Happy New Year! Welcome to the brand new Marshalls January Newsletter packed full of hints, tips and advice to help you around your garden. Last year was such a great season so let’s hope that this year is just as good.
This month we’ll be looking at the underutilised Brussels Sprout, how to grow it and how to use it to its full potential in the kitchen. You’ll find some essential advice on how to deal with possible frost damage as well as some top jobs which you can be getting on with over the next few weeks. Don’t forget to check out our monthly competition; you could win over £30 of prizes! Good luck
Let’s be honest, January isn’t the busiest time in the garden and the weather isn’t great but if you wrap up warm there are still things that you can be getting on with now that’ll benefit you down the line. If you do nothing else this month make sure you prioritise these jobs.
Force Rhubarb (5 minutes)
There are two ways to force Rhubarb: Outdoors or inside. Indoor forcing produces the earliest crop but you’ll have to lift the crowns, so if you want to save time and effort, force in situ, outdoors. Whichever method you choose, you’re trying to achieve two things; exclude light and introduce heat. The traditional method is to use an upturned bin surrounded with straw but you could use deep plant pots and bubble wrap.
For indoor forcing, lift sections of the crowns (with at least 1 bud per section), pot them up into large pots or tubs and bring them into a greenhouse, garage or shed. The next step is the same as forcing outdoors however with indoor forcing you can control the temperature using a heater. The warmer it is the better, but you’re looking for a temperature around 18-20°C (64-68°F). You don’t want the compost to be too wet, only moist but make sure the compost never dries out completely. Harvest your Rhubarb as soon as the stems touch the top of their forcer.
Dig a Bean Trench (1 hour)
Although it’s too early to grow beans, all beans require good ground preparation and now during the “quiet period”, is the perfect time to dig a bean trench. Your beans will thank you for doing this as they’re hungry feeders and require a lot of moisture, something which will be a lot easier to provide them if the ground is well prepared.
The best way to prepare is to double-dig your trench. It’s a lot of effort but by doing this you’ll give your beans the best rooting environment from planting right through to harvest.
- Dig out a spit of soil and put it to one side, in a wheelbarrow or mounded nearby.
- Fork over the bottom of the trench as deep as you can to improve aeration and drainage.
- Fill up trench with well-rotted garden compost or manure
- Replace the soil from the wheelbarrow over the trench.
- You should end up with a mound of soil along the trench which will gradually sink down.
For an easier, less strenuous method, simply dig a trench a foot deep and fill with organic matter such as vegetable peelings, leaves, weeds, paper and even tea bags. These trenches can be used for other hungry crops including squashes.
One of the most commonly asked questions about fruit tree growing is ‘Why hasn’t my fruit tree produced any fruit this year?’ Obviously there could be lots of reasons why, but one particular reason could be frost damage to blossom. Frost is of course prevalent this time of year so it makes sense to take precautions now and although fruit trees are generally very hardy, their blossoms can be easily damaged.
If you grow Apples, Pears, Apricots and other fruit trees it’ll be worth your while investing in some fleece. The simple act of surrounding your trees with fleece can be the difference between a bountiful or pitiful harvest later in the year. Peaches, Apricots and Nectarines are most at risk because they are particularly early flowerers and when planting new trees, it’s worth positioning them against a sunny, south facing wall in a sheltered position. For existing trees, plenty of fleece protection is your best bet.
For must of us greenhouses are essential for growing decent crops of tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergines and cucumbers, so it’s worth giving them a bit of TLC this time of year in preparation for the new season. It’s not the most exciting gardening jobs, but clearing your gutters, washing the glass to clear algae and moss will improve the growing environment, helping you to produce a better crop.
Remove all plants from inside your greenhouse and put them somewhere sheltered. This might seem like a bit of an effort, but by doing this you’ll have easy access to every corner and every pane of glass, plus you don’t want to be working around pots and tubs which can be trip hazards. Sweep up any plant debris which could harbour overwintering pests and diseases and wash the slabs and the whole inside with hot disinfectant. Wash the outside of your greenhouse and clear out any algae that has formed between the glass. Finally replace any broken panes and tighten any loose fittings.
Unless you’re growing overwintering crops such as Broad Beans and Brassicas, the chance is that the majority of your plot is fallow. If this is the case then now is the perfect time to get them prepared for the main season. We’ve already touched on creating a bean trench but there are other things that you can do to improve the condition of your soil.
Addition of organic matter is the best way to improve and prepare your plot; its adds bulk, refreshes nutrients, improves drainage, encourages micro-organisms and enhances aeration. Organic matter comes in may forms from garden waste, farmyard manure or leaf mould but which ever you choose there are two main methods of applying it top your plot. The first is the no dig method which follows the ethos that the soil creates it’s own structure and ecosystem over time. If you follow this method simply cover your plot with your chosen organic matter and gentle rake level, no need for digging. The other method is good old fashioned digging in and gets the goodness to the roots of the plants straight away rather than letting nature take its course.
Plant of the Month - Brussels Sprouts
Whether you hate them or love them, no other vegetable typifies the winter season like the humble Brussels Sprout. When cooked right they are truly delicious and are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid and antioxidants, all of which are really important this time of year. They’re commonly boiled but sprouts are a really versatile vegetable and can be used in much the same way as other Brassicas, in stir fries, soups, stews, sautéed, roasted or braised...the possibilities are endless. Take a look at our ‘Recipe of the Month’ for inspiration.
How to grow
They grow best in cool climates which is one reason why they became so popular in the UK and because they’re so well suited to our growing conditions are easy to grow.
