Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home: Watercress

    watercress_leaves

    Watercress is an indigenous plant known for its food value since Roman times.  The crop was introduced to commercial cultivation in England in 1808. Up until the 1960's it was widely grown commercially in the South West of England and transported daily to cities far and wide.  One of the train routes to London becoming known as 'The Watercress Line'.

    Watercress (Nasturtium officianale) is green and noted for its distinctive peppery, mustard-like flavour.  It is packed full of nutrients and vitamins including vitamin C, folic acid, iron, vitamin A and calcium. It is probably best known for its traditional use as a classic ingredient for soup but can be added to any dish in place of spinach.  it can also be used in a salad or added to sandwiches for the ultimate hit of fresh taste and flavour.

    Aspect

    Contrary to popular belief, Watercress does not need to be grown in water.  It will grow anywhere that is moist.

    As long as your watercress plants are kept well watered they will thrive in a container using  good quality compost.  A Bamboo Pot and Saucer would be ideal.  Keep the pot sat in water. To prevent the soil becoming stagnant  flush the pots heavily with fresh water once or twice a week. Mixing charcoal with the compost will also help to keep things fresh.

    Sowing Watercress

    Watercress can be bought as plug plants.  However, growing it from seed is easier than many people imagine and well worth a try.

    Outdoor crops should be sown directly into the pot you wish to grow them in during March or April.  Or once average day temperatures reach 8-15°C.  You should see germination within 14 days. There is no need to cover watercress seeds, they will sprout happily simply scattered on the surface of the compost.

    For a constant supply of fresh leaves, further sowings can be made through spring and early summer

    Micro watercress growing

    You can also treat watercress as a 'micro seed' surface sowing in  trays pre-saturated with water - try Microgreen Growing Mats in a Bamboo Seed Tray . Keep the trays topped up with  water and harvest watercress microgreens when plants are 5cm (2") high or so.

    Harvesting

    Traditionally April and May is believed to be the best time to collect the crop, although Watercress can be harvested at anytime that the ground is not frozen.

    Watercress doesn't store well and is best eaten really fresh so pick just as much as you need.  If you have a surplus of fresh leaves through summer, don't let them go to waste - make soup for the freezer Rabbits and guinea pigs eat it and will enjoy this tasty treat whenever you have some to spare!

  • Grow At Home: Mushrooms

    Mushrooms_in_basket

    Mushrooms are turning into big business in both the UK & the USA.

    Sales and prices are up, and growers are struggling to keep up with demand.  This is thought to be due to an increasing number of people moving to a plant-based diet.  Mushrooms are an obvious meat alternative. Even if you don't favour a plant based diet though, mushrooms are fat-free, low calorie, low sodium and gluten free, delicious, nutritious and available all year round.  So the reasons are stacking up to try and grow your own.

    Button mushrooms remain the most commonly eaten variety, But demand is picking up for specialty varieties, such as shiitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms.

    Growing mushrooms

    Despite being a much used ingredient, mushrooms are not an everyday crop in your average garden.  If you are nervous of wild foraging but long to harvest mushrooms then growing your own gives the reassurance of getting safe, delicious mushrooms without the chance of the poisonous or mind altering effects.

    Mushrooms are perennial organisms that can live for decades, and have two distinct parts.
    Underground, a web of threadlike hyphae known as mycelium cover an often huge area, absorbing nutrients and powering the fungi.
    Above ground is the visible fruit which is the reproductive organs - the bit we eat.

    Which Variety of Mushrooms to Grow

    If you have been given a mushroom growing kit for Christmas then the choice of which mushroom to grow has already been made for you.  However, if you are planning your own mushroom growing adventure then what variety do you choose?

    If you're a beginner, start out by growing Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)  The Oyster Mushroom mycelium grows vigorously and will survive a wide range of temperatures so it is easy to grow.

    Another great choice is Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes). These are both easy to grow and taste great and will save you ££££s at the supermarket as they are often sold dried and a little more pricey than your ordinary button mushroom.

    Your methods and materials are other factors to consider. You can grow mushrooms on manure, wood, straw, paper or compost.  Certain species do better on certain substrates, and matching them up is essential to a good crop.

    Timing

    Plant: all year round but temperature should be between 10° and 18° Beyond this the key consideration is when you are planning on starting and harvesting. Different mushrooms fruit in different seasons, so matching your mushroom to its preferred season will give you the best success.

