Home' Northern Outlook : March 23rd 2013 Contents 10 NORTHERN OUTLOOK, MARCH 23, 2013
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Dig and store potatoes
Autumn means taking
action with leaf piles
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Main crop spuds, such as the
ever-popular Agria, are
ready to dig for winter
storage when their leafy tops have
died down completely. By then the
skins will have cured and hardened,
so they'll keep well.
How can you tell?
Test by scraping the tubers with
your fingernail: if the papery skin
comes off easily, like a new season's
Jersey Benne, your spuds need more
curing time in the soil.
Harvest spuds with a large garden
fork and push it into the soil at least
30cm out from the main stem to
reduce the risk of impaling the
Eat any accidental stabbing vic-
tims or blemished tubers first
because they won't keep.
Brush off any loose soil and store
in a paper bag or sack in a dry, dark
place, as exposure to the light turns
the tubers green.
If summer's drought has seen aut-
umn arrive early in your neck of the
woods, start raking up the first fal-
len leaves now. Pile them into your
compost heap or make mountains of
To make leaf mould, just stuff fal-
len leaves into black garbage bags,
puncture a few holes for ventilation
and, if the leaves are very dry, add a
squirt of water. Tie off the tops of the
bags and bung them behind your
garden shed until late spring or sum-
mer, by which time they should be
nice and crumbly. Dig into sandy or
clay soils to improve their structure,
or lay it on thick as mulch.
Prune back summer flowering
shrubs that have finished blooming,
and give scruffy herbs and peren-
nials a haircut.
Want free plants? Now's the time to
save your own seeds from annual
crops and flowers, and take cuttings
from your favourite roses and
Dip the cut ends of your cuttings
into rooting hormone -- or try
manuka honey -- and poke into pots
of potting mix. Keep moist and keep
your fingers crossed that, come
spring, they'll have grown roots and
be ready to plant out or grow on.
Sow cover crops. Also known as
green manure crops or living
mulches, cover crops are the best
way to fill any empty beds that are
surplus to your requirements over
winter. By sowing green crops -- try
blue lupins, mustard, oats, broad
beans or phacelia -- you reduce soil
erosion in heavy rain, provide a habi-
tat for beneficial bugs and produce
oodles of nitrogen-rich material to
dig into your soil.
Sweeten your soil. If you have
acidic soil or you've had problems
with clubroot in your brassicas this
year, dig in dolomite lime now.
Sprinkle it over the soil and fork it
in. Let the soil settle for a few weeks
Order seeds to sow. Been waiting
impatiently for the drought to break,
so you can crack on with your winter
planting? Indulge in a little retail
therapy and sow in trays to trans-
plant later on.
THIN WINTER LEEKS
Thin leek seedlings to 4-5cm apart.
It's too late to sow seed now, but you
can still plant punnets of seedlings
from the garden centre, although
they won't fatten up until spring.
Treat leeks -- and other cold
weather crops such as celeriac and
brassicas -- to a weekly dose of liquid
fertiliser, so they grow quickly while
the weather's still warm.
START A COMPOST HEAP
Autumn's an excellent time to start a
compost heap because of all those
The basic rule of composting is
equal quantities of carbon-rich
brown stuff (fallen leaves, twigs,
mulched branches) and nitrogen-rich
green stuff (food scraps, grass clip-
pings, weeds, vege plants).
Locate your compost heap in a
sunny corner of your garden, as it'll
need all the warmth it can get over
the coming months.
Carrots aren't the fastest crop but
they're definitely worth waiting for.
These veges can tough it out in cold
soil through winter without bolting
to seed or turning hollow or woody.
It's worth sowing a few different
types: try fancy purple heirlooms for
wow factor; baby varieties to add
crunch to salads; or old-timers, like
Manchester Table' for soups and
Like all root crops, carrots should
be sown direct in freedraining, fri-
able soil that's free of lumps and
bumps. Don't scatter seed too thickly
as you'll only have to thin the see-
dlings out later. The seeds will ger-
minate in 14-21 days. Cover the seed
trench with a piece of bent chicken
wire to keep pesky birds and cats off
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