- Sow seeds indoors in cell trays from February through to April.
- When plants reach 10-15cm / 4-6in high (from mid-May to early June) transplant out into your plot. They should have at least seven leaves.
- Position plants 60cm (2ft) apart with each row 75cm (2.5ft) apart.
- They grow best in a sheltered yet sunny site. It’s important to keep them protected from strong winds.
- Adding well-rotted manure or general purpose fertiliser before planting is definitely beneficial.
- During periods of prolonged dry weather water at least every two weeks
- Mounding up soil around the base will help protect plants if there are any excessively strong winds.
- To harvest remove the lowest sprouts first leaving the others on the plant until you need them. They should be firm, tightly closed and about the size of a walnut. If you can, wait until there has been a frost as this improves the flavour.
- Once you’ve eaten all of your sprouts, the tops can be harvested and cooked in the same way as cabbage.
Varieties to try
Clodius-Excellent flavour with solid round sprouts on medium height plants and a good resistance to powdery mildew.
Gustus-Produces good quality sprouts evenly distributed on the stalk.
Red Bull-Striking red buttons, which retain their colour when steamed. Has a lovely mild flavour.
Titus- Tall, sturdy plants produce small dark tight buttons with a smooth appearance. Maturing from December to February.
Ruby Crunch – Uniform and reliable plant producing red sprouts that look good and taste delicious. Name chosen by Mr Brian Olds, the lucky winner of our ‘Name the Sprout’ competition.
Crispus - A superb variety that’s vigorous with an excellent standing ability. Produces small, tight, dark green buttons with good flavour.
Montgomery - If you remember the famous ‘Bedford’ sprouts, you will enjoy this British-bred and heavy-cropping variety. Deliciously smooth, dark-green buttons.
Cromwell– A very early, heavy cropping variety, ready to pick from September onwards. Produces top quality, neat buttons with good flavour and hold well on the plant for many weeks.
Recipe of the Month: Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta
If you’ve not had enough of Brussels Sprout by now then you might want to try this simple yet delicious recipe. Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta is a proper winter warmer that you’ll love...even if you don’t like sprouts! It’ll take about 30 minutes and is ideal for those cold winter night, plus it’s a great way to use up left over sprouts.
- 500g Brussels sprouts
- 140g diced pancetta
- 200g cooked chestnuts, chopped up
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar
- 200ml vegetable stock
- Boil the sprouts for 3 mins
- Fry the pancetta in a pan until crispy then set aside in a bowl
- Add the chestnuts into the pan with the sugar and toss about for a few minutes
- Pour in the stock, reduce by about half
- Re-add the sprouts and mix in the pancetta
- Warm through to serve with a roast dinner
Pest and Disease Watch
It’s not strictly a pest or disease but frost damage can devastate a crop as much as a plague of locusts. It’s also no selective and can effect any none hardy plant, especially if young or tender luckily there are a few simple precautions which can help you protect your plants and crops.
Ground frost occurs when temperatures in the soil drop below zero. Repeated freezing and thawing causes massive root damage especially with container plants. Either bring tender plants under protection or lift and wrap your pots with bubble-wrap.
In areas that are exposed frost damage can be made worse by strong drying winds. Creating shelter in the form of a windbreak such as a hedge should reduce wind damage in winter. Temporary windbreaks can be erected out of posts and fleece.
Beware of frost pockets. These are areas of low ground which cool air flows into. If you have frost pockets in your garden move any susceptible plants up hill or into protection.
Heat your tender greenhouse plants using greenhouse heaters and protect your outdoor plants and crops with fleece protection. Any small potted plants can be moved under a cold frame which protects them from the worst frost and winter wet.
Sow and Grow Now
At this time of year it’s cold and dark outside but there are a handful of crops which you can start off now in a greenhouse. Aubergines, peppers and chillies are classic greenhouse crops but they can take a while to germinate so it’s best to get an early start, with the help of a greenhouse heater. Other crops such as summer cauliflower and leeks can be sown now through to April and if you sow a batch each month you can have good successional cropping between May and August for Summer cauliflower and August and March for leeks.
At this time of year harvest mainly includes Brassicas such as sprouting broccoli, brussels sprouts, spring greens, winter and savoy cabbages, winter cauliflowers, kale and Swiss chard or root crops such as maincrop carrots, parsnips and swede. There are a few big hitters that pack massive flavours. Celeriac, chicory and leeks help break up the constant flavour of cabbages and sprouts, and they all work really well in soups. Other than these, there are lovely leaf crops like butterhead lettuce and micro-Leaves which can be used to make wonderful winter salads.
The new Marshalls catalogue is on its way and should be with you from the 2nd of January. As always it’s packed full of great varieties, traditional and new. You can save up to 10% when you buy any 10 packets of seeds you’ll get the cheapest free.
It’s our Diamond Anniversary
This year we’re celebrating our 60th Birthday. We’d like to thank all of you for supporting us and we know you’re a loyal bunch, some of you have been with us right from the start! This coming year is set to be great and we really want to celebrate this fantastic milestone, so watch this space!
Great British Growing Awards 2015
We have been nominated, not once but twice, in the Great British Growing Awards 2015. We have been nominated for ‘Best Online Garden Retailer’ and ‘Best for Customer Service’. These nominations are entirely from the readers of Grow Your Own Magazine and their online visitors so we are thrilled! We would love your support so please vote for us by following this link. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X676G8D Voting closes on Sunday 4th January 2015 at midnight so there's still time to vote. Thanks for your support!