    Method

    There are different ways of buying the spawn but the basic steps for growing mushrooms are the same for all

    1. Choose your substrate - dependent on your mushroom variety.
    2. Add the mushroom spawn - known as inoculation.
    3. Moisten and keep at the correct temperature for the mycelium to start to grow.
    4. Change the environmental conditions to trigger fruiting - usually by dropping the temperature and increasing the humidity.
    5. Wait until fruits are big enough and harvest.

    Spawn

    You can get the spawn in a number of forms.

    • In plugs or impregnated dowels - hammer these directly into a piece of wood.  You can not use old wood.   Cut the logs to use fresh (within 6 weeks) from disease-free healthy living trees. Logs should be around 50 cm or 1 metre in length with a diameter from 10 to 30 cm.  The type of mushroom chosen dictates how wide your log needs to be and how many plugs you'll need. The instructions that come with your plug will guide you.
    • Grain - sprinkle this onto manure or between the damp pages of a book.   (A great way to recycle your Yellow Pages!) before wrapping in a plastic bag until the mycelium start to grow.
    • Blocks  - planted in the ground, particularly good for under trees.  These can be planted round the roots of trees or under a patch of turf in your lawn.  You will not be able to mow there and it should be an area where there is little traffic as the mycelium don't like compacted ground.
    • Mushroom growing kits - these are a great way to start and come with the appropriate growing medium.  Often this is on straw which has been pre-sterilised so that you know the only fungus you are growing is the one you planned to grow.  It may even be pre inoculated with the mushroom spawn or you may have to add this yourself before moistening and keeping warm until the mycelium have started to grow.

    Where to Grow

    Mushrooms_two_whiteMushrooms grow in the shade in buckets or shallow planters, in the green house or the shed, or outside in the lawn, beneath trees or on the edge of the compost heap.

    Many people think that mushrooms need to be grown in the dark.  This is a myth and the truth is that mushrooms lack the ability to use energy from the sun. They do not have chlorophyll so are not green plants.  Therefore they can grow in the dark or light as their energy does not come from the sun but from its growing medium.   They do however, need to remain moist, not wet or dry, at all times and it is easier to achieve this in a shady spot.

     

    Mushrooms are a great source of non animal protein, and one of the only foods that you can eat happily for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  They are very low in calories and a great addition to many recipes.  They are also a lot of fun to grow so well worth trying.  For a tasty way to enjoy them why not try this dish?

    War Time Mushrooms

    Cut up one clove of garlic and add it to a frying pan of melted butter.  Cut up a large handful of your home grown mushrooms and add to the pan.  Fry until brown, tip onto a piece of toast and eat hot.  Simple but delicious.

  • Grow at Home: Winter Salads

     

    winter_salad_in_soil

    Many people are surprised to know that you can grow salad in winter very successfully without needing too much space or even a greenhouse.  A sheltered spot and a little bit of care and attention and you can enjoy a healthy harvest all year long.

    Although we tend to associate salad with long summer days, there's nothing like the taste of a fresh green salad at any time of year.  Often winter lettuce is actually slightly sweeter than the summer varieties.  Choose hardy varieties of your favourite summer lettuce or try something with a bit of heat such as a mustard spinach.

    A few healthy plants will probably be all you need to see you through so that you can pick leaves as and when you need them.  Vigoroot Balcony Garden will give you strong healthy plants in even the smallest space.  It will also allow you to cover your crop up if the weather turns really nasty.

    Sowing Salad

    For a continuous supply, sow a few seeds every four weeks.  Some lettuce varieties, such as 'Arctic King’ and other winter salads are fine to grow all year round.  They just need a little extra protection during colder months. The cut-and-come-again crops are loose-leafed and you can pick a few leaves from the plants every few days.

     Ideally sow seed up until mid November- earlier rather than later to avoid frost damage to seedlings.  But if you’ve missed the chance to sow, then  supermarket bought trays of living salad will do well if planted now.  Easy Seedling Tunnels or a Baby Victorian Bell Cloche will protect young plants during cold weather, especially frosty nights.

    Sow short lines of winter lettuce seed every couple of weeks or so. Water well afterwards; winter rainfall will probably be enough to keep plants watered. Thin out plants as they start to crowd each other – you can eat the thinnings in a sandwich!

