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The beSt value kitchen garden magazine

Spring 2013 / £3.95

All you need for spring!


feast enjoy summer-long runner bean pickings





Square metre gardening

• Grafted tom at • Sprouting bro o plants ccoli plugs • Patio apple tr ee


Discover how you can boost your harvests

t pay p&p

Easy spring projects

Year-round bountY What to grow to fill spring’s ‘hungry gap’

Seeds supplied by

Packed for year end August 2013 Sow by 2015

l Create a seedbed l Straw bed potatoes l Bokashi composting l Plant a crate of veg l And lots, lots more...

COURGETTE ‘All Green Bush’ LEEK ‘Musselburgh Improved’ SALAD ✚ ✚ Biological controls ✚ Salad leaves ✚ Asparagus LEAVESPlanting ‘Speedy Mixed’tips BRUSSELS SPROUT ‘Roodnerf’ BEETROOT ‘Boltardy’

Editor's welcome Published by: Kelsey Publishing Group, Cudham Tithe Barn, Berry’s Hill, Cudham, Kent TN16 3AG Telephone: 01959 541444 Editorial team Editor Benedict Vanheems Sub editor Martin Oldaker Designer Kate Holt and Mark Baker Publisher Stephen Curtis Friends and contributors Claire Hart, Rebecca Wells, Anne Swithinbank, Lucy Halliday, Lynne McDonagh, Jeannine McAndrew, Ann Somerset Miles, Angela Youngman, Andy Cawthray, Liz Dobbs, Mel Bartholomew, John Walker, Charles Dowding, Wade Muggleton, Christine Walkden, Victoria Poolman, John Walker, Andrew Haynes Advertising Advertisement Manager: Kara Goodwin Telephone: 01959 543586 Email: Advertisement Director David Lerpiniere Telephone: 01959 543507 Email: Production Manager: Charlotte Riley Telephone: 01733 353367 Email: Subscriptions Save money by taking out a subscription to Grow it! See offer on page 8. Distribution Problems getting your magazine in the shops? Please contact our distributors, Marketforce, on 0203 1483333, or better still, SUBSCRIBE - it makes good sense! Printing William Gibbons & Sons Limited Willenhall, West Midlands. Kelsey Publishing Group Gold Winner, Printing and Publishing, National Green Apple Awards 2006 for Environmental Best Practice by Commerce and Industry.

Grow it! magazine is printed on environmentally accredited paper which is sourced from forests managed in keeping with environmental, economic and social sustainability standards. The paper is bleached without the use of any chlorine chemicals.

Never mind Sudoku involved, just a little maths and forethought. or the daily crossword, Elsewhere in the issue are shovel-loads of growing your own fruit advice to help put you on the right footing this and veg can give you growing season. From page 23 you’ll find our a mental workout as special practical projects section. Here you thorough as the best can read up on how to prepare a seedbed, of them! At first glance the lowdown on bokashi composting and it’s a hobby that’s more the best way to plant up wooden crates to brawn than brains, but make a feature that’s both decorative and you’d be wrong. Sure edible. There are tips on growing delicious there’s digging to be celeriac, a wigwam of summer-long-cropping done, compost to be shovelled and ground to runner beans and, my personal favourite, a be raked, but have you ever considered how clever technique for growing potatoes with much logistics goes into the kitchen garden? little more than straw (and seed potatoes!). In this practical project-packed issue we take Regular readers will appreciate the grounded a look at the relatively new concept of square advice that organic market gardener Charles metre gardening, a Dowding brings to these technique that requires pages. He grows vegetables At first glanc e it’s for a living, which means he careful calculation and forward planning. As a hobby that ’s more literally cannot afford to make the name suggests, a false start. His livelihood square metre gardening brawn than brains, depends on everything going involves metre-square but you’d be wrong like clockwork, even in a beds, which are then shockingly poor year like 2012. divided up into nine So we thought it prudent to sections of equal size to give planting squares pick his brains to find out how he copes with of 30cm (1ft) width. With beds built up rather adverse weather, particularly early in the season. than dug down, this method formalises raised I’m delighted to say Charles hasn’t disappointed bed growing in a way that demands military and he shares his secrets from page 36. Heed precision and meticulous preparation to his advice – he knows what he’s talking about! ensure a steady take of veg and herbs. Whatever your plans this spring, I’m sure you’ll The system’s developer, Mel Bartholomew find something for you in this fact-packed issue. was an engineer by profession and gardener Drop me a line to share your experiences and let by weekend. Combining his day job and hobby other readers know how your plot is getting on. has resulted in what is in fact a remarkably In the meantime I hope you enjoy the occasional simple concept. But if scrupulous planning well-earned break with your favourite magazine. doesn’t sound your sort of thing consider this: his system is claimed to yield 100 per cent of your usual harvest in just 20 per cent of the space. Sounds like science fiction? I agree, it does – but turn to page 62 where you’ll find out it can be done and with no trickery Benedict Vanheems, Editor

In this issue...

Copyright Kelsey Publishing Group 2013 Claire Hart

Allotment visit, p16

Christine Walkden Crate ideas, p32

Wade Muggleton Straw spuds, p34

Liz Dobbs

Kits reviewed, p70 Grow it! Spring 2013

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58 16 62



36 Spring 2013

inside... Regulars 6 What’s new

Get all the latest gossip from the world of edible gardening, including news of a shakeup at the RHS shows and an alarming decline in hedgehog numbers

8 Subscribe!

Don’t delay – subscribe today. It only takes a minute and the rewards are sweet!

10 Your say

Join in the conversation! Readers share their growing tips, triumphs and tribulations

12 Grower’s diary

Rebecca Wells dusts off the propagator and signals the start of a new growing season on her Exeter allotments


On the

15 Free patio apple!

COVER Guarantee fresh apples from

your patio or balcony with a container apple tree – it’s yours for free!

20 Ask Anne

Parsnip canker, slugs and volunteer potatoes – it’s all in a day’s work for Radio Four’s Gardeners’ Question Time’s Anne Swithinbank. Read her recommendations and solutions

40 Free seeds

46 Competition Win one of 12 vegetable cages from Gardening Naturally and see out the growing season in complete peace of mind

51 Free strawberry plants! You can’t beat the experience of freshlypicked strawberries. Send off for your 12 free strawberry runners today On the

57 Free sprouting broccoli!

Courgette, leek, Brussels sprouts, salad leaves, beetroot – what a collection of seeds we have for you this issue! Find out how to grow your free must-have veg seeds

time of year. Order your free plants today and secure yourself a truly luxury harvest

42 The productive garden

61 Free vegetable plants!

Ann Somerset Miles introduces us to the last of her gardens and shares plenty of seasonal tips, including ideas for physic garden herbs and how to crystallise edible flowers

COVER Sprouting broccoli crops at a lean

Ease the strain this spring by getting in some pre-grown vegetable seedlings. Our collection of popular favourites is yours for free

Spring 2013 Grow it!

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Get set for a bumper year with our projects special! There are six practical and fun step-by-step ideas to copy at home – each guaranteed to help make your garden that bit more productive.

