Perhaps it’s the flavour of Carrots that came out of the ground only an hour before dinner or the beauty of ripe tomatoes clinging to plants, or dark green Spring Brocolli in a neat row. Whatever the reason, vegetable gardens offer much more than fresh food: they’re fun. It's the little things that you do in January that matter. If the ground is dry enough, rent a rotavator to turn over the soil or get that fork out and do an hour here and an hour there very quickly you will have it clean spick and span. Begin by digging over the soil and incorporating any grass cuttings or old mulch even old used compost helps! A well rotted manure or compost will nourish your soil.
Soil quality is everything in a vegetable garden, 95 percent of the job (if not more) is in preparation of the soil prior to planting. You can get vegetable plants thriving with a little organisation and some TLC with water and and composts but they will not produce the expected crops unless your soil is well-prepared, vegetable plants under the correct conditions will demonstrate explosive growth. Any products that bio degrade are acceptable from old newpaper to grass cutting to garden leaves.
For those of you who already have a veg garden spring broccoli is beginning to sprout now, so keep cropping it for a bountiful harvest. If you are lucky enough to have a polyunnel or glasshouse, you can also sow early lettuce, which will give you a crop in late April / May. Now is the ideal time to plant radishes, fennel, broccoli, sprouting potatoes, early peas and and some hardier salad crops.. Always remember all of this can be done in planters and window boxes and its is often an advantage as you can locate the planters away from frost and in direct sun for you apartment dwellers there is no excuse not to produce early lettuce or potatoes.
No plot? Try pots. You don't have to have a massive garden to grow vegetables. All you need is some sun, some pots and planters and some patience. If you live in an apartment and ,perhaps, don't have access to a garden, fresh, healthful vegetables can be as close as your porch or patio. If you have lots of sun, you can grow your own salad of vegetables with just a few containers.
The plants best suited to grow in containers include lettuce, spinach, parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, green onions and Coriander not forgetting fabulous chives and mint. Plants that fruit such as (tomatoes, peppers) can be a little harder to grow because they need lots of heat. But if you have a large enough container and you apply composts and mulch and water liberally, you can grow tomatoes and other veggies right on your deck, just steps from your dinner table. Never forget a flowerpot full of mulch and compost will produce early Spring Potatoes by late May or early June.
Vegetables are easy to grow, especially if you follow these 10 steps for first-timers:
1. Choose a location in full sun, which means six or more hours per day of direct sun in summer. Producing succulent vegetables takes the sun's energy - especially for fruiting vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes.
2. After you choose your location and or pots and planters prepare the ground with as much compost and mulch as you can dig in, you can never have too much!! Rake over the ground to ensure its weed free and leave the frost to breakdown the soil..
3. For all growers whether apartment or garden most if not all seed are better planted into containers with the exception of Carrots, Parsnips and rooted seeds. Generally Lettuce is sown every two to three weeks to produce a succession of crops.
4. Once the seeds have sprouted anything from 3 days in a warm sheltered spot to three weeks you should expose them to sunlight under shelter and always avoid frost.
5. As the plants grow and develop true leaves you can consider planting them out in a your chosen spot. Provided the weather is good.
We will guide you through the next stages over the coming weeks and months.
6. remember all vegetable gardens benefit from flowers as biological pest control so given the chance start some Nasturtium seeds in pots. Not only do they bring pollinating insects but the flowers and leaves are edible and delicious.
7. As cut flowers on the edge opf the garden nothing beats Sweet pea. These stunning plants are easily grown in pots and now is the perect moment to set some seed. If you do anything in the garden this Spring sow some seet pea.
8. Care for and water your seedlings as the work you do now is for the coming Spring and Summer and generally cannot be redone.
Of all the succulent summer fruits that dribble down our chins, peaches are the juciest. Some summers, peaches at the market can be great. Other years, well, you could build a rock wall with the fruits pretending to be ripe. And they won't ripen sweet off the tree. So my advice is to grow your own. A good variety is peregrine. This super sweet fruit is easily grown against a warm sunny wall near the coast or, as in my case, in a poly-tunnel or glasshouse.
A peach is like a handful of sunshine in a tennis ball- sized package. But the season is short, peaking in July and August. So if you like them, now is the time to get planting. Of course, there are always frozen and canned peaches, but like most fruits and vegetables, nothing beats the flavour and nutrition of home-grown. For me , the taste of a peach announces that summer has arrived.
