March/ April 2013

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Gardening Friends & News-letter Subscribers - wherever you are!

imageIF YOU RECEIVE TWO COPIES OF OUR NEWS-LETTER - that'll be because your e-mail address is registered with both our Aeron Vale Allotment Society & Gardeners Chat-Shed web-sites. Consequently  it will have been automatically added to both data-bases. No harm done - just delete the second one to arrive! Simples!

Whilst you, our Gardeners Chat-Shed friends, may be members of your own gardening clubs and allotment groups, you can still share in what we have to offer here by way of gardening tips, news, information and gossip from our "grow your own" community.

There's something for everyone in our News-letter!


Here we are, slap bang in the middle of our digging, tilling (& toiling), sowing, planting & sweating season (unless you're one of our southern hemisphere fans - in which case you're probably glad it's cooling down a little!).

This is probably the busiest month of the year for the average allotmenteer/ back garden veg. growers in the UK.

April is a wickedly busy month for us allotmenteers, there's hardly time to spit down on the plot - much less time to write, however I've just about got March/April's news-letter in - by the skin of my teeth (as usual!).

What's The Latest "Buzz" Then?

Those of you with your ears to the ground, when it comes to gardening news (especially if you're apiarists - that's bee keepers to common folk like me - from the Latin apis, bee), will have known for a long time about neonicotinoid insecticides and the suspected effect they are having on our bee population. But all protestations seem to fall on deaf ears.

As keen gardeners, you'll also be acutely aware of the radical decline, over the years, in our bee populations, with the mysterious bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) being the latest in a long line of problems that bees have experience in recent years. The companies who produce these lethal neonicotinoid insecticides have dodged the issue relentlessly by saying that bee population decreases are singularly the effects of disease, viruses and mites (e.g. Varroa mites etc.). Worst still, their political lobbyists have managed to persuade governments that the causes are many fold and that it is not proven that the bee colony collapses have been positively linked to the use of neonicotinoids. That of course is baloney, but strange how politicians will listen to these people - probably because "big bucks" are involved. Companies with that much clout will go to any lengths to protect their assets, and if it means being a little economical with the truth. (meaning they are LYING through their teeth) then so be it.

As gardeners we ALL know the drastic apocryphal consequences that will follow if our bee populations drop below a critical level. Not only do our plants stop being pollinated no crops), but the consequences for the whole human race is frightening. Einstein is reputably quoted as saying (during one of his musings) that "if the bee disappeared from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live". That isn’t exactly rigorous science. But it does point to the fact that bees are somewhat more valuable to farmers, and human well-being, than neonicotinoid insecticides.

As far back as 2010 I have been drawing attention to this problem on our web-site ( ). We even had a link on there at one time, to a No.10 Downing St. online petition, calling for the UK government to act. That petition is now closed, but we like to think that the visitors to our site who did bother to sign it, played a small part in drawing the UK government's attention to the problem.

Below (between the red lines) is an excerpt from our web-site's front page, that has been there for a few years by now:


STOP THE DEATH OF BEES. A plethora of recent studies from Italy, Germany, America and other countries are implicating Neonicotinoid insecticides (an insect nerve poison) in causing sub-lethal and lethal affects to honey-bees that are exposed to plants grown from seeds coated in Neonicotinoid insecticide or treated with Neonicotinoid insecticide - typically maize, sunflower and rapeseed. These sub-lethal effects, influence the bee's ability to orient itself and return to it's colony; additionally it is likely the detrimental effects are compounded synergistically as the bee is weakened and becomes more susceptible to natural disease, parasitic fungii and parasites such as varroa destructor - implicated in the world wide colony collapse disorder we are currently experiencing. Neonicotinoid insecticides have recently been banned in other European countries and are being reviewed in the US - home of the corporations who are pushing these systemic insecticides.  Click HERE to see our information video online . . . .



Below is an extract taken from the Greenpeace web-site. I am grateful for Graham Thompson's contribution that I have reproduced here.

Buzz killers: UK blocking bee-killing pesticide ban

(Posted by Graham Thompson - 25 April 2013 at 12:47pm on the Greenpeace web-site)

In a shock to the scientific community, neonicotinoids, - or neurotoxic agricultural insecticides - have been shown in laboratory tests to cause brain damage in bees. Actually, it wasn’t that much of a shock. There’s never been any doubt over the potential of these chemicals to harm bees - the recent controversy has been over dosage.

The manufacturers of these chemicals freely admit that at high doses neonicotinoids, along with other pesticides, can harm or kill bees, but they maintain that the doses used in the field, or at least the doses they recommend to be used in the field, will be safe for bees.

However, numerous recent studies indicate that neurological damage from these chemicals can impact on the ability of bees to find food and then to find their way home again. A lost bee is a dead bee, so this is a very serious issue for bee welfare.

And the welfare of bees is not an insignificant consideration. Honey isn’t their most important gift to humans – the European honeybee is a major pollinator of agricultural crops around the world, three quarters of which are dependent on insect pollination. If we kill off their pollinators, either those crops fail, or we’ll need to create some sort of mechanical replacement to do their’ job.

This is not abstract theorising. Bees are dying out. Now.

In the US, bee numbers have halved in the last few decades, with a 30% decline in the last five years. Several countries in Europe have suffered similar declines, with nearly 80% of Spanish hives lost.

This is, at least in part, due to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD), where the worker bees from a hive mysteriously disappear. There’s general agreement that CCD is caused by  combination of factors including the varroa mite (a bee parasite), disease, monocultural farming and weather impacts exacerbated by climate change. The disagreement comes over whether pesticides, and particularly neonicotinoids, are a contributing factor.

On one side you have the environmental organisations such as ourselves and Friends of the Earth, the European Food Safety Authority, parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, and the governments of most EU nations. We’re relying on a large number of peer-reviewed scientific studies showing that neonicatinoids harm bees.

On the other (not altogether surprisingly), you have the pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer. They’re relying on their own studies which allegedly show neonicotinoids to be safe. Although they can’t show us these studies as they are, of course, commercially confidential. Defra commissioned a field trial which seems to have been intended to support neonicotinoid safety, but unfortunately their trial site was so contaminated by neonicotinoids that there was no effective control group, undermining the trial.

But the biotech companies are not entirely alone. They have support from Germany (where, perhaps coincidentally, Bayer is based) and from Owen Paterson, our own environment minister. Syngenta has been lobbying hard in the UK as, while it's a Swiss-registered company, it has a big presence here. Martin Taylor, chairman of the board of directors, even went to the same school as life patron of the Oxfordshire Beekeepers’ Association, David Cameron.

And, perhaps coincidentally, last month Germany and the UK abstained from voting on a two-year suspension of neonicotinoids.

There’s another vote on Monday, this time for European environment ministers, including Owen Paterson. 

He’s there representing you. Make sure he doesn’t confuse your interests with those of Syngenta or Bayer. You can email him here, or if you prefer a more personal touch, join the March of the Beekeepers on Friday. Bees have given us honey, fruit and a hundred other foods, not to mention a million beautiful flowers. Poisoning them to extinction with neurotoxins seems a poor way to show our gratitude.

See read the report on CCD and its causes.


March of the Beekeepers

Stop Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Protestors to March in London

Dr. Reese Halter (Broadcaster and Biologist) Posted: 04/25/2013 8:05 am

Beekeepers and concerned citizens from across the UK have formed a united front in the 'War Against Nature' to protect bees against a devastating new group of pesticides.

On Friday morning (April 26, 2013) at 11 am they will descend upon Parliament Square, Westminster, London to show their solidarity and voice their concerns.

