Monthly Archives: March 2019

  • Grow at Home: Potatoes

    About the Potato

    Pink_potato_flower Potato flower

    Potatoes can be so cheap to buy, so why bother to grow your own?

    One reason is taste - the chance to get tasty tatties that are full of flavour is not to be missed. Another reason is to try a different variety.  The shops stock a limited range and often bag them without even telling you what variety you are buying.  As a result, even if you liked it, you couldn't guarantee to get it again.  Go to your Garden Centre and your eyes will be opened to all the varieties of seed potato available.

    The best reason for me though is the plant itself.  Far from being a dull and functional plant, it has lush green foliage and delicate white or pink flower.  One of the prettiest flowers in the garden and loved by pollinators so winning on all levels.

    Types of Seed Potato

    There are three sorts of potatoes based on when you plant and harvest them: First Earlies, Earlies and Maincrop.  The titles are fairly explanatory but basically the First Earlies are 'new' potatoes, small potatoes harvested as early as June followed by Earlies and Main Crop which produce larger potatoes later in the season.

    Plant in Garden Plant in Containers Harvest
    First Earlies Late March Late Feb / Early March June/ July
    Earlies Early/ Mid April Late March/ Early April July/ August
    Maincrop Mid/Late April Early/Mid April August/ October

     

    Chitting

    Chitted potato with face drawn on

    As soon as you buy your seed potatoes lay them out on a tray or in open egg boxes in a cool, dry, light position to allow them to sprout.  This is known as chitting.

    Believe it or not there is a 'right' way up for potatoes.  The 'rose' end or the end with the most eyes and dimples should be placed uppermost.  The debate is ongoing as to whether chiitting is needed at all though, so I doubt getting them the wrong way up at this stage will have a significant effect.  The chits take about 4 to 6 weeks to grow.  However you may find that your seed potatoes have started chitting before you buy them.  They are ready to plant when the chits are about 1" (3cm) long.  On early potatoes, rub off the weakest shoots, leaving three per tuber.

    To ensure that you don't get a glut of potatoes you may wish to chit enough for one planter (3 or 4) leave it 7 to 10 days and chit a second batch etc etc so that your potatoes are planted and harvested over a period rather than all being ready at the same time.  Our  Potato Planters come in a pack of 3 so you can do the bags one at a time to achieve this easily.

    Where to Plant

    The first choice to make is where you want to grow them - in the ground or in containers.  This depends on what space you have and how much digging you want to do.  Containers are by far the easiest way but if you have lots of space and fancy the exercise then growing directly in the ground is an option.

    Planting in containers

    Take a large 40L Potato Planter or if you want an even bigger crop a Vigoroot Potato Planter that will air-prune the roots.  

    Pour about 5cm of good multipurpose compost into the bottom.  Place your seed potatoes - 3 or 4 per planter- onto the soil making sure that your chits are facing upwards.  Cover with a further 5cm of compost.  Water and wait.  That's it.

    Earthing up: containers

    In Containers - earthing up couldn't be easier.  When the shoots have reached 10cm pour more soil into the planter until the tips of the plants are just covered.  Keep the soil moist and continue to cover as the shoots grow. Maincrop potatoes benefit from a nitrogenous fertiliser around the time of the second earthing up.  The bag will be full by the time you are finished.

    Harvesting

    Early potatoes take between 12-15 weeks to mature, main crop take about 20 weeks.

    Once they have finished flowering and the leaves start to die back your potatoes are probably ready to harvest.  To get the best results, and potatoes that will store really well, leave it 2 weeks after the foliage has died back to harvest. If frost is expected within two weeks while plants are still green and vigorous, you can defoliate the tops in order to kick start the skin setting process. The best way to do this is to shred the leaves and stems of the plants so that death is gradual rather than sudden. If the plants die suddenly (including death to hard frost), the tubers may be discoloured.

    The skin on mature potatoes is thicker and firmly attached to the potato.  To check if your potatoes are ready you can delve into the bag with your hand and find a potato.  Rub the skin with your finger and if it comes off really easily they are probably not ready yet and need a little longer.
    Once you are sure they are ready you can harvest.  Simply turn the bag upside down on a plastic sheet, into a wheelbarrow or a corner of the patio.  Shake the soil from the roots and you will see the potatoes which you can gently remove.

