Growing tips – April

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If the ornaments on your window sills have still not been replaced with an array of trays, then you’ve not sown enough seeds.

Yes, it’s that time of year when a light, warm window sill is at a premium and you spend most of your time back and forth going to the greenhouse with seedlings at various stages of growth.

Potting bench

I always use fresh compost for seed sowing. Left over compost from last year may contain harmful pathogens. The last thing you want is for your chilli seeds, which have taken an age to germinate, to curl up and die. Keep your compost bags in a dry place and don’t leave outside where it may become sodden.

The delicate leaves of young seedlings are susceptible to strong sunlight and will soon scorch. Due to the erratic nature of the weather this time of year I prefer not to whitewash my glass just yet. Therefore I drape an old net curtain on the outside of the green house and anchor it down to the guttering with bulldog clips. It’s only a temporary measure and can quickly be removed if required.

Once your seedlings have developed their first true set of leaves they can be safely placed into a small plant pot. Only choose the healthiest and strongest looking ones. The seedling will requires regular potting on as the root system develops. To check when this is required carefully remove the plant from the pot and if roots can be seen between the compost and the pot then it’s time for a larger pot.

Weeds will be making the most of the warmer weather and endeavouring to take over. Run a hoe regularly through effected areas to prevent them taking over.

Recently I have had Himalayan balsam seedlings appearing in some of my beds. These have probably come in from the homemade compost which I added back in autumn. A mature balsam plant can produce up to 800 seeds and these can be expelled up to 7 metres, so check your surroundings.

Balsom seedling                  Balsom growing

To reduce the number of weed seeds contaminating my compost I have covered the bays with black plastic sheeting. It also helps to reduces excess moisture, retains heat and quickens up the decaying process.

Compost bays

There’s a plethora of seeds to be sown outdoors. Beetroot, sprouts, cabbage, carrots and leeks. Salad leaves such as rocket, lettuce, mibuna and corn salad. Cover with a cloche if possible which will protect from heavy rain and help to warm the soil up.

Peas sown in the poly-tunnel have now been planted outdoors. Just need to find the twigs!

peas

The clocks have now gone forward, so more time to spend on the plot…

Happy growing.

Matt

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Growing Tips-March

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Well what an end to February. A far cry compared to last year when we were gripped by freezing winds and snow from the ‘Beast from the East’.

Don’t be fooled into thinking spring has arrived. Be on your guard and be aware that once the sun goes down, temperatures will plummet.

Have a greenhouse heater to hand and keep a watch on the local weather forecast. I still use an old Eltex paraffin heater which wouldn’t be out of place in a museum.

For those of you that use slug pellets containing metaldehyde you need to be aware that they are being phased out over the next 18 months.

You will still be able to buy them until the end of June this year and then have 12 months after that to use them.

There will be other less toxic products available but I advocate looking at other methods. Beer traps, egg shells and nematodes are a few alternatives. I’m sure hedgehogs and thrushes will also be happy to help you out.

slug trap

Most soils will either be of an acidic or alkaline nature which is referred to as being on the pH scale. The pH scale goes from 0 to 6 for acidic soils, 7 for neutral and 8 to 14 for alkaline soils.

You can check on the pH value of your soil with a simple kit or meter bought from the garden centre.

pH soil test kit

Certain crop families will prefer one or the other soil type. This year I will be growing a number of brassicas which prefer an alkaline soil. To raise the pH of my soil I will be adding an application of hydrated lime to the bed. Lime will also make soil nutrients easier to absorb by the plant.

Lime comes in either pelleted or powdered form. If using powder wait for a still day otherwise you will end up wearing it.

Brassicas have always been prone to a fungal disease called club root. It’s a soil born fungal infection which causes the root system to grow deformed.

Unfortunately, once you have it then you are stuck with it. Prior to club root resistant varieties being available, growers would add a handful of lime to each planting hole which helped to reduce club root severity.

These days we are reaping the benefits of decades of research by plant scientists who have bred brassicas which are club root resistant.

Brassicas to consider which are club root resistant are;

Brussels sprout F1 Crispus, F1 Cronus

Round Cabbage F1 Kilaton, F1 Kilaxy

Red Cabbage F1Lodero, F1 Huzaro

Broccoli F1 Monclano, F1 Trixie

Cauliflower F1 Clapton,

Swede F1 Tweed, Marian

Look at planting first early potatoes this month. Provide a liberal dressing of fish, blood and bone as potatoes are greedy feeders and will welcome a slow release fertiliser. Have a roll of fleece to hand or a bale of straw should frost be forecast. The first leaves are delicate and prone to the cold.