To grab the weekend headlines and pile the pressure on the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, ahead of a vital European Union (EU) vote banning neonicotinoid pesticides on Monday 29th April. Even the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has concluded certain neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and The March of the Beekeepers will show Mr Paterson the full weight of public, expert and Government opinion and persuade him to now support a European ban.

In January and February most UK garden stores banned the sale of neonicotinoids. In America, according to the Xerces Society's report some commercial neonicotinoid products available at garden centers are 120 times higher than those applied on agricultural fields.

The EU had proposed that its member states stop using neonicotinoids including sprays and prohibiting sales of seeds treated with these chemicals. The three insecticides in particular identified are clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. An EU vote in Brussels on March 14 resulted in a stalemate, and this time protesters are counting on Britain to help ban neonicotinoid pesticides.

The UK is experiencing a 50 percent drop in bee populations over the past 25 years. Bees are crucial for pollinating the lions' share of over 205,000 flowering plants around the globe. The health and well being of wild bees and honeybees are of vital importance to the food we eat including honey; the clothes we wear because cotton is bee pollinated; the beeswax we use in many products; and the potent pain medicines in Apis therapy that honeybees provide us.

Avaaz, Buglife, Client Earth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network UK, RSPB, Soil Association, The Natural Beekeeping Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and 38 Degrees will all be in attendance.

Beekeepers with smokers (not lit), flanked by supporting celebrities, people wearing beehive hair, carrying flowers, apples, pears and other pollinated vegetables, honey and jam, a giant Winnie the Pooh.

The EJ Foundation says "It's a serious issue but it doesn't mean you can't have fun showing you care. Put your hair in a beehive perhaps or get dressed up in bee stripes."

For more information contact

Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, conservation biologist and author of The Incomparable Honeybee.

Whist I appreciate that it may be difficult for the readers of this news-letter to make it to the march on Friday the 26th. It would help if you voiced your opinions on the subject to Owen Paterson MP, our UK government environment minister, via the links above.



  1. Bees are the only insect that produces food eaten by man.

  2. honey bee facts image Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.

  3. Honey bees have 6 legs, 2 compound eyes made up of thousands of tiny lenses (one on each side of the head), 3 simple eyes on the top of the head, 2 pairs of wings, a nectar pouch, and a stomach.

  4. Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors, compared with only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes. Their exceptional olfactory abilities include kin recognition signals, social communication within the hive, and odour recognition for finding food. Their sense of smell was so precise that it could differentiate hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carried pollen or nectar from metres away.

  5. The honey bee's wings stroke incredibly fast, about 200 beats per second, thus making their famous, distinctive buzz. A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.

  6. The average worker bee produces about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

  7. A hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits around the earth to collect 1 kg of honey.

  8. It takes one ounce of honey to fuel a bee's flight around the world.

  9. A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.

  10. The bee's brain is oval in shape and only about the size of a sesame seed, yet it has remarkable capacity to learn and remember things and is able to make complex calculations on distance travelled and foraging efficiency.

  11. A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honeybees and one queen. Worker honey bees are female, live for about 6 weeks and do all the work.

  12. The queen bee can live up to 5 years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months, when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength, and lays up to 2500 eggs per day.

  13. honey bee facts image Larger than the worker bees, the male honey bees (also called drones), have no stinger and do no work at all. All they do is mating.

  14. Each honey bee colony has a unique odour for members' identification.

  15. Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened and they die once they sting. Queens have a stinger, but they don't leave the hive to help defend it.

  16. It is estimated that 1100 honey bee stings are required to be fatal.

  17. Honey bees communicate with one another by "DANCING".



  1. During winter, honey bees feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months. They form a tight cluster in their hive to keep the queen and themselves warm.

The more I learnt about honey bee facts; honey's great creator -the honey bee itself, its highly organized society, how it acts with such intricate cooperation, and the various bee products, the more I admire and respect this amazing creature. It is no wonder why sometimes the colony is called a superorganism.

Quote: "Unique among all God's creatures, only the honeybee improves the environment and preys not on any other species." ~ Royden Brown

"Not a lot of people know that!"


Not a lot to report really. It's been that time when the long hour single jobs (hard work)  is in progress to turn the plot brown with tilled earth! It's also the time of anxiety - yes - anxiety, because it's a constant battle in your head whether to be inside the polytunnel sowing & preparing, or outside getting the soil ready! Added to that is the constant time calculator that keeps on churning in your head as you constantly have to work out your growing schedules!

Although Big Bertha made short change of turning over my plot (twice - bless her - before going off to start on my friend Stephen's plot - that's him & her on the left). The REAL work has now started.

It's one thing to walk behind a rotavator, it's entirely a different matter when the hand tools & barrow come out of the shed - along with Bertha's baby sister - Little Tilly - the Mantis!

After hours of digging out six 40' rows (that's just over 12m each - for you post "new money" readers). I've barrowed 20 loads of manure into those rows, ready for the potato tubers. These pictures were taken on the 9th of this month; since then three rows of earlies have gone in and been earthed over, and three main crop varieties are also in the other three rows.

As you can see (above right) I've also started on the beds. this is the first of ten. All my onion & shallot sets are now snugly tucked up in this first bed. The red hue you can see is a sprinkling of blood, fish & bone meal, along with a liberal amount of chicken poo pellets. No nasty inorganic oil based fertilizers here!

This season the potato varieties from the right of the  photo (bottom right) will include Vales Emerald (first early), Salad Blue (second early - a first timer for me), Charlotte (my favourite second early salad potato), then Pink Fir Apple, followed by Pentland Hawk & Ulster Classic (main crop varieties).

Since taking these photos the rain has come - and not before time really. It's got amazingly dry over the last few weeks with that east wind we've had recently. Although the soil was just perfect for working when these snapshots were taken on the 9th. Even with the rain, growth is very slow at the moment (a bit of warmth wouldn't go amiss). In fact everything had dried to a cold crimp during that cold dry spell. Even the grass turned brown. So with a good few days of rain and a bit of sun things should perk up. Trouble is whoever turned the tap on in spring last year, forgot to turn it off again. Let's hope this year is a bit better, and the "tap turner" remembers to come back to his tap! If I have a summer as wet as last year I'm taking up a different hobby after 40 years.

Right now - I'm pleased as punch. It's mission accomplished as far as what I wanted to do before it rained is concerned, AND my old diseased & tired carcass was desperate for a rest!


Lazy way out!

An admission here! I'm just too pushed for time to write new fresh stuff (for this news-letter at this time of the year). So it's been a quick head scratch to fill in the column inches. After pausing for thought on how to dodge the time issue, I decided to include the following page from our web-site. Why? Because of all the questions that are asked about gardening, the commonest by far is how far apart or how deep should things be sown or planted.

SO, below is a guide for all you inexperienced gardeners (& experienced ones with poor memories I hasten to add!). I hope you find it helpful. just click on the plant you want info. for & you'll jump to that section below. Enjoy!


Seed Sowing,

Planting & Growing Guide

INDEX (To Links on this page)


Artichoke - Jerusalem


Bean - Broad

Bean - French

Bean - Runner



Brussels Sprouts








Kale (Borecole)

Kohl Rabi













Spring Onions






Our Recommended Vegetable Seed Sowing/Planting Guide

Sorry it's in "old currency" - imperial measurements are what come naturally to us! You younger (mono metric) gardeners, click HERE for an on-line conversion calculator!

Crop Time to Plant Outdoors Plant Distance Seeds Required Ready to Use

(After approx.)

