Kitchen Garden Jobs for Late Spring

Earthing up

If you have not already piled up ridges over your potatoes at planting time, you will need to start earthing up at the beginning of this season or whenever the potato shoots (haulm) are about 15cm (6in) tall. This is done to prevent the tubers being exposed to the light and turning green, to encourage the production of more tubers from the buried part of the haulm, to protect the tubers in case of infection by potato blight and to keep the haulm upright.

To earth up, soil should be drawn up from both sides of the row to form a V-shaped ridge from the top of which about 2.5cm (1 in) of the potato stems emerge. It is easier to do this when the soil is crumbly and dryish. If you know the soil is rather infertile, you can scatter compound fertilizer on the soil before ridging, as an insurance against a bad crop. Two to four weeks later, repeat the process.

Compost-heap making

To make good compost, the heap should be made of as much fresh green vegetation as possible and it should be made quickly. It should be made so that air, water, warmth and nitrogen are available to the bacteria which feed on and break down the vegetation into the dark brown crumbly mass which is the source of humus.

Humus is a substance which ensures that the soil structure remains in good condition for plant growth and that it contains nutrients which are available to plant roots. It is most important that soil contains humus and, as the humus is in a constant state of change and breakdown, it has to be replaced; garden compost is one of the most convenient ways of ensuring its presence in your soil. Other bulky organic substances such as firm manure, spent mushroom compost, leafmould, spent hops and seaweed will supply humus, but need to be obtained; they are not on the spot, except in rare circumstances.

The heap can be contained in a wooden box, or by bricks straw bales, breeze blocks, corrugated iron or black plastic-sheet. The bottom of the heap should be lifted off the ground so that air can get underneath and there should be a hole or holes up through the heap, so that a chimney-like effect is obtained; air can then go up and help to create what is almost literally combustion. This is all to the good, as the considerable heat thus produced will result in quicker rotting and destruction of weed seeds, most pests and fungus diseases. Building the heap round two or three poles stuck into the ground will ensure aeration, as they can be withdrawn when the heap is finished.

The heap is built in layers, like a sandwich, first a 10-12.5cm (4-5in) thickness of vegetation, then a sprinkling of an activator or sulphate of ammonia, another layer of vegetation and a sprinkling of lime, and so on until the heap is about 1.2m (4ft) high. Width can be about the same and length as long as convenient. When finished, a sloping roof to keep the rain off is advisable, but the heap should never be completely dry, otherwise it will not rot. You may have to sprinkle it with water as you make it if the weather is dry. Good heaps should be ready six weeks after starting, but usually they take about three months and a heap started in late summer will not be ready until the following spring.

Try not to put hard, woody material into it; this rots very slowly and you will find digging out the compost which is rotted very irritating as your spade constantly strikes sticks and twigs. Also, try not to regard the compost heap as a rubbish dump for plastic, milk-bottle tops, odd pieces of papers, labels, string, stones and particularly glass. The dustbin is the right place for these.

Mulching

A good deal of mulching is done in this season. It helps to stop the weeds from growing, and putting it on while the soil is still moist, before the summer droughts, will cut down on the time needed later for watering. It also, keeps the soil structure in good condition, encourages worms and supplies some plant food.

You can mulch all those vegetables which have been thinned for the final time, also globe artichokes, French (kidney) and runner (pole) beans, peas and the cucurbits and tomatoes if planted out. If you are not keeping a straw cover on the soft fruit, then the currants, blackberries, loganberries, gooseberries and vines can all be mulched; the raspberries will already have been done as their new shoots start to appear so early.

Strawberries can be mulched with organic matter, if not already done in early spring, and the mulch covered with straw towards the end of late spring. The time to do this is when the berries are still green and swelling rapidly, on a dry day, but when the topsoil is moist. If you straw on to dry soil you will run into trouble later on with hard, small berries because of lack of moisture. An alternative to straw is black plastic sheet, though the slugs tend to congregate under it and come up at night to feed on the berries.

A very light mulch on the herbs will give them that finishing touch which results; in first class plants and flavours.

Feeding

There is still little feeding to do outdoors; another dressing of agricultural salt can go on to the asparagus bed, four weeks or so after the last one, at 60g per sq m (2oz per sq yd). The quickly growing early crops such as lettuces, peas, the spinaches and Swiss chard (seakale beet) can be liquid fed once a week, also the strawberries for really bumper crops, but most of any feeding necessary comes during summer. In the greenhouse, regular liquid feeding will be necessary for tomatoes and peppers.

Staking, training and tying

The tall-growing crops will all need supports and should be trained up them or tied to them: Jerusalem artichoke, broad bean, runner (pole) bean, indoor cucumber, melon, pea, indoor tomato and vines. Aubergines and broad beans will need the tops pinched out.

Jerusalem artichokes can grow to 2.1 or 2.4m (7 or 8ft) tall and are fairly strong. They will only need to be attached to stakes or canes if in windy positions. Broad beans need only have a stake or two put at each end of the row and wire run along the outside of the row from one end to the other, so that they are enclosed.

