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Jobs for the Month: January

If you are looking for jobs then remember all fruit bushes, like currants and gooseberry, and pip fruit trees (apples, pears), can be pruned between Nov and Feb while the plants are dormant. For currants and gooseberries cut out dead wood and any branches that are overlapping and rubbing on each other to create a nice open looking bush.

If you are using green manure it will probably not like the current freezing weather so you can cover it with cardboard and let it rot back into the soil. Some rhubarb is starting to show and might appreciate having a bucket put over its had to keep it warm and to give you early stalks.

If you are planning on building/ restocking your hot box then this is the time to start to clear it out and check for any repairs needed.

Terry's Tomato Tips: Beware the rot!

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when, after months of careful nurturing, just as your tomatoes are ripening there on the base of the fruit is a disk of hard black tissues – Blossom End Rot (BER).

The first question is ‘How has his happened’ swiftly followed by ‘What shall I do?’ BER occurs when the calcium levels in the fruit falls below 0.5%. Calcium, as calcium pectate, is the glue which sticks the walls of the cells together. With insufficient calcium, when the cells are under stress they implode and BER occurs.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Beware the rot!

Jobs for the Month: February

It’s the time to plant wildflower bulbs in the green and all your saved wildflower seeds from last year.

The days seem to be getting colder but Spring is only just around the corner! Make use of your propagators, greenhouses, cloches and windowsills so you have delicious, organic veg for the year ahead. Some of the seeds that can be sown this month include:

  • Cucumbers
  • Broad beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Chillies
  • Radish
  • Parsnips
  • Broccolli
  • Leeks
  • Tomatoes
  • Artichoke

It’s also your last chance to prune fruit bushes and pip fruit trees.

It’s too early for sowing seeds outside just now as February can be a very cold and wet month with frosts and snow.

  • If your soil is not frozen or soaking wet you can plant rhubarb sets, shallot sets, garlic and broad beans and all bare root fruit trees and bushes.
  • Fruit bushes should be pruned before their dormant period ends.
  • Indoors you can start chitting potatoes in egg boxes or similar and put in a light cool room.
  • If you have a propagator or a warm indoor window sill you can start sowing tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies.
  • You can also sow radish, the hardy salads, spinach, lettuce, leeks seeds and early peas in pots, ready for planting out later. Allan Jenkins recommends ‘
  • Wash old seed trays and pots; buy or make compost ready for next month’s sowing.
  • Weed and cover veg beds in cardboard or black polythene to warm the soil up (old compost bags split open work well)
  • Cut out the old dark coloured stems from dogwood (cornus) to encourage the new bright coloured growth.
  • Lilies can be planted in pots.
  • Lift, split and transplant large clumps of woodland bulbs such as snowdrop, blue bells ns winter aconites.

Terry's Tomato Tips: Spring

Spring is in the air and for greenhouse growers’ thoughts turn towards planting tomatoes. Tomato plants whether lovingly propagated, gifted or bought are all subject to the same natural laws, in this case rooting temperature. Tomato plants WILL NOT grow new roots at a soil temperature below 59 F –14.5 C. How often do we hear “My tomato plants don’t seem to be growing”. That’s because they are not. The top 1″of soil may be ‘aired’ but 4 -6 inches down the temperature may be 45 -50 degrees. A Soil thermometer is a very useful tool, (Birthday or Christmas Present ?) but it needs to be used carefully and placed some 4″down in the border.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Spring

Jobs for the Month: March

It’s time to dig out all your seeds and get them sorted, if you have a greenhouse or cold frame or other protected areas then you can be planting seeds in pots or out into the open ground, but the soil is quite cold now so you might want to warm it up by putting cardboard on top of the prepared bed for a couple of weeks.

  • Beetroot
  • Spinach
  • Peppers (inside only)
  • Red cabbage
  • Hispi type cabbages
  • turnip – snowball
  • Early peas – main crop and sugar snap
  • Broad beans

Other jobs or this month include

  • Clearing beds
  • Sorting out your compost bins
  • Making you planting plan
  • And all the jobs you didn’t get around to in the rain and snow!

Terry's Tomato Tips: May Blossom

May, the month of blossoms. From apple trees in all their glory to the quiet blooms on the gooseberry, they are all producing pollen. It is the same in the greenhouse, where the early tomato pollen is eagerly awaited. It is s simple really, viable pollen, receptive stigma, successful fertilisation, lovely tomatoes.

It’s those fertilised flowers on that bottom truss that ‘anchor’ the plant down into a regular cropping pattern rather than just a vegetative growing one. Tomato flowers with their 5 or more anthers hanging down close to the stigma are ideally adapted for self-fertilisation and from mid-season onwards this is usually what happens. Although pollination of greenhouse tomato varieties can take place over a narrow range of temperatures the optimum for these is 68F/ 20C for both anther and stigma. The actual quality and potential viability of the pollen will depend on the nutrient status of the plant and health of the flower itself. Tomato plants being grown organically usually have bright yellow flowers with plenty of pollen, over many years I have only see’ dry set’ after the most severe climatic conditions, when there has been no pollen to fertilise the stigma.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: May Blossom

Terry's Tomato Tips: Sunny Window Sills

For many years we gardeners have heated our greenhouses in whatever way suited our structures and our pockets. We gained weeks  or even months of growing time by adding gentle warmth by using electricity, gas or paraffin  as fuel. The steep rise  and probable future increases  in the cost of all fuels mean we now have to rethink our way and timing of protected cultivation. An obvious choice is to make more use of a sunny windowsill. Many of us have been doing this for years, with variable results. Now we need to refine and improve our methods to make the best of what we have.

