April 2015 Newsletter

Marshalls April Newsletter

Welcome to the Marshalls April Newsletter. Spring is here and we’re well and truly in the swing of things now. On the 20th of March we visited The Edible Garden Show in London to see what’s happening in the world of grow your own and to share all the inspiration with you here in the newsletter. As well as this we’ll give you all the usual hints and tips too.

There’s so many jobs to do this month, it was hard to narrow it down, but we’ll explain how to sow peas, grow asparagus and herbs as well as growing potatoes in containers and prune figs. We’ll take a look at one of the most popular fast turn around crops, radishes, and give you guidance on what to sow and harvest now. We’ll also bring you all the highs from the show.

Here’s to a happy spring!


Top Jobs


Improving your soil

If you are planning on planting vegetable plants down the line, it’s a good idea to improve your soil to give them the best start in life. Crops like squashes are hungry feeders and so adding nutrition to the soil to improve fertility is highly recommended. Other crops, like runner beans, enjoy a moist but well draining soil; by improving your soil with compost will help with both moisture retention and drainage. (Read More:)

There are two types of soil conditioners that we recommend. Organic Extra is our exclusive super-concentrated fertiliser. It’s light and easy to use and contains essential trace elements and minerals to boost healthy growth and encourage bumper crops. Its organic fertiliser is released to plants over a long period and because it is concentrated you only need a couple of handfuls per sq. yd. Unlike fresh manure or chemical fertilisers, it won't scorch plants so you can use it everywhere.

With Rockdustyou’ll see amazing improvements in flower quality, crop yields, health and flavour. Natural Volcanic minerals and trace elements that have been lost over thousands of years of soil erosion are put back into the soil, boosting its fertility and helping you to achieve amazing results while caring for the environment too. It’s a natural ‘wonder stuff’ Unlike synthetic fertilisers Rockdust feeds and boosts the essential microbial ‘engines of the soil’ .Whether you want a fabulous display of flowers, bumper crops or the best tasting crops Rockdust will deliver. Organically approved ideal for large or small plots -use it in pots, tubs, window boxes, compost bins and wormeries too.


Sowing Peas 

Shop bought, so-called ‘fresh’ peas don’t even come close to the tender sweetness of picking and serving your very own. Peas are in the legume family which are happy to grow on most soils and are known for their re-nitrogenising properties. Peas are best grown outside and can vary greatly in height depending on what variety you choose. Those that grow to 45 – 60cm are great for growing in containers. Some tall varieties grow up to 1.4m tall, making them perfect for growing up a ‘wigwam’ support in a bed or allotment, which they’ll cling to with their own ‘tendrils’. 

Early peas are best started off in the greenhouse, propagator or windowsill and planted out when they’re about 10cm tall. Peas prefer full sun but can also cope with semi-shade and do especially well in ground that has been dug with manure the autumn before. Peas that are sown directly in their final growing position in early spring are very vulnerable and susceptible to pest damage. It’s better to sow early varieties into modules or seed trays in early spring and leave to germinate in a propagator or greenhouse. They can then be planted outside from late April – May.

Later sowings can take place directly in the growing site or under cover. For sowing direct, plant the seeds at a depth of about 3 – 4cm. Sow in rows with the seeds about 12cm apart and allow 45cm between rows. They can also be sown into circles (for ‘wigwam’ supports). Once the seedlings emerge, position a growing support or cane at the base of each plant for it to grow up.

Keep peas well watered in the summer and pick them regularly to encourage the growth of more. To encourage even more peas to grow, feed occasionally with a general purpose vegetable fertiliser, Bio-Gro Black Gold seaweed fertiliser is ideal. Control weeds growing around the base of the plants to help keep the competition for nutrients low. If the peas are planted in rows the best way to keep it weed free is with The Great Little Weeder.


Grow Asparagus

Asparagus is one of those crops which cost a lot in supermarkets so is more cost effective to grow it yourself. It’s not a simple crop to grow, requiring a permanent spot, good soil preparation, space and regular maintenance, but once established they can produce a crop for up to 20 years. You don’t get an a instant harvest either and will have to wait two years before you pick your first spears but after that you can expect 20 to 25 spears per plant per season especially if all male varieties are grown. 

