February 2010 Newsletter

In the vegetable garden prepare a seed bed

In the vegetable garden prepare a seed bed ready for sowing but don’t be tempted to try to work the soil if it is too wet or frozen, you will do more harm than good. Only venture on to the garden if it is dry enough to be properly workable. Covering the soil with fleece or cloches for a couple of weeks will warm the soil. Rake soil to a fine tilth and water drills before you begin to sow. You can make the first sowings of broad beans, onions, summer cabbage, early carrots and parsnips, lettuce and peas, but keep them protected with cloches or fleece. In colder areas wait a few more weeks.

It is the perfect  time to build

It is the perfect time to build raised beds before the busy period of seed sowing gets properly underway. Timber Gro-Beds give you a structure that is both useful and ornamental in your garden. Easy to assemble Gro-Beds can be made and displayed in many different ways to create your own unique garden design.

It is easy to understand why they are once again growing in popularity. Gro-Beds clearly define individual areas essential for crop rotation, giving better control of pests and diseases. They make it easier to improve soil structure and drainage. Soil is easier to warm up in spring for earlier crops and timber is an ideal material to secure fleece or netting to.

The best way to get your soil into tip top condition is to add the contents of your compost bin on the top of your soil after weeding and digging over. You can dig it in or just layer in on the top where it will gradually be worked in by earthworms. I also save any spent compost from hanging baskets and containers and just tip them out onto the beds, it is amazing how quickly your soil will become much more friable, crumbly and healthy.

If you would like to get ahead early with seed sowing

If you would like to get ahead early with seed sowing there are some vegetables you can start now in a Heated Propagator. Tomatoes, globe artichokes, celery, early cabbage, cauliflower and onions can all be started early with some heat and reasonable light levels. Sow early peas in modules or a length of guttering ready to plant out once established and when the soil is a bit warmer. Broad beans and lettuce such as All the Year Round can also be sown in modules now to get a head start on direct sown plants, ready for planting out later.

Rhubarb  Crowns

Order Rhubarb Crowns now ready for delivery in March. Planting three crowns will allow you to force one (once established) for the earliest tender stems, while giving a previously forced crown a recovery period as once they have been forced they should be allowed to grow naturally the following season to recover their vigour.  Rhubarb should be a couple of years old before forcing, as this process takes a lot of energy and plants are best left to establish a good root system first. Forcing simply excludes light from the growing crown by the use of a rhubarb forcer or an up-turned bucket, forcing the plant to send out young shoots to seek the light. Stockbridge Arrow is one of the best varieties for forcing.

Begin your  gardening year with a spring-clean

Begin your gardening year with a spring-clean - if you have a grubby greenhouse give it a good spring clean before you need to start seed sowing in earnest! Citrox is a natural garden disinfectant that can be safely used on all your greenhouse surfaces including pots, capillary matting, staging, tools and accessories. It is effective against a wide range of bacterial and fungal diseases. Try to get in all the nooks and crannies where over-wintering pests might be lurking. Give the glass a good clean to remove dirt and algae and maximise the available light to your plants and seedlings.

A diluted solution of Citrox can be used to wash bulbs, corms and tubers and it is effective on pond accessories and bird tables too. It can even be added to water butts to keep water sweet and free from disease.

Some summer bedding plants

Some summer bedding plants need a longer growing period to give the best performance these include busy lizzies, geraniums, petunias and nicotianas. They need to be kept at a temperature of 21ºC (70ºF). You can also plant begonia tubers in trays of moist compost. Check tubers before planting and make sure the concave side is uppermost, lightly cover the top of the tuber with a thin layer of compost. Maintain a temperature of 16ºC (60ºF) in a bright position, water when the compost dries out. When shoots are 5cm-7.5cm (2in-3in) long transfer to permanent pots or hanging baskets.

Gardening Tips
If you are thinking of growing your own

If you are thinking of growing your own Asparagus you should begin by preparing the site now, weed thoroughly removing all perennial weeds and roots and incorporating plenty of organic matter ready for planting in a few weeks time. Asparagus beds are a long term investment and not part of crop rotation, so you will need a sunny area that can be set aside as a permanent site. A well managed bed can continue to crop for well over 20 years, so good initial preparation will pay dividends for the future of your crop. In future seasons keep weeds at bay and top dress every spring.

Having made such a thorough job of preparing your bed, make sure you buy only first quality one year old Asparagus Crowns. Plant them 12-18in apart (a double staggered row 18in apart will maximise your space). Do not harvest in the first year, but allow the crowns to grow and develop a good root system, cut sparingly in the second year and by the third year you will have the best asparagus you have ever tasted! (Rather than the insipid, imported spears to be found year round in supermarkets - which have all the flavour of damp cardboard)!

As fruit bushes and trees begin to come into  growth

As fruit bushes and trees begin to come into growth give them a feed with a top dressing of general purpose fertiliser such as Organic Extra. Although trees will crop without this treatment, top-dressing will encourage stronger roots, foliage and boost fruit production later in the year. As with all fertiliser do not over feed, as more does not necessarily mean better and can do more harm than good, follow the instructions and your trees will thank you for it with a healthy crop of fruit later in the year.

As you harvest your spring cabbages

As you harvest your spring cabbages leave some stem in the ground, make a cross cut on the top and you should get new shoots growing to provide more leafy spring greens. Keep cutting your red and green Kale, if you take the leaves from the crown first you will encourage tender side-shoots to form which will keep the plants cropping for many weeks. Harvest sprouting broccoli in the same way and check it regularly as broccoli can put on a quick spurt of growth during mild weather. A top dressing of Organic Extra will give all your over-wintered vegetables a real boost to encourage further cropping.

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

If you managed to sow and over-winter a green manure crop it is the right time to begin digging it in, while it is fresh and green. It will break down easier and quicker than if you leave it to get too tough. Chop it up well with your spade or go over it with a strimmer before digging in as this will help break it down, the finer the chop the quicker it breaks down and the better it will be for your soil. Green manures suppress weeds and help prevent nutrients being washed out of the soil by rain and snow. They add humus and release nutrients slowly back into the soil over time, making them readily available to following crops. Avoid planting for 2 – 3 weeks to allow it to begin the process of breaking down from soft green plant material to wonderful life-giving humus.