Growing Tips – March


Welcome to the March edition of growing tips.

Well what a start to March we had. First it was the ‘Beast from the East’ which was quickly followed by storm Emma and to top it off then there was the ‘Mini Beast from the East’. A less than subtle reminder to us all that winter has not gone far.

For those of you who started off sowing indoors, hopefully you now have a tray or two of young vigorous seedlings in need of pricking out. This is the process where seedlings are transferred into individual pots or cells and allowed to grow until ready for planting in a permanent position. You will need to give the plant additional space to allow for further growth and watering will increase as the root system becomes established.

beetroot seedlings

Beetroot pricked out into cells. Note a number of empty cells where mice have helped themselves.

Below are some peas which were sown in a heated green-house almost five weeks apart. The taller ones are ready for hardening off in a cold frame. This is when you gradually acclimatise your plants to outdoor conditions. It’s all too easy to lose plants at this stage if you plant them straight out. This is due to the sudden change in light levels, (burning of the foliage) fluctuating temperature (extreme highs and lows) and exposure to wind (wind rock and burn). A cold frame is a smaller version of a green-house but without any heating. It will provide a level of protection and with careful management of the vent (lid) you can regulate the temperature by opening it up during the day and closing at again at night. By the time your plants are ready for planting out the vent should be open at their widest or removed completely. As mentioned in previous posts always have a fleece at the ready in-case of frost.

peas (1)

The peas on the left showing haw succession planting works.

Now is the time to sow some brassica seeds. Brussel sprouts, kale, summer and autumn cabbage. The last thing you want is a bed full of brassicas all maturing at the same time. Therefore I suggest sowing in small batches and then sowing again in 2-3 weeks’ time.

Tomatoes should be through in 7-10 days from sowing. Mine have been sat on a propagating tray on a windowsill. Germination has been good with all my ‘Gardeners Delight’ seeds germinated in the one day. I moved them off the propagating tray and they now sit on the bench in the poly-tunnel awaiting the first true pair of leaves to develop. I will then look to prick out into a 9cm pot.

Next on the agenda will be cucumbers which due to the size of the seed will be planted directly into a 9cm pot. Planted on their edge as this reduces the chance of them rotting.

If your soil is dry enough give it a rake over to prepare it for sowing. Break up any lumps to create a fine tilth. Increase the fertility by fertilising with fish, blood and bone.

See you in Spring!

Happy growing.


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Growing Conference cancelled

So sorry everyone but today’s community growing conference which was due to be held at Oldham Library & Lifelong Learning Centre has been cancelled due to a police incident.

We hope to re-arrange in the future. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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Community Growing Conference

Free community event this Saturday – Growing conference

Saturday 10th March, 10.30 – 2.30pm at Gallery Oldham, Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre.

  • Free lunch and drinks
  • Families welcome
  • Range of workshops
  • Booking requiredGrowing Conference A5 flyer

To book visit:

Please book the opening session and two workshops per person.

Scroll down to view different workshops available. Opportunity to book & attend both a morning and an afternoon workshop


For further information contact:

Anne Fleming

Programme Manager- Food and Health

T: 0161 770 1876


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Growing Tips-February


Following the rejuvenation of the rhubarb patch back in November, I decided that the strawberry bed was now in need of some attention. Last September I pegged down the tips of runners into pots of fresh compost. After two months the new plant had grown enough to be severed from the mother plant. There was a network of healthy looking roots which had filled the pot and a healthy looking crown where future growth would appear from. I left the young plants in a cold frame with some slug pellets just in case one fancied a nibble.strawberry plant

Young strawberry plant taken from its pot

Now is the time to turn my attention to the bed in which they will be growing in. As I will be using the existing bed the old plants will be forked out along with any weeds. Deep forking will allow air into the soil and aid drainage. At least 10cm of well-rotted farm yard manure will be added to the surface and worked in to improve the soil structure. I will plant approximately 30cm apart and 45 cm between the rows. This gives me space to add straw under the leaves for when the fruits start forming, which in-turn keeps the new strawberries off the soil. All being well this June I will have a health crop of strawberries to enjoy.

Due to the wet conditions earlier-on in January it was decided to plant the onion sets in pots indoors and transplant when conditions were more favourable. This week the soil was dry enough to plant them outside. Conditions in the polytunnel have been quite cold so they should adapt to the outside temperatures quite quickly. To afford some protection from snow and heavy rain, we have built a protective cover which can be moved from bed to bed. The netting is small enough to prevent insects getting in and almost produces a mist effect when it rains. Time will tell if our effort has been worthwhile.

onions in bed

Onions planted out in a raised bed.

crop protection







Protection from snow, insects and heavy rain.

On the subject of temperatures, the broad beans planted in the polytunnel back in January have only just started to germinate. Polytunnels are a real asset to the grower but they don’t retain any heat during the winter. I will fleece them over to reduce the fluctuating temperature range and sow a second batch as cover.

