|Bumblebee on French marigold flower||Hoverflies also love single French marigolds||Moth on a single marigold|
|Bumblebee on French marigold flower||Hoverflies also love single French marigolds||Moth on a single marigold|
Fig 'Violetta' - a tasty variety Give fig trees in pots an early spring feed now - they'll be starting into growth soon too. The top buds on mine are already just showing signs of moving. Scratch off a bit of the top soil in the pot - feed them with a balanced organic feed or seaweed meal, top up again with a little good compost, and water it in. Wait until next month to feed those outside as they'll start growing later and the food will just wash away, be wasted and pollute groundwater. Take off any overwintered fruitlets that are larger than pea size if you haven't already done so, these won't develop and will either drop off or rot on the stem - possibly causing disease.
Exciting New Beginning to Another Fruit Growing Year!
Ashmead's Kernal in my very effective apple store - a re-purposed old freezer!
Deliciously crunchy & aromatic Ashmead's Kernal
What are the Best 'Autumn-Fruiting' Raspberry Varieties?
Woodland Gardening - or Just Feeding wildlife?
Ever Thought of Growing a Grapevine?
Don't Prune Indoor Grapevines Now!
Pests on grapes.
There's Still Time to Plant Grapes
Which Varieties are Best - Seedless or Seeded?
There's a huge variation in the price of fruit trees
Growing Physalis Peruviana - (aka Chinese Gooseberry/ Inca Berry/ Golden Berry)
Finish winter pruning of apples etc. now if you can walk on the ground
Fig 'Violetta' - a tasty variety
Give fig trees in pots an early spring feed now - they'll be starting into growth soon too. The top buds on mine are already just showing signs of moving. Scratch off a bit of the top soil in the pot - feed them with a balanced organic feed or seaweed meal, top up again with a little good compost, and water it in. Wait until next month to feed those outside as they'll start growing later and the food will just wash away, be wasted and pollute groundwater. Take off any overwintered fruitlets that are larger than pea size if you haven't already done so, these won't develop and will either drop off or rot on the stem - possibly causing disease.
Contents: Food Resilience is vitally important in uncertain times with post-Brexit shortages.... The propagating bench is where all the gardening action is currently.... Seed Sowing details.... Seed Sowing in Modules....The importance of using a good peat-free seed compost.... Improving Soil for Planting - especially in New Gardens..... General February advice.....My 'Ad-Free' Blog Policy
Salad mixes in a large pot - will crop in 8 weeks if sown now. - My 'stepladder salad garden' and recycled skip bag 'raised beds' fit on a path or in any small area
Food resilience is vitally important in uncertain times with post-Brexit shortages
As far as fresh veg and fruit goes - having the polytunnels is an absolute boon, because they mean that we always have some sort of seasonal veg available here especially salads, even in winter, and also plenty of fruit and veg like peas and French beans grown the previous year and stored in the freezer. For anyone who eats a lot of fruit and veg which may possibly be in short supply - then perhaps this is might be a good time to try your hand at growing a few salads in containers for the first time? Even if it transpires that salads aren't in short supply, they will still be jolly useful and will save you a lot of money! Being a practical person - I personally think that doing anything rather than just waiting and worrying about a problem, is always the best course of action, and far better than doing nothing. It works for me - and usually pays off! That being so, I thought it might be a good idea to make a list of some really easy, fast growing salads and other veg, which anyone could grow - as those will be the first things to be hit, if supplies from Europe are either delayed or non-existent.
On the bench pictured here I have two cheap Lidl cold frames sitting on a roll-out heated mat - which is a bit like an electric blanket - (from Fruit Hill Farm). It keeps things at a 'just warm enough' 50/55 degF or 10 degC. The mat sits on a recycled door supported by trestles. To cover then at night I roll out double fleece and a large piece of recycled bubble wrap. So as you can see - it's not very hi-tech but it's actually very effective!
Don't be tempted to use non-organic mushroom compost anywhere you're growing food - it may seem like a nice easy option but it will almost certainly contain very nasty and extremely persistent pesticide residues which I've already mentioned - which can last for many years in the soil. It also has a very high pH - so it can be really bad for low pH plants like Rhododendrons or blueberries causing 'chlorosis', 'locking up' of vital nutrients and stunted yellowing growth. Use mulches of grass clippings or leaf mould instead. And while on the subject of soil - something else I'm always going on about - but it's worth repeating because I see people doing it all the time - in fact I've seen many pictures of people proudly displaying their so-called 'clean' soil on twitter! It hurts me to see them! Leaving bare soil uncovered may well give you a nice surface 'tilth' to sow into and it may look lovely and organised - but it's incredibly thoughtless and also selfish!
I will repeat this again! - PLEASE - Do not leave bare soil uncovered at this time of year! Whatever some may say to the contrary - doing so causes pollution, loss soil and of valuable nutrients and also emission of climate-changing greenhouse gases!
Also please note - that I don't have/or want any ads. or so-called 'editorial pieces' (just basically ads in another form!) from other sources on my website. I have been asked many times to take them in return for a fee - even from companies whose ethos I might generally approve of - but I always refuse. This is not meant in any way as a criticism of those people who do accept them. That is their choice and we all have to make a living - but I prefer to have the freedom to speak my mind frankly and to voice my own opinions without the possibility of being influenced by what an advertiser or potential sponsor may think.
As a result my blog may look a little old-fashioned compared to some - but fancy websites with bells and whistles cost money. Many people have told me that they actually prefer it this way though, and that it comes as a nice change! The only concession I have made to modernity was to join Twitter a couple of years ago, which a lot of people had asked me to do over the last few years - so I finally relented! I have to say it's fascinating - though it can be time-consuming!
If you're a new reader you may have noticed that I can be pretty outspoken at times too - but I do my research! If I recommend any product then you can be assured that it's always something that I've found useful myself - usually over several years. I don't accept 'freebies' or discounts of any sort in order to promote other people's products either - so please don't send me any - or you'll be disappointed!
Another reason I don't accept ads. is that I personally find them intensely annoying popping up all over the place, often totally unrelated to the content of the site. I also hate to read something that may look interesting and then find out halfway through that actually it's actually promoting a product! It's impossible to know then whether what you're reading is actually an honest and impartial opinion, so I'm afraid I tend to be a little cynical about that and usually leave those sites immediately! Perhaps I'm a little old-fashioned - but to me, my integrity is worth far more than money.
