Rich har­vest of healthy greens

Alice Spenser-Higgs ex­plains that March is an ex­cit­ing and busy time in the veg­etable gar­den

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IT IS all sys­tems go for plant­ing au­tumn and win­ter veg­gies — all those that like cool grow­ing con­di­tions. At the same time many of the sum­mer veg­gies are com­ing to fruition and there are eggfruit, pep­pers, toma­toes, spinach, beans, cu­cum­ber, mar­rows and squashes to har­vest.

As part of the au­tumn ac­tiv­i­ties Gar­den World in Mul­der­s­drift will be hold­ing their an­nual Au­tumn Har­vest Faire from March 27 to April 11 which in­cludes talks and work­shops on herb and veg­etable gar­den­ing with gar­den­ing ex­perts. There will also be dis­plays of or­ganic and nat­u­ral gar­den­ing prod­ucts in­clud­ing wormeries.

What veg­gies to plant in March Broc­coli, cab­bage, leeks, onions, turnips, peas, radishes, spring onions, beet­root, car­rots, cau­li­flower, Pak-choi, let­tuce, spinach and Swiss chard.

Herbs to plant Herbs sold in pots can be planted out through­out the year. Herbs that can be sown from seed in March are chives, co­rian­der, cal­en­dula, gar­lic and nas­tur­tiums.

Tips for grow­ing root veg­eta­bles Car­rots, beet­root, onions, radishes and turnips love the cooler grow­ing con­di­tions. Al­though each veg­etable has its in­di­vid­ual quirks, the same grow­ing con­di­tions ap­ply: A good depth of soil (30cm) is nec­es­sary, worked over well, the clods bro­ken down and raked free of sticks and stones that could in­ter­fere with the de­vel­op­ment of the roots. Light soil, on the sandy side, is best for root veg­eta­bles; heavy, clayey gar­den soil isn’t re­ally suit­able as it inhibits root/bulb for­ma­tion. Make heavy soil more fri­able by dig­ging in lots of com­post. Root crops also don’t like soil that con­tains ma­nure or fresh com­post as their tops de­velop at the ex­pense of their roots. A good idea is to plant root crops in beds that were pre­vi­ously en­riched for toma­toes, pota­toes, cab­bages or broc­coli. All that is needed is the ad­di­tion of bone­meal or su­per­phos­phate. Spac­ing is im­por­tant so roots can de­velop. Plants need to be thinned out to the spac­ing rec­om­mended on seed pack­ets. Ger­mi­na­tion rates can vary and the soil should be kept moist, but not sod­den, dur­ing that time. If it is still hot, wa­ter the seed beds once a day. They all do best in a sunny po­si­tion. Healthy broc­coli Broc­coli is the most nu­tri­tion­ally rich of all veg­eta­bles and it helps to pre­vent dif­fer­ent kinds of can­cer and heart dis­ease. It con­tains sig­nif­i­cant amounts of vi­ta­min C, vi­ta­min A (in the form of beta carotene), cal­cium, folic acid, fi­bre and two phy­to­chem­i­cals, of which one, isoth­io­cyanates, in­creases the ac­tiv­ity of a group of en­zymes in our bodies that sup­press can­cer­caus­ing agents. Grow­ing tips This veg­etable is eas­ier and quicker to grow than cab­bage and cau­li­flower. Sow seed di­rectly into beds. Al­low three to four weeks be­tween plant­ings to space the har­vest over time. Space plants at least 50cm apart and rows should be 50 to 60cm apart. This al­lows the large broc­coli head to de­velop and lets air cir­cu­late which pre­vents fun­gus dis­ease. A month af­ter trans­plant­ing and af­ter har­vest­ing the main head, feed with an or­ganic liq­uid fer­tiliser or an or­ganic gran­u­lar fer­tiliser. The main head should be ready for har­vest­ing within six to eight weeks of plant­ing out the seedlings. The heads must be har­vested be­fore the flower buds open (start show­ing yel­low) and are firm and com­pact. Re­move the head with about 15cm of stem. Af­ter re­mov­ing the main head side shoots will de­velop with smaller heads that can also be har­vested when they are firm. A sin­gle plant can pro­duce con­tin­u­ously for up to a month. Broc­coli wilts quickly, so pick just be­fore cook­ing or eat­ing. Store in a sealed plas­tic bag in the fridge for up to four days.

Let­tuce — ideal for small spa­ces Let­tuce is prob­a­bly the most per­fect veg­etable for the small gar­den. It doesn’t take up much room and grows eas­ily, pro­vided it’s planted in rich soil in a sunny spot and wa­tered reg­u­larly. A va­ri­ety with in­ter­est­ing or coloured leaves make su­per bor­ders and bedding plants. The loose leafed va­ri­eties are the most prac­ti­cal be­cause you can har­vest the in­di­vid­ual leaves for up to three months be­fore re­plant­ing. Oth­ers, like the But­ter­head or ice­berg, are picked when the heads form.

Feed monthly with Mar­garet Roberts Or­ganic Su­per­charger. Straw­ber­ries and marigolds are good com­pan­ion plants. Sug­gested va­ri­eties: “Salad Mixed” (a va- ri­ety of loose leafed and crisp let­tuce), “All Year Round” (But­ter­head), “Lollo Rossa” and “Lollo Biondo” (Loose Leafed) “Crunch Bite” (Ice­berg).

Feed the soil Us­ing or­ganic meth­ods is the safest way to grow veg­eta­bles be­cause then you don’t need to spray poi­sons. Soil en­riched with com­post and or­ganic fer­tiliser pro­duces healthy veg­eta­bles that re­sis­tant to dis­ease. Crops can be fed dur­ing their grow­ing sea­son with home­made sup­ple­ments such as liq­uid ma­nure tea or worm tea ex­tracted from wormeries.

Har­vest­ing For the best qual­ity, har­vest veg­gies as soon as they are ripe. Leav­ing them longer on the plant doesn’t im­prove their qual­ity. Snip or twist the fruit off the plant but don’t pull it off as this can dam­age the plant. Fer­til­is­ing when the plants are flow­er­ing and form­ing fruit pro­duces a bet­ter har­vest. Veg­eta­bles such as chillies, egg­plant, and sweet pep­pers drop their flow­ers if they dry out and wilt. The best way to en­joy your veg­etable har­vest is to pick and eat the same day.

If you have an over­sup­ply of veg­eta­bles, blanch and freeze them, mak­ing sure you re­mem­ber to put the date on each packet.

Mixed veg­eta­bles

Mixed veg­eta­bles

Broc­coli

Let­tuce

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