Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Planting Beetroot and Chitting Potatoes

Beetroot is an excellent vegetable which is packed with goodness, so it’s always worth sowing a few. Sow just enough for your needs at monthly intervals for a constant supply. The first sowings can be made under cloches in early March, providing soil temperatures are not below 7C (44F) for harvest in late May or early June; round varieties can be started off in modules in the greenhouse and transplanted later on. Although ‘Bolthardy’ is the traditional variety, ‘Pablo’ is very tasty, ‘Globe 2’ is crisp, sweet and juicy and while ‘Blankoma’ with white roots has a delicious ‘beetroot’ taste and texture.

Now’s the time to cut back late summer and autumn clematis to a strong pair of buds around 30cm of the ground, feed them with slow release general fertiliser then mulch with a good layer of well rotted compost. Leave a ‘mulch free’ space for the new shoots to grow putting a slug proof barrier like grit, in its place. Slugs nibble round the stems causing the shoots to collapse, a symptom which is too often blamed on ‘Clematis Wilt’. Prune ‘Winter Jasmine’ too, cutting out any dead, diseased or dying wood and the shoots that have flowered to within 5cm of the main framework of older wood; finally cut back ‘Dogwoods’ and ‘Willows’ grown for their winter stems to within 5-7.5cm of the base then feed with general fertiliser to encourage new shoots for next autumn’s display. If you are growing them on shallow soils or where re-growth is not vigorous, remove 50% of the stems each year to maintain stem colour and avoid weakening the plant, the pruned stems can be used as material for hardwood cuttings.

Weeds are starting to come into growth and keeping borders weed free will save problems later in the year. At this time of year the soil is often too wet to hoe, so hand weed where possible, standing on a board to distribute your weight over the damp soil, minimising compaction. Pull weeds when they are large enough to handle, before they set seed, a hand fork is invaluable for easing them from the ground, ensuring that taproots do not break to re-grow again later.

The practice of ‘chitting’ or sprouting first or second early potatoes where several shoots are allowed to develop shoots before planting, encourages faster growth and heavier crops. About six weeks before the last frost, in your area put layer of potatoes in a shallow tray or egg box with the ‘rose end’,- where most of the ‘eyes’ or dormant buds are concentrated, facing upwards, in a light cool frost free place to encourage growth. They take about six weeks at 7deg C (45F) to reach 2.5cm (1”) long; before planting out when conditions are favorable. For smaller crops of large potatoes remove all but the three most vigorous shoots; leave all of the shoots for a higher yield of smaller tubers. Plant them when the soil temperature is at least 7deg C (45F), take care not to break the shoots and have horticultural fleece or sheets of newspaper standing by in case of unexpected frosts.

Happy gardening!