Monthly Archives: June 2019

  • Grow at Home - Perfect Pumpkins

    Big_pumpkins_in_field_with_many_behind

    Pumpkins are a perfect crop to grow with children as they look impressive and can be put to use at Halloween as lanterns.  The flesh makes great soups and pies and there are many other than the huge orange varieties which are developed for great flavour rather than size.

    Where to grow

    Deep fertile soil that is rich in Humus. Before planting out dig a panting pit 45cm deep.  Fill the pit with well rotted manure or garden compost and back fill again.

    Plant or sow pumpkins in a sunny position and protect from strong winds

    Sowing

    Sowing can begin under glass in late spring at a temperature of 15-18c.  Soak the seed overnight to speed up germination.  Rootrainers will give them the perfect start.

    Plant out in the prepared space in early summer after all threat of frost has passed. Alternatively sow direct in early summer under an Easy Tunnel to aid germination.

    Keep a distance of 1.5m between rows or use one Medium Veg Planter per plant.

    Aftercare

    To keep the vigorous growth in check, train the stems around the plant pinning them to the ground with pegs or opt for a decorative frame to support the developing crop.

    Watering needs to to take place throughout the growing season and feeding every two weeks will support the rapid growth of the pumpkins.  Pinch out the trailing tips and once the fruits are mature stop watering and feeding completely.

    Harvesting and Storage

    The fruits will mature best on the plant.  Harvest the entire crop before the first frosts, leaving a stem of about 5 cm. Leave them in a sunny position for about a week for the skins to harden - they will then store well.

    Pumpkin Pests and diseases

    Slugs can be a problem, especially when the fruits start to grow - Slugbusters will help to protect the crop.

  • Grow at Home: Super Strawberries

    strawberries_flower_portrait

    Strawberries can be grown in the ground, in hanging baskets or in containers.  They are simple to grow and an easy and delicious place for kids to start their gardening journey.

    They come in early, mid and late season varieties so if you choose your plants carefully you can have strawberries on tap throughout the summer.  Not only will you save money at the supermarket but you will have fresher, tastier strawberries too.

    How to Start your Strawberries

    Strawberries can be grow from seed, runners or small plants bought at the Garden Centre. It should be noted that they produce their best fruit when they are in their second and third years so however you start them, do not expect much in the first year.  Whichever one you choose they need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation.

    Growing from Seed

    strawberries_in-handsCheck your seed packet for instructions but many strawberry seeds need to be cold treated before they will germinate.  To do this, place the seeds, in an airtight container, and put it in a freezer for 2 to 4 weeks. This simulates winter so once they thaw the seeds are fooled into coming to life.  Remove the seeds from the freezer and leave them to gradually warm up to room temperature.

    Once your strawberry seeds are at room temperature you can plant them in a seed tray filled with suitable compost.  Moisten the mixture with water and sprinkle your strawberry seeds evenly over it. Cover them with a light dusting of soil ensuring that some light can still reach them as they need it to germinate.  Keep them indoors in a well-lit room and in direct sunlight.  They should germinate in two to three weeks.

    Keep the soil moist and keep the tray somewhere warm.  On top of a fridge or with a heat pad underneath are both good options.  Gently transfer the strawberry seedlings to larger containers or pots after they gain their 3rd leaves. 

    If weather allows, the strawberry seedlings can be planted directly outside after hardening off first.

    Growing from Runners

    Strawberries are so easy to propagate (to have babies – reproduce). After the harvesting season you will notice that off the strawberry plant there is a shoot or 'runner'.  This will often have a baby strawberry plant developing on the end. When this shoot has rooted itself to the ground you can a) leave it there b) move it to a better spot c) replace an old plant with it d) give it away if you don’t want it!  Most gardeners are happy to pass these runners on to others and spread the strawberry love so its a great way to start your strawberry patch.

    Growing from plants 

    The easiest thing to do is to buy some strawberry plants, usually during the early Spring, and then to plant them out.

    Planting Strawberries

    Prepare the soil well.  Fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart. You could use an EasyPath between rows to allow easy access for picking.

