Grow At Home

  • Grow at Home: what size pot do you need for growing tomatoes?

    One of the most often asked questions is "what size pot do you need for growing tomatoes?"

    So we looked at lots of sources and this is what we concluded.  Perceived wisdom is that the ideal pot size is 18-inch (45cm) diameter for determinate tomatoes and 24-inches (60cm) diameter for indeterminate tomatoes.  That is 30L to 60L of compost.  If you want to grow tomatoes like this then hop over to this blog post Grow at Home Tomatoes which will tell you all you need to know.

    But what if you could do it with a lot less compost - maybe 5L?

    We have been running an experiment to prove this is possible.  We have concluded that it is not only possible but actually quite easy.  Our plants have been producing vines of lovely rosy tomatoes for a couple of weeks now so its time to share the secrets.

    The Planter

    The first thing you need is a Vigoroot 5L planter.  This special fabric allows the roots to Air Prune.  If you haven't heard of this before then it is a way to get a super efficient root system.  The roots grow out from the centre and through the porous Vigoroot fabric.  When they hit the air the root end dies off.  This causes the plant to send more roots out from the centre. As you will see from the diagram below this means that you get lots of small effective roots rather than long pot bound roots.

    Haxnicks Normal Vigoroot PotHaxnicks Vigoroot Pot


    The Water

    Container grown tomato plants need more watering than garden tomatoes. The soil in planters heats up faster which leads to more water evaporation.

    For plants grown in regular pots or planters a good rule is to water until water runs freely from the bottom. Water in the morning and check the soil moisture levels again in the afternoon. If soil feels dry about 1 inch below the surface, it’s time to water again.

    A lack of water can stunt growth and inconsistent watering will cause splits in the fruit which allow diseases in.  The watering is even more important with Vigoroot as it is porous so will require slightly more than regular pots.  So we used Water Saucers

    Vigoroot, broad beans, beans, watersaucer, water saucer, cior, growlite, hydroponics, veg, vegetables Water saucer wick

    Water Saucers are simple but effective - a water container and a super absorbent capillary wick deliver water straight to the plant as and when it needs it. They are perfect for Vigoroot but can be used with any pot.  The wicks can even be retro fitted to a plant already potted.

    They are quite thirsty plants.  We are refilling our Saucer once every 3 days, adding liquid tomato Food direct into the water.



    The results

    So here are our tomatoes.  As you can see they grew quite tall!

    We got the seeds from our friends at Jungle Seeds.  They are an indeterminate tomato so should need around 60L of compost to grow this well.  They are Rapunzel Hybrid-i, and are characterised by these amazing long, cascading trusses, each with up to 40 tasty sweet, bright red shiny cherry tomatoes that keep coming all summer long. These are picked individually as they ripen and have a superb flavour that rivals Sungold.


    Vigoroot_with_RootsAnd as for those roots - the ones meeting the sides of the pots have air pruned.   And the ones near to the wick have used it to seek out the water.  This gives a partially hydroponic set up.  With a full hydroponic set up the water needs to be oxygenated but this is not needed here. With this set up, the advantage is there is an air gap between the bottom of the pot and the water which allows the roots to access vital oxygen.

    So if you are asking the question "what size pot do you need for growing tomatoes?"  then the answer that Google gives you is definitely not the whole story.

  • Product Bite: StrimGuard to protect young trees

    What is StrimGuard :

    StrimGuard_on_tree_with_strimmer_in_useStrimGuard is a unique product that addresses a specific need to protect trees from the age old problem of strimmer damage.

    It is important to clear long grass and weeds from around the base of young trees.  Otherwise they can sap nutrients from the plant and make it hard for the tree to get established. However strimming back grass and weed growth frequently results in accidental damage to the bark.  If the bark is damaged then this compromises the flow of water and nutrients to the upper part of the sapling. It can also leave open wounds which make the plant vulnerable to infection and mould.

    Where can I use it:

    Use it around the trunk of any young trees.  Simply wrap it around the foot of the tree and secure by clipping the ends together to provide vital protection against nylon strimmer wires, mice and other nibblers!  It comes in a pack of three and can be left in place on the trunk all season.  If you have a lot of trees though you could alwasy move it between trees when mowing.

