Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home: Companion Planting

    Companion Planting

    Companion planting is where two or more crops are grown together for the benefit of one, or all. The most successful combinations mirror nature.  They can be an important part of planning a successful and productive garden.

     

    Deterrent Smell

    Plants have natural affinities with others of their kind.  The smell of volatile oils from many plants can above all discourage pests, making them excellent companion plants. Perhaps the most well known is the relationship between the tomato plant and the strong smelling French Marigold.  This is said to deter whitefly, for instance.

    While there is little scientific proof of these associations working, if you talk to any experienced gardener they will certainly provide plenty of anecdotal evidence.  Tomatoes like to be grown with Basil and Parsley.  Useful for cooks as well as gardeners.  And separating rows of brassicas with onions has always been popular.  This is possibly due to the strong scent of onions confusing the cabbage pests.

    Companion_planting_marigold_carrotsAttracting Pollinators

    English Marigold (Calendula) can provide welcome splashes of colour in the kitchen garden.  The added benefit is that they attract pollinators.  Along with Yarrow (Achillea) and Hyssop they also attract hover flies.  The hover flies will lay their eggs around these plants and when they hatch the larvae feast on aphids.

    Lavender_in_pot_in_flowerEnhancing fragrance

    Some gardeners know Chamomile as the 'plant doctor'.  This is because of its alleged ability to encourage the production of essential oils making their scent and taste stronger. It is attractive and easy to grow so a worthwhile addition to any planting scheme.

    Another garden 'must have' is the super fragrant Lavender. This acts as a general insect repellent whilst still attracting bees to your plot.

    Crops and their Companions

    Different combinations work in different conditions, so experimentation and experience is the best guide. Below are some combinations of crops and their companions that work well in most situations:

    • Asparagus: Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil
    • Beans: Carrots, lettuce,parsley, spinach
    • Beetroot: Onions, cabbages
    • Cabbages: Celery, mint, thyme, onions, nasturtiums
    • Carrots: Peas, radish, chives, onion, leek
    • Courgette: Nasturtiums
    • Lettuce: Strawberry, beetroot, radish
    • Onions: Carrots, beetroot, chamomile, courgette
    • Parship: Garlic
    • Peas: Potatoes, radish, carrot
    • Spinach: Strawberry
    • Tomato: Celery, basil, marigolds, foxglove
  • Grow At Home: Rocket

    Rocket_in_seed_trayWho doesn't love a little peppery rocket in their salad?  And who hasn't gone to the fridge and found a bag of sorry looking rocket that is more limp than lovely!  The solution is simple.  And that is to grow your own.

    Sowing

    Rocket can either be started off in small pots on the windowsill, in the greenhouse, or it can be sown directly outside.

    Sow seeds inside from March to June or outside from June to September.  Sow small amounts at regular intervals (say every 3 to 4 weeks) so that you don't create your own rocket glut and instead have a nice steady supply all summer long.

    Choose a sunny spot with rich, fertile well drained soil.  Sow thinly, 0.5-1cm (¼- ½in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart.

    Keep the seedlings covered with a Easy Poly Tunnel or a  Victorian Bell Cloche during the Spring and with a Easy Net Tunnel or a Easy Fleece Lantern Cloche  during the hotter months, This helps to protect them and speed up their growth.  When the seedlings are big enough to handle, thin them out a little and use the thinnings in salad.  Your first taste of home grown rocket!

    Care

    Mid _size_rocket_growing

    Rocket very quickly goes to seed once it has matured, keeping it watered well can help stall this and stop it bolting.  As flower buds appear, pinch them out to prolong cropping, unless you want the plants to set seed. The flower buds can also be used in salads.

    If you do turn your back for a moment and find your rocket bolted then you can always harvest the seeds for next year and tell people it was deliberate! This means the next sowing has cost you nothing which will make it taste even better!

    Provide some shade in really hot weather as too much sun will make the leaves tough and not nice to eat.  Also, try not to over water as this will dilute the taste.

     

    Pests

    Flea beetle are sometimes a problem on rocket.  The leaves will become covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. To prevent this use fleece, especially whilst its still young, and keep the soil moist. If you water in nitrogen-rich fertilser then the crop can recover from this .

