Monthly Archives: March 2019

  • Grow at Home: Tomatoes

    Beef_Tomato_on_plantTomatoes are an easy and rewarding crop to grow.  Quite often they are the first plant a child will toddle home from school with and are a perfect introduction to growing your own food.
    The main reason to grow them though, is flavour.  Supermarket tomatoes are grown to travel well and stay looking good for as long as possible on the shelves. They are often picked before they are ripe too which is not ideal.  Flavour is on the list of criteria but much lower down than it should be.

    Technical Tomato Terms

    First let's start with some technical tomato terms that you may come across.  These will help you choose the right variety for the space you plan to grow them in.

    Indeterminate or Cordon varieties

    This is your typical, tall tomato plant.  They have a single long stem and usually grow up canes or twine up to 6' (1.8m) in height.  Cordon varieties produce side shoots which need to be removed, as they appear, or they will grow into large lateral branches leaving a tangled plant with a lower yield of ripe fruit.

    Determinate or bush varieties

    These are smaller tomato plants that are great for growing in containers, hanging baskets or anywhere where space is limited.  Bush varieties are sprawling rather than having a single central stem.  Because they are low and sprawling they are suitable for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels.  They spread about 2 or 3 foot and removing side shoots is not necessary as the bush is ‘self stopping’.

    Dwarf varieties

    These are very small and compact plants growing no more than 8 inches high. Ideal for container growing.

    Truss

    A truss is a group or cluster of smaller stems where flowers and the subsequent tiny green tomatoes develop.  Much of the support and pruning of the plant is done in relation to where the bunches of tomatoes, or 'trusses', are growing so it is useful to know this term.

    Where to Grow

    Tomatoes require full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK where summers are unpredictable and sunlight can be scarce.  Position them against a wall or fence if possible to get the best results.  Tomatoes need good fertile soil. Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.

    Container Growing3_cane_tomato_planter

    If you don't have a large garden or allotment and want to grow in a container or planter then Haxnicks have a big variety to choose from.  Which container you choose depends on the variety you have selected above.

    There is a useful table at the bottom of this blog which shows the whole range of planters with a  short description and link to find out more.

     

    When & How to Grow

    Sow seed indoors in late February to June.  If sowing early then use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill.

    Tomatoes can be sown 3/4" (2cm) deep in compost filled seed trays.  Try and keep your seedlings warm and give them as much light as you can.  Too little light will result in tall and weak seedlings.  The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin. Compost should also be kept moist and should never be allowed to dry out.

    When your seedlings have 5 or 6 leaves you will need to prick them out and pot them on into 10" (22cm) pots filled with a rich potting compost.  When they are 12" (30cm) tall move them to their final position in your plot or container. To grow really strong plants you can transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into Rootrainers and plant them out after around 6 weeks when they should have developed a super-strong root system.

     

    Support

    Supported_red_tomatoes

    Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow.  Canes have long been the traditional way to do this.  If using canes then ensure that the plants are tied gently to allow the stem to grow in both width and height.  Tying too tightly will restrict growth and damage the plant.  A frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster is an ideal way to gently support the plants without damaging them.  A properly supported plant can put all of its energy into producing fruit leading to higher yields.  So if you want to triumph at the village show or simply want to be self sufficient in tomatoes then this could be your secret weapon.

    Pinching Out

    If you have chosen a cordon variety you will need to pinch out side shoots as the plants grow.  You will find these shoots between the main stem and the branches.  To the novice gardener it seems like this will mean you get less tomatoes but the opposite is actually true.  Pinch them out when they are 1" (2.5cm) long and this will add light and air to your plant, keeping it healthy and allowing it to concentrate its energy on fruit production.

    Pruning

    When the plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.

    Watering and Feeding

    Tomatoes love a regular, consistent water supply so water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist.  Fluctuating moisture levels can cause the fruit to split.
    Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set.

    If you are growing in containers or growbags there will be restricted root space so you will need to feed them more.  You will also need to pay close attention to watering.  Some self watering planters such as Vigoroot Easy Table Garden and Vigoroot Self Watering Tower Garden will make this easier but containers generally do require frequent watering.

    Pests & Diseases

    Blossom End Rot: the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
    It is caused by irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil.  Consistent regular watering and feeding will help avoid this disease.

    Tomato blight: this causes the fruit and foliage rot and is most common in wet weather.  Avoid planting in areas that have had plants with the disease in.  Instead grow your tomatoes elsewhere in containers and leave these areas to rest for a year or two.  Choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.