    What's so special about it?

    Existing tree guards are not tough enough to withstand strimmer attacks!  This is specifically designed so you can strim with abandon to within an inch of the tree.

    Find out more: 

    See it in action: To see it in action head over to our YouTube channel StrimGuard

    Related Blogs:  Read about it in use Grow at Home:Nuts! Whole Hazelnuts

    Buy it Now:  See the full range here StrimGuard


  • Grow at Home: Spinach

    Growing Spinach

    Spinach_seedlingsYou will have heard (maybe from the lips of the legendary PopEye) that spinach is super high in iron.  This, and the rumor that a scientist put the decimal place in the wrong spot thus multiplying the iron content by ten, both appear to be unsubstantiated and probably false.    However, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.  It is also tasty and versatile and can be used from smoothies to stir fries to salads. Oh, and its easy to grow!

    Sowing & Harvesting

    Sow your seeds directly outside in their final positions from March to August. Sow them in shallow lines quite thinly. Cover them with poly tunnels or cloches to protect them and to encourage growth, you may also need a Slug-Buster.  If you don't have a large garden then spinach will also thrive in a container. Choose a Shallow vegetable planter -as spinach doesn't 't have long roots - and plant thinly exactly as you would outside.

    As the seedlings appear, thin them out to about 6-8” 15-20cm apart. You can pick the smaller more tender leaves when they are about 3” 7cm long and use them in salads, anything bigger than that should be cooked for a short amount of time and be eaten as a hot vegetable.

    Keep picking the leaves so that a) they don’t run to seed and b) they keep on growing.

    tiny_spinach_plants_in_groundPerpetual Spinach is the one that I always plant as you only need to plant one lot and it lasts for months and months, sometimes even years.  Very easy. Perpetual spinach is not actually spinach, it is actually a chard (beet family) but looks and is eaten in exactly the same way.  Well worth planting for a regular supply.

    It does require some maintenance as trimming the leaves frequently helps improve the flavour of Perpetual Spinach.

  • Grow at Home: Florence or Sweet Fennel

    Fennel the vegetable or Fennel the herb?

    There are two sorts of fennel: one is classed as a herb and the other a vegetable.

    bronze_fennelThe herb - Foeniculum vulgare- reaches up to about 1.5m (5 foot) tall.  It produces the leaves and seeds that you see in fish recipes.






    The vegetable - Foeniculum dulce - swells at the base to produce a vegetable with a strong aniseed flavour.  This is the one you can slice into your salad or smother in cheese sauce and bake into a delicious gratin.  This is the one we are talking about today.






    Growing Fennel

    Florence Fennel is a tricky customer. It thrives on warm, moist, fertile, sandy soils. However, it is prone to bolting and sensitive to day length.  You need to be on the ball with watering and make sure fennel is first in the queue so that it never dries out.  Otherwise, it will decide it needs to flower and bolt with lightening speed the moment your back is turned.  Always look for bolt resistant varieties to give yourself the best chance of success.


    Because of its sensitive to day length the best time to sow is in mid June for an autumn crop. You can try sowing earlier (April-May) but because of the shorter days and higher risk of a sudden temperature drop it is more likely to bolt.

    So, choose an open, sunny site and pray for a long, hot summer. If you are organised prepare the bed by adding plenty of well-rotted organic matter the winter before you plant.

    The plants dislike root disturbance and don't transplant well from standrd pots. However, sowing single seeds into Rootrainers will allow you to transplant without this root damage.  When your seedlings are established simply open the Rootrainer a little to take a peek at their roots.  Plant out when you see a good set of striaght roots. 

    Or you can plant seeds direct into the ground.  To do this water the soil really well first.  Then plant 15mm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart. You can either, set three seeds together at intervals in a row and thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one. Or, you can sow seed thinly along a drill and thin after.  Whichever you choose, thin to 30cm (12in) apart in the rows when the soil is warm from May to July.

    If you are planting in June you should be fine but if you are planting early then use Bell Cloches or Easy Tunnels to protect seedlings from the weather.


    Water well throughout the growing season, keep weed free and mulch to conserve moisture.  Feed with high potassium fertiliser every two weeks once established.

