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Gardening: Sprout time for pruning; FRUIT 'N VEG JOBS.

Byline: STEVE RICHES

THE nights have drawn in - but that's no excuse to stop bringing on your fruit and veg.

There's still enough daylight to put in some effort to get the best out of them - and the rewards when they reach your dinner table will be worth it.

Brussels sprouts should be showing up nicely by now. They'll be great in those stir-fries - don't you dare boil them.

But the buttons may need a boost and a drop of the hard stuff, like Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food, should do the job. Apply it when the weather is mildish and the ground damp.

While you're at it treat winter cabbages, too. And if you have sprouting broccoli over-wintering, make sure the plants are firmly staked.

Frost is great for parsnips, so gently lift a few of their roots and wait for nature turn their supplies of starch into sugar and give you the best of sweet roast accompaniments.

Fruit fans with gooseberry and currant bushes should be busy. Chop out branches that are arched groundwards and gently prune back higher branches.

For currants, the plan is to reduce the plant by a quarter each year so all the old growth is replaced by new.

For gooseberries, pruning is designed to boost shoots along main branches, so cut back new growth by two-thirds.

If you haven't got a gooseberry bush, plant one now. Whinams Industry is a great variety which likes full sun but is happy in cooler areas. It's ideal in the north of England, as long as the soil is well-drained and of medium weight.

Rhubarb is so underrated. And it needn't be just a spring treat. Lift a crown now and leave it on the surface until mid-December. Then put it in damp compost, tuck it away in the garage or shed and when new shoots appear cover with a box and black polythene. In January you'll have juicy pink stems to use in pies.

-HERBS are a going concern as well. Make sure sage is in a sheltered position and you can pick leaves all winter. Rosemary won't let you down, either. Just clip off any manky-looking bits. Ditto with oregano. Bay is more reliable than anything else and you can't do a casserole without it. Nor can you ignore parsley, the flat-leafed Italian and French ones outperform our curly-wurlies.

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JUICY TREAT: Gooseberries
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 16, 2003
Words:399
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