ORIENTATION   We are consideing early to late spring, say 10th  February onwards. Which windowsill in the house is going to get the most sunshine hours during a sunny day?  Can the window be opened if ventilation is needed without creating a strong cooling draught.

TEMPERATURE What is the usual ambient temperature of the room, is the background heating constant? Or is it, or will it have to become part time? Whereas many seeds will germinate and grow at lower temperatures Tomatoes prefer a temperature in the mid 60sF to germinate and will not root when the thermometer registers less than 59F.

LIGHT. Light intensity is measured in Lux, or footcandles. Tomato seedlings will photosynthesise over a range of light intensities but not below 200 foot candles of light falling on the plant. Full daylight is around 1,000 foot candles, but without direct sunlight the light levels of any individual windowsill are widely variable. This is where light reflected on to the back of the plant can make all the difference in the timing of the start of photosynthesis and how long it continues for that day.

Ideally a mirror is the best reflector, but in practice a white backed shelf works well.  Even better is a recycled drip white polystyrene fish box from your friendly Fishmonger. With one side cut out and the box stood upright on the other side, this not only reflects the sunshine but provides insulating warmth as well as creating a little micro climate.

As we all know, spring sunshine is all too capricious, here today AM gone today  PM  with most of our daylight coming from the diffused light coming from the whole sky. We can make the most of the available light by keeping the glass clean inside and out. Timing is personal as it all depends on our particular greenhouses. As a guide when the windowsills are crowded, usually sometime in April when the risk of severe night frost is receding it is safe to move the plants to the greenhouse. If frosts are forecast plants covered with fleece, old net curtains, or several sheets of newspaper overnight are usually well protected.

Terry Marshall

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Jack's Video on Growing

Jack has producd a video about his garden in Wales, what he grows, how he uses recycled materials and of course more about hot beds.

Terry's Tomato Tips for January

Tomato with grey mould (botrytis cinerea)One of the joys of tomato growing is the wide range of varieties that are now available. Each new gardening year brings the latest varieties – several with improved disease bred into their genetic make-up. Thanks to Garden Organic and their Heritage Seed Library, old varieties of tomato are available for members to grow as well as maintaining their genetic gene pool. There are some lovely flavours to be found among the heritage varieties.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips for January

Terry's Tomato Tips: Autumn Fungus

We are now in the season of misty mornings which are fine for romantic poets but for gardeners it is fungus weather. Given moist warm or cool atmospheric conditions air borne spores abound, ready to settle on any vulnerable foliage or fruit. Fresh air is the answer to minimising the risk as much as possible.

Overnight condensation forms on greenhouse plants, on the glass and the greenhouse structure itself. As summer merges into autumn the daily drying time takes even longer and conditions are ripe for fungal attacks. Some of the heritage varieties of tomatoes are delicious, but. One of the reason they fell out of favour was their lack of resistance to disease.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Autumn Fungus

Huw Richards at Askham Hall Gardens

Some of you may have heard of Huw Richards, a young gardener from Wales who has already had three gardening books published along with many YouTube videos, along with a very large following on social media. To cut along story short he visited and filmed the community gardens at Askham Hall in Cumbria. This garden can be seen on one of Huws YouTube videos. Among this very productive garden Huw came across the Hot Beds. The managers of this project had visited myself at the Cellar Trusts Allotments in Keighley where clearly they understood the value of Hot Beds. Huw purchased my book and has since visited me twice where I demonstrated the method of construction. We have agreed to set up an online Hot Bed Course which, if all goes according to plan, will be available later in the year. 

Due to certain circumstances, I was late with the Hot Bed this year, not sowing until February the 23rd. Even so the carrots, spinach and salads are up and away. I tried an experiment this year sowing tomatoes, squashes, sweetcorn and others in pots which were plunged into the Hot Bed also on the 23rd. 100% germination was achieved quite remarkable when one considers that this is an outside Hot Bed with many frosty or near frosty nights. The tomatoes will be used in the greenhouse but I now have the interesting problem of keeping the squashes going.

Jack First

Terry's Tomato Tips: Ripening

August – the month when many tomato crop are at their best. A warm, sweet, succulent, sun ripened tomato, picked and eaten straight from the plant is one of the epicurean summer delights of gardening. The acid, mainly citric, content  of the fruit is due to the potash the plant has access to hence the saying ‘ more potash more acid’. The sugars, mainly fructose, depend on the sunshine the plant receives, hence ‘more sun more sugar. We have no control over the sunshine but we can make the best use of what we get by letting it reach the fruit.

Read more: Terry's Tomato Tips: Ripening

Fleeces in Growing

Not so long ago a sheep farmer could expect a fair return for fleeces sold by the bale. There was, for instance, a high demand for wool in the carpet manufacturing business.  That has all changed now with more and more synthetic products being produced. This lack of demand has led to a dramatic drop in the price of wool. My sheep farming neighbour  informs me that after shearing and transportation costs that there is a huge loss. When I inquired if he would sell to gardening  groups or allotment holders at a break even price his answer was of course yes. I have since contacted a farmer I know in Hipperholme with the same question who also was affirmative. I have used wool and daggings for years now and can safely say that wool is one of the best by products to use around the garden. For a start used around seedlings it will deter slugs and snails. As mentioned before the last thing a slug needs is to be dragging a wooly coat around. Wool will eventually rot down, fertilising that ground as it breaks down. It will make a very good compost when mixed with other organic materials. I use a great deal of it in my hotbeds. Having some wool about the garden in Spring will help some birds line their nests. I know for a fact that around Bradford, Halifax and Keighley that there are quite a few sheep farmers who you could approach. 
Jack First

Terry's Tomato Tips

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From Val's Plot

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Jack First's Advice

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