    Harvest

    pasta_bowl_with_rocketHarvest lasts from April to November but you can pick your fist leaves around 4 weeks after planting.  Don't pick all the leaves form one plant as this will weaken its growth.  Instead, pick a few leaves from each plant and they will keep providing so you can ‘cut-and-come-again’ for much longer.

    Try to pick just what you need but if you do pick more you can store them in a paper bag (will work just as well as a plastic one without the environmental impact) in a cool place for 2-4 days. Don’t let the rocket get too cold or it will wilt as soon as it warms up.

    Rocket adds a great peppery taste to salads. It is delicious with a balsamic vinegar dressing, in a bacon butty or scattered over pasta.

    For grow a whole range of salads along with your rocket see our Grow at Home: Salad Leaves Blog too.

  • Grow at Home: Spinach

    Spinach_seedlingsYou will have heard (maybe from the lips of the legendary PopEye) that spinach is super high in iron.  This, and the rumor that a scientist put the decimal place in the wrong spot thus multiplying the iron content by ten, both appear to be unsubstantiated and probably false.    However, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.  It is also tasty and versatile and can be used from smoothies to stir fries to salads. Oh, and its easy to grow!

    Sowing & Harvesting

    Sow your spinach seeds directly outside in their final positions from March to August. Sow them in shallow lines quite thinly. Cover them with poly tunnels or cloches to protect them and to encourage growth, you may also need a Slug-Buster.  If you don't have a large garden then spinach will also thrive in a container. Choose a Shallow vegetable planter -as spinach doesn't 't have long roots - and plant thinly exactly as you would outside.

    As the seedlings appear, thin them out to about 6-8” 15-20cm apart. You can pick the smaller more tender leaves when they are about 3” 7cm long and use them in salads, anything bigger than that should be cooked for a short amount of time and be eaten as a hot vegetable.

    Keep picking the leaves so that a) they don’t run to seed and b) they keep on growing.

    tiny_spinach_plants_in_groundPerpetual Spinach is the one that I always plant as you only need to plant one lot and it lasts for months and months, sometimes even years – Very easy. Perpetual spinach is not actually spinach but looks and is eaten in exactly the same way.

  • Grow at Home - Perfect Pumpkins

    Big_pumpkins_in_field_with_many_behind

    Pumpkins are a perfect crop to grow with children as they look impressive and can be put to use at Halloween as lanterns.  The flesh makes great soups and pies and there are many other than the huge orange varieties which are developed for great flavour rather than size.

    Where to grow

    Deep fertile soil that is rich in Humus. Before planting out dig a panting pit 45cm deep.  Fill the pit with well rotted manure or garden compost and back fill again.

    Plant or sow pumpkins in a sunny position and protect from strong winds

    Sowing

    Sowing can begin under glass in late spring at a temperature of 15-18c.  Soak the seed overnight to speed up germination.  Rootrainers will give them the perfect start.

    Plant out in the prepared space in early summer after all threat of frost has passed. Alternatively sow direct in early summer under an Easy Tunnel to aid germination.

    Keep a distance of 1.5m between rows or use one Medium Veg Planter per plant.

    Aftercare

    To keep the vigorous growth in check, train the stems around the plant pinning them to the ground with pegs or opt for a decorative frame to support the developing crop.

    Watering needs to to take place throughout the growing season and feeding every two weeks will support the rapid growth of the pumpkins.  Pinch out the trailing tips and once the fruits are mature stop watering and feeding completely.

    Harvesting and Storage

    The fruits will mature best on the plant.  Harvest the entire crop before the first frosts, leaving a stem of about 5 cm. Leave them in a sunny position for about a week for the skins to harden - they will then store well.

    Pumpkin Pests and diseases

    Slugs can be a problem, especially when the fruits start to grow - Slugbusters will help to protect the crop.

  • Grow at Home: Super Strawberries

    strawberries_flower_portrait

    Strawberries can be grown in the ground, in hanging baskets or in containers.  They are simple to grow and an easy and delicious place for kids to start their gardening journey.

    They come in early, mid and late season varieties so if you choose your plants carefully you can have strawberries on tap throughout the summer.  Not only will you save money at the supermarket but you will have fresher, tastier strawberries too.