On t


68 Young Grower

Got little ones in the family? Get their creative sides blooming with Victoria Poolman’s fun and fabulously quirky salad leaf farm project

70 Tools for the task

Are special seed kits worth the money? Liz Dobbs investigates what’s on offer and weighs up the pros and cons of these ready-packaged time savers On the

79 Free tomatoes!

COVER Claim your free grafted tomato

collection and enjoy exceptional harvests of just-ripe toms this summer

82 Notes from the potting shed

Foraging is a generations-old tradition that deserves more attention. Andrew Haynes encourages us to get out there and sample some of nature’s offerings this spring


16 Raised expectations

Claire Hart travels to West Sussex to meet chairman of the National Vegetable Society Barry Newman at home on his immaculate allotment On the

36 Starter’s orders

COVER Getting crops off to a sound start

24 Get yourself in a pickle!

30 Super celeriac

26 Wigwam wonders

32 Looking crate!

28 Just-so seedbed

34 The potato sandwich

Turn food scraps – even cooked food, meat and fish – into nutrient-rich plant feed. Lynne McDonagh reveals how

isn’t down to luck – it’s the result of careful planning and considered techniques. Organic gardener Charles Dowding explains some of his secrets to success

Reach for the skies with a prolific and stunning wigwam of runner beans. Start them off from seed and pick within weeks!

47 Deep green gardening

The perfect seedbed will give fine conditions for germination. Create an ideal nursery environment with Andy Cawthray

In the second part of his series on growing greener, eco-gardener John Walker investigates the world of vegan-organic growing and how to cope without animal manures

52 The lowdown on…

Cape gooseberries

They cost a small fortune in the supermarket, so they’re worth growing at home. Lucy Halliday has some top tips to help us do just that On the

54 Stop gap

COVER Don’t let the ‘hungry gap’ get

the better of you next time round. Jeannine McAndrew explains what needs to be done now to ensure a fine harvest come spring 2014

58 Spear perfection

Angela Youngman shares her love of tender asparagus spears and offers some advice on establishing healthy and abundant crowns

On the

62 Square ayes

COVER Ready to boost your yields and

make life easier in the process? You bet! Square-metre gardening guru Mel Bartholomew explains how it’s done

66 Seasonal fare

Make the most of springtime’s harvests. We’ve three mouth-watering recipes for cauliflower, carrots and nettles On the


72 How to grow… Spicy salad leaves

Don’t opt for the banal – spice up your sandwiches, soups and dinner plates with a few of the many warming salad leaves out there, suggests Lucy Halliday

Home-grown celeriac has an unparalleled taste. Follow Charles Dowding as he shows us how to grow this winter vegetable Old wooden crates make for stunning retro containers. Plant one up under the instruction of Christine Walkden Wade Muggleton proves that growing potatoes doesn’t have to mean digging. In fact, growing them’s a doddle

On the

76 Natural way

COVER There’s no need to spray your garden

with nasty chemicals. Enlist the services of nature’s allies and you’ll soon bring pests under control The BEST VALUE kitchen

garden magazine Spring 2013 / £3.95


Subscribe to Grow it! and you will never miss another issue. Head to page 8 right now!

All you need for spring!




Enjoy summer-long runner bean pickings


Square metre gardening

• Grafted • Sproutingtomato plants brocc • Patio apple oli plugs tree


Discover how you can boost your harvests

*Just pay


● Create a seedbed ● Straw bed potatoes ● Bokashi composting ● Plant a crate of veg ● And lots, lots more...

to grow to fill spring’s ‘hungry gap’

✚ Planting tips ✚ Biologica l controls ✚ Salad leaves 001_GI_SPR13.indd


Easy spring projects

Year-round BOUNTY What

✚ Asparagus


09/02/2013 12:32

Grow it! Spring 2013

4-5_GI_SPR13.indd 5


22/02/2013 09:15

What's new Send your news stories to

Members of the Suttons’ team inspect their new trial ground

Plot ready for trials

Visit our fresh new website! Recent visitors to the Grow it! website will have noticed substantial changes – all for the better we hasten to add! The radically redesigned site now includes all the latest news, growing guides and seed planting instructions for previous on-the-cover seed collections. The Grow it! website is the perfect place to find out what’s going on in the magazine and to keep in touch. Users

can submit a letter or picture through the Your Say tab, post a question to resident horticultural agony aunt Anne Swithinbank and, of course, take out a digital or print subscription. From the April issue you’ll also be enter all of our competitions online, saving you postage and time in the process. If you’ve never visited our website before, hot-foot it over there immediately! Visit:

Get into the zone


Seed company Suttons Seeds is heralding the new growing season with a new trial ground. The land, at Occombe Farm in Paignton, Devon is closer to the Suttons Seeds head office than its previous site. The 9.43 acres of land will provide the company with more space for new variety and growing technique trialling, as well as opportunities for putting on events for the public. Surplus fruit and vegetables will be used at the Occombe Farm café, while open days will be arranged for allotment owners and members of the public who want to learn more about growing their own produce.

New blog Grow it! contributor Lynne McDonagh has recently launched her new blog, PlantLightly. The blog covers matters relating to organic growing, wildlife and sustainability. To take a peek head to:

Visitors to this year’s RHS Tatton Park and Hampton Court Palace Flower Shows will be the first to experience a radical redesign of both shows. From this July the shows will be split up into distinct zones, each themed according to their primary aim. Both shows will feature Grow, Inspire and Escape zones. A fourth zone at Tatton will be Feast. Grow zone will dive into the world of plants, Inspire will feature conceptual design and fresh ideas, while Escape will transport visitors to the countryside in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace and the seaside at Tatton Park. Grow-it-yourself enthusiasts will love Feast at Tatton, which will celebrate everything home grown, with a focus on edible gardens and organic produce. Here visitors can forage for ideas to take back to their own gardens. RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs from 9-14 July and RHS Flower Show Tatton Park from 25-28 July. Further details for both shows can be found at the RHS website or by calling 0844 3387506.

Spring 2013 Grow it!

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21/02/2013 16:28

HEDGEHOG DECLINE CAUSES CONCERN Hedgehog numbers in Britain are declining by three to five per cent each year, with the loss most apparent in southern and eastern England, according to the results of a ten-year trend analysis by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). The analysis further supports alarming evidence highlighted in 'The State of Britain's Hedgehogs' (a 2011 report by PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society) that hedgehog numbers in Britain are declining dramatically. The trends show a loss as rapid as that of the world’s tigers and, if in the bird world, would be given a ‘red alert’ listing. “Continuous monitoring is vital to help us build a more complete picture of the state of the UK’s wild mammal populations,” explains PTES Surveys Officer David Wembridge. “Over the last 20 years or so, the world’s tiger population is thought to have halved. Although they are very different animals and there are many fewer tigers left in the wild, the fact that we are losing hedgehogs in Britain as quickly, should ring alarm bells as loudly.” IMAGE: DAVE BEVAN

400,000… and counting! The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has achieved a landmark, welcoming its 400,000th member to the gardening charity. The lucky member, Alice Muggeridge, pictured with daughter Scarlett, bought her membership at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey and was presented with two tickets to member’s day at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show by garden curator Colin Crosbie.

