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The right way to chit seed potatoes ready for a summer harvest

I have a several sorts of early potatoes from Thompson & Morgan (, the Suffolk-based seed company that have been supplying the nation’s gardens since 1855.

They include first earlies Vales Emerald (great for salads), Casablanca (good boilers), Lady Christi (firm), Swift (fast growing) and Rocket (disease resistant), plus second earlies Gemson (outstanding flavour) and Athlete (launched for the 2012 Olympic Games).

Strictly speaking, my first earlies must have been planted in late February, and my second earlies have to go in now – but both could be planted any time up until May so there’s little need to get stressed.

And there’s no point in planting potatoes in waterlogged, cold, soil because they are going to just rot away.

The good thing about planting once possible, though, is that first earlies only take 10 weeks to be ready for harvest – when British new potatoes are eye-wateringly expensive in supermarkets – and second earlies only take 13 weeks.

There also are early maincrop and maincrop potatoes, which take 15 and 20 weeks respectively to be capable of harvest, and the benefit of growing both earlies and maincrop is that you would be able to be digging up delicious home-grown offerings from May until October

Chitting your seed potatoes is easy: you simply place them in seed trays or carefully saved egg cartons, with the roses – or pinpricks of buds – on the top.

Keep them in a dry, frost-free place with numerous sunlight in order that the buds start sprouting, and when these are a few half an inch or an inch long (about 2cm) it’s time to plant them out – preferably before the seed potatoes get too wrinkly.

You can either dig a trench and plant each potato, with its shoots pointing up, about six inches deep (15cm); otherwise you can dig individual holes with a trowel, or simply push a large dibber into the soil to make a hole (i take advantage of the handle from a broken spade so I don’t need to bend down an excessive amount of).

If you’re planting several rows, ensure there’s in any case two spade’s breadth between each row, because once the potatoes begin to grow it is advisable to earth up – in other words cover the shoots with soil to give protection to them from frost.

Using the soil between the rows helps to create neat ridges, and you’ll walk at the ground in between.

Of course, that’s just the manner I do it.

Many people grow them in special growing bags, that’s an ideal way to do it in case you don’t have much space, click play above to observe a video from Thompson & Morgan on tips to do exactly that

What to do inside the garden: Rearrange your indoor plants and cut well-budded stems

CUT well-budded stems of witch hazel, winter jasmine and other winter-flowering shrubs a couple of days before that you have to use them in arrangements.

Rearrange indoor plants after freshening up the foliage, and clean or replace ageing pot covers. Buy seasonal pot plants for the run-as much as Christmas. 

Stock up on loads of pots of unpolluted herbs from supermarkets once you haven’t grown your personal from seed indoors.

Weird but wonderful: Alan Titchmarsh on growing unusual veggies

When you’ve grown an identical favourite vegetables, salads and herbs for several years, why not escape and check out something more strange? Don’t overdo it – just try a number of novelties each season other than replacing your old faithfuls entirely, sowing a brief row or a container or two at the patio. Besides opening up new culinary experiences, unusual veggies make great conversation pieces when friends visit in the course of the growing season. You’ll find seeds of a few varieties at the racks on the garden centre, and a much broader range in seed catalogues – especially Chiltern Seeds, The Organic Gardening Catalogue and James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution at Suttons Seeds (full range online only: 


These are round, white, green or purple “roots”, that are actually the swollen stem bases of a brief, squat brassica plant with glaucous leaves. Sow the seeds from April to mid-July where they’re to grow, and skinny the seedlings out – don’t transplant them. Harvest them at tennis-ball size in summer to grate raw in salads or home-made coleslaw, or slice very thinly as raw veg “crisps”. 

Asparagus peas

These are attractive, knee-high plants with curious, four-flanged, frilly-edged pods that follow bright-red pea flowers. Dense and compact, they enjoy a warm spot, perhaps at the patio. Sow in tubs in late May, and pick pods while small and tender at one inch long in July and August. Steam or stir-fry whole. 


Sometimes called stump-rooted celery, these plants produce large spherical “roots” that grow half above ground on the base in their stems. Sow now on a warm windowsill indoors, prick out the seedlings at an inch high into small individual pots, and keep at 55-60°F until April (they “bolt” if given any type of check, so keep them at a gradual temperature and water carefully so that they never dry out or drown). Then gently harden off and plant outside in May, feeding and watering regularly to make certain steady growth. Start digging roots as needed from September onwards, leaving remainder within the ground to maintain growing – they are going to stay there happily until March if the bottom isn’t saturated.

Dahlia yams

Originally an Aztec root vegetable – it’s the ancestor of today’s decorative dahlias – these tubers taste like small sweet potatoes but are more easily grown in our climate. Sow once possible indoors, prick out, pot up and plant out from late May onwards, then harvest the roots in late autumn. Peel and use as sweet potatoes. They’re available from James Wong at Suttons.


