Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions
My Brussels sprouts are small this year. My wife prefers small sprouts, but these are tiny. Any ideas? GL, Copnor.
Take the tops out of a few plants and within 10 days you’ll notice the sprouts are larger. Repeat to a few more after three weeks. Don’t do this to the whole crop in one go otherwise they’ll all be ready to eat at the same time.
Last year I decided to build two raised beds. I put manure in the base of each one and grew garlic, shallots, beetroot and runner beans successfully. But the potatoes were a disaster – full of holes. Was the manure responsible? SH, Havant.
The potato crop was ruined by keeled slugs and millipedes. I’d advise you not to grow potatoes but add other vegetables you enjoy. I am not growing so many from now on because we can’t buy Bordeaux Mixture any more. This fungicide has been in use for as long as I can remember to prevent potato blight, but has been withdrawn. I am so concerned I have written to the prime minister.
We want to grow a huge pumpkin for competition. Last year our largest was 23lb but the winner had to hire a trailer to get it into the hall (picture). Is there a secret? H and PJ, Denmead.
In Thompson and Morgan’s catalogue are the seeds of champion varieties. Use this seed, cultivate the ground with lots of well-rotted manure, plenty of water and regular feeding with Maxicrop Complete food. Sow the seeds at the end of April. Let us know when you win.
I dug out my bedding begonia semperflorens and put the plants into the compost bin. A lot of them have started to shoot at the top. Is it worthwhile potting these up and keeping them in my greenhouse over the winter? HE, Southsea.
Yes, as long as you can keep the greenhouse frost free they will survive the winter and can be planted into your garden in May.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK
It is very important to check bags of potatoes which were dug last autumn. Do this once a month in case any tubers are rotting. Remove any rotten ones and put them straight in the dustbin.
Check onions which are often hung up in bunches. Some of these become soft in the neck (top) of the bulb. Use these first. Simply cut out the soft parts until you find firm flesh.
The children are on holiday and a nice indoor job would be to sow some mustard and cress. You don’t need a greenhouse. Some prefer cress to mustard, but if you would like both, sow the cress three days earlier than the mustard because it takes that period to gain stems of the same length. A packet of seeds costs £1.50 for each . In a temperature of 60F (15C) they’ll be ready to eat in about 12 days. I have just sown some cress. Children like things to happen quickly!
Did you know nearly all seedsmen have a mail order catalogue? You will find the address on the back of the seed packets. All the catalogues have wonderful pictures and it’s good to be able to choose what you want on these dark evenings.
Have you ever seen the flowers on anemone blanda? They are daisy like blue blooms, or pink which has the added name rosea. There are little tubers in fancy packs at garden centres. They can be planted in pots right now indoors and once the pots are filled with roots these gems can be planted outdoors in a sunny spot. If you do this, they are always a great success whereas if planted directly into the garden, the little tubers often rot or are eaten by all sorts of beasties.
Now that we have had frosts, dig out the roots of chrysanthemums. These are called stools. Wash them off in cold water and put them into boxes of moist potting compost in the cold greenhouse. Cutttings can be taken in February and March.
Dig out a huge clump of rhubarb, leave it on top of the ground to allow the frosts to penetrate the thick stem. Put the clump into a black polythene bag at the end of February and then into the airing cupboard, still in the black polythene bag, so the delicious red stems can be enjoyed in March. Rhubarb keeps you going! If you haven’t moved the rhubarb plants for ages, do this now and give each clump a generous amount of farmyard manure. If you need more plants, this is the time to split the clumps.
This is a good time to plant or transplant strawberries. It is very important not to bury the crown (centre) of the plant. If you would like to grow some in pots in the greenhouse, pot the largest runners into five-inch diameter pots. Wash the roots first to remove all the soil. Pot each plant into John Innes No3 potting compost BUT you will need six or even better, eight plants for each person you intend to eat the fruits. Leave the potted plants outdoors for not less than four weeks to allow them to be cold. This initiates the hormones to produce flowers in spring. The flowers will need pollinating with a fine art brush once the blooms appear about April, but you will be picking the fruit in early May for four weeks.
Got a question for Brian? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.