Sow carrots, beetroot, peas and broad beans outdoors in prepared beds and cover with a cloche. Don’t go mad by sowing the entire packet. A little but often is key and successional sowing prevents gluts.

Think on, they won’t be getting irrigated naturally if under plastic/polythene so keep a check that they don’t dry out.

Buy in fresh seed sowing compost to give your seedlings the best start.

Finally, make the most of this month as it gets busy from now on.

Happy growing,

Matt.

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Growing Tips-February

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A warm welcome to the February edition of ‘growing tip’

I’m a great believer of making the most of what you’ve got and my autumn sown broad beans are no exception. All that were sown have germinated so I have more than I need. With the additional ones I shall pinch out the tips and add to a salad. The leaves can also be used in stir-fries and pasta dishes. They are a valuable source of vitamin A, C and E, protein and fibre.

broad bean tips

January saw our first fall of snow. Always be prepared and have a soft brush handy to remove it from the green house and poly-tunnel roof. You will be surprised how much light it cuts out.

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If the perpetual spinach has seen better days. Dig up one or two plants and pot-up with fresh compost into a 10 Lt pot. Remove any tatty leaves and place in the greenhouse/poly-tunnel. Always check for slugs nestled in the axils of the leaf stalk. Before long it will be producing fresh green leaves again.

spinach potted up

Try getting into the habit of filling the watering can up after you have finished using it. This allows the water to stand and warm up slightly so that when you next need it, it is not icy cold.

On a frosty day consider turning the compost heap. Ultimately it helps with decomposition but also keeps you warm and will attract a plethora of garden birds.

Once again Marple and District Allotment Association are hosting a ‘Potato Day’ on Sunday 10th February, 10.00am to 2.00pm. As well as potatoes there will be onion sets, garlic bulbs, vegetable seeds and fruit bushes for sale. More details can be found on the link below, www.marpleallotments.org.uk/potatoday.html

Listed below are some seeds which you may consider for sowing indoors this month; leeks, salad leaves, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, spinach, sprouting broccoli and onions. Remember clean seed trays, fresh compost and clean water will give your seeds the best start.

Happy growing,

Matt

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Growing tips – January

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January is a month of anticipation. Seeds have been ordered, days are lengthening and memories of last summer are still fresh in the mind. If this year is anything like last, I will be more than happy.

It is also a good time to prepare for the busy months ahead. Cleaning, tidying, sterilising and bed preparation are all essential tasks.

Generally the soil will be too cold and wet to start sowing outdoors but if you’re lucky enough to have a polytunnel or a greenhouse you can start off subjects such as broad beans, peas, leeks, salad leaves, onions and early summer cauliflowers.

winter peas

As we found out last year Mother-nature can have a cruel streak. Spring was bypassed as winter morphed into summer and my bed preparation was not completed until it was almost time for planting out.

Hopefully this year she will not be as cruel, although a cold, frosty spell will do the garden no harm at all.

I took advantage of the mild weather during the Christmas break to spread a good 5-8cm of well-rotted home-made compost over the beds. This is a satisfying job in the fact that you are returning nutrients back the soil and improving the structure at the same time. It also helps to support the many microorganisms which are essential to the soils health. Simply leave it on the surface and let the worms turn it in for you.

Keep a check on young plants and reduce watering. A fungal disease known as botrytis (grey mould) will spread quickly during damp, cold conditions. By spacing out your plants, picking off any yellowing leaves and opening the doors to encourage good air circulation helps.

botrytis

Keep a look out for wood pigeons who will spot any winter cabbage, spinach, broccoli and cauliflowers which have been left un-netted.

pigeon damage

Finally, start “chitting” seed potatoes in a cool, light, frost free environment.

Happy growing,

Matt

 

 

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Growing Tips-December

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Welcome to the December edition of ‘Growing Tips’.

Now is the perfect time to look back and reflect on what worked and what didn’t this year.

You should be able to make a fair judgement as to what’s worth growing and what to ditch. Take time to thumb through next year’s seed catalogue, make a wish list and send your order off early to avoid disappointment.

