February 2015 Newsletter

February 2015 Newsletter


How are the New Years Gardening Resolutions going? If you’ve stuck to them well done, if not don’t worry, this newsletter will hopefully reinvigorate your intentions. February is such an exciting month. It’s packed with inspiration as the new growing season is about to explode but if you haven’t ordered your seeds yet don’t panic. Take a look at our Online Spring Catalogue or if you prefer you could always request one for delivery.

If you’re still lacking inspiration, this month’s newsletter should help. We’ll show you how to get your onions, first early potatoes and beetroot ready for planting, as well as how to prune your autumn Raspberries and fruit trees. Our plant of the month is Winter Cauliflowers and we’ll be discussing how to grow it and how to cook it. We’ll also tell you what else you can be getting on with in the greenhouse and what you might be able to harvest.

As a final note don’t forget to enter our competition or find out if you’re a lucky winner! 

Happy gardening


Top Jobs

Chit PotatoesChit First Early Potatoes (5 minutes)

If you live in warmer parts of the country you might have already started this but for everyone else now is a good time to start chitting your first early potatoes. Ideally you want to start chitting about 6 weeks before your intended planting time; the traditional day to plant first earlies is on Good Friday which this year is April the 3rd, so look to start chitting on the 20th of February. Really you should use your initiative, follow the weather and if it’s mild get chitting earlier. (Read More)

Chitting is a useful technique to help encourage shoots on your potatoes before you plant them out. It’s less important on second earlies and not necessary on maincrops but is good practise for your first earlies. Egg boxes are perfect for chitting your potatoes so start saving them if you don’t have any left over from last year. Place one seed potatoper section of egg box with the ‘eyes’ facing upwards. Give them plenty of natural light and in about 6 weeks they’ll have produced shoots which are 1.5 - 2.5cm (0.5 – 1.5in) high.

Varieties to try:

‘Accent’- Bulks up to produce a heavy crop and mature tubers show no cracking.

‘Arran Pilot’- For decades this white skinned and white fleshed variety has been a UK favourite First Early.

‘Foremost’- Extra high quality with firm, tasty white flesh which is especially tasty!

‘Lady Christl’- Produces bumper yields of medium-sized, disease resistant waxy tubers.

‘Maris Bard’Produces a reliable high yield of regular-shaped, shallow-eyed oval tubers.

‘Rocket’-  Pure white flesh, which is waxy and soft at first digging.

‘Swift’- Produces the earliest crop we have seen - producing a good crop with a delicate new potato taste in as little as 7 weeks from planting. 


Sow Onion Seeds Indoors (10 minutes)

If you live in colder areas of the UK or fancy growing onions for exhibiting then it’s a good idea to sow onion seeds under glass now. You can, of course, sow in situ from the end of February through to early April however this means that you’ll have to thin them out which can attract onion fly. Sowing under glass in cell trays and planting them out reduces this risk. If you’re considering planting onion sets in March or April, bear in mind that they have a greater chance of bolting. (Read More)

Using a seed and cutting compost fill a cell tray, sow one seed per cell, cover lightly with compost and water well. Place them in a propagatorand water only when needed, the seeds should germinate in about 3 weeks. It’ll be around April when they’ll be ready for transplanting out and when the time come the thing to remember is that they require a well prepared bed in a plot that has not had onions growing the previous season.

Varieties to try:

Guardsman (Spring Onion) – Spring onions are not available as sets and ‘Guardsman’ is your standard, go to variety. It holds in good condition longer than ‘White Lisbon’.

Ailsa Craig – This white onion has been going strong since 1887, the traditional variety to grow which has stood the test of time. Excellent keeping qualities and mild flavour.

Red Baron– This red onion is particularly good for sowing early under glass. It produces extra large bulbs with shiny dark red skins and a strong flavour. One of the longest-storing onions.

Zebrune– A heritage or heirloom variety of shallot with long, pink/brown bulbs that have excellent eating quality with a delicious mild and sweet flavour.  