    Protection

    Keep seedlings warm and watered and choose a sheltered area if possible.  To protect your plants from cold winds as sharp drop in temperature may kill off seedlings and young plants.

    Keep an eye on the weather and protect crops with a cloche or cover overnight.  Remove the covering in the day to keep a good circulation of air and avoid rotting.

    If you have to leave the cover over the plants, remove it every day or so and check them.  The soil may need a little forking over to avoid it getting compacted and wet. A Vigoroot Easy Table Garden is ideal for growing winter salads and can be moved to the sunniest spot and the cover removed easily on warmer days.

    Harvest

    Winter lettuce crops can be used as and when the plants are big enough. Varieties that produce a firm head are best left to fully mature.  Although a taking a leaf or two once in a while won’t hurt. The cut-and-come-again varieties should be picked regularly after they are about 2in high. They will produce more leaves if you pick some.  Or you can allow the plants to grow to about 8in and cut the whole head off, leaving a stump – a new plant should soon re-sprout. 

    Whatever you grow it will give you a little reminder that Summer is never far away!

  • Grow at Home: Nuts! Whole Hazelnuts!!

    hazelnut_catkinsHazelnuts come from hazel trees which are a great choice for a garden.  They are fairly small and will grow successfully in most temperate areas.  The bees love both catkins and flower so if you are keen to encourage wildlife then they are a good option.
    Hazels like a moist but free draining soil, in a bright, sunny situation.  The production of hazelnuts is likely to be better if your tree is sheltered.

    They naturally grow as multi-stemmed bushes  - you often see them in hedgerows.  So for the home gardener they can provide useful screening  and shelter for tender plants.   If you really want nuts though, open-centre trees with a single main stem will allow more light to get in and  improve both the quality and the quantity of nuts.

    Buying a tree

    If you want to buy a hazel tree then they are most commonly bought as bare-rooted saplings, although pot grown plants are also available.  They can be put into the ground at any time of year, but it is best to plant during the dormant period in winter.  Make sure that the soil is not frozen or water-logged and plant following the instructions further down.

    Growing from seed

    If you can find someone who has a hazel tree then you should be able to get a ready supply of nuts which have the seed inside.  Hazelnuts come in clusters surrounded by husks.  Simply pick the nut out of the husk.

    Separating those that will grow from those that may not is easy.  Take your nuts and put them in a bucket of water. Select only those that sink and discard the ones that float.  The ones that sink are more likely to grow and give you healthy seedlings.

    Planting seeds

    Take a plant pot and place some stones in the bottom for drainage then cover them with a shallow layer of sand.  You can just put your nut in with its shell but it will make germination easier if you nick the shell with a file first.  To do this carefully file through in a small spot on the top side of shell.  Just enough to penetrate the shell without damaging the flesh of the seed inside.  Once done, mix a handful of your nuts with the same amount of horticultural sand and put them into your pot.  Cover very carefully with something like wire mesh otherwise you are sure to lose the lot to mice or squirrels.  They love a hazelnut!   Put the pot in the shade and prepare to forget about it until early Spring.

    Start checking the seeds in late Feb/ early March.  If they have germinated then it is time to either transfer them to pots or plant them out in the garden.

    If using a pot then fill it with compost and put two seeds in each at about 2-3cm deep.

    For outdoor sowing, you can just scatter the seeds at around 400 per square metre. The seeds must be pressed into the soil - so use a roller or an old scaffold board to do this before covering the bed in horticultural grit.

    Cover the bed or pots once again with some mice proof netting or wire mesh until plants are strong enough to withstand mouse attack (around 15cm tall)

    Growing

    hazelnut_on_tea_towelAs with all young trees, it is important to keep them weed free so they don't have to fight for light and nutrition.   Once established, use a Haxnicks Tree Mat around the trunk to keep weeds away.  Remember to water regularly too as they establish their root system.

    Your patience so far should now be rewarded as Hazel trees can reach 40cm in one year. It is best not to move them yet though. They should not be moved to their final position until they are 2 years old.

    So, if they are OK for space - about 10cm around them - then leave them another year before you transplant them.  Keep them fed as well during their second year and you will get a healthy, robust plant.