    As the bulbs begin to swell from mid summer, you will need to earth them up (as you would with potatoes).  This will protect from early frost and leave you with blanched, tender white bulbs.

    Fennel will tollerate light frost, but will not survive outside through any but the mildest winter.


    fennel_with_vegIf you plant in late June then you sould be able to harvest your bulbs in mid to late October.  They will be ready for harvesting when the bulb is about 7-10cm (3-4in across).  Cut them 2.5cm (1") above the ground.  If you are lucky, they may sprout feathery shoots from the cut bulb.  You can use these as you would use herb fennel to flavour fish dishes etc.

    Pest & Diseases

    Bolting: Try and head it off at the pass by using only bolt-resistant varieties. Sow or plant at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist at all times.  Don't let them go thirsty!

    Slugs and snails: These mini predators love fennel seedlings.  Use the usual Slug Buster beer traps or stage a midnight intervention and pick off any heading toward your plants.


  • Product Bites: natural bamboo Tunnel Hoops

    What are natural bamboo Tunnel Hoops:

    tunnel_hoops_aerofabricHaxnicks Bamboo Tunnel Hoops are sturdy curved bamboo that you can use to create your very own natural looking tunnel cloche.  No more unsightly blue plastric tubing or rusting metal hoops.

    What crop are they for:

    Use them for any crop that needs covering for protection from adverse weather such as wind, heavy rain or frost.  It will also protect against pests from slugs and snails, to birds, rabbits and the tiny critters like aphids.  Add your plant protection fabric of choice and your plants will be safe.

    Every garden is different so the advantage to using tunnel hoops is that you can make the tunnel the exact length you need it to fit your own particular beds.

    What's so special about Tunnel Hoops?

    For a start they aren't made of plastic.  So, they are great for the gardener who wants to take a more natural approach in their garden. 

    They can also be used with any fabric which makes them very versatile.  The fabric can be swapped as the plants' needs change during the year.  From Fleece to warm the soil prior to planting, to shade netting to keep off the sun on to Micromesh to keep out insects.  Simply drape the fabric over and secure with U-shaped fabric pegs to ensure that the fabrics stay grounded.

    Find out more: 

    Related Blogs:  Read about it in use 4 Easy ways to grow in a wet summer

    Buy it Now:  See the full range here Bamboo Tunnel Hoops


  • Product Bites: Rapid Rootrainers & Compact Rapid Rootrainers

    What are Rapid Rootrainers:

    Compact RootrainersRootrainers are innovative planting cells.  And Rapid Rootrainers are a shorter version for plants that don't have very long roots.  They are the perfect start for nearly all plants and especially those that are sensitive to disturbance.  INot only is it great for the plants but it means that you don't waste compost filling space the roots won't need.

    The Rapid Rootrainers have 32 cells whilst the Compact Rapid Rootrainers have 20 cells for gardeners who want to grow slightly less.  Like all Rootrainers they come in openable 'books' so that the seedlings can be planted on without disturbing the roots.  The cells fit snuggly into a tray and there is a clear plastic lid that can be

    Root structure from Rapid Rootrainers cell. by Haxnicksused as a drip tray to water and then flipped over to turn the set up into a mini propegator.

    What crop are they for:

    Rapid_Rootrainer_plant_sowing_rootsRapid Rootrianers are ideal for bedding plants, salads and herbs, seeds, seedlings and cuttings.  They require less compost than ordinary pots.

    Deep Rootrainers are also available for deep rooted plants like beans, peas and sweet peas.  And Maxi Rootrainers are the biggest in the range, used for growing broad leaved trees.

    Where can I use them:

    They are great for the greenhouse, a window cill or with the lid on they can act as a mini-greenhouse if you want to use them outside.

    What's so special about them?


    Strong straight roots are a fundamental requirement of healthy and successful growth.

    The rectangular shape provides a greater surface area and the grooves allow more roots to develop on the outside of the plug. Plants are also easily extracted from the ‘open books’ without root disturbance providing the perfect plug plants.

    Rootrainers are well known and well loved by horticulturalists, commercial growers and all the best gardeners.

