Monthly Archives: January 2019

  • Grow At Home: Mushrooms

    Mushrooms_in_basketDespite 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, 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 recipe?

    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.

  • Pests & Diseases: Slugs and snails

    Slugs & Snails: what are we dealing with?

    Snails

    There are around 120 species of snail in the UK.  These range from 1mm Dot snails (punctum pygmaeum) to the Roman Snail (Helix pomatia) which has a 5cm shell and is good with garlic butter.  Some of these species are specific to geographical areas so not all will turn up on your plot.  The main one we are interested in is the European Brown Garden Snail (Helix aspersa) - a terrestrial gastropod mollusc.

    These Gardens Snails have a life span of 2 to 6 year.  They can produce up to six batches of eggs in a single year, and each newborn will take one to two years to mature.

    Slugs

    Snail_slug_on_broom_handle

    Slugs evolved from terrestrial snails, they are basically a shell-less snail.  A tiny number of species still have a small shell and the remainder have a vestigial shell inside them.  There are around 40 species of slugs in the UK.  No consolation when they're eating your lettuce but only a few of these are pests.   Many species perform a key role in composting though releasing nutrients back into the ecosystem and helping your plot to grow.

    A slug can lay between 100-500 eggs in groups of 10-50, generally sheltered in a hole it digs. Slugs can produce up to two generations per year.  They live between 9-18 months depending on the species and conditions.

    Feeding

    Though it may feel like they travel in packs, slugs and snails are lone operators.  They feed by licking your veg with a cheese-grater-like radula and can cause a lot of damage while your back is turned.

    Ways to control them

    So we have established that they are a nuisance in the garden and can devastate your veg patch in a very short time but how do we deal with this?  There are many ways, some of which involve total eradication.  What the gardener should aim for though is control rather than a complete purge.  What you are looking for is a balanced ecosystem within your space.  Complete obliteration of every slug and snail will take away the good things they do like composting and lead to a vacuum which in time will draw more of them to your plot.

    Block their path

    For both slugs and snails mucus is essential for their movement. A gland situated at the front of the foot secretes mucus which is squeezed below the sole and allows them to slide along leaving the silvery trail we know so well. Because they move like this,  putting something in their path to make their progress painful is very effective.  So try one of these to make getting to your plants feel like walking on broken glass.

    • crushed egg shells (bonus that they add calcium to your soil)
    • used coffee grounds
    • food-grade diatomaceous earth
    • sheeps wool round the stems of tender plants
    • Don't use salt.  It will kill the slugs and snails but will also kill your plants.

    Pesticides

    Slug pellets: These get justifiably bad press.  They certainly kill slugs and snails but also poison pets, children and the unfortunate predator that eats prey that has consumed one.  I have put them first in this list to get them out of the way and hope that you will be able to find at least one better, more environmentally safe choice in what follows.  Most slug pellets are not organic and even the organic ones are not wise to use: when the slugs die, the predators leave to find food elsewhere – leaving you in need of more pellets.  And so it goes on...

    Traps and Barriers

    Trapping slugs and snails is a good way to stop them.

    Beer Traps:

    Slug_climbing_into_beer_trap

    This is the method that I use and it is hugely successful.  Haxnicks Slug Buster buried a little way into the ground and filled with cheap beer will have them flocking.  They are attracted to the smell of the yeast in the beer.  Add some oats to make it even more enticing.

    The lidded design wins over home made traps as it stops the rain getting in and diluting the beer.  It also creates the nice dark space that both slugs and snails look for.

    Hiding Place Trap: Alternatively set up a Hiding Place Trap.  Slugs and snails like to hide in dark,  damp spaces. Find a wet piece of wood or wooden plank.  Place it near an area where snails and slugs are frequently spotted. The next morning, check the wooden plank and get rid of any attached to it.
    The same works with an upturned plant pot or hollowed out grapefruit half.  Prop the edge up on a stone to allow them to crawl inside.
    Make sure to check the trap in the morning.  Dispose of its residents otherwise all you have done is set up a campsite close to the buffet for the little critters!

    Copper: Slugs don't like to crawl across copper so putting a border of copper is supposed to prevent them.  A variety of products are available such as copper tape to put round plant pots, mats to sit pots on etc.  I have never had much luck with this method but it is widely used so you might want to try it.