I think that useful information garnered from long experience, and truly objective, honest opinion are important. That is what I try to give readers of my blog and I hope you will continue to enjoy it. I want to say a big thank you to all the people who have emailed or tweeted on Twitter to thank me for my advice! I'm sorry if I don't always have the time to answer you all individually - but it does makes all the work really worthwhile. Your gratitude is so very much appreciated - and is great motivation to do even better! - Thank you for paying me the great compliment of reading it!
(P.S. I really enjoy sharing my original ideas and 40 years experience of growing and cooking my own organic food with you. It's most satisfying and naturally also very complimentary if others find "inspiration" in my work......But if you do happen to copy any of my material, or repeat it in any way online - I would appreciate it very much if you would please mention that it originally came from me, as it's the result of many years of hard work. Thank you.)
My faithful little Robin friend signifies everything that I will keep faith with, and stand up for until my last breath
The fact is that the powerful global agrochemical/seed/biotech companies such as Monsanto/Bayer, and Vilmorin & Cie - (who many are unaware own Suttons, Dobies, The Organic Catalogue etc for gardeners: - https://www.vilmorincie.com/
It's vital that we continue to be brave and stand up to bullies wherever they are - whether it's about organic farming or anything else happening in society. I've been supporting organics in particular for over 40 years now - and like many of you I suspect, I often get tired and wish that those who are destroying Nature would just go away, and that things could go back to the way they were, before the massive rise in toxic agrochemicals over the last 70 years destroyed so much. But we must not be afraid, and give up and go away as the bullies hope we will - so that they can continue to destroy more of Nature for short-term profit! Science is so close to proving that organic is the only way forward to protect the future for our children, their children and indeed all of Nature. It is far too important to give up now. I have a much-treasured collection of the old Soil Association magazines 'Mother Earth', on the front of which are some wonderful quotes. They often make me wonder if we have learnt nothing during the more than 70 years that Nature has been gradually disappearing, along with the massive rise in antibiotic resistance and diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and other NCDs or non-communicable diseases. This quote from the summer 1950 magazine, by Sir Albert Howard, is so relevant right now - if only people would listen: "The crucial test of real scientific achievement is whether it recognises and respects the supremacy of Mother Earth, or ignorantly attempts to substitute the false for the true." The early buds of fruit trees are now starting to swell in gardens everywhere. Soon all gardeners will be hoping for plenty of bees and other pollinating insects to pollinate our crops, so that we will have plenty of healthy food to eat later on. This is something which we have been lucky enough to be able to take for granted since the beginning of human life on earth - but now we cannot take it for granted any longer! Intensification of agriculture, with it's use of vast amounts of fossil fuel-derived pesticides and fertilisers is destroying insects, habitats and all the vital, inter-connected biodiversity which depends on them. Those chemicals are also increasingly destroying soil health and soil carbon - with the result that soils globally are releasing massive amounts of CO2. It's also the time when the ancient Celtic calendar marked the Festival of Imbolc - or the 'Feast of Lights' - which celebrated the returning of light to the earth and the beginning of the end of winter. An important day, this pagan celebration of light - which was seen as being both healing and life-giving. In Celtic times people rejoiced to see the sun returning just as we do today - but they understood how dependent they were on nature - an awareness that many of us seem to have lost now. They knew how vital the sun was to their lives and just how much they depended on those primitive seeds they had harvested so painstakingly the previous autumn and guarded so carefully all winter. They were totally in tune with the rhythm of the seasons and the forces of nature. Those of us today who are gardeners or nature lovers still feel the rise of that age-old visceral thrill of anticipation, and experience the same sense of celebration at the anticipation of longer days and delights to come. It truly connects us to our roots, both physically and metaphorically. Water only if absolutely necessary in the tunnel at the moment. Doing it in the morning is best if you can - as this allows any surface moisture to dry off before evening. If you're covering crops with fleece it also helps if the soil surface dries off a bit during the day or fleece tends to absorb more. I watered 3 days ago - for the first time in over 3 months! Plants were wilting in the sunshine - which is getting a bit stronger now. Also ventilate as much as you can whenever possible, to keep the air moving and avoid the atmosphere becoming too damp - which encourages fungal diseases. Keep an eye on weather forecasts for very strong winds though - you don't want your polytunnel taking off into the next parish - (a story there - tell you sometime - I'll never forget losing a polytunnel in hurricane 'Charlie' in the mid 80's!). Growth of all plants will suddenly start to increase in the next week or so - thanks to the light - so you can increase watering accordingly when you need to. Also it's important now to continue scrupulous housekeeping! Tidy up any yellowing, rotting or diseased leaves etc. and also the remains of finished crops. Don't leave anything hanging around that could cause disease! At this time of year - I always soak my broad beans and peas for a couple of hours before then sprouting them on damp kitchen paper on a plate covered with cling film and put in a warmish place. I always get the best germination this way. It saves the seed sitting in cold wet compost for too long and possibly rotting. They sprout in about 2-3 days and then as soon as the 'radicle' or main tap root appears - I then sow them in large pots as you can see above (I use recycled 500 ml yogurt pots - they're the perfect size!). 3 broad beans to a pot or a small handful of peas (don't count them) per pot. I don't thin the beans or the peas as it's totally unnecessary - I've tried doing it over the years but the plants produce just the same crop per plant - so obviously crop more per sq.ft/m if on a deep, raised bed. Thinning them after germination is not only totally unnecessary, but is also time-consuming and wastes valuable seed. These potfuls will be planted out about 30cm/1ft. apart when big enough. I am always amazed at just how much better the germination is with home-saved seed. I got 100% germination of the yummy Crimson Flowered Broad Bean as per usual (good job as we've just finished the last from the freezer!). Beans and peas are the only things I cover with organic peat-free seed compost after sowing - everything else is covered with vermiculite - which promotes good air circulation and drainage around the seedling stem, virtually guaranteeing no 'damping off' disease - as long as you are careful with your watering. After sowing anything - only ever water again from underneath. This is easy to do by sitting the tray or module in a tray of water for a few seconds. And as I've often said before - if you do happen to overdo it by mistake - and we all do it occasionally - don't despair and leave them to rot in cold wet compost! It's very simple - just sit the tray of seedlings on a newspaper for 1/2 hour or so which acts like a wick to draw out the excess. All seeds need is a good seed compost, a little thought and plenty of TLC to grow - it's not rocket science! Despite all the years I've been gardening - I never cease to be surprised, thrilled and full of wonder at Nature's miracle of a tiny seed and it's determination to grow. That perfect little pre-programmed parcel of DNA - full of history and priceless, unique and irreplaceable genes. And - best of all - packed with a delicious promise of healthy food!
