April 2010 Newsletter

In the vegetable garden prepare a seed bed

Plant early potatoes adding a sprinkling of Potato Fertiliser to the trench as you plant. You can also use it as a top dressing as the plants grow.  If you live in a mild area and began planting your early potatoes last month be sure to earth them up (pull the soil up and over the emerging shoots to form a mound), as soon as any green shoots begin to show, to eliminate frost damage and produce the biggest yield.  You will need to do this at regular intervals until there is a good mound over all the plants.

It is the perfect  time to build

A greenhouse expands the range of plants you can grow successfully and is also a great place to start off many hardy vegetables so you can reap the benefits of an earlier harvest. Crops can be started in earnest now in the greenhouse where they will benefit from the longer, warmer days and higher light levels. Tomatoes are probably the favourite plants for greenhouse growing but cucumbers, sweet peppers, chillies and aubergines can all be sown now in a frost-free greenhouse. If you sowed them earlier in a propagator, they will soon be ready for potting on. Wait until they have their first true leaves before you prick them out, pot on into 3½ inch pots and do not allow them to dry out. Standing the pots in a seed tray or on capillary matting will help keep them moist. If you are a bit late with your sowing you might consider using a heated propagator it will get your seeds germinating much quicker than they would normally, getting them off to a good start.

Do not be tempted to transplant your young plants outside too early. Harden them off well and do not leave outside overnight until you are sure the weather will not damage them.

If you would like to get ahead early with seed sowing

With warmer soil you can make further sowings of carrots, beetroot, summer cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, radish and salad crops.If you made an earlier sowing of salad leaves, spring onions or radishes there may be some large enough to pull already, don’t leave them until they are full size – the secret is to start harvesting as soon as you can - that way they won’t run to seed before you have time to eat them. Covering them with mesh insect netting or a net cloche will keep out carrot and cabbage root-fly whist also giving some protection from cold nights.

Continue harvesting the last of your sprouting broccoli, leeks and kale, sprinkle some Organic Extra on the soil around the plants to give them a final boost before they finish cropping. You can sow peas in succession from now until June to give you a really long cropping period. Sowing a short row every 2 or 3 weeks will give good continuity of cropping. Applying a top dressing of Organic Extra a day or two before any planting will release nutrients to your plants over a long period and help add humus to your soil.

Rhubarb  Crowns

The simplest patio or garden can be transformed by the clever use of containers. You don’t just have to just use flowers in containers. There are many fruits and vegetables which will grow very well too. Tender varieties such as Aubergines, tomatoes and peppers make very attractive plants and can be grown in a sunny sheltered place during the summer. You don’t even have to sow the seeds our Starter Plants are grown in individual modules so you can be sure they have been given the very best start in life on our nursery. They are well rooted plants, ready for you to pot on.

Gro-Sacks, pots and troughs are all suitable to grow a variety of vegetables and salads. Annual herbs especially can be grown in all sorts of quirky containers chives or basil or grow a mix of herbs in an empty supermarket container. Just remember whatever the container it must have drainage holes. Marshalls Gro-Sack makes an ideal container for summer flowers or vegetables. It is deep enough to be used to grow the longest and most perfect carrots and is a great container for strawberry plants.

Begin your  gardening year with a spring-clean

Bees have been in decline as much of their natural habitat has been destroyed over the past few decades by intense farming practices. Farmers have now come to realise that leaving a margin around some of their fields and sowing nectar rich native plants brings rich rewards as better pollination increases the harvest of their crops.

By planting nectar and pollen rich flowers in our gardens we can also do our bit for the local bee population. Bumblebee Margin Mix can be planted inareas near your vegetable plot, where they can have a huge effect on improving pollination and crop yields. This mix contains Borage, Phacelia and Essex Red Clover – a real magnet for bees and a superb mix to grow in your flower border too.

Hardy annuals such as Calendula, Scabious, Larkspur, Nasturtium, Limnanthes (Poached Egg Plant) and Cornflowers will also attract beneficial insects to your garden. You can simply scatter the seed evenly over the area you want them to grow and just cover them with a thin layer of soil. With this method it may be difficult to tell the emerging flower seedlings from weeds, which can create problems when hoeing or weeding. A better way is to mark out your area and divide it up into a series of drills which you can mark at each end making it easier to thin out the seedlings to the desired spacing for each plant and also making it much easier to weed. These plants will provide lots of pollen and nectar encouraging bees and many other beneficial insects to your garden.

Some summer bedding plants

Many herbs are also a magnet for bees and other insects and can be grown as a mix in a large trough or potor in individual pots by the back door. They are also superb border plants. The lovely blue flowers of Borage are irresistible to bees and butterflies. Try putting a Borage flower in each section of an ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze, they look gorgeous in summer drinks.

