass, brambles and tree seedlings. We then marked out a small plot with pegs and string.

Sods of about 18 inch square were lifted off and placed grass side down either side of a shallow trench – the potatoes were placed in this trench about a foot apart and covered with a sprinkling of soil. I remember the thrill when the first green shoots appeared. The sods were roughly chopped in situ and used to earth up the shoots in very rough drills.

While the potatoes were growing we took on another strip of land to grow broad beans. By this time my husband had managed to get a load of manure from a local farmer.

A deep trench was dug, the soil well broken up and in the bottom of it we put the chopped up turf then a heavy dose of manure, the soil placed on top then lightly tramped down. The beans were planted six inches apart then covered with two inches of soil.

With reference to my ABC of Vegetable Gardening I decided to try a ‘hot bed’ to grow lettuce. My husband knocked out the bottom of an apple box to give a small frame. A deep hole two spades deep was dug slightly smaller than the frame – this was filled with alternate layers of manure and grass cuttings – well tramped down. The frame was put on top and filled with the soil which had been put through a coarse riddle.

Small rows of lettuce, radishes and beetroot were sown and a piece of window glass placed on top. It was surprising how soon the seeds germinated as the manure and grass cuttings heated the soil. I made the mistake most new gardeners make by sowing the seeds too thickly and then not thinning them out sufficiently.

By this time there was lush growth on the potatoes which my husband had ‘earthed up’ two or three times. When they had flowered and the flowers had died we took a spade to try them. What a disappointment! Loads of small potatoes, delicious to eat, but no weight of crop. Obviously a lack of humus as the sods were still dry and the potatoes hadn’t had the advantage of the manure.

Don’t worry if things go wrong. All gardeners make mistakes. It’s the best way to learn. And although the potatoes were small, cooked with butter and mint, they were still a treat!