April 2011 Newsletter

Greenhouse crops can be started in earnest now

Greenhouse crops can be started in earnest now, they will benefit from the longer, warmer days and higher light levels. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, chillies and aubergines can be sown in a frost-free greenhouse. If you sowed them at the end of last month in a propagator, they will soon be ready for pricking out. 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 keep pots stable and make it easy to move plants around for maintenance and when planting out.

If you are a bit late with your sowing a Heated Propagator can be a big asset. They are a really useful aid to germination especially during a cold spring, give seedlings some ventilation once they have germinated and grown a bit.

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. 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.

Now the soil is warming up

Now the soil is warming up sow your Runner Beans and French Beans and make further sowings of Carrots, Beetroot, Summer Cabbage and Cauliflower, Leeks, Radish and salad crops. If you made an earlier sowing of Salad Leaves, Spring Onions or Radishes you may have 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.

If you do not have the space for a vegetable plot

Sow hardy annuals such as Calendula, Scabious, Larkspur, Nasturtium and Cornflowers they can be sown direct into the space you want them to grow. You can simply scatter the seed evenly over an area covering them with a thin layer of soil. The only problem with this method is that it may be difficult to tell the emerging flower seedlings from the 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.

Bees are in decline as much of their natural habitat has been destroyed over the past few decades, but by planting nectar and pollen rich flowers in our gardens we can at least help to do our bit for the local bee population. We have introduced our Bumblebee Margin Mix for planting in areas near your vegetable plot, 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.

Spring is the perfect time to get children interested in gardening

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.

The Marshalls Gro-Bed is a very versatile growing system, as at home on the terrace as it is in the greenhouse, it can be used for a multitude of plantings and is suitable for growing a variety of vegetables and salads. Annual herbs especially can be grown in all sorts of quirky containers - re-use empty veg or salad containers from the supermarket, plant up a pair of old boots or wellies with Chives or Basil or grow a mix of herbs in an old shopping bag or basket. 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 can be a great container for Strawberry plants.

Herbs are a magnet for bees and pollinating insects

Herbs are a magnet for bees and pollinating insects, grow them as a mix in a large trough or pot or in individual pots. Of course they also make excellent plants for the border. 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!

The tall feathery foliage of Bronze Fennel looks wonderful in the middle or back of a flower border and the lovely blue flowers of Rosemary and the evergreen leaves are superb planted anywhere in the garden. If you choose to buy Perennial Herbs as young plants pot them into 3½in (7cm) pots as soon as you can. Don’t worry if they look a bit small, they will grow away very quickly once potted. My herbs were very small when they arrived last year but once they were potted on they came on very quickly.

Gardening Tips
As you get down to sowing and planting in earnest

As you get down to sowing and planting in earnest you will obviously want to get the most out of your plot. Intercropping is a method of planting where quick growing crops are grown between rows of slower growing or taller crops. This maximise all available space increasing productivity and helping 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 crops near to or in between Pea and Bean crops makes perfect sense. The leafy salads help keep weeds down between the Peas and Beans so they benefit too.

For example you could grow Dwarf French Beans with Sweetcorn, Beetroot between Brussels Sprouts or Cabbages, Spring Onions with Potatoes, Radish between Onions or Peas and Spinach 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.

Companion planting with flowers such as Marigolds, Nasturtiums and herbs grown alongside vegetables, both deters pests and encourages beneficial insects and pollinators and also fits easily into the intercropping way of growing.

Slugs and Snails will really be getting active now

Slugs and Snails will really be getting active now that the weather is a bit warmer and they will overjoyed with you for supplying them with lovely tender seedlings to snack on! They are active overnight and can devastate a crop while you are sleeping! We have found that biological control - tiny microscopic organisms that you simply water into the ground around your precious plants is by far the best and safest way of combating these pests. Nemaslug consists of 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 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. The soil temperature should be 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.

If you have a nice lawn you will no doubt already be aware of the damage caused by Chafer Grubs - they are one of the top ten garden pests according to the RHS and cause huge damage to lawns by eating grass roots. Nemasys Chafer Grub Killer contains the nematode Heterorhabditis megidis it seeks out the Chafer grubs and attack them by entering natural body openings.

Once inside, they release bacteria that stops the pest from feeding, quickly killing the pest. They do not stop there. The nematodes reproduce inside the dead pest and release a new generation of hungry nematodes, which disperse and search for further prey.

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 pests.

Once your young tomato plants are large enough to plant

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 - 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 growbag. These give a much deeper growing depth to your growbag allowing 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 lay 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)!

If you make your own compost

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.