GARDEN TIPS - 14/09/18

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Vegetables to Sow Now

Up until the end of October there is a good range of vegetables that can be sown. If you have a cold frame or greenhouse, you could sow into modules and then plant out the mini-plants in a few weeks’ time. Otherwise, try sowing direct to the garden and covering with some garden fleece and/or perforated polythene to simulate the conditions found in a poly tunnel. Make sure to keep an eye out for pests as usual - there may be fewer around at this time of year, but a rogue snail will still munch its way through plenty of tender seedlings in a single session.

Here are just a few veggies you might want to plant around now - either to keep you in fresh produce during the winter months, or to ensure you have robust, early cropping plants when Spring comes back around.

Broad Beans

Sowing broad beans now will ensure that they are ready about a month earlier than any you sow in April, with the added bonus that they don't get black fly. If the beans are in an exposed position and get too tall (above a foot ) over winter, they can wave around and split just above ground level, so put in canes or sticks and string if necessary.

Picking out broad bean tops before the pods are formed will delay pod production. This can be handy in a couple of ways: firstly, this can help stagger crop formation so you don’t get a mass of beans all at the same time; and second - broad bean tops are really tasty (try wilting them in hot butter)! Also, bear in mind that baby broad bean pods are also good -try cooking and eating them whole. Buy seeds here

Peas and Pea Shoots

For a late spring crop, it's worth trying sowing seeds now. If you sow direct into the ground, plant them 3cm deep and relatively close to one another -  around 4cm apart. Plant them in rows around 30cm apart. To speed up germination, put your pea seeds on a wet kitchen towel on a plate and sow (gently!) when the root starts to develop. Pea shoots (tips) are great - add to stir fries and salads for an intense fresh pea hit. Buy seeds here

Winter Lettuce

Again, plant lettuce out under fleece or a perforated polythene sheet. You should be able to pick it all the way through winter. If it stays relatively mild, you should be able to leave it unprotected once it gets established. Buy seeds here

Lambs Lettuce

This is a undemanding, easy to grow and useful for bulking out the salad bowl.

It doesn’t need lots of strong light and is low temperature tolerant, so can be sown up until the end of October outside. You should be picking it until December or even into the New Year, with some fleece or milder weather. Buy seeds here

Spinach

This is another vegetable that is very popular now. Pick it younger and just wilt the leaves in a frying pan for a minute or so. The big advantage of autumn sowing is that there is no tendency for it to bolt (‘bolting’ is a plants’ survival mechanism: if the temperature gets too high they try to produce flowers and seeds as quickly as possible. A nightmare for leaf crops because the plants are so focused on this, they forget all about growing leaves!). Buy seeds here

Sugarsnap Peas

Although not usually known for sowing now, but we have an Italian variety that you can get slow growth from over winter to produce a crop of smallish, edible pods earlier next year. Buy seeds here

Pak Choi

Get some Pay Choi seeds sown as soon as possible now to get a crop growing for eating over the next couple of months. It’s excellent picked and eaten young in salads. Buy seeds here

Ripening Green Tomatoes

It's getting to that time of year when the temperature is starting to drop and tomatoes no longer ripen as quickly as they have been. Contrary to what some people think, windowsills are not necessarily the best place to be ripening tomatoes. Lots of light is not needed for ripening and, in fact, too much direct sunlight can make their skins harder (ever noticed that tomatoes often ripen quicker on the side of the plant away from the sun first?).

Temperature, however, is a really important. The warmer tomatoes are, the quicker they ripen. You can slow down the ripening process by putting tomatoes somewhere cool, or speed it up with gentle warmth.

The main thing that speeds up the ripening process is ethylene gas. Ethylene is used commercially - and on an industrial scale - where tomatoes and other fruits (bananas being the main one) are picked green for shipping and then ripened on demand, for sale.  The industrial process is pretty full-on and makes the fruit lack flavour, but ethylene is actually a natural byproduct of the ripening process of fruit like bananas, apples and tomatoes. So if you put green tomatoes in a paper bag or cardboard box in a warm place with a ripe banana, it’ll help speed up the tomato ripening process. If you want, you can store a few batches at different temperatures to stagger the ripening process and keep you in newly ripe tomatoes for longer.

If you have too many green tomatoes, or simply run out of time to ripen them, the Vegetarian Society has a really nice vegan green tomato chutney recipe here.

General Gardening Stuff

Fill any gaps with late-flowering perennials - sedums, for example - to provide nectar for pollinating insects into autumn.

Store chillies by threading the stalks onto strong cotton or wire and hanging up to dry.

As light levels start to fall, take down any greenhouse shade netting - or wash off shading paint. Also, pay close attention to greenhouse ventilation - on colder evenings don’t forget to close windows and vents.

Water houseplants less frequently and move them away from particularly cold windowsills.

Clean out any water butts you might have and check downpipe fittings, so you’re ready for when the autumn rains arrive.

Wash and disinfect any bird feeders and tables to minimise the risk of disease.

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As  usual, feel free to contact us with any questions you need answered.

Have a great week,

The Lancasters Team