'Biggest kept secrets of gardeners' to grow perfect tomatoes, carrots, peppers and more


'Biggest kept secrets of gardeners' to grow perfect tomatoes, carrots, peppers and more

The temperature has been fluctuating over the last few weeks and it’s therefore imperative that, as gardeners, we keep an eye on the weather foreca

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The temperature has been fluctuating over the last few weeks and it’s therefore imperative that, as gardeners, we keep an eye on the weather forecast to ensure that we have the optimum growing conditions. Freezing weather or late frosts will result in stunted growth or dead plants, so to avoid wasting money and time plan what you want to grow and carry out a little research into growing what you love the most. Sweet peppers can be sown now, but they don’t grow well outside so grow in a greenhouse or on a sunny, south-facing windowsill.

Sowing these in spring means that you can be picking and eating peppers in August.

Fill a nine or 11cm pot with peat-free, multi-purpose compost. Gently firm the soil and then water. Space the pepper seeds evenly onto the surface of the soil and then sieve a thin layer of compost to cover them. Alternatively, cover with vermiculite. Gently press down with the back of your hand to ensure that the seeds are in contact with the compost.

The seeds will germinate in two to three weeks. Ensure you have a good structure of bamboo canes in place for support and crop them either when green or wait until they have changed colour before picking.

With the soil warming up, now is the perfect time to start off beetroot.

These are easy to grow vegetables, but pick bolt-resistant varieties, such as ‘Boltardy’, ‘Red Ace’, and ‘Chioggia’. If you love a constant supply of beetroot, then sow every couple of weeks from March to July. Make a furrow or trench in the soil about three to five centimetres deep.

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Place a piece of wood onto the soil, next to where the furrow will be made, to get a straight line. Water the furrow before sowing.

Sow your seeds eight to 10cm apart along the bottom of the furrow, then using your fingertips carefully cover the seeds with the soil. Ensure you label your furrows and if a cold spell is forecast then cover your newly sown seeds with horticultural fleece.

Beetroot can also be sown in bare patches of soil in the vegetable garden, allotment or container. As they are quick to grow, they can be lifted when ready to be replaced by another sowing.

You can also plant out courgettes if you use a cloche. If you need to cover a larger area, then make a cloche from pieces of timber and cover with either fleece or polythene. Leave the cloche in place until all signs of frost are over. But you can leave cloches on vegetables such as radishes, turnips and early greens to protect the plants from pests, such as flea beetle.

Keep picking the last leaves from chard and the last lot of leeks before they run to flower. Chard is a great winter crop and in spring new growth will form, which can be harvested.

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If you’ve sown onion and garlic in the greenhouse or on a sunny, south-facing windowsill then they can be planted outdoors when their roots have filled the pots.

Water the plants before transplanting them. Carefully remove them from their pots or plugs and plant them in rows at the same depth as they were in their pots of plug trays. Firm them in and water again. These will be ready mid-Summer.

In the south you can also plant out early potatoes. Make a furrow 12cm deep, space the tubers 30cm apart and if you’re doing multiple rows then leave 60cm between each one. Cover the tubers back up with the soil and water well. As the stems and foliage start to appear rake up more soil to cover them, known as ‘earthing up’. Come June you’ll have delicious early potatoes.

You can also get ahead by sowing carrots, lettuces and parsley. The temperature needs to be about eight degrees Celsius, but if you can provide bottom heat from a heat mat and a small cloche then you can start a little earlier.

Carrots can be sown direct outside along with cabbage if the soil temperature is c. 10 degrees Celsius. Simple soil thermometers are relatively cheap to buy. Stick the prong into the soil, down to the right depth and read the temperature on the gauge. Some thermometers also tell you how much moisture is in the soil and the pH of the soil, making gardening and guesswork a lot easier.

Parsley seeds will need to be pre-soaked the day before in damp compost.

If you sowed your broad beans in February, then harden them off by placing outside in a sheltered spot or in a cold frame and plant out the young seedlings when ready.

If you love herbs then now is a great time to buy and plant sage and rosemary and dig up overgrown mint or chive plants, divide them and replant or pot them up. Also, plant out salad rocket plugs on warmer days, for a peppery harvest.

Spring is a busy time in the garden but getting ready now means less work later in the year. Also, we are always thinking about the next season and the next in order to maintain a constant supply of delicious homegrown vegetables. Early spring is therefore the perfect time to sow winter cabbages and broccoli.

Also, remember, that if you have a heated greenhouse, warm conservatory, porch, propagator or a sunny south-facing windowsill you can sow marrows, courgettes, pumpkins, squashes and tomatoes.

One of the biggest kept secrets of gardeners is the humble cold frame.

A wide range of vegetables, herbs and ornamentals can be grown from seed, cuttings, divisions and more in a well-positioned cold frame.

It should be in a sunny and sheltered position, which will help extend the growing season by a few weeks. Just remember to ventilate your cold frame on warm days by lifting the roof slightly.

Check regularly for pests and diseases and ensure you keep the glass or perspex roof clean so as not to block essential light.