Monthly growing guide

These are suggestions for what to do in your soft fruit and vegetable garden month by month in the Linlithgow area, where Spring is on average three weeks later than the south of England.

January

Do not be in a hurry to sow seeds this month

  • As Chilli and Sweet Peppers have a very long growing season, I usually sow them in a heated propagator this month. They need to be kept warm to germinate so are best started at a temperature between 65⁰ F (18⁰ C) and 85⁰ F (29⁰ C), which is the ideal temperature. As the plants grow on it is best to keep the night-time temperature range between 59°F (15°C) to 68°F (20°C). These slightly lower night-time temperatures help the fruits to set.  The short day lengths over the winter do not affect their growth, unlike most other vegetable plants, which require plenty of light.

A tip from the late, great Geoff Hamilton is to start Peppers off in very small containers and pot them on successively into slightly larger pots each time so that they become rootbound; that way they produce more flowers and consequently more fruit as the plant feels under stress.  It sounds wrong, but I have been doing it for years and it works.

  • You can sow Tomato seeds indoors this month although it is probably best to wait until early March.
  • Sow Shallot seeds later this month indoors or in a greenhouse or in early February.  I have been growing banana-shaped Shallots from seed as single plants for a few years now as they are bigger and so easier to peel than the globe-shaped ones grown from sets.  The seedlings are planted out 2.5cm to 8cm apart in rows 15cm apart in early May.
  • Sow Salad Leaves inside towards the end of the month.
  • Prune established Blackcurrant bushes by removing about a quarter to a third of old wood.
  • Remove dead wood and crossing and low-lying branches from Gooseberry bushes. Prune all side shoots by cutting them back to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by one quarter, cutting to a suitable outward facing bud. 
  • Cut all autumn Raspberry canes to ground level if you have not done so already.

February

It is still far too early to begin sowing seeds outside.  The instructions about sowing times on seed packets are for gardeners living in the south of England where Spring comes approximately three weeks earlier than here. The average date for the last frost in the Linlithgow area is the second week of May.

  • If you have a heated propagator or have space on a windowsill you can sow Summer Cauliflowers, Celeriac and Celery in pots in week 2 for planting out at the end of April or early May.
  • If you are intending to sow Cauliflowers, arguably one of the hardest crops to grow successfully, prepare the ground now with well-rotted compost or manure and adding blood, fish and bone fertiliser a few weeks before planting out later in the year.
  • In week 2 sow Leek, Onion and banana Shallot seeds in deep pots or paper cups with a drainage hole in a heated propagator in the greenhouse for planting out in May.
  • You can multi-sow Spring Onion seeds in pots inside this month.  Multisowing means sowing five or six of the seeds in a pot and planting the seedlings out as a clump when the weather gets warmer.
  • Prepare the ground for a new Asparagus bed at the end of the month.
  • If you have not already done so, prune Blackcurrants and Gooseberries this month.

March

Things really get going on the vegetable plots in our area this month.  It is still too early to sow seeds outside without some form of protection against the elements such as horticultural fleece or cloches and even these may be inadequate if the weather turns very cold