Between Rows In the Row Row
Asparagus Mar-Apr 5-6' 18-24" ˝ oz/20' 2nd Spring
Beans, Bush May and June 2-3' 3-4" 6 oz/50' 50-70 days
Beans, Runner May and June 18" 9" 6 oz/45 hills 70-90 days
Beans, Lima May-June 2-4' 6-8" 6 oz/30 hills 90-130 days
Beets, Table Mar-July 14-20" 2-4" ˝ oz/50' 45-60 days
Broccoli Mar-Aug 24-30" 14-18" ˝ oz/750 plants 70-120 days
Brussel Sprouts Apr-June 30-36" 18-24" ˝ oz/1000 plants 90-120 days
Cabbage, Early Feb-Apr 30-36" 16-24" ˝ oz/1000 plants 90-110 days
Cabbage, Late May and June 36-42" 24-30" ˝ oz/1000 plants 110-120 days
Carrots Mar-July 12-24" 2-3" ˝ oz/100' 65-90 days
Cauliflower Mar-June 3-4' 24-30" ˝ oz/750 plants 60-80 days
Celery April-July 18-36" 6-10" ˝ oz/4000 plants 120-150 days
Chicory Mar-May, Sept 16-20" 6-8" ˝ oz/100' 90-120 days
Chives April and May 12-18" 4-6" ˝ oz/100' 125-150 days
Sweet Corn May-June 3' 6" 4 oz/100' 60-100 days
Cress Mar-May, Sept 12-18" 4-6" ˝ oz/125' 45-60 days
Cucumber May-July 4-6' 10-12" ˝ oz/25 hills 50-75 days
Egg Plant May 24-30" 18-24" ˝ oz/750 plants 80-100 days
Endive May and June 18-20" 10-12" ˝ oz/150' 90-100 days
Herbs, Annual March and April 20-24" 10-12" ˝ oz/100-300' 125-150 days
Herbs, Perennial April-June 20-24" 10-12" ˝ oz/100-300' Next Season
Kale Mar and April, Aug 18-24" 12-18" ˝ oz/1000 plants 55-60 days
Kohl Rabi March-May 16-24" 6-8" ˝ oz/150' 50-70 days
Leek May-June 14-20" 4-6" ˝ oz/75' 120-150 days
Lettuce, Leaf March-Sept 12-18" 4-6" ˝ oz/100' 40-70 days
Lettuce, Head Mar-Aug 12-16" 12-14" ˝ oz/1500 plants 70-90 days
Muskmelon May-June 6-8' 4-6' ˝ oz/20 hills 90-150 days
Watermelon May and June 8-12' 6-10' ˝ oz/12 hills 85-120 days
Mustard Mar-May, Sept 12-18" 2-3" ˝ oz/300' 40-70 days
Okra April and May 2˝-3' 18-24" ˝ oz/125 plants 50-70 days
Onion, Seed April and May 12-18" 2-4" ˝ oz/100' 90-120 days
Onion, Sets Oct-May 12-18" 2-3" 1#/50' 50-70 days
Parsley Mar-May, Sept 18-24" 12-16" ˝ oz/125' 65-90 days
Parsnip April-June 15-20" 2-4" ˝ oz/150' 95-110 days
Peas, Dwarf Mar-June, Sept 18-24" 2-3" 6 oz/50' 60-75 days
Peas, Tall Mar-June, Sept 3' 2-3" 6 oz/50' 70-90 days
Pepper May and June 18-24" 14-16" ˝ oz/750 plants 75-85 days
Potatoes   24-36" 14-18"    
1st Early March - April 24" 10 - 12"   90 days
2nd Early & Main Crop April - June 28 - 30" 15"   150 days
Pumpkin May-July 8-12' 6-8' ˝ oz/15 hills 90-120 days
Radish March, Sept 12-18" 1-2" ˝ oz/50' 20-75 days
Rhubarb March-June 30-36" 16-24" ˝ oz/125' 3rd year
Rutabaga May and June 18-24" 6-8" ˝ oz/200' 90-120 days
Salsify March-May 18-24" 2-4" ˝ oz/60' 120-150 days
Spinach Mar-May, Sept 12-18" 3-6" ˝ oz/50' 45-60 days
Squash, Bush May-June 5' 5' ˝ oz/15 hills 55-70 days
Squash, Winter May-July 10-12' 8-10' ˝ oz/7 hills 90-125 days
Swiss Chard Mar-July 12-18" 4-8" ˝ oz/75' 45-60 days
Tomato May-June 3-4' 2-3' ˝ oz/1500' 70-100 days
Turnip Mar-Aug 12-15" 3-4" ˝ oz/200' 45-90 days
Crop Time to Plant Outdoors Plant Distance Seeds Required Ready to Use
Between Rows In the Row Row

ARTICHOKE - Jerusalem (girasole)

The knobbly roots of Jerusalem artichokes are a great winter treat – although they are an acquired taste for some people. Try them roasted with pork or in a soup.

If you can’t cope with cleaning and peeling the roots, grow ‘Fuseau’ - a larger, smooth-skinned cultivar, that is easy to peel.


Plant small tubers in March or April in well-dug, well-fertilised soil. Plant 10cm (4in) deep and 30cm (12in) apart.

Tubers can also be grown in a large tubs filled with good garden soil &/or compost.


Plants need very little care and attention during the growing season and are rarely troubled by pests and diseases. As plants do grow tall they can make an effective screen, but may need some support in very exposed and windy sites.


Harvest as needed from November to February, lifting in the same way as potatoes. Expect about 1.8kg (4lb) per planted tuber.

Scrub and boil or steam until tender, then peel.



One of the most sought-after vegetables, asparagus is not difficult to grow if kept well fed and weed free.


The delicately flavoured young shoots of asparagus are one of the great luxuries of the vegetable plot. Much of the mystique surrounding their cultivation is unwarranted.


Most modern types are all-male F1 cultivars; these are more vigorous than older, open-pollinated cultivars and do not self-seed. Although plants require space, once established they should crop for up to 20 years, each crown yielding nine to 12 spears per cutting season.


Asparagus can be raised from seed or young dormant plants - crowns - can be purchased. Sow seeds of an all-male F1 hybrid singly into modules in February and transplant in early June. Most gardeners choose one-year-old crowns, planting in March or April.


Fork over the prepared area and dig a trench 30cm (12in) wide and 20cm (8in) deep. Work in well-rotted manure in the bottom, cover with 5cm (2in) of the excavated soil and make a 10cm-high (4in) ridge down the centre of the trench. Place the crowns on top, spacing them 30-45cm (12-18in) apart (right). Leave 45cm (18in) between rows and stagger the plants. Spread the roots evenly and fill in the trench, leaving the bud tips just visible. Water in and mulch with 5cm (2in) of well-rotted manure.


Asparagus beds must be kept weed free - best done by hand as the shallow roots are easily damaged by hoeing. Mulching discourages weeds and retains moisture. Apply 100g per sq m (3oz per sq yd) of a general fertiliser in early spring and repeat once harvesting has finished.

To avoid top-growth breaking off in wind and damaging the crown, use canes and twine either side of the row for support. Remove any female plants (those bearing orange-red berries) and any seedlings.

Allow the foliage to yellow in autumn before cutting it down to 2.5cm (1in).


To harvest, cut individual spears with a sharp knife 2.5cm (1in) below the soil when they are no more than 18cm (7in) tall. In warm weather, harvest every two to three days for best quality spears.

Do not harvest for the first two years. In the third year, pick from mid-April for six weeks, and in subsequent years for eight weeks.



Broad beans are the first of the legumes to mature in the year, and with successional spring sowings you can have broad beans from June into September.

There's nothing quite like the flavour of the first harvested beans, lightly steamed and eaten with a little butter and black pepper.


In mild areas of the country on sheltered sites you can sow certain cultivars - such as 'The Sutton' and 'Super Aquadulce' - in the autumn for a really early crop. During particularly cold weather it pays to cover the plants with cloches or other forms of protection.

The main sowing period is March and April. Sow in February under cloches for an earlier crop; sow in May to extend the crop throughout the summer months and into autumn.