This unusual, cucumber-like vine produces large crops of bite-sized baby melons that taste of cucumber with a touch of lime – perfect for salads, picnics, lunchboxes and cocktail snacks. Grow from seed within the same way as cucumbers, then plant in tubs on a warm, sheltered patio. Train up trellis or grow under cover, again as you will a cucumber plant. Pick the fruit after they are grape-sized, in the course of the summer. Also available from James Wong at Suttons. 


This Andean plant (Oxalis tuberosa) has typical oxalis leaves and lots more and plenty of small pink or white underground tubers you could eat raw in salads or as snacks, or cooked like new potatoes. Plant starter tubers in pots and begin on a windowsill indoors, then plant out into tubs on a warm, sheltered patio in late May. Harvest within the same way as potatoes, in November/December, and save a couple of tubers for replanting next year. They’re available from Thompson & Morgan.

New Zealand spinach

A low, floppy, ground-covering plant with thick, fleshy leaves, this tastes similar to conventional spinach when cooked. It’s a frost-tender plant, so sow it in May, in a row within the veg patch or in a container at the patio. Pick individual leaves once the plants are sufficiently big. An identical plants crop continuously without bolting, even in a hot, dry summer (unlike real spinach), and continue into the fall (cover with cloches or fleece to increase the season). Self-sown seeds may germinate all alone the next year – transplant the seedlings into tubs or rows while they’re still small. New Zealand spinach is accessible from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.  

Pulmonaria (lungwort) 

Perhaps one of the best known kind of this short, early-flowering perennial is Pulmonaria officinalis, which flowers in a month or so’s time. But blooming now are two attractively compact semi-evergreens: Pulmonaria rubra and its cultivars (mostly with terracotta-pink to red flowers and plain green leaves), and Pulmonaria saccharata (pink to purplish red or proper purple flowers and silver-spotted or almost entirely silvery-grey leaves).

Bed of roses: Alan Titchmarsh on growing flower beds on your garden

There are only a few last chances in gardening. Generally speaking things will catch up in case you are late planting them, but at the present of year there’s a have to decide to the floor those plants dug up from nursery rows while dormant and planted bare-root – with out a soil clinging to them.

When container-grown plants first came to prominence inside the early 1960s, the necessity to plant trees, shrubs and roses within the dormant season between November and March was alleviated. With their roots safely established in a container – often a polythene bag or a catering-sized tomato can – plants may be safely transplanted at any time of year. This meant the planting season was extended through the full one year of the year and bare-root planting became less popular.

This is a brilliant situation in case you are creating a garden in June or July. You could produce instant effect by planting a container-grown rose. 

But if you’re planting in those five months of reliable dormancy (which might be now coming to an end) you’ll often be going to unnecessary expense by planting stuff that were cherished in containers and, by virtue of the labour all for their production, would cost you considerably extra cash.

I am not suggesting you don’t have any truck with container-grown trees, shrubs and roses; faraway from it. They have got transformed gardening, and our gardens could be the poorer without them. But at the present of year, with a purpose to plant roses, shrubs or small trees, they’re going to all transplant very happily within the bare-root state. Hedging plants, mainly, represent much better value for money (often a question of pence) when bought as young bare-root plants. And in the event you have 

a longer term of hedging to plant, they are going to have a less deleterious effect in your bank balance.

Roses have always established rapidly when dug up in autumn, winter and early spring and replanted in decent soil enriched with a generous helping of well-rotted manure or compost. So it kind of feels sad that more gardeners don’t avail themselves in their adaptability and save several pounds in so doing.

So go searching your garden for any gaps and be happy to plug them with trees, shrubs and roses which have been dug up over the past few weeks. If the roots are trimmed (removing long and straggly ends) and they’re soaked in a bucket of water overnight, they’ll romp away in the course of the following couple of months and you’ll spend the cash you save on other garden beauties.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and each day within the Daily Express. For additional information on his range of gardening products, visit

Amazing Amaryllis: These easy-care flowers are ideal for brightening your garden

IN SPRING and summer that will not be hard to reach but today of year it’s a tall order. That’s where hippeastrums are available in.

Amaryllis is their other name and so they produce flowers of tremendous spectacle from fat and dormant bulbs with little or no trouble. The sole difficulty you could encounter is that if you’re too handy with the watering can… but let me begin in the beginning.

You may find the bulbs now – loose or in cardboard boxes – at your local nursery or garden centre. You will even discover them in hardware stores, sitting there fat and promising, just waiting to grow.

Choose the most important, fattest, hardest bulbs you could find – a gradual squeeze will assure you in their firmness but don’t start digging your nails in. Take them home and provides them each a 5in flowerpot of John Innes No.2 potting compost.