Hungry for more

Sweet celebrations The National Allotment Society has teamed up with seed company Kings Seeds to offer gardeners the chance to name a new sweet pea in celebration of Kings’ 125th anniversary. The flower is deep pink on a white background and will be available to buy from Kings from August. Kings is renowned for its sweet pea collection, being one of only a small number of wholesale seed companies that grows its own sweet pea seeds for sale. The competition is open until 14 March and the winner will be treated to a VIP tour of Kings’ farm and factory by managing director Les Day. For more information and to download the terms and conditions visit: competitions-and-limited-offers

Details of the line up at this June’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live featuring The RHS Flower Show Birmingham have been released. Gardening stars at the show will include Monty Don (pictured), Diarmuid Gavin and allotment enthusiast Cleve West. New for this year is a brand new stage ‘From Plot to Plate’ where some of Britain’s best-known gardening experts will demonstrate how to grow fruit and veg, while top chefs will reveal how to turn your harvest into fine dining. As well as numerous show gardens the event features Edible Patches, where students, allotmenteers and gardeners are given the chance to design, plan and build an edible garden design in a tiny 3x3m (10x10ft) space. Advance adult ticket prices start at £19.75. Bookings for BBC Gardeners’ Word Live, which includes entry to the BBC Good Food Show Summer, can be made online at www.bbcgardenersworldlive. com or by phoning 0844 5811340.

Grow it! Spring 2013

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21/02/2013 16:28








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Your say Write to us, with a picture if possible, at Grow it!, Kelsey Publishing, Cudham Tithe Barn, Berry’s Hill, Cudham, Kent TN16 3AG. Alternatively email:

This month’s star letter wins a potting tidy set from Elliott. Two Wests and Elliott

Drop us a line and share your growing stories, advice, questions and opinions

Child’s play My two young grandchildren are very curious about the world and last summer began to take an interest in growing vegetables. I am naturally very keen to encourage them, as you hear so much in the news about what

goes into processed foods. To get them going I dug over an area of lawn at the bottom of the garden and installed a couple of raised beds – one for each grandchild. They have really taken ownership over their beds and look forward to weekly visits to plan, tend and, of course, harvest what they’ve grown. Granddad gets left to do most of the watering, but they do all of the weeding, sowing and thinning. It’s fantastic that so many younger children are showing an interest in growing their own, thanks I’m sure to school gardens being taken more seriously and campaigns by the Royal Horticultural Society. H Wheeler, Oxfordshire

One potato, two potato… As I sit waiting for the new growing season I have been thumbing through the different catalogues sent to me through the post and getting my orders ready. I have noticed some differences in the way the various companies sell their seed potatoes. Some sell them by the kilo. This is great because you can then compare the price against local garden centres. Others, however, sell by the number of tubers, making it very hard to compare what you are getting. Is there a rule of thumb that can be used to work out how many tubers you get to the kilo? Have you covered this in an article before? It would be useful to have some advice in this area. P Corcoran, via email

Editor replies:

We haven’t run an article that covers the average weight of a seed potato and it’s hard to track down a precise answer to your question. However, advice gleaned from the website of the Netherlands Potato Consultative Foundation (there’s a mouthful!) suggests the average weight to be about 50g, which would give 20 seed potatoes per kilo. An American site suggests an average weight of 60g, or just shy of 17 seed potatoes per kilo.

Falling fowl Having read the article by Ann Somerset Miles in your March issue (see ‘The Productive Garden’, pg 50), I must draw your attention to the fact that the feeding of all food waste to any kind of fowl is illegal. The law (Animal By-Products Regulations 2011) came into being in 2001 and a European ban was brought in two years later. The ban includes all food waste cooked or raw which has been in any food preparation area; this includes household kitchens. The law was brought in to help prevent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and swine fever, of which food waste can be a major source of these diseases. If any readers require help on this matter please contact the Trading Standards Office at your local council or go to the Defra website: E Neale, treasurer, Salisbury Poultry Club

Editor replies: Many thanks indeed for drawing our attention to this. Gardeners can at least feed their chickens suitable material taken directly from their plots, for example old cabbage leaves.

In the gutter Keeping slugs and snails at bay is a challenge. Last year I grew a selection of lettuce in guttering with success. It seemed to amuse my neighbours too. H Edvardsen, Norway

Editor replies:

No slugs or snails are going to be able to reach that high – a superbly evasive move!

10 Spring 2013 Grow it!

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G r ower's diary

Warming up Setting up the heated propagator signals the start of the growing year for Rebecca Wells, as work really begins to pick up on her Exeter allotments

O Spring has sprung! An emerging broad bean in my greenhouse

n an unfamiliarly warm and sunny Saturday morning, I was chatting to Rhona, who gardens half the neighbouring allotment. “Ah,” she remarked as yet another car pulled into the car park outside the community shed “they’re all coming out of the woodwork now.” Indeed they were, tempted by the weather and mindful that conditions had not been conducive to carrying out the tasks usually undertaken over the winter months. Fellow allotmenteers

were arriving to do what we were both doing… catching up. The damp soil was easy to work and, because I have been restoring the fixed beds on my plot, I was able to do so from the paths, without clagging up my boots with mud. Many of those who garden on our field have the more conventional layout which means that they are unable to work when the soil is as wet as it has been in recent months. If you can be totally flexible about when you garden because, for example, you are retired and your time’s your own, then you have the opportunity to work when the conditions are right. Mind you, most of those people I know who are retired seem to be busier than ever and often remark that they don’t know how they had time to hold down a job! I work full time and my allotment garden has to be tended in my free

Rebecca Wells is a garden designer and keen kitchen gardener based in Exeter. She tends three full-size organic plots on her local allotment field.

time, whatever the weather. Having fixed beds with paths in between means that, even if it is tipping it down or is very wet under foot, I can cultivate the ground. It also means that, if time is short, I can achieve a satisfying result because my plot is divided into small areas. I call it the ‘bite-sized bit theory of work’ whereby a large task is subdivided into much smaller parts. It’s more encouraging to say ‘I've weeded that whole bed’ rather than ‘I’ve only weeded that little bit’.

Green shoots We have a bed of autumn raspberries on our plot made up of ‘Autumn Bliss’ mixed with some of the soft, peach-coloured ‘Fall Gold’. Each autumn, as I pick the watery fruit I vow to dig them all up but

Autumn-fruiting ‘Autumn Bliss’ berries help to extend the picking season of my favourite fruit

12 Spring 2013 Grow it!

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company, advised adding a 7cm (3in) layer to the ground and digging it in so that the roots of the plants can easily access it. Both bags’ contents looked mouth-wateringly good, with the charcoal pieces clearly visible in the Carbon Compost making it almost black. I have assigned three areas, side by side, to this trial. One has Carbon Compost dug in, one has the manure-only mix and the third, which was manured last year, has had nothing added this year and will act as the control. I shall be interested to see the results from each over the coming year.

E arly crops

With the sun on my back as I worked, life felt very good then I remember that, by leaving the canes to fruit the following year before the summer raspberries begin, I can stretch my season and enjoy what is probably my favourite soft fruit for longer, so I relent. Autumn raspberries ‘wander’ more vigorously than the summer-fruiting canes and several had come up in surrounding beds last year. It is best to move them while they are still dormant and so I weeded the patch and did so, cutting back the canes I was relocating so that they could concentrate on establishing new roots. As I weeded the patch, I noticed that strong new shoots were already pushing up through the soil and, with the sun on my back as I worked, life felt very good.