Sow Beetroot (15 minutes)

Those of you who live in warmer areas will be able to sow beetroot outdoors now but if you live in colder parts you could always sow them under cloches or low tunnelswhich will increase the temperature and warm up the soil if erected earlier. Defiantly a job for later in the month and if you want to be safe wait until March, however one variety, ‘Boltardy’, has been breed for earlier sowing and is bolt resistant, has an excellent flavour and is an AGM winner so if you’ve not given it a go you should definitely try it. (Read More)

The wonderful thing about beetroot is that they are quick to germinate and will grow in any soil as long as the bed is well prepared. Like all root crops, they are best sown in situ. Find a sunny spot that has been enriched with well-rotted compost. It’s advisable to add multipurpose fertiliser 2 -3 weeks before sowing. Sow two seeds 10cm apart in rows be 30cm apart at a depth of 3cm and remove the smaller seedling when they are 3cm high. Keep weed free at all times.

Varieties to try:

Cylindra– A cylindrical variety that has a great colour, is free from internal rings stores well and keeps its sweet flavour all season.

­Baby Action– This is a baby variety which produces smooth skinned, round beets which are wonderfully tender and are ideal for growing in patio pots or grow bags.

Solo- This fast maturing variety produces a crop of high quality, medium-sized beets which can be pulled young as baby beets or left to mature. 


Prune Autumn Raspberries (5 minutes)

To get the most out of your autumn fruiting raspberries this season you need to prune them now. To new gardeners, pruning seems like a daunting task but pruning autumn fruiting raspberries is a quick job that shouldn’t take too long as long as you have a pair of sharp and clean secateurs. Simply prune back all canes to ground level. When spring comes, new canes will begin to shoot upwards and should be tied in to your supports. (Read More)

If you’re not sure if your raspberries are summer or autumn fruiting varieties it’s best to do a bit of research first, either in books or online. These varieties are autumn fruiting so you can prune these back without fear: ‘Autumn Bliss’, ‘Autumn Treasure’, ‘Erica’, ‘Fallgold’, ‘Heritage’, ‘Joan J’, ‘Polka’, ‘September’ and ‘Zeva’. If you don’t know what variety you have it’s best to leave them and see when they fruit. If they fruit from early July they are summer fruiting raspberries and if they fruit from mid to late August they’re autumn fruiting.    


Prune Fruit Trees (30 minutes)

At this time of year fruit trees such as apples and pears are dormant so can be pruned now, however if you have espaliers, cordons, pyramids, fans or other trained trees, wait until August or September. Bushes and standards that are less than three years old will only need light formative pruning whereas more mature or overgrown fruit trees might need regenerative pruning. (Read More)

To prune your trees you’ll need a few tools, each with their own purpose. Secateurs can be used on smaller branches, no greater than 2cm (0.75in) in diameter. For larger or hard to reach stems use loppers. Pruning saws should be used to branches thinker than 2cm in diameter and a pruning knife can be used to tidy up any snags or ragged cuts.  

Trees less than three years old:

  •        Remove dead, damaged or diseased wood. (Less likely on younger trees)
  •        Prune back new growth to half it’s length
  •        Prune out branches that are growing inwards, to allow airflow into the heart of the tree

Mature or established trees

  •        Prune out dead, diseased or damage wood
  •        Remove laterals that crowd the centre of the tree
  •        Prune out crossing branches that rub together and that could cause wounds for diseases to entre
  •        If your tree suffers from over cropping or undersized fruit remove some fruiting laterals


Plant of the Month - Winter Cauliflower

Cauliflowers are a great crop to grow, but require a bit of thought. Inadequate soil preparation, irrigation and protection can cause problems such as small curds however if you give them the care and attention they require they’ll provide you with a lovely crop. The great thing about cauliflowers if that there are enough varieties to produce a crop all year round and right now your winter varieties will be just about ready to pick.

How to grow

Although they’re a little tricky to get right cauliflowers are definitely worth giving a go and with just a little care attention will produce a good crop of delicious curds.