    Planting your tree

    Whether you have bought a tree or grown it from seed prepare the site by clearing away any weeds or grass.  Then make a hole big enough to comfortably take the root ball. Place your sapling in the hole being careful to plant to the same depth as it was in the pot or bed.  Firm the soil.

    If you require a hedge, plant new trees roughly 2m apart, depending on the variety and how dense you want the hedge.

    Protect the young trunk with a StrimGuard when mowing or using a strimmer near it.

    Pollination

    Pollination of hazelnuts is tricky.  It is best to plant two different - compatible - varieties, which are known to pollinate each other.  If you got your nuts from someone local then this could solve the problem as they are wind pollinated over a distance of around 50m.  An alternative is wild hazel bushes which will work too.  

    Hazels bear male catkins and small, less conspicuous, red-tipped female flowers separately on the same tree.  Hazels should be self fertile as a result but, due to flowering times generally not overlapping, this is usually not the case.

    Don't let the Squirrels get your Nuts!

    You will probably have to wait until they are around 2m high, in around another 2 to 3 years, for your first crop of hazelnuts.  Harvest in late September–October once the leaves and burrs starting turning brown..

    You might wish to let the squirrels have the hazelnuts the first year.  After this though you should protect them with a Fruit Tree Protector from early summer as the squirrels take them before they are ripe.

    The burrs will mostly fall to the ground naturally, but a few may need to be picked.  Crack open the nuts, remove them from their shells and place them in a single layer in a warm, airy position to dry for a couple of days. You can store them and eat them raw at this point or roast them. Roast for 20-30 mins at 180º moving them around regularly to prevent them from burning.  

     

  • How to Grow: Aubergine or EggPlant depending on which side of The Pond you are...

    aubergine_with_green_stalks

    Not so very long ago the Aubergine (or Egg Plant) was a rare sight on the supermarket shelves and considered to be for adventurous cooks only.  Now they are available everywhere and more and more of us are growing them on allotments and in greenhouses.  We are enjoying not just the end results, but the growing of a gloriously beautiful glossy crop of tropical fruits.

    Aubergines are tender and in temperate climates are best grown under glass rather than outside where they will struggle to thrive in anything but a long hot summer. The large striking fruits range in colour from the darkest purple, to white and all shades in between.  There are even striped varieties!

    They taste delicious when cooked, stuffed with meat, rice or vegetables or when used to make ratatouille or moussaka.

    Soil and Aspect

    Grow under glass in grow bags or pots using a peat free potting mix. Plants grown outside require a fertile, well-drained soil and should have a general fertiliser applied before planting.

    Aubergines thrive in a warm sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind.  If you don't have a greenhouse try a Sunbubble, Grower Frame or Lantern Cloche.

    Sowing

    Soak the seeds overnight to improve the germination rate and then sow into individual pots or Rootrainers in Spring.  Once the seedlings are large enough they can be planted into growbags or bigger pots.

    Aubergines can be hardened off and planted outside if the temperature doesn't drop below 15c. Allow 50cm between plants.

    Aftercare

    Canes and string may be needed to support the plants once they have reached 40-50cm.     Fold-a-Frame would be ideal. Pinch out the tips of the plants when they reach 40cm in height in order to encourage fruit formation.  Water well throughout the growing season and feed once every two weeks with a high-potash liquid feed.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Cut each aubergine fruit from the plant when it is large enough - the flavour quickly deteriorates if they are allowed to become overripe. Harvest under glass from mid-summer and autumn for outside varieties.  Aubergines are best used fresh from the allotment although they can keep for up to two weeks once picked.

    Pest and Diseases

    The usual greenhouse pests affect this crop if grown under glass. Aphids, red spider mite and whitefly are the main pests. Damping the floor down and misting the leaves will increase humidity, which will in turn discourage red spider mite.

  • How to Grow: Damsons

    Growing Damsons

    Damsons_with_toast_damson_jamFirstly what are damsons?  Well, they are a sort of plum but not one you would want to pluck from the tree and eat.  They are tart rather than sweet.  They need to be cooked and are perfect for jams, pies, wine and Damson Gin (like Sloe Gin only nicer!)

    So why bother with them and not plump for a nice Victoria Plum?  The answer is that they are a hardy tree and so will fruit in situations where a plum tree may struggle.  You can even choose a dwarf damson which will allow you to have the tree in a small garden.  Or even grow it in a container such as the Vigoroot Potato / Tomato planter. 

