How to sow parsnips

Parsnips are among the easiest veg to grow

Before sowing you have to think about the potential problems from carrot fly and parsnip canker that may put paid to your crop – sow resistant varieties such as ‘Avonresister’ and ‘Archer’, and try growing them in containers or drums if you’re being cautious, as this will prevent carrot fly from reaching your plants and destroying them.

You’ll also have to cover them over of you don’t want nibblers such as mice coming to eat your tender foliage as it grows!

Plus, if you’ve got stony ground, try and remove as many stones as possible and create a smooth tilth, or you may get forked roots.

You can pre-germinate your seeds in a plastic bag of moist compost to ensure germination – pop them in an airing cupboard, after a few days you’ll see little leaves emerging and then plant them up into your drill line.

This is a failsafe way of germinating, but you can always sow traditionally straight into your beds as per below, as long as you give your parsnips room to grow in a sunny spot with light crumbly soil.

How to grow onions

This is another great crop to be getting started with now, simply sow direct into the soil

Although onion sets when they’re available are easy to just pop in the ground, it’s so much more satisfying to enjoy the whole germination process and grow onions from seed.

Sown in the winter onions will be ready in early summer next year, up to a month before normal maincrop onions.

They like very well-drained soil where they won't fall foul of winter wet, so fork some extra grit or sand into the sowing area to help improve drainage.

Try to get the seeds sown by the end of the month. That will give them time to produce good-sized bulbs by winter, which will be able to withstand whatever the weather throws at them.

Fully-sized bulbs should be ready by next July, but you can also harvest leaves from them earlier for a bonus ‘spring onion’ crop.

Keep the soil well watered up until germination, which should occur just a few days after sowing, in warm, damp soil.

After germination, thin out the seedlings to leave a seedling every 15cm (6in) along the row.

How to grow a mini fruit orchard

What better way to start a summer’s day than stepping out of your back door and picking a delicious, tangy blueberry or fragrant strawberry?

Growing your own fruit and veg is always hugely satisfying, and to my mind, it’s even better when it’s easy and there’s no digging involved. 

Bring a bit of your allotment into the garden and grow some mini fruit on small patio in pots.

If you buy potted plants much later, you risk damaging the flowers or developing fruit and sacrificing your home-grown harvests.

If you want to save money, there are bargains to be had as bare-root plants are still just available from specialist nurseries and mail order.


The range of peaches an nectarines available today shows you the skill of the nurseryman and plant breeder.

Gone are the days when you need a huge greenhouse to cultivate them.

Now you can grow these fruits at home, on the tiniest patio, as long as it’s sheltered and sunny. Dwarf peaches really are tiny.

You can buy them as ready-grown pot plants just a couple of feet tall, ready to fruit away this year.

They’ve long, glossy leaves and attractive pink blossom early in the year so put them in the best container you can afford as you won’t want to hide them away!

As they flower so early, frost can damage flowers and reduce your crop. If a freeze is forecast during the flowering period, wrap the plants in fleece overnight.

Alternatively, keep your potted peach and nectarine trees in an unheated greenhouse from November until mid-May.

This can also help prevent peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that can harm both peaches and nectarines.

Early flowering means they can miss out on the services of bees, so it’s worth pollinating them by hand.

Wait for a sunny day and gently dab the centre of each flower with a soft paintbrush.

Try peach ‘Crimson Bonfire’ from or nectarine ‘Nectarella’ from


Cherries are so rewarding – not only do you get pretty, white blossom in the spring and lots of juicy fruit in the summer, but often they’ll give you good autumn colour, too.

There are various dwarf cherries available. If you’re unsure, look for the rootstock ‘Gisela’ or ‘Colt’.

Give them a sunny spot and a generous-size container (60cm/24in or more), and don’t forget to net them against greedy birds who love them as much as we do!

Put the net over as soon as the fruits start to change from green to red.

Many old cherry varieties need a pollination partner, so make sure when you buy your plant that it’s a self-fertile variety, such as ‘Celeste’, ‘Compact Stella’ or ‘Sunburst’.

It’s also worth noting that different varieties are different colours when they’re ripe – some will be yellow blushed with red, some almost scarlet, and some are near black, so don’t pick them under-ripe or they won’t taste as good!

Available from www. and

Mini rhubarb

Suitable for even the tiniest patio, this has to be seen to be believed.

Bred in Europe and sold under the name ‘Lilibarber’, this new, tiny rhubarb grows to just 30cm (12in) high!

Luckily it doesn’t stop producing new stalks in the summer, like most traditional varieties of rhubarb, so you can harvest from spring right through to autumn.

Don’t reach for the custard just yet though. 

The stalks are so tiny they need to be considered more of a garnish than a main ingredient.

Apparently they’re delicious simply dipped in sugar and eaten raw.

Available from