Monthly Archives: December 2019

  • Grow at Home: nutritious Microgreens

    What are Microgreens?

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    Microgreens are tiny, edible, immature veg plants.  They are ready - from seed to plate - in just a few weeks so are satisfyingly quick to grow.  They need very little space or equipment so are great for beginners or urban gardeners.  You can eat both the leaves and stems and harvest them simply with scissors or snips as and when you need them.

    As an extra plus side they are packed with a higher percentage of nutrients than their more mature versions.  Do not confuse them with sprouts which are generally grown in a jar and are germinated seeds that are eaten root, seed and shoot.

    So if you are looking for freshness and want to to make your home cooking a little more "fine dining"  without breaking the bank then try microgreens.  They can be used in many dishes and will add flavour, colour and texture to even a simple sandwich.

    Which seeds to choose?

    Most of the veg you would normally grow in the garden such as beetroot, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, salad greens, herbs etc can be grown as microgreens.

    You can buy specific microgreen seeds which are sold in most garden centres.  This is a good place for beginners to start as they are specifically designed for easy, successful growing and often contain a colour coordinated mix which will look good too.   If you have seeds that weren't sown last year though - or know someone who does -  it is worth giving these a go as microgreens too.

    Microgreens are usually grown inside.  They can be grown outside in warmer months too though.  As you will have to do more pest protection plus remember to water them it is probably easier to keep them on the windowsill where they will get your attention though.

    Sowing Microgreens

    Take a shallow container or seed tray - the Haxnicks Bamboo Seed tray is ideal.  Next take a Haxnicks Microgreens Mat and place it into the tray.  The Microgreens mat is a made of natural materials making the whole set up plastic free.

    If you want to use a different seed tray or a container like the plastic container your grapes came in or an old take-away container, then just poke some holes in the bottom to make sure there is drainage and cut the mat to fit.

    • Check the seed packet for any special instructions.  Sprinkle the seeds evenly onto the mat
    • Water lightly - or mist if you have a suitable sprayer.
    • Place it on a warm, sunny (ideally south facing) windowsill in direct sunlight.   If the weather is not too warm then you may wish to cover with a piece of glass or clear plastic to encourage germination.
    • Mist or water the mat once or twice a day- depending on the temperature - to keep it moist not wet.  Sprouts should appear within around four to seven days.  Continue to water once or twice daily.
    • Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover (if you used one.) Continue to mist once or twice a day.

    Harvesting

    microgreens_in_seed_trayThey should be ready in around two to three weeks.  Harvesting is simply a case of taking scissors and snipping off a few.  Cut just above the mat as and when you need them.

    This is where the Microgreens mat really comes into its own.  The microgreens need to be washed but as they have not been in soil this process is much easier than it would if they had been grown in compost,  Simply wash them  as you would salad and pat dry on paper towels.

    Use in sandwiches or to scatter over salads, soups and other dishes to give an extra punch of flavour.

    You can pick what you need and leave the rest to continue growing.  However, if you feel the microgreens are getting a little large then you can cut them.  Store them unwashed  in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.  Then just remove, wash and use as required.

    Pest and Diseases

    As you are growing inside pests are much less likely but light may be an issue early in the year.  Like any plant, Microgreens need direct sunlight to thrive.  Around four to five hours a day should be enough.  However, watch out for spindly, pale growth which might indicate insufficient light.  If you find they aren't getting enough then either use a grow light or wait until a little later in the year to try again when days are longer and can meet the plants' light needs

  • Grow at Home: Shallots

    Shallots are a member of the onion family.  Divine in stews where they enrich the whole dish as they melt into oozy gorgeousness.  They can also be pickled if you like a crunchy tang.

    Sowing Shallots

    banana_shallots_cut_in_half_on_slateShallots can be grown from seed but sets (immature bulbs) are the more common way to start them. Sets are quicker to mature and better in colder regions.  They are also harder for pests such as birds to unearth giving a greater success rate.  Seeds are, of course, more economical as you get more of them for your money.

    Plants are easy to grow and can be grown in any well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. They need a long growing period but make a good companion plant so can be planted between faster-growing crops.

