Growing Questions & Answers March 2019

Rather than answer questions directly, often more than once for the same question, I’ll cover them in a monthly post. Feel free to chip in if you’ve a solution for a problem.

If you’ve a question please email me with it. Please give me as much information as possible. Where you are, what your soil is like and what your climate is like all effect things. Photographs are particularly helpful.

Information on Canning (Bottling)

Fred Smithson asks:

Hi John, does your book on How to Store Your Home Grown Produce cover waterbath canning? Thanks Freddie.

The American edition covers canning but the British edition covers bottling. So yes, a rose by any other name and so forth. There’s a full chapter list here: How to Store Your Home Grown Produce

Fruit Bushes & Frost Damage

Vanessa Baker messaged this question:

With the ‘warm spell’ we just had, some of my fruit bushes have started to bud / leaf. If it now gets a lot colder (as it should be) will the low temperatures and/or any frost damage or kill my fruit bushes and canes etc.?

There’s never a guarantee with growing, but I wouldn’t worry unless we get some crazy low temperatures. Even last year with the ‘Beast from the East’ (which sounds like a boxer to me) our blackcurrants and the jostaberry were both starting to bud. We had a brilliant crop later in the year.

Late frosts are a threat with early apples or peaches etc. in blossom. The tree survives but the blossom doesn’t and so no fruit develops. But with fruit bushes, I wouldn’t be concerned at all. You could cover with horticultural fleece if it’s going to be down below zero for a while although I doubt it’s necessary.

Caterpillars in the Brassicas

Lorraine Hill asks:

I grew some broccoli and cauliflower for the first time last year and they grew lovely. But when I went to wash them for cooking, they were full of caterpillars and I could not wash them out. It was a shame as it put me right off eating them and in the end I threw them away, criminal I know.

Butterflies are beautiful but what a problem their caterpillars are. Last year was particularly bad for caterpillars. Happily there are things you can do to control them which I’ve covered here: Brassica Pests & Problems.

There are chemical controls but to be honest, I’d rather eat a caterpillar than some of the insecticides, although pyrethrum is pretty safe. It’s easy enough to deal with the pests organically though.

Growing Brussels Sprouts

Michael Welch sent this short question:

Hallo John, growing Brussels I was always told not to put down manure, just lime, any thoughts?

There’s a lot on the site already about growing brassicas and Brussels sprouts. All the brassicas like a high pH – hence lime – but the leafy ones and particularly Brussels sprouts are hungry crops that it would be difficult to overfeed. See: How to Grow Brussels Sprouts

Planting Tomatoes Deeply

Michael Fairweather wrote:

What a fantastic newsletter this month. I have marked a number of articles for further reading. I have one quick question, I planted my tomatoes peppers and aubergines about 10 days ago. I was planning to repot my tomatoes this weekend after reading your article (what inspiration it has created). I especially like the idea of planting the tomatoes extra deep to collect the extra nutritional content. Should I do the same with the peppers and the aubergines?

Glad to hear you found the newsletter useful, I do my best with it. If you look at the base of a tomato plant’s stem you’ll see little hairs. Once they’re in the soil, they turn into roots which is why transplanting deep is helpful.

I’ve never noticed these root hairs on peppers or aubergines so I don’t think there will be any advantage and possibly it could cause them to rot. It could be an interesting experiment to try though. Perhaps a reader will have tried and pop a comment on below.


Finally Steve Jupp writes:

Thanks for your work to keep us all well informed. I have an allotment on the south coast at Bognor Regis and have just purchased a rotovator. I dug my plot by hand earlier in the year and will continue to do the main dig by hand until I cannot do it any more. Does the use of a rotovator damage the stock of earth worms do the detriment of the plot. I think hand digging will keep down the perennial weeds rather than chop them up to produce more but not sure about worms.

I am going to use the rotovator to produce a tilth for sowing and planting but I cannot find any articles on using a rotovator. Could you do an article on the best practice for the use of rotovators?

There are a couple of articles on the site already that provide information on using a rotavator but it could well be a good idea to write another article on rotavating best practice. In the meantime take a look at My Merry Tiller Rotavator where there are usage instructions near the end. In The Rules of Rotavating there’s more guidance accompanied by some brilliant cartoons

To address the question “Does the use of a rotovator damage the stock of earth worms do the detriment of the plot?”

Obviously rotavating or even just digging will kill some earthworms, although not many. Despite what we used to believe as children, cutting a worm in half does not produce two worms. However, even if cut in half the head end may well survive the experience and regrow a tail!

The thing with worms is they reproduce at a prodigious rate. They will be back up to strength in a couple of weeks as the baby worms hatch out from the cocoons. A worm is sexually mature in three months and can produce three cocoons a week, each including three babies. If the birds didn’t eat some we’d be drowning in worms!

So, yes cultivation will cause a temporary reduction in the worm population but not to the detriment of the plot. Arguably the improved tilth will facilitate the growth of the worms so increasing the population after a few weeks.

Please do not post questions unrelated to the topics in this post in the comments section. You can email them to me and I’ll answer at the end of the month in a new post. If your question is urgent, why not post it on the forum?


Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
One comment on “Growing Questions & Answers March 2019
  1. Rowland Wells says:

    firstly the newsletter I’ve found it very informative that’s helped me more to understanding about growing and other topics that are of interest

    on the question of rotavators [Steve Jupp] I’ve been using rotavators for around fifty years always bought Merry Tillers but have gone with buying a new Viking Tiller there’s no better way to cultivate the ground to get a good tilth after ploughing or digging for planting and seed sowing I use my rotavator to plant my potatoes also cultivate through the crop and then ridge them up that saves a lot of hard work when your getting old bones

    we also bought a baby of the rotavators a mantis just the job for tilling the raised beds and weeding the first cultivator we bought was an iron horse that was a beast to handle never had it very long but wish I had kept it now also have a couple of old tillers in the shed waiting for some TLC

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