Monthly Archives: March 2020

  • Grow at home: How to make your gardening into more of a workout

    the workout has been thrown into disarray by gyms closing and people being forced to stay home.  All is well in the garden though.  Whether it is the supermarkets queues or skies clearing to a cerulean blue, people seem to be relishing the idea of spending time in the garden.

    The National Gardens Scheme in 2016 report found that half of the adult population in England report being involved in gardening, and consider it an important activity throughout their lives. And the enforced leisure time we are all having at the moment only widens the garden's appeal as a place of sanctuary.

    But how can we make even better use of it?  Maybe by turning it into our own gym...

    Gardening as Exercise

    man_in_red_digging_gardenGardening is deemed to be a "moderate to strenuous workout" up there with walking and cycling.  So excellent news for those of you who already garden.  Also brilliant news for any gym-bunnies that are suffering because they are shut.  You can easily burn the same number of calories gardening as you would at the gym. Digging, raking, and mowing are at the best activities (my Activity Tracker is convinced that my mower is a static bike!).  The secret is that gardening covers all 4 sorts of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility meaning its an all round work out

     

    Losing Weight

    Gardening can help you lose weight burning off about 300 calories an hour. One study found that women community gardeners weighed on average 11 pounds less than non-gardeners, and men weighed 16 pounds less. While you will certainly burn calories doing it there are other factors at play.

    Fresh air

    All the stress relieving and mental health benefits of a walk in the countryside with an added sense of achievement at having grown something successfully.  Fresh air can make us feel healthier resulting in healthier eating habits supported by the fresh veggies produced.  Who wants oven chips when you could have glistening new potatoes freshly pulled from your own plot?

    Being outside will also increase your vitamin D intake. Not only is this vitamin important to every single organ in your body but it is also a mood booster.  Which may go some way to explain why gardening is good for our mental health.

    choc_chip_cookies_in_biscuit_tinAway from the biscuit tin

    So much over eating is in response to boredom rather than hunger.  Even if you haven't stockpiled biscuits they are probably now within reach where they wouldn't have been before.  Being out in the garden takes you away from temptation and gives you something else to do with idle hands.

    A better larder

    Growing your own vegetables, fruits, or herbs, gives them more focus in your kitchen.  So instead of I've got some meat what veg shall I have with it.  Its 'the beans will be ready early next week what recipes can i use for them.

     

    Making your Gardening into a Workout

    The first thing to say on this  subject is gardening can cause injury.  Doing it the wrong way, or over doing it when you haven't gardened for a while (or ever!) can lead to very sore muscles and a bad back which no one wants.

    We've all been there and overdone it at the start of the season but it should be avoided if possible.  There are subtle ways to make your gardening more effective fitness wise though.

    woman_yoga_stretch_in_gardenWarm Up

    You wouldn't do a 5K run without warming up your muscles so some gentle stretching is the very least you need to do - particularly before the more strenuous tasks like digging.

    Stretch for it!

    When you are undertaking activities like hoeing you want to increase the sweep or arc from your starting position to your ending position.  So rather than short jerky movements you need long fluid movements with a slight stretch so you can feel it in your muscles. Think Tai Chi with a trowel.

    Lunge and weed

    man_doing_lunges_with_speedhoeThis one transfers straight from the weights section of the gym. Think a forward lunge usually done with a dumbbell in each hand.  To transfer this to the garden, take your weeding tool -  a long handed one like the SpeedHoe Precision - and rest your left arm on your left knee when weeding with your right hand. Reverse if you are left handed.   You may feel a bit of a twit at first and get some funny looks if you do this at the allotment (at a 2m distance from anyone else)  but much better than being in a sweaty gym.

     

    Use the right muscles

    If you use the right muscles then it not only be kinder to your back but will also burn more calories.  The muscles of the arms and lower back are weaker.  So, try to use the larger muscles in your legs, buttocks and the core strength of your torso to do the bulk of the work. Particularly important when lifting things like compost bags.  Bend those knees.

    Repeat, repeat, repeat!

    Try and group your activity into sets.  So dig 5 spade fulls then rest for one minute then repeat.  Hoe 10 sweeps and then move weed so the compost heap for one minute, repeat  This will not only improve your fitness but it will chop up tedious tasks into more manageable chunks.  Plus it will give you short term goals to think about rather than being daunted by having to dig a whole bed.