    Find out more: 

    See it in action: To see it in action head over to our YouTube channel Rootrainers

    Related Blogs:  Read about it in use Rootrainers What size cell to use  or Grow at Home: Container Gardening

    Buy it Now:  See the full range here Rootrianers


  • Grow At Home: Iceberg lettuce

    The key to growing lettuce, and Iceberg lettuce is no different,  is to plant at regular intervals.  This ensures that you have a regular supply throughout the summer.  Its a good idea to plant a variety of different lettuces too.  Today we are going to concentrate on Icebergs.

    Icerberg Lettuce

    The Iceberg lettuce is tightly packed with only the outer leaves seeing direct light,  This means that it is less green and therefore less nutritiious than a lot of other leaves.  So why grow it?  Well the best reason for growing it is for the crisp texture which gives it its other name "crisphead lettuce" and adds a little crunch to any salad.  The other excellent reason is that it keeps a lot better than many other lettuce.  It can last a month if properly stored in the fridge.  So a great one to grow toward the end of the year if you want to keep on eating your own food long after others have turned back to the supermarket.


    You can start sowing indoors from January to Spetember and transplant outside from April to October.  Sow around eight seeds in a small pot or seed tray. Place them in a cool space to help the seeds grow faster.  Once plants reach 8-10cm (3-4 inches) move the plants to their final place in your planter or garden.  

    Lettuce grow quite big so leave 30cm (12") between plants and rows.


    Compared to Cut and Come Agian leaves, iceberg lettuce is trickier to grow.  It bolts quite easily if you leave it too long. The plants are also easily affected by wind or cold, or too much or too little water.

    Finding a sheltered spot will help a lot with this.  So a raised bed with a raised edge or collar or a protective tunnel will help massively. Choose your tunnel carefully depending on what time of year you are planting.  When closed all offer pest protection but for soil warming and warmth for early season and frost protection then choose Easy Poly tunnel or Easy fleece tunnel  And for shading from hot sun to lessen bolting - Easy Net tunnel  


    Make sure you have some pest protectio in place  They are very tasty, especially when young, so the tunnel or cloche you are using to protect them from the wind will work here too.  It will prevent slugs, snails, birds and rabbits arriving en masse.   

    If there are large leaves dragging on the ground then remove these to deter snails etc. A SlugBuster beer trap is also a good idea.

    Water the lettuce often, it will help it grow and get nice and crispy. Use a liquid feed every copule of months too.


    Icebergs take between 50 and 90 days to grow.  When the head is large and feels tightly packed it is ready to cut.  Cut with a knife to harvest.

    A note of caution - take them inside and store as soon as you cut them.  If you leave them in the garden while you complete other jobs then they will wilt and you'll lose the crispness you grew them for.

  • Grow at Home: Cucamelons a real crowd pleaser

    cucamelons_50pGrowing Cucamelons

    Cucamelons look like mini watermalons and taste like cucumber with a hint of lime. Also known as Mexican sour gherkin or Mouse Melon, they originated in Mexico but are easy to grow here.  They are drought tolerant and best of all most garden pests totally ignore them!


    Beware!  Even though they produce masses of fruit throughout the summer, very little makes it as far as the kitchen, being eaten straight off the plant by anyone who passes. They are just so picakble and bite sized!

    If any of them do make it into the kitchen cucamelons can be eaten in exactly the same way as a normal cucumber in salads and sandwiches. They are also great served with drinks along with a few nuts and olives.  Alternatively use it in the drink itself and serve a Cucamelon Martini or add a  magic twist to G&T or Pimms on a summer day.


    Sow seeds blunt end down, 1cm (1/2") deep from April to May.  Keep on a window cill or greenhouse with a  temperature of 22-24ºC (71-75ºF) Water regularly.  When the seedlings are large enough to handle transfer them into 10cm (4") pot.

    Once they are established you can move them to their final growing place.  This can be a  greenhouse, or outside in a planter or the ground.  To grow them outside wait until the last frost date has passed and then plant 30-40cm (12-16″) apart.  They are climbers so need a support of some sort.  This could be canes or a planter such as the Climbing Tomato Planter that has an inbuilt support.


    cucamelonsWater and feed regularly with a liquid tomato fertilizer. Once the main shoot has reached a around 2.5m (8ft), pinch out the growing tip to stop it going further. Also pinch out the growing tip of the side shoots when they are about 40cm (16″) long.