Pesticides and Pollinators? - It's OUR choice!
Apricot buds just bursting into flower in late February
Peach buds about to burst in the polytunnel in late February
The 'Darling Buds' of February - Attracting bees and other beneficial insects to help pollinate them
The beginning of February marks the mid-point of winter - half-way between the shortest day and the spring equinox
Fruit trees suitable for polytunnel growing.
A reminder to order seeds now - if you want a tunnel full of healthy veg next winter!
How to afford what some call the 'luxury' of protected polytunnel cropping?
Will you have 'Extra early potatoes' for Easter?
Waking up our soil friends after the winter
Time to start sowing early seeds in modules
What are 'Blind seedlings' that don't develop?
Sowing early peas and broad beans in pots
It's vital that we continue to be brave and stand up to bullies wherever they are - whether it's about organic farming or anything else happening in society. I've been supporting organics in particular for over 40 years now - and like many of you I suspect, I often get tired and wish that those who are destroying Nature would just go away, and that things could go back to the way they were, before the massive rise in toxic agrochemicals over the last 70 years destroyed so much. But we must not be afraid, and give up and go away as the bullies hope we will - so that they can continue to destroy more of Nature for short-term profit! Science is so close to proving that organic is the only way forward to protect the future for our children, their children and indeed all of Nature. It is far too important to give up now.
I have a much-treasured collection of the old Soil Association magazines 'Mother Earth', on the front of which are some wonderful quotes. They often make me wonder if we have learnt nothing during the more than 70 years that Nature has been gradually disappearing, along with the massive rise in antibiotic resistance and diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and other NCDs or non-communicable diseases. This quote from the summer 1950 magazine, by Sir Albert Howard, is so relevant right now - if only people would listen:
"The crucial test of real scientific achievement is whether it recognises and respects the supremacy of Mother Earth, or ignorantly attempts to substitute the false for the true."
The early buds of fruit trees are now starting to swell in gardens everywhere. Soon all gardeners will be hoping for plenty of bees and other pollinating insects to pollinate our crops, so that we will have plenty of healthy food to eat later on. This is something which we have been lucky enough to be able to take for granted since the beginning of human life on earth - but now we cannot take it for granted any longer! Intensification of agriculture, with it's use of vast amounts of fossil fuel-derived pesticides and fertilisers is destroying insects, habitats and all the vital, inter-connected biodiversity which depends on them. Those chemicals are also increasingly destroying soil health and soil carbon - with the result that soils globally are releasing massive amounts of CO2.
It's also the time when the ancient Celtic calendar marked the Festival of Imbolc - or the 'Feast of Lights' - which celebrated the returning of light to the earth and the beginning of the end of winter. An important day, this pagan celebration of light - which was seen as being both healing and life-giving. In Celtic times people rejoiced to see the sun returning just as we do today - but they understood how dependent they were on nature - an awareness that many of us seem to have lost now. They knew how vital the sun was to their lives and just how much they depended on those primitive seeds they had harvested so painstakingly the previous autumn and guarded so carefully all winter. They were totally in tune with the rhythm of the seasons and the forces of nature. Those of us today who are gardeners or nature lovers still feel the rise of that age-old visceral thrill of anticipation, and experience the same sense of celebration at the anticipation of longer days and delights to come. It truly connects us to our roots, both physically and metaphorically.
Water only if absolutely necessary in the tunnel at the moment. Doing it in the morning is best if you can - as this allows any surface moisture to dry off before evening. If you're covering crops with fleece it also helps if the soil surface dries off a bit during the day or fleece tends to absorb more. I watered 3 days ago - for the first time in over 3 months! Plants were wilting in the sunshine - which is getting a bit stronger now. Also ventilate as much as you can whenever possible, to keep the air moving and avoid the atmosphere becoming too damp - which encourages fungal diseases. Keep an eye on weather forecasts for very strong winds though - you don't want your polytunnel taking off into the next parish - (a story there - tell you sometime - I'll never forget losing a polytunnel in hurricane 'Charlie' in the mid 80's!). Growth of all plants will suddenly start to increase in the next week or so - thanks to the light - so you can increase watering accordingly when you need to.
Also it's important now to continue scrupulous housekeeping! Tidy up any yellowing, rotting or diseased leaves etc. and also the remains of finished crops. Don't leave anything hanging around that could cause disease!
At this time of year - I always soak my broad beans and peas for a couple of hours before then sprouting them on damp kitchen paper on a plate covered with cling film and put in a warmish place. I always get the best germination this way. It saves the seed sitting in cold wet compost for too long and possibly rotting. They sprout in about 2-3 days and then as soon as the 'radicle' or main tap root appears - I then sow them in large pots as you can see above (I use recycled 500 ml yogurt pots - they're the perfect size!). 3 broad beans to a pot or a small handful of peas (don't count them) per pot. I don't thin the beans or the peas as it's totally unnecessary - I've tried doing it over the years but the plants produce just the same crop per plant - so obviously crop more per sq.ft/m if on a deep, raised bed. Thinning them after germination is not only totally unnecessary, but is also time-consuming and wastes valuable seed. These potfuls will be planted out about 30cm/1ft. apart when big enough.
I am always amazed at just how much better the germination is with home-saved seed. I got 100% germination of the yummy Crimson Flowered Broad Bean as per usual (good job as we've just finished the last from the freezer!). Beans and peas are the only things I cover with organic peat-free seed compost after sowing - everything else is covered with vermiculite - which promotes good air circulation and drainage around the seedling stem, virtually guaranteeing no 'damping off' disease - as long as you are careful with your watering. After sowing anything - only ever water again from underneath. This is easy to do by sitting the tray or module in a tray of water for a few seconds. And as I've often said before - if you do happen to overdo it by mistake - and we all do it occasionally - don't despair and leave them to rot in cold wet compost! It's very simple - just sit the tray of seedlings on a newspaper for 1/2 hour or so which acts like a wick to draw out the excess. All seeds need is a good seed compost, a little thought and plenty of TLC to grow - it's not rocket science!
