Getting the best from your Yorkshire garden
PUBLISHED: 01:16 22 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:15 20 February 2013
Growing fruit and vegetables has its challenges, especially in the North, as Martin Fish discovers
More people are having a go at growing their own fruit and vegetables for a variety of reasons. For me, it is all about being able to wander down the garden to pick fresh produce as and when we want it. And you cant get away from the fact that the taste is always better when you can pick the produce fresh from the garden and eat it straight away.
When we moved from Nottinghamshire to North Yorkshire two years ago, one of the first things I did was start a new vegetable plot. I have grown vegetables since childhood and I thought I knew what I was doing but what I didnt take into account was how different the growing season would be here in Yorkshire around 100 miles north of our old home.
I reckon that the growing season where I live now, near Thirsk, is about seven to 10 days shorter than where I lived in the East Midlands.
Temperatures take a little longer to warm up in spring and the cool autumn nights start a little earlier making the growing season that bit shorter. This might not seem much but with certain crops such as sweet corn, runner beans, butternut squashes and courgettes that need warmth and a long growing season, it really does make a difference. So I have had to adapt the way I grow some plants in order to get the best possible crops.
Where possible I start as many plants off under cover in my greenhouse to give them a head start. Even an unheated greenhouse will provide enough protection to extend the growing season by a week or two at each end of the growing season and if you provide a little heat, the skys the limit.
Rather than sow seed directly into the garden, I like to start some vegetable seeds off in pots or trays in the greenhouse ready to transplant into the garden when the soil has had time to warm up a little. This way the plants get that vital head start.
I also try to choose varieties that have been bred for the British climate and indeed many seed companies will recommend varieties suitable for growing in the North. For example sweet corn Swift, butternut squash Hunter and courgette Defender have all been bred to mature faster than some of the old varieties, making them ideal for growing in the North of England.
I also use garden fleece in the garden to protect tender plants after planting out. Fleece will allow air and water through and protect plants from the cold spring winds and keep off a couple of degrees of frost.
I usually start growing in March with salad crops and lettuce that are sown into small plug trays. Even a cold greenhouse or cold frame will give them enough protection for germination and once the seedlings have two or three leaves I plant them into the garden. Early crops are planted under cloches of fleece to keep them cosy and out of the cold northerly winds.
Runner beans are one of my favourite summer vegetables and to make sure I have strong healthy plants the seeds are sown in cell trays of multipurpose compost. I sow around the end of April in frost-free conditions and by late May or early June when the danger of frost has passed I plant out into the garden where the plants soon establish and grow away. By the end of July the plants are normally at the top of their canes, in full flower and starting to crop. One of the varieties I grow is St George which has very attractive red and white flowers and seems to grow well in my North Yorkshire garden.
Onions are a good crop to grow but they need to have a fairly early start in order for them to make a decent sized bulb. Onions are light sensitive and after mid-summer, when the nights start to draw in, growth slows down. Onions can be grown from seed but the easiest way to get started is to plant onion-sets. These are immature onion bulbs that once planted start into growth very quickly. Onions are fairly tough and need to be planted out in early April to give them a long enough growing season.
It can be a bit chilly at that time of the year so it is worth covering over the newly planted sets with a layer of fleece. After a couple of weeks when new shoots start to appear the fleece can be removed.
Strawberries are very rewarding to grow and the fresh, juicy berries are delicious. The plants are totally hardy but the flowers are easily damaged by frosts in late spring. The plants also need warmth and sunshine to help the fruits grow and ripen.
To overcome the dangers of frosted flowers, I now grow some of my strawberries in containers in the greenhouse, but a conservatory could also be used. At this time of the year young strawberry plants are available from garden centres ready for planting out into the garden, or potting up.
I usually plant three or four plants to a 20cm hanging pot. Keep the compost moist and feed with a high potash fertiliser such as Phostrogen as soon as flowering starts and by mid-summer you should be picking your own strawberries. After fruiting, trim back all the old foliage and runners and stand the pots outside where they can stay until next spring when you start them into growth again.
Growing vegetables in North Yorkshire does come with a few challenges but as long as you plan what you are growing, choose suitable varieties and give a little protection when needed, you should get some great results.
The effort is more than paid back when you start harvesting in summer and autumn.
Martin Fish is Show Director for the North of England Horticultural Society organisers of the Harrogate Flower Shows. He is a qualified horticulturist and writes for several gardening publications and broadcasts for the BBC.