    The trouble with growing  trees in pots is that the tree will eventually become pot bound.  Once fruit trees become pot bound they produce less fruit.  The advantage of growing in Vigoroot is that the roots are air pruned, so the tree will never get pot bound and the improved root structure encourages the tree to produce more fruit.  So, provided it is given enough food and water it should produce a bumper crop every year.

    When to plant damsons

    Damson trees often come "bare-rooted" which means that there is no soil around the roots. Plant them from late autumn to early winter as trees generally shut down and become dormant in winter.  So this is the best time for them to be planted as it means that their growth is not interrupted.  

    Pot grown (with soil around the roots) can be planted at any time. 

    Where to Plant

    Most trees like full sunlight, south facing perfection.  Damsons are less fussy so provided you can shelter it from being too wind blown and get the soil right it will give you fruit.

    Growing Damsons

    Damsons need a good, nitrogen rich soil with a high pH of above 6.  So it is worth testing your soil with a simple kit from the garden centre before you plant.   

    Planting

    If your soil needs adjustment then dig a big hole, if not then just big enough for your roots to fit in without being cramped.  If your soil needs adjustment then you may need to add bonemeal to the base of your hole and mix in compost as you are refilling the hole.  Test again and if your pH is still below 6 then mix in some lime to get the conditions just right.    

    In early spring scatter 75 grams per square yard of general purpose fertilser such as blood, fish & bone around your tree. 

    For best results its a good idea to retest your soil every 3 to 4 years and add some lime around the plant if needed to keep the pH up to around 6.

    Caring for your Damson Tree

    Watering

    They need to be kept moist. Especially bareroot trees as they may suffer a little root damage when they are lifted.  To help with this place a Tree Mat around the base of the tree to reduce water loss and to protect the tree from weeds.  In dry weather water well, especially in the early years until it has become fully established.

    A new tree will not produce fruit for the first 2 to 3 years until it has become established.

    Pruning

    Damson trees need little pruning. They will generate some twiggy growth which can be cut back when the tree becomes too congested but it doesn't have to be done every year.

    Like other plums, damsons should only be pruned from late spring to early autumn (April to September). Pruning during the winter increases the chance of the tree becoming infected with silver leaf fungus.

    Pollination

    Damsons are self-fertile, so you don’t need to plant more than one. However, like all self-fertile trees it is likely to produce a much better crop if cross-pollinated by another tree.  So if you want to add a plum tree then this will help your damson crop.  Make sure you choose one that flowers at the same time though. 

    Harvest

    Harvest in late August – September.  The fruits quickly become soft when picked so make sure you have your plans in place for how you will use them before you pick.  

    Common Problems

    Silver Leaf Fungus - The fungus infects the wood through wounds - mainly caused by pruning - and causes a silvering of the leaves followed by death of the branch.   Avoid it by pruning only in summer when there are far less spores around and wounds will heal quicker.  Remove any infected branches and leaves as soon as you see them.

    Frost & Wind damage - losing blossom to frost or high winds will severely affect the crop.  You can prevent this by using a Fruit Tree Net  When bad weather is forecast, fit the net over the tree and wrap any excess around the trunk.  Remove it once the blossom has set in Spring, to allow for pollination.  You can then put it on again to provide chemical free pest protection until your crop is ready to pick.   

    Trunk damage - Another common problem for young trees is damage to the trunk from mowers and strimmers.  This can be prevented by using the Tree Mat as detailed above to suppress plant growth close to the tree.  You can also use a StrimGuard to wrap around the tree whilst you are strimming or mowing.

  • New sustainable gardening tools

    new_prodcut_2019_bamboo_scoopHaxnicks Bamboo Scoop

    A garden scoop is one of the most useful things to have in the garden.  Yet, many gardeners get by without one.  They scoop compost out with a whatever is to hand.  A handy trowel maybe?  It works but as it has no sides it holds very little it makes pot filling much longer than it could be.  The alternative is to pick up the bag of compost and tip it.  Cue compost all over the floor and an aching back at home time!  So, i say even though you can get by without a garden scoop make 2020 the year you treat yourself to a Bamboo Scoop!

