Plenty to do during January
FEED YOUR FOOD CROPS
All your summer crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and courgettes will appreciate a boost with liquid fertiliser to keep them strong and healthy. Liquid feeding each fortnight, or even weekly, will pay dividends.
GIVE HOMEMADE JAMS & JELLIES
Make small batches of jam and decorate the jars for a handy supply of standby gifts for unexpected guests. Bring 1kg of cherries, strawberries or raspberries to the boil – add a little water to stop them sticking – then add 1kg of jam-setting sugar (available in supermarkets). Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then boil hard for 5 minutes. Take off the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon of brandy, berry vodka or kirsch (this intensifies the flavour), then pour into warm, clean jars and seal.
STAKE ANDWATER NEWFRUIT TREES
It’s easy to neglect new fruit trees if you’ve planted them a fair distance from your house. Out of sight, out of mind. But fruit trees, especially those planted in winter as bareroot trees, need regular irrigation to get them through their first summer. Water at least twice a week, aiming for 10 litres per tree each time. And if you haven’t staked your trees, do that now too.
They’re easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy on the taste buds, plus their mild onion flavour livens up baked spuds, cheese muffins and cream cheese sandwiches. Even their pretty pink flowers are edible so scatter the delicately flavoured florets in your salads or use to flavour herb vinegars. Chives require almost no attention once established, other than water when conditions are dry. Provide a little shade during long, hot summers or plants may become stressed and get attacked by black aphids.
SQUASH AND STOMP
The green vege bugs are back and breeding. You’ve got to keep on top of these sapsuckers (ditto aphids) as not only do they drain the life out of beans and tomatoes, they can spread disease. Squash them by hand. It’s very effective (and quite satisfying) for keeping the numbers down early in the season. Keep slugs and snails in check too. The best time to catch them in the act is on a wet night.
HARVEST & PLANT NOW
Zucchini, beans, peas, radishes and lettuce are now in full swing. Pick daily to keep those crops coming on. It’s not too late to put in a late crop of dwarf corn. Plant in blocks, rather than long rows, to aid pollination. It’s not too late to plant tomatoes either. Most garden centres are still selling large-grade plants, often already in flower, so you can pot them up in large containers or simply plant them in the sunniest corner of your garden.
BE SAFE IN THE SUN
Don’t let your passion for gardening leave you at risk of skin cancer. Wear appropriate clothing if you know you’re going to be spending most of the summer outdoors, reapply sunscreen every few hours and wear a lightweight, comfortable, wide-brimmed hat.
SWAP YOUR CROPSWITH FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS
Don’t let your summer gluts of fruit and vegetables go to waste. Sharing your excess harvests is a great way to get to know your neighbours or just add a little community spirit. Jars of preserves, flowers and baking are always appreciated too.
Carrots must be sown directly where you want them to grow (rather than in seed trays) as, like all roots crops, they resent being transplanted. It’s essential that they have deep, lump-free soil to grow in and don’t sow carrots in compost-rich soil or where manure has recently been dug in as that causes forked roots. Carrot seed is very fine so take your time carefully sowing the seed. Try not to sow it too thick, as you’ll need to thin out the seedlings later. And if you have cats, you’ll need to cover the seed row to stop them digging the seeds up before they sprout. Use bird netting or get a 30cm wide piece of chicken wire, as long as your row, and bend it in half to make a triangular-shaped cover to lay over the top. Sow carrots between rows of onions to help confuse the carrot rust fly, which is attracted to the smell of carrot foliage.
PICK TOMATOES DAILY
Make sure all your tomato plants get a consistent supply of water while the fruit is developing. Too much water and the skins will split or the plants will develop blossom end rot (brown patches at the base); too little and they’ll fail to develop at all.
Feed your tomatoes with liquid food every week if possible for the best crops. You might notice that the oldest leaves on your tomatoes (the ones at the bottom) are starting to turn yellow and look unhealthy.
Don’t panic. Just use a sharp, clean pair of secateurs to snip them off. Removing the lower leaves also lets sunlight in to ripen the fruit and improves air circulation around your plants, reducing the risk of blight. Don’t take off too much foliage though. If tomatoes are fully exposed to the sun, their skins can burn (resulting in sun scald).
Sow another crop of beans and salad greens (beans pic). Sow annual herbs like Italian parsley, coriander and basil every fortnight too. That way you’ll have a constant supply right through summer and well into autumn.