    Gardening together

    From delaying dementia to improving concentration in all areas of your life, gardening has much to offer out mental well-being.

    daisies_on_wood_in_heart_shapeIf you can garden as a family then it can create a shared interest and bonding experience like no other.  But there is room for differences too - one person may enjoy flowers, one may be obsessed with getting the lawn like a bowling green, and another may be interested in the wildlife that can be attracted to the garden. They can all be in the same place with their separate goals and enjoy it together.

    Even if you are in self isolation the internet is awash with groups where you can share your achievements.  Just type #allotment or #gardening into Instagram and you will come up with a whole tribe of people who will ooh and ahh as your first seed pokes its head out of the soil.  Its a way to stay connected and share the experience. They will also offer you advice to get you started too - though don't expect them to always agree with each other!

    sausages_on_BBQThe final advantage at the moment is that the garden also gives you another room.  The house can become very small when the whole family is home the whole time!  So move the home schooling outside.  Read, paint and interact with nature and have a lunch time BBQ to make it feel like a holiday. What is nicer than eating in the open, listening to the birds as you sip a glass of something chilled?

    Treat yourself to 30 minutes workout in the garden a day if you can manage it.  And you can forget about the gym membership...

     

    Don't forget Haxnicks has a great YouTube channel too.  So if you are stuck in doors take the time to watch a few videos.  Be fully prepared for when you find yourself back on the plot. Check it out here 

  • Grow at Home: Beetroot

    Growing Beetroot

    Beetroot_plants_in_sunshine

    Beetroot are easy to grow and ideal for anyone new to vegetable gardening. Most people think of it as a pickled salad vegetable.  The young leaves can be used as ‘spinach’. Follow these with quick growing crops of late summer salads.  The beets themselves, stands up well to oily fish like mackerel.  You can also roast them, make soup  (memories of a divine Beetroot consomme at a Polish wedding!) or even have them in porridge! Not tried that one but its on BBC GoodFood if you fancy it!

    What variety?

    Careful planning can mean you have beetroot all year round.  There are different varieties if you want to eat in summer or store for winter so decide your goal before you buy seeds. There are also bolt resistant varieties that take away one of the main problems that can happen with this crop.

    Sowing

    Sow three seeds 4" (10cm)) apart 1" (2.5cm) deep in rows 12" (30cm) apart.

    For best results, sow beetroot little and often, every 2 weeks or so from mid-April to July.  You can start earlier in late February if you are going to protect them. For these early sowings, cover them to protect from late frosts.  The Easy Fleece Tunnel will be perfect for this and can be packed away and hung on your shed wall as soon as the weather perks up.

    Sowing 2 weeks apart will give you a steady harvest of tender, golf ball size beet.  You don't want to let them grow too large or they will become tough.

    Growing

    beetroot_in_a_bunch_on_benchBeetroot can be grown in the ground or in a veg planter   Or why not try setting up a simple Raised Bed? All the convenience of a container - just fill it and go, no digging - but the space of a garden bed.

    Container Growing

    The round varieties rather than the long cylindrical ones are better for containers.  your pot or container needs to be 8" (20cm) in diameter and at least 8" (20cm) deep. Fill loosely with multi-purpose compost leaving about 1.5" (4cm) clear at the top.

    Growing in the ground

    Beetroot will grow well in any well-drained garden soil but requires fertile conditions.  Prior to sowing, dig in around a bucketful of well-rotted garden compost or organic matter and rake in a handful per square metre/yard of a general purpose fertiliser.

    Container & Ground

    When the seedlings are about 1" (2.5cm) high, thin out to leaving the seedlings 4" (10cm) apart

    Water every 10-14 days in dry spells. If plants are not growing strongly, apply high nitrogen fertiliser, such as sulphate of ammonia, and water in well.

    Problems, Pest & Diseases

    Bolting

    This is when plants flower and set seed prematurely. Bolting is the plant in panic mode - it shoots up flower stalks to produce seeds and ensure its own survival.  This generally makes the crop unusable so needs to be avoided.  The best way to avoid bolting is to  keep the plant happy.  So sow at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist.  Not too wet or too dry.  Bolting can also be triggered by a sudden cold spell so watch out for this and harvest a little early if you have to.

    Harvesting

    When you harvest depends how you like to eat your beetroot.  Some people like the young tender golf ball sized ones.  Some like the larger cricket ball sized ones.  To get a mix - harvest every other beet, as and when you need them, leaving the ones in between to get to full size.