Busy bees The warmth of the sun brought not only fellow gardeners outside. Small bumblebees blundered from flower to flower on my winter honeysuckle, gathering welcome nectar in a break from their winter hibernation. This leggy, rather untidy-looking shrub is frankly boring for most of the year but, in the winter months

Last month I sowed some broad beans and sweet peas in the unheated greenhouse at home and, despite some very cold and dull weather, all have germinated and daily visits have revealed the bent crooks of broad bean seedlings breaking the surface of

Left: Early bee on the deliciously scented winter honeysuckle Below: Charcoal lumps are clearly visible in the Carbon Compost Bottom: The two test beds – let’s see what happens!

its small cream flowers pump out a sweet, spicy fragrance to attract the few passing bees around at that time of year. Its perfume is strong enough to drift on the breeze and, while I would not give it space in my fairly small garden, I have it on the allotment as an early nectar source for bees, as well as to be able to pick and bring indoors. Passing allotmenteers, smelling the scent as they pass, often ask what it is.

Biochar study This year I have decided to carry out a ‘real life’ experiment using Carbon Compost, a locally-made product containing well-rotted manure and charcoal. The manure acts as a soil fertiliser, adding nutrients and valuable organic matter to the soil, while the addition of small lumps of charcoal to the mix not only opens out the soil but also, being porous, holds onto the water and therefore the water-borne nutrients. Last month I took delivery of a dumpy bag of the carbon-compost mix, together with a similar bag containing just the manure alone. Robin and Geoff, who run the Grow it! Spring 2013 13

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G r ower's diary

Top right: Strong chits on my seed potatoes Below: Forcing rhubarb using an upturned dustbin

the compost. The magic of seed germination never ceases to thrill me and the rapid development of the seedlings brings almost daily excitement. St Valentine’s day is, apparently, the day on which the birds choose their mates. For me it has become the day on which seed-sowing really gets under way. In past years, I have sowed my tomato seeds by the end of January but, this year, I decided to leave it a little later because the weather has been so strange. There is little point in getting well ahead with seedlings, only to either shock them by putting them out too soon or allowing them to become pot-bound because conditions are not right. I have an electric propagator which I set up in the lightest place I can find, which is in our kitchen next to the window. Next year I hope to have electricity in the greenhouse, which means that I can set the propagator up there. Seeds are delicate things and easily shocked or held back so I fill the clean pots with multipurpose peat-free potting compost and stand them in the propagator to warm up before I sow. Plants such as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines are the first to be dealt with because they need such a long growing season before they ripen, especially in the variable summers we have had in the last few years.

The seed potatoes which I bought last month have been next to the window in a cool bedroom and have chitted well, developing good, strong, chunky shoots. I grow my early new potatoes in containers and, very soon, it will be time to fill them with our own home-made compost, setting perhaps three potatoes in each and standing them in the greenhouses on the allotment to start growing. By the time I need the greenhouse space for tender plants such as tomatoes, the danger of frosts should be past and I can move the containers outside to finish off.

rb R hubarb, rhuba We inherited a line of rhubarb crowns when we took over the allotment many years ago. I can’t be sure of the variety, of course, but it is probably ‘Timperley Early’ because it seems to come far in advance of rhubarb on neighbouring plots. This already gives us quite an advantage when it comes to the length of harvesting season but one of the many advantages of growing your own produce is that you can extend that season and grow crops which might be either very expensive to buy in the shops or, often, completely unavailable. Forced rhubarb is available but, at the £4 for 400g which it is at my local supermarket, it is beyond my housekeeping budget. If you have enough crowns (and it is worth planning so that you do) it is

Rebecca's tips If you


have been feedin g the birds this winter, make sure that your peanut feede rs allow them to take only part nuts now. Baby birds cannot eat whole ones. A cold frame is inv aluable in hardening off early seedlings before putting the m out in the open ground. Polystyren e boxes from the fishmongers, cove red with a plastic sheet, offer protec tion if you do not have a more conv entional system. Don’t be too eage r to sow seeds. Be aware of the weather and tem perature. It is better to wait, if ne cessary.



an easy matter to force rhubarb. The reason you need to have enough is that, having required much of the plant one year, you really need to rest it the next year. Forcing entails excluding the light and keeping the plant warm so that the shoots grow quickly and are sweet, pale and long. In Yorkshire’s ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ the plants are grown in huge sheds by candle-light to achieve the right conditions. I’m told you can hear the plants creak as they grow. My system is on a much smaller scale. A black plastic dustbin filled with straw to act as insulation is tipped over the emerging shoots of the selected crown early in the year and securely fixed down so that the wind does not blow it off. It is wise to regularly check the plant but, eventually, it will be obvious that the stems are ready because the dustbin is lifted off the plant. After the harvest, the plant is well rested and manured to recover.

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22/02/2013 09:35

Barry’s allotment in early summer is a showcase of order!

NVS chairman and passionate plot holder Barry Newman

Raised expectations › Allotment


Size: 30x9m (100x30ft) Soil type: Sussex Weald clay Plot age: 19 years Location: Partridge Green, West Sussex Key features: raised concrete beds, immaculate order! Owner: Barry Newman, NVS chairman

When it comes to growing veg there’s not much that National Vegetable Society chairman Barry Newman doesn’t know. But it’s not all about the show bench, as Claire Hart discovers


ith all of Barry’s various horticultural commitments (he lectures and judges for the National Vegetable Society (NVS) and RHS, is a South and South East In Bloom judge, and a member of the South of England Agricultural Society’s Horticultural Committee), it’s a wonder he has any time at all to attend to his own rather well-cultivated allotment in West Sussex. But Barry’s plot is a model of good planning and tidy husbandry. It is here that he indulges his passion for growing vegetables both for show bench and kitchen. Barry’s love of growing and the

environment was encouraged from an early age. As a child he benefited from the opportunity to get back to nature afforded by his grandparents’ small tenant farm near Rugby in Warwickshire. It was there that his love of growing was cultivated and he recalls the joy, at the age of five, watching his father lifting potatoes. “It was something akin to seeing treasure being dug up and something that is still one of those magic moments I enjoy nearly 60 years on!” explains Barry. His subsequent involvement in horticulture as a career choice, studying at Pershore College in Worcestershire,

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then York and Bath Botanical Gardens, was almost an inevitable consequence of his early experiences.

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Barry notes that “While many varieties and cultural operations remain much the same as they did 60 years ago, there have been advances. Today I grow many cultivars that were nor about in the 50s, and in a way that would have been completely alien to my father.” He cites growing potatoes in 60-litre plastic bags as one very graphic example of how techniques have changed and how a better understanding of plant requirements and the prevention of pests and diseases have shaped our way of growing. Barry is the first to admit that one of his major horticultural obsessions is the growing of vegetables to eat and for showing. Consequently his membership of, and association with, the National Vegetable Society was a natural fit. “It is something that I am very proud to be part of. For anyone interested in growing vegetables and improving their success, joining the NVS should be top of the list for the forthcoming season. We have members of all ages, abilities and walks of life. Association with the NVS has really improved my growing skills and its members are a never-ending source of information for both problem solving and new ideas. “I’m halfway through my three-year tenure as chairman of the NVS and am pleased to see membership growing, albeit slowly, but I guess that’s the nature of the growing business. One big obstacle to increasing the membership was the lack of exposure in the press. Where the NVS was

These ‘Swift’ potatoes were planted in an empty raised bed using the previous year’s potato bag compost to which Vitax was added

mentioned it was associated with growing ‘giant’ specimens or only ‘show quality’ vegetables. The NVS is open to all and is now acknowledged as the society to which anyone who wishes to grow vegetables and improve their skills should belong.”

