Potty Gardener

  • The Potty Gardener and Manure in the Garden

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    I have been busy helping Grandpa Haxnicks to dig manure into his vegetable plot and learning some of the ins and outs of using various types of animal excrement in the garden. What comes out of the animal and goes into the soil is so much more than a pile of poo. All creatures great and small can provide free plop for your plot that will vastly improve soil texture, boost nutrient levels and give you bigger, better and healthier crops.

    Poultry Manure for the Garden

    Chicken droppings

    If you happen to keep chickens, then as well as eggs you have a readily available source of useful fertiliser. Fresh chicken poo has high levels of ammonia so should be dug into vegetable plots at least 4 months before planting. Or you can add it to a compost heap and let it rot down before using it. It makes particularly good top dressing for blackcurrants and plum trees.  It tends to be quite alkaline so not so suitable for acid loving plants such as blueberries, or camellias.

    Horse Manure and its nourishing factors

    Cow Poo

    Cow poo is great for improving soil structure. Again, it should be left to rot down in a compost heap or dug in a few months before planting. Autumn is the perfect time for digging it in, particularly if you want to use it in areas where you might be planning to grow root vegetables in the spring. If you try to grow root vegetables in freshly manured soil the results can be a little alarming. Carrots will grow into multi-limbed aliens, beetroot will go barmy and potatoes go scabby. A great plus point for cow poo is that it has been well digested, passing through multiple stomachs a process that kills off any weed seeds.

    Horse manure

    Weed seeds are something to watch out for with horse manure. So be sure that it is well aged to give time for any seeds to compost. Another benefit of horse poo is that it is considerably less stinky than chicken or cow. But if you want a completely non-stinky manure then worm poo is your best bet. Obviously, it is going to take a biblical proportion of worms to create the equivalent of a few cow pats.  However, I am told that you can make worm poo tea out of worm casts from a wormery.  You can then feed it to your potted plants!

  • The Potty gardener Growing Beans in Pots

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineSince discovering the secret to growing beans in pots I have been impatient to put it to the test. Veg growers might not normally consider growing runner beans in pots, but these are not normal pots and, as you may have noticed, I am not a normal veg grower. I am some way off reaching the giant at the top, but the beans are certainly racing up and I can’t help but mutter fee-fi-fo-fum whilst tending to these lean, mean, fast-growing beans.

    Haxnicks Rootrainers used in Growing Beans early

     

    Growing Beans

    I chose an early variety of Runner bean; Scarlet Emperor which claims on the pack to be ''very popular'' and give ''excellent garden performance''. ...hmmm, I hope that this garden celebrity won't upstage me!I Eager to get an early crop, the beans were sown in Rootrainers 2.5cm, and placed on a warm windowsill to germinate. Once both leaves had unfurled,

    Moving them on...

    I moved them into the Sunbubble. Here in the cosy, moist environment they took only a few weeks to reach potting-on stage.

    Haxnicks Sunbubbles used for Growing Beans

    And this is where the secret of potted bean success comes... in the form of these felty green pots. Vigoroot Pots are porous, allowing the roots to be 'air pruned' as they reach the edges of the pot, and causing a much stronger root system to develop. The plants don't become pot bound and have such super roots they grow well with less space.  This may be the latest conspiracy theory, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when Jack swapped his cow for magic beans and went on to grow a huge beanstalk that his beans weren't magic at all...I think that actually he had discovered growing in Vigoroot!

    Moving on...and up...Once the bean plugs had grown out of their Rootrainers I potted them up in 10Litre Vigoroot pots and gave them a stick each to guide their ascent up the strings that I had tied in at the top of the Sunbubble. They are growing fast and furiously, needing plenty of watering and I am looking forward to the early beans and hopefully a goose who lays golden eggs at the top!

     

  • Growing on a balcony, a roof top and more!

    Growing plants on rooftops, balconies and terraces with HaxnicksWhether it’s a balcony, a roof top or a terrace, urban gardeners need to be creative about growing in small spaces. I met a lovely lady in a nice hat at Chelsea Flower show who has this balcony in central London. I think it would look marvelous adorned with pots and planters, but she claimed to be rather too busy!

    Over the years, all sorts of gardeners have been kind enough to share their pictures of creative growing in unusual places….

    Haxnicks patio planters and pots growing in a treehouse.

    These crazy crops are 30 ft high in a tree house. I am told the benefits of growing so high outweigh the impracticality. Not only are the planters out of reach from the family goat, but slug pellets are not required at such dizzy heights. Even the least sluggish slug would find the climb beyond his capabilities. Watering requires a cleverly devised pulley system that keeps the children fully entertained, mostly due to the soaking of unwary passers-by.

