Posts tagged ‘winter’

March 1, 2011


by growingpeople

Several of my friends have asked me recently what exactly they should be doing now in the garden to be sure they have vegetables growing or ready to eat by the summer. So here’s a guide to what I’ve been doing the last few weeks (and should be done sometime before mid-March).

Sowing seeds

Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and summer squash should be sown in February and March and kept indoors on a warm window sill until the end of April or beginning of May. Sow seeds in shallow trays of clean compost (don’t use soil from the garden, as seedlings are very susceptible to fungal infection – the first lot of tomatoes I sowed in the beginning of February were all killed by damping off, a blanket term for a range of soilborne fungal infections that affects seedlings soon after they germinate, causing them to darken, weaken and topple over at the base). Once the seedlings are 3 or 4 centimeters tall, move them on to individual pots, where they’ll live until you plant them outside in the spring. At this point you can be less fussy about the soil you plant them in as developed plants will be less susceptible to minor diseases.

healthy tomato seedlings
seedlings killed by damping off











Pruning trees and shrubs is made to sound so complicated by bodies such as the RHS that most people assume it’s a dark art. Plants are categorised into over 20 pruning groups depending on when, how and where they flower, and each group has its own very specific set of pruning times and methods. Just to make it even more fun, not all organisations group them the same way, so one man’s pruning group 6 may be another man’s group 17. On top of that, several plants, such as Clematis, are subdivided into their own pruning groups because the many different species of Clematis all need to be treated so differently. To learn it all (I’ve tried) completely exasperated me, until I realised that in the fruit and vegetable garden, you really just need to follow three basic rules (and always making a downwards sloping cut, just above a healthy bud). Hoorah.

1) If it flowers before June, it’s spring-flowering, flowering on the previous season’s growth, and needs to be pruned as soon as the flowering has finished. For example, Akebia quinata.

2) If it flowers after June, it’s summer-flowering, flowering on the current season’s growth, and needs to be pruned in February or March (do this now). For example, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender).

3) If it’s a fruit tree , it needs to have its branches shortened in August, and then again in the Winter (sometime between December and February) to stimulate Spring growth. Fruit is produced on two or three year old wood, so providing you don’t prune too far down, there’s no danger of losing your  fruit-producing wood.


You’re going to need weed-free beds to start sowing seeds in very soon, so now is the time to hand-weed, dig out or smother any unwanted weed growth. Skimpy weeds like Stellaria media can be pulled out by hand or trowel, Taraxacum officinale will need deep down digging. Ideally, last winter you would have covered your beds with thick carpet or cardboard and smothered them all – if not, give it a go this winter.


From March and April, you will be sowing the bulk of your seeds so now’s the time to buy them. Also buy some mesh if you plan to grow cabbage – it’s the best way to protect it from the cabbage white butterfly, and is also great for protecting lettuces from slugs and snails.

Chitting (or not)

Before potatoes are planted in about a month’s time, they need to be chitted. Chitting is just another way of saying “leave them in a dark cupboard for a few weeks to shrivel up and start sprouting shoots”. I’m also looking forward to growing Oca this year (thanks Naomi!), so they and any other tubers you plan on planting will need to be given the same treatment.

There’s actually a big debate among gardeners at the moment on the need to chit, which Emma Cooper sums up nicely here.

chitting potatoes

chitting oca

January 28, 2011

Edible of the Week: Chickweed

by growingpeople

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the most common European weeds, considered a real pest in agriculture because of its ability to take over whole crop fields, particularly competing with small grains like barley. In a smaller garden, however, it can be controlled by hand-picking and used as a leaf or salad vegetable.










Unlike most edible “weeds” like Dandelion or Fat Hen which can be quite bitter, it has a mild lettuce-like taste when eaten raw, but it also great for cooking as an alternative to spinach. Like Spinach, it disintegrates quickly when cooked, so 2 minutes of simmering in some olive oil and garlic is plenty.

In the urban landscape, you should be able to find Chickweed alongside any green space or tow path, and you can identify it by its line of thin hairs down one side of the stem (the similar-looking but non-edible Cerastium has thin hair all over the stem). It has small star-like white flowers, and grows in a creeping mat quite close to the ground. It’s available more or less year-round, with the exception of periods of frost.

Chickweed has been used medicinally for centuries – homeopaths recommend a chickweed compress for treating skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis (you can prepare this by boiling a large bunch of the herb for a few minutes in a small amount of water, wrapping it in a cloth and then wrapping it around the affected area).

January 1, 2011

Plants to detox by

by growingpeople

If you, like me, have overdone it this Christmas on the chocolate/cheese/red wine side of things, a detox of sorts may be what you need to get your liver and digestive system back to its pre-festive condition. Many plants, besides the obvious 5-a-day, have a detoxifying effect on the body when taken as an infusion, powder, or other form of extract, and you can even grow some of these yourself:

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December 10, 2010

Winter gardening

by growingpeople

Granted December probably isn’t the most exciting time to be thinking about vegetable gardening. The soil is more or less frozen solid, tender plants have finally succumbed to the frost (the nasturtiums are headed for the compost bin today) and everything else is looking a little sad. Not to mention the unappealing prospect of cold hands. Apart from a few hardy rosemary bushes, there will be nothing to eat in my garden for the rest of the winter.

But there are a few practical things you could be doing to get a head start on next year’s growing season.

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