When time permits, Barry is down at his nearby allotment, while propagation and early nurturing are done in a small greenhouse at home. He converted his allotment to raised beds in the early 90s, considering it to be very much the way

ahead for vegetable growing. In the early years he used builder’s planks but soon converted to concrete gravel boards, as he admits he was tiring of having to replace rotting timber every three years or so. Barry explains: “Finding out about lightweight gravel boards from Supreme Concrete made the conversion simple and along with my cultivator these things alone have made my growing and cultural operations extremely manageable. “Certainly my top tip for growing vegetables is to use raised beds,” he adds, “with all the benefits of being in control of their content and providing both free drainage and early warming. Combine this technique with a cordon and internal paths of woodchip; you should discourage all but the most persistent slugs and snails.” Barry is positive that the benefits of using woodchip should encourage all growers to do away with grass paths, whether using raised beds or not.

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April on the plot showing the concrete beds and the first of the potatoes in bags, intersown with radish

His association with the NVS together with his horticultural training has enabled him to become a show judge (the NVS operates its own qualification scheme) and lecturer, which he sees as having been a real privilege and a source of great enjoyment over the years. “It has allowed me to judge and talk all over the country and meet a real mix of gardening experts and help, hopefully, a whole lot of would-be growers.” The show world has been a source of many amusing anecdotes, which

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Barry performing his judging duties at the Hampshire and New Forest County Show

Barry recalls during his talks. “There are so many fun moments and strange things that competitors do. I don’t want to give too much away but suffice to say that, for example, Super Glue has revolutionised the ability to show tomatoes and cucumbers with the calyx attached. But judges are rarely fooled! “The members of the NVS are a very sociable bunch and the various talks around the five regions are usually a source of entertainment as well as knowledge!” says Barry, who is the first to acknowledge that the talks, in particular, are very much a vehicle for the two-way traffic of knowledge. “I rarely come away from a talk having failed to pick up as

Barry’s method for growing tomatoes. Here, cherry tomato ‘Sungold’ are being planted

many ideas as I have given out. Growing is a continual learning curve and I love it. Speaking to horticultural groups puts you in a very good position to note what is fashionable and what advice finds most favour. Certainly the growing of potatoes in bags is something that is becoming very popular, as can be judged from the array of bags that are now available to buy.”

Growbag tomatoes

Barry is full of very useful tips. One of his popular tips deals with the best method of using growbags for tomato production. He recommends that the

bag is firstly thoroughly aerated by treating it like a bolster pillow, breaking up all the lumps and introducing as much air into the bag as possible. When it comes to growbags, good aeration is as important as water and nutrients. Having aerated it, hold the bag vertically and shake all the compost down to the bottom of the bag, where it should then only occupy about two thirds of the space. Fold the empty flap over and trap it under the bag on the greenhouse floor, as pictured above. Since the main issue associated with summer growbag crops is moisture retention, this method gives a greater depth of compost which will better hold moisture. It also provides greater root depth, helping plants stabilise. Experience tells Barry that growbags treated this way will support two tomatoes. For additional benefit use this method in conjunction with grow rings for slow watering through the reservoir. This also allows the addition of further compost in the inner ring halfway through the season. Feed as normal with tomato feed once the first truss has set.

Cracking courgettes

Courgette plants are tied in every 10-12cm (5in) as they grow to lift them off the ground

Those thinking of growing of courgettes this summer can benefit from Barry’s technique of tying each plant vertically to a stout stake. This method not only saves space, it keeps fruit and leaves off the ground where they suffer less from mildew and can flourish out of the way of ground-borne pests. Barry plants his courgettes out in early May, once free of frosts, and protects them from the prevailing wind with a sheet of glass until they are established. “Make sure you plant to the stake rather than

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Biding time: Barry isn’t too eager to do everything too soon, as the weather can always bite back. Seeds need to be sown into warm soil, so he holds off until conditions are favourable. Anything that is planted or sown in April is protected – don’t be fooled by a sunny day. Sowing begins: Spring is a very busy time on Barry’s plot and he is fastidious about keeping it tidy and weed-free. Living in the South makes for a warmer climate, so by April Barry is sowing sweetcorn, runner beans, all the cucurbits, French beans and leaf beet in Rootrainers under glass. Outside he creates seedbeds for his winter brassicas, plants potatoes in bags and sows batches of a range

pushing in the stake afterwards to avoid damaging the roots. I grow four plants in a well-manured six foot square (1.8x1.8m) bed; I’ve tried five but that’s a bit greedy. “The easy way to grow courgettes is to buy your plants is from a nursery, but always buy a spare plant just in case. I like to grow either ‘Defender’ or ‘Venus’ for taste and uniformity. Once established, which is usually signalled by the leaves turning a dark green with silver tints, the glass protection can be removed. The process of tying can then start but the secret is to use soft, thick ties, loosely tied so as not to cut

of salad varieties such as lettuce, beetroot and spring onions. Clearing the way: Barry will also be stripping out the remaining winter veg and preparing the ground for new crops, paying particular attention to his rotation plan and ensuring he has plenty of space for the germinating brassicas. Bed preparations: A major problem for most gardeners this year is nutrient leeching from sodden soil. Growers will need to pay a little more attention to feeding. Barry does this by including fertiliser and organic matter in his bed preparation. Once correctly prepared, he rarely feeds vegetables for the kitchen during their growing period.

into the hollow stems. I’ve found that a tie every four or five inches (12cm) is sufficient to keep it upright and close to the stake. “Using the staked method I have also lengthened the growing season. It seems that with their heads in the air, rather than on damp ground, they are persuaded to fruit longer, sometimes right up to the first frost.” By far the biggest topic for Barry continues to be the construction, management and benefits of raised beds, together with the countless queries

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Experience has taught me that the easiest way to grow vegetables is in raised beds.


If at all possible keep grass paths and grass borders away from your vegetable beds.

3 4

Use wood chip or shredded bark for all paths and surrounds.

Always try to have an ‘open’ trench on your plot for spent crops and composted material.

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Make, and keep handy on site, your own liquid feed.

Try something new each year: a technique, a new variety or different vegetable.

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Keep a diary. Register the weather, planting times and varieties grown.

Draw a base plan of your vegetable garden or plot to aid rotation and planning.


Try to get manure on to the areas that need it before the end of the year.


Always keep your plot tidy and weed-free.

for recommended suppliers of quality horticultural sundries, particularly those relating to pest and disease control, a subject that is particularly tricky given environmental concerns and EU controls. It’s a wonder Barry manages it all, but he does. His truly immaculate allotment is testament to his unquestionable passion for his subject matter. Having visited Barry my mind is now swimming with ideas for my own plot – it’s going to be a busy but productive growing season!

About the NVS

The start of life on any allotment. Not any old muck but racehorse muck!

The NVS seeks to advance knowledge and further public interest in the cultivation and improvement of vegetables. It does this through the publication of information, exhibiting, stimulating research and experiment, and awarding prizes open to public competition. Membership is just £17 a year, or £5 for juniors. Visit to find out more.