  • You can start chitting Potatoes in week 1 although it is not essential to do this for maincrop spuds. (‘Chitting’ means making the seed potato sprout by putting it in a light, cool but frost-free place with most of the eyes pointing upwards; egg boxes are ideal for this).  Opinion is divided on whether or not to chit; some say that it is a waste of time but I always do it as it is a convenient way to keep seed Potatoes until planting out time as storing them in the dark will make them grow long, weedy sprouts. 
  • Sow summer Cabbages and Lettuce indoors in week 1.
  • Sow Broad Beans in pots inside in week 1 for planting out later.
  • Sow early types of Peas such as ‘Meteor’ outside under cloches in week 1.  On our allotment mice and voles will eat Pea seeds unless they are soaked in paraffin before planting.  Nothing else, including putting Holly leaves in the Pea trench, seems to work.  I have given up sowing them in my plot and now grow them in the greenhouse in week 3 until they are about six inches high before planting out.  Mice and voles will leave them alone then.
  • In week 2 sow Broad Beans outside under a cloche but note what I have said about sowing Peas outside as mice and voles will give Beans the same treatment.
  • In week 2 prepare the soil in your plot for Courgettes, Pumpkins and Squashes.  To do this, dig a planting pocket for each plant about a spade’s depth and about 12 inches (30cm) square.  Fill the hole with well-rotted manure or compost ready for receiving your plants in June.
  • In week 3 sow early Carrots under cloches or horticultural fleece.  On our allotment they need to be kept covered throughout the growing season with cloches, fleece or Veggiemesh otherwise they will be devastated by Carrot fly.  Carrots will fork if the soil in which they grow has recently been manured or if they hit a stone.  My plot is very stony so what I do is dig out the soil where the Carrots are to grow to about a spade’s depth and sieve it to remove the stones, mixing in some horticultural sand as I replace the soil.
  • Sow seeds of early Brussels Sprouts in week 3.  I usually start mine off in the greenhouse or indoors.
  • Plant spring planting Garlic towards the end of the month.
  • Sow Tomato seeds in a propagator in the greenhouse in week 3. Keep the Tomato seeds and seedlings warm, not letting the night-time temperature drop below 50⁰ F (10⁰ C).
  • Sow Kohl Rabi seeds inside in week 4.
  • Harden off Cauliflower seedlings sown earlier, ideally in a cold frame or outside covered with a bit of fleece, for planting out in April.
  • Sow Peas outside if you can protect them in weeks 3 and 4. 
  • Feed Gooseberries, Blackcurrants and Raspberries with fish, blood and bone fertiliser in week 4 
  • As always, keep on top of the weeding as weeds can smother young crops and harbour pests and disease.

April

April is a busy month for sowing vegetables in the Linlithgow area, a few weeks later than further south.  As always, be guided by the weather forecast.

  • Sow Spring Onions and Lettuce outside early this month.
  • Feed Asparagus with fish, blood and bone fertiliser early in April.
  • Broad Beans sown indoors earlier can be planted out in week 1 after hardening off. 
  • Sow Swiss Chard and Spinach Beet under cloches or fleece in week 2.
  • Plant out Summer Cauliflowers.  Cauliflower is a hungry crop so start feeding weekly with a nitrogen rich fertiliser from the last week of the month and make sure that the plants never dry out
  • Plant Potatoes this month.
  • Sow Winter Cabbage and Savoys under cover for transplanting later. 
  • Sow Beetroot under a cloche or fleece in week 2. You can also sow the seeds in modules indoors or in a heated greenhouse in week 3. Ensure they are watered well, and the seedlings will emerge in a week’s time. After another two weeks harden the seedlings off.
  • Sow Kohl Rabi outside in week 2.
  • Sow mid to late varieties of Brussels Sprouts in week 2.
  • Sow Radish and Spinach under cloches or horticultural fleece in the middle of the month.  You can also sow Spinach indoors for planting out later.
  • Towards the end of the month pot on Tomato plants into their final containers or Grobags.  Pinch outside shoots as they appear on cordon varieties.
  • Towards the middle of the month harden off Kohl Rabi, Summer Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts sown inside earlier for planting out in week four.
  • Sow Courgette, Pumpkin, Squash and Cucumber inside at the end of April for planting out after the last frost, which in the Linlithgow area occurs, on average, in the second week of May.
  • Sow Swiss Chard and Spinach Beet in the open at the end of the month.
  • Sow Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kale under cover towards the end of the month.
  • In week 4 harden off Shallot, Onion and Leek seedlings sown inside earlier for planting out in May.
  • Plant Onion and Shallot sets in the middle of April.
  • Feed Raspberries, Strawberries, Gooseberries, Blackcurrants and Tayberries with bone meal or fish, blood and bone fertiliser this month.  After feeding mulch the plants with well-rotted manure or compost.

May

Frosts are less likely this month but be prepared to protect your early sowings if frost is forecast.  The weeks for sowing and planting below are just suggestions for our part of Scotland.  Do not plant out Onions, Leeks and Shallots raised indoors if frost is on the way as they are biennials and the young plants will be fooled into thinking that they have overwintered and will shoot to produce flowers.