    How to Start your Strawberries

    Strawberries can be grow from seed, runners or small plants bought at the Garden Centre. It should be noted that they produce their best fruit when they are in their second and third years so however you start them, do not expect much in the first year.  Whichever one you choose they need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation.

    Growing from Seed

    strawberries_in-handsCheck your seed packet for instructions but many strawberry seeds need to be cold treated before they will germinate.  To do this, place the seeds, in an airtight container, and put it in a freezer for 2 to 4 weeks. This simulates winter so once they thaw the seeds are fooled into coming to life.  Remove the seeds from the freezer and leave them to gradually warm up to room temperature.

    Once your strawberry seeds are at room temperature you can plant them in a seed tray filled with suitable compost.  Moisten the mixture with water and sprinkle your strawberry seeds evenly over it. Cover them with a light dusting of soil ensuring that some light can still reach them as they need it to germinate.  Keep them indoors in a well-lit room and in direct sunlight.  They should germinate in two to three weeks.

    Keep the soil moist and keep the tray somewhere warm.  On top of a fridge or with a heat pad underneath are both good options.  Gently transfer the strawberry seedlings to larger containers or pots after they gain their 3rd leaves. 

    If weather allows, the strawberry seedlings can be planted directly outside after hardening off first.

    Growing from Runners

    Strawberries are so easy to propagate (to have babies – reproduce). After the harvesting season you will notice that off the strawberry plant there is a shoot or 'runner'.  This will often have a baby strawberry plant developing on the end. When this shoot has rooted itself to the ground you can a) leave it there b) move it to a better spot c) replace an old plant with it d) give it away if you don’t want it!  Most gardeners are happy to pass these runners on to others and spread the strawberry love so its a great way to start your strawberry patch.

    Growing from plants 

    The easiest thing to do is to buy some strawberry plants, usually during the early Spring, and then to plant them out.

    Planting Strawberries

    Prepare the soil well.  Fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart. You could use an EasyPath between rows to allow easy access for picking.

    If you don’t have the space for strawberries don’t forget that you can plant them in patio planters, this can be quite good as you can move them to warm spots or even encourage more fruit by placing the whole thing in a greenhouse.  They are really striking in hanging baskets and only dare-devil slugs and snails will make the journey meaning your ripening fruit is safer here than anywhere else.

    After flowering

    strawberries_dewAs soon as the flowers finish, the first tiny green strawberries start to appear or “set”. Make sure you weed carefully and now is the time to set up your slug protection, such as SlugBusters. You may also want to protect the strawberries from rotting by placing some straw underneath, I don’t seem to need to do this myself as my patch is fairly dry but if your patch isn't, this will keep them off the damp ground.

    If your plants are in containers they will need watering but if your plants are in the ground then avoid watering after flowering if possible.  Damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it first thing in the morning so that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.

     

     

    Replacing Old Plants

    Strawberry plants don't last forever and will only last around 4 seasons.  After this both yield and flavour will drop so they should be replaced.  To grow your own replacements, leave a few of this years plants un-pruned and peg down the resulting  runners to the soil.  They will grow into new plants ready for next year.

    Pests & Diseases

    Beware of birds, once they find a supply of yummy ripe strawberries, they will be gone in a matter of hours. Cover them with plant protection nets before they start to ripen. Also beware of slugs they are much slower in their approach but also enjoy strawberries.

    Harvesting & Storage

    The first harvest of your strawberries will be delicious and sweet, towards the end of the season I find that they are not quite as good and this is when I collect them for jam making. Yum.

    I'm not a fan of frozen strawberries - too mushy - but if you have a glut and don't want to make jam then they can be frozen.  Place them in the freezer individually on a tray, when frozen pack them up into bags.

  • Grow at Home: Broccoli and Calabrese

     

    broccoli_plant

    Broccoli (Purple Sprouting) and Italian Calabrese are often confused as the supermarket sold 'broccoli' is in fact the large green headed calabrese.

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli is an excellent crop for filling the harvesting gap at the end of the winter and heralds the start of the new grow your own season for many gardeners.

    Where to grow

    All forms of broccoli and calabrese do best in an open sunny position. Protection from strong winds will prevent the plants from rocking.

