Organising a seed sowing order for vegetables and ornamentals is essential to keeping us on track.
This prompts the big onion sowing in late December, followed in January by summer display plants such as geranium and begonia which take a while to develop.
My broad beans, peas, onions setts and shallots all go into starter pots at the beginning of February. The idea being to introduce them to the garden as plants ready to romp away, leaving no gaps in the drills.
We were greeted by 10 first early potato varieties at Heighley Gate last week: Rocket; Sharpe’s Express; Lady Chrystl; Pentland Javelin; Red Duke of York; Maris Bard; Swift; Foremost; Casablanca and Arran Pilot. There’s also a decent range of second early and main-crop types available. Salad potatoes Anya, Pink Fir Apple, Nichola and Charlotte are also on display. They’re all packed in two kilogramme bags and cost £4.99.
Mine are standing on the cold greenhouse bench in trays with all eyes facing skyward. Over the coming weeks, sturdy shoots will appear giving each tuber a head start when planted into the open garden. I’ll be guided by weather conditions over the Easter weekend in terms of planting them out onto prepared land. They go into holes 15 centimetres deep made with a hand trowel. It can take three weeks or so for the shoots to emerge but that’s good given the ever present threat of frost. We anticipate harvesting to begin 10 to 11 weeks after planting.
The first boiling of early potatoes can come much quicker if you start some into growth now under cover. A cold greenhouse or poly-tunnel is ideal. I plant three tubers in a large pot but an empty compost bag will do if you fill it over half way, plant the ‘seeds’ and top up with compost as shoots develop just as you would earth-up in the garden. Make sure the compost remains moist and water overhead with tepid soapy water if aphids appear.
Potatoes, rhubarb, strawberries, lettuce and salad crops such as lettuce and radish can all be targeted as early crops right now. I’ve already placed a large upturned pot loosely filled with straw over some rhubarb crowns outside.
The darkness and relative warmth should lead to a pleasant surprise at the end of this month when we take a peep inside.
But we must run a daily check on strawberry plants just taken from the garden, transferred to pots, now and standing on the greenhouse bench. They will need watering occasionally and it is almost guaranteed that greenfly eggs will have transferred with them.
Controlling them before a colony forms is a small price to pay for strawberries and cream in advance of Wimbledon!