  • Sow Spinach Beet and Radish in the open in week 1. 
  • Sow Parsnip outside at the beginning of the month.  Always use fresh Parsnip seed each year as germination is very poor or non-existent with year-old seed.  I chit Parsnip seed before sowing, putting them between sheets of wet tissue paper in a warm place until tiny, white roots just start appearing.  I then make deep holes, six inches apart in the bed and fill them with compost.  Then sow three or four seeds in each planting station, thinning later to one Parsnip plant.
  • Sow Sweetcorn inside in week 1 for planting out when all risk of frost has passed.
  • In week 1 plant out hardened of module raised Beetroot seedlings
  • In week 2 sow out Beetroot and Swedes.
  • Runner Beans can be sown indoors or under cloches in week 2. In week 4 harden off seedlings sown indoors.
  • In week 2 also sow French Beans inside for planting out later.
  • After hardening off, plant Celeriac, Onion seedlings, Leeks, Shallots and Spinach raised indoors in week 2 provided no frost is forecast.
  • Towards the end of the month harden off Pumpkins, Courgettes, Squashes and Cucumbers for planting out in June.
  • Sow Winter Cabbage and Savoys in week 4
  • Sow winter Cauliflower inside towards the end of the month.
  • Thin Swiss Chard and Spinach Beet at the end of the month.
  • Feed Potatoes fortnightly with an organic nitrogen fertiliser from week 4 until July week 2.  This may not be necessary if you put in plenty of manure earlier. 

June

Frosts are very unlikely this month. After the rush to get crops sown and planted in April and May, things slow down a little from now on although it is important to keep on top of the weeding through the summer months.

  • In week 1 plant out Courgettes, Pumpkins, Squashes and outdoor Cucumbers into planting pockets filled with well-rotted manure or compost mixed with soil. These can be planted out early in the month.  They benefit from protection with fleece or cloches at this time of year as it can be cold and/or windy.  It is a good idea to sink a plastic pot in the soil a few inches from these crops and water into it rather than directly onto the plant.
  • Plant out Dwarf French Beans and Runner Beans sown indoors in week 1
  • In the first week of June plant out Sweetcorn in blocks at least four plants wide after hardening off.
  • It has been said that to avoid the dreaded Carrot fly, you should sow Carrots after the 9th June.  I am not sure if this really makes any difference; the theory is that you miss the two hatches of carrot fly if you sow then.  I would recommend sowing the seed thinly, covering the carrot bed with fleece or veggie mesh, thinning as little as possible and only on a windy evening as the pests cannot fly to lay their eggs in strong winds.
  • Transplant Leeks sown outside to their final positions in weeks 1 and 2.
  • Feed Potatoes with high potash fertiliser from the end of the month until the middle of August.  Organic Tomato fertiliser is good for this
  • Plant out Winter Cauliflower and Kale towards the end of the month.
  • Feed all Summer Cauliflowers weekly to get good-sized curds.
  • Continue sowing Radish, Spring Onions and Lettuces.
  • Blackcurrants benefit from a liquid feed of a fertiliser high in potash as fruits begin to swell; an organic tomato fertiliser would be ideal.

July

There is little to be done in the way of sowing and planting this month and harvesting crops and keeping on top of weeding are the main tasks on your plot.

  • Feed autumn Cauliflowers weekly to get good-sized curds
  • Summer Cabbages, Swiss Chard, Courgettes, Peas and Spinach should be ready for harvesting this month
  • Stop watering Shallots in week 2 and harvest them at the end July.
  • Plant out Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Winter Cabbage raised indoors in week 2.
  • Stop watering Onions towards the end of the month.
  • First Early Potatoes should be ready for harvesting, Second Earlies a couple of weeks later.  A way of telling when they are ready for lifting is when you see flowers appearing which indicates that tubers are forming; it is best to wait for a couple of weeks before digging them up, or up to four weeks if you want bigger spuds. Try not to leave any small potatoes in the ground as they will come up again next year.  There are always some left however thorough you are

August

Harvesting crops is the main task this month.