    Curing & Storing

    After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 7-16C  (45 to 60 F) for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. Store your cured potatoes at about 4 C (40 F) in a dark place.  A jute Veg Sack is ideal for this and will keep out the light that would turn them green and make them poisonous.

    Planting In the Garden

    If planting outside make sure that before you plant the potato bed has been turned over well then warm up the beds by placing mini poly tunnels over them a few days before planting.

    The traditional planting method is to dig a narrow trench and place the tubers with chits facing up between 4” (10cm) Earlies and 8” (20cm) Maincrop deep.

    Leave about 12" (30cm) Earlies and 15" (37cm) Maincrop between plants and 24" (60cm) Earlies and 30" (75cm) Maincrop between rows.

    Finally, replace the poly tunnel to keep the soil warm, give them a good start and protect from late frosts once the shoots break through.

    Earthing Up: outside

    When shoots get to around 9" (23cm) start 'earthing up'.  Basically, make small mounds of soil around them, covering the leaves creating a ridge about 6" (15cm) high.  As the stems grow, repeat the process. The final height of the ridges will be about 12" (30cm). This will protect the plants from frost and keep the light from the developing potatoes which makes them go green and poisonous.

    Harvesting

    To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a spade or a fork. You can harvest just for supper i.e just what you need right now.  However, it is quite stressful for the plant so be as gentle as you can.  To do this drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.

    To harvest the whole crop, first test them for maturity by digging up one potato and testing its skin as outlined above.  Especially important when digging up potatoes is making sure that you don't scratch, bruise or cut them. Damaged tubers will rot during storage so these should be first in the pot.  Work through the bed as methodically as you can, feeling round the roots so that you don't miss any potatoes.  Potatoes should then be cured and stored as detailed above.

    Growing potatoes is very rewarding and you may find yourself bitten by the bug and refilling your potato planters immediately after harvest to grow your own potatoes for Christmas!  In the meantime why not try this delicious Potato Scones recipe?

  • Pests and Diseases : Red Spider Mite

    What are Red Spider Mites

    Red spider mite are so small (less than 1mm) they are almost invisible without a magnifying glass but they can wreak havoc in a greenhouse or on houseplants.

    Spider mites reproduce rapidly especially at in conditions with high temperature and low humidity.

    At 25°C, a freshly laid egg will hatch, grow into an adult mite and lay more eggs after only 10 days - At 30°C, it's  only 7 days!

    Females can produce up to 150 eggs in their life, laying around 10 eggs per day. These are 0.14mm in diameter and transparent at first. Eventually, they turn white to light yellow.

    What do they look like?

    Confusingly, for most of the year of the year they aren’t red in colour at all as their name suggests.

    They begin life as a greenish-yellow, and only turn red in the late summer/early autumn. The first you know of them may be what looks like sandy coloured ‘dust’ moving around the growing tips and undersides of new leaves.

    What do Red Spider Mite Do?

    Red spider mite suck sap from plants through foliage.

    They will attack almost anything in the greenhouse, in fact, very few plants are fully resistant to this mite. They will feast on fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, as well as flowering plants, like fuchsias, pelargoniums and orchids, and many more besides.

    How to prevent and treat Red Spider Mite

    • Keep a regular eye on all you plants to look out for the early signs. On leaves, you’ll see subtle marks and mottling, and, if you have your reading glasses on you may be able to see the mites themselves underneath the leaf
    • You may also spot white shedded ‘skin casts’, and sometimes tiny round eggs as well. In severe cases, you will see very fine webs near the top of the affected plants
    • It is important to be vigilant and look out for bleached, unhealthy looking leaves, often with yellow or brown speckles. If under continuous attack, leaves will dry up and fall off and the host plant can become severely weakened
    • Red Spider Mite like hot, dry conditions so keeping the greenhouse well ventilated will help to deter attacks
    • Damping down can help to keep the atmosphere humid – which the Spider mite hate. Spray water from a hose or can onto the greenhouse floor and under the staging to keep the air moist – the plants will enjoy it too!
    • Washing leaves with a mild soap solution can be very effective if done regularly
    • Encourage ladybirds and other predators into your garden – they will feast on mites and aphids in your greenhouse. Other biological controls include the predatory mite phytoseiulus persimilis Which can be introduced once temperatures in the greenhouse reach 21 degrees
    • Spider Mites can remain dormant once the temperature drops for up to a year so good hygiene and thorough washing of pots and equipment at the end of the season is a must
  • Grow at Home - Sweet/Bell Peppers/Capsicum

    What are they?