Plant so the highest half the bulb is visible above the compost, burying just the base couple of inches.

Moisten the compost before you pot up the bulbs and you’ll not have to apply water until the flower spike is obvious of the bulb. Give an excessive amount of water within the early stages and you’ll find the bulb tends to provide leaves in place of flowers.

Moist compost from the outset offers enough encouragement for the flower to push up out of the bulb, leaving the foliage behind. Because it extends, apply water cautiously; the compost should not be soggy.

Eventually the flower cluster will open on the top of the sturdy stalk – trumpet-shaped blooms of white, pink, scarlet or crimson, often striped in a contrasting shade. They’re wonderful plants for a windowsill and great for encouraging children on the subject of growing things.

As the flowers fade and the strap-shaped leaves start to unfurl, you can start to water more readily. Apply liquid tomato feed once every week from April to July or August when watering should cease and the bulb be allowed to dry out.

When the foliage has withered, cut it of just above the tip of the bulb and knock away the entire compost. A month or two in a warm, dry place akin to the displaying cupboard, can help initiate next year’s flowers, then the complete process can begin again whenever you pot up the bulb in late autumn or early winter. Neat eh?

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and each day within the Daily Express. For more info on his range of gardening products, visit



Winter warmers: Clean your gutters, fix your shed and protect garden furniture

 KEEP on top of those, and you’ll save yourself no end of time and cash in the course of the remainder of the year. 

Gutters, downpipes and drains

EVERY gardener deserves a couple of weeks’ rest on the end of the growing season – time to mull over next year’s seed catalogues by a roaring fire – but now it’s time for all those routine maintenance jobs.

As soon because the last leaves have fallen, clean out your guttering. If downpipes discharge into an out of doors drain, clean debris from the grating so it won’t overflow in a downpour and flood the trail.

Water butts

Now is the time to drain these and clean them out. Scrub the within to take away any algae, and rinse with greenhouse disinfectant followed by plain water. In case you do the job now, there’s quite a lot of time for butts to refill over winter. 

Cover butts with lids to maintain stored water clean. As one other precaution, especially for rainwater that you’ll use for watering delicate seedlings in spring, add a biological additive comparable to Refresh. When cleaning out a greenhouse water butt, clean the glass roof too, in order that water running off it stays free from dust, seeds and bird droppings.

Sheds and fences

Check the state of the roofing felt on top of the shed. Use pressure-treated timber battens to mend down loose edges, and replace the felt entirely if it’s torn and not waterproof (otherwise the roof timbers will soon begin to rot). Choose a dry weekend to color all exposed timber, including fencing and decking, with an appropriate wood preservative product. 

Outdoor furniture

Plastic tables and seats often discolour as a result of long-term exposure to light, or they become stained by algae if left outside. If there’s nowhere else to store them, stack them and canopy with a tarpaulin or heavy-duty plastic sheet, well tied down.

Hardwood furniture that’s intended to be left outside all year round keeps its colour if treated with a proper product (see the maker’s instructions or look them up online if you’ve lost the unique leaflet). Teak oils and similar products take a very long time to soak in thoroughly, and that they leave a residue which may mark clothes. Apply them now so that they are fully absorbed before you need to use the furniture again.

Painted metal furniture eventually starts to flake, and the nooks and crannies trap dirt and algae, so that they start to look tatty after several seasons outside. Clean them up outdoor with a bathing-up brush (an old toothbrush is sweet for the fiddly bits), then wash down well with warm, soapy water. When dry, take them inside a workshop, lay quite a lot of old newspaper down, and respray using spray paint intended for outside use on metal work. Two coats might be had to cover them well. Don’t return them outside until they’re thoroughly dry.

Resin furniture could be left outside all year round, but be mindful that seats with rattan-style textures can trap dirt and algae so it’s wise to hide them if they’re going to spend the winter outdoors. Simply wash them down with warm soapy water and a soft brush before the beginning of the subsequent sitting-out season. 

Better still, bring good-quality furniture into the conservatory. Then you definitely can sit there on chilly winter days and plan all of the jobs you’ll be doing inside the garden next spring. 

Out & About: Free entry in any respect four RHS gardens

Just download a voucher at the RHS website and luxuriate in the spring flowers with friends and family.

You can see the Butterflies Within the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley, in Surrey, in addition to masses of crocuses and the last of the snowdrops.

At Rosemoor in Devon the already colourful Winter Garden should shine within the spring sunshine, and over the weekend there’ll be a Spring Antiques And Collectables Fair there.

Hyde Hall in Essex has daffodils galore – including a stunning display of the Tenby daffodil Narcissus obvallaris – while its Robinson Garden is filled with hellebores.