    The plants will start to fruit in July and carry on to late September. Harvest them when they are the size of olives or small grapes and are still firm. Don't leave them any longer or they will become bitter and/or soggy.


    Cucamelons can be nursed through the winter to give fruit year after year. Once the fruiting period is over, lift the cucamelon’s main root and store in barely moist compost in a garage or shed over winter.  You can then plant it out again in April to start all over agian.




  • 4 Types of Gardeners - which one are you?

    There are 4 types of gardeners -- which one are you?

    The Escapees

    Types_of_gardeners_The EscapeesThese people will generally have an allotment although they can be found in the garden shed equipped with a kettle or corkscrew.  They are generally there because they don't want to be somewhere else.  Even before Lockdown these gardeners were running away from busy households, stressful jobs and being trapped between 4 walls.

    The lure is a combination of fresh air, a mug of tea enjoyed in silence and being surrounded by greenery.  They do like growing stuff but if its too wet to be out you won't hear them complain.




    The Tribe


    These are the the people who are there for the people.  They love other gardeners and like a chat as they lean on their spade.  You'll find them on allotments and at Gardening Clubs sitting in the back row.  They will be the one wearing a "Stay Calm and Keep Gardening" T-shirt to prove their dedication and will be happy to give and receive advice.

    All the chatting over the years may mean they turn into an expert.  Their plot may not have as much planted as the next person's (where does the time go?) but they'll have a chat about it if you like...



    The Warriors


    These gardeners are there with a purpose.  A higher purpose.  They are there to save the planet or at least do their bit.  Vegetables feature heavily on their plot and in their diet.  They will care deelpy about reducing food miles and will know the mileage between their allotment and their home so they can scatter their lengthy blog posts with the necessary stats.

    They are to be admired for eating seasonally and their in depth knowledge of international pickling techniques.



    The Snappers

    Types_of_gardeners_The_SnapperFor these gardeners the plot is a studio or film set for their life story.  These gardeners will be stocking their plot with all things photogenic  - they will have cucamelons tumbling from planters, carrots in every colour but orange and sunlight glinting through rainbow chard.

    They opened the Instagram account the day they go the plot - nothing like a good before and after picture!  And if you follow them you will get to experience every garden bird, shaft of sunlight and emerging seedling as they happen.




    Which one are you?

    Which one of our types of gardeners are you?  Most people will identify more with more than one.  Whatever category you fit into (or don't fit into) chances are you are getting a lot out of being in the garden.  A survey done by Gardeners’ World magazine in 2013 found that 80 percent of gardeners reported being “happy” and “satisfied” with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners.

    It is hard to pin down why gardening works but it is proven to relieve stress.  Key reasons why gardening makes us feel good are that it is both physical exercise, which releases endorphins, and also a creative passtime that allows us to express ourselves.  It gives responsibility for nurturing the plants and a sense of achievement when you move from the 'before' to 'after'.  It has certainly been a sanctuary for many during the pandemic.

    So if you know anyone who is stressed then buy them a pot plant.  Its not a joke.  Just having a single house plant to look after has been proven to reduce stress and make you feel more energised.  It helps you think more clearly, and starts to relieve anxiety or depression.

    Even if we can't pin down the reason why gardening helps there are countless real life stories of it happening.  We'd love to hear yours...

    Types of gardeners

  • Grow at Home: 5 Top tips for making compost at home

    compost_giant_marrow_with_stickmanCompost for Beginners

    A major positive to come out of the global pandemic is that people the world over are spending more time in their gardens and small growing spaces.  Autumn village shows will surely be inundated by huge veg and beautiful blooms.

    So with the lawn mown, the beds weeded and the seedlings emerging what else is there to do?

    The answer is to start your own compost off.  And with Councils in some areas no longer collecting garden waste this is the ideal time.