Despite all the years I've been gardening - I never cease to be surprised, thrilled and full of wonder at Nature's miracle of a tiny seed and it's determination to grow. That perfect little pre-programmed parcel of DNA - full of history and priceless, unique and irreplaceable genes. And - best of all - packed with a delicious promise of healthy food!
|185 g peach in July - I can't wait for summer to taste these luscious beauties again!
||A good crop of peaches in late July|
For the last few years, both Aldi and Lidl have had bare-root trees available really cheaply, sometime over the next couple of months. That's where I originally got mine - for only a fiver each - one of the best investments I've ever made! Although one was labelled 'Peach' and the other 'Nectarine' - they both turned out to be un-named varieties of peaches. But happily for me - serendipity was at work! One is an early variety and the other is a later, even more delicious one - so they spread the crop very nicely and we have fresh peaches for around two and a half months in summer, with masses to freeze! Named peaches are generally available in garden centres - but they are much more expensive as they will be container grown - often in peat compost, which I hate. Peat is not a natural growing medium for peaches!
If you have the room for a peach they're far easier to grow under cover in a tunnel or greenhouse as not only can you always keep them pruned to the size you want, but they don't get peach leaf curl disease under cover. Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease which is caused by rain washing the disease spores down into the buds before they start to grow in early spring, if they're growing outside. My peaches are planted at the north end of my larger tunnel, where they also don't shade anything. They are roughly fan-trained over an area of 15 ft/4 metres overall, with a height of about the same, or slightly less. At their feet in a narrow bed about 3ft/1 metre depth, I have planted perennial herbs like various thymes, alpine strawberries, oregano, a few early bulbs and lots of scented single flowers to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. This works well for me.
It's a good time to finish winter pruning both in the polytunnel and outside if ground is dry enough to walk on.
I usually prefer to plant bare-root trees, whatever I'm planting, if I can get the varieties I want with bare roots - I feel that they establish and adjust to your soil far better. Container-grown trees in peat composts can take much longer to establish as their roots as the can be reluctant to explore the world outside their pot - even if you loosen some of the outer roots a little! Peaches aren't that fussy about soil but they do like it well drained, with a pH of about 6.5 to 7. Scatter a couple of handfuls of bonemeal and calcified seaweed over the planting area of about 2 sq. metres, these will supply phosphate, slow release calcium and other trace elements. If your soil is poor and lacking in humus and organic matter, and possibly compacted - that will mean it's also low in biological activity, so it could benefit from adding one of the beneficial micorrhizal granules available in sachets now from garden centres. These form a fungal network which help roots to establish a symbiotic uptake of nutrients quickly, and this will increase over the years. Fork all of these in really well and evenly when preparing the soil and scatter some of the granules over the actual roots as well.
A Peat-free Plea!
Before planting, I also fork in a light dressing of good, well rotted, but not too rich, crumbly compost - not tons of nitrogen-rich manure which would promote too much soft, sappy growth. If you don't have some crumbly old home made compost, a bucket of a good quality organic peat- free potting compost will do just the same job. Please don't use peat! It's not necessary or in fact suitable for the plants or trees you're planting! I know that some people may feel that using peat-free compost my seem a bit extravagant when planting - but if you just think how much even non-organic peaches cost each - and how long the tree is likley to produce fruit - then you'll see it's worth every penny! Not only that - using peat, whether in potting composts or just for soil conditioning is quite literally costing us the earth - as every crumb of peat extracted is accelerating climate change! Just a few peaches will repay the cost of any peat-free compost at the price they were last year! Last year, organic peaches - if you could get them - were over one euro each! Only 12 peaches pays for a whole bag of the best, top quality organic peat-free compost! (I use the peat-free certified organic potting compost from Klasmann which is excellent). A peat compost or plain peat will not do the same job either - as it completely sterile, containing no vital microbial life, and eventually clogs the soil too. The Spaghnum moss which makes peat is so sterile that it was used to make sterile wound dressings for soldiers during the first world war!
The addition of organic compost opens up the structure of the soil, makes it more 'root friendly' and introduces important microbial life, which will adapt itself gradually to the type of tree which is grown there. All types of plants have specific kinds of microbes that like to live symbiotically with the roots of that particular plant - and if you start them off at the correct soil pH, with some compost to feed on at first, they will soon multiply and form a huge living community around the root structure - supplying the plant with the vital nutrients it needs from the soil. A symbiotic relationship is a bit like a 'middle man'/or a sort of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' kind of thing! The plant makes root exudates - sugars which feed the microbes - and then in return all the microbes make the nutrients in the soil available to the plant's roots - in a form that they can absorb. Basically it is pretty much the same way as our digestion works - so the soil acts a bit like the plant's stomach if you like - as I've explained before. Every year after planting, a light scattering of compost and a couple of handfuls of seaweed meal (for potash and trace elements) will keep them happy and busy, but will not make the tree not too vigorous.
The sooner you do this the better if you're planning on getting any - you don't want to be right at the back of the queue just getting the dregs of what's left at the end of the planting season. If you're looking for a new raspberry - then I can thoroughly recommend the autumn variety Joan J - pictured here. It's definitely the best tasting variety yet. I grew it in pots in the polytunnel last year and it fruited from June until almost Christmas. "An autumn raspberry fruiting in June" I hear you say? Yes - if you prune them MY way! Many people recommend pruning them right back after they've finished fruiting in late winter - but I always leave about half of the canes that formed and fruited in the previous autumn un-pruned. These then fruit early the following year - after which I prune them right down to the ground. Those will then form new canes which will fruit slightly later in the autumn than the new canes which grew up from those pruned in winter - thereby spreading their season even more and giving you a continuous crop for much of the summer and autumn. It doesn't harm the plants at all pruning this way, as autumn varieties are very vigorous anyway. I just feed, mulch and water them well. Like so many of the tricks I've learned over the years - I discovered this one literally quite by accident - by not getting round to pruning at the accepted 'right time' - due to an accident! All autumn raspberries will do this if pruned this way - but if I only grew one raspberry variety - it would be Joan J. It has enormous fruits which aren't just delicious fresh but which also freeze incredibly well.
Someone asked me recently to suggest two apple varieties which would be suitable for a small garden, which would fruit reliably early in the season, are good freshly picked and would then make apple juice for freezing. 'Discovery' is an excellent and productive early season apple that ripens through September, it's crisp, sweet and has very pink-tinted flesh compared to many apples. The internal colour indicates that it's full of healthy antioxidants too. Depending on the season's weather and where it's planted - the apples that are in full sun always colour best. Crisply delicious when just picked, it doesn't keep for more than a couple of weeks or so once it's ripe, but it does make a delicious pale pink apple juice - particularly when combined with the early cooker 'Grenadier' which ripens at the same time - in early/mid Sept. We don't make juice here any more as juicing discards the flesh of the fruit, wasting many healthy nutrients like antioxidant phytochemicals & vital gut- healthy fibre. This also means that juice is very high in quickly available sugars too - which are not good for us. Eating whole fruit is better for us - so we tend to make 'slushies here now - which are our half-frozen smoothies using whole fruits blitzed in the Nutriblender and diluted with a little spring water. These are delicious and thirst-quenching on a warm early autumn day!