Brussel sprout should still be available for harvest if they were planted out in July. Cabbages, leeks, kale, cauliflowers and swedes will still be providing a healthy addition to the evening meal.

Heated propagators are a great asset for starting seeds off in. There’s a great range on the market which will give your plants the best start in life. If, like me, and you don’t have access to a power point then an unheated type is the next best thing. Start preparing to sow tomatoes, lettuce, salad leaves and leeks.

Propogator An unheated propagator.

Don’t forget to turn the compost heap in order to get some air through it. It will quicken up the decomposition process. Compost which is ready for use can be spread and worked into the surface of the beds.

Finally, remember to ‘chitt’ seed potatoes in a light airy room.

Happy growing.


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Winter Fruit Maintenance

Practical volunteer learning day

Apple tree pruning and soft fruit maintenance

Join Oldham’s Environmental Services team for a day of fruit tree care and maintenance. Learn and practice fruit pruning techniques

  • Thursday 8th February 10am – 3pm The Hub, Alexandra Park
  • Thursday 22nd February 10am – 3pm The Hub, Alexandra Park

Meet at The Hub, Alexandra Park for registration and introduction. Travel by mini bus to site for practical pruning activity. Return to The Hub, Alexandra Park for 2.45pm

  • Bring a packed lunch. Hot drinks will be provided.
  • Wear warm clothes and waterproof footwear.


Book just one day or both, however, places are limited and offered on first come, first served basis.

Please contact Hannah Williams to book your place.

T: 0161 770 3067


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Growing Tips – January











Hello everyone and a belated happy New Year.

Even though it’s cold and wet outdoors there’s loads of jobs which can be carried out in the warmth of a greenhouse…so no excuse, don the woolly jumper and get some fresh air.

Pot washing is not one of my favourite tasks at any time, however, sifting through a stack of 3.5in plastic pots somehow doesn’t feel quite the same as stood washing the evening dinner plates. Washing seed trays and containers is good practice before the start of the growing season. You don’t want dormant spores springing into life when seedlings are at a delicate stage.

The first task is to brush off any dried compost, dead leaves and anything else clinging inside and outside the container. Next is to fill a sink or bucket with hot soapy water. Leave the containers to soak for a while which helps to soften any mineral deposits. Wash the containers with a sponge and leave them to dry. They will look like new and give your plants the best start.


If you are unlucky to have snow, remember to sweep it from the green house/poly-tunnel roof. Not only will doing this improve light levels but also reduce weight on the structure. This also goes for any brassicas that are netted over. The weight of the snow will push the netting down and wood pigeons will be able to reach the crops below.

Prolonged periods of frost this time of year will actually help the grower by breaking up heavy soils. These are soils with a high clay content. Frosts also assists in naturally controlling pests, such as whitefly which tend to colonise on sprout plants.


Many growers harbour thing that ‘may come in use one day’. While you have time, clear the plot of any clutter. Broken glass, bits of timber or anything else that’s sat there for a couple of years. You will please your neighbours and feel better in yourself.

Check stored vegetables for signs of rodent damage.

Cover rhubarb crowns if you want to force the plant into cropping early. Remember this exhausts the plant and should not be harvested in summer or the following year because the forcing process weakens the plant and the stems will not grow as strong.

If you’re eager to start sowing try a few broad beans, early peas, onion and lettuce. These will need to be grown under protection and during sunny days don’t forget to ventilate. Failure to do so will encourage long spindly growth. Below are onion setts and garlic cloves which were planted in pots due to wet soil conditions.


Finally, look out for ‘Potato Days’ where the object of the day is to make available a large selection of seed potatoes to the allotment plot holder and members of the public. Start collecting egg boxes to chit them in.


Happy growing,


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Family Walk Leader Training

Walk leader training poster

Why not join our growing team of walk leaders? We’re currently looking for volunteers to lead local family walks.

  • Personal development
  • Health benefits
  • Play an active role in the community
  • Be part of a Oldham’s growing network of walk leaders
  • Be part of a local community health ‘movement’

If interested, please contact Alan Keane, Health Ambassador


Walk Leader Training poster 2nd Feb 2018

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Coming up at The Hub…

January 2018

The Hub, Alexandra Park


Saturday 6 January 2018 10am -12pm                                               

Hub Explorers

New year fun and games at The Hub


Monday 8 January 2018 1.30-3.30pm

Community Growing Session

Help continue to undertake winter tasks. Activities will be indoors during bad weather.


Wednesday 10 January 2018 10am – 12pm                                      

Community Cooking Session

We have one last pumpkin stored from last year’s harvest. Join us to cook up a delicious sweet pumpkin recipe.