  • For overwintering sow Spring Onions, Broad Beans, such as “Aquadulce Claudia” and a suitable variety of Spinach such as “Giant Winter”
  • Sow Spring Cabbages for overwintering either in pots or in the ground in the week 2.  I have found it best to give them some protection with fleece or cloches during the winter and to give them a high nitrogen feed such as bloodmeal in the spring.
  • Continue to feed and water Sweetcorn
  • Harvest Sweetcorn, Garlic, Onions, Shallots, Beetroot, Celery, French Beans, Runner Beans, Calabrese this month.
  • Lift Onions when the bulbs are big, and the tops are yellow and beginning to fall over.  A tip that I have come across to prevent neck rot, is to dry them with the stems facing downward so that any moisture drains out.
  • Begin to earth up strong growing Leeks this month to give long white stems
  • Begin lifting maincrop potatoes later this month and into September
  • Cut down to ground level the stems of summer Raspberries which have borne fruit this year.  They will look brown and will show signs of having carried fruit.
  • Consider growing green manure in bare soil as crops are cleared from beds.  I find that Buckwheat sown now is easy to grow and provides plenty of organic matter when cut down before flowering

September

As crops are harvested and beds become empty, now is the time to start thinking about preparing the soil for next year.

  • Dig in well-rotted manure or compost or mulch your beds, that is lay the manure or compost on the surface of the soil for the worms to work in.
  • If you are going to dig in the manure or compost use about half to one bucket per square yard (metre).
  • If you are going to mulch, then you need to make a layer of manure or compost that is about two to three inches deep.
  • You could sow a green manure crop (see Kings Seeds catalogue for varieties) for digging in later. I do not sow Winter Tares or Field Beans on my plot as I find that the mice eat the seeds.
  • I cover some of my beds, for example the Asparagus bed, and where I intend to grow Peas and Beans, with weed-suppressing fabric.
  • Mulch Asparagus beds with manure or compost.
  • If you grow Runner Beans, then you could make a bean trench. To do this, dig a trench about a foot deep where the beans are going to be sown. Fill the trench with organic matter such as vegetable and fruit peelings, tea bags, plain paper, outside cabbage leaves, leafy weeds (no seed heads) and comfrey leaves if you have them. Keep it moist and once there is plenty of organic matter in the trench, cover it up with soil. You can do the same for other hungry crops such as Pumpkins, Squashes and Courgettes.
  • Try sowing overwintering Peas such as” Meteor”.  On my plot I find that mice or voles eat Pea seeds whatever I do, so I delay sowing until early spring, raising the Pea seedlings indoors and planting out when they are at least six inches tall when the rodents will leave them alone.
  • Stake Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts to prevent them from being blown over by the winter winds.  As with Spring Greens, net them to protect the plants from birds.
  • Lift any remaining potatoes
  • You can plant Garlic this month and into November.  Check to see that the variety is suitable for autumn planting.  Garlic cloves can be planted directly into the soil although some people like to start them off in modules and plant them once they have developed a bit of a root system.
  • Plant overwintering Onion sets in mid-September
  • To test whether Sweetcorn is ripe for picking, peel back the leaves covering the top of the cob and poke your thumbnail into one of the kernels; if a milky fluid comes out, it is ready.  The sugar in sweetcorn soon turns to starch so to get the best taste boil the cobs within an hour of picking if possible.  Cobs can also be frozen for using later.
  • Plant out Spring Cabbage sown last month for overwintering.
  • Sow winter Spinach early this month.
  • Sow Broad Bean “Aquadulce Claudia”. They need to be covered if a hard frost is forecast.

October

As plots become clear of harvested crops begin putting compost or well- rotted manure on the beds, except where you intend to grow Parsnips or Carrots next year as they tend to fork in soil which is rich in organic matter.  Over the past few years I have been using the no-dig system where you lay a layer of compost or manure at least two inches deep on the surface of the soil in the autumn and let the worms pull it down.  In the spring I lightly fork in any compost remaining on the surface.  Charles Dowding is the guru of non-dig gardening and has written several books on the subject if you are interested.

