January 2011 Newsletter

Remove any yellow  leaves from over wintering brassicas

Plant bare-rooted fruit bushes and fruit trees while they are still dormant. If you have a small garden do not be put off planting a fruit tree because you think they need a lot of space. Many of our fruit trees are grown on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock and do not take up too much space, find out more about our rootstocks here. Fruit trees can also be trained and grown very successfully as a fan or espalier against a wall. Apples Scrumptious or Queen Cox are ideal varieties to train, as is Pear Doyenne du Comice. Peaches and Nectarines are perfect for growing against a warm, south facing wall.

Carrying out winter pruning

Begin chitting your seed potatoes, place them in a tray or an empty egg box with the ‘rose’ end (the end with most ‘eyes’) uppermost. Keep them in a cool, fairly light position but avoid direct sunlight (don’t put them in the dark - this will only produce pale spindly sprouts and weak growth). Shoots will begin to form on your potatoes in a few weeks and the tubers will be ready to grow away as soon as they are planted. Do not plant before March in sheltered southern areas or April for chillier parts of the country, unless you have warmed the soil and can give some protection against frost.

Important: Due to the current weather conditions we are holding back some of our despatches to prevent frost damage in transit. We will continue despatching as soon as weather conditions improve.

Prune grapevines

If you would like to grow vegetables but haven’t the facilities for sowing seeds, let us do the work of sowing, pricking out and growing on for you. Marshalls Vegetable Starter Plants are the perfect answer and have been expertly grown under ideal nursery conditions to ensure well developed plants with a good root system.  They will be despatched only when they are sturdy enough to be planted out ready for rapid establishment in your garden.

There is a very varied range, from artichoke, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cabbage and broccoli plants and many more. A Gro-sack or large pot can produce salad and vegetable crops throughout the summer.

Finish pruning

If you are fairly new to growing your own vegetables an easy place to start is with rhubarb. It is simple to grow without asking for too much attention and will provide you with tasty stalks at a time when fresh fruit from the garden is scarce. Grown for its tender, pink stems rhubarb is a very hardy vegetable - in fact it needs a period of cold over the winter to produce the best stalks. Before planting work plenty of well rotted manure or good garden compost mixed with a good general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore into the soil to enrich it. Dig a hole slightly bigger than the plant or crown. The top of the crown should sit just above the surface of the soil.

Established rhubarb crowns can be forced now for the earliest tender stems. Forcing excludes light from the growing crown by the use of a rhubarb forcer or just an up-turned bucket. Keeping the crowns in the dark encourages the plant to send out tender young stems, which are forced upwards looking for light. Heaping compost, straw or well-rotted manure around the forcer or bucket will generate a bit more warmth and they will start producing even sooner!  They need to 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. Once forced, plants should be allowed to grow naturally the next season to recover their vigour. Growing three crowns of rhubarb allows you to force one each year in rotation thus giving you the best of both worlds – tender, early, forced stems followed by a long season of harvesting mature stems, which can crop from May to August. It then gives the forced crowns a recovery period. Stockbridge Arrow is one of the best varieties for forcing

Over wintering

Seakale can be forced in just the same way as rhubarb, and will produce lots of tender, creamy-white stems but unlike Rhubarb it can be forced in the first season. You won’t find this unusual vegetable in supermarkets but growing your own is so simple - it is actually a UK native hardy perennial which can be found growing above the high-tide mark along many of our coastlines. It is quite a pretty plant in its own right, with fleshy, glaucous leaves and abundant white flowers, so leaving it to mature for a couple of seasons before blanching, means you get to appreciate its ornamental value too! Once forced the tender, blanched stems of seakale can be cooked and served like asparagus.

Finish pruning

Start the New Year by getting children involved in growing some easy veg. It gets kids outside in the fresh air and once they are interested in growing their own plants you will be amazed at how quickly they will begin to learn about the things we eat and more importantly how keen they will be to eat their own produce! There are loads of varieties that are very easy and will give children quick results. Begin with salad leaves, lettuce, radish, carrots – Purple Haze is a good one, it has a funky purple colour and sweet flavour.

