HEALTHY BEETROOT

Start using beetroot as soon as the ’roots’ are large enough. This vegetable can tend to turn tough and stringy if left to stand too long through the winter months. It’s always best to eat beetroot young and full of flavour, even if this means getting less bulk from each plant.

Smaller leaves can be used in salads or wilted in the same way as spinach. Larger leaves can be a bit too tough to eat and they may suffer from leaf spot.

A FEW FLOWERS

All gardeners like a few flowers and there’s a lot to be said for growing bulbs and early blooms under cover. Plants aren’t battered by winter weather, so stems stay upright.

It may be enough to visit the greenhouse and look at narcissi, like ‘Paperwhite’, blooming in December. Or pots can be moved to a location near the house door when buds are about to burst.

SOWING & GROWING TIPS

December isn’t the best month to sow seeds, but a few salad leaves – like rocket and mizuna -are worth a try if you don’t have much growing. Cover rows or pots with bubble wrap.

Seed can rot in cold wet conditions. It’s safest to wait for soil temperature to rise above 5’C (41‘F), at which point germination and growth are more reliable.

Don’t plant fruit trees into frozen ground (yes, this can happen in a greenhouse in a seriously cold winter). Trees can stay in a pot in a shed until things improve.

In mild areas, it’s worth planting one or two early potatoes in the greenhouse.

PLANT OUT PEAS

If you sowed peas in pots or trays in October, then in December is the time to get them into the ground. Space should free up as tomatoes, peppers etc. are removed and the pea row can become an urgent priority. Plants won’t grow fast through the winter months, but they do grow, and plants in pots can become root bound. To give the best chance of the earliest pods, it’s time to get peas planted out.

Dig a trench about 25cm) deep and half fill this with rotted compost. If the compost is dry, then water it liberally to provide a moisture store for growing plants. Draw soil back over the top of the trench and plant peas into this. Young plants can go in a double row about 15cm apart. Allow 5cm between plants in a row.

Scatter a little hydrated lime over the top; take care not to get any on plant leaves if soil is acid. Slug protection are often required – in a mild winter, some beasts can be active in a greenhouse.

Wire hoops plus some harvest cover that is woven will make a suitable cloche that allows air light and moisture moisture to gain access.

LAST PEPPERS

Peppers still have fruit on the branches and seem to last right through to December. It’s hardly worth cherishing plants beyond this point, and leaves to drop especially if grey mould has started to reveal itself on stalks or if low temperatures have caused. Pick all last fruit; fallen plant material, and clear remove plants.

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