  • It is still not too late to sow overwintering Peas and Broad Beans.
  • Sow Winter Lettuce outside and Spring Onions under fleece or cloches.
  • Plant Spring Greens 6 inches apart.  They can be thinned to 12 inches apart in spring using the thinnings as greens and allowing the ones left to grow on as Cabbages.  Remember to cover them with netting to protect them from pigeons.
  • Plant Garlic this month and next.
  • Harvest Pumpkins in time for Halloween.

November

  • Continue with preparing the soil for next year’s crops by digging in well-rotted manure or compost or by adding a thick mulch for the worms to work in.
  • Last chance to put in autumn planting Garlic this month. Prepare the soil by digging in or mulching with well-rotted manure or compost.  Before planting rake in a general fertiliser such as Fish, blood and bone or Growmore if you are not organic.  Unlike Onion sets, Garlic cloves need to be planted deeply with about an inch of soil over the clove.  Only use the biggest, fattest cloves for planting and use the smaller, inside cloves for cooking.
  • Cut down autumn Raspberry canes to ground level
  • Plant Blackcurrants, red and white currants and Gooseberries.

December

Not much to do this month.  If your plot is weed free you can cover the soil with compost or manure as a mulch.  If your plot is weedy, cover it with cardboard or sheets of newspaper and then put the mulch on top.

  • Carrots can be left in the ground until needed if you cover them with fleece.
  • Divide Rhubarb roots to reinvigorate the plant.
  • Cover Cabbages, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli etc. with netting to prevent pigeons from eating them.
  • If you grow Onions from seed, this month is the time to sow them, Boxing Day being the traditional day to do it.  The seeds will need to be sown in a greenhouse or indoors. If you want to grow giant Onions, choose a suitable variety such as “Kelsae” or “Giant Exhibition”.  Unlike some other giant vegetables, huge onions keep their flavour well.
  • Stake Brussels Sprouts and Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants to prevent them from rocking in the wind.
  • Harvest winter vegetables such as Leeks and of course Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts for your Christmas dinner.

How to grow Potatoes

Growing Potatoes

Types of Potato: There are three groups of potatoes: First Earlies, Second Earlies and Maincrop, indicating how long they take to grow and how far apart they need to be planted.  First Earlies tend to avoid pests and diseases better (e.g. blight) but usually don’t store well and have a lower yield.  Maincrops usually store best and have the heaviest yield but take up more space in the garden and for longer.  Second Earlies are somewhere between the two.

Chitting: Potatoes are damaged by frost, so need to be kept somewhere frost-free until the ground is a bit warmer (e.g. from mid-March onwards).  To keep them in good condition, place them in a light, cool (approx. 10o C) but frost-free place.   Egg boxes are a handy way of storing seed potatoes until you are ready to plant them – the end with the most ‘eyes’ pointing upwards.  This means that the seed potatoes grow short, strong roots which can be left on when planted.  (If you keep them somewhere dark, they will grow long pale roots which will snap off, and the potato will go soft sooner.)  This process is known as ‘chitting’ but is not necessary if you are able to plant potatoes immediately.

Planting: Handle seed potatoes gently so as not to break off the stumpy roots.  Choose a sunny, well drained site, away from frost pockets.  Make a shallow trench (or individual holes) approx. 12cm / 5” deep and add a sprinkle of fertiliser e.g. Fish, Blood & Bone (organic) or Growmore (chemical).  Home-made compost, well-rotted manure or (chemical-free) grass clippings can be used to enrich the soil.

Plant First Earlies between mid-March and early April 12” (30cm) apart in rows 24” (60cm) apart. Early plantings should be protected from frost e.g. with fleece, straw or newspaper. They take about 10 to 12 weeks until they are ready to harvest

Plant Second Earlies between early and mid-April 15” (40cm) apart in rows 30” (75cm) apart. They take about 13 weeks until they are ready to harvest.

Plant Maincrops between late April to May 18” (45cm) apart in rows 30” (75cm) apart.  They take 20 weeks until they are ready to harvest.

If you are short of space, potatoes grow well in large containers.  An old compost sack can be used: turn inside out, make drainage holes in the base, fill about 12” deep with compost, roll down the top of the bag, plant three medium sized tubers.  Earth up potatoes by adding compost as they grow, up to a depth of about 18” / 45cm, unrolling the bag upwards as required. 

