Gardening: Now's the time to start growing your own Christmas veg
WHILE it's too late for growing your own Brussels sprouts (it may be a relief to some to hear they need to be sowed much earlier in the year), other accompaniments including carrots, parsnips and potatoes, as well as herbs such as sage - an essential for tasty stuffing - and thyme, can all be started off now to create your home-grown Christmas dinner.
Marcus Eyles, horticultural director of Dobbies Garden Centres, says now is the time to plant potatoes and "other root vegetables such as carrots or beetroot" for Christmas.
Here are his top tips on growing potatoes and carrots in time for the festive season...
"Potatoes are very easy to grow and grow very quickly; if you sow potatoes in July and even into early August, you'll have fresh potatoes ready in December," says Eyles.
1. Sow seed potatoes in large containers in a frost-free, sunny spot such as a porch or conservatory. Sow around three for a 30-litre container, as they need plenty of space. Place a layer of peat free compost about 15cm deep in the bottom of your container.
2. Carefully position your sprouting potatoes on the surface, then cover with more compost and water them well. Use around three per growbag or container, or alternatively keep them six inches apart in a vegetable patch.
3. Keep an eye on them as they grow – you'll need to cover over the shoots with compost a few times. This encourages the potatoes to multiply and stops them going green.
4. Check if they need water regularly and give them a drink when the compost feels dry on the surface.
5. Your potatoes will be ready to harvest when plants start to flower but the leaves are still green. When harvesting, if you're using a growbag, tip the bag up and gently shake its contents out. If you're using a container, you can use a fork or trowel to gently release the potatoes, being careful not to damage the crops.
"Carrots need an open site with fertile and well-drained soil. They are also ideal for growing in deep containers," says Eyles. "They are ready about 12-16 weeks after sowing."
1. Sow a maincrop variety as early as possible in July. Sow the seeds really thinly, 1cm deep, in rows 15cm apart. Thin out seedlings if necessary, aiming for plants 5cm apart.
2. Carrots can grow well in drier soils so don't need too much water, but if there is a long period without rain, soak them now and again.
3. Keep a check on weeds to stop them crowding the crop. Cover crops with insect mesh to prevent carrot flies.
4. Harvest as soon as they're large enough to eat – smaller ones will have better flavour. Lift the roots carefully using a fork if your soil is heavy.