Sow 5cm (2in) deep and 20cm (8in) apart; dwarf varieties like 'The Sutton' can be sown 15cm (6in) apart. They are best sown in double rows, with the rows 20cm (8in) apart. If a second double row is needed this should be positioned 60cm (2ft) away from the first.

Sow a few extra seeds at the end of the rows to fill in any gaps produced by seeds that don’t germinate.


Taller varieties will need supporting, so place a stout stake at each corner of the double row and run string around the stakes at 30cm (1ft) intervals from the ground.

Broad beans can be attacked by aphids. One way to reduce the damage - and produce an earlier crop - is to pinch out the top 7.5cm (3in) of the stems when the first pods start to form. Don't throw these tops away as they can be lightly steamed and eaten.


You can pick pods when they are 7.5cm (3in) long and cook them whole.

But when picking pods to shell wait until the beans start to be visible through the pod, but don't leave them too long - the scar on the bean should still be white or green - not black, as the beans will become tougher at this stage.



Where space is tight and when pod set in runner beans has been a problem, it's well worth growing French beans; generally they're easier to grow than runners - and they taste great too.

There are two main types - dwarf bush and climbing.

Some cultivars produce coloured pods, which makes them useful in the ornamental garden. Good choices include 'Kingston Gold' (yellow) and 'Purple Teepee' (dark purple).



The main sowing period is May and June; sow in April under cloches or similar for an earlier crop; sow in early July to extend the season into September/October.

Sow seeds 5cm (2in) deep 10cm (4in) apart in rows 45cm (18in) apart.

Sow a few extra at the end of the rows to fill in any gaps from seeds that don’t germinate.


The bush types may not need supporting, but short twigs can be used to support the plants to help keep the beans off the soil. Climbing cultivars will need bamboo canes, twiggy sticks or netting to scramble up.

Water well during periods of prolonged dry weather. Mulch around the plants in June to help conserve soil moisture.


Begin picking the pods when they are 10cm (4in) long. Pods are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for several weeks.

Once all the pods have been harvested, water the plants well and feed with a liquid fertiliser. This way you may get a further cropping of smaller, yet worthwhile pods.



Some people don't like runner beans - mainly because shop-bought runners can be tough and stringy. Growing your own and picking them just when they're ready will show you exactly how runner beans are meant to taste. Also you can choose stringless cultivars, such as 'Armstrong' and 'Galaxy', which are even more succulent.

New developments include dwarf cultivars like 'Hestia' that don’t need support making them perfect for small areas and patio containers.




Sow seeds from late May to the end of June 5cm (2in) deep and 23cm (9in) apart.

Alternatively, for an earlier crop, sow the beans in 10cm (4in) pots at the end of April indoors and plant out at the end of May 23cm (9in) apart.

The traditional method of growing is to sow a double row with the two rows 45cm (18in) apart; this makes supporting the plants easier.


Runner beans need a support to climb up. The traditional method is to grow them individually up inwardly sloping 2.4m (8ft) tall bamboo canes tied near their top to a horizontal cane. If you slope the bamboo canes so that they meet in the middle and tie them here so that the ends of the canes extend beyond the row you will find picking is easier and the yield is usually better.

When growing in beds and borders a wigwam of canes takes up less room and helps produce an ornamental feature.

Loosely tie the plants to their supports after planting; after that they will climb naturally.

Remove the growing point once the plants reach the top of their support.

Keep an eye out for slugs and blackfly that may attack the plants.

Flower set

Runner beans sometimes fail to set and there are a number of causes - and a number of solutions.

Ensuring the soil is constantly moist and doesn't dry out is the first key to success; mulch the soil in June. Misting the foliage and flowers regularly - especially during hot, dry weather - will increase humidity around the flowers and help improve flower set.

Flower set is better in alkaline, chalky soils. If your soil is neutral or acidic it pays to water with hydrated lime.

Another way to improve flower set is to pinch out the growing tips of the plants when they are 15cm (6in) high. The flowers formed on the resulting sideshoots usually set better.

If you regularly have problems it would be worth growing pink- or white-flowered cultivars, such as 'Painted Lady' or 'Mergoles', which usually set pods more easily.


Start harvesting when the pods are 15-20cm (6-8in) long and certainly before the beans inside begin to swell.

It is vital that you pick regularly to prevent any pods reaching maturity; once this happens plants will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. If you pick regularly plants will crop for up to eight weeks or more.



Beetroot is an easy crop to grow. The roots are best picked when young and cooked fresh. Pickling is another option. If roots are stored in winter you can have beetroot almost all year round.

For best results you should sow little and often and harvest the roots when young and tender.



Sow two seeds at 10cm (4in) intervals, 2.5cm (1in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart.

Sow at fortnightly intervals from mid-April to July for a succession of tender, tasty roots; those sown from June onwards can be used for storing in winter.


When the seedlings are about 2.5cm (1in) high thin out to leave one seedling per 10cm (4in) station.

Dry soils will lead to woody roots, so make sure the soil is always moist; preserve soil moisture by adding a mulch.

Young beet plants are sensitive to cold weather and may turn to seed prematurely if seedlings experience a cold spell.

'Bikores' and 'Boltardy' are bolt-resistant cultivars and should be your first choice for early sowing. Sow under cloches or in a frame in early March.


First earlies should be ready to lift in June and July, second earlies in July and August, maincrops from late August through October.

Pull up alternative plants once they have reached golf ball size to use as a tasty treat in the kitchen; leave the others to reach maturity. Harvest these when no bigger than a cricket ball.



In recent years broccoli has had a resurgence in popularity - praised for its high vitamin content and anti-cancer agents.

There are three types - white and purple sprouting and calabrese. The sprouting types are hardy and over-wintered for harvest in spring, filling the gap between sprouts and spring cabbage, whereas calabrese is harvested in the autumn.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm (6in) apart. Thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart. The main sowing time is April and May, although you can sow in March in mild regions and in June for late cultivars.

Seeds can also be sown indoors in module trays.

Calabrese is best sown where it is to crop.


When the young broccoli plants are 10-15cm (4-6in) high transplant to their growing positions, leaving 45cm (18in) between broccoli plants. Before lifting the plants water them well and water well again after transplanting.

Thin directly-sown calabrese to 30cm (1ft) apart..

Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with a mulch. Occasional summer feeding with a liquid fertiliser will improve results.

Birds can be a problem, so net the plants when the heads are being produced.


Cut when the flower shoots (spears) are well formed but before the individual flowers begin to open. Cut the central spear first. This is followed by a series of sideshoots, which can be picked regularly over four to six weeks.



Well grown and, more importantly, well cooked Brussels sprouts are certainly worth growing - especially if you chose F1 cultivars.

Firm, water-retentive soil is important for good crops.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm (6in) apart. Thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart.

For an early crop sow under glass in module trays in February, otherwise sow March to April in a seed bed.



When the young plants are 10-15cm (4-6in) high transplant to their growing positions, leaving 75cm (2.5ft) between plants. Plant cultivars like 'Peer Gynt' 45cm (18in) apart for an earlier crop of smaller, tastier sprouts. The soil must be firm and had plenty of humus added the previous autumn. Before lifting the plants water them well and water well again after transplanting.

Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with a mulch. Occasional summer feeding with a liquid fertiliser will improve results.

Protect from birds using netting or fleece; the latter will also protect against cabbage white caterpillars.


Start picking the lower sprouts when they are the size of a walnut and are still firm and tightly closed. Snap them off with a sharp downward tug. The flavour is usually better once the sprouts have had a touch of frost on them.



With a little planning it's possible to pick fresh cabbages nearly every day of the year. Cabbages are divided - depending on when they're ready to use - into spring, summer and winter types.