    PlantingMint_leaves_with_apple

    Plant things they don't like such as rosemary, thyme and all sorts of mint  If you need to cut back a prolific mint plant then you can also dig the clippings through the soil to further deter them.  If you live by the sea then seaweed will also work in this way.

    Slugs and snails love Lawn Camomile.  So rather than planting to deter them, plant this to attract them away from your seedlings- especially good if you want to collect the slugs to get them out of your garden as you know where they will be.

    The slugs that attack growing potato tubers live under the soil where you can't see them.  So growing your potatoes in protected Potato Planters that you know are full of slug-free compost rather than in the ground may be an effective way to grow them whilst you get your slug problem under control.

    Removal

    Picking them off by hand - especially after dark while they are more active -  is a sure fire way to get rid of them.  Search for them under stones, wood and plant pots to seek out their most likely hiding places.

    The big issue with this method is how to dispose of them.  Moving them just unbalances someone else's ecosystem but many find it hard to kill them.  Drowning - in a jar of water, not a bucket as they will be able to climb out - works if you have the heart for it.  Leave them in the open for birds to take.  This will also encourage bird life into the garden.  Ensure you have enough birds interested to do this though otherwise you will be meeting the same creatures every night.

    Introduce a predator

    Birds:  Birds love slugs and snails so encourage birds into your garden by setting up a birdbath and feeding table.  Or if you have room introduce chickens and ducks as they both LOVE a nice slug.  So, introducing some birds to your plot will be a win win situation.

    Nematodes:  This is the quick, effective and easy to do and will create a slug free area for up to 6 weeks. Nematodes are slug parasites.  They are microscopic worms that kill slugs. You use them by watering on to the soil surface, where they search for prey and invade it. Special 'nematode food' bacteria, are released and multiply rapidly to nourish them and keep them working. An infected slug stops feeding in about 3 days before beginning to swell. The nematodes multiply inside the slug which starts to decompose and the new nematodes spread and start looking for their next prey.

    This treatment is so effective though that all slugs are eliminated. This means that the natural - non nematode predators - also disappear to look for food elsewhere.  The garden now contains loads of slug food and no slug predators.  So once it is rediscovered by the next generation hatching or itinerant slugs they will have free reign.

    Frogs and Toads:  If you have room for a pond then keeping frogs in it will sort your slug and snail problem.  Hopefully an obliging frog will come and spawn in your pond - check out local ponds to see if you have any living near by.  If you don't have room for a pond then you could still have toads as they do not require a pool.  As long as there are enough moist hiding spaces for them round the garden you should be OK.

    Other predators you might like to consider building habitat for are:

    • Hedgehogs  - contact your local rescue centre to see if your plot is suitable
    • Carob beetles - eat eggs as well as grown ones so double whammy from these
    • Centipedes - ensure you get carnivorous centipedes as oppose to herbivorous millipedes which will eat your plants

    I wouldn't like to try it with slugs but the Common Garden snail is edible so if all else fails you could always eat them yourself!

    Think like a slug 

    Slug_on_broom_handle

    Water: Snails and slugs need a moist environment.  They are generally more active at night for this reason.  If you water your garden in the evening, you lay yourself and your veg open so they can glide toward your plants at a rate of knots.
    If you water your plants in the morning, the sunlight will dry the plants out before dark and make them less attractive to slugs and snails.

    Tidy plot: Keep your plot tidy and you can deter slugs and snails.  Don't leave piles of pots, planks of wood and old watering cans around that they can use for shelter.  Make sure beds are tidy with well spaced plants so that moving between lunch and dinner is harder for them.

    It will be an ongoing battle I am sure but hopefully there will be some new ideas here that help you to create a balance in your garden so that your seedlings make it through and you can successfully harvest some unchewed veg.

  • Grow at Home - Garlic

    Used in everything from stir fry to Shepherds Pie it is pretty rare to find a household that does not have garlic in their kitchen cupboard. But, despite it being relatively easy to grow, many gardeners do not include it in their planting.

    It is a hard working plant that does more than just give a delicious crop though.  Like most of the onion family, garlic is great for companion planting.  Plant between rows of vegetables especially carrots and its scent will deter pests.  This gives a natural boost to your garden's pest protection.  Also, garlic is pollinated by bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects too so great for encouraging wildlife onto your plot.

