BRIAN KIDD: on polytunnel problems and winter lettuce

Make sure you can grow 6ft tomatoes in your polytunnel

Make sure you can grow 6ft tomatoes in your polytunnel

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Our gardening expert answers your letters and gives you something to do this week

Q: I am thinking about buying a small polytunnel for my allotment, but they are not sold at garden centres. If I buy one online what should I look for? JF, Fareham.

A: Decide on the size and allow price to be your guide. Clear plastic is not a good choice for small polytunnels because the temperature will get far too hot in summer. Green plastic coverings with threaded square covers are stronger. The most important thing to bear in mind is the height of the sides, make sure you can push in canes seven feet long so tomato plants can be grown to six feet.

Q: My greenhouse is empty all winter, but we would like to grow lettuce. What variety would be best? GK, Portchester.

A: Try to find the variety Rosetta (Suttons Seeds). This is the one I am going to sow next week, in cells of course. If you can’t find this one, take your time and your glasses so you can read the small print on the packets and find another variety. Cos lettuce will not be successful.

Q: My wife bought a shrub called coronilla. It is supposed to flower in late winter. We live beside the sea and I am wondering if it will survive the strong winds. HD, Hayling Island.

A: This is a lovely yellow, flowering shrub which often comes into bloom in late February onwards and is a joy to behold at Ventnor in the Isle of Wight. It grows really well in well-drained soil right alongside the sea. You will love this shrub.


Q: We are celebrating our ruby wedding and have decided to donate a tree to be planted in a park near our home. What would you suggest? My daughter suggested a flowering cherry, but we decided to ask you what you would plant? H

and LT, Copnor.

A: Have a look at the trees on the east side of Baffins Pond and you will see the most beautiful Liquidambar sweet gum tree in full display with bright red leaves. Liquidambar can live for more than 150 years whereas a flowering cherry may only live for 30 years.

Q: Is there an easy way to fill the gaps between paving stones? I have cleaned out all the joints but don’t want to have to mix up mortar and use a trowel. I can kneel down but can’t get up again! FC, Cowplain.

A: Yes, you will find just what you need as a dry powder in buckets at you local DIY store. The powder has to be brushed into the gaps between the paving stones. Read the instructions before you buy the product. I am going to do this job during a mild but dry day before Christmas. Another job off the list!

JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

• Sow early broad bean seeds now. Aqua Dulcie Claudia is one of the best. It is very hardy. Avoid slug damage by sowing a single seed in each cell of an insert tray. The 24 cells to fit a standard seed tray will be best. This gives you the opportunity to plant them at a time suitable to you.

n I mentioned planting early peas in cells and suggested the variety Feltham First last week. Meteor is also a good choice if Feltham First seeds have all gone. I am growing this one as I found it was very good last year and we had an excellent crop.

• Plant a clump of rhubarb. Early Timperley is the earliest but Victoria is the lovely red-stemmed variety. Existing rhubarb can be lifted and divided now. For an early crop, dig out a large crown and leave it on top of the ground to become frosted during the winter. After frosting it can be forced in the airing cupboard in the dark.

• Save rainwater for acid-loving plants you might get for Christmas. Azaleas and potted heathers love it.

• Buy shallot bulbs because good gardeners plant them on the shortest day. Shallots are easier to grow than onions and they have an extra special flavour. Did you know that shallots can be cooked in the same way as onions? Did you know that the new leaves produced by shallots taste better than spring onions?

• When planting tulip bulbs cut up a quarter of a shallot and put this on top of the bulb. This will keep squirrels away as the shallot disguises the smell of the bulb.

• Weeds in the lawn can be tackled a small area at a time. Lay a plank on the grass, kneel down and remove the weeds by hand. An old fashioned daisy grubber is useful. A sharp knife is also handy. Do a square yard at a time.

• Christmas presents for gardeners. Azaleas, heathers, poinsettia, orchids in pots. Stainless steel tools. A soil warming cable. And ladies PLEASE, wes blokes don’t want socks, handkerchiefs, ties and after shave. Ladies buy after shave for men so they have something for a raffle in the new year.

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