    Both require a rich soil. Manure in the Autumn and apply lime  if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7 in particular for the purple sprouting variety.

    Sowing

    During Spring sow purple sprouting seed thinly in rows to a depth of 1cm with 15cm between rows. After germination thin to 5 cm apart in preparation for transplanting to their final position.  Calabrese do not transplant as happily so should ideally be sown direct and thinned to 30 cm apart. Easy Tunnels will aid germination and Easy Net Tunnels protect the young seedlings from birds.

    Transplant deeply with the first leaves sitting on the soil surface to discourage cabbage root fly and help stabilise the plant.  Firm in well, again to help secure the plant and eliminate any air pockets.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered during dry periods to allow healthy growth throughout the long growing season.  Mulching the rows with garden compost will help retain moisture and keep weeds in check as will regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help loosening the soil around the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting in late winter and continue through to mid spring, depending on the variety grown.  Harvest shoots of Purple Sprouting varieties  before they flower at around 15cm long.  Regular cutting encourages new shoots and any that reach flowering stage should be removed to prevent exhausting the plant.

    Calabrese can be harvested from late summer to early autumn.  Heads should be cut, starting from the central flower head, while still tightly closed. Spread harvesting of the crop to avoid completely stripping a plant.

    Broccoli Pests and diseases

    Cabbage root fly is the main pest to effect broccoli and calabrese.  Protect with fleece during the early stages to help avoid this - Easy Fleece Tunnels or Fleece Lantern Cloche are ideal.

    In order to prevent damage to the roots from wind rock (damage to the roots of young plants, caused by the movement of the stem in the wind.)use a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

  • Grow at Home: Courgettes & Squashes

    Courgettes_pumpkins_pileCourgettes are so easy to grow and you can get as many as three or four a week from each plant during the height of the season.  Squash are also easy and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes from huge pumpkins to tiny cucamelons.  You can even grow your own Loofah (yes its a squash!) if you want to take squash growing to another level!

    Which you grow depends on

    • the space you have
    • what you like to eat
    • when you want to grow them  - there are winter squashes and summer squashes
    • What you like the look of - some are so decorative that you might just want them there to add some zing to your colour scheme (and of course you can eat them after too)

     

    Where to Grow Courgettes & Squashes

    They need quite a bit of space - about a square metre/yard per plant for courgettes and bush squash varieties, so allow enough room in your veg patch.  Trailing squash varieties need even more space - around 5' (1.5m) square.Kabocha

    If you don't have this amount of space spare they will be perfectly at home in a large Veg Planter or a Grow Bag Planter. Plant one per container or one or two per Growbag planter.   

    Sowing

    cucamelons_chelseaOutside

    You can sow directly outside from May onwards.  If you do this then sow 2 to 3 seeds 1" (2.5cm) deep and cover with a Cloche or an Easy Poly Tunnel.  Leave the protection in place for at least two weeks and then thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one. The cover will also help keep slugs away too which are partial to a young courgette plant.

    Inside

    It is easier and more successful to get them going inside though on a windowsill or in the greenhouse.  Sow the seeds on their side  ½ ”(1 cm) deep in small 3” (7.5cm) pots on the windowsill  from April to June,

    From May onwards harden off the plants.  Do this by putting them in a cold frame for a week.  If you don't have a cold frame then put them outside during the day and then pull them back inside at night for a week.  Then put them outside in a sheltered spot day and night for a week.  Once hardened plant them out into their final position from May to July when they are as large as you dare let them grow in the small pots.

    Courgettes love a good dollop of manure under them so if you have any dig it into the bed along with some good compost or add it to your container before you plant them.

    Flowers

    Courgettes_flower_with_baby_courgetteWe just have to mention the flowers at this stage.  Courgette and squash plants have male and female flowers on the same plant.  The male flowers appear first and have a single stamen covered in pollen.  They release this pollen and then fall off leading those new to courgette growing to panic and wonder if they will get any courgettes!  Rest assured that the fruit all comes from the female flowers.  The plant then produces female flowers which have a noticeable swelling behind the flower which is the start of the fruit.

    Watering & Feeding

    Courgettes and squashes are very thirsty plants so need frequent watering.  Try to avoid getting water on the leaves when watering and don't let it sit in a pool of water as this may cause rot.