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED Anne Swithinbank, one of Britain’s favourite gardeners and a member of Radio Four’s Gardeners’ Question Time panel, answers your growing questions

Slug controls Every year I sow my salads and every year half get obliterated overnight by slugs! I’m reluctant to use pellets and have had only limited success with beer traps. Are there any other failsafe techniques to stop them munching? A Stephenson, County Durham This is such a problem, as most gardeners want to kill slugs and snails without harming other garden life. We thought we had the answer with ferric phosphate-based pellets (described as harmless to pets and wildlife) but now there is even a question mark about the safety of these. I admit I still use them but always spread them sparsely and only use them around vulnerable crops, usually only at planting time when leaves are at their softest and most attractive to molluscs. If I was to forswear pellets altogether, what would I do? Before the ferric phosphate ones came along, I used to rely on a multi-pronged attack (or defence). Beer traps or orange and

grapefruit halves are most effective when placed between your crops and areas of grass, debris or weeds where slugs like to hide during daytime (when they’re not curled up snug in the folds of your lettuce leaves!). Copper puts out a small electrical charge which slugs don’t like to cross, so encircling your crop with copper tape will keep slugs out, so you just have to contend with the ones trapped inside! A solution of nematodes watered into the soil around vulnerable crops works under as well as above ground but I’ve found this difficult to manage during droughts. You are right to protect wildlife though, because a healthy population of birds, frogs and toads eat lots of slugs.

Volunteer potatoes Is there anything wrong with leaving potatoes sprouting up from last year’s crop to produce a crop for this year? It happened last spring and I enjoyed a reasonable crop with very little effort! T Watson, Gwynedd These unlooked-for surprise crops grow from small tubers left behind after harvest and are known, rather delightfully, as volunteers. The correct answer to this would be that any lurking potato pests and diseases would find in these volunteer potatoes a great breeding ground. On the one hand, we’re paying good money to introduce clean, virus-free seed potatoes each year and we make the effort to rotate our spuds around the plot to avoid problems. Then we go and blow it

all by allowing volunteers to pop up all over the place, building bridges of infestation. We’re talking about potential build-ups of black leg, blight, powdery scab, eelworm and viruses. In reality, I think we probably all turn a blind eye to the odd volunteer, covertly lift the crop and enjoy it. However, I would certainly not advocate nurturing them on purpose. In fact, one should try hard to find every tiny tuber and remove them at harvest, so there are no volunteers.

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PARSNIP CANKER Some of the parsnips I’ve dug up have got brown, roughened tops to the roots. It looks like some sort of fungal disease. Have you any idea what is causing this and how it can be avoided? G Whitehall, via email

Age-proof allotments I have a half-size allotment plot which I’ve been looking after for the past five years. However, I am not in my first flush of youth and want to find ways of converting it so it’s easier for me to tend as I get older. Have you any ideas? M Holtson, Derbyshire Digging and weeding are the most taxing and time-consuming jobs when it comes to growing veg at home or on an allotment, so anything to reduce these would Ask Anne, Grow it!, Ke lsey Publishing be a bonus. Making 1.2m Group, Cudham Tithe Barn, Berry’s (4ft)-wide beds with paths Hill, Cudham, Kent TN 16 3AG. between them would be Alternatively email: the way forward. You would or submit never tread on them again a question via the Grow it! website: and never dig either, but just ww topdress with well-rotted compost between crops or in the autumn. This would take some work to set up, as ideally the beds should be edged with boards and possibly raised up a little. I would avoid raising them too much because if our weather swings back to drought (hard to imagine), they would dry out faster and cause work lugging cans. An edging would stop weeds from the pathways from encroaching into the beds, though an ideal solution would be to fit the paths with weed-suppressing fabric and cover this with chopped bark or gravel. Old carpet sounds like a good idea, but slugs like hiding under it. If your home-made compost is full of weed seeds (I’m afraid mine is), switch to municipal compost which can be delivered by the load. This should be weed free and save a lot of work. Carrying water is a problem but if you can fit a butt on a higher part of the plot, lengths of hosepipe filled with water and running downhill from it will act as a siphon. Seal the end and open it when you need to fill a can near the crop you are watering.


The fungal disease parsnip canker will have flourished in wet soil conditions and I should think the problem has been pretty rife. As with all pests and diseases, the best reaction is not shock and horror but fascination! What is it, how does it behave and how can I outwit it? Spores are washed into the soil and will infect roots through wounds but I believe the fungus can also be carried in seeds. A small amount of canker (rusty or black lesions, especially around the tops of the roots) is unsightly but you can still clean it away and eat the rest of the roots. Outwitting the disease begins, as usual, with soil. Unless yours is naturally alkaline, a good liming will help. Keep rotating parsnips around so they can avoid returning to the same bed for as long as possible. Better drainage would be an advantage, so raised beds would be ideal. Next, read variety descriptions carefully when choosing seed and pick those with good resistance to canker. ‘Tender and True’ (pictured), ‘Panache’ and ‘Pinnacle’ are good examples. Avoid sowing too early, as later sowings germinate more reliably and are less likely to suffer from canker. I’ve enjoyed good results from sowings made as late as the beginning of May. Finally, avoid damage to the roots by being extra careful when weeding and perhaps cover the crop with fleece to keep carrot fly off. This pest doesn’t usually damage parsnips as much as carrots, but they allow entry for the disease.

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Your questions answered

Tomatoes for sauces My relatively new greenhouse hosted cucumbers and a couple of chilli plants last year. this time round i’d like to grow a variety of tomato that is perfect for turning into sauces – ie with very few seeds. what variety is best for this? K Rook, Wiltshire A greenhouse is definitely best for tomatoes generally, especially to the west of the country where blight is a common problem. Under glass they are far less likely to suffer. Another plus for you is that the larger, meatier varieties with more flesh and less seed tend to need a longer growing season than smaller, juicier varieties and do best under glass. One good catalogue is that of Simpson’s

Seeds (01985 845004, www.simpsonsseeds. as they have an impressive list of tomatoes. Just a quick scan through their pages reveals ‘Oxheart’, a heritage sort with pink, heart-shaped fruits with few seeds. ‘Burpee Delicious’ is described as having almost solid meat and holds the world record of over 3kg for one tomato. Yet large-fruited varieties are often a bit sparse with their produce. Perhaps

the medium fruits of ‘Essex Wonder’ would be good, described as very prolific and rated highly for sauces. Or ‘San Marzano’, apparently popular as a paste tomato for sauces. Chris Cole from Heirloom Tomatoes (07525 738773, based near Thirsk, North Yorkshire recommends ‘Jersey Devil’, ‘Inca Andian’ and ‘Cuore de Bue’. Growing these different varieties is a lot of fun.

Growing peaches i would love to grow some peaches in my small, courtyard garden. i have one area that gets sun in the afternoon, for about six to seven hours a day during the summer. Can i succeed with these warm-loving fruits? Y Amir, Birmingham If you have a strong desire to grow peaches, then you should certainly try. There’s a good chance you’ll succeed, though some decent summer weather will help. Although it is possible to grow peaches in pots, I would plant into a soil bed if you have one in the courtyard. This just makes life easier for watering and feeding and avoids having to topdress or root prune to allow for fresh root growth into new compost. Look in the fruit catalogues and you’ll find plenty of peach varieties available on a dwarfing rootstock, so they will make small trees of 2-2.5m (7-8ft). There’s peach ‘Red Leaf’ (available from Marshalls: 0844

5576700, whose foliage is deep crimson. You could try flat-fruited ‘Sauzee Bel’ (Pomona Fruits: 01255 440410, www.pomonafruits. or late-flowering ‘Rochester’ (Reads Nursery: 01986 895555, www.readsnursery. to perhaps train as a fan. There are two main problems with growing peaches. They flower early and therefore pollination can be compromised by there being either few insects around, or frosts damaging the flowers at a crucial time. A belts and braces approach would consist of covering the plant with a temporary polythene shelter as cold protection and then hand pollinating

the flowers. The shelter would also help with problem two, which is peach leaf curl disease. This, when it strikes, causes unsightly blistering of foliage and ultimately damages the vigour of the tree. Spores are air or rain-borne and a cover will shield the plant within. Best of all, choose ‘Avalon Pride’ (which is widely available), a variety with strong resistance to leaf curl, which also crops well in August.

