In the Garden this week: March 18, 2011

Freezing surplus tomatoes

Freezing surplus tomatoes

• Now that the heat of summer has passed and we are getting into autumn, you can be thinking about planting woody trees and shrubs. Novice gardeners get inspired in spring but more experienced gardeners know that mid autumn is an optimum planting time. It gives plants a chance to get their roots established before the spring flush and the threat of a dry summer. Hedges, specimen trees, avenues and orchards – start frequenting your favourite garden centres to see what they have available. There is no rush. You are better to plant when we have had a few days of good rain and there is a six to eight week spell of good autumn planting weather.

• Garden centres are advertising spring bulbs. Remember when planting bulbs that most do not need super rich soils. Good drainage is the critical aspect so they don’t rot out when dormant. Light, friable soils are more hospitable than great clods of dirt but lay off the fertilisers. Digging in some leaf mulch or a little compost is all that most bulbs require. In the wild, many bulbs have evolved to survive in quite difficult conditions and mollycoddling can result in too much leafy growth to the detriment of flowers.

• You can do autumn cuttings of plants like fuchsias, pelargoniums, vireya rhododendrons and perennials which don’t clump so need to be increased by cuttings – dianthus (pinks), oenothera (evening primrose), erysimum (wallflowers) and the like. These types of plants root easily and don’t generally need rooting hormone. Use firm wood from this season’s growth and reduce the leaves by about half to stop the cutting drying out too quickly.

• You have pretty much missed the boat now on sowing root crops for winter because they need a longer growing season. If you have space, you could try carrots but they will only make baby grade. However, you are fine to continue planting brassicas, Florence fennel (finocchio), peas, winter spinach, winter lettuce and quick maturing Asian greens.

• If you have an abundance of tomatoes, we have found the easiest way yet to prepare them for freezing. Wash them, cut out any damaged bits and the central stem area. Pile them into big roasting dishes and bake in the oven until cooked. Cool. Drain off the clear liquid (tasty as juice or frozen for soups). Pull off the skins which are now very loose. Freeze in small containers. They become concentrated and ideal for using later in the year.

• As long as you can get a hosepipe within reach, it should safe to sow new lawns after the next good rain.