    Preparing the Ground

    To prepare your bed add some organic matter such as manure or garden compost.  Also add in a moderate dressing of any general purpose fertiliser.

    Plant the sets 10" (25cm) apart in rows 16" (40cm) apart from mid-November to mid-March. Gently push them into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them.

    Birds can be a problem lifting the sets; covering with fleece will prevent this.  If this is a problem in your area you may actually want to sow the sets into Rootrainers instead.  See this Exploring the Rhizosphere blog if you'd like to know why this works!

    If you would rather start shallots from seed, sow from March to April 1cm (½in) deep in rows 12 in (30cm) apart. Each seed produces a single shallot. Thin seedlings to anything from 1-3in (2.5-7.5cm) apart, depending on how large you want the individual shallots to develop.

    Growing Shallots

    You will need to keep them weeded so that they don't get overwhelmed.  The SpeedHoe or SpeedHoe Precision if you have planted them in a busier bed will both be perfect for this task.  Water if the weather is dry.  Try to avoid overhead watering as this could encourage Onion Mildew (see below). Remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.

    Harvesting

    In around July the foliage will start to turn yellow.  this means that the shallots are ready to harvest. Use a fork to lift the bulbs.  Separate the clusters and allow to dry. Store them like onions in a Haxnicks Veg Sack in a frost free place.

    Pest & Diseases

    Onion white rot - A soil-borne fungus that can cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage and  rotting of the roots and bulb below the soil. A white fluffy fungus appears on the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black structures.

    There is no real cure for onion white rot once it is in the soil. Get rid of contaminated plants.  Take care to avoid spreading it to other sites on muddy boots or tools used in the area.

    Onion downy mildew - another fungal disease that damages foliage and bulbs. Watch out for this when there are very damp conditions.   It leads to reduced yields.

    Try to avoid it by using the recommended spacings and not sowing plants too densely.  Weed regularly too.  This will ensure that they have plenty of light and air around them.   Remove any affected leaves.

     

  • Grow at Home: Spring Onions

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    These easy to grow and quick to harvest salad essentials can be eaten either raw or cooked. Spring Onions must be eaten fresh and cannot be stored like other onions - a perfect reason to grow them at home and enjoy fresh from the garden. Sow continuously throughout the growing season and harvest eight weeks after sowing.

    Soil and Aspect

    Like most onions, Spring Onions prefer a light soil, but there will grow in most soils that are rich in organic matter. Crop rotation helps prevent infection from pests and diseases. They can also be grown in window boxes or planters in a peat free potting mix such as Growlite.

    Spring Onions grow best in an open sunny site, but can tolerate some shade.

    Sowing

    Sow every three weeks from early Spring to late summer for a continuous crop from spring through to early Autumn. To harvest an early Spring crop sow ‘White Lisbon Winter Hardy’ or any other hardy variety in late summer or early autumn. This crop will overwinter and be ready for picking in early Spring. Sow crops thinly in rows 1cm deep with 10cm between each row.

    Aftercare

    Water in dry condition and weed during the growing season. Protect overwintering spring onions with a cloche in cold weather - Easy Tunnel would be ideal.

    Spring_onion_tops

    Harvesting and storing

    From sowing to harvesting takes around seven to eight weeks. Use a small hand fork to loosen the ground before pulling. Thin out the crop when harvesting, taking out every other plant and leaving the rest to grow on.

    Pests and diseases

    Onion fly is the main pest, turning the leaves yellow as the bulb is eaten by the maggots eventually killing the plants. Onion eelworm is another major pest killing young plants and damaging older ones by softening the bulbs. Destroy affected plants. Diseases such as onion white rot and onion downy mildew can also affect the plant. This is not a severe problem, however as their lifespan is so short – move to another growing site if symptoms appear.

     

     

  • Grow at Home - Pak Choi

    Pak_Choi_cut_on_white_Background

    The standard Pak Choi (sometimes known as Bok Choy) is juicy, crisp and fast-maturing with a really good, strong flavour, good resistance to bolting and fast growth.  A welcome green leaf in any winter kitchen garden.