Thursday 11 January 2018 1pm -3pm 

Learning Workshop

Join us this week to learn about different habitat boxes that can benefit the garden


Saturday 13 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Hub Explorers

Join us to mix up some birdy treats & keep our feathered friends happy


Monday 15 January 2018 1.30-3.30pm                                             

Community Growing Session

More winter gardening tasks this week. Come along to help us sow seeds for early spring crops


Wednesday 17 January 2018 10am – 12pm                                      

Community Growing Session

Even in bad weather, join us at The Hub for a brew and a catch up


Thursday 18 January 2018 1pm -3pm 

Learning Workshop

In preparation for National Nest box week in February we will be building nest boxes this week


Saturday 20 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Hub Explorers

Wrap up warm for winter eye spy in the park


Monday 22 January 2018 1.30-3.30pm                                             

Community Growing Session

Beat those winter blues, why not join us and meet up with friends at The Hub?


Wednesday 24 January 2018 10am – 12pm                                      

Community Growing Session

Only an hour of gardening jobs this week. Join us at 11am for some healthy eating tips and advice.


Thursday 25 January 2018 1pm -3pm 

Learning Workshop

In preparation for National Nest box week we will be building nest boxes this week to put up in February


Saturday 27 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Hub Explorers

Preparing for the Big Garden bird watch, join us to find out more about our feathered friends in the park


Monday 29 January 2018 1.30-3.30pm                                             

It’s the last day of the Big Garden Bird Watch weekend. Join Matt for Community session at The Hub


Wednesday 31 January 2018 10am – 12pm                                      

Community Growing Session

Join the team at The Hub and find out more about what we’ll be growing and harvesting this year.


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Hub Explorer Winter Programme

January – March 2018

The Hub, Alexandra Park


Saturday 6 January 2018 10am -12pm                                               

New year fun and games at The Hub


Saturday 13 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Join us to mix up some birdy treats & keep our feathered friends happy


Saturday 20 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Wrap up warm for winter eye spy in the park


Saturday 27 January 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Preparing for the Big Garden Bird Watch, join us to find out more about feathered friends we have in the park


Saturday 3 February 2018 10am -12pm                                             

Get in some practice for Pancake Day – this week making yummy pancakes with a healthy twist


Saturday 10 February 2018 10am -12pm                                          

Help build bird boxes for National Nest Box week


Saturday 17 February 2018 10am -12pm                                          

‘Pokemon & potatoes’ Join us during the Winter Walking Festival when we will be hunting pokemon in the park and enjoy a hot potato after cooked at The Hub


Saturday 24 February 2018 10am -12pm                                          

It’s all Grow Grow Grow this week. Join us for gardening fun at The Hub


Saturday 3 March 2018 10am -12pm 

Celebrating ‘Real Bread week’ we’ll be cooking bread on the outdoor oven


Saturday 10 March 2018 10am -12pm                                               

Getting crafty – try your hand at the Japanese art of Hapa zome


Saturday 17 March 2018 10am -12pm                                               

It’s den building day in Alexandra Park for Hub Explorers


Saturday 24 March 2018 10am -12pm                                               

Come and learn about growing towers of strawberries


Saturday 31 March 2018 10am -12pm                                               

It’s all things seedy this week

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Growing Tips – December

IMG_3721 Welcome to the December issue of growing tips.

There goes another year and I, for one, am convinced the years are going faster! It certainly doesn’t seem twelve months ago since I wrote about going back to the trusted blight resistant potato, ‘Sarpo Mira’. I have to report that I planted three rows and they didn’t disappoint by providing me with a healthy crop of red potatoes. The abundant leaf growth (hulm) also does an excellent job at suppressing weeds.

sarpo mira ‘Sarpo Mira’ potatoes.

Those of you who prefer to use terracotta pots as opposed to plastic need to be aware that if left outside during the winter, they could crack. Wrap them in hessian sacking or move them to a more sheltered position where the frost won’t damage them.

damaged terracotta

All is not lost as broken terracotta pots can be used for drainage.

One job that never fails to warm you up on a cold frosty day is the collection of hazel poles. These are shoots which grow long and straight from around the base of the tree and are ideal for climbing beans. They are highly prized by walking stick makers so may be hard to come by. Cut them close to the tree and bundle them together. Keep in a dry place until required.

hazel sticks Hazel poles make excellent bean plant supports.

The need for water is not as imperative at this time of year. Therefore this is the ideal time to empty the water butts and remove any leaves which may have found their way in. Come Spring the last thing you want is a watering can full of foul smelling stagnant water. Last year I decided to throw a handful of Canadian pond weed into the water butts and fit some fine chicken wire over the top to prevent anything from falling in. This year the water has been clear and fresh with a colony of water snails feeding off any algae. Just remember to not completely empty the butt or your pond weed will shrivel up and the snails die.

One crop which should complement every Christmas dinner table is the humble parsnip. It is a naturally sweet flavoured root crop which is rich in vitamin C and high in dietary fibre. A frosting will intensify the sweetness and so long as you don’t suffer from carrot fly, the plant can be left in the ground until required. Sow fresh seed in 3cm deep drills from April to May and thin the seedlings to allow them room to grow. Parsnip seed is very short lived so I suggest buying new seed every year.

parsnip ‘Tender and True’ is an old variety of parsnip.

Merry Christmas.


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