    If you don’t have the space for strawberries don’t forget that you can plant them in patio planters, this can be quite good as you can move them to warm spots or even encourage more fruit by placing the whole thing in a greenhouse.  They are really striking in hanging baskets and only dare-devil slugs and snails will make the journey meaning your ripening fruit is safer here than anywhere else.

    After flowering

    strawberries_dewAs soon as the flowers finish, the first tiny green strawberries start to appear or “set”. Make sure you weed carefully and now is the time to set up your slug protection, such as SlugBusters. You may also want to protect the strawberries from rotting by placing some straw underneath, I don’t seem to need to do this myself as my patch is fairly dry but if your patch isn't, this will keep them off the damp ground.

    If your plants are in containers they will need watering but if your plants are in the ground then avoid watering after flowering if possible.  Damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it first thing in the morning so that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.

     

     

    Replacing Old Plants

    Strawberry plants don't last forever and will only last around 4 seasons.  After this both yield and flavour will drop so they should be replaced.  To grow your own replacements, leave a few of this years plants un-pruned and peg down the resulting  runners to the soil.  They will grow into new plants ready for next year.

    Pests & Diseases

    Beware of birds, once they find a supply of yummy ripe strawberries, they will be gone in a matter of hours. Cover them with plant protection nets before they start to ripen. Also beware of slugs they are much slower in their approach but also enjoy strawberries.

    Harvesting & Storage

    The first harvest of your strawberries will be delicious and sweet, towards the end of the season I find that they are not quite as good and this is when I collect them for jam making. Yum.

    I'm not a fan of frozen strawberries - too mushy - but if you have a glut and don't want to make jam then they can be frozen.  Place them in the freezer individually on a tray, when frozen pack them up into bags.

  • Grow at Home: Broccoli and Calabrese

     

    broccoli_plant

    Broccoli (Purple Sprouting) and Italian Calabrese are often confused as the supermarket sold 'broccoli' is in fact the large green headed calabrese.

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli is an excellent crop for filling the harvesting gap at the end of the winter and heralds the start of the new grow your own season for many gardeners.

    Where to grow

    All forms of broccoli and calabrese do best in an open sunny position. Protection from strong winds will prevent the plants from rocking.

    Both require a rich soil. Manure in the Autumn and apply lime  if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7 in particular for the purple sprouting variety.

    Sowing

    During Spring sow purple sprouting seed thinly in rows to a depth of 1cm with 15cm between rows. After germination thin to 5 cm apart in preparation for transplanting to their final position.  Calabrese do not transplant as happily so should ideally be sown direct and thinned to 30 cm apart. Easy Poly Tunnels will aid germination and Easy Net Tunnels protect the young seedlings from birds.

    Transplant deeply with the first leaves sitting on the soil surface to discourage cabbage root fly and help stabilise the plant.  Firm in well, again to help secure the plant and eliminate any air pockets.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered during dry periods to allow healthy growth throughout the long growing season.  Mulching the rows with garden compost will help retain moisture and keep weeds in check as will regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help loosening the soil around the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting in late winter and continue through to mid spring, depending on the variety grown.  Harvest shoots of Purple Sprouting varieties  before they flower at around 15cm long.  Regular cutting encourages new shoots and any that reach flowering stage should be removed to prevent exhausting the plant.

    Calabrese can be harvested from late summer to early autumn.  Heads should be cut, starting from the central flower head, while still tightly closed. Spread harvesting of the crop to avoid completely stripping a plant.

    Broccoli Pests and diseases

    Cabbage root fly is the main pest to effect broccoli and calabrese.  Protect with fleece during the early stages to help avoid this - Easy Fleece Tunnels or Fleece Lantern Cloche are ideal.

    In order to prevent damage to the roots from wind rock (damage to the roots of young plants, caused by the movement of the stem in the wind.)use a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

  • Grow at Home: Courgettes & Squashes

    Courgettes_pumpkins_pileCourgettes are so easy to grow and you can get as many as three or four a week from each plant during the height of the season.  Squash are also easy and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes from huge pumpkins to tiny cucamelons.  You can even grow your own Loofah (yes its a squash!) if you want to take squash growing to another level!