As Discovery also flowers at the same time, being from the same pollination group, they make very good partners in a small garden. Grenadier is a terrific early cooking apple with plenty of sweet/acid flavour - good for all sorts of cooking uses in Sept. and Oct. If you store either of these apples after that they tend to lose their flavour and acidity though, becoming 'woolly', which affects their flavour, so the two are ideally matched. Both varieties are widely available and are good, reliable and disease-resistant. If you have room for three trees in your garden and would like a long keeping cooker - then they also make perfect partners for Bramley's Seedling. This apple is what is known as a 'triploid' - meaning that it has no good pollen of it's own, so therefore it needs two good pollination partners which reliably flower at the same time. Discovery or Katy - two early eating apples which don't keep, and Grenadier - an earlier, non-keeping cooking apple partner it perfectly. So it's a productively fruiting 'menage a trois' if you like!
If you only have room for one apple, then an offspring of Discovery - a result of a cross with an apple called Kent which was bred more recently in 1975, is a really good apple called Red Devil - (pictured above cut in half). It's disease resistant, incredibly productive and self-fertile, in flowering group 3, so doesn't need a pollinator partner nearby. If you do have other apple trees nearby though, it's also a very good pollinator, and will pollinate trees in flowering groups 2 and 4 - which overlap their flowering times with group 3 trees to a certain extent. A delicious apple, it stays lovely and crisp for 3 months in my apple store, and is very high in polyphenol antioxidants which have many health benefits. Unlike Discovery, it is picked a little later in early October depending on the season - but will keep until Christmas or beyond - which I find more useful in an apple as there are always plenty of September ripening apples around - too many at times - but they become more scarce after October. Last week I chose a couple from my apple store to grate into a smoothie - it was just slightly less crisp - but still juicy and delicious and full of colourful antioxidants as you can see here from the colour of the flesh of one I cut in half to remove the pips!
My old broken upright freezer recycled for storing apples!
If you would prefer a long-keeping eating apple and have room for three trees - then I would recommend 'Ashmead's Kernal' pictured here in my 'low-tech' recycled dead freezer apple store in January. It's a healthy, disease-resistant and very productive apple, which is at it's very best naturally stored from mid-December until April It's not an apple which many people know as it's almost never available to buy in garden centres or nurseries - but it's a very aromatic, crisply mouth-watering and nutty tasting apple, with a good sweet/acid balance which regularly beats the more famous Cox's Orange Pippin in taste tests and is considered to be one of the highest quality late dessert apples ever. It flowers in pollination group 4 - so it overlaps it's flowering time with Red Devil which provides good pollination for it most years.
Ashmead's Kernal is a late-keeping, russet dessert apple bred 300 years ago by Dr. Ashmead near Gloucester. It's one of my favourite late apples. Although often selected in competitions as even better-tasting than Cox - it's far less well known and unlike Cox is scab-resistant and far more tolerant of damp climates like ours here in Ireland, which encourages scab. Also a triploid - the heavy-cropping Ashmead's also needs 2 other apple trees nearby which will pollinate it - but this isn't usually a problem in urban gardens. It crops really well on the M26 semi-dwarfing root stock, and picked in mid-October - it keeps really well until April in cold storage. Useful for cooking from October - later on in December it matures into a delicious dessert apple with a very distinctive and mouthwatering 'pear-drop' flavour.
We're currently eating the stored Ashmead's which we picked in late October last year, and every time I bite into one of them, I thank old Dr. Ashmead of Gloucester who raised it in around 1700! My rather unconventional apple store keeps these really well. It's an old broken freezer which I re-purposed and it has several drawers which I can pull out to inspect the apples daily for any that may be deteriorating. It also has perfect insulation, which keeps out either heat or severe cold, and I can vary the humidity by adjusting the door opening slightly. The apples are kept in a sort of natural suspended animation, so while still alive, they go on just quietly breathing and developing their flavour a lot more more slowly than they would otherwise have done if they'd been left on the tree. This means they will keep for several months, staying crisp and retaining all of their healthy nutrients.
I often wonder what dear old Dr. Ashmead would think of my apple store? Or if he could possibly have imagined that people in the 21st century might still be enjoying this wonderful apple and writing about how HE was the person who bred it?
My apple store is not just full of deliciously healthy, pure delights - it's also like having a treasure chest full of fascinating stories and rich social history!
January contents: Why organically-grown potatoes are more healthy than conventionally-grown.... Some tips if you're only just starting to grow your own food..... Seed orders are the main priority..... Why spend time NOW making a cropping plan?.... Why not try growing Oca this year?..... Another job for now is organising your seed sowing equipment.... Recycling saves money and avoids plastic waste.... A home made cold frame is useful if you don't have a greenhouse or polytunnel..... Grow some 'extra early' potatoes for Easter?....
On your marks - get set!.... To grow your own health, reduce your carbon footprint, truly help the planet AND save money at the same time by growing your own organic food. What's not to like?
As most organic gardeners will know - there are many toxic chemicals such as artificial fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides like Glyphosate used in the growing of conventional potatoes. You will also know if you are a regular reader of this blog that I have been studying the effects of such chemicals since my daughter was born with serous allergies over 40 years ago, when our unusually enlightened doctor for that time recommended a totally chemical-free, organic diet. The reason I am going into a little bit more technical detail than usual here, is because I was asked a question on Twitter last week by a doctor who was perhaps questioning my knowledge of such chemicals, as often happens on Twitter!
In addition to all those used during the growing and harvesting of potatoes, there is another which is used after harvest - a so-called 'sprout-suppressant' chemical which prolongs the storage-life of the tubers by preventing them from sprouting, as they would normally start to do in mid winter, once the natural dormant period of potatoes is over. Many people are completely unaware of the use of these toxic chemicals, which I believe everyone ought to know, given their toxicity.
