March Newsletter 2013

Are you a ‘wannabe’ veg gardener but don’t have much time to spare, or can’t really be bothered with seed sowing, pricking out and transplanting? Well now is the time to take advantage of the Young Vegetable Plants available for delivery in May, June and even July - so there are really no excuses for not growing your own - it’s so easy! Just make hole with a dibber or trowel, pop in the plugs – water them in and bingo – job done! Just keep an eye open for pests such as slugs, aphids and pigeons, covering with Fleece or Insect Netting will keep them away and leave your plants to grow in tip top condition.

You don’t even need to have an area specifically for vegetables, many will grow happily in the border among your flowers, and some are very beautiful in their own right – Runner Beans, French Beans (especially the purple ones) have pretty flowers, Artichokes are very architectural and Courgettes have very attractive large, interesting leaves and can look great in the border.

Grafted Vegetables are great plants for busy gardeners to grow, they have been grafted on to a hardy base plant and produce stronger plants less susceptible to nutritional disorders and have a greater resistance to pests and disease, so need very little attention once planted.

 

If you love the taste of fresh English Asparagus when it is in season why not try growing your own. It is a really easy crop to grow but good preparation is the key to a productive Asparagus bed. Remember it will be permanent bed so choose your site carefully Asparagus grows best in an open sunny position but will tolerate dappled shade. Dig the plot to a good depth and remove all perennial weeds, incorporating plenty of well-rotted manure, home-made compost or Organic Extra.  Just prior to planting, apply a dressing of a good general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore or Fish Blood and Bone.

Planting good quality crowns is essential and Marshalls Asparagus are strong well-grown one year old crowns. Once planted do not cut for the first year to allow optimum development of the plants, cut only sparingly in the second year and from then on you will enjoy eight weeks cutting of superb spears each season. Try Gijnlim which is an early season variety and Backlim which is a mid-late season cropper, they both have the RHS Award of Garden Merit so you know you are on to a winner and growing the Duo-Pack of Gijnlim and Backlim together will give you a longer cropping season. 

A good Asparagus bed can remain productive for years making it a wonderful investment for any household.  Once mature the crop requires only minimum attention, but you will be rewarded with a delicious crop and believe me nothing matches the flavour and tenderness of fresh spears cut from your own garden.  

 

Veg Greenhouse crops can be started in earnest now, they really benefit from the
longer warmer days and higher light levels.  Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Sweet Peppers, Chillies and Aubergines can all be sown in a frost-free greenhouse. Wait until they have their first true leaves before you prick them out, pot on into 3 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, Shuttle Trays have 18 x 3 inch terracotta-coloured plastic pots specially made to fit securely inside the trays keeping pots stable and make it easy to move plants around for maintenance and when planting out.

If you are gardening  in the north of the country bear in mind you may need to sow two or three weeks later, be led by the weather and the condition of your soil, not what it necessarily says on the packet. Don’t 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 harm them.

 


The soil should be warming up now so Runner Beans and French Beans can be sown outside in situ. Make further sowings of Carrots, Beetroot, Summer Cabbage and Cauliflower, Leeks, Radish and Salad Crops too. If you made an earlier sowing of Salad Leaves, Spring Onions or Radishes there may be some large enough to use 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 all. Covering them with Insect Netting or a Micromesh Tunnel 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, sprinkling some Organic Extra around the plants will 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 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 add humus to your soil.

 


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. A simple bowl of mixed Salad Leaves outside the back door makes an attractive and very useful planter. 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 Vegetable Starter Plants are grown in individual modules so you can be sure they
Aubergines, Tomatoes and Peppers and Chillis make very attractive patio plants and can be grown in a sunny sheltered place during the summer. You don’t even have to sow the seed our Vegetable 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.

Marshalls Gro-Bed has been such a popular introduction - it is as at home on the patio as it is in the greenhouse and is perfect for a multitude of plantings. It is great for growing a variety of herbs, vegetables and salads and is great for both Tomatoes and Strawberry plants.

Allowing children a little area of their own in the garden or a couple of troughs or large pots to work on and grow their own flowers and vegetables will give them a wonderful sense of achievement when their seeds flourish and grow. Children just love watering and tending the seedlings every day watching them grow.

 

Tips for the garden...