    Haxnicks patio planters on the roof of a river boat

    No problem with watering here! This floating herb garden in pots and planters helps to add a little home-grown flavour when cooking up a feast in the galley.

    Growing Tomatoes in a Telephone Box

    In the absence of a Greenhouse this disused telephone box is a great place to grow tomatoes. Not only is it a warm shelter, but the perfect width to support the plant as the stems become heavily laden with fruit. It’s the perfect colour too!

    Growing Plants in the back of a car

    More colour matching here. This car may have reached the end of its useful life on the road, but makes a perfect greenhouse now. It’s cosy for germination in the early Spring and the windows can be wound down for ventilation on warmer days. When crops are ready they can be popped on the top out of reach of cats, dogs, goats and slugs. Carrots à la car!

     

     

  • Keeping Out the Easter Bunny and all his friends!

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineThe Easter Bunny is no myth. Every year, just as carefully nurtured seedlings are beginning to flourish, the Easter bunny appears. Sponsored by Cadbury’s he is duty-bound to hide chocolate eggs in your garden. However, he and his accomplices seem to think that in return for this uninvited favour it is perfectly acceptable to help themselves to whatever delicacies lie in their path. So, be ready this Easter and protect your emerging crops against these greedy nibblers!

    Keeping Rabbits away from Garden Plants

    Growing your veg in pots and planters means that juicy crops may be harder to reach for the rabbits, but those of you with a ground level vegetable patch have a harder task. Rabbit-proof fencing needs to be at least 120cm high with 30cm dug below the ground and a 15cm 'skirt' bent outwards to stop them digging their way in. When you factor in the fence posts this all adds up to beyond the annual defence budget of most gardeners.

    Protecting Garden Plants from Rabbits

    So, instead of protecting the entire garden you could just protect the most vulnerable plants.  A Micromesh Pest and Wind Barrier is a cheap and easy way to surround a raised bed and due to the tiny gauge mesh will also give protection against insect invasion such as carrot fly.

    Haxnicks Micromesh Easy Tunnels offer great protection for garden plantsA crop cover such as a net or poly tunnel  can quickly be rolled out over a row to deter the rabbits. Just remember to pull the drawstring tight at the ends!

    Garden Cloche offers great protection for your Garden Plants from pests and wild animalsFor smaller, individual plants Bell Cloche will, amongst many other things, help to keep the bunnies at bay.

    Finally, if all else fails you could take a Mr McGregor style approach and chase the bob-tailed bandits with a rake. However, this may involve endless night-shifts as rabbits normally emerge to feed between dusk and dawn.  No wonder Mr McGregor was so grumpy!

  • The Potty Gardener on strawberries without slugs

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineI don’t have a lot in common with slugs and snails, but if I was looking for common ground then I might choose our shared love of strawberries. Those sweet, red, juicy berries are simply irresistible to me, so I don’t blame the marauding molluscs for wanting a munch too. However, I would rather not share my strawberries with anyone, let alone slugs and snails. One simple solution is to grow them in containers, raising the plants and their fruits above the path of destruction.

    Haxnicks Strawberry Patio Planter on show

    There are all sorts of weird and wonderful shaped strawberry containers available from dinky hanging baskets to sky-scraping towers. Strawberry patio planters come with 8 planting pockets so that the strawberries can be sown both in the top and sides of the planter, allowing you to sow 12 plants in a very compact space. The added advantage of using this type of lightweight planter is that you can plant it up earlier in the season, keeping it undercover in a greenhouse or conservatory and then moving it outside when the risk of frost has passed. This could mean that you can harvest your first strawberries well before Wimbledon!

    Elsanta bare rooted strawberry plant

    Strawberries sown from seed can take up to a month to germinate and usually won’t crop until the following year. That’s a long wait (even for a snail). So, I buy my strawberry plants as bare rooted runners. Elsanta are a reliable type for spring planting.  They look a little like a dying alien life-form when they arrive in the post and may make you wonder what you have paid for. Don’t worry, just follow your first instinct to soak the roots in water and get them planted as soon as possible.

    Strawberry Patio Planters from Haxnicks, offering the best and healthiest way to grow Strawberries

    In no time at all the rather miserable looking plants will spring into life and start looking healthy. Keep them well watered and feed fortnightly during the growing season. For extra fabulous fruiting you can give them a feed of high-potash liquid fertiliser during flowering. Come June you should have some crops of large, fat, juicy strawberries growing nicely out of reach from  large, fat juicy slugs and snails.

  • Know your Onions with the Potty Gardener

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineDo you know your onions? I don’t, so I have been seeking advice from someone who does. Grandpa Haxnicks is going to guide me towards a healthy crop of container-grown onions that will have me crying with pride and joy.