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Spring special



Welcome spring to your plot with our collection of springtime practical projects

Spring's finally sprung and it’s time to get well and truly busy on the productive plot. Whether you’ve got a full-size allotment or a modest patio of pots, there’s a project here for you. We asked our regular team of experts to share one of their own favourite practical projects, and they haven’t disappointed! So let’s get raking, sowing, composting, planting and constructing!

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easy projects to try!


Intrigued? You should be! Lynne McDonagh shares the joys of bokashi 26


Plant a wigwam of beans and make a real centrepiece to your potted plot 28


Andy Cawthray shows it’s easy to create the ideal seedbed for spring sowings 30


It’s crunchy, tasty and versatile. Charles Dowding explains how to grow it 32


Britain’s favourite TV gardener Christine Walkden plants up a wooden crate 34


Wade Muggleton reveals his unusual and trouble-free way of raising spuds

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Spring special

Get yourself in a pickle! Bokashi composting converts food scraps into plant feed. The secret’s in the microorganisms that literally ferment your waste. Lynne McDonagh shows you how to set up this remarkable system


have always been a keen recycler and composter, so when I heard about a technique that could help me reuse more of my food waste I was eager to give it a go. Bokashi composting is a traditional method of fermenting food scraps. First used in Japan, it is now popular all over the world. The staggering amount of food waste that ends up in landfill has come into sharp focus recently. Bokashi composting may be one way of reducing our contribution to this mountain of waste. Bokashi has two big advantages over most other composting systems: it offers a way to compost all sorts of kitchen waste, including cooked food, meat and fish

scraps, citrus fruit and stale bread, and the fermentation process renders the compost unattractive to rodents.

EM activator

Since the system relies on an activator known as EM (effective microorganisms), it requires an ongoing commitment to buying in this activator bran. A 3kg bag of EM should be enough for an average family and costs around £20 per year. You will also need a couple of plastic bins with lids, ideally fitted with a tap for siphoning off the fluids created during the process. Bokashi kits are available but check your local shops for cheap plastic buckets first, or recycle chicken manure containers.

The EM activator contains a mixture of good bacteria, yeasts, bran and molasses. Food scraps are added to a sealed bin and when the activator is sprinkled over the waste, it initiates anaerobic decomposition of the contents. In my experience this means that any scraps of protein quickly disappear but vegetables, bread and citrus peels hang on in there, albeit in a mummified state. Since anaerobic composting requires the exclusion of oxygen, it’s best to add your food waste just once a day. Squashing down the scraps helps to keep air out of the fermenting mass. Depending on the type of waste in a Bokashi bin, it can take four to six weeks to fill up. Amazingly, there are no nasty odours – just a mild hint of pickles. After about a week, fluid starts to build up at the bottom of the bin and needs to be drained off, usually every three or four days. This Bokashi tea, as it’s known, contains nutrients and can be diluted in equal parts water to use as a plant feed, or poured into drains neat to keep them clean.


Fermenting process

It may not look very appetising, but your plants will love it!

When the bin is full it needs to rest undisturbed for about two weeks to allow the fermentation to continue. You can then either bury the waste in a trench (a great way to feed hungry crops such as beans or squashes) or add it to your normal garden compost to finish the decomposition process. Alternatively, create a separate composting heap for the Bokashi. I’m now using an old plastic bin with the bottom cut off and a few holes drilled into the lid. This allows the Bokashi to make contact with the soil, so that the mummified food

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s Dos and don’t re your

DO use a glue gun to secu tap should it become leaky. DO make sure any meat that’s added to your bin is covered with plenty of activator. . DO wash your bin out with water only ting plan re DO wait a month befo so the acidic residues from the fermenting process are neutralised by the soil. DON’T add milk, fluids or paper. Let tea bags and coffee grounds drain before adding. DON’T add rotten or mouldy foods.

quickly disintegrates, leaving a good soil conditioner. This can be used to mulch fruit, veg and flower beds, or mixed with garden compost and dug into the soil to add humus. There is definitely a buzz around Bokashi composting. Many claims have been made about its nutritional value and disease-combating properties. I can’t say how accurate these claims are, but for me the proof is in the pudding. I have been using the Bokashi system in my allotment for the last year and, despite lashing rain and armies of slugs, I produced healthy Borlotti beans, pumpkins and tomatoes while other plot holders saw their crops ruined. Bokashi is a great way to increase the volume of compost you can make at home, making this quirky composting technique all the more worthwhile.

STEP-BY-STEP Composting







Start off your Bokashi bin by sprinkling a little of the EM activator into the bottom of the bin.

Measure a level scoop of the activator and sprinkle it over the food waste. Replace the lid firmly. Repeat steps two and three until the bin is filled.

with Bokashi

Tip food waste into the bin and squash it down firmly to create the anaerobic conditions necessary for the fermentation process to begin.

After the first week check if any fluids have built up. Place a bowl under the tap and drain off the fluid. Use this within 24 hours. Drain regularly throughout.

Activator bran is the secret behind the fermentation process


• Bokashi Direct: 0808 1209676, • 0845 6585588, • Living Soil: • The Recycle Works: 0800 0320377, • Wiggly Wigglers: 01981 500391,

When the bin is full, let it rest undisturbed for about two weeks. In the meantime, start filling a second bucket. This way you will always have a bin on the go.

Add Bokashi compost to a trench, garden compost or separate bin to finish decomposing. Wait a month before planting into a Bokashi trench.

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Spring special

Wigwam wonders

Reach for the skies with a handsome and productive container wigwam of runner beans. They’re easy to grow and will keep you in generous handfuls of beans all summer long!


unner beans are tasty and incredibly productive crops that will continue to produce pods as you harvest them. Training the plants to scramble up a wigwam of canes or hazel poles makes an attractive feature in the vegetable garden. These rustic constructions add height and structure, while the brightly coloured flowers give them an ornamental quality. Once they have germinated and given the right conditions, runner beans take just 12 weeks to reach the picking stage. In this time they will feel their way up the wigwam, spiralling round their supports as they reach for the skies. Sow your runner beans under cover in April or early May. They can also be sown directly outside into the soil, although you will need to make sure that any risk of frost has passed and that the soil has warmed up and dried out after winter. Plants raised in pots indoors can be planted against each cane of the wigwam by the end of May. Don’t forget to water

What you will need

Pick your beans regularly to keep them coming

✔ Bean seeds ✔ Multipurpose compost ✔ General-purpose fertiliser ✔ Crocks ✔ Bamboo canes ✔ Plastic pots ✔ Garden twine ✔ Large container ✔ Watering can

your young bean plants well, especially in hot summer weather. Mature plants grown in containers will also need regular watering as their roots won’t have as many resources to draw upon. Remove any weeds and give your rapid-growing vines a weekly liquid feed.