Potatoes for processing, commercial and table use often need to be stored for 6-9 months, and so some sort of sprout suppressant is required for this unnatural, long-term storage - whereas the homegrown potatoes I have stored here are already starting to sprout. Although there are several chemicals used - the most wide-spread and most commonly used is one called CIPC or Isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate or Chorapham. It is a selective systemic herbicide - 'systemic' meaning that it is translocated and present throughout the plant tissue of the tuber. CIPC has been in use for more than 50 years, and has been the most commonly found residue in potatoes in all surveys since 1994. According to studies, it is among the pesticides which have been found in the highest concentration in the diet of the average American, and comprises 90% of the total synthetic chemical residue found in US potatoes. Studies have also reported that toxicological evaluation of CIPC, as tested and documented under lab conditions, is an underestimation. Recently various important safety concerns have surfaced over its long-term and continuous use, due to the higher toxicity of it's metabolites (the degradation or breakdown products it produces in the potatoes after treatment) and the fact that the levels of these can increase with the multiple treatments carried out during the storage period, something which was unknown at the time the chemical was first used.
CIPC belongs to a group of pesticides known as Carbamates. It is applied by a process known as 'thermal fogging' in order to reach all the stored potatoes, and this step causes not only the thermal degradation of it, but also its breakdown into aniline-based derivatives which have a high toxicity profile. One such breakdown product of CIPC is 3-chloroaniline (3-CA ) and being an aniline-based derivative, it is considered more polluting and highly toxic that the parent compound itself and potentially carcinogenic to humans. According to the Extension Toxicology Network, chronic exposure of laboratory animals to CIPC has caused "retarded growth, increased liver, kidney and spleen weights, congestion of the spleen and death." In the UK, over 6 million tonnes of potatoes are produced annually, and more than half of this production is stored for the fresh market and for food processing. CIPC is currently used as the main sprout-suppressant in commercial potato stores.
Perhaps you might not find those non-organic baked potatoes or crisps quite so tempting now? - Sorry!........ And you'll also now understand why I recommend that you only use organic potatoes to get them sprouting for your' extra-early' potato crops which I talk about later on - otherwise you could be waiting a very long time! This is obvious in the picture above, showing a comparison between the nicely sprouting organic potatoes in the top of the picture, and the same variety of non-organic ones at the bottom - which have clearly been treated with a sprout-suppressant chemical!
Welcome to a new gardening year here on the blog and an especially big welcome if you're a first time reader! The main advice I would give to any beginner just starting off, is don't be tempted to start off by trying to take on too much - because that can be a recipe for disaster. Start off growing your own food by doing it a little at a time, then any disasters you may have will only be small ones - not so big that they make you feel utterly useless and you give up! If you're only starting on a windowsill - or you've even taken on an allotment for the first time, do it a little at a time. Don't try to run before you can walk!
If you have an allotment - PLEASE don't listen to the old timers on the site who will tell you to spray everything off with weedkillers like Roundup which contain Glyphosate! Not only do ALL weedkillers kill vitally important soil life that would otherwise help you to grow naturally healthy, more disease-resistant plants - but what the manufacturers don't tell you is that they're actually a complete waste of money, as they don't kill weed seeds. So as soon as you touch the soil with even a hoe and uncover long-buried seeds, they will grow, because that's what Nature designed them to do! Seeds will also blow in from other places, and you can't avoid that, but don't worry - there are plenty of non-toxic, nature-friendly ways to beat weeds!
Instead of using a weedkiller - blocking out the light which encourages weed seeds to germinate is the best thing to do. You can do this by covering the whole site with some sort of mulch and then cardboard or thick wadges of newspaper with cardboard or recycled polythene on top. Don't be tempted to buy in farmyard or stable manure which may well be contaminated with chemicals like weedkillers or worm-destroying veterinary 'worming' medicines. In the first year, you could either uncover just a small patch, or grow stuff in large boxes or containers on top of the weed-suppressing mulch - that's how I started in my first garden 43 years ago. Start off with just a few lettuce plants if you can get them - they'll give you faster results and something to pick quickly to spur you on. But most garden centres won't have them until March - so buy some really cheap 'value' seed like lettuce mixes, or oriental salad mixes, Claytonia etc (see my what to sow list) (non-F1 hybrid seed is cheaper and often more reliable as they are older, more commonly grown varieties).
One thing I would never advise is trying to save money on compost - this is where your growing budget is best invested! Buy the best quality organic peat-free seed compost you can get. This will last well if you keep it in a dry place or you could also share a bag with a friend. Buy some organic peat-free potting compost at the same time. Why do you need that? Because it has more nutrients than seed compost and will either be suitable for growing plants to maturity, or for potting them on into larger pots until conditions are suitable for planting either outside or in a polytunnel.
Don't buy expensive seed trays and pots - save money, recycle and ask friends to save for you - soon you'll be inundated! Ask for mayonnaise or coleslaw tubs at supermarket or local shop deli counters - they always have them as they buy that stuff in and then just throw them into the plastic reycling bin when empty. They'll save you loads of money, make great growing tubs after you put drainage holes in them, they're free and last years if you keep them out of the light when not using them, as light makes the plastic brittle. Some of mine have often lasted for over 30 years!
Start to grow your own nutrients. Make some worm compost - feed worms instead of feeding your council food and garden waste bin! It's much less hard work as the worms do it for you - then all you have to do is put food waste in and magically get the best super-charged compost out! Worms turn food waste into wonderful stuff, which doesn't smell, and which is high in nutrients and important beneficial enzymes and microbes. Making one is a very easy project for cold days. You could get a suitable bin in the Jan sales - or perhaps you may have something suitable already which you could re-purpose? Here's a link to my 'How to make your own worm' bin article: http://
At the moment - there isn't very much that can usefully be done outside
Now is the time to get on with inside jobs while you have the spare time - because there won't be too much of that in March! If you try to do anything that involves walking on your garden soil - you will actually be doing more harm than good by compacting and squashing the air out of it. If you have heavy clay like mine - when it dries out it will turn into concrete! I've often been tempted to make bricks or a cobb house out of it - and I have in fact made small pots just to prove it!
The well-known rule with winter soil is - if it sticks to your boots or if you sink into it - then it's far too wet to work - so just stay off it! Get on with some jobs you can do inside in the warm instead, like getting all your seed sowing kit ready, cleaning seed trays and pots, and ordering the last of your seeds if you haven't already done that - this will be a real help when the spring rush of jobs arrives! It's closer than you think - so it's really time to get on the starting blocks and be ready for action! So keep to the paths if you need to do things! If you're growing in the traditional way on the flat - and you have to step onto the soil to harvest things like brassicas (cabbage family) and leeks - then get a wide plank to walk on in order to spread your weight a bit. This will minimize damage to the soil as far as possible. If you grow in raised beds - as I do - they're great because you can always work from the path without compacting soil at all. This is far better for all the soil life that actually needs air too. Raised beds are also a lot easier on the back, which does make life easier at this time of year.