Spring greens are undeveloped spring cabbages and are traditionally sown in summer, but can be sown all year round.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm (6in) apart. Thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart.

Spring cabbage: Sow in July/August; transplant in September/October.
Summer cabbage: Sow from late February/early March (under cloches or similar cover) until early May; transplant in May/June.
Winter cabbages: Sow in April/May; transplant in late June/July.



Transplant the young plants to their growing position when plants have five or six true leaves, setting the lowest leaves at ground level. Water well the day before moving, firm in well after transplanting and 'puddle' in the plants with plenty of water. Plant compact varieties 30cm (1ft) apart, larger varieties up to 45cm (18in) apart. Plant spring cabbages just 10cm (4in) apart in rows 30cm (1ft) apart - thin out to 30cm (1ft) apart in late February/March and use the thinnings as spring greens.

Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with a mulch. Occasional summer feeding with a liquid fertiliser will improve results.

Cabbage rootfly can be a problem - the females lay eggs around the stems and the resulting larvae eat the roots; look out for wilting plants that produce reddish leaves. To protect against attack, grow the plants through brassica collars or make your own from discs of felt with a radial slit to help position the disc snuggly around the stem.

Growing the plants under fleece will help prevent against rootfly attack and will also prevent cabbage white caterpillars and pigeons getting at the crop.


Cabbages are harvested by cutting through the stem just above ground level with a sharp knife. Cut a 13mm (0.5in) deep cross in the stump of spring and summer cabbages and you'll be rewarded with a second crop of much smaller cabbages.



By regularly sowing suitable types you can have fresh carrots nearly all year round. Carrots can also be stored and frozen although, as with most veg, they are at their best when freshly picked.



Sow 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 15cm (6in) apart. Sow thinly to avoid thinning out, or thin to 5-7.5cm (2-3in) apart.

Early cultivars can be sown as soon as February or March under cloches or similar protection, but the main sowing season is from April to early July.


Be careful when thinning out to avoid carrot rootfly - they are attracted by the smell released when the skin is bruised.

Keep the soil evenly moist to avoid splitting.

Keep weeds at bay as carrots can easily be swamped by them.


Harvest carrots as soon as they are large enough to use; don't aim for the largest roots or you'll sacrifice flavour.

Lift carefully using a fork if the soil is heavy.



To grow perfect cauliflowers you'll need a rich and deep soil and there mustn't be a check to growth, so careful planting and watering are essential.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm (6in) apart. Thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart.

The main sowing period is March to May, although early crops can be achieved by sowing under glass in January/February or sowing a suitable cultivar in the autumn.


Transplant the young plants to their growing position when plants have five or six true leaves, setting the lowest leaves at ground level. Water well the day before moving, firm in well after transplanting and 'puddle' in the plants with plenty of water. Space summer and autumn cropping types 60cm (2ft) apart and winter cultivars 75cm (2.5ft) apart; spacing 30-45cm (12-18in) apart will provide mini, 'one person' curds.

Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with a mulch. Occasional summer feeding with a liquid fertiliser will improve results as cauliflowers are a hungry crop.

Protect the plants from birds by covering with netting or fleece.

Protect the curds of summer types from the sun by bending a few leaves over them; doing the same with winter varieties will protect against frost - particularly important with the less hardy romanesco types.


Start cutting when the heads are firm; you've left it too late once the florets start to separate.



Now becoming more popular in the kitchen, celeriac is grown for its celery-tasting knobbly roots, which are grated and added to salads. It can be used as a celery substitute and is easier to grow. The leaves can also be used as a garnish on salads or soups and the roots cooked as a hot vegetable or made into soup.



Sow from mid-February to April at 15C (60F) in pots or trays of compost. When large enough to handle transplant the seedlings singly into 7.5cm (3in) pots or module trays. Or sow two seeds in a pot/tray and remove the weakest seedling.


Grow on the young plants at a minimum temperature of 10C (60F) and harden off the plants by acclimatising them to outdoor conditions before planting out.

The young plants are planted out at the end of May/early June. They are very sensitive to cold weather at this stage, so planting out should be delayed if the weather is cold. Plant out 30cm (12in) apart in rows 40-45cm (16-18in) apart making sure not to bury the crown - the stem base should be at soil level.

Water in dry weather and mulch around the plants.

Remove any side-shoots as they form and from mid-summer onwards remove a few lower leaves to expose the crown.

In late September draw a little soil around the swollen stem base to keep it white.


Start lifting from late September/early October. In most areas, where the soil is well drained, the roots can be left in the soil until required. If over-wintering them in the ground, cover with straw or compost to protect against frost.



Celery can be a difficult crop to grow, although self-blanching cultivars certainly help to take some of the strain out of growing.

The soil must be moisture-retentive and never dry out. As a result it is often better to grow the plants above a trench filled with plenty of organic matter.

The plants must never receive a check to growth so transplant, harden off and water properly.



Sow between mid-March and early April in seed trays or pots kept at at 15C (60F). Transplant the young seedlings when large enough to handle individually into 7.5cm (3in) pots or module trays.


Make sure plants are properly hardened off before planting out at the end of May to early June. Plant 23cm (9in) apart in a block to ensure the plants shade each other to aid blanching.

Water regularly during dry weather and feed every fortnight with a balanced liquid feed during the summer. A light dressing of a high nitrogen fertiliser or nitrate of soda after the plants have become established will help improve crops.


Plants are ready to harvest when large enough, between August and October, and before the first frosts.



Marrow, courgette, squash and pumpkin are all closely related - often confusingly so, and are grown in basically the same way.

They need a sunny position, a moisture-retentive soil and somewhere out of cold winds.



Sow two or three seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep outdoors in late May or early June and cover with cloches, jars or plastic; leave in place for two weeks, or as long as possible, after germination. Thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one.

For earlier crops or in cold regions sow seeds on their side 13mm (0.5in) deep indoors in 7.5cm (3in) pots of compost from mid- to late April at 18-21C (65-70F). Harden off before planting outside in early June.



Make planting pockets 60cm (2ft) apart for bush varieties or 1.2m (4ft) apart for trailers two weeks before seed sowing or planting. The pockets should be 30cm (12in) square and deep and filled with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil; leave a low mound at the top of the planting medium. Sprinkle a general fertiliser over the soil. Covering the soil with black polythene will help growth and keep the fruit off the soil. Put one plant into the top of the mound.

Pinch out the tips of the main shoots of trailing varieties when they are 60cm (2ft) long.

Keep the soil constantly moist by watering around the plants not over them. As they need plenty of water, sink a 15cm (6in) pot alongside the plants when planting out. Water into this and it will help ensure the water goes right down to the roots and not sit around the neck of the plant, which can lead to rotting.

Feed every 10-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser once the first fruits start to swell.

The fruit of marrows and pumpkins should be supported off the soil on a piece of tile or glass.


Harvest marrows, courgettes and summer squashes when the fruit is still quite small, courgettes 10-12.5cm (4-5in) long, marrows 25cm (10in).

Regularly picking courgettes while they are small will ensure a long cropping period.

For pumpkins, winter squashes and marrows for over-wintering let the fruit mature on the plant and remove before the first frost strikes.



The best cucumbers are those grown indoors under glass - and they crop earlier and for longer.

Different cultivars are needed for indoor or outside culture. Indoors always select F1 cultivars as these don't, under good growing conditions, produce male flowers - just the cucumber-producing females. If male flowers are produced they should be removed otherwise the flowers will be pollinated and the fruit will taste bitter.


Sow at 24-27C (75-80F); maintain a temperature of 18-21C (65-70F) after germination and when growing on.