    Haxnicks' Potty Gardener's Onion Sets

    You can grow onions from ‘sets’ or from seed. Sets are small immature onions that can be planted directly into the soil in March or April. Despite being drawn to small, immature things I have decided that I will have a go at growing from seed as it is far cheaper . Grandpa Haxnicks has given me a few tips for success. Success will be judged on how many tears are shed after harvest.

    Onion Seedlings growing on a windowsill

    You will need to fill a seed tray filled with a good multi-purpose compost. Sow the teeny-weeny onion seeds approx 1cm apart and lightly cover with a thin layer of compost. They will need a temperature of 20-25˚C to germinate, so make sure that they are placed on a warm, sunny windowsill or in a heated greenhouse. The seed trays can be placed in a clear plastic bag or covered with cling film to help maintain a warm, moist environment for the seeds to sprout. After approximately 8-10 days little green lassos will emerge from the soil. Onion seeds can do a poor job of pulling away from their seed husk so you can always give them a little helping hand by gently teasing off the seed.

    Onions Spacing Guide for the perfect growth

    Once the seedlings have reached onion adolescence (approx  8cm (3 inches) tall with 3 leaves)  they can be gently pricked out into the growing container.  The container will need to be at least 25cm (10inches) deep and each onion will need about 8cm (3 inches) of space to grow. So, the wider the container the better.  Make sure that the compost you use to fill the container is not too high in nitrogen as this will give you a lovely leafy display above ground and very little below ground and in the case of onions it’s what goes on below ground that counts. Make sure that that the young onions get plenty of light. If you are not growing in a greenhouse, then put the seedlings outside on warm sunny days to get maximum light benefit and to help harden them off. Use a large Bell cloche, poly lantern cloche or poly tunnel to help protect from wind and temperatures below 10˚c. Once you are happy that night time temperatures are well above 8˚C then the onions can stay out without protection.

    Haxnicks Vegetable Sacks

    Keep your onions well-watered and when the leaves start to yellow, bend the tops over and brush back the soil to help the onions ripen. Pull them up and leave to dry in the sun until, like Grandpa Haxnicks, the necks are dry and the skin is papery (his joke, not mine!).  Store in a cool, dry, frost free place with plenty of air circulation. Jute veg sacks are great for this.

  • The Potty Gardener ventures out to sow broad beans

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    I have been hiding for the past week, paying heed to the storm and snowfall warnings from the met office. At last, it seemed that it was safe to emerge. In fact, having had a cursory nose poke outside, it was almost as if the terrible weather had never happened. After such confinement, I was eager to kick off the growing season and get my green fingers grubby.

    Broad beans ready to harvestSo, what could I grow in a pot outside in late January? Broadly speaking, not a lot. Narrowly speaking, broad beans. I am a big fan of broad beans. Not the big tough ones in their chewy grey skin, but the young baby ones. When they have been blanched for a few minutes and then popped out of their little leather jackets, the bright green beans are sweet, tender and pretty. I feel a song coming on…

    Broad beans in Haxnicks Rootrainers

    I am starting my beans off in Rootrainers and transplanting them into large pots to grow on later in the Spring. I have chosen a popular dwarf variety, ‘the Sutton’ as I intend to grow them on in containers. I have also mixed in a few ‘Crimson flowered’ beans for that ornamental touch.

    Sowing broad beans in Haxnicks Rootrainers

    As the beans are going to stay in their Rootrainers for a while, I used potting rather than seed compost for extra nutrition.  I got my green fingers grubby by poking a little hole in each cell ready to receive the beans. Then I popped one bean in each hole and covered them over with more compost. The beans should be happy outside under-cover in my cold frame, as long as I remember to water and ventilate them on warmer days.

    Broad Bean Flowers

    If you have a veg patch that isn't too soggy, you can sow where they grow now under cloches. The advice from Grandpa Haxnicks is to only sow broad beans directly in the ground now if you have well drained soil and a cat. The cat is to eat the mice who will eat your beans!

  • The Potty Gardener sows Christmas Potatoes

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineSurely it’s too early to be thinking about Christmas, I hear you say. At least I think I do, amongst the many other voices in my head. I am indeed thinking about Christmas. More specifically I am thinking about potatoes at Christmas. Even more specifically, delicious homPotato_Patio_planterse-grown roast potatoes at Christmas being proudly placed on the table to gasps of awe and admiration and maybe a harmonious chorus of Gloria!

    Normally, British potatoes are home-grown from early spring throughout the summer. Instead I am planning to sow some spuds now in Potato Planters, nurture them through the autumn and hopefully harvest them in time to share oven space with whatever beast we decide to roast for Christmas lunch this year.

     

    Which variety?

