Allotment Associations & Horticultural Groups in Harrow, Middlesex
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Start of a new year, any gardening resolutions?

Now that all the cut backs has hit home we are all trying to be a bit thriftier so as our money might go a bit further! December 25th was the day when Brussels Sprouts were eaten. Some gardeners aim to have some home grown sprouts on the table, to be eaten with the turkey but they seem to have gone down in popularity lately. Perhaps it is name that sounds as though they are part of a Common Market directive. Also perhaps their major drawback is some people do not enjoy the unpleasant intestinal wind they can produce. But the amount of value that sprouts have is really quite surprising. Would you believe that weight for weight sprouts provide three times the Vitamin C than that of an orange - and there are no pips! Just 4-6 sprouts contain the adult daily Vitamin C requirements; also they contain nitrogen compounds called indoles which are thought to reduce the risk of certain cancers. So make a note to plant the seeds during March and April. Nowadays the plants have to be covered when the sprouts have formed; there are so many greedy pigeons around.

Tidy up that garden or allotment site: One piece of advice learned through painful experience. Get rid of any sharp or dangerous objects in the garden, just in case you stumble and fall on them. Another precaution is to buy the plastic caps to put on top of short canes, they are very inexpensive but they will stop potential injury caused by a fall. The BBC has been broadcasting programmes of gardening hints but they do not seem to be very topical, instead being advice to be noted and acted upon later in the year. A previous presenter of the show was Monty Don, or his reversed twin brother Don Monty, or was it the man who knows about fruit, the man from Del Monty. But when he said in one programme that "there had not been much blight around this year" you wonder if the film was recorded many years ago in a dry summer; Can you remember it? Or you may wonder what planet Monty is on. This brings us to a resolution, to have plenty of Dithane made up ready to spray as soon as the tomato plants are established.

Plan your year's growing:Some people love poring through seed catalogues and –plan what they hope to grow. The seeds can be ready to plant in trays on the date specified on the packet’s cultural instructions, no last minute dashing to find a packet.( probably there will not be a Woolworth store to go to!). If you forget to use a packet they should be usable in the next year. One packet, which has a reputation for having a short shelf life, is parsnip. Perhaps they could be started off in Rootrainers which allow roots to grow to their natural length.. They can be bought in four sizes, allowing roots to grow from 3" and up to 7" long. Just in case you are interested it is no good mentioning anything without saying where it can be obtained: they are made by Ronaash Ltd. Tel 01573 225757, One gardeners used to pre-germinate seeds on moist blotting paper in an airing cupboard. The seeds were in a wall paper paste so that they could be almost poured into their garden position when germinated and big enough to grow on.

Test for Lime:If there is a way of testing the soil to see if needs lime it can be done. Hopefully any manure that has been applied was done in the autumn as lime and manure should not be applied at the same time. Chemical action of the lime releases valuable properties from the manure in the form of gas. Lime is washed out of soil by rain so that it becomes sour. Lime can be added if the ground is to used for cabbages but not if it is to be used for potatoes (potatoes suffer from scab at values above pH5.5). The level of acidity is measured on a ph scale which is graded from 0 to 14, the lower numbers indicating an acid soil and the higher ones an alkaline one The value 7.0 indicates the neutral mid-point, and the ph scale is a logarithmic scale: pH6 is ten times more acid than ph7: ph5 is ten times more acid than ph6, and so on.

Onions: They can be grown starting with seed in this month, if a space in a heated greenhouse is available, specially if large onions are to be grown, or it can be waited until the next month or early march and sets are used. As a variation on onions shallots can be planted this month, although some gardeners prefer to wait until February or early March. They are set in shallow drills, afterwards covering all but the tips, not pressed into the soil, 9 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart, choosing soil that was manured last autumn. Some recipes specify shallots and a jar of home pickled onions are very tasty.

Gladioli: new corms can be ordered, and when they come, unpack them and set them out in shallow boxes or trays and put in a dry, frost-proof place. There are four main categories: large-flowered, primulinus hybrids, butterflies and miniatures. The large-flowered are tall and stately looking great in the garden, get the canes ready to position next to the corms when they are planted in March.

Dahlias: examine stored tubers. If they are shrivelling plunge them in tepid water overnight and replace them in peat or vermiculite. Cut off any parts of the tuber that show signs of rotting, and dust the cuts with flowers of sulphur.

Roses: check to see if any bushes have been loosened by winter gales. Firm the soil and support them with bamboo canes which can be removed at pruning time.

Herbs: the dormant winter period is the ideal time to plan the herb garden. Most herbs should be planted in a sunny, south-facing position and with some protection from north and east winds. A south-sloping plot of ground is ideal. The taller, sun loving herbs can be planted at the back, and the smaller herbs, which like moist soil can be planted at the bottom of the slope. However, most cooks like the herbs near at hand to the kitchen, perhaps using containers.

Ralph of the Roxbourne Society

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