    Once the fruits start to appear - you will see them behind the flowers - feed every 10-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser.

    Harvesting

    Harvest from July to October.  Pick the courgettes anything from 6” 15cm to 12” 30cm, depending on what you want to do with them. Croping them while small will ensure a longer croping period.  The smaller they are the more tender and more delicious. The larger ones are good for perhaps stuffed courgette dishes. The flower is also edible either fried in a light tempura batter or in a salad.

    Pests & Diseases

    Powdery Mildew: Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaves which become stunted and shrivel.

    Remedy: Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations  Easy if you are growing in containers - simply move elsewhere in the garden.

    Grey mould: This is a grey, fuzzy fungal growth which can begin as pale or discoloured patches. It is most common in damp or humid conditions. Spores can survive over winter and enter plants via damaged tissue or open flowers.

    Remedy: Where you see the black spores remove damaged plant parts before they can become infected. Cut out infected areas into healthy tissue and clear up infected debris and wash your hands before touching healthy plants. If growing in the greenhouses, ventilate well to reduce humidity and give plants lots of space.

    No courgettes or fruit rots whilst very small: This is not strictly a 'pest or disease' but more a problem with the growing conditions.  It is usually caused when pollination has not taken place or has been inadequate.  This happens when the start of the summer is cool and there aren't enough insects around to pollinate the plants.

    Remedy:  If you notice a lack of insects then you may want to try to hand-pollinate your plants.  Do this by taking off a male flower (see above on how to identify one).  Brush the central parts against the centre of a female flower. If you don't have time to do this don't worry.  This problem should go away on its own when the weather starts to improve.

  • Grow at Home - Perfect Parsnips

    Parsnips_piled_in_basket

    Parsnips are a good vegetable for the inexperienced gardener as they require very little work and are easy to grow.  Parsnips taste great used in stir-fries, mashed with potato or carrot or as an accompaniment to a traditional roast.

    Where to grow parsnips

    Do not grow parsnips on freshly manured ground - a bed manured for a previous crop in the preceding season would be ideal. Ideally the soil needs to be stone free and dug over during the winter to produce the best quality parsnips and adding compost from your heap will help to improve the soil without it becoming over rich.

    Parsnips like an open sunny site, but will tolerate light shade.

    Sowing

    Sow in late winter to late spring in drills 1cm deep and space seed about 15cm apart.  Alternatively sow in rows and thin out at the seedling stage.  Rows should be spaced 30cm apart and protection with Easy Tunnels will aid germination, which can take up to three weeks.

    Intercropping between the rows is a good idea with rocket or radish working well.

    Aftercare

    Thin out the seedlings to 15cm apart and water the crop during dry periods - parsnips hate to dry out.  Regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help avoid damaging the crowns of the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting them when the foliage begins to die down in mid Autumn.  The best tasting parsnips are lifted after the first frosts.  Lift them only when required - the remainder can be left in the ground through to late winter.

    A slight cautionary tale - parsnips are related tot he Giant Hogweed which means the leaves can cause severe skin irritation and blistering.  So if you have sensitive skin then consider wearing gloves when harvesting or weeding around the plants.

    Parsnip Pests and diseases

    Generally trouble free but Parsnip Canker can affect the crop, especially in acid or over manured soils. Carrot Fly can be a problem in some areas so as a precaution it would be sensible to try a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

  • Grow at Home - Cucumbers

    cucumber_slices_3Like many other veg, cucumbers you grow yourself have much more flavour than those from a supermarket.  And that is the first reason to grow them.  Another reason is that they are versatile and you can grow them inside or outside, in the ground, in pots or in grow bags so they work whatever your space.

    Male & Female

    Cucumbers, like most cucurbit plants, produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant.  Which variety you choose seems to be the real crux of cucumber growing and governs what you have to do to grow them successfully.

    Excuse me if I get a little technical for the next few paragraphs but the ins and outs of male and female flowers needs a little explanation. If you aren't interested in this and just want to get your cucumbers in the ground then just check what your seed packet says in terms of flower removal and skip to the Sowing section!  If not, here goes...

