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Harvesting salads in March

January 10, 2013 Books, Gotalottie No Comments

Harvesting salads in March and potatoes in April, on an allotment, in Yorkshire.

It sounds impossible yet on one large allotment in Keighley, West Yorkshire; one man is doing just this – harvesting salad vegetables and potatoes in early Spring.


Jack First, an experienced horticulturalist has revived and modernised the ancient method of growing in hot beds and is successfully growing healthy vegetables at least 2 months earlier than is traditionally thought possible.

‘A hot bed is a warmed, protected environment, created by heat generated from decomposing organic matter, used for producing early crops’


In reality, a hot bed is a large raised bed filled with fresh farm or stable litter which has been activated to start decomposing, thus being a source of heat. Jack employs a smaller framed bed placed on top of this to retain the growing medium, usually the previous years heat source and caps it with a ‘light’ – a protective frame of glass or horticultural plastic.


There is nothing new in the concept, it was well used in France and the UK in the late 19th century and is believed to have been used by the Romans 2,000 years ago, to placate Emperor Tiberius’ demands for fresh salad out of season.

Apart from running courses, giving talks and writing articles; Jack Firth has just written a book ‘Hot Beds: How to grow early crops using an age-old technique’. In it he describes the history, the method in detail and he suggests many useful propogation and growing tips. There are many clear illustrations of the simple frame constructions that require the most basic of DIY skills and photographs to support the text at every stage.


‘January – The garden may be deep in the grip of winter, but in the hot bed there is warmth and shelter. This is the time to start sowing early crops.’



These are difficult words for a gardener to comprehend, but the book is filled with many examples, well illustrated by images which support the success stories.


The benefits don’t end at the onset of the summer, when hopefully soil temperatures have caught up a little. The raised beds are decomposing and beginning to provide a rich warm source of nutrients for those summer vegetables that are so difficult to grow outdoors in UK climates: cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. These plants will be maturing very successfully in the comfortable micro-climate of the raised bed and will be sending their hungry roots deep into the nitrogen-rich under layers.


‘Like other vegetables, cucumbers need protection from wind, which is provided by the frame. They also require good drainage and plenty of organic matter, which the hot bed provides in ample supply, even though by summer its heat will have declined’


 Jack is certainly pioneering this highly productive, yet low-cost, year-round gardening technique. It is difficult not to be tempted into trying the same to some degree and upon reading this delightful book, we have decided to incorporate some of these methods into our own allotment during the next 2 months.

We’re pretty certain that you will too.

Hot Beds: How to Grow Early Crops Using an Age-Old Technique by Jack First is published by Green Books (RRP £9.95 paperback); available here.


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