Healthy food? Yes we really dig it

Top tips: Matthew Biggs
Top tips: Matthew Biggs
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SHEFFIELD is digging for victory in the battle for healthy food.

More people than ever are growing their own veg in the city with waiting lists for council allotments in all areas and suburban back gardens across the city booming and blooming.

It's not too late to sow your own

It's not too late to sow your own

Sheffield City Council manages more than 3,000 allotments on 70 sites – but you don’t necessarily need a large area to grow your own.

All you need is an area that catches the sun for five hours a day – and to learn to cope with our barmy weather like the cold wet spell we had in late spring.

Celebrity gardener Matthew Biggs, a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, says the damp spring shouldn’t hamper crops too much, although germination will have been slower.

“Depending on the soil type you have, the cold, wet weather early on will mean that the soil will have warmed up very slowly, particularly clay which gets waterlogged,” said the gardening expert.

“It has slowed the season down. A lot of people in Sheffield sowed and planted early, encouraged by the burst of warm weather in early spring. Many won’t have had the germination at the time. But now everything should be germinating quickly.”

Seeds sown early may have ended up waterlogged and rotting, or germination will have been erratic. But it’s not necessarily too late for a second sowing, he says.

“What happens is that seeds can germinate in a matter of days in warm weather. You can catch up and redress the balance.”

The period of warm weather in late March and early April may have led to seeds germinating, but the cooler temperatures later in spring probably hampered their growth, or they may have succumbed to frost.

“Beetroot, radishes and early carrots are generally pretty hardy, but the cold can affect anything planted during the cooler, wetter period. Tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes shouldn’t be planted out until all risk of frost has passed, so savvy gardeners will have kept them indoors throughout the cold, wet spell but should be quite safe to plant them outdoors now.

“The key rule with planting out is to go by the weather, not what it says on the label. It may say, ‘Sow from March to May’, but if in March the ground’s waterlogged or freezing, ignore that advice.

“Weather conditions dictate when you should sow. Instructions on the packet are more of a guideline.”

Tomatoes are susceptible to weather-related diseases such as blight, which is related to periods of warmth and humidity at the end of June.

“There are some varieties such as Ferline and Shirley that have some resistance, but it is only resistance and you can still get walloped. It’s more of a problem in wet weather,” Biggs says.

“Leaf mould can also be a weather-related problem, while splitting and cracking are cultural problems, caused by erratic watering, as is blossom end rot.”

For those growing tomatoes in large pots outdoors, ideally use a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes, which is a heavier, more moisture-retentive compost, he advises.

Grafted tomatoes may also be more resistant to disease, producing heavy crops early on because of their natural vigour.

Those who have sown crops later because of bad weather will have later harvests, he says, but if we now have consistently warm temperatures, they will catch up.

“There are hardy varieties of lettuce, beetroot, early carrots and peas which are bred to grow in cooler conditions. Those early crops are normally the first ones to mature. For the most part, by the time you’ve had a long growing season, you will hardly notice.”

It will be music to the ears of the many vegetable gardeners who worried the growing season wouldn’t be long enough to see a good harvest.

“There won’t be too much damage from this year’s fluctuating temperatures,” Biggs concludes.

“Things will inevitably be two or three weeks later, depending on where you are in the country.

“Colder areas, which have a shorter growing season anyway, may scupper some crops but the damage should be minimal.”

Matthew Biggs will be hosting Grow Your Own Garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live, June 13-17, at the NEC Birmingham.

The show will also feature Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein and other gardening favourites.

For more information, visit or call 0844 581 1340

More information on Sheffield Allotments on 2734528 or e-mail:

You don’t need acres to enjoy your fruit and veg

FANCY growing your own?

Sheffield City Council manages more than 3,000 allotments and, with over 70 sites to choose from, there’s sure to be one near you – although there are waiting lists in all areas.

But you don’t need a large space – or even a garden – to produce your own fruit, vegetable and salad leaves.

Many fruits & vegetables can be grown in containers on windowsills, patios or balconies. Salad leaves, herbs such as basil or coriander, baby spinach or leaf beet, pea tops, chillis and peppers will fourish.

Fruit and veg that will happily grow on your patio or balcony include carrots and potatoes (in sacks), herbs such as sage and thyme, spinach or leaf beat, spring greens, outdoor varieties of tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries and if you have a bit more space for climbing plants - cucumber, beans, some climbing/trailing tomato varieties, baby squash and courgettes.

“Growing your own is a great idea and very rewarding, said a city council spokesman.

“Allotments are also a good way of producing healthy, delicious fruit and veg at a relatively low cost and you can produce them organically if you want to.

“They are also a good way to make friends with people who share your interest in gardening and there are plots designed for disabled people (wheelchair and non-wheelchair users) available at some sites.”

More information on Sheffield Allotments on 2734528 or at

Don’t be wasteful with water

WATER is precious.

Although it may not seem like it at the moment Sheffield has just emerged from a drought after two unusually dry winters.

There may be plenty of the wet stuff around now but always remember to conserve water and take on board these tips:

Use grey water – that which has already been used in the home. Normal household soaps and detergents won’t damage plants but avoid bleaches and strong disinfectants. Make sure the water is cool before using it in the garden.

Water the roots around the stem base and do it early morning or in the evening, when it won’t evaporate so quickly.

Even if you have a hosepipe ban, drip irrigation systems are still allowed. Consider a ‘leaky-pipe’ system to keep parched plots alive. Many modern systems have efficient water usage.