If you are new to growing, seek out an elder states person who will be chuffed that you value their knowledge – don’t waste time trying to grow something that is doomed to failure.

I found this year’s hot dry summer proved to be the perfect antidote for keeping slugs and snails at bay. They usually thrive in dark damp conditions in order to breathe and freely move around, devouring crops in their way. This year the hot dry soils restricted their movement and they took shelter where ever they could.

I found snails in discarded plant pots and slugs under pieces of rotting timber. My new year’s resolution is to improve my housekeeping and to take unwanted pots, timber and any other junk ‘which might be useful someday’ straight to the tip.

On the subject of slugs it has come to my attention that there is a slug out there which is the gardener’s ally.

The Leopard Slug, as its name suggests, has markings similar to that of the feline variety and eats fungi, rotting plants and even other slugs. They are hermaphrodites, meaning that each slug has both male and female reproductive organs.

A Leopard slug; copyright Roy Anderson

So before you ‘manage’ them as you would any other slug take a good look to see if they are brown or grey, with brown or black spots/blotches.

The front of the body has marbled patterns of spots and on their back there’s up to three dark stripes on each side.  They may just have saved your cabbages.

Remember to pull off any yellowing leaves on brassica plants. Normally these are at the base of the stem and come away with a downward push. This yellowing happens naturally as the plant grows. However, leaving them on could lead to fusarium so take no chances and remove them to the compost heap.

yellowing of kale leaves

Crops which you may wish to harvest this month include leeks, Brussel sprouts, carrots, winter cabbage, parsnip, kale and swede – all good in a hearty winter soup

Merry Christmas,

Matt

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Growing tips-November

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Welcome to the November edition of ‘Growing Tips’

In my opinion, one of the unsung heroes on the allotment plot is the humble spinach plant. Not the normal salad variety but the perpetual type. Although not a true spinach and more akin to chard, it is packed with a raft of nutrients and vitamins.

pepetual spinach

This unassuming plant is ideally suited to an Oldham climate as it’s tolerant of cool moist conditions and easy to grow. Sow from mid-March through to mid-May either direct into prepared soil or alternatively sow indoors in pots and plant out later into humus rich soil. Keep well-watered throughout dry spells otherwise it has a tendency to run to seed. It will tolerate full sun or partial shade. Harvest a few outer leaves on a regular basis from July on-wards.

I tend to replace my plants after a year or two to maintain health and vigour although they will keep on growing happily for longer. One benefit of this plant is that it will happily grow in a planter where space is limited.

Everyone should have access to a pot of garden mint. I say pot because allowing this plant to establish itself in the ground will lead to it taking over.

planter

A pot similar to the one above is ideal and can be positioned to suit.

Mint has many culinary uses worldwide and can also be used in hot and cold beverages. Pick the young shoots regularly to get optimum flavour and to encourage a bushy plant.

As a hardy perennial mint stops growing in winter but starts back into growth in early spring. If not managed it will grow to around 90cm tall and then tends to flop over. At this stage cut it back to just above the surface of the compost (5cm) to allow regeneration. Top dress with fresh compost and add fish, blood and bone fertiliser.

mint

This mint is ready to be cut back which will encourage new growth.

The young leaves can be preserved by chopping them into small pieces and placing them in an ice cube mould. Top up with water and freeze. As and when required, pop the cubes out and add them to your ingredients. They will taste as fresh as the day you harvested them.

Winter is on the horizon, but this doesn’t mean sowing has to stop. Hardier varieties of certain crops can be sown for early spring harvests. Why not sow a pot of spring onion ‘Performer’ and keep them in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill.

Rainy days need not be wasted as there’s always the less fashionable tasks of cleaning, sharpening and oiling of tools to be done. They are all essential tasks and can be done in the dry of a shed or greenhouse.

Regards,

Matt

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Growing Tips – October

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Welcome to the October edition of Growing Tips.

Autumn has officially arrived and some trees have already started to shed their leaves. These will make valuable compost in the passage of time.

Collect them up and add to the compost heap or have a separate composting bay just for leaves.

The likes of ash, beech, birch, cherry, hornbeam, lime, willow and poplar are high in nitrogen and low in fibrous lignin.

This means they will breakdown quicker than hawthorn, maple, sycamore and horse chestnut which may take up 18-24 months as oppose to 6-12 months.