    Which you grow depends on

    • the space you have
    • what you like to eat
    • when you want to grow them  - there are winter squashes and summer squashes
    • What you like the look of - some are so decorative that you might just want them there to add some zing to your colour scheme (and of course you can eat them after too)

     

    Where to Grow Courgettes & Squashes

    They need quite a bit of space - about a square metre/yard per plant for courgettes and bush squash varieties, so allow enough room in your veg patch.  Trailing squash varieties need even more space - around 5' (1.5m) square.Kabocha

    If you don't have this amount of space spare they will be perfectly at home in a large Veg Planter or a Grow Bag Planter. Plant one per container or one or two per Growbag planter.   

    Sowing

    cucamelons_chelseaOutside

    You can sow directly outside from May onwards.  If you do this then sow 2 to 3 seeds 1" (2.5cm) deep and cover with a Cloche or an Easy Poly Tunnel.  Leave the protection in place for at least two weeks and then thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one. The cover will also help keep slugs away too which are partial to a young courgette plant.

    Inside

    It is easier and more successful to get them going inside though on a windowsill or in the greenhouse.  Sow the seeds on their side  ½ ”(1 cm) deep in small 3” (7.5cm) pots on the windowsill  from April to June,

    From May onwards harden off the plants.  Do this by putting them in a cold frame for a week.  If you don't have a cold frame then put them outside during the day and then pull them back inside at night for a week.  Then put them outside in a sheltered spot day and night for a week.  Once hardened plant them out into their final position from May to July when they are as large as you dare let them grow in the small pots.

    Courgettes love a good dollop of manure under them so if you have any dig it into the bed along with some good compost or add it to your container before you plant them.

    Flowers

    Courgettes_flower_with_baby_courgetteWe just have to mention the flowers at this stage.  Courgette and squash plants have male and female flowers on the same plant.  The male flowers appear first and have a single stamen covered in pollen.  They release this pollen and then fall off leading those new to courgette growing to panic and wonder if they will get any courgettes!  Rest assured that the fruit all comes from the female flowers.  The plant then produces female flowers which have a noticeable swelling behind the flower which is the start of the fruit.

    Watering & Feeding

    Courgettes and squashes are very thirsty plants so need frequent watering.  Try to avoid getting water on the leaves when watering and don't let it sit in a pool of water as this may cause rot.

    Once the fruits start to appear - you will see them behind the flowers - feed every 10-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser.

    Harvesting

    Harvest from July to October.  Pick the courgettes anything from 6” 15cm to 12” 30cm, depending on what you want to do with them. Croping them while small will ensure a longer croping period.  The smaller they are the more tender and more delicious. The larger ones are good for perhaps stuffed courgette dishes. The flower is also edible either fried in a light tempura batter or in a salad.

    Pests & Diseases

    Powdery Mildew: Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaves which become stunted and shrivel.

    Remedy: Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations  Easy if you are growing in containers - simply move elsewhere in the garden.

    Grey mould: This is a grey, fuzzy fungal growth which can begin as pale or discoloured patches. It is most common in damp or humid conditions. Spores can survive over winter and enter plants via damaged tissue or open flowers.

    Remedy: Where you see the black spores remove damaged plant parts before they can become infected. Cut out infected areas into healthy tissue and clear up infected debris and wash your hands before touching healthy plants. If growing in the greenhouses, ventilate well to reduce humidity and give plants lots of space.

    No courgettes or fruit rots whilst very small: This is not strictly a 'pest or disease' but more a problem with the growing conditions.  It is usually caused when pollination has not taken place or has been inadequate.  This happens when the start of the summer is cool and there aren't enough insects around to pollinate the plants.

    Remedy:  If you notice a lack of insects then you may want to try to hand-pollinate your plants.  Do this by taking off a male flower (see above on how to identify one).  Brush the central parts against the centre of a female flower. If you don't have time to do this don't worry.  This problem should go away on its own when the weather starts to improve.

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