    The green-stemmed cultivars tend to have a better flavour than white-stemmed varieties.  They can  also be eaten raw, stir fried or lightly steamed and served with soy sauce.

    Soil and Aspect

    Grow Pak Choi in full sun or part shade in well-drained but moisture retentive soil rich in organic matter. Add  compost to  beds before planting and mulch with compost again at mid season to help with moisture retention.

    As it is shallow-rooting Pak Choi is ideal for container growing - try growing on a patio or balcony in Vigoroot or Patio Planters 

    Sowing Pak Choi

    Pak choi is a versatile plant that can be cultivated as a cut-and-come-again crop - ready to harvest in as little as 30 days - or harvested as a mature plant.

    It is best sown before or after the hottest part of the year, either around April, just after the last frost date in your area or in August for a late-season crop.

    Cut and come again seedlings can be sown any time from April if you use bolt-resistant varieties and offer some shade in the hottest weather -  Easy Net Tunnels will help reduce bolting.

    Sow seeds in situ as soon as the soil is workable (early crops should be sown under cloches) and continue sowing until late summer.

    Space 15cm apart for small varieties, 20cm apart for medium-size and 35cm apart for large.

    Aftercare

    Pak choi has shallow roots so needs watering little and often in dry spells rather than drenching.

    A nitrogen rich liquid feed will help produce a bumper crop and shade from Easy Net Tunnels will prevent bolting.

    Harvesting and storage

    Pak_Choi_flowersA Cut and come again crop can be harvested at any stage from 4-13cm high.

    Depending on conditions, this could be within three weeks of sowing and two or three cuts should be possible. A headed crop (ready after around six weeks) can be lifted entirely.  Alternatively, you can cut 2.5cm above ground level and leave to re-sprout.

    Less likely to go limp than lettuce, Pak Choi is best kept cool and eaten within a week.

    Pest and Diseases

    Pak Choi is susceptible to all of the brassica problems.  Flea beetle, aphids, cabbage whitefly, caterpillars, root fly, slugs, snails and birds.

    But don't be put off!  As it is so fast growing, it is perfectly possible to avoid most issues with some protective netting and regular watering. This will keep the plants in top condition.

    Companion planting with Onions or Garlic can be very effective.  A row of sacrificial radishes is also good to draw the flee beetle away!

  • Winter Plant Protection - introducing the Green Fern Fleece

    Good morning Gardeners! Are you wrapping up to go outside today? Coat, scarf, gloves, woolly hat perhaps? Well, if so, then spare a thought for your more vulnerable plants that might need something to keep the cold, damp and frostbite at bay.

    Fleece is the perfect answer.  And until now, unless you want to bandage your plants in unruly loose fleece, the Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jacket has been the only solution. This year we have added a new product to the range though.  The Green Fern Easy Fleece Jacket.  So if your plant is somewhere where you will see it, and you prefer it to look more leafy then you now have a choice.

    Both versions are a very effective way to look after larger tender or exotic plants.  In 3 sizes, small, medium & large they work for hanging baskets, and problem plants such as acers or tree ferns.  Simply slip them over the top of your plant and tighten the draw string.  If its going to be very cold then you can double or even triple them up by just adding another fleece on top.  Then if you have a mild day you can loosen the drawstring and take them off.  Exactly as you would with your own jacket when the temperature rises.

    Haxnicks small Fleece Jackets for Winter Plant ProtectionWe often receive questions about looking after container grown plants in the winter.  One of the most common being cordyline palms. I would suggest gathering all the leaves together and holding them in an upright position with some string or Soft-tie. When it is really cold though, an Easy Fleece Jacket or Green Fern Easy Fleece Jacket (or two) should help to protect the foliage.  Importantly it will stop the frost getting to the growing point of the palm. Do make sure to remove the jackets when the weather is warmer to avoid rotting though.

    If you have smaller plants in beds, or rows of veg on the go, then the Extra thick Fleece blanket is another way to protect your plants.  Simply secure with fabric pegs to keep the cold out.  Or for individual plants then Victorian Bell cloches will keep out the cold.  Watch renowned horticulturist and BBC broadcaster, Pippa Greenwood explain how Haxnicks Bells can help.

     

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