Progress continues on the Fruit Cage extension, improvements to the raised beds, and propagating more fruiting plants (peppers, tomatoes and aubergines), brassicas (cauliflower, calibrese and broccoli) and roots (celeriac) whilst waiting for spring. There are a few crops that can be sown this month namely first early potatoes, parsnips (under cloches), onions, shallots and garlic.
Potatoes take up a lot of real estate as once they start emerging they should be continuously earthed up into ridges to promote the production of more tubers. Earthing up and over is also a useful technique to protect the emerging shoots from any late frosts. I often get asked why bother since they are such a cheap thing to buy in the supermarket?
Last year’s Maincrop Potato beds earthed up into ridges.
Firstly, it is an easy, gratifying crop to get started with. Secondly, there are a huge variety of types in taste, colour and size, some being best suited for boiling, roasting, baking or in salads. If you’re just starting out, they can be used as a clearing crop on a new patch as they are very good at suppressing annual weeds. However, you should endeavour to dig out perennial weeds (those that live all year round) before you plant any crop. These weeds are deep rooted and it will not be possible to successfully remove them without disturbing the roots of the plants you want to keep. This year I am going to try vertical growing as well as a traditional bed as I establish more dwarfing fruit trees I need to trade on growing space. Type: First Early Casablanca.
Root vegetables are a long investment and, in the case of parsnips, are best consumed after the first frosts as the process sweetens the root. The downside is that parsnips are notoriously difficult to propagate and they don’t like to be transplanted from potting shed modules. I’ve had limited success with them so I’ve done some more research and I’m going to try a few new techniques. I am going to put three seeds (triple sow), 2.5 centimetres (3/4 inch) deep at about 15 centimetres (6 inches) apart. Type: Halblange White.
Onions, Shallots and Garlic:
It’s now time to plant these crops. You can grow them from seed, but for the easiest, best and most consistent results I recommend buying bulb sets. Onions are planted about a hoes width apart. Alternatively, if you are a bit strapped for space they can be grouped in three’s or four’s about 5 centimetres (1 1/2 inches) apart. Singles or clusters should be spaced to allow a hoe to move between them for some gentle weeding. Shallots are planted a bit further apart, about the span of an open hand to allow space for a group of bulbs to develop from the single set. For the best most consistent results, commercial horticultural garlic is more hardy and resistant to disease than supermarket bulbs. All these bulbs are placed in a prepared, manured site to aid drainage since all these plants can suffer from rot if they get too wet.
This year I am growing
Garlic: Marco Onion: Stuttgarter
The ponds have been the single most successful element in bringing diversity and natural predation back onto the plot. Here are some great resources on the web to help your research:
https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/ give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden- activities/digforglorywithalargepond/ https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build- pond
I used old paving slabs to line the sides of the pond so as to protect the liner from root penetration by nearby fruit trees and to support steeper sides. Any shape will do just as long as at least one side has a ramp to allow animals to escape and a transitional/breeding zone for the amphibians and insects. Avoid a bare concrete lip at the top of the ramp. Concrete heats up tremendously under direct sunlight and can fry emerging froglets. Vigorous marginal Water Mint is an ideal matting for this transitional area but, like all mints, be careful that its thuggish nature does not strangle the whole pond.
The pond needs to be a least 60 centimetres (24 inches or 2 feet) deep to ensure the bottom does not freeze during the winter. I have used synthetic liners from https://bradshawsdirect.co.uk. They need careful protection to avoid being punctured by removing all sharp stones and using underlays. This can be anything from old carpet, blankets or heavy duty black plastic sheeting to save money. You could use concrete, which is much stronger and more permanent but it needs to be sealed with a proprietary sealant else the lime in the concrete will leech out into the water and destroy the ecology. Collected rainwater is preferred. Tap water will suffice but its chemical constituents (fluorides, nitrates and phosphates) are not the best for algae growth. If using a flexible liner, allow the pond to fill and rest for a week or so (1 meter3 of water weighs a tonne!) before securing the edges else the settling process may stress and tear the liner.
Finally, I planted up the filled site with some native wildlife plants from: https://www.wetland-plants.co.uk/ including a Small New Pond Starter pack, some Yellow Flag Iris and Great Reed Mace. I love lilies and have a small native plant. However they need quite a bit of space; 2 metres2 at least.
Now sit back and let nature take over, it doesn’t take long!
Angus is a Senior First Officer and Resilient Pilot Mentor with a passion in Wellbeing, CRM and TEM. This is the third in a series of blogs from Angus, to read more click here. To find out more about Angus, and our other pilot mentors, please visit our 'supported' page