Asparagus will grow in any soil as long as the drainage is adequate, although they perform much better on light sandy soils with a pH of neutral to slightly alkaline. The site should be sunny, sheltered from strong winds and incorporated with lots of compost. Avoid ground that has been previously planted with asparagus or potatoes as this can encourage pests and diseases. All perennial weeds must be removed.

Crowns are planted in early April in pre-prepared trenches as soon as possible after purchase. These trenches should be 30cm (12in) wide, 20cm (8in) deep with an 8cm (3in) mound running along the bottom of the trench for the roots to be spread over. Space crowns 30cm (12in) apart and cover with about 5cm (2in) of soil, filling in the trench in autumn after the season has finished. Each row should be 45cm (18in) apart. Hand weed regularly to avoid damage from hoes, water in dry weather and remove berries to prevent self seeding. Once the ferny foliage has turned yellow in autumn cut it down to 3cm (1in) above ground level. In the spring, before the spears appear, make a ridge of soil over the row and apply a general fertiliser.


Grow Herbs

Whilst at the show it was evident that herbs are as popular now as they have ever been. They were everywhere. As you know herbs are an import plant in a garden and kitchen because they offer so much interest flavour. They’re also fairly forgiving and will tolerate being grown in a variety of areas and conditions. 

Herbs in beds are the traditional way to grow this tasty crop. However some are more suitable than others. Perennial herbs are a perfectly suited to beds and borders and once planted you need to do very little else apart from the occasion prune, which shouldn't be too often if you pick regularly for your kitchen. Sage, lavender and thyme are prime examples of herbs that you can grow in beds.   

Herbs in pots are the best way to grow annuals and tender herbs such as basal. Tender perennial herbs such as Lemon Verbena, Sweet Marjoram and some sage species can be moved under protect when the weather turns bad. This saves you time and money in the future and also means that you can move your pots to accessible areas of your garden. Of course, containers can be used to plant hardy perennial herbs too as well as a combination. 


Grow Potatoes in Containers

We’re right in the middle of potato plant season, at least for first earlies. There are loads to choose from too with loads of culinary uses. However, potatoes require a fairly long growing season (around four to five months) and aren't the smallest of plants. Luckily though they can be grow in containers which means even when you have limited space in your garden you can still enjoy the taste of home grown spuds. 

To grow in containers you could use our potato grow sacks. To do this set five tubers on top of a 6-8in/15-20cm layer of good quality compost in each Gro-Sack and then cover the tubers with a further 4in/10cm layer of compost.  As the plants grow and shoots emerge above the surface add more compost to cover the shoots and then repeat as needed until the compost is about 2in/5cm below the top of the bag.

An application of a high potash fertiliser will increase yields, our Bio-Gro Black Gold fertiliser is ideal for this.  Avoid fertilisers high in nitrogen as these will delay maturity of the crop. Potatoes need plenty of moisture, particularly round about flowering time which is when the tubers start to form. In dry spells it is recommended that the crop is watered every 10 days or so.  An occasional heavy watering is better than little and often as this does not get down far enough and encourages shallow rooting. Remember that all container crops need more water that ground grown crops.


Prune Your Fig

Figs were once considered a rare and exotic fruit but as the climate in the UK has improved they seem to be almost commonplace in our gardens. Winter is the perfect time to prune but they can also be pruned in early spring if no new growth has begun. More and more people are growing these delicious fruit so to help those of you who are growing them here’s a easy to follow guide on how to prune your fig

Follow these steps if you have a new fig tree (Two or less seasons old)

  •          In the first dormant year prune about half of the tree. This is to help with training, to encourage development of strong roots, better establishment and a bushier form.
  •          In the second dormant year you want to prune away most of the branches, leaving just four to six of the strongest branches.

For established fig trees

  •          The first this to do is prune away any suckers. These sap the energy from the main tree and are not productive themselves.
  •          Remove any dead damaged or diseased wood that could cause infect throughout the plant as a whole.
  •          Next you should remove branches that do not come from fruiting wood. Fruiting wood is simply branches that produce fruit. By removing branches that do not come from fruiting wood you further focus the trees energy into producing a better crop.
  •          Remove some secondary fruiting branches. Secondary fruiting branches that might grow too close to the main trunk can cause rubbing which will hinder fruit production. Keep secondary fruiting branches that are roughly at a 45 degree angle from the main fruiting branch
  •          Reduce the height of your fig tree by as much as one third. This does two things; keeps the tree compact if you have limited space, focuses fig production even more.
  •          During summer pinch out new growth that might occur between branches and the trunk.
  •          In autumn remove any large figs that fail to begin ripening. These figs take energy away from other, more successfully ripening fruit. Small, pea-sized figs are fine to leave on as these will develop into next years fruit.       