Peaches weigh in as the Western world's most sensuous fruit. Plump, juicy, succulent and sun-kissed, they arrive from the middle to the end of our Irish summer, offering us a fix of fragrant desserts, spicy jams and comforting pies. Impressionist artists like Cezanne, Monet and Renoir adored the fruit's sense-assaulting appeal, painting the peach in dazzling light and shadow - such is its enduring appeal.
I grew my first batch in 1995 ,that warm beautiful summer, and the young trees produced on average 40-60 on each tree. The sun shone from early April and temperatures exploded. By early August they were ripening fast to a sticky sweet luscious and juicy perfection. When I think back to how great that first crop tasted, it re-inspires me.
So anyone wishing to grow these wonders now is your time! Contact any good garden centre and order two or three espalier plants at a max of 45-55 euros. A semi vigorous rootstock helps. Prepare the ground in a good sunny-hot position lots of compost and leaf mould in the ground and plant in and up to the previous planting mark and make sure to water well.
As soon as the flowers appear from early to late march onwards open the doors of the tunnel or glasshouse and allow the bumblebees and honeybees to pollinate. These peaches are self fertile but failing that hand pollinate on sunny warm days with a little paintbrush - a little tip I've picked up in my 20 years working as as a landscape and garden designer. Apart from that keep watering, keep feeding and watch those perfect fruits develop.
The really amazing and wonderful part is that if you are prepared to wait for a year or two both fruits can be grown from seed very easily and will fruit within three years four at most. Follow the same culture as outlined above but next time you eat a really great fruit plant the seed in a small pot of compost and water from the base. Nine times out of ten times they will sprout...
AS the weather gets colder your plants will need TLC until spring rolls around again. My tips on keeping your garden happy this season
It is easy to write off January as a dark and dismal month. But while it is fair to say that the evenings are pretty dire, the mornings can be crisp and clear - and as the days gradually grow longer, there's plenty to be getting on with as you look forward to the start of the growing season.
Spring will soon be here and for those just itching to get out there and tidy after the festive season, here are some tips to help you make the most of the longer days and look forward to a garden to be proud of for the coming year.
JANUARY CLEAN UP
Have a tidy round the garden, brushing off lawns, sweeping paths and tickling the soil between spring bedding plants with a long-handled hand fork. Prune down dead and dry stems and remove weeds by hand. Don't worry about a handful of leaves here or there. Worms will emerge at night to feed on fallen leaves and other decaying plant matter, pulling them under the soil where they will help fertilise your plants.
EAT WHAT YOU SOW
Perhaps it’s the flavour of carrots that came out of the ground only an hour before dinner or the beauty of ripe tomatoes clinging to plants, or dark green spinach in a neat row. Whatever the reason, vegetable gardens offer much more than fresh food: they’re fun. It's the little things that you do in January that matter. If the ground is dry enough, rent a rotavator to turn over the soil, or incorporate a well rotted mature to nourish your soil.
Your spring broccoli is beginning to sprout now, so keep cropping it for a bountiful harvest. If you are lucky enough to have a poly tunnel or glasshouse, you can also sow early lettuce, which will give you a crop in late April / May. Now is the ideal time to plant radishes, fennel, broccoli, sprouting potatoes, early peas and pakchoi.
COMING UP ROSES
Most roses need pruning to remain healthy, encourage growth, prevent disease and improve air circulation. Start by slowly opening up the center of the bloom, removing wilted or rotting petals. Next, prune old flower heads and shorten all strong shoots by about two thirds. Finish up by putting one to two inches of compost at the base of your plant.
LOW DOWN ON LAWNS
January is a great month for lawn management so now is the time to ensure it's going to last through the winter. With a bit of careful work, you can look forward to a lovely, fresh, green carpet in the spring. January is a perfect month to scarify a lawn, it's bloody hard work but, with a little care and effort, it will leave your lawn completely free of moss and weeds.
PRUNING YOUR FRUIT TREES
To ensure an abundance of fruit over many years and maintain a tree's shape, pruning a mature fruit tree is an important part of its annual care. How well you prune it will determine its shape, height, and quality and quantity of fruit. New growth should be reduced by one third and any deadwood removed to avoid disease. Add compost to the bottom layer of the plant to achieve a bountiful harvest.
OUT OF THE COLD
Wrap up all your outdoor pots together with fleece or bubble wrap to protect against frost and keep in a sheltered area of the garden. Bring in frost-tender pot plants. A conservatory or porch is ideal. Reduce watering, but don't let the compost dry out, and feed over the winter.
WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK : Gardeners Checklist