  •        Sow three seeds of winter varieties indoors from April or outdoors in May in 9cm pots filled with seed and cutting compost
  •        They’ll germinate in about two weeks, after which the weakest seedling should be removed
  •        In June, when your plants have five to six pair of leaves, they’ll be ready to be transplanted into their beds
  •        Plant them firmly in pre-watered holes 75cm (2 ½ ft) between plants
  •        Young plants require regular watering and as they grow they’ll need occasional feeding
  •        Hoe frequently and provide protection from birds such as pigeons
  •        As the cold weather sets in, cover with fleece to protect them from harsh frosts whilst they over winter
  •        Harvest them whilst the heads are still small. The best picking time is in the morning

Varieties to try

‘Jarome’– This variety stands well through the winter to provide deep, white heads of superb quality.

‘North Forelander’- Produces heavy white curds well protected from frost and snow by the vigorous foliage

‘Mystique’- Produces white well covered curds February/March of the highest quality even if the winter weather is really bad


Recipe of the Month: Cauliflower Cheese


Cauliflower Cheese is a perfect accompaniment for roast chicken or as a stand alone dish and is a good way of getting the kids to eat their veg. It’s simple to make, tastes great and is really warming; a great way to end the winter nights and help you welcome in spring.  -

You’ll Need:

  •        1 cauliflower
  •        500ml milk
  •        4 tbsp flour
  •        50g butter
  •        100g grated cheddar
  •        3 tbsp breadcrumbs


  1.      Pre-heat oven to 220°C (gas 7).
  2.      Boil water in a large saucepan, add the florets of cauliflower and cook for 5 minutes
  3.      Drain the water when cooked and tip into a dish
  4.      In another saucepan add the milk, flour and butter
  5.      Whisk as the mixture comes to the boil
  6.      When the flour disappears and the sauce thickens turn the heat off
  7.      Stir in most of the cheese
  8.      Pour over the cauliflower
  9.      Sprinkle over the cheese and breadcrumbs
  10.   Bake for 20 minutes until golden and bubbling.


Pest and Disease Watch – Damping Off

Damping off is a disease of seedlings, causing them to collapse. It can occur all year round but is more prevalent when light levels and temperatures are low, mainly effecting seeds which have been sown early under glass but also, less commonly, in situ outdoors. Damping off is caused by many types of fungi, namely Phytophthora or Fusarium as well as many other types of too. It can hit and kill off your seedlings fairly quickly. Luckily there are a few things that you can do to help reduce the risk.  (Read More)

If you use home grown compost your seedlings are at more risk of contracting damping off because the fungi can infect you compost heap. Use shop bought seed and cutting compostwhich has been sterilised or sterilise you own compost by using steam which will kill off the pathogens.

Clean all your pots which you are going to sow into with a disinfectant or alternatively buy fresh pots and trays. If your seedlings developed damping off last year, it’s advisable not to use the same pots.

When it comes to sowing your seeds, do it thinly. Overcrowded seedlings are more likely to develop the disease because airflow is restricted so where possibly and viable sow in individual cells or just a few seeds per pot.

Where possible use mains water. Water collected from water butts is great for the rest of your garden but when it comes to delicate and tender seedlings, any pathogens that could possibly be in your water butt will transfer over to your growing media. 


Sow and Grow Now

We’re not far off the main seed sowing season, yet there are still lots of things that you can start sowing now early, under glass. There are some old favourites, like Brussels Sprout and Cabbages that you’ll probably have grow before so why not have a go a something new, perhaps Kohl Rabi or Physalis?

Harvest Time

There are lots of delicious crops that are ready for harvesting now. Brassicas such as Sprouting Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Spring Greens, Autumn Cabbage, Savoy Cabbage, Winter Cabbage, Winter Cauliflower, Kale and Swiss Chard can all be harvested now, providing lots of variety in the kitchen. As well as these Leeks, Swede, Parsnips, Maincrop Carrots and Celeriac can be picked now too all of these are perfect tor roasting or turning into hearty soups. If you fancy a tasty side salad then pick your Butterhead Lettuce, Micro-Leaves.






New Strawberry

Strawberry ‘Albion’ is a brand new, ever-bearing strawberry to Marshalls, fruiting from June to the end of October and producing up to 1lb (450g) of fruit in one season! Each plant has good resistance to verticillium wilt and crown rot and will produce a reliable crop tasty and juicy fruit. ‘Albion’ can be grown under protection to bring forward the harvest time and can also be planted in containers if you’re lacking space.