Growing: Potatoes should be ‘earthed up’ several times as they grow i.e. soil from between the rows is raked up around the plant, leaving the top leaves just visible.  This helps control weeds, stops potatoes peeking out of the soil and going green (and therefore poisonous), and helps protect from disease.  Soil should be kept moist but not wet – remember to check potatoes grown in containers.  Mulch can be used to conserve moisture.

Pests & Diseases: The most common problem is potato blight, a fungal disease, which causes dark blotches on leaves, plant collapse, and potatoes with sunken lesions, which may then turn into a foul-smelling mush.  Blight spreads rapidly in warm, damp weather.  Spores are washed down from infected leaves into the soil where they infect tubers.  Infected leaves and tubers should be disposed of in the black bin, and not composted or left in the soil, as this will spread the disease.

Slugs can also be a problem, particularly in wet weather: slug pellets may be used, and harvesting the crop avoids potatoes being tunnelled into.  Potato scab is a bacterial disease encouraged by warm dry weather and causes dry, brown patches on the surface of the potato: these don’t affect yield or taste and can be scraped off or peeled.

Harvesting: Potatoes are usually ready to harvest as soon as the flowers open (not all varieties flower), but maincrops can be left in the ground until foliage dies down.  Having a bit of a rummage to check how they’re growing is one of the treats of growing potatoes!  First earlies can be eaten as soon as you harvest them, but for maincrops, cut off the stems at ground level and remove them two weeks before you lift: this helps the potato skins to toughen up a little, which protects them during harvest.  Harvest on a dry day if possible, remove excess soil, and store in a dark, cool but frost-free location, allowing air circulation e.g. in a paper sack under the stairs.  Check monthly in case of any rotting.  Do not store any damaged potatoes as these will rot.  Remove all potatoes from the soil as any left behind (‘orphans’) may carry disease and will grow the following year.

Enjoy eating and sharing your harvest!!!

Potato Day varieties 2020

First Early
EpicureTraditional Ayrshire potato.  High yields.  Floury, all-rounder.
Maris Bard Waxy, traditional new potato taste. Very early. 
Pentland JavelinExcellent taste, waxy but becomes floury if left in ground.
Red Duke of YorkLarge tubers, floury, good all-rounder, excellent flavour
Sharpe’s ExpressOnly need brief cooking, papery skins can be rubbed off. Floury.
Second Early
BonnieGood disease resistance.  Good for boiling and baking.
CharlotteExcellent all-rounder, high yielding.  Waxy tubers, good flavour.
Edzell Blue Blue skin, white flesh, good flavour, floury.
International KidneyWaxy, good flavour.  Best steamed rather than boiled
KestrelSmooth skin with violet ‘eyes’, dry texture, good all-rounder.
LindaOld European variety, good taste, waxy yellow flesh.
Maris Peer Salad potatoes, waxy flesh, good for boiling.
Sarpo UnaEarly as a waxy salad, leave longer for a heavy crop of bakers.
Shetland BlackHeritage variety.  Purple skin.  Floury, best baked or roasted. 
Yukon GoldWaxy. Yellow flesh, sweet flavour.
Maincrop
Arran Victory Blue / purple skin, white flesh.  Floury, very tasty.  High yields.
DesireeWaxy but good for mash & baking, making it a great all- rounder.
Mayan Twilight Red & white skins, deep yellow flesh. Needs little cooking time.
PicassoHuge yields, large baking size tubers, stores well.
Pink Fir AppleKnobbly tubers, waxy, nutty flavour.  Good boiled or steamed,
Pink Gypsy Pink & white skins, good taste baked, roast or mashed.
Red King Edward A good all-rounder.   Creamy white flesh.  Light floury texture. 
RoosterFloury white flesh. All-rounder with good flavour & high yields. 
Sarpo Kifli Waxy, great new potato flavour.  High yielding, blight resistant. 
Sarpo Mira (organic)Blight resistant, high yields, stores very well.  Tasty, floury.
ViolettaHeritage variety.  Dark blue flesh and skin. Floury
Yetholm GypsyFloury. Heritage variety. Red, white and blue skin