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Glossary of vegetable gardening terms

Annual
A plant that lives for one year only. Most vegetables are annuals.

Biennial
A plant which lasts for two years. The first season is a leaf and shoot growing phase, during which energy is stored for the second season's flowering. Biennial vegetables are cropped after the first year. Examples include parsnips and carrots.

Bolting
'Running to seed' or flowering before you want. In many cases this will ruin the vegetable you are trying to grow.

Catch Cropping
Sometimes one vegetable crop comes to an end a couple of months before you are ready to plant the next crop on that part of ground. Catch cropping is when you sow a quick maturing crop in this vacant gap. Suitable crops for filling such gaps include spring onions, radishes and lettuce - they mature quickly and can be 'out of the way' quickly.

Chitting (see how)
Germinating seed before sowing. This is always done for potatoes, and may also be done for other seeds, such as sweetcorn, by placing them in a damp, warm place.

Green manure
A crop grown specifically for digging back into the soil. These may be grown to protect the ground between crops, to stop nutrients leaking away, or to provide green matter and nitrogen ready for the next crops. Examples include rye, mustard and broad beans. see green manure page

Half-hardy
Plants unable to survive the winter without protection. Examples include runner beans and sweetcorn.

Harden off (see how)
The gradual acclimatisation of seedlings grown indoors or in greenhouses to outside conditions, before transplanting. This is often done in a cold frame which is gradually opened more and more each day to let in more 'cold' air.

Hardy
Plants able to survive the winter without protection. Examples include brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Intercropping
Growing small crops in the spaces alongside larger plants, or alongside plants which are so slow growing that before they reach maturity the smaller crop will have been harvested. Some plants (such as spinach) may be grown this way because they benefit from the shade given by the larger crop. Other varieties suitable for intercropping include radishes, lettuce and early peas.

Mulch
A layer of material placed over the ground, for the purposes of feeding the soil, conserving moisture, stopping weeds germinating, keeping the soil warm or protecting from heavy rain. Organic mulches include manure, compost, leafmould, bark, straw or newspaper; non-organic materials include black polythene, carpet and gravel. See mulching page

Nitrogen fixer
Leguminous plants (like peas) which have bacteria living in nodules on their roots that are able to 'fix' the nitrogen from the soil, so that it may be released later for the next crop. Many green manures have this characteristic.

Offset
A small, complete plant produced by many bulbous plants. It can be easily removed from the original bulb and planted on to for another plant.

Perennial
Plants that live for more than two years. Examples of vegetables that are left the same spot for many years include rhubarb and asparagus.

Pricking out (see how)
Moving tiny seedlings from pots or trays into new pots, to give them more room. This is done when the first true leaves appear, as follows:
  • Make holes with a pencil in the compost to which they are to be moved.
  • Hold each seedling carefully by one of its leaves, and with the aid of a pencil, ease it out of its place.
  • Place each into one of the new holes, then water them.

Seed bed (see how)
A specific bed where seeds are sown for germination and growing into small seedlings with the intention that they will later be transplanted to their final growing position.

Thinly (sowing)
This is a vague term which is used ubiquitously. In general, if you place small seeds roughly 1.2 to 2.5cm (half an inch to an inch) apart then you won't go far wrong. Larger seeds (such as peas) are placed further apart. If the germination rate is high and many seedlings are wasted by later thinning, just sow thinner next time!

Transplanting
Taking seedlings from a seed bed or container and planting them where they will grow to maturity. Brassicas are usually transplanted (because they need more room when they grow to maturity than they do when just germinating). Root crops generally grow poorly after transplanting. In general, water the seedlings the day before you lift them, and water again after they have been planted in their new position.

True leaves
When a seed germinates a pair of leaves is produced. The set of leaves to appear after these are the true leaves. They look much more like smaller versions of the leaves of the mature plant.

Tuber
The swollen part of a plant underground that stores energy. Potatoes are tubers.
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