A few months ago someone asked me - "if I could come up with a suggested rotation and cropping plan" for early in the New Year, but this is really something you just have to work out for yourself, other than the usual rule of not growing any one plant family in the same place more than once in 4 years. The main reason for that is to prevent pests and diseases, or nutrient deficiencies building up. It's impossible for me to suggest cropping plans and rotations, as I don't know what you like to eat. or what quantities you may need of any particular vegetable all year round. The classic four course rotation would be potatoes, peas and beans, brassicas, and then roots along with any others like cucurbits (marrows, courgettes and pumpkins) or onion family (leeks, scallions etc.). In practice it's almost always a longer rotation - so 6 beds or more to accommodate the different plant families is probably more realistic if you're aiming at self-sufficiency.. Growing lots of different varieties of veg is a good idea - 1. because it prevents you losing everything if a disease or pest strikes that particular crop. 2. because all the latest research shows that the more variety of plant foods we eat - the healthier our gut microbes are. 3. Obvious! It stops you getting bored and having massive gluts that you can't eat or process for preserving all at once!
One thing I haven't seen mentioned in any magazine articles or books though, is the fact that being a member of the sorrel family, they are actually quite high in oxalic acid - which accounts for the sharp lemony flavour of both the tubers and the pretty clover shaped leaves pictured here, which can also be used sparingly in salads. So rather than eating them daily, it's best to have them as an occasional treat, or you might end up with kidney stones if you're susceptible! There is some research currently being done into low oxalic acid varieties - but at the moment I definitely wouldn't think of them as a suitable everyday alternative to potatoes! We don't need to eat potatoes everyday either. There are plenty of lower carbohydrate alternatives that are equally as delicious - Jerusalem artichokes for one - which are incredibly healthy for your gut - being full of prebiotic Inulin which feeds your gut microbes and encourages them to multiply.
I just want to remind you once again that if you leave freshly dug ground uncovered and open to the elements, as some thoughtless people do, our increasingly high winter rainfall will wash out and waste valuable nutrients, causing pollution o
There's just nothing like those juicy, fresh green shoots of the watercress and all the other salads, urgently pushing up towards the light, to rekindle that eternal gardener's optimism at this time of year. There's also nothing like them to keep winter colds at bay either! Just now I'm looking forward to yet another lunch of the Organic Cashel Blue cheese, pear and watercress salad that I did for one of our Tunnel to Table programmes - I just can't get enough of it at the moment and eat it almost every day as it's so delicious and nutritious! The peppery nutrient-rich leaves of watercress combine so well with anything though - and my walnut, avocado oil, cider vinegar and honey dressing is the perfect complement drizzled over it! Watercress is so easy, yummy and chock-full of healthy, cancer-fighting phytochemicals! Watercress is a truly perennial herb. In the summer when the polytunnel would be too hot for it - I pull up a few roots to grow outside in a shady damp spot - then in the autumn I just take cuttings of those to plant again in a new spot in the polytunnel. Remember if you grow it though - that it's a member of the brassica family and must go in that section of your rotation, wherever you grow it. The only pest that attacks it is the cabbage white butterfly - whose eggs are hard to spot on watercress and one often doesn't notice them until the entire plant has been defoliated and only stems are left! So keeping it covered with fine netting in summer will prevent this and also give it a bit more of the shade it appreciates.
|1. North West beds||2. North East|
|3. South West||4. South East|
|Calabrese 'Green Magic' - main head ready for cutting.||'Green Magic' making juicy side shoots after central head cut|
The terrific thing about a tunnel or greenhouse is that it allows you to experiment with many crops that would never do well outside in our climate - and there are also plenty of crops normally grown outdoors here in winter that are so much more productive under cover. Swiss chard and kale are very good examples - and also crops that are never much good outside in average summers here. Melons for example will revel in the tunnel's humid summer warmth and can be really productive. There are far more varieties available now than there were a few years ago. There seem to be a lot more varieties of lettuce suitable for winter growing too - I'm going to trial a few more this year - mostly loose leaf 'picking' varieties as these are the most valuable - giving such a long period of cropping. Although they're as tough as old boots and can recover completely from being frozen to a crisp - endives really enjoy the indoor life too. They're more disease-resistant than most winter lettuce and the slugs don't seem to like them quite as much either - which is useful. I discovered a nice pale leaved one a few years ago called 'White Curled'. It isn't as bitter as the normal types which I normally blanch for a week or so before picking. I pick individual leaves of 'White Curled' all winter long - they're very decorative in a mixed salad - making a nice contrast with their pretty, finely cut leaves of pale lemony-green. I originally got it from Simpson's seeds but as it's what's known as an 'open-pollinated variety - not an 'F1' hybrid - I save my own seed now every couple of years which saves money too. I mark the best plant for later on, then in spring I'll let it flower. The bees absolutely adore it so they pollinate it for me and then it sets seed. That keeps both the bees and me happy - a double whammy!
Use it or lose it! Making use of every inch of soil is what Nature does!
'Inter-cropping' - or growing fast-growing crops to cover the ground between slower maturing crops is something I've always done since I first started gardening in a tiny space 40 years ago. It's the way to make best possible use of every inch of any space. To me it's always seemed common sense that here's no point in leaving ground bare between rows of slower growing things and just hoeing or weeding, if some useful and edible could be growing there! If there isn't room for something to grow, or it doesn't fit into your rotation - which is very important - then an organic mulch of some kind - either compost or grass clippings - is always a good idea. Soil should never be left bare. If you observe nature you'll see that it always populates ground with something - often with what us gardeners tend to think of as weeds!. Bare soil is only natural at times in a desert - but even that isn't really bare - it's full of indigenous plant seeds just waiting for some precious rain so that they can spring to life again. Soil should be covered with something all the time, to prevent erosion, loss of carbon, minerals and nutrients. Covering soil with an organic mulch also feeds soil life like worms and protects the microbial life which makes humus. So my gut feeling was right!