    1. Your Compost Bin

    First you need a compost bin.  What this compost bin looks like depends on the space you have in your garden.


    compost_bin_fullIf you have a large garden with a spare corner then you can build a compost heap rather than buying a container.  This can be done using heat treated timber (so no nasty chemicals leach into your heap).  Even old pallets will work - check the stamp to make sure they are safe.  Nail whichever wood you use together into a box shape.  Ensure that there are gaps so that air can circulate and you may want to wrap it in chicken wire to stop the contents escaping.

    Choose a site that is level and well-drained.  This will allow excess water to drain away easily. This also helps worms to get in and break down the content - more of them later.


    compost_rollmix_being_filled_by womanFor smaller spaces those bins that look like a Daleks are readily available from either Garden Centres (phone them many are delivering at the moment) or your local Council.  These are various shapes and sizes but all will do the job.


    If you don't have the room for a big bin or just don't generate that much waste then the Rollmix Composter is for you.  This compact compost bin will fit in the smallest of space and is much more fun to turn than any other bin!


    2. Use the Right stuff  (and avoid the wrong stuff!)

    So how do you make compost?  The key rule is to use an even amount of 'greens' and 'browns' by volume to create a balance.  Add them in layers, watering as you go to keep the whole heap moist.


    Vegetable peelings, grass clippings, fruit waste, teabags (if plastic free), dead bunches of flowers and plant prunings. These are fast to break down and provide important nitrogen as well as moisture.


    Include things such as straw, sticks. leaves, cardboard egg boxes, newspaper, crushed egg shells and scrunched up paper. These are slower to rot but provide vital fibre and carbon and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture.

    Don't ever put meat or dairy products into your compost bin.  Also avoid diseased plants, and perennial weeds (such as dandelions and thistle) or weeds with seed heads.  There is a chance the temperature in your heap will get high enough to kill these off but it can not be gauranteed so best to avoid them.  Also avoid any dog poo or cat litter as this will lead to pests and smells which no one wants!

    3. Get the Balance Right

    You need four main things:

    • Greens
    • Browns
    • Air
    • Water

    The process works best when you get a good balance between the four things.  If your compost is too wet, add more ‘browns’. If it’s too dry, add some ‘greens’. Add air by using scrunched up paper and also by turning your compost.

    It is a good idea to add a few handfuls of soil or a compost activator to encourage the correct enzymes in your compost.  To use the accelorator mix a small amount into water, pour it onto your compost.

    A well-cared-for compost heap requires regular turning, which can be a tricky job unless you are using a Rollmix composter in which case it is easy! See if for yourself here Rollmix Video.

    If you aren't using Rollmix then turn with a fork or tip the compost out, mix and then put it back in the bin to boost to carry on maturing.

    Your compost should be ready in about 10 weeks. When it is ready you’ll have a dark brown, almost black soil-like layer at the bottom of your bin. It should have a spongy texture and will be rich in nutrients. Spreading the finished compost into your flowerbeds greatly improves soil quality by helping it retain moisture and suppressing weeds. It also reduces the need to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

    If you have any lumps like bits of stick that haven't decomposed yet in it, then an Easy Riddle is a simple way to get rid of them - check out this fun look at how it works  Easy Riddle

    4. Turn fallen leaves into compost too

    compost_sacksYou can add leaves to your compost heap but you may find you have too many to keep the green/ brown balance right.  In this case you might prefer to place them in Composting Sacks.  These large biodegradable bags can then be stored for a year or two.  The resulting "Gardeners Gold" is a brilliant moisture-rich soil improver that’s great to use for potting mixes as an alternative to peat. The leaves will be kept neatly in one place and the sack will biodegrade, leaving you with a rich pile of wonderful compost.

    See them in action over on our You Tube channel Compost Sack Video


    5. Let the worms do the hard work

    earthworm_on_compostNature has provided us with the perfect waste disposal unit in the garden worm. Normally earthworms live in vertical burrows drawing leaves and other plant debris down.  And they do exactly the same in your dark, moist compost heap - so there is nowhere they like better.  Its like a worm buffet where they can eat the waste material you add and convert it into compost full of worm casts.  Worm casts are small heaps of muddy soil ejected from the digestive tract of the worm They are excellent for plants adding all the essential nutrients that plants need into your compost.

    I do hope that this has helped and taken some of the mystery out of making compost.  Let us know how you get on...

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