Growers’ question time, March 8

In the first session of the evening, Iain Finlay (Caption Organic), Eva (Changeworks’ master composter programme) and Louisa Evans (Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and Trellis) answered a wide range of questions from the floor.

Read the questions and answers below, and if you have any further questions about the evening visit the Shandon Grow Your Own Yahoo! group.

This evening was organised by the Grow Your Own action group.

What should I grow?

Answer 1: Prepare a small area and grow expensive veg that you can keep picking,
such as herbs, cut-and-come-again leaves and spinach.

Answer 2: Ground-clearing crops such as tatties will prepare the ground and shade the weeds. You can cover the bed in cardboard and poke holes through which to plant the tatties. The cardboard will keep the weeds down and rot into the soil. However, potatoes are cheap to buy and I prefer courgettes; always grow something you like to eat!

Should I make a raised bed?

A raised bed makes the soil warmer. It’s tidier and easier to contain the
soil. You also won’t stand on the soil and compact it. On the other hand, a raised bed takes time to build, and can dry out if you’re not careful.

My front garden is small. What veg could I grow in containers?

Answer 1: Plant what you like to eat. I would try herbs and edible flowers such as

Answer 2: If you have a warm, sunny and sheltered spot, try tomatoes ( start them off indoors just now)

Answer 3: leafy crops are good in full sun but beware – containers dry out very
quickly, you’ll need lots of organic matter in them to retain water.

(Editor’s note: Shandon Food Group has plenty of seeds that you can grow in containers – email Alex to get your free seeds.)

How do I know what type of soil I have?

We don’t have an extreme soil type in this area, so you don’t have to
worry about the type too much – a good guide is to see what’s growing in
your garden already. pH in this area is neutral so you don’t have to worry
about that unless you want to plant things like azaleas. Water-retention is
the key for us in this area and that is improved by adding organic matter –

Can I add eggshells to my compost? Should I dry them in the oven?

Put them in a bag and bash with a rolling pin – no need to dry them

Will eggshells on the soil put off slugs?

I’ve heard this, also coffee grounds around plants have been suggested,
but I’ve seen slugs crawl across copper and they’re supposed to hate that.
My suggestions is – get ducks. Bill Mollison, one of the founders of Permaculture, said that you don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency!

Any suggestions for fruit bushes in small gardens? My rasps grow well but
currants less so and my gooseberries are rubbish.

Answer 1: I suggest that if raps work –
grow rasps!

Answer 2: fruit needs air. Fruit bushes should be pruned into an open goblet shape, but it’s tricky to do. Practice pruning on your gooseberry bush, take a third of it out and if it doesn’t improve get rid of it!

What can I do about cats and their poo?

A: Cover seed beds to keep them off. Try horticultural fleeces, or strings
on sticks.

A: Citrus peel is said to put them off

A: And tiger poo

What is chitting?

This is where you lay your seed potatoes out on a tray in the light until they sprout. You want stubby growth – not long spindly sprouts – and then plant out in April.

You can do this with shop tatties, but seed tatties are guaranteed free from disease.

Can I grow potatoes in a bag?

Yes, it’s very popular now and fun for kids. You will need lots of room for the tatties to grow upwards, lots of water and a good amount of soil. Grow that in a couple of different bags, because if all your tatties are in one bag, any disease will spread to all of them.

Should I grow potatoes in the sun?

Yes – but in a small garden, you’ll never get many. Grow something elshare der to buy, or more expensive, such as tomatoes or herbs.

I’d like to grow comice pears, on a south-facing wall. Should I grow them espaliered? Can I grow good pears in Scotland?

Yes, I have nice pears. Espalier against the wall and buy as a bare root. You can buy these already trained. If you want to pack them in, grow in cordons, but always try to buy bare roots.

It may be too late this year to buy bare roots but I suggest you research properly the variety you want and prepare the soil, even if you have to wait a year.

Remember the wall will act as a wick and draw the water away from the soil so make sure you have loads of organic matter – compost – in the soil.

My damson produced fruit for the first time last year. Should I prune it? It’s maybe 7 or 8 years old, and about 6 foot tall

Prune trees hard when young to get a good framework, but once established, pruning a tree is hard to do well. Just tackle any dead, diseased or damaged branches – the 3 D’s!

How do I deal with Apple scab on a young tree?

Hygiene – clear all infected fallen leaves away and pick off any new infected ones. Then burn them.

The panellists then made suggestions for plants that we could concentrate on

Courgettes: Plant two per pot and germinate inside, somewhere with a nice regular temperature – like you would like yourself. Don’t put outside till May, or even later.

Carrots: Wait until the soil heats up. Carrots like sandy soil – not clay, and carrot fly is a big problem. That’s why carrot growing is best left to farmers – they can grow big fields and the carrot fly just eat the edges!

Spinach: Easy to grow, but it bolts if it gets too hot ( like all leafy veg). so grow and eat quickly. Start off outside when soil is warm.

Leaf beet, perpetual spinach: Lovely, but don’t put in full sun.

lettuces: Grow quickly. Start in a tray or a drill and prick out.

Spring Onions: One of the first crops we can sow. They like the sun and poor soil, like herbs do.

Runner Beans: The more you pick, the more you crop. Wait until the soil is warm – beginning of May – to plant.

Broad beans: sow now. Louisa’s are already in!

If you have any questions or remarks about the evening, visit the Shandon Grow Your Own Yahoo! group.


Food activist, allotmenteer, wordpress theme hacker, LAMP web developer, accessibility practitioner, desktop publisher, numeracy tutor, dad, cyclist.
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