How to Grow Tender vegetables

Do you recommend the all-female varieties of cucumber which are now available?

Yes, these are a very useful development. With the old-fashioned varieties of greenhouse or frame cucumbers you have to remove all the male flowers because, once the flowers are pollinated, they become mis-shapen, swollen at the ends, and bitter. This is not necessary with the all-female varieties, apart from removing the occasional male flower which may appear.

When should I ‘stop’ my tomatoes?

Stopping tomatoes – that is nipping out the growing point about two leaves above the top flower truss -concentrates the plant’s energies into maturing the remaining trusses before the cold weather comes. Outdoor tomatoes are usually stopped after three trusses in the north, and after four or five in the south; generally speaking, this means in late July or early August. Indoor tomatoes are stopped after seven or eight trusses, or – if they are growing well – you can leave them until there is no more greenhouse space. Remember that on all upright tomatoes the sideshoots must be nipped out throughout growth; this is unnecessary with bush tomatoes.

Is it possible to grow peppers and aubergines outdoors in this country?

You are likely to be really successful only in the south – and even there, the plants will probably need (and will certainly benefit from) cloche protection, especially in the early stages. Grow them in a sunny, sheltered spot. Start them indoors in heat in late February or early March, pot them up in small pots, harden them off well , and plant them out from mid-May onwards after all risk of frost is past. Nip out the tops when the plants are about 375 mm (15 in) high to make them bushy, and stake them if they are top heavy.

Can you give me any advice on growing sweet corn?

Sweet corn needs a long growing season, so is suitable only for the south of England. Grow it in a sheltered, sunny position. As the seed will not germinate in cold soil, it is best sown indoors in April in soil blocks or small pots, so that there will be minimum root-disturbance when it is planted out. Alternatively, sow it outdoors (from the end of May onwards) under cloches (or even under jam jars), which can be removed after germination. Plants should be spaced about 350 mm (14 in) apart, and grown in blocks rather than in long rows, so that they will be cross-pollinated by the wind.

I want to grow courgettes rather than marrows. Any advice?

‘Courgette’ is French for ‘little marrow’: courgettes are simply marrows that are picked while they are immature; they are at their most tasty when they are 100-125 mm (4-5 in) long. Any marrow variety can be used, but the F1 hybrid bush varieties are best for courgettes. The seeds germinate poorly under cold conditions, but the plants grow rapidly once the soil warms. Sow them indoors in individual pots at the end of May, or outdoors (preferably under cloches) from mid-May onwards, in well-prepared, well-manured soil. Allow about 900mm (3 ft) between plants.

Salad, leafy and perennial vegetables I would like to grow good-quality lettuce all the year round; I have an unheated greenhouse. What varieties do you suggest?

An excellent sweet, crisp lettuce is ‘Little Gem’, which can be harvested from spring to autumn. Make the first sowing indoors in early February for planting outside; it will be ready in June. Continue sowing and planting outside until August. From September, the sowings are made in the greenhouse; they will be ready the following April or early May. Sow again in October and early November, and overwinter these indoors as seedlings for planting out in spring. They will be ready in May.

A good winter lettuce for unheated greenhouses is ‘Dandie’. Sow it in succession from early September to November, planting it 225 mm (9 in) apart, for cutting from late autumn to spring. Make the next sowing when the seedlings from the previous sowing emerge.

I’m a vegetarian, so I’m partial to interesting salads all year round. What can you suggest for the winter months?

If you have an unheated greenhouse, plant endives, sugar-loaf chicory, and Chinese cabbage in October. Keep cutting them about 25 mm (1 in) above ground level, and you will find they will survive low temperatures and re-sprout to give supplies over several months. Outdoors you must grow hardier plants, such as land cress, corn salad (lamb’s lettuce), winter purslane (Claytonia), red Italian chicory, and Mediterranean rocket – all of which will survive several degrees of frost. (If you can grow these under cover however, they will be of better quality.) Other possibilities are Witloof chicory and giant winter radishes. Mix all these together with chopped red and green cabbage and sprouted seeds.

I have a tiny garden and love fresh salads. What would it be best to grow?

Have you thought of seedling crops, which are wonderfully productive and highly nutritious?

Instead of growing cress on a windowsill, broadcast a small patch, say one metre square, in the garden. Cut the cress when it is about 50 mm (2 in) high. It will grow again: provided you keep it well watered, it may give you up to five cuts! Mustard, rape, Mediterranean rocket, coriander, sugar-loaf chicory, even lettuce can be grown in this way.

How do I grow Witloof chicory?

It is much easier than you might think. Sow it very thinly in late May or early June, and then thin to 150 mm (6 in) apart. Keep the plants weeded during summer. In late October or November, lift the roots, cut off the foliage an inch above the crown, and store the roots horizontally in boxes of peat or sand in a shed. To get the white ‘chicons’ the roots must be ‘forced’ in a dark and warm (50-60°F) place. Force a few at a time. The easiest way is to plant three roots in soil in a 225 mm (9 in) flower pot. Over this place an upturned pot of the same size. Covering the drainage holes with aluminium foil to exclude light. Keep the soil moist, and put the pots somewhere warm indoors. The chicons should be ready in three or four weeks.

I no longer have the space or time to grow celery in a trench. Are there any other methods?

I suggest you try self-blanching celery. It is not quite as crunchy or as hardy as trenched celery but is less trouble to grow and makes a very good substitute. One of the best white-stemmed varieties is ‘Lathom Self Blanching’. Recommended green-stemmed varieties are ‘Green-snap’ and Tendergreen’. You must grow self-blanching celery in blocks. With plants about 225 mm (9 in) apart; this close spacing helps to blanch the stems a little more. The celery can be cut from July until the first frosts of the autumn.

Can you describe the different types of spinach?

First there is the ordinary, annual spinach (Spinacia oleracea) in summer and winter forms. Summer (round-seeded) spinach is sown in spring, and the hardier winter (prickly-seeded) type in autumn for a winter crop. They are small leaved and run to seed quickly.

Leaf beet (Beta vulgaris) is simply a form of beetroot grown for its leaves. The various types include Swiss chard (also known as seakale beet), a biennial, which has attractive large leaves and usually a widened stem and midrib which are also edible; and perpetual spinach (or spinach beet), with a less pronounced stem and midrib.

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) is a quite different. Half-hardy plant which trails over the ground; it is particularly useful in dry situations.

Probably the leaf beets – and especially Swiss chard – are the best value. Sow them in spring, and again in July and August, to keep yourself continually supplied.

Why is asparagus grown on raised beds?

The main reason is to improve the drainage: although asparagus will do well on an extraordinarily wide range of soils, from heavy clays to sand, it must have good drainage. Moreover, when you grow asparagus in raised beds or ridges you get a longer blanched ‘handle’. Provided your drainage is good, however.

There is no reason why you should not grow asparagus on the flat. If you are starting a bed, use one-year-old rather than older crowns; they establish themselves more easily than two-year-old crowns. Even so, you will have to wait until their third season before you can start cutting the shoots lightly.

My old rhubarb plant is very unproductive. What should I do?

Your plant is probably suffering from a very common rhubarb complaint-neglect! When the leaves die down in autumn, dig it up and, using a spade, divide the crown into two or three pieces, each with a bud and a good piece of root. Prepare a new site in an open position, digging in generous quantities of well-rotted manure or compost, and plant the pieces at least 1.5 mm (5 ft) apart. During the summer keep them well watered, and in spring and autumn each year mulch them, again with a very generous layer of farmyard manure or compost. To keep them productive, old plants need dividing every five years or so.

03. April 2017 by admin
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