    Tomato leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes and rarely seen in outdoor grown ones.  Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface and a pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found under the leaf. It causes significant yield loss.  To avoid this, keep the greenhouse well ventilated or choose a resistant variety of plant.

    Tomato splitting and cracking: This is to be avoided as it leaves the plant vulnerable to being infected by a fungus, such as grey mould.  To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. Feed and water regularly to maintain a constant soil moisture level.

    Companion planting Growing garlic and nasturtiums near your plants will help deter bugs.

    Harvesting

    Pick the fruit when it is ripe.  At the end of season you may have green tomatoes and not enough sunlight to ripen them.  If this happens then you can either make delicious Apple & Green Tomato Chutney or you can try and ripen them.  There are several ways to do this:

    • lift the plants with unripe fruit and lay them on straw under cloches
    • place fruits in a warm, dark place and wait
    • put the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which will release a gas that aids ripening.
    Try something new? Mycorrhizal Fungi

    If you have grown tomatoes before and want to try something extra to boost your crop then tomatoes respond well to inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi.  The fungi and the tomato plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi form a network of hyphae which transport water and minerals to the plant and in return the roots produce sugars to nourish the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are available as a powder to coat seedlings when planting out.

    Which Haxnicks Container is right for me?

    Planter
    (click on title to see details)
    Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties Determinate or bush varieties Dwarf About this product
    Tomato Crop Booster X A frame that properly supports tomato plants giving a higher yield.  Poly cover sold separately to turn it into a mini greenhouse.
    Tomato (climbing) Patio Planter X Planter with 3 sided plant support included.
    Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack) X X X 2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.
    Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter X X X Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato.  Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants
    Grower System X X A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.
    Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden X X A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.
    Vigoroot Easy Table Garden X X Vigoroot fabric planter with integral self-watering system & poly protection cover - a raised bed, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one!
    Other Tomato Accessories
    Tomato Tubes X X X Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.
    Twist Up tomato Cloche X
  • Grow at Home: Carrots

    There are few vegetables that taste better when they are home grown than carrots.  Freshly pulled, sweet and full of favour compared to what can be bland and watery 'shop bought' versions.  You don't need to stick to traditional orange either.  There are purple, yellow and white varieties to try and many shapes and sizes as well.

    Where to grow carrots

    Although they will grow in heavy clay, carrots do best on light sand soils where the drainage is good and root growth is not restricted.  The soil should be free of stones and not too rich - both will cause the carrot to 'fork' so avoid manuring ground you plan to sow carrots in next season.

    As with many crops, an open sunny site will suit carrots best.  Carrots also grow well in containers and Haxnicks do a specific Carrot Patio Planter.  The planter means that anyone can grow carrots even if they don't have a garden.  Plus no digging is needed which is a bonus, simply fill it with compost before planting your seeds.  

    Sowing

    Sow thinly outside from early spring or under cloches from late winter - Easy Tunnel would be ideal to keep them warm.  Plant around 1cm deep with 15-20cm between the rows.  If you make a new sowing every few weeks through to early summer you'll be well supplied throughout the year.

    If your soil is very heavy you may like to dig deep along the trench and loosen the soil with a mix of compost and some grit and then sow on top of this.

    Thin the seedlings to around 5 cm apart. Do this on a still evening to avoid attracting carrot flies and bury the thinnings deep in the compost heap to hide the smell.

    Another way to reduce the chance of carrot fly is to erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel - with 0.6mm netting will also keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.

    Aftercare

    Weed the crop regularly making sure not to disturb the roots too much.  A good mulch will help to retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay - keep the seedlings well watered in dry weather.

    Harvesting and storage

    Start to harvest from late Spring onwards - usually 7 - 8 weeks after sowing. Lift carefully with a fork rather than pulling, especially when the soil is dry.

    Maincrop carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as required.  Later in the year you may need to cover with straw of fleece as the temperature drops.

    Alternatively you can lift your crop in mid Autumn and store in a box of sand or dry potting compost.  Trim the foliage to 1cm and make sure the carrots are not touching. Stored in this way they should last throughout the winter.

    Pests and diseases

    The main pest is Carrot Root Fly which lays it's eggs on the plant and can destroy the whole crop.

    There are several ways to deter the fly:

    • A later sowing in early summer will avoid the main egg laying periods in late Spring and early Autumn
    • Lift early summer crops before the risk of infestation
    • Use a micromesh barrier around the crop - the carrot fly stays close to the ground and so will not approach the plants from above
    • Companion planting of strong smelling crops such as onion will mask the carrot smell which attracts the fly

    For more information on carrot flies and tips on how to get a successful crop see our Carrot Fly Blog

  • 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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