    The new Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is made from the same tough material as the Bamboo pots.  If treated nicely (don't leave it down the side of the shed in the rain all winter!) It will last 5 years +.  After use it is fully compostable.  Just break into pieces to speed the process and add to your compost heap.  See exactly how, and learn more about the material in this video. If you have a trusty plastic one then do keep using it until it gives up the ghost. But when it comes to replacing it, the more sustainable Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is the way to go.

    Bamboo Plant Markers

    new_rpoduct_2019_bamboo_plant_markerAnother first from Haxnicks.  The first sustainable Bamboo Plant Markers.  Their purpose needs no explanation but I'd just add they are compostable just like the rest of the Bamboo range and free of BPAs and petroleum based plastics.  And they will help you remember where you planted your carrots. Because, lets face it, although you are 'sure' you will remember - if you are like me, you never will!

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: Cauliflower

    Growing Cauliflower

    cauliflower_purple

    Cauliflower can be a tricker crop than many to succeed with, but the effort is well rewarded, with beautiful white or purple heads (also known as curds) that taste delicious and leave the shop bought versions behind.

    Soil and Aspect

    Cauliflowers need a well-consolidated soil which is deep, fertile and moisture retentive, so best to dig several months before planting, incorporating well-rotted manure or garden compost.  Alternatively plant after a crop of nitrogen-fixing green manure.

    Best planted in an open sunny site, it is important to avoid frost pockets if growing winter varieties.

    Sowing Cauliflower

    Sow the seeds of summer varieties in a cool greenhouse in mid-winter for an early crop. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough and harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out in rows 50cm apart with protection in early spring.

    Autumn and Winter varieties can be sown outdoors in the late spring.  Sow thinly in nursery beds before planting in a permanent site. Thin to 5cm apart and transplant seedlings when they are 10cm tall and bearing 5 to 6 leaves - take care in lifting them.  Remember to water in well.

    Depending on the variety the final spacing should be 60-70 cm apart.

    Aftercare

    After planting, mulch the crop with garden compost - quick to produce in a Rollmix Composter.

    Water in dry periods with occasional feed and cover with netting to protect from birds - Giant Easy Net Tunnel will help shade from the sun too.

    Fold the leaves up around the head to protect from rain and frost.  Then use collars around the stems to protect from cabbage root fly.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting when the heads are small so that not all of the crop is taken at the same time.  Florets separate or turn brown when they are too mature.  So better to opt for smaller specimens than leave it too late.

    Cauliflowers can be stored on the stem, hung upside down in a cool dark place for up to three weeks - mist occasionally.

    Pests and Diseases

    Cauliflowers are susceptible to the issues as cabbages - pick up some tips in our Spring Cabbages Blog.

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: nutritious Microgreens

    What are Microgreens?

    new_rpoduct_2019_microgreens_closeup

    Microgreens are tiny, edible, immature veg plants.  They are ready - from seed to plate - in just a few weeks so are satisfyingly quick to grow.  They need very little space or equipment so are great for beginners or urban gardeners.  You can eat both the leaves and stems and harvest them simply with scissors or snips as and when you need them.

    As an extra plus side they are packed with a higher percentage of nutrients than their more mature versions.  Do not confuse them with sprouts which are generally grown in a jar and are germinated seeds that are eaten root, seed and shoot.

    So if you are looking for freshness and want to to make your home cooking a little more "fine dining"  without breaking the bank then try microgreens.  They can be used in many dishes and will add flavour, colour and texture to even a simple sandwich.

    Which seeds to choose?

    Most of the veg you would normally grow in the garden such as beetroot, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, salad greens, herbs etc can be grown as microgreens.

    You can buy specific microgreen seeds which are sold in most garden centres.  This is a good place for beginners to start as they are specifically designed for easy, successful growing and often contain a colour coordinated mix which will look good too.   If you have seeds that weren't sown last year though - or know someone who does -  it is worth giving these a go as microgreens too.

    Microgreens are usually grown inside.  They can be grown outside in warmer months too though.  As you will have to do more pest protection plus remember to water them it is probably easier to keep them on the windowsill where they will get your attention though.

    Sowing Microgreens

    Take a shallow container or seed tray - the Haxnicks Bamboo Seed tray is ideal.  Next take a Haxnicks Microgreens Mat and place it into the tray.  The Microgreens mat is a made of natural materials making the whole set up plastic free.

    If you want to use a different seed tray or a container like the plastic container your grapes came in or an old take-away container, then just poke some holes in the bottom to make sure there is drainage and cut the mat to fit.