Greenhouse cultivation: sow from mid-February to mid-March (heated greenhouse) or April (unheated greenhouse).Outdoor cultivation: sow in late April. Alternatively, sow directly outside in late May or early June and cover the soil above the seeds with a cloche or glass jar; this method isn't always successful.

Sow the seeds on their side, 13mm (0.5in) deep when sowing indoors or 2.5cm (1in) deep if sowing direct outside.

Young plants are available from garden centres in spring and are a good bet where you can't maintain the right conditions for germination and growing on.



Transfer young plants to 25cm (10in) pots of good compost in late March (heated greenhouse), late May (unheated greenhouse) or early June outdoors. Keep the compost evenly moist - little and often is the best way. Plants can also be grown in growing-bags but will need to be carefully watered and looked after.

For outdoor growing, make planting pockets 45cm (18in) apart two weeks before seed sowing or planting out that are 30cm (12in) square and deep and fill with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil; leave a low mound at the top of the planting medium. Sprinkle a general fertiliser over the soil.

Feed plants every 10-14 days once planted out with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one when the first fruits start to set.


Keep the humidity high by watering the floor.

Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. Pinch out the growing point when it reaches the roof. Pinch out the tips of sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower. Pinch out the tips of flowerless side-shoots once they reach 60cm (2ft) long.


Pinch out the growing tip when the plants have developed seven leaves. The developing side-shoots can be left to trail over the ground or trained up stout netting. Pinch out the tips of flowerless side-shoots after seven leaves.

Don't remove the male flowers.

Keep the soil constantly moist by watering around the plants - not over them.


Cut the fruits when they are about 15-20cm (6-8in) long using a sharp knife.


KALE (Borecole)

Often a neglected crop, but one that is increasing in popularity, kale tolerates cold weather better than most other brassicas and isn't troubled by birds, clubroot and cabbage rootfly. It will also tolerate a lightly shaded position.

Always pick the leaves when they are young and tender.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm (6in) apart from March to June. Thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart.

Kale can also be treated as a cut-and-come-again crop. Sow the seed where you want it to grow.


Transplant the young plants to their growing position when plants have five or six true leaves, setting the lowest leaves at ground level. Water well the day before moving, firm in well after transplanting and 'puddle' in the plants with plenty of water. Space 45cm (18in) between plants.

Water well in dry weather and conserve soil moisture with a mulch. A spring feed will improve results.

Protect the plants from birds by covering with netting or fleece.


Start to remove young leaves from the top of the plant from October onwards. Side-shoots are formed after the main crown is harvested and these are ready for use from February to May; pick shoots that are 10-15cm (4-6in) long and still young.

As a cut-and-come-again crop harvest when the plants are 5cm (2in) high. Further young leaves will be produced that can be cut again.



Increasing in popularity, kohl rabi is a brassica that produces swollen edible stem bases. It is more tolerant of warm weather than turnips and easier to grow successfully. It grows quickly, maturing in a few months from sowing.

Both green and purple forms are available.

The taste is generally nutty with a slight celery and cabbage taste.


Sow seeds 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart from April to July.


Thin out the seedlings until the plants are 15cm (6in) apart. Soak the soil during periods of dry weather, but try to keep it constantly moist. Provide protection against birds and cabbage rootfly.


It's important to harvest when the plants are young and the swollen stem bases are between golf- and tennis ball-size. If you leave them too long they lose their taste and tenderness. Plants can be harvested until mid-December.

The leaves can also be eaten.



Leeks are a stalwart winter vegetable that have more uses than simply boiling.

Young plants are raised in a seed bed and then transplanted to their final growing positions. This means that leeks can be transplanted into soil previously used for other crops, and so they don't take up a large area of your veg plot in early summer.

For bumper crops you will need to improve the growing area by digging in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure in the autumn.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 15cm (6in) apart in a seedbed in March and April.


Thin out seedlings to approximately 4-5cm (1.5-2in) apart.

The plants are ready to transplant in June when they are about 20cm (8in) high and the thickness of a pencil. Water well the day before lifting and transplanting. Prepare the plants by trimming off the root tips.

Make 15cm (6in) deep holes with a dibber 15cm (6in) apart in rows 30cm (12in) apart and drop a plant into each hole. Fill the hole with water to settle the roots. Top up with water as necessary for the plants to establish. If you have a lot of plants, try dropping two or three into each planting hole. You'll get smaller leeks but the overall yield should be the same.

To increase the length of white stem it can be blanched by gently drawing up dry soil around the stem in stages, but try not to allow soil to fall between the leaves. An easier way to blanch the stems is to slide a section of drainpipe, cardboard or similar over the plants. Using this method, together with growing in fertile raised beds, means you can plant 23cm (9in) apart in all directions.


Start lifting when the leeks are still quite small to ensure a long harvest period. Gently lift from the soil using a fork.

Leeks can remain in the ground through the winter until they are needed.



By choosing a selection of types and cultivars and having a protected growing area it is possible to have tasty lettuce leaves for most of the year.

There are several different types.

  • Butterhead lettuces have an open habit, are quick-maturing and tolerate poorer growing conditions.

  • The Cos types have an upright growth habit and oblong head.The crisphead types produce large hearts of curled and crisp leaves and are more resistant to bolting (going to seed prematurely); this group includes the iceberg lettuces.

  • Finally, there are the loose-leaf cultivars, so called because they do not produce a heart - they are cut-and-come-again types where you simply cut as many leaves as you want and leave the plant to continue growing.


Sow a short row every fortnight to ensure continuity of cropping.

Sow seed thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart.

Time of sowing depends on when the crop is wanted:

For a summer/autumn crop: sow outdoors from late March to late July. For an even earlier crop, sow with heat in early February and plant out in early March under cloches or plastic; pre-warm the soil for two weeks first. For an early winter crop: sow outdoors in early August and cover the plants with closed cloches in late September.For a mid-winter crop: sow in a heated greenhouse in September and October and grow on in the greenhouse.For a spring crop: sow a cultivar such as 'Winter Density' in September/October either in a cold greenhouse or outside under cloches in mild areas.

High soil temperatures in summer can prevent some cultivars from germinating. Sow in the evening, water with cold water and provide some shade to keep temperatures down.


Start thinning as soon as the first true leaves appear and continue until the plants are 30cm (12in) apart, 23cm (9in) for dwarf, compact cultivars and 15cm (6in) for loose-leaf types. If you water the soil the day before thinning and do it carefully, the thinnings can be planted out to give a slightly later crop. Thinnings can also be picked and eaten.

Water when the soil is dry; the best time to water is in the early morning.

Early in the year sparrows can be a problem as they find young lettuce plants irresistible. Protect with fleece, chicken wire or similar.


Lettuce is ready to cut when a firm heart has formed; the exception to this is the loose-leaf types where leaves are harvested as and when needed. It is best to cut in the morning when the plants will be the freshest.



Onions are one of the most versatile vegetables and are pretty easy to grow. Most people grow from sets - immature bulbs - although seed is available for onions; shallots are always grown from sets.

Sets are quicker to mature, are better in colder regions, less likely to be attacked by some pests and diseases and need less skill to grow; it is always worth buying heat-treated sets.

Planting Sets

Sowing Seeds


Sow seed 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart from late February through to early April. Thin first to 5cm (2in) apart and then later to 10cm (4in) apart.

Plant onion sets 10cm (4in) apart in rows 10cm (8in) apart from mid-March to mid-April.

Plant shallots 15cm (6in) apart in rows 23cm (9in) apart from mid-February to mid-March.

Gently push the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them. Birds can be a problem lifting the sets so carefully remove the loose skin at the top of the set before planting.


Water if the weather is dry and give an occasional feed with a general liquid fertiliser. A light feed of sulphate of potash in June will help ripen the bulbs ready for storage.