In order for the leaves to break down they will need to be damp but not too wet. Turn the heap every three weeks to ensure oxygen gets into the centre.

If you cover it with a waterproof membrane this will ensure it doesn’t get too wet and slimy and helps retain heat generated from the decomposition process.

Although leaf mould doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrients, it does improve the structure of the soil, helps to retain moisture and is the perfect habitat for worms and beneficial organisms. Riddled through a sieve it is the perfect addition to homemade compost.

Continue to harvest Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce and celeriac. Aim to have harvested all your main crop potatoes by the end of the month.

swiss chard

 

 

 

 

The stems of the swiss chard come in an array of colours.

 

 

As Halloween approaches, if your pumpkins are still on the green side place them in a warm room. This will help them to ripen.

Continue to weed as certain ones will harbour pests and diseases. The ‘sow thistle’ below has a host of aphids living on it.

aphids on sow thistle

Before you recycle your plastic drink bottles please take a look at the photographs below as to how they can be reused in different ways in the green house and garden. Once finished with they can still be recycled.

plastic bottle                                                Cut the bottle using a sharp knife.

Bottle used as a mini greenhouseUse the top half as a mini greenhouse, ideal for windowsills when starting off seedlings.

watering from baseThe bottom part can be used if you want the plant to draw water up from the base.

clocheOutside in the garden the top can be used as a cloch to protect vulnerable seedlings.

Happy growing,

Matt

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A glorious autumn open day at The Hub

It was such a beautiful day and a fantastic turn out at The Hub Open Day last Saturday.

Thank you to everyone who joined us – the sky was blue, the sun shone all day and fun was had by all.

Pumpkins were printed, hot potatoes sampled, faces were painted, feathered friends were met, hands were decorated, the heady heights of the climbing tower were reached, pots were planted, magic beans were hunted and found and…

…the weight of the pumpkin was 5.40kg. Congratulations to Aliyah who is now the proud recipient of the pumpkin.

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The Hub Open Day, Alexandra Park

A5 Autumn 2018

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Growing Tips-September

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Welcome to Septembers edition of ‘Growing Tips’

Cool damp mornings, earthy smells, sweet aromas and annoying wasps. All these conjure up memories of working on the allotment at this time of year.

We can officially say that it has been the best summer for growing in years. It has been a tad demanding on the watering side, however plots have never looked as tidy and slugs had disappeared completely.

Tomato plants will be coming to an end this month. Cooler temperatures will ensure that any green tomatoes will stay green unless brought into the house and helped to ripen on a warm sunny windowsill.

end of season toms Tomato plants awaiting removal

Place a ripe banana among them as ethylene gas omitted from the fruit will help the tomatoes turn red. Cut the plant down and dig out the roots, adding it all to a compost heap. Gather up any fallen leaves and those which have stuck to the glass panes. Dig over the soil and prepare for the next crop. Add an organic fertiliser such as fish, blood and bone to replace nutrients taken by the tomato plant. In my case the next crop will be winter salad leaves.

If you have shading painted to the outside of your greenhouse, clean it off with a damp cloth to allow in as much light in as possible. Start closing the greenhouse door and windows at night to retain warmth and open again in the morning.

shading

Remove shading to increase light levels

Look to plant out garlic cloves towards the end of the month. They will put down a good root system and top growth before the onset of winter. Plant in a well manured soil with plenty of leaf mould/homemade compost and with the tip just below the surface.

For those who don’t have a garden, garlic will happily grow in a container. Use one around 30cm deep which will allow the roots to spread. Before now I have cut some of the leaves and used them in a mixed salad. They have a slightly less intense flavour, but none the less just as tasty.

Plant out spring cabbage plants this month. They tend to take up a lot of space with approximately 60cm between plants in both directions. These are also greedy feeders so use plenty of nutrient rich compost. Plant deeper than you would normally to prevent wind rock and net to keep the pigeons at bay.

Finally, cut the foliage off your main crop potatoes as they start to turn yellow. Leave the potatoes in the ground for at least a week for the skins to harden. This helps prevent damaging the surface especially if you are going to store them. Leave harvested potatoes on the soil surface for them to dry and carefully remove any excess soil. Check for any damaged ones and only store those in perfect conditions.

The best way to store them is in paper bags. Pay a visit to your local grocer as I’m sure he will have some spare ones. Keep in a cool, frost free environment and check for any turning rotten.

Happy growing.

 

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