    • Check the seed packet for any special instructions.  Sprinkle the seeds evenly onto the mat
    • Water lightly - or mist if you have a suitable sprayer.
    • Place it on a warm, sunny (ideally south facing) windowsill in direct sunlight.   If the weather is not too warm then you may wish to cover with a piece of glass or clear plastic to encourage germination.
    • Mist or water the mat once or twice a day- depending on the temperature - to keep it moist not wet.  Sprouts should appear within around four to seven days.  Continue to water once or twice daily.
    • Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover (if you used one.) Continue to mist once or twice a day.

    Harvesting

    microgreens_in_seed_trayThey should be ready in around two to three weeks.  Harvesting is simply a case of taking scissors and snipping off a few.  Cut just above the mat as and when you need them.

    This is where the Microgreens mat really comes into its own.  The microgreens need to be washed but as they have not been in soil this process is much easier than it would if they had been grown in compost,  Simply wash them  as you would salad and pat dry on paper towels.

    Use in sandwiches or to scatter over salads, soups and other dishes to give an extra punch of flavour.

    You can pick what you need and leave the rest to continue growing.  However, if you feel the microgreens are getting a little large then you can cut them.  Store them unwashed  in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.  Then just remove, wash and use as required.

    Pest and Diseases

    As you are growing inside pests are much less likely but light may be an issue early in the year.  Like any plant, Microgreens need direct sunlight to thrive.  Around four to five hours a day should be enough.  However, watch out for spindly, pale growth which might indicate insufficient light.  If you find they aren't getting enough then either use a grow light or wait until a little later in the year to try again when days are longer and can meet the plants' light needs

  • Grow at Home: Shallots

    Shallots are a member of the onion family.  Divine in stews where they enrich the whole dish as they melt into oozy gorgeousness.  They can also be pickled if you like a crunchy tang.

    Sowing Shallots

    banana_shallots_cut_in_half_on_slateShallots can be grown from seed but sets (immature bulbs) are the more common way to start them. Sets are quicker to mature and better in colder regions.  They are also harder for pests such as birds to unearth giving a greater success rate.  Seeds are, of course, more economical as you get more of them for your money.

    Plants are easy to grow and can be grown in any well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. They need a long growing period but make a good companion plant so can be planted between faster-growing crops.

    Preparing the Ground

    To prepare your bed add some organic matter such as manure or garden compost.  Also add in a moderate dressing of any general purpose fertiliser.

    Plant the sets 10" (25cm) apart in rows 16" (40cm) apart from mid-November to mid-March. Gently push them into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them.

    Birds can be a problem lifting the sets; covering with fleece will prevent this.  If this is a problem in your area you may actually want to sow the sets into Rootrainers instead.  See this Exploring the Rhizosphere blog if you'd like to know why this works!

    If you would rather start shallots from seed, sow from March to April 1cm (½in) deep in rows 12 in (30cm) apart. Each seed produces a single shallot. Thin seedlings to anything from 1-3in (2.5-7.5cm) apart, depending on how large you want the individual shallots to develop.

    Growing Shallots

    You will need to keep them weeded so that they don't get overwhelmed.  The SpeedHoe or SpeedHoe Precision if you have planted them in a busier bed will both be perfect for this task.  Water if the weather is dry.  Try to avoid overhead watering as this could encourage Onion Mildew (see below). Remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.

    Harvesting

    In around July the foliage will start to turn yellow.  this means that the shallots are ready to harvest. Use a fork to lift the bulbs.  Separate the clusters and allow to dry. Store them like onions in a Haxnicks Veg Sack in a frost free place.

    Pest & Diseases

    Onion white rot - A soil-borne fungus that can cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage and  rotting of the roots and bulb below the soil. A white fluffy fungus appears on the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black structures.

    There is no real cure for onion white rot once it is in the soil. Get rid of contaminated plants.  Take care to avoid spreading it to other sites on muddy boots or tools used in the area.

    Onion downy mildew - another fungal disease that damages foliage and bulbs. Watch out for this when there are very damp conditions.   It leads to reduced yields.

    Try to avoid it by using the recommended spacings and not sowing plants too densely.  Weed regularly too.  This will ensure that they have plenty of light and air around them.   Remove any affected leaves.

     

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