Runner beans must have tall supports, at least 2.1m (7ft) high, very firmly anchored. You can use bamboo canes, but wooden stakes are better because they have a rough surface; there are several methods of support.

Indoor cucumbers and tomatoes can be trained and supported on the same system, as single stem cordons. Both will have a great tendency to produce side-shoots from the join between a leafstalk and the main stem, and in order to channel the plant’s energy into fruit production, these should be removed as soon as they appear. A length of fillis (soft string) is attached at each planting station to the lower and upper horizontal wires and then twined round the main stem as it grows. When the stem reaches the top wire, the growing tip is pinched off just above the second leaf above a flower cluster in the case of tomatoes, and at the first leaf above a flower or fruit for cucumbers. Cucumbers will need the tendrils removing.

Indoor melons are trained to develop two side-shoots, pinching out the growing point just above the fourth leaf. The side-shoots from these are also stopped when about 75cm (30in) long and as soon as one fruit has set on each, any sub-side-shoots and tendrils should be removed as they appear. Each plant should be able to carry at least four fruit. A trellis arrangement of wires or string will be necessary to support the melon shoot growth, spaced about 30cm (12in) from the greenhouse glass.

Continue to tie in the three new shoots on established vines, and when they reach the top wire, train them along it as convenient. Also continue trying the sub-side-shoots and, on young vines, the three centre shoots. Some herbs may need supporting also; angelica grows 1.5 or 1.8m (5 or 6ft) tall, lovage even taller. Some of the lower growing kinds tend to sprawl about on the ground and get eaten by slugs.

Broad beans should have the tops nipped out when they have grown to their full height and the top cluster of flower buds is visible. This discourages an infestation of blackfly. Aubergine should also have their growing points removed, just above a leaf, so that the length of main stem left is about 15cm (6in); more side-shoots will result and hence more fruit. A stake about 90cm (36in) long will be necessary for supporting the plants, and should be put in position before planting.

Weeding

Continue to hoe out or otherwise treat seedlings and young weeds; especially keep an eye open for perennial weeds. Leeks and onions are very vulnerable to swamping by broad-leaved weeds, and grass weeds can easily be mistaken when young for seedlings of these crops. Root out seedlings of trees such as hawthorn, ash, sycamore or chestnut while still small. All germinate readily and grow unseen, sending down long tap-roots which make them difficult to remove quickly once they reach about 15cm (6in) in height.

Watering

There should not be a great deal of this to do outdoors yet, but do make sure none of the young plants runs short. A check at this stage can mean no hearting or curding later or bolting in a few weeks’ time. However, in the greenhouse watering will become a major job, especially for plants in containers.

Protecting

Gooseberry and strawberry fruits will be setting and swelling fast, for maturing in early summer, so they will need netting or other protection from birds. Strawberry flowers may also need protection from frost; newspapers, plastic sheet or straw should be sufficient to ward off the degree of frost that may occur at this time.

Treating pests and diseases

As with mid-spring, caterpillars, greenfly, slugs and snails, mice, birds and carrot fly will all have to be watched for. In addition, there are likely to be various specific troubles, some of which may already have appeared. Onion fly can be a great trouble on young onions, when the maggots feed in the developing bulb. The adult looks like a small grey housefly and there may be two broods a year, though the first causes the most trouble, attacking the main crop while young and feeding for about three weeks. Wilting and yellowing leaves are the first signs above ground of attack.

The tiny maggots of the leaf miner fly can start infesting celery and celeriac in spring; leaves become covered in pale brown blisters and stop growing, eventually withering completely. Young plants may be killed or severely stunted. The one or two later broods which may occur are less damaging, as the plants are much larger. Picking off affected leaves, if done soon enough, may be all that is necessary.

Capsid bugs can reduce currant, gooseberry and raspberry leaves to tatters by their feeding. They are like very large greenfly but move quickly, running for shelter when disturbed. Attacked leaves will have pinprick holes in them, especially the youngest ones, and sometimes the growing point will be so damaged that it dies and the shoot ceases to extend, thereby diminishing the future crop. Hatching is usually towards the end of late spring; this is one pest for which a preventative spray is a good idea, put on during the last two weeks of late spring.

The cabbage family can be decimated by flea beetles during spring, feeding on the seedling leaves to produce large quantities of small round holes. The beetles are tiny and iridescent greenish black or black and yellow in colour; they hop when disturbed.

Deblossoming

If you are growing perpetual-fruiting strawberries, any flowers that may be developing should be removed now in order that a good and continuous crop is produced from mid-summer onwards.

Ventilating

Cloched strawberries will need airing on sunny days; open the cloches at the tops and ends and move them slightly apart. This allows pollinating insects to get inside. The berries should begin to colour shortly. You can also begin to give the greenhouse a great deal more ventilation.

More Late Spring Jobs for the Kitchen Garden …

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Organics | Tags: , | Comments Off on Kitchen Garden Jobs for Late Spring

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