A thick carpet of green manure mustard 'Caliente'
|1. Recycled loo roll middles make great 'modules' packed together in a recycled mushroom box for early sowing of root crops||2. Carrot seeds sown into the top of loo roll 'modules', covered with a pinch of Vermiculite, then with a polythene bag to keep moisture in|
It's amazing how even just the smallest amount of increasing light makes me want to 'earth myself' by getting plugged into the soil again! It's barely a few days since the winter solstice but already there's a noticeable stretch on the brighter days. It may be my imagination but the birds seem to be singing a bit more loudly and the plants in the polytunnel also seem just a little bit perkier too! Or is it wishful thinking? It's not too long now until the mad spring rush of sowing and planting is here again. For now though - things move at a more leisurely pace - but there are still some things you can sow and do this month if your gardening fingers are itching to get back into compost, like mine are and you want to get ahead just a little bit! It's surprising how many things there are that you can sow now. As I always say - sowing seeds is sowing hope - and that's something we all really need right now. Whatever seeds we sow - whether it's fast growing healthy salad vegetables in case there are shortages in shops in a few weeks time, or flowers for bees and other beneficial insects - I know that it can help make us feel so much more positive and hopeful whatever our problems, and that has benefits for our metal health too.
There are quite a few things you could sow now or towards the end of January in pots or modules for planting out later in a tunnel, greenhouse or sheltered cold frame. You won't gain a huge amount by sowing too soon though. By leaving it for another couple of weeks the light will be increasing, so seedlings will be sturdier, will get a better start and you'll use less energy. Most seeds will germinate at normal house temperature - and as things take a week or so to appear anyway - you can sow some things inside the house and then put them out into good light in a greenhouse or frame as soon as the seedlings are up. Seedlings like lettuce, spinach and hardier salad plants will be fine then, with just some protection from frost with a couple of layers of fleece. Light governs their development to a great extent - so you can save money and energy by not wasting any heat needed for another couple of weeks yet - no matter how keen you are. Don't forget you can also do your seed sowing inside in comfort on the kitchen table - there's really no need to go outside in the freezing cold unless you're a masochist!
In my over 40 years experience I've found that using a good organic peat-free seed compost is by far the best and most reliable choice for sowing everything - not just from a plant health point of view, but also for environmental reasons. Any extra expense is well worth it in terms of valuable seeds and seedlings not lost. After sowing - put your seed trays or modules somewhere in your house at average room temperature - and most seedlings will be up within a few days or a week. I find seeds like lettuce take about 3 days at normal cool room temperature - they don't need a lot of warmth. Make sure to put them somewhere where you will remember to check on them twice a day, as seedlings like lettuce can become leggy very quickly if not given good light immediately they have germinated. Once they have appeared, probably in a week or so for most things at this time of year, they will then need the very best light you can give them - which means either a tunnel, greenhouse or perhaps a cold frame against a south facing wall. They also need very good air circulation - so sowing in modules either individually or in 2's or 3's to thin later is the best option - as this avoids handling vulnerable seedlings while 'pricking out', which may result in damage and possible 'damping-off'.
It's too wet, windy and cold for tiny seedlings to be outside completely unprotected at this time of year, but if sheltered from the weather most are fine as long as no frost is forecast. If it is - then bring them into the house again on very frosty nights and put them out again first thing in the morning. This may seem a bit of a faff but it's worth it. Sowing too early on windowsills often means unhealthy, leggy and drawn seedlings due to lack of light. If you don't have a greenhouse, polytunnel or frame outside, I would wait another couple of weeks yet - even if like me you can't wait to get started! Although some more tender heat lovers like tomatoes etc would need a warm propagator, I don't waste heat by sowing tomatoes in a propagator yet, because even those sown in another month will catch up and probably be much healthier than any sown now! Having said that though - I may just chance sowing a few Maskotka bush tomatoes indoors, as it's always my earliest, most good-natured and and hardiest tomato. Luckily, it's also one of the tastiest - and I'd love to see if I can get it to ripen even earlier than the first week in June, when it's normally reliably ripe!
For tunnel planting later: - in a temperature of around 50 deg.F/10 deg.C, you could sow now:
Early carrots in long modules like loo roll middles as I'm doing in the picture above. Sit the modules on 1/2 inch compost in something deep like a recycled plastic mushroom box to keep them upright, (approx. 32 loo roll tubes fit into a mushroom box) - fill them - and the gaps between them - with seed compost - then sow a tiny pinch of seed into each covering with vermiculite.
Make sure the cardboard rolls don't stick up out of the compost or they will act like wicks - drawing out moisture and drying out too much - which means they could then shrivel and kill tiny roots. These will be ready for planting out in the tunnel in clumps - each about 30cm apart - probably at the end of next month when they have 2 'true' leaves.
In modules or pots you could also sow early broccoli (I grow 'Green Magic' a productive early variety), 'Red Ruble', 'Ragged Jack' & 'Cavolo Nero' kales for baby leaves, spring onions, lettuces, broad beans, early and mangetout or sugar peas, green and red 'frills' mustards, mizuna, oriental mixed greens, beetroot, Swiss chards, salad leaves, radishes, and rocket. I will also be sowing celery Tall Green Utah, from The Seed Cooperative, as celery germinates very slowly - taking about 3 weeks to appear, and grows slowly at first - so will not need pricking out for several weeks after that. I'm experimenting this year to see how early I can get a good polytunnel crop of this indispensable vegetable.
At the end of the month you could sow cordon tomatoes if you want an extra early crop - but bear in mind that they will need not just potting on at least once but will also keeping warm for several weeks before eventual planting out. They must also be in very good light - or they will also become drawn and 'leggy' - and therefore more vulnerable to disease. (*Tip - a well known correspondent with the Irish Times told me that he raises his early ones in the warm under a Velux window in his house which provides excellent top light - a genius tip - wish I had one!) I always grow the bush variety 'Maskotka' (tasty bush cherry type) which is always my earliest ripening tomato - sown in mid-late February it's first ripe fruits are reliably ready to pick on 1st June without fail. The variety 'John Baer' (delicious, very early large fruited) - is also an excellent variety for sowing at the end of this month. You could also sow early aubergines - 'Bonica' is without question the best ever variety for home gardeners to grow from seed - I've grown it for many years now and it's totally reliable. It came out tops in the RHS trials over 15 yrs. ago as being the best for UK and in my experience it's the best variety for Irish conditions too. Remember though that both tomatoes and aubergines need a minimum temp. of about 70deg.F/21degC. for germination, reducing the heat afterwards to approx. 55 deg.F/15 deg.C, or just below, and maintaining that level until final planting out in tunnel beds or in pots eventually. You can achieve this bottom warmth quite economically with a roll-out heated mat.
You could sow alpine strawberries. 'Reugen' is a very productive, large-fruited variety which fruits April to Nov. and will produce fruits this autumn if sown early enough. Also bulb onions, shallots, very early leeks, early spring/summer & non-hearting leafy type cabbages (collards), summer cauliflower