  • Grow at home: Celery self-blanching or trench: which to choose

    Celery_plant_in_veg_bed

    Growing Celery has traditionally been seen as a labour-intensive task with trenches and blanching to achieve the long pale stems.  There are numerous self blanching varieties such as 'Tall Utah' which make this more straightforward, although possibly resulting in a little less taste - it's worth giving both approaches a try.

    Soil and Aspect

    There are two methods of soil preparation: the trench method and that for self-blanching varieties.

    For trench celery, in Autumn, dig out a trench in a sunny site 40cm wide and 30cm deep and add a layer of well rotted manure to the base.  Back fill with soil and leave to settle over winter.

    Self blanching Celery is planted in blocks rather than rows - dig over the site in Autumn and regularly incorporate plenty of well rotted manure and garden compost over winter.

    Sowing

    Trench varieties are best started off under glass in Rootrainers in early Spring at a temperature of around 15c.  Harden off under cloches two weeks before planting out 30 cm apart in rows in early Summer.

    Self blanching Celery is started off under glass in the same way and hardened off before planting out more closely, in blocks, 20cm apart to help with the blanching.

    Aftercare

    Water thoroughly in dry periods and feed with a liquid feed every two weeks.  When trench celery varieties reach 30cm earth up over part of the stems to exclude light.  Repeat this at three week intervals until the soil is up to the lower leaves.  An alternative to earthing up is to wrap cardboard around the stems.

    For self-blanching celery, place straw around the outside of the block to reduce light on the plants.

    Harvesting and storage

    Trench celery is ready for harvesting in the autumn and onwards into early winter. Harvest as needed but remember that the first frosts will enhance the flavour.  Cover plants in the winter with  Easy Fleece Tunnel or Lantern Cloche and leave in the ground - Self blanching varieties should be lifted in the Autumn.

    Pests and diseases

    Slugs, snails, Celery Fly and Carrot Fly can all be a problem as can diseases such as Celery heart rot - effected plants should be destroyed and not added to the compost heap.  You can avoid split stems by ensuring that you water regularly.

     

     

  • Grow at Home: Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Calabrese

     

    broccoli_plant

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli  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.  It is also the hardiest and easiest broccolis to grow.

    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. You can get soil testing kits from the garden centre which will quickly tell you the pH of your soil.

    Sowing

    If growing from seed then plant in the greenhouse or a windowsill from March to April.   You can plant in pots or for a better result try Rapid Rootrainers.   These will allow you to transplant them without root disturbance that could slow their growth.

    You can also sow seed thinly direct into their final position.  Sow 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 are ideal for this.

    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

    For a really thorough way to keep pests off them the Haxnicks Grower Frame with the Micromesh cover  The Grower frame is taller than your average growing space so ideal for broccoli.  The Micromesh cover is an ultra fine netting that will keep insects as small as aphids and carrot flies out.  Your broccoli and many other veg will be more than happy to be grown in one.     

     

  • Grow at Home: Tomatoes

    Beef_Tomato_on_plantGrowing Tomatoes

    Tomatoes 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 therefore 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. As a result, 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 of all, let's start with some technical tomato terms because 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

    Dwarf plants are the smallest, very 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.  They also 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 GrowingTomatoes_growing_in_Haxnicks_3_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.  In reality, 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.  Due to the temperature, if sowing early 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.  Subsequently, 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

    Tomatoes_red_on_the_plant

    Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow.  Canes have long been the traditional way to do this.  It is especially important, if using canes, to 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.  The best way to support them is with a frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster.  Since this will 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.  Therefore, 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 however, containers generally do require frequent watering.

    Pests & Diseases

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

    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.  Furthermore, choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.

    Leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes.  Therefore, 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 where possible as it leave the plant open to infection.  Consequently, a fungus, such as grey mould may get in.  To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. It is most important to 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.  However, 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 Green Tomato & Apple Chutney or you can try and ripen them.  The best ways to do this are:

    • 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.

    For further information on ripening green tomatoes see our Ripening Blog

    Try something new?
    Mycorrhizal Fungi

    If you have grown tomatoes before and at this point in time 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?

     

    P

    lanter
    (click on title to see details)

    Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties Determinate or bush varieties Dwarf About this product
    Tomato Crop Booster 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 Planter with 3 sided plant support included.
    Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack)   ◊ 2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.
    4) Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato.  Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants
    Grower System A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.
    Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.
    Vigoroot Easy Table Garden 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 Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.
    Twist Up tomato Cloche

    (Please note: the different marker symbols don't denote anything - they are just indicating which tomato is best with which frame.  For some reason, the publishing program didn't like the same symbol being used so this is the work around!)

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