It’s time to wage war on Slugs and Snails! They will be so grateful to you for supplying them with lovely tender seedlings to snack on now the weather is a bit warmer! They are active overnight and can destroy a row of seedlings while you are sleeping! If like me, you have children, animals or chickens running around the garden you won’t want to be putting anything nasty down to eradicate them and I also shy away from going out in the dark, torch in hand to pick them up and dispose of them - yuk!

Unfortunately last year’s wet weather was paradise for slugs and the promiscuous little critters bred like there was no tomorrow! The eggs look like clusters of tiny pearls and can be found under debris and stones near the soil surface, it is important to fight this battle with everything you can muster before these slimy molluscs can establish a real stronghold in your garden. You will never eradicate them completely and they do play their part in the ecosystem of any garden but keeping them down to manageable numbers is definitely my preferred action!

By far and away the simplest way to deal with them I find, is with a Biological Control, Nemaslug contains tiny microscopic organisms, naturally occurring nematodes (Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita) and controls all common species of small to medium sized slugs (up to 8cm - 2½-3 inches) both above and below ground.

You simply mix it with water 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 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 bodies lying around! Apply Nemaslug to moist soil. The soil temperature should be 5ºC (40ºF) or above, 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 it. And the nematodes are completely harmless to birds, animals and children.

There is a whole range of Biological Controls for most common garden pests including Nemasys for Vine Weevil control, Leatherjacket Killer and Grow Your Own which targets a broad range of destructive garden pests.


As you get down to sowing and planting in earnest you will obviously want to get the most out of your plot. Companion planting with flowers such as Marigolds,
Nasturtiums and Herbs grown alongside vegetables, both deters pests and encourages beneficial insects and pollinators to the veg garden.

Maximise all your available growing space by intercropping - planting quick growing crops between rows of slower growing or taller crops. This maximises space, increases productivity and helps to keep the weeds down - it is an invaluable growing system for smaller plots. Some plants are mutually beneficial to each other when grown closely together, for example Peas and Beans of all types absorb nitrogen from the air and release it back into the soil. Nitrogen is necessary for leaf growth, so planting quick growing Lettuce and other leafy Salad crops close to or in between Pea and Bean crops makes good sense. The leafy Salads help keep weeds down between the Peas and Beans so they benefit too.

It makes complete sense to plant some faster growing vegetables between the rows of the slower maturing types. Some good growing partners include Dwarf French Beans with Sweetcorn, Beetroot between Brussels Sprouts or Cabbages, Spring Onions with Potatoes, Radish between Onions or Peas and Spinach or Salads with Sweetcorn or a mix of any of these. Many Oriental Vegetables are fast growing and are ideal for intercropping. The quicker crops will all be harvested before the slower ones have reached a size where they cover the soil and stop the light reaching the smaller plants.


Once your young tomato plants are large enough to plant into their final positions remove the lower set of leaves and bury the plant deeply – right 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! Using the grow bag on its side instead of the normal way will give the deepest root run for your plants or try Growpots with the grow bag. These give a much deeper growing depth for better watering and feeding and much greater root growth resulting in healthier plants and better cropping.

Another trick I have found that works with Tomatoes and grow bags is to lie your tomato plant on its side when planting, remove lower leaves and bury the stem up to the top few leaves. The plant will automatically straighten itself and grow upwards towards the light. This especially suitable if the plant has become a bit leggy and the stem is a bit wonky! (For some reason I always seem to get some like that)!

 



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 3½ inch pots 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 their 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.


If you make your own compost (and I’m sure most of you do!) and if you haven’t already done so empty the contents over the soil on your veg plot, a thick layer around fruit bushes, raspberry canes and fruit trees will help conserve water, improve the soil structure and hopefully keep weeds to a minimum. One of the best uses for the rich mixture from your compost heap is planting courgettes and squash. Dig a large hole fill it with the best compost from your heap leaving a slight mound. Plant one courgette or squash plant directly into the top of the mound. Keep the plants moist but do not water directly over the leaves, water around them to make sure the available water reaches the roots and does not sit round the neck of the plant which can cause it to rot. Once the first fruits begin to swell give a high potash liquid fertiliser every 10-14 days (tomato fertiliser is fine).

You can even use compost that hasn’t quite rotted right down and any vegetable peelings from the kitchen to line the bottom of a trench before you plant your potatoes or runner beans, it will help keep the soil moist while feeding the roots as it breaks down.