Monthly Archives: May 2019

  • Grow at Home - Cucumbers

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

    Male & Female

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

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

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

    cucumbers_flowerThe traditional variety- monoecious

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

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

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

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

    The Modern variety - Gynoecious 

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

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

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

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

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

    cucumber_plantSowing

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

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

     

     

    Planting Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harvesting

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

    Common Issues

    Bitterness

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

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

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

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

    All male flowers

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

    Pests

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

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

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

  • Grow at Home - Salad Leaves

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

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

    What to plant

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

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

    Where to Plant

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

     

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

     

    Sowing

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

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

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

     

     

     

     

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

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

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

    Care for them by watering well.

    Pests

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

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

    Harvesting

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

  • Grow at Home - Brussels Sprouts

    Brussels Sprouts are delicious if cooked well – home growing can convert even the most ardent sprout avoider! There are many really tasty and reliable F1 Hybrids available, which freeze well and with a bit of planning you could be harvesting right through the winter.

    Where to grow

    Brussels Sprouts thrive in an open sunny position that is protected from strong winds.

    Dig the soil well and incorporate well-rotted manure of garden compost in Autumn. Sprouts do not grow well in acidic soil so add lime if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7

    Sowing

    Sow outside in a nursery bed from early to mid spring. Start by sowing the early varieties and successionally sow mid season and later varieties in turn. Sow thinly in rows 1cm deep with 15cm between rows.

    After germination, thin out the seedlings to 8cm apart. Transplant when the seedlings are 10cm high – watering well the previous day will help the seedlings lift easily – and Plant in rows with 75cm between plants - The space between rows is ideal for a catch crop such as salad.

    Firm the soil well to prevent air pockets and help keep the plants stable.

    For late summer picking start the sowing off in Rootrainers under glass in late winter. Harden off and plant outside when the young plants are 10cm high using cloches to protect during the early stages - Easy Tunnels are ideal if you plant in rows and for block planting an Easy Lantern Cloche will do the job well.

    Aftercare

    An Net Easy Tunnel will deter pigeons. Weed throughout the growing season and water in dry periods. Apply a foliar feed during the summer and stake any plants that need it. During the early Autumn draw the soil around the stems to steady the plants against the wind - A  Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier will give extra protection. Apply felt or plastic collars around the base of the plants to prevent cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting from the bottom of the plant, picking the sprouts when they are still tight, after the first frosts as this improves the flavour. Pick just a few from each plant and every time you harvest work further up the stem. When all the sprouts have been harvested you can cut off the top of the plant and use as you would cabbage.

    Pest and diseases

    Prone to the same problems as cabbages the main issue is Club Root – a soil borne fungal disease. Infected plants should be destroyed and not composted.

    Small white butterfly caterpillar and aphids may also affect the crop. Protect the crop from butterflies with net and remove caterpillars by hand and I spray aphids with soapy water.

  • What a nice thing to say! (but I bet the pigeons don't like us as much)

    Micromesh1It's nice to wake up to a compliment, isn't it?  So this morning I was really pleased to read that someone's plants were on the road to growing happy and healthy due to the Haxnicks Easy TunnelsAnd even better they had taken these great pictures of the Tunnels in action.

    Iwona and Neil , the inhabitants of "The Wonky shed at Number 13" dreamt of sauerkraut last year and planted accordingly.  Returning to the plot several days later, they found that slugs, snails and an unexpected flock of pigeons had visited.  It cost them their cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kalettes, and their many different cabbages.   (This family clearly love their veg!)

    They say "We decided to get some netting and on the plot next to us there was this mesh tunnel from @haxnicks that we really liked. We did some research and got one for ourselves and we grew a few more cabbages under it. The tunnel proved  really great for pest control and so we got a few more for this season. "   They have used these - ever ambitious - to plant Chinese cabbage, pak choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and little gem lettuce.

    The tunnel they chose was the Haxnicks - Easy Micromesh Tunnel which has ultra fine 0.6mm mesh which keeps out even tiny aphids and carrot flies and is ideal for brassicas.  Next year maybe they will add a Haxnicks Easy Poly Tunnel to warm the soil so they can plant earlier and lengthen the growing season to grow even more veg.

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