In Yorhshire’s Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, the revamped heather beds are looking superb, with snowdrops, crocuses and iris reticulata also on show.

The RHS was formed during a gathering of just seven men in March 1804 at Hatchards Bookshop in Piccadilly. Now it has a membership of 410,000.

Originally referred to as the Horticultural Society of London, it held its first flower show at its gardens in Chiswick in June 1827, where there has been “a really unpolite and ungallant scramble for the pines fruits (pineapples), melons, grapes etc”.

It is partly owing to the RHS that our national drink is tea: RHS plant hunter Robert Fortune was the primary man to take tea seeds and cultivation tips from China to India to aid establish the primary tea plantations there.

And during World War One British prisoners in a civilian internment camp near Berlin install a horticultural society supported by the RHS, which sent seeds and advice to the internees who grew vegetables to supplement their camp rations in the course of the war.

Now the RHS is investing £27million in projects that will enable it to involve, educate and encourage millions more gardeners within the country.

Happy birthday RHS!
For free RHS Gardens tickets visit

Out & About: See Alnwick Garden’s new winter lights

The Duchess of Alnwick officially switched at the lightshow on Thursday night and it’ll transform dark evenings right into a stunning light show.

It is a fitting addition to at least one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary gardens, that is known for its Poison Garden and for having the world’s largest tree house, in addition to a bamboo maze, walled garden and an impressive Grand Cascade water feature.

From this weekend there’ll even be the garden’s first festive market, organised by the team behind Edinburgh’s Christmas market, and family fun on the Big Winter Adventure inclusive of workshops and activities similar to a trail throughout the gardens to listen to stories from Jack Frost.

Every weekend from December to March you can too join a tremendous Lazy Adventure, a walk throughout the grounds followed by all-day breakfasts on the Pavilion Cafe.

The café is usually definitely the right place to view the flicker Two lights, designed by Chris Thornton, the guy behind the lights in Sloane Square in Chelsea, London.

They should be on every evening from November 24 to January 5, 4pm to 7pm.

For information regarding opening times and costs visit or call 01665 511080.

Tried & Tested: The basic guide to keeping bees

So it’s no wonder that gardeners are particularly interested by ensuring that bees are kept happy, by planting enticing pollen-heavy flowers and plants.

Many have gone one step further, however, and feature started keeping bee colonies to encourage them much more.

Among them is TV Gardener Charlie Dimmock, who’s introduced to beekeeping by the Surrey Beekeeper James Dearsley in a DVD from The perfect Life Collection called The basic Guide To Keeping Bees.

James’s down-to-earth explanations about how bee colonies work makes this £14.99 DVD a valid investment for anybody toying with the premise of maintaining to 50,000 bees on the bottom in their garden.

Sitting Charlie down with a mug of tea James tells her how important it’s miles to grasp how the hive all works together as a unit.

The queen bee is just an egg-laying machine; the few drone bees are only there to mate along with her and the employee bees are “the brains of the colony”.

Among the employee bees are guards who keep out predators that attempt to steal the hive’s honey; house bees who feed the young and clean every cell once a bee has emerged, ready for the queen to put another egg, after which there are the foragers who’re the bees that we see collecting nectar.

It is fascinating stuff, particularly the lifecycle: worker bees work themselves to death within about six weeks in the summertime, but they are able to also stage a hive revolution and dethrone the queen in the event that they get uninterested together with her.

Bees take about three days to hatch from their eggs into grubs for four or five days before they emerge fully formed, but when the employee bees commit to feed the grub on royal honey they convey a brand new queen – after which there’s a right royal ding dong within the shape of a swarm.

“It’s imperative to grasp the lifecyle,” James tells Charlie. “All the bees emerge from their cells at different times and also you want to know the lifecycle to work with them once they wish to swarm.”

A queen bee takes 16 days to emerge – and their cells will be identified because they’re capped. A worker takes 21 days to emerge and drones take 24 days.

“You know when the bees are going to swarm since you will see a queen cell that protrudes from the cell and also you see the royal jelly but they cap the cell at day eight – that’s when the old queen leaves and takes half the colony and a few honey along with her to form a brand new colony elsewhere,” explains James.

I didn’t realise beekeeping was such a lot fun, but it surely needs diligence and care too and this DVD takes you thru everything you ought to know to evaluate whether you’re right for beekeeping.

James shows Charlie the equipment and clothing you will have, explains the best way to get a colony and the way to tend it properly.

Most importantly, the DVD tells you the way to gather your honey. i used to be hooked.

The only problem is the base of our garden is already in use and that i don’t think the kids are able to give it up their trampoline yet.

Mind you, they’re always saying they would like some new pets…
• The Ideal Life Choice of DVDs includes Essential Guides on beekeeping, keeping chickens, wine tasting and painting portraits and price £14.99 each. For info on stockists visit

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