Fruits of your labour

Whether you have a massive plot, or just a few planters, growing fruit and vegetables can be a satisfying as well as healthy thing to do.  Fruit and veg can be grown by everyone, even those with smaller gardens. They can be grown in your borders, in a pot on a patio or even in a hanging basket if you’re growing tomatoes or strawberries. With the price of some fruit and veg in the shops it is well worth having a go at growing your own.

In the vegetable garden if the soil is workable, dig in a 5cm (or more) layer of compost, well-rotted manure or green waste into your beds to prepare for the growing season ahead. If you were organised last year and planted green manure, now is the time to dig it in whilst the stems are still soft. Vegetable seed beds can be prepared by removing all weeds and forking in plenty of compost. Covering prepared soil with sheets of black plastic will keep it drier and warmer in preparation for planting.

With seed potatoes available to buy in your garden centre this month, don’t delay in selecting the varieties you want to grow. Potatoes grow best if they have gone through a process called ‘chitting’ before planting. Place each seed potato in a shallow tray or egg tray in a cool, light, frost free place several weeks prior to planting. The seed will develop sprouts (chits) which will help them grow quickly once planted. This is a helpful but not essential process. Towards the end of the month you can plant your ‘chitted’ first early potatoes outside in the ground. If you don’t have enough space for growing potatoes on your plot, why not try growing potatoes in bags or pots. As the potatoes grow, each time they have emerged a few inches, pull earth around the plant with a rake, leaving peaked rows. Earthing-up gives the plant more soil to grow in, stops sunlight turning tubers green and improves drainage. It is also a quick and easy way of controlling weeds. Repeat this process as required until the foliage is too big. If growing in a container, fill the base with 10cm (4in) of compost mixed with perlite or gravel to aid drainage. Add the seed potatoes and cover with another 10cm (4in) of compost. As the plant grows, keep adding compost. The plant will grow through the compost and continue to form potatoes. When the plant reaches the top of the container, allow it to grow normally. Harvest when the potatoes have reached the desirable size (check by feeling through the compost). Water the pots well but take care not to overwater. (A pot 45cm (18in) deep and 40cm (16in) wide will hold 2 seed potatoes).

Onion, shallot and garlic sets can be planted this month provided the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged. Alternatively pot up sets into individual pots for transplanting outdoors when better weather arrives.

In the fruit garden, it’s not too late for planting fruit trees. Don’t stick to just the common apple and pear trees, try plums, damson, peaches, nectarines, cherries, figs or mulberrys for something a little bit different. Select a sunny, sheltered spot for your trees to maximise the time the fruit has to ripen. A key factor to choosing the correct size fruit tree is the root-stock the tree is on. Look for apples labelled M27 or M26 which will suit most smaller gardens, or, if you want something a bit bigger then look for M106 root-stock. With pears you want the QC root-stock for a smaller tree and QA for a larger tree. Plums have a Pixy root-stock on smaller varieties and St Julien for larger varieties.

The other important factor when choosing your fruit tree is whether they are self-fertile. Self-fertile trees will produce fruit without the need for another tree to pollinate it. If your tree is not self-fertile it will need to be paired with another one. (Speak to staff in your local garden centre for which varieties to plant together). Remember when planting fruit trees it’s advisable to soak the rootball in a bucket of water for a few hours before putting them in the ground, and keep them well-watered for the first two years whilst the root system establishes.


Berries & Currants

• Raspberries can be grown in the ground or in pots, plant up to three canes in a 30cm pot with a multipurpose compost with  added John Innes. Choose from summer or autumn fruiting varieties.

• Gooseberries can be planted in a moist well-drained spot in full sun or partial shade, prune back the plant by half after planting to encourage fresh growth.

• Blackberries need a trellis or wire support. Choose a well-drained, sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade and cut back all stems to 25cm from ground after planting.

• Blueberries are best grown in containers in an ericaceous compost.

• Plant all currants in a sheltered spot with a moist well-drained soil. After planting, cut back blackcurrants to 10cm above the ground and cut back red and white currants by half to encourage plenty of new growth this year.


Seed potatoes for home growing

First earlies

• Arran pilot, a traditional white fleshed favourite of firm texture, ideal for use as a salad or new potato.

• Rocket, a very early variety that grows well in a container. Ideal for boiling and new potatoes.

• Pentland Javelin, a general purpose variety with white, waxy flesh ideal for boiling

Second earlies

• Wilja, a high yielding variety with long, oval tubers, ideal for boiling and baking.

• Marfona, a general purpose variety with pale yellow moist flesh ideal for baking and boiling.

Maincrop

• Sarpo Mira, a highly resistant variety with huge yields and vigorous, weed surpressing foliage, ideal for baking and boiling.

• Maris Piper, a versatile variety with good flavour, ideal for chips, roasting and baking.

• Desiree, a popular red potato that has particularly good drought resistance and is versatile for all cooking purposes.

Salad crop

• Charlotte, a reliable and high yielding salad variety.