My absolute ‘must have’ summer herbs include Chives – even the flowers are edible and look fantastic in salads - Coriander, Oregano and Basil of course. Thyme and Parsley are a necessity and I have recently found Summer Savory to be a fantastic addition to the herb garden. A relative of Thyme it is very aromatic with a slightly peppery flavour and goes perfectly with beans, in fact if you grow it next to your Broad Beans it is reputed to help repel black fly! When harvesting any beans pick some sprigs of Summer Savory and cook them together - it really adds to the flavour. Finely chop Savory leaves and add to melted butter or a buttery white sauce and pour over Broad Beans – even I can eat them this way and I don’t even like Broad Beans!

I also make sure I have some stalwart Perennial Herbs for use all year round. Tricolor Sage has beautiful leaves as well as all the flavour of its green relative. Golden Marjoram looks delicate with bright golden foliage and little pink flowers in summer but is very hardy. Of course no herb garden is complete without the ubiquitous Rosemary with fine silvery-green foliage and an abundance of pale blue flowers in spring - superb with roast potatoes and lamb dishes.

Gardening Tips
If you are thinking of growing your own

When it comes to garden pests, prevention is the best cure and by catching them early, you can get some control before they really take a hold. Slugs and snails are the first things to tackle. They are active overnight and can devastate a crop while you are sleeping!

Biological control Nemaslug consists of naturally occurring microscopic nematodes (that are too small to be seen with the naked eye) and controls all common species of small to medium sized slugs both above and below ground.

You simply mix it with water in a bucket and water into the soil beneath your plants with a watering can. One application of Nemaslug provides 300,000 nematodes for every square metre of soil, giving at least six weeks control of slugs. This is generally enough time for seedlings and bedding plants to get well established. Nemaslug is easy to apply and does not leave any unsightly residues. The majority of the slugs will die underground, so don't expect to see too many dead slugs lying around.

Apply Nemaslug to moist soil with a temperature of 5ºC (40ºF) or over, this is also when plants naturally start growing. Nematodes are capable of surviving the odd frost; so don't worry if the temperature falls after you have applied Nemaslug. The nematodes are completely harmless to birds, animals and children. Start your control regime early and you will be able to target the young slugs growing under the ground feeding on humus.

Equally important for container grown plants is the control of Vine Weevil. The damage the adults do to plants is easy to recognise as they leave distinctive crescent-shaped notches on leaves. The biological control Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer contains the nematodes which seek out the vine weevil larvae and attack by entering natural body openings. Once inside, they release bacteria that stops the larvae from feeding, quickly killing it. They do not stop there. The nematodes reproduce inside the dead pest and release a new generation of hungry infective nematodes, which disperse searching for further prey.

As fruit bushes and trees begin to come into  growth

Intercropping of vegetables is practiced in most successful vegetable gardens. It maximises all available space increasing productivity and helping to keep the weeds down, it is invaluable in smaller plots. It makes sense to plant some of the faster growing vegetables between the rows of the slower maturing types. Or, even between the individual plants.

Some of the longer, slower growing vegetables have space to spare in the early stages. Parsnips, Hamburg Parsley, Swede, Turnip and Brussels Sprouts take a long time to mature so plant quick growing crops between the rows. Good varieties to use are lettuce - especially cut and come again Salad Leaves, Little Gemand Dazzle. Oriental Vegetables, Spring Onions, Radish, Spinach, Dwarf French Beans and Early Peas can also be grown between the rows.

Another good combination is quick growing lettuce and other leafy crops near to or in between climbing legume crops - Peas and Beans of all types absorb nitrogen from the air and release it back into the soil through nodules on the roots. Nitrogen is necessary for leaf growth so everything is happy.

As you harvest your spring cabbages

Once your tomato plants are large enough to plant into their final positions remove the lower set of leaves and bury the plant deeply - up to the top few leaves. They will develop roots all the way along the buried stem making them stronger and sturdier.

If you are planting in a grow bag make sure you have loosened the compost well before planting, these bags are always compacted when you buy them and need a good pummelling before they are suitable for use. Try using the grow bag on its side instead of the normal way as this gives the deepest root run for your plants.

Another trick I have found that works with Tomatoes and grow bags is to lay your tomato plant on its side when planting and bury the stem up to the top few leaves. The plant will automatically straighten itself and grow upwards towards the light. This is especially suitable if the plant has become a bit leggy and the stem is a bit wonky!

If you managed to sow and over-winter a green manure crop

As your Bedding, Basket and Patio Plants arrive they should be placed in a greenhouse, conservatory or other frost free place with good natural light. Pot them into 3½ inch pots to ensure they develop a strong, healthy root system. Shuttle Trays and pots consist of 5 trays containing 18 pots of this size, which fit securely inside the black trays and are just right for potting on your young plants before planting out into hanging baskets, containers or directly into the garden. The trays keep pots stable and upright and make watering and moving plants around easy.

When you plant up your containers, incorporating Water Retaining Gel Crystals and Slow Release Fertiliser in the compost will help keep your plants in peak condition all summer long. The Gel Crystals hold 400 times its own weight in water and releases it to plant roots as required. The crystals re-absorb at each watering. The easy to use Slow Release Fertiliser Granules promote active healthy roots, greener foliage and abundant flowers. Just one application feeds plants for six months. Using both the Gel and Granules mixed with the compost at planting time reduces plant stress through lack of water and nutrients.