Mulching the soil will help conserve soil moisture and keep down weeds. Stop watering and feeding once the onions have swollen and remove any mulch or soil to expose the bulb to the sun.

Remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.


Onions can be harvested when the foliage turns yellow and starts to topple over. Although it is sometimes suggested to bend over the foliage or gently lift the bulbs to break the roots this is no longer recommended. Leave for two to three weeks and then carefully lift with a garden fork.

Those for storage must be firm, disease free and then dried for two to three weeks, either laid out in the sun or in a shed if the weather is wet.

The foliage of shallots will start to turn yellow in July. Lift the bulb clusters, separate them and allow to dry.


SPRING ONIONS (or salad/ green/ bunching or scallions)

Spring onions can be used whole in salads or finely cut to add as a garnish to salads, soups and stir-fries etc.

Sow little and often to ensure a regular supply throughout summer and autumn; sowing a winter-hardy type in August will produce a useful spring crop.


Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep from March to July in rows 10cm (4in) apart.


Thin the seedlings if necessary until they are about 2.5cm (1in) apart.

Water if the soil/weather is dry; mulching will help maintain soil moisture.


Lift the plants when the plants are small and young and the bulb is no more than 13mm-2.5cm (0.5-1in) across.



Although fairly disappointing when boiled as a vegetable, roast parsnips are a joy to eat - and parsnips are gorgeous in stews.

They are easy to grow, once they've germinated, and need little maintenance and can be left in the soil until ready to use.




Sow three seeds at 15cm (6in) intervals, 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart.

Although it is sometimes recommended to start sowing in February, this can lead to failure. Sowings made in March and April and even early May will do much better. Or, warm the soil before sowing with cloches or similar; leave in place until the seedlings have developed two true leaves.


When the seedlings are about 2.5cm (1in) high thin out to leave one seedling per 15cm (6in) station.

Keep the soil evenly moist to avoid splitting.


The roots are ready to lift when the foliage starts to die down in autumn; use a fork to carefully lift them. They can be left in the soil and lifted as required, although lifting a few extra in November will ensure you still have parsnips to eat even if the soil is frozen.

Lightly frosted roots tend to produce the best flavour.



You can't beat the flavour of freshly picked, home-grown peas - as soon as they are picked the sugars they contain turn to starch and they loose their sweetness and flavour.

They can be a bit tricky to grow, but they're worth bearing with. By growing different types and cultivars you can have fresh pods from May until October. Mange tout and sugar snaps are generally easier to grow than standard peas.

Peas are classed by when the pods are mature and the shape of the dried pea; round peas tend to be hardier and will tolerate poorer growing conditions than wrinkled.


For best results make sure the soil is well dug and has plenty of added moisture-holding material. Never sow in cold, wet soil. Liming may be necessary to produce an alkaline soil. Choose a position that gets plenty of sun.

The easiest way to sow is to dig out a flat-bottomed trench 5cm (2in) deep and 15cm (6in) wide. Then sow the seeds evenly in the trench approximately 7.5cm (3in) apart, cover with soil and lightly firm down. If you need a second row make this the expected height of the crop away from the first trench.

  • First earlies are sown from March to early June and will be ready to pick in 11 to 13 weeks.
  • Second earlies are sown from March to June and are ready in around 14 weeks.
  • Maincrop cultivars are sown at the same time and take up to 16 weeks.

Water well during dry periods and mulch the soil to preserve soil moisture.

Apart from dwarf cultivars, you will need to provide some support for the plants to scramble up. One of the easiest and most natural supports is to insert twiggy branches alongside the plants when they’re 7.5cm (3in) high. Pea netting is an alternative, but it's a nightmare to untangle the plants from it at the end of the growing season. Lightweight trellis and willow panels are attractive alternatives.

The one pest you want to be careful of is pea moth - whose presence you'll only notice when it comes to shelling your peas - the maggot will have got there first! Female moths lay their eggs just as the flowers fade and the pods are developing and this is the time to do something about it.


Pods are ready to harvest when they are well filled, when the pod is still fresh and green and hasn’t started to dry out. Pick regularly or the plants will stop producing.

Mangetout and sugar snaps peas should be picked when the pods are about 7.5cm (3in) long and the peas are just starting to develop.



Potatoes are hugely versatile and are a staple ingredient of many meals in one form or another - boiled, mashed, chipped or baked. Freshly dug and lightly boiled with mint or cooled and eaten with salads they just can't be beaten.

There are three main types - first earlies, second earlies and maincrops depending on when they are planted and harvested; grow a selection of all three for a long cropping period, and store maincrops over winter. Extra early potatoes can be obtained by planting varieties such as first earlies from late February under fleece or, better still, by growing individually in pots under glass.

Potatoes need a sunny site away from frost pockets - the newly emerging foliage is susceptible to frost damage. You can prevent this by earthing up the soil around the shoots or by covering them with fleece.

It's important to keep light away from the developing new potatoes as light turns them green and green potatoes are poisonous.




Seed tubers should be planted around late March for first earlies, early to mid-April for second earlies and mid- to late April for maincrops. This varies slightly depending on where you are in the country.


There are numerous ways of growing potatoes.

It's vital with earlies and a good idea with maincrops to chit the seed tubers first before planting; this means allowing them to produce sturdy shoots. Buy your seed potatoes in late January/February and stand them rose end up (the rose end has the most eyes) in egg boxes or similar in a light, frost-free place. The tubers are ready to plant when the shoots are about 2.5cm (1in) long.

The traditional way is to dig a narrow trench 12.5cm (5in) deep. This can be lined with compost or even grass clippings for a better crop. The seed tubers are spaced 30cm (12in) apart for earlies and 37.5cm (15in) for maincrop varieties in rows 24in (60cm) apart for earlies and 75cm (30in) apart for maincrop. Sprinkle slug pellets or other slug deterrents between the tubers as keel slugs can be a problem.

When the stems are about 23cm (9in) high start earthing up by carefully drawing soil up to the stems and covering to produce a flat-topped ridge about 15cm (6in) high. This can be done little and often or in one go.

The other method is to grow the potatoes under black polythene. The tubers are planted through the black polythene. The advantage of this method is that there is no need to earth up and the new potatoes form just below soil level which means there's no digging to harvest them.

It's also possible to grow them in large containers - or even black bin liners. Line the bottom 15cm (6in) of the container with potting compost and plant the seed tuber just below this. As the new stems start growing, keep adding compost until the container is full.

Keep crops well watered in dry weather; the vital time is once the tubers start to form. A liquid feed of a balanced general fertiliser every fortnight can help increase yields.


First earlies should be ready to lift in June and July, second earlies in July and August, maincrops from late August through October.

With earlies wait until the flowers open or the buds drop; the tubers are ready to harvest when they are the size of hens' eggs. With maincrops for storage wait until the foliage turns yellow, then cut it and remove it. Leave for 10 days before harvesting the tubers, leaving them to dry for a few hours before storing.



Radishes need to be grown steadily and harvested young to ensure they remain succulent, otherwise they can become woody and inedible.

Sow little and often and make sure they grow well without any checks to their growth.

Because radishes are quick to mature they can be used as a 'catch crop' being sown between rows of slower-growing vegetables such as peas and potatoes.

They can even be used as row markers of slow-germinating crops, such as parsnip and onion - the radishes germinate quickly, marking out the row where the other crops have been sown and can be pulled before interfering with the main crop

There are also winter cultivars (mooli) whose large roots can be used raw or cooked.



Sow thinly 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 15cm (6in) apart for summer types or 23cm (9in) apart for winter ones.

Summer cultivars are sown from March to mid-August; for an early crop sow in February in pre-warmed soil and protect with cloches.

Winter cultivars are sown in July or August.