Radishes are a quick turn around, easy to grow crop that pack a punch in the flavour department and are loved by all growers of all ages. Radishes are one of those crops that we've probably all grown at some point and you might think that there’s not much to it, however there are a few simple rules that we must abide by to produce a decent crop. 


How To Grow

The first thing to remember is to sow thinly, now less than 2.5cm/1in apart. By doing this there’ll be no need for thinning later, saving you time and making an easy crop, even easier to grow. Winter cultivars need a little more space, about 15cm/6in apart.

Moist soil helps with rapid growth so don’t let them dry out. Watering regularly also helps keep the roots fleshy and tasty and will prevent your radishes from splitting. If you sow from July and August irrigation is essential because the weather is hotter and drier.

If you’re looking for a catch crop, the radish is for you. They can be sown between slower-growing vegetables like potatoes, parsnips and onions. A good tip is to sow them as row markers of these slow to grow crops. You’ll sow, grow and harvest most radishes before they have a chance to interfere with other crops.


Varieties to Try

‘French Breakfast’- Perhaps the fastest growing radish! Bright scarlet red colour contrasts with the pure white tips. Great taste and a good variety for children to grow because of the quick results.

‘Ilka’ - If grown well spaced out Ilka can grow to 3in/7.5cm across without becoming pithy. This means one sowing can last for weeks. For an extra early crop, sow under glass and transplant in March.

‘Mooli’–Produces white cylindrical roots often up to 12in/30cm long! They are exceptionally crisp, crunchy and mild and are excellent in salads and stir fries.

‘Pink Dragon’-This oriental radish has a long cylindrical root which has excellent cold resistance. It has the potential to reach a very large size (up to 50cm!) but can be harvested from about 15cm long. When young and tender it is perfect for grating to add to salads, more mature plants can be steamed, boiled or stir fried.

‘Purple Plum’ - We first saw this stunning radish on our trials a few years ago - we had a great picture - but no seed. Now we have both so you can enjoy this quick cropping beauty. From sowing to picking takes just 6 weeks.

‘Sparkler’ - Produces globe-shaped roots of deep scarlet and pure white. Very tasty with a crisp texture which it maintains long after maturing. It is quick growing, suitable for both early and late season planting and is particularly recommended for the home gardener.


Recipe of the Month – Radish Salad

With so many varieties to choose from and because they’re so fast to grow you can really go to town on your radish plot. Why not grow a mixture and incorporate them in a tasty spring time Radish Salad.

You’ll need:

  •          Sweet chilli sauce
  •          Zest and juice of 1 lime
  •          Lettuce of your choice
  •          Carrots thinly sliced
  •          A mix of radishes, thinly sliced
  •          Tomatoes, quartered
  •          Chopped Spring onions
  •          Chopped Coriander


  •          Mix the chilli sauce, lime zest and juice together
  •          Put all salad veg into a bowl
  •          Pour the dressing over the salad and mix
  •          Serve with a sprinkle of coriander


Sow and Grow Now

There’s plenty to be sowing and growing in April but time is running out for Artichokes, Aubergine, Brussels Sprouts, Celery, Celeriac, Cauliflowers (Summer) Leeks Physalis, Peppers and Chillies. Focus your effort on these seeds because by the end of April it’ll be too late to sow them. If you have sown these, take a look at the table below for more sowing inspirations.

Harvest Time

There are a few crops that will be at the end of the season by the end of April which is a shame because they’re lovely. Finish picking Sprouting Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Spring Greens, Cabbage (Autumn), Cabbage (Savoy), Cabbage (Winter), Cauliflower (Winter) and Kale. They’ll be well past their best by May. Luckily though there are a few tasty crops that are coming into their own now. Take a look at the table below for the best pick of the crops. 


Thanks to everyone who turned up to the Edible Garden Show on the 20th March to give your support to us whilst we picked up our two awards; 3rd for ‘best for customer service’ and 3rd for ‘best online garden retail’. Receiving these awards gives us massive please but also something to aim for. Next year we’d really love to come 1st for both and to be nominated for a few more awards. So this whole next year we’re going to be working extra hard to implement new and exciting initiatives to improve our services for you.