    The Bell Pepper (Capsicum annuum) is also known as the Sweet Pepper or Capsicum and is originally native to the Americas.  As its name suggests, it is sweet rather than spicy.  This is because it does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that creates a strong burning sensation that makes the other members of the family such as chillies taste 'hot'.

    Botanically speaking, like tomatoes, bell peppers are fruits.  However, when cooking they are considered a vegetable and despite their sweet taste no one is going to thank you for adding them to the apple crumble!

    Colours  Multi_coloured_peppers

    They come in green, red, yellow, orange, brown, white, purple, lavender and black.  Red peppers are ripened green peppers, the exception being the Permagreen pepper which is still green when ripe and will never turn red.
    The sweetness of the pepper depends on growing conditions and how much it has been allowed to ripen.  So a ripe red pepper will be sweeter than the less ripe green one.  Peppers that have ripened on the plant will also be sweeter than those that were picked and allowed to ripen after.  Not something you can change when buying them but if you grow your own then you can ensure they are as sweet as possible by leaving them to ripen on the plant.

    There are many varieties but I would choose a hardy, early variety such as Yellow Monster or Lipstick to get the best results.

    Sowing

    Peppers are easy to grow from seed and have a high germination rate.  Sow seeds 1/2" (1cm) deep inside in Rootrainers, pots or seed trays from mid-February to end of March.  They will take 2-4 weeks to germinate.

    Peppers like it warm so so use a propagator and aim for a temperature of around 18-21°C (65-70°F) or place on a warm windowsill, with plastic bags over the pots to keep the heat and moisture in.  Of course if you have used Rootrainers then they come with their own lid so you can just pop this on for the perfect environment.

    Transplant into 3" (8cm) pots when two true leaves have formed.  Handle the seedlings by the leaves to avoid damaging the delicate stem.

    If you don't want to grow from seed then most Garden Centres will sell plants.

    Planting

    Position

    If growing in England this crop is much better being grown in a greenhouse or on a windowsill for as long as possible.

    If planting in the ground space the rows 18" (45cm) apart with the same distance between plants.  The more you prepare the bigger the yield you will get so dig in some well rotted manure.  You may also wish to cover the ground with a  Easy Poly Tunnel  to warm the soil before planting.  Once your plants are in position keep them covered with a cloche or a tunnel as they like it warm, but remember to take it off or open it for periods to allow pollination.

    Peppers grow well in containers and can also be grown in grow bag planters or in the garden as long as it is in a sheltered, sunny spot.  Ideally a South or West facing brick wall or fence.

    Potting On

    Once the roots fill your 3" (8cm) pot transfer plants to 12" (30cm) pots of good compost.  Do this in mid-May (heated greenhouse), late-May (unheated greenhouse) or June if growing outside.

    Pinch out the growing tips of chillies when they are about 12" (30cm) tall to encourage bushiness.

    Watch the plants as the fruits begin to grow.  If fruit becomes heavy then stake and tie plants in to prevent breakages.  Also, if growing in a greenhouse the leaves can become scorched so watch out for this and open vents and shade as appropriate if the temperatures start to soar.

    Feeding & Watering

    As with all plants regular water is vital so make sure you keep the moisture levels as constant as you can.

    Once flowers form start feeding with a fertiliser suitable for tomatoes e.g. a high potash liquid fertiliser with seaweed.  Feed every 10 days as you water.

    Harvesting

    Harvest August to November.  Expect to harvest between 3 and 8 peppers per plant.

    Start to pick the fruit when it is large, green and has a glossy sheen.  If you prefer sweeter peppers then leave it on the plant to mature but this will reduce yield.  If you still have peppers on the plant when the frosts arrive then dig up the whole plant.  Hang it upside down in a shed or greenhouse to allow the fruit to continue to ripen.
    Once harvested, if kept cool, bell peppers can store for up to 3 weeks once picked.

     

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