By sowing seed thinly (approximately 2.5cm/1in apart) there should be no need for thinning summer cultivars, but any that is needed should be done as soon as possible. Winter cultivars should be thinned to 15cm (6in) apart.

Keep the soil moist to ensure rapid growth, keep the roots fleshy and tasty and prevent splitting. Sowings made in July and August can be a problem due to the hotter, drier conditions, so make sure these are well looked after.


Pull summer radishes as required, making sure they are never left to mature and become woody.

Winter cultivars can be left in the ground and dug up as required, or lifted in November and stored.



Spinach can be grown to produce a crop all year round, and at times when other greens might be in short supply. When prepared and cooked properly - pick and use fresh, steam rather than boil - it is a tasty, versatile crop to grow. It can even be used raw in salads.

Some cultivars can also be overwintered for an early spring harvest.

Winter cultivars need a sunny position, but summer types often benfit from a little shade - try growing between rows of taller crops.



Sow seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart.

Summer cultivars: sow every few weeks from mid-March to the end of May.

Winter cultivars: Sow in August and again in September.


Thin seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) apart when large enough to handle. A few weeks later harvest every alternative plant for use in the kitchen.

Keep well watered during dry periods in summer.

Winter cultivars will need protection from October onwards - unless you live in a mild area. Cover with cloches or protect the crown with straw or similar material and cover with fleece.


Summer cultivars: pick between late May and the end of October.
Winter cultivars: pick between October and April.

Harvest the leaves continually once they're large enough to pick.

To prevent the leaves tasting bitter make sure the soil is rich and contains plenty of organic matter.



Swedes are generally an easy crop to grow, maturing over the winter.

Mashed swede with butter and black pepper is a simple dish - but delicious.




Sow seeds 13mm (0.5in) deep in rows 38-45cm (15-18in) apart from March until mid-June.


Thin out the seedlings when large enough to handle leaving plants 23cm (9in) apart.

Make sure the soil contains plenty of organic matter, preferably added for a previous crop. Add a light dressing of a general fertiliser containing trace elements - such as Vitax Q4.

Water during dry periods but try to keep the soil evenly moist to prevent cracking and corky growth. Dyness at the roots can also lead to a bitter taste.


Start lifting the roots once they are large enough to use - this will usually be from early autumn onwards.



Sadly, sweet corn is not the easiest crop to grow in the UK, but newer, more modern cultivars are better suited to our climates, making things far better.

Sweet corn must be grown in a sunny position that is sheltered from strong wind.

As the plants are wind pollinated they should be grown in blocks rather than rows setting the plants 45cm (18in) apart.

There are some mini sweet corn cultivars. Because mini corn is harvested before fertilisation, it doesn't need to be grown in a block and can even be grown as a windbreak! Each plant will produce five or six cobs.



Sow at 18-21C (65-70F) from late March to early May in peat pots or deep pots at a depth of 2.5cm (1in).

In mild areas you can sow seed directly outside from mid- to late May in soil pre-warmed for two weeks with cloches or clear plastic. Sow two seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep 45cm (18in) apart in rows 45cm (18in) apart; remove the weakest seedling. Leave the cloches or plastic over the plants until they've grown and touch the top.


Plant out indoor-raised plants at the end of May or early June depending on the weather.

Stake tall cultivars or if the position is windy.

When roots appear at the base of the stem cover them over with soil.

Water well in dry weather; this is vital when the plants are flowering. Liquid feed when the cobs begin to swell.

Tap the tops of the plants when the male flowers (tassels) open to help pollination; poor pollination will result in poorly filled/irregularly filled cobs.

Super-sweet cultivars mustn't be grown with other cultivars or cross-pollination will reduce the sweetness.


Test for ripeness when the tassels have turned chocolate brown; squeeze a grain between thumbnail and fingernail - if a watery liquid squirts out then it is unripe, if it is creamy the cob is ready. Twist the ripe cob from the stem.



Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables - and that's not surprising since the taste fresh from the vine is divine. There are numerous cultivars and types from the small-fruited cherry types to the monster beefsteak forms, from the standard red to yellow, orange, green, purple and striped, from the standard tall cordon varieties to bush and even hanging basket types.

Although growing-bags are the favoured growing medium, the plants take a lot more careful looking after than those growing in pots or in the ground.

Outdoor tomatoes are well worth growing using cultivars that are more tolerant of outdoor conditions.


Sow at 18C (65F). Sow in either seed trays or small pots. Transplant into 7.5-9cm (3-3.5in) pots when two true leaves have formed.

  • Greenhouse cultivation: sow from mid-January to early February (heated greenhouse) or late February to mid-March (unheated greenhouse).
  • Outdoor cultivation: sow in late March to early April.

Young plants are available from garden centres in spring and are a good bet where you can't maintain the right conditions for germination and growing on.


Transfer to 23cm (9in) pots, growing-bags or plant 45-60cm (18-24in) apart outside when the flowers of the first truss are beginning to open; plants for growing outdoors should be hardened off first.

Tie the main stem to a vertical bamboo cane or wind it up a well-anchored but slack sturdy string. Those grown as bush or hanging basket types do not need support.

Remove the side-shoots regularly when they are about 2.5cm (1in) long. Those grown as bush or hanging basket types do not need to have side-shoots removed.

Water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist. Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set.

Remove yellowing leaves below developing fruit trusses.

Once the plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.

If you allow the soil or compost to dry out and then flood it the change in water content will cause the fruit to crack; always aim to keep plants evenly moist.

Irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil leads to blossom end rot - the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.


Start picking when the fruit is ripe and fully coloured.

At the end of the growing season lift the plants with unripe fruit and either lay them on straw under cloches or hang them in a cool shed to aid ripening. Or you can pick the green fruit and store in a drawer next to a banana.



Turnips are a very versatile vegetable - they can be harvested when mature or young, cooked or eaten raw and the young tops can be used like spring greens.

They are quick to mature and easy to grow.



Sow seeds13mm (0.5in) deep.

  • Early turnips: sow 'Atlantic' or 'Milan Purple Top' under cloches in February and other cultivars from March to June, in rows 23cm (9in) apart.
  • Maincrop turnips: sow from July to mid-August in rows 30cm (12in) apart.
  • Turnip tops: sow in August or September in rows 7.5cm (3in) apart.

Thin out turnips grown for their roots until they are eventually 15cm (6in) apart for early crops, or 23cm (9in) apart for maincrops.

Water during dry weather or the roots will be small and woody.

  • Early turnips: pull the turnips from May to September when the size of a golf ball for eating raw or the size of a tennis ball for cooking.
  • Maincrop turnips: lift the turnips from mid-October onwards when the size of a golf ball.
  • Turnip tops: harvest in March and April. Leave the plants to re-sprout as several cuts can be obtained.




TOMATO     INDOORS                
GARLIC OUTDOORS                    
ONION, FROM SEED INDOORS                    
ONION, FROM SETS                        
    OUTDOORS       HARVESTING        
ONION, AUTUMN SOWN               OUTDOORS      
ONION, SPRING       OUTDOORS              
SHALLOT           HARVESTING          
CARROT     OUTDOORS                
CELERY   OUTDOORS                  
PEA   INDOORS OUTDOORS              
CABBAGE, SUMMER   INDOORS                  
      PLANTING OUT                
CALABRESE   OUTDOORS                
RADISH   OUTDOORS                  
TURNIP       OUTDOORS              
ASPARAGUS     PLANTING OUT                
SEA KALE                        
LETTUCE     OUTDOORS                

That's it for another issue friends. If you would like to write something for our NEWS-LETTER then all contributions are gratefully accepted. You can contact me via either of our two web-sites: or

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Until the next time - keep busy,  but above all have fun & ENJOY on your allotment plot or in your veg. garden!


All the best to you all,




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