    Types of garlic

    There are two main sorts.

    Softneck

    Softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum) is the garlic which most supermarkets stock.  The bulb has a slightly hotter flavour than the Hardnecks, produces more smaller cloves and stores very well. Since the necks are soft, this is the sort you want if you have the time and energy create a garlic plait.  They also sprout relatively quickly so are satisfying to grow for the garlic novice.

    Hardneck

    Hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with more complex flavours. These garlics have subtle flavour differences created from the soil and weather patterns in the region where you grow them. The advantage of Hardneck varieties for the cook is that their skins usually slip off easily.  They do not store as long as Softnecks though.  Cure and eat them within 3 to 10 months, depending on the variety.

    Garlic_bulbs_with_flowers

     

    There is some debate about hardiness with some believing that Softneck will grow only in the warmer parts of the UK so if in doubt in the coolest parts of the UK it might be a better to choose Hardneck.  Which you choose is up to you though as there is anecdotal evidence of both thriving in areas of the country where they should be struggling.

    There are many varieties of each sort to choose from depending on the flavour and bulb size you would like to produce.

     

    Planting

    When to Plant

    Garlic needs a long growing season.  The cloves can be planted in late Autumn or early Spring but you will get a bigger crop if you plant in Autumn.

    Garlic_plants_in_bed

    Whatever variety you choose, to grow well, it needs a cold period of at least two months. For Autumn sowing, it is therefore essential to sow from early-October to allow the roots to develop before the cold weather sets in. With this in mind Hardnecks should be planted at the beginning of October but Softnecks can wait until around Christmas time. 

    The  Hardnecks will be slower to show themselves so even with this planting timetable you may see the Softnecks appear first.

    Where to plant

    We recommend growing garlic in a rotation system with carrots, onions, leeks, and other root vegetables.  A classic rotation is tomato family, broccoli family, onion family including your garlic.  But as a companion plant we find it makes a great space filler between carrots, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce and parsnips, roses and other flowers too.

    How to plantrows_of_garlic_growing

    Garlic is rarely planted from seed with the cloves used instead.  These are readily available from seed companies and garden centres but you can use pretty much any garlic cloves hanging around your kitchen ... just gently break apart the bulb and each clove will produce it's own plant

    It can be planted directly into the soil but if you suffer from pests such as birds ripping out your young plants then sowing into Rootrainers first may help your plants survive.  See our recent Overwintering Onions Blog for the full story.

    Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. A Raised Bed works very well. Remove stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Work several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with your fertiliser of choice.

    Planting
    1. Break up the bulbs no longer than 24 hours before you plant them.  Be careful not to bruise or damage them.
    2. Sow the individual cloves 10 cm below the surface, root down (pointy end up) around 4 inches apart to give the bulb room to grow.
    3. Hardneck garlic loves to flower.  Cut off the stem close to the base of the bulb once the flower stem starts to coil.  This will concentrate the plants' energy into the crop beneath increasing the size of the bulb.
    4. Once the leaves go yellow/brown stop watering the plants.  Harvest 2 to 3 weeks later (June onwards)
    5. Try to harvest when the weather is dry.  Loosen beneath it with a fork to prevent bruising the bulb then pull up like a weed.  Leave the plants on the surface of the soil to dry in the sun for a few hours.  Move to somewhere warm and dry, to cure for 3 weeks.
    6. Thoroughly dry the bulbs then store them in a cool, ventilated place away from sun.

    Eating Garlic

    Garlic is unbelievably good for you.  It can lower blood pressure, fat and cholesterol levels.  It can also combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

    There are lots of opportunities for the gardener growing their own garlic to plant a few extra and leave it to flower or to experiment with young garlic, picked before it has matured.

    As well as eating the bulb the leaves and flowers are also edible.  They have a milder flavor than the bulbs, and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. You may see "green garlic" in the shops.  This is immature plant that has been pulled rather like a scallion.
    When green garlic has grown past the "scallion" stage, but not fully matured, it may produce a garlic "round", a bulb not separated into cloves like a mature bulb. This imparts a garlic flavor and aroma in food, minus the spiciness of the mature bulb.

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