My top gardening Myths
Ever since the 1960's when Nurseries started to be converted into Garden Centres and Corporations
realised the huge potential of the domestic gardener to provide huge streams of revenue, many myths
were spread accross the media to put people off using home made or local sourced materials.
Over the years this has been expanded upon to the extent that now every gardening radio or TV
programe, book or publication is squarely designed from the bottom up to persuade the general public
to spend lots of money. Fine. Some folks like spending money needlessly but most do not realise it
is not required.
who started spouting this nonsense? Most new age gardeners blindly quote this verbatim
without ever making any checks. Horse manure is actually quite weak in fertiliser elements and
should be used mainly as a mulch or soil conditioner. Seedlings, both sown or planted, and weeds
happily grow in, on and through heavy coverings of manure without any ill effects. Drop some on
the lawn and the only noticable change is the grass becoming lush and green. (It should be noted
though that any large heap of fresh vegetation will generate a lot of heat and manure is no
Gardeners have become so used to relying on garden centre produce for all their needs that
there now seems to be an inate aversion to anything natural. It must come from a shop in a bag to
be of any use and anything smelly in a loose pile cannot be good. Wise up. The garden industry is
While talking about manure let me bash another myth on the head. Time and time again gardeners
who know nothing about science will give any manure user the dire warning that if the manure
contains sawdust or shavings it will rob the soil of its nitrogen. How can this be? The
sawdust or shavings will be saturated with nitrogen which will slowly leach out into the soil.
This is one of the main reasons for using the manure in the first place. Also bear in mind that
the soil is probably already lacking in nitrogen and you cannot take away what is not there
This myth has its roots firmly lodged with the garden centres who do not see the point in
anyone helping themselve to free manure when they could be spending loads of money on small bags
of fertiliser. The basis of the science is the true fact that lumps of wood and bark chips will
take in nitrogen, mainly from the atmosphere, to feed the fungi that grow in the decomposing
wood. This is used to great effect when used on rustic paths, the wood chip suffocates the weeds
but wood chips and manure are not the same.
No topic about gardening generates more heat than the raised bed debate. Basically there are
two deeply entrenched sides, neither of which will give an inch. On the side against, there is
the slowly diminishing band of skilled gardeners who have no wish to create extra work for a
substantially reduced harvest. In favour of the raised bed system is the growing army of mainly
middle-class women jumping on the current fashion for gardening as portrayed on TV. These
newcomers have no gardening skills and no intention of aquiring any gardening skills.
Let's look at what is wrong with the raised bed. First of all can I just put the record
straight about what is generally referred to as a raised bed. Strictly they are not really raised
at all but simply timber borders forming a crude box. Most gardeners and farmers know that all
the problems from weeds and pests come from the boudaries where there is no control. Raised beds
on an allotment create between 6 to 10 times the boundary area, all of which has to be maintained.
Surprisingly, yields are much lower too and I will explain why in the groan about square foot
By far the biggest drawback is the incredible waste of space created by a bed system. This is
a hotly debated topic but all the users I communicate with have their heads in the compost when
discussing the amount of space wasted. The most efficient raised bed system will waste about 50% of
the land space. The devotees point to the space between rows of crops grown in the traditional
manner and claim this space is pathway. While inter row space can and is used for occasional
access, this space is actually vital root space for the crops and a good gardener uses the hoe or
scuffle to prevent any soil compaction.
Readers may think that I'm just another stubborn old man grumbling away at the newcomers but
that is not the case. In my impetuous youth I was a firm believer in the new fangled bed system
and took the system to heart, but as an already accomplished gardener, I quickly realised that
yields were somehow lacking in spite of all the extra work intailed.
Several clever people have made an enormous amount of money from gullible folk desparate to
adopt any method that will save them the task of a little digging. All veg have an optimum
spacing to provide maximum yield from a given space. If planted closer than optimum, yields are
lower. Square foot gardeners have adapted to this shortcoming by stating that they prefer small
vegetables. A 6cm globe has eight times the volume of a 3cm equivalent and tastes exactly the same.
Advocates of the square foot method further point out that under their system they can replant
as soon as a few crops have been harvested. Well this is known as catch cropping or intercropping
and good gardeners have been doing that for centuries.
Ha Ha. Gotta keep the loonies of the grass.
Top of page.