    There are two sorts of cucumbers - monoecious and gynoecious and both of these can be parthenocarpic i.e. they can produce fruit without pollination.

    cucumbers_flowerThe traditional variety- monoecious

    Traditional varieties have both male and female flowers in a ratio of about 10 male to 1 female.  The male flowers usually appear first followed by the female.  This leads some to believe that their plant will not produce female flowers but if you hold your nerve you will be rewarded.

    If you have a variety that needs pollination then there is no need to remove the male flowers.  Their pollen will hopefully be transferred, usually by bees, or wind, to the female flowers to pollinate them. After which your cucumbers will appear.

    If you have a parthenocarpic variety (no pollination needed) then these take a bit of care as you have to pick the male flowers off.  Otherwise they will pollinate the female flowers and the fruit will be bitter. (see below for more on bitterness)

    To identify the sex of the flower, look behind it and see if there is a cucumber growing.  This is a  female flower.  Leave these.  If there is no swelling behind the flower then this is a male and the flower must be picked off depending on your variety.

    The Modern variety - Gynoecious 

    These are simple to grow as the flowers will be predominantly female.

    With Parthenocarpic varieties they will produce fruit without pollination and will be seedless.  Take care as, even though they don't need to be pollinated, they still can be from nearby plants.  So you may want to grow in  a greenhouse or cover them to avoid getting bitter cucumbers.  Some seed packets class these as "indoor cucumbers".

    With the Gynoecious variety pollination is still needed so some traditional varieties will also need to be sown alongside.  Plant your own or check with neighbouring plot holders!

    These 'modern' cucumbers are shorter than traditional ones but you do get more of them.  The fruiting period is shorter too so you are more likely to have a glut of cucumbers.  A traditional variety will give you a longer steady flow over the summer.

    The key to success is to make sure you understand which sort you have from the information on the seed packet.  Follow the instructions and you will be fine.

    cucumber_plantSowing

    Sow the seeds 1" (2.5cm) deep into 3" (7.5cm) pots from late Feb to March if you have a heated greenhouse or similar environment.  Or late March if you don't. They are good growers so you will need to re-pot them before they are ready to go outside.  In late May put them outside for a few days in their pots to hardened them off.

    This deadline has passed this year but all is not lost, you can still buy small plants from the garden centre.

     

     

    Planting Out

    cucumbers_largePrepare the bed.  Dig in some rotted organic matter, such as a sack of garden compost, and rake in 100g per square metre (3½oz per square yard) of general purpose fertiliser.  Transplant the plants into their final position 18" (45cm) apart in June.  To give them a head start and the warmth they need to boost growing, keep them covered once outside.  Bell cloches or an Easy Poly Tunnel are both ideal for this.   These will also keep the pests away - watch out particularly for slugs!

    You could also sow directly outside in late May or early June.  If you do this then pre-warm the soil with an Easy Poly Tunnel or Fleece Blanket and cover the seeds again once planted.

    Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. As they grow, pinch out the growing tips when they have 6 or 7 leaves so that the plants can put all of their energy into producing quality cucumbers.  Pinch out:-

    • the main shoot when it reaches the roof of your greenhouse or the top of your cane.
    • the sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower
    • the tips of flowerless side-shoots once they reach 2' (60cm) long.

    Cucumbers are 96% water so make sure you give them plenty of water too as they are a thirsty plant. Make sure you water round the plant not onto it.  If in the greenhouse, keep the humidity high by watering the floor too.

    Once planted out, feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

    Harvesting

    Harvest will be 50 to 70 days after sowing.  Cut the fruits when they are about 6" - 8" (15-20cm) long using a sharp knife.  They will last 2 to 3 weeks if stored well.

    Common Issues

    Bitterness

    Getting bitter cucumbers sometimes happens but there are some ways to avoid it.

    First, for varieties that do not require pollination, remove male flowers or keep the plants out of reach of pollinators to avoid accidental pollination. A question I have been asked is why those varieties that do require pollination do not suffer in the same way.  The answer is that for some reason, most likely genetics, the varieties that require pollination simply don't produce the cucurbitacin chemicals that would make them bitter.

    Secondly give the plant proper care as stress often causes bitterness.  Stress comes when the plant is too hot, receives uneven watering, or is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.