Sow seeds into pots or directly outside from late May

The beans can be picked from midsummer right up to autumn. Picking is important and you’ll need to do this regularly to encourage the plants to produce more flowers and therefore crop for longer. If you are heading away for a few weeks over the cropping period ask a neighbour to pop in and harvest them for you, that way you will have plenty more beans to come back to when you return. ● More clever ideas can be found in A little course in… Growing Veg & Fruit (published by DK, £9.99)

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How to grow a wigwam of beans







Sow runner bean seeds into small plastic pots in mid- to late spring. Sow two seeds per pot. Use quality multipurpose compost and keep the pots on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse until the risk of frost has passed. Thin out the seedlings after a couple of weeks, leaving the healthiest, strongest plant in each pot.

As the young plants start to grow they can be trained up the bamboo canes. Twist them around the canes and, to start them off, tie them into place to their cane. Once they become established they should begin to use their tendrils to climb on their own. Watch out for signs of damage from pests such as slugs and blackfly.

Place the crocks into the bottom of a large container with drainage holes and fill with compost, mixing in some generalpurpose fertiliser as you go. Insert 2m (7ft) bamboo canes around the edge of the container, about 25cm (10in) apart. Use garden twine to tie the canes together at the top of the wigwam then secure at regular intervals down the length.

Keep checking the plants as they grow, as some wayward shoots will need retying and training in. Once the plants reach the top of the wigwam, remove the growing tips to stop them getting any taller. The pretty flowers not only look good but will attract bees to your garden.

Arrange the plants around the edge of the container, making sure each plant has its own cane. Use a trowel to dig out a hole for each plant then remove the plants from their pots and place into their holes. Firm them in and water well to settle the compost around them.

It takes about 12 weeks from sowing to harvesting. Pick regularly to keep the plants cropping. Once they start they will provide a bumper crop over several months. Each plant can produce about 1kg of beans. Don’t leave the ripe beans on the plant for too long or they will become stringy.

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Spring special

Just-so seedbed

Smooth, fluffy soil raked to a fine tilth is the seed-sower’s holy grail. Andy Cawthray explains how to create the perfect seedbed from scratch


here’s a variety of techniques to employ to get vegetable seedlings on the go. Some gardeners prefer to start off their seeds in modules, planting out the seedlings once they are large enough. Others sow direct and then thin out the resulting seedlings to the required distance apart. Then there are those that will spend almost as much time preparing a dedicated seedbed specifically for growing juvenile plants that will then be transferred to their final position once they are strong enough to be moved. I tend to go for a bit of each of the above. Some crops will be started off in modules under cover, including the likes of courgettes, while others I will sow direct and thin out, the likes of lettuce and radish being obvious examples. Sometimes I’ll use a seedbed to get crops such as leeks kick-started before moving them on to their final locations. It is clearly a case of each to their own, although I have found that having a dedicated seedbed or two, perhaps in the garden at home if you have an allotment, comes in very handy mid to late season when the weather outdoors is frost-free and usually dry enough to give the seeds a chance. It is also around this time that most of the growing space under cover or in the greenhouse is filled to the brim with salad

What you will need ✔ Spade ✔ Fork ✔ Rake

The perfect seedbed – raked and ready for action!

crops, tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies – an outdoor seedbed comes into its own during this time. Now is a good opportunity to get a seedbed sorted out. The weather can play a part in helping it establish. Embarking on a project for a 2.4x1.2m (8x4ft) seedbed shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours’ work, followed by a couple of half-hour By late spring preparations made now will be paying off

sessions raking (when the weather permits) to break down and level the soil. Personally I find the whole process therapeutic and very satisfying, which means I probably spend longer than I think getting the beds ready! But then as my late grandfather always used to say: “Take care of the soil and it will take care of your crops.” The old fella hasn’t been wrong yet!

Now is a good time to get a seedbed sorted out. I find the whole process therapeutic

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How to prepare a seedbed


Whether creating a brand new bed or converting an existing one into a seedbed, go over the ground and remove every last fragment of perennial weeds. This will save a huge amount of time and effort later in the season.






Don’t worry about breaking up all the clods of earth just yet. If you are not in a particular hurry leave the large lumps of earth and let the weather work on them for you. Any frost will break them up while sunshine will dry them out somewhat.

You will see that my bed has narrow board edging. This helps to delineate the bed from the path and allows for a very slight raising of the earth. Most importantly it stops shallow-rooting, creeping weeds from spreading into the bed.


The weather can be very wet at this time of year. As a helpful guide, only ever work your soil if it doesn’t stick to your boots.

Begin digging over the bed to a depth of around 15cm (6in), or half a spade’s depth. As the bed will be for sowing seeds for transplanting it needn’t be deeper. Using a border spade helps stop me from digging too deep.

Choose a day after a period of dry weather to begin raking the bed. Large clumps should break down easily with a tap from the rake. As you work through the bed remove any stones, pebbles or weed roots you might uncover.

Keep periodically working the bed with the rake, ensuring you get as level a surface as possible. Each time you work, remove any stones or weeds that appear. Keep breaking down the soil to form a finer tilth. Once the weather allows, start sowing!

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Spring special

Super celeriac

It’s a truly invaluable winter root vegetable that needs to be started off, with care, right now. Charles Dowding offers some tips on growing this most satisfying winter staple


o grow good-sized roots of celeriac, you need a lot of things to be right. The main ones are to choose a productive variety, spread plenty of well-decomposed organic matter to hold moisture and feed for the hungry plants, and sow by the end of March, in gentle warmth if possible. If you have clay soil, chances of success are higher than on light, free-draining soils. I have tried many varieties over the years and always come back to ‘Prinz’ as a trusty variety with a large, dense root. I have also grown good ‘Monarch’, ‘Ibis’ and ‘President’, while I had disastrous results with ‘Bianca de Veneto’, which made lots of impressive leaf growth and not much at the bottom.

Sowing and raising

Sow undercover in March in slight warmth, with the tiny seeds sprinkled on top of moist and fine compost. Do not cover the seeds with compost as they need light to germinate – just put a piece of glass over the seed tray to hold moisture and warmth. Seeds can take three weeks to show any leaf so don’t despair if you see nothing for a while! The emerging seedlings are really tiny so give just occasional moisture. About four to five weeks after sowing you should be able to slip a pencil under some seedlings and lever them up to prick out individually into modules or small pots, of any size from 3-5cm (1.5-2in). Grow these on for another month until their roots are filling the

modules and top growth is strong. The aim is to have strong plants by mid or end May. Meanwhile you need to prepare or have prepared a bed in winter, which does not need digging but must be cleared of all weeds and can then be covered with 3-8cm (1-3in) of year-old compost or animal manure, for biggest roots, or mushroom and green waste compost for a slightly smaller harvest. All composts hold moisture, which is so important in any dry weather.

Growing on

Use a dibber to make holes 38x38cm (15x15in) apart – no closer or you risk having more leaf than root, whereas wider spacing gives larger roots but a lower total harvest. In

Celeriac really comes into its own from September, when the characteristic gnarled roots begin to swell

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Grow It! Spring 2013 Issue  

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