    At this time of year, cold-stored potato tubers should available from specialist seed merchants.  Maris Peer or Nicola are good winter varieties that don’t need chitting.  Having said that the ones that I have just picked up from my local Garden Centre are vigorously chitting.  Looks like they are chomping at the bit.  So we will see if this makes a difference.

    I have had varying success in the past just using supermarket spuds. Grandpa Haxnicks tells me that this is because harvested potatoes go into a dormant state for some months before they are ready to produce new shoots. So, either I found particularly stress resistant tubers in the supermarket.  Or they had been on the shelf for a long time and were very ready to get out and breed!

    Haxnicks Potato Patio Planter foliage

    Plant your eager-to-breed tubers in the potato bags.  Plant on about 6 inches of multi- purpose compost and cover with the same amount again. Each time the foliage pushes through the soil, cover it again until the bag is full. Keep them watered and fed with a liquid fertiliser. The Bage can be kept in a greenhouse, but should also be OK outside provided they are given frost protection. A cosy Fleece Jacket should do the trick, no need to bother with a scarf or gloves. In the autumn, when the foliage yellows and dies back you can cut it off.  then leave the potatoes in fairly dry soil until Christmas. Once harvested, be reassured that they will then enter their dormant state and wil be perfect for peeling and roasting.

  • The Potty Gardener At War With Slugs

     

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought onlineEating a freshly picked salad, followed by a bowl of home-grown strawberries in the sunshine is the perfect lunch for me in this lovely sunny weather. It is also the perfect lunch for slugs. I have been battling to make sure that they don’t help themselves to more than their fair share. There has been a brief truce during this hot, dry spell when I guess they have travelled (on foot of course) to damper destinations, but I am armed with a multitude of slug-busting strategies ready for the next stealthy invasion.Slug Damage on a Leaf

    In my be-more-tolerant-to-molluscs moments (usually at the beginning of the growing season), I find that gently removing the slugs from the vicinity and hurling them into the field next door strikes a good balance between welfare and warfare. A slug’s homing instinct has a range of 20 meters, so be sure to calculate the slug’s flight path carefully. If you are attempting this operation without gloves or a catapult, then you may need to de-slime afterwards. Vinegar is an excellent de-slimer.

    Catching Slugs on Oranges with HaxnicksIf you want an easy way to round up a large group of slugs, rather elegantly known as a cornucopia, then oranges could be your answer. Hollow out some orange halves and place them upside-down near vulnerable plants. The citrus-loving slugs will crawl under the oranges for a midnight feast, where they should remain in their departure lounge until their early morning flight into the field next door.

    Slug-Buster Slug Trap from Haxnicks

    If you think that this all sounds rather unkind, then maybe stop reading. As the summer goes on, my slug tolerance levels go down and I turn to another strategy that involves a medieval style slaughter…drowning in a vat of ale. The Slug-Buster is a neat, discrete little execution device that sinks surreptitiously into the soil. Filled with beer, this tempting hideout becomes not so much a departure lounge as a pub with a permanent lock-in where the sloshed slugs slowly sink….say that after a few beers!

     

  • You say Zucchini, I say Courgettes!

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    Both myself and my potted plants have been travelling, but in completely different directions. Most of the contents of my Sunbubble took an exciting trip to London. Beans, peas, tomatoes, herbs and lettuces, were chauffeur driven to the Chelsea Flower show in their Sunday best (Vigoroot pots) to take part in a fabulous display.

    Growing Courgettes in Haxnicks' Sunbubble

    I was particularly proud of the courgette plants that were not only in full flower, but managed to produce some fully fledged veg just in time for the first day of the show. With 3 plants growing in one small pot I thought that this was fairly impressive and a great demonstration of the magic of growing in Vigoroot

    Growing Climbing Plants and Courgettes with Haxnicks

    Meanwhile, I was far away in Chicago where the sun shines brightly. Out in the suburbs gardeners are mad for mulch at this time of year. They use it to lock moisture into the soil before the intense heat of July and August and to keep weeds at bay. There were lots of funky self-watering systems in action, helping to keep the front lawns in immaculate condition and unsuspecting passers-by refreshed!  I was keen to share my potty enthusiasm for home grown edibles with all, and with an English accent on my side people seemed happy to listen, but not necessarily understand! Tomaytoes, tomatoes, potaytoes, potartoes….no problem. But rocket, coriander and courgettes become arugula, cilantro and zuchinni- much more exciting names!

    Growing Runner Beans in Haxnicks Sunbubble

    It is always exciting for me to come back to my garden after being away from home, but more so at this time of the year when a week of good weather has given everything a mighty boost. With peas swelling in their pods, beans flowering in the Sunbubble and the first tomato fruits beginning to blush, my early potted veg is nearly ready for a first tasting. Inspired by my trip to the states I am planning on a zucchini and arugula soup….yeehaaah!

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