    The other issue - and one you can't do much about - is heredity.  There is a recessive trait that can cause a plant to produce bitter fruit from the start. You may plant seeds from the same packet and treat them all the same, only to discover one of the plants produces bitter.  If this is the case the only option is to scrap that particular plant and sow again.

    All male flowers

    When the plant is stressed for example by lack of water or high plant density it may react by only producing male flowers.  High temperatures like we saw in 2018 can also do this to plants.  Other stresses, such as damage from insects or blowing soil or low light intensities can result in fewer female flowers.  To avoid this try to reduce the stress the plants are under by watering regularly and well. Ensure there is adequate space between your plants and some shade if the weather is particularly hot.

    Pests

    Slugs are the main problem with outdoor varieties.  Try a Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Cucumber mosaic virus is passed by aphids, so it is very important to control greenfly. The virus stunts the plants and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterns. Flowering is reduced or non-existent, while any fruit that do appear are small, pitted, hard and inedible.  Destroy Infected plants and wash your hands after touching them so you don't spread the virus.

    Mildew is a serious problem to varieties that are not resistant.  It shows as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel up. Treat by keeping the soil moist and consider a cooler location for your next planting.

  • Grow at Home - Salad Leaves

    6_lettuces_growingGrowing your own salad leaves is SO easy and a great way to start if you want to grow your own food.

    The best thing about salad leaves is that they are quite quick to grow.  You can also cut them as they grow so there is no waiting for weeks for the entire plant to grow and ripen.  Great if you are impatient and/or new to gardening.  You can simply harvest as and when you need it and the plant will grow more ready for your next meal.

    What to plant

    There are many different salad leaves so why not plant a few different varieties so that you can reproduce those mixed bags you get in the supermarket. But, without the one leaf that they always put in that you really don't like, of course!

    It is good to sow seeds at regular intervals - a couple of weeks apart - so that you ensure a regular supply over the summer.  So if you start sowing in February/March you could keep going until September and - with the help of tunnels and winter varieties - even longer.   If you get over excited and sow the whole packet then you will end up with a glut.  It would make you popular with the neighbours but see you buying from the supermarket again which would be a waste.

    Where to Plant

    Mixed_salad_leavesSalad leaves are best grown in full sun on well-drained soil.  They are ideal to grow in containers such as Vegetable Patio Planters or a Self Watering Tower Garden or Vigoroot Balcony Garden which can be placed right outside the backdoor for easy access from the kitchen.

     

    If you want to grow them in the garden then they can have their own bed.  Or they can be slotted in between rows of other plants where they will help to keep the weeds down.

     

    Sowing

    Sow indoors from February on a nice warm windowsill. Or outdoors from mid-spring to late summer.

    For containers, sow thinly by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and covering with about 1cm (½in) of compost.

    For outdoor sowing, prepare the seed bed by removing weeds and stones and raking it over. Next, make shallow drills about 1cm deep.  A great way to do this is to press a bamboo cane into the soil. Water along the drill before sprinkling in the seeds. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.

     

     

     

     

    Put each individual type of salad seed in separate containers or in rows.  Mark them so you know what you are eating (and can decide if you want to grow it again).  Alternatively use a packet of mixed leaf seeds and hope for the best in terms of identifying which you liked!

    Lettuce_long_rowsThin out some seedlings when they reach about 2" (4cm) by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinnings to add a hit of flavour to your shop bought salads.

    You may wish to cover the plants with ultra fine Micromesh netting from June to August to prevent pests such as slugs, snails. flea beetles and Lettuce Root Aphid getting to them.

    Care for them by watering well.

    Pests

    Slugs and snails are your number one enemy with salads.  Pick off any that you see and use traps such as the Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Lettuce root Aphid. These affect older plants.  You might not see the actual aphids as they are below the soil but you might notice the plant wilt and die back.  Another sign is lots of ants round the plant.  They feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce.  To deal with them you can pull the lettuce up - wash the aphids off and replant in fresh compost.

    Harvesting

    Cut the salad leaves when they reach around 4" (10cm) as you need them.  You should be able to do this three or four times.  Once the plants start to flower the leaves become bitter so you will know this is time to stop.  By the time your first batch have finished cropping the next batch you sowed will be ready giving you a summer full of salad.

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