And if the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor gardening growing Micro-Leaf vegetables on the kitchen windowsill is a doddle for children! What on earth are Micro-Leaf vegetables you might ask! Well they are simply vegetables harvested at a very young and tender stage in the growing process, usually at cotyledon or first true leaf stage (just like cress growing in a punnet). Use for salads and sandwiches or sprinkle on soups or even stir fries just before serving. Food garnished with those first little shoots always looks amazing!

Growing Micro-Leaf veg couldn’t be simpler, most are ready to eat within 7-14 days and are packed full of beneficial vitamins and minerals. They can be grown all year round all you need is a windowsill. Chefs in trendy restaurants rave over them!

They are so simple to grow, use a small seed tray or any shallow recycled food container, line with double thickness of kitchen roll cut to size and moisten well. Sow fairly thickly and place on a warm bright windowsill. Keep moist and harvest by cutting the stems with scissors at the seedling stage when the first true leaves develop.

Gardening Tips
Make sure trees

For the earliest spring crops cover some areas of the veg plot with a couple of layers of fleece, or cloches for a couple of weeks to raise the temperature and enable earlier sowings for extra early vegetable crops. Plan your crop rotation so that similar crops are not grown in the same space year after year to avoid a build up of contamination by soil borne pests and diseases and depletion of soil minerals and nutrients.. This will give you a more productive plot and help to prevent soil borne diseases.

Pidgeons

Soft fruit bushes should be pruned to maintain an open bowl shape allowing light and air to reach all branches, remove any weak or crossing branches. Cut back last seasons’ autumn fruiting raspberry canes and tie in new stems which will produce this years’ fruit.

Most soft fruit can also be trained and grown very successfully as a fan or espalier against a warm south facing wall. Erect training wires on walls and fences before planting it is so much easier to do at this stage. When planting remember that the soil at the base of a wall is often very dry, so plant at least 12 inches out. Angle the plant towards the wall and tie in to the wires as it grows. Keep wall trained plants well watered.

If you like the idea of growing soft fruit in this way try a pot grown Long Cane Blackberry Loch Tay which has already been grown on and shaped by our expert nurserymen to form a multi-stemmed, semi-mature plant, just tie in the stems to a support and in its first full season, it will produce a much heavier crop of fruit than a regular pot grown product. A regular Blackberry plant will, of course, grow on to reach the same size as the long cane plant, but why not save yourself the wait and start enjoying delicious blackberries sooner rather than later? Loch Tay has the added advantage of being thornless too meaning easier picking and no scratches!

If you are still clearing

If you are thinking of using raised beds for growing your veg, begin planning now while there is plenty of time to build them, you can fill them with all the lovely compost you have been making over the last year! There is no need to go to the expense of filling the beds right up with bought compost, this is expensive and - unless your garden soil is really poor - unnecessary. The level will increase and the structure improve year on year as you empty your own compost onto the beds and the worms get to work. Using spent compost from grow bags, patio pots and hanging baskets will all add bulk and improve the quality and structure of the soil within your beds. And the very fact that you don’t need to walk on the soil with raised bed gardening will help prevent compaction and keep the structure well aerated.

When tidying up

A little planning goes a long way in ensuring a productive and enjoyable vegetable garden! It’s a great time to start planning your upcoming growing season, the ground may be frozen but it’s a great opportunity to prepare your seed and plant orders for 2010.

A little task which often gets over looked is cleaning your gardening tools, including pots and seed trays to help prevent diseases or viruses from the previous year affecting this year’s seedlings - a natural disinfectant like Citrox is ideal. January for me means I get my pencil and paper out and draw a rough diagram of my allotment beds, marking out what and where things will be going, making sure I have good crop rotation from previous years, view our crop rotation blog for more information.

Remember: keep a log of planting dates and varieties, as well as your successes and failures – this helps you gain experience of how and what grows well in your garden.