Asparagus is one of the first crops of the year to emerge, helping to fill the shortage of crops that can be harvested between winter and April. Although takes a while to establish an asparagus bed it requires little maintenance and can produce delicious spears for more than twenty years. Freshly cut asparagus is much sweeter, tenderer and generally superior to that bought in a supermarket.
To plant asparagus, dug a trench 20cm (8”) deep with a slight ridge in the middle. Lay asparagus crowns over the mound, at a distance of 45cm (18”) with the roots laying over the side. Then cover the crowns with a layer of soil to a depth of 5-10cm (2-4”), and then backfill the trench adding plenty of compost and/or manure – this will act as a mulch, keeping the roots moist and helping to control weeds.
The asparagus tips should begin to emerge quite quickly but resist the urge to pick them for the first two years which would weaken the plant and reduce future crops. In the first autumn cut the ferns back to a height of 5cm (2”) the ferns when they turn yellow-brown, and cover with a good layer of mulch.
In the meantime keep the ground weed free but do not hoe (this can damage the tender roots just below the surface). Also remove and destroy any asparagus beetles from the plants – these tend to emerge in warm weather.
Repeat this the following autumn and begin harvest the following spring. To harvest cut the asparagus spears below the surface when they are no more than 20cm (8”) tall.
Broad beans can be planted from October through to February, but the earlier they go in the better the crop is likely to be, but spring sown crops will produce only a few weeks later than overwintered plants – so if you haven’t planted yet there is still plenty of time. Their early flowers attract insects so they will help to pollinate other crops.
Plant in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter dug in.
Seeds should be planted 50mm (2”) deep, 20cm (8”) apart in rows that are 60cm (2’) apart to allow air to circulate around the established plants (road beans are susceptible to chocolate spot in cool, damp weather. Water every two weeks during dry weather. Beware of slug/snail damage when the plants begin to emerge. If your plot is exposed then the compact shape of dwarf varieties will protect them from the wind.
‘Pinching out’ the tops of plants regularly has two benefits: it encourages pod growth (rather than foliage); and it encourages fewer blackfly which are attracted to younger, sappier leaves.
The beans should be picked (from around May) by pulling the pods sharply downwards and are ripe when the beans within are about the size of the top joint of a finger. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads.
Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and the process of preparing the ground and growing potatoes helps to break up the soil. By now, seed potatoes should be well chitted – with several short, plump roots sprouting from their ‘eyes’.
Before planting them, ensure that some well-rotted compost or manure has been dug in. The potatoes should be planted in ‘V’ shaped trenches at least 12cm (5”) deep. Trenches should be at least 30cm (12”) apart for early varieties, 37cm (15”) for maincrop varieties.
When to plant and harvest:
Water the potatoes during dry weather and apply a liquid feed every few weeks to increase the yield and the quality of tubors. As soon as the green shoots start to appear, earth up to cover the stems with a ridge that is ~15cm (6”) high – this is stop light reaching the potatoes.
Forced rhubarb, also known as ‘Champagne rhubarb’, is much sweeter and tenderer than ‘normal’ rhubarb and is easy grow. Encourage early growth by covering an established rhubarb plant with a few handfuls of straw over the rhubarb ‘crown’ and place an inverted bin (if you don’t have a rhubarb forcer) to encourage earlier growth.
The above method raises the temperature around the plant and the absence of light stimulates early growth.
The process is associated with an area in West Yorkshire known as the rhubarb triangle, and produces a paler crop, with thinner stems and a higher sugar concentration. The stems grow upwards within the cover and should be harvested when they are 200-300mm (8-12”) long.
And it’s all the better for being available at a time of year when there is precious little fresh fruit around.
Squashes are nutritious, delicious and attractive. They also offer a wide variety to choose from.
Most of us grow our plants from seed – it can be a challenge but it’s the cheapest and most rewarding method. The following tips can give your plants a head start and valuable extra days’ growth.
Plant seeds during April in approximately 1cm deep in rich compost and allow to germinate in a warm place. Keeping them above 15⁰C should result in seedlings after 10-14 days which will be ready to harden off towards the end of May. Meanwhile prepare their beds by removing all weeds and large stones and fork in well-rotted manure/compost and a handful of slow release fertiliser – squashes are ‘hungry’ vegetables.
Plant during warm weather and place them at least 60cm apart (1m for trailing varieties). Water sparingly during the first few weeks as young plants are prone to rot. Gradually increase the amount of water as the plant grow.
Pinch out when the stems reach 60cm (usually around the height of summer) and, if there are more than 5-6 fruit on each plant pick off the excess to encourage growth. As the fruits grow raise them above the ground to prevent damage through mould and pests.
Unlike most crops, which are pollinated by insects or birds, sweetcorn is pollinated by the wind. For this reason, sweetcorn should not be planted in lines, but in blocks so that there is a chance of pollination regardless of wind direction.
Pollen is produced by the male "tassels" at the top of each plant. Below these are the female "silks" which catch fallen / wind-blown pollen.
Sweetcorn can be sown indoors from April but should not be planted out until there is no risk of frost - usually around early June. They should be planted 45-60cm (12 - 18") apart. As they grow during the height of summer They require regular watering, especially when the cobs are fattening up.
They are ready to harvest when the tassels turn brown when, if you peel back the husk the kernels produce a milky juice when squeezed. They lose sweetness from the moment they are picked so try and cook them as quickly as possible after harvesting,