Love to Grow

  • Grow at home: how to ripen green tomatoes

     Ripening tomatoes

    Ripening tomatoes is something that most people growing tomatoes end up doing.  Due to our climate it is not at all unusual to be left with tomatoes that haven't ripened.

    Preparing for the end of the Season

    beef_tomatoes_half_ripe_on_vine

    From September on, any new flowers are very unlikely to come to anything.  So, toward the end of the season remove any tiny tomatoes, flowers and foliage.  This will allow the plant to concentrate its energy on the bigger fruits.  It is best to leave the fruit on the vine for as long as possible.  However, fruit will not ripen below 10° C (50°F). or above 29ºC (85ºF), as carotene and lycopene will not be produced and the tomato will not turn red.  The high temperatures are generally not a problem in the UK.  But when day time temperatures are this low its time to step in and help them to ripen.

    Ripening Tomatoes - How long does it take?

    How long they'll take depends on how red they are already.  Tomatoes ripen from inside out so when you see the skin turning colour, the inside is already well on the way to being ripe.  As a guide:-

    Half red tomatoes  - 7 days

    Red only on the ends - 14 days

    Pale green - ripen if given the right conditions (see Methods below)

    Dark green - if they haven't matured then they will not ripen.  To test this cut one in half.  if it has yellowish interiors and jelly-like or sticky tissue, then it could ripen.  But if not then its better to use these for making chutney.

    Did you know:?

    ripening_tomatoes_green_red_tomatoes_on_plant

    This is just for info a there is not much you can do about the weather turning against you and being left with green tomatoes! But, there is a stage in ripening called the "breaker stage," when the tomato is half green and half red. Once the tomato reaches this stage it seals itself off from the vine stem.  From this point on, the tomato can be picked and ripened indoors without losing flavour.  Your green tomatoes will be sweeter if picked after the breaker stage.

    Ripening tomatoes - top 5 methods

    Method 1 : Newspaper & Cardboard box

    If the tomatoes are dirty then wash them gently and air dry.  Wrap the tomatoes individually in newspaper and store in a cardboard box at between 14° and 21°C.  The lower you keep the temperature the longer they will take to ripen.  So if you have a large number you may wish to store them in different boxes and places so that you don't get them all ripening at once.  Check the box weekly to take out any ripe ones and get rid of any that are starting to go mangy.

    If you are impatient then speed ripening by adding a couple of apples to your box.  They will release ethylene which will help the tomatoes to ripen.

    Method 2: Paper Bag

    This one is probably better for cherry tomatoes.  Who wants to wrap those little suckers individually - not me!  For this method, place your tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripening banana (yellow with green ends).  Loosely seal it to keep the gas in.  As with the apples in Method 1, doing this should help ripen your tomatoes.  If the banana really starts to rot before the tomatoes ripen then replace it with a new banana.  You can also do this in a jar with a sealing lid instead of a paper bag but you can't cram the tomatoes in as they will bruise so unless you only have a few tomatoes it is probably better to use a paper bag.

    Method 3: Hanging the plant

    If you have room, simply cut off the leaves and dig up your tomato plant.  Shake off the soil and hang it upside down in a cool dry place like a garage out of direct light and leave to ripen. Check regularly and bring a few into the warmer house to ripen quicker when needed.

    Method 4: Bring on the Stress!

    As you reach the end of the season, take off all the leaves and then make a cut through the roots with a shovel.  This will stress the plant and make it react  as if it is under attack (which it is!) and it should bring on rapid ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this 'shock' method.

    If this feels too violent for you then a careful pull upwards at the bottom of the stem will disturb the roots below and may also work to signal the plant to ripen the fruit.

    Another way to stress the plant is to cut back on water - just make sure that the soil doesn’t get too dry or the next time you water, skins may split.

    Avoid feeding late in the season as any feed with excess nitrogen will slow the ripening process.

    Method 5: Socks!!

    Place your unripened tomatoes in woolen socks and store in your wardrobe!  And then do let us know if this works because we have no evidence that it does!

    How to avoid this problem next year

    The question is how do you avoid this happening next year?  The answer is to get yourself a longer growing season with more "tomato friendly" conditions.  Haxnicks can't control the weather but we do have a number of tools to help with this.

    The Twist Up Tomato ClocheHaxnoicks_Twist_Up_Tomato_for_ripening_tomatoes

    Once your plants are ready to go out into the garden why not use the Twist Up Tomato Cloche to give them their perfect growing environment.

    You can use it over plants in pots or in the ground.  For both it will lengthen your growing season by allowing you to put your plants out earlier than you would if they were unprotected.  The Cloche, evens out temperature changes and, apart from taking it off for a short spell for pollination, your plant will be happy in it all season.  It really comes into its own at ripening though.  Each ripening fruit releases ethylene which helps the other tomatoes to ripen.  If its windy then this gas is blown away without affecting the other fruit.  In a Twist up Tomato Cloche the gas is trapped and helps all of your fruit to turn a delicious red.

    Tomato Crop Booster Haxnicks_Tomato_crop_booster_frame_with_cover_on_patio_for_ripening_tomatoes

    If you really love your tomatoes then this is a great way to grow them.  The poly cover gives all the advantages of the Tomato Cloches when it comes to ripening but the main advantage is how the frame supports the plants.  Properly supported plants are able to concentrate their energy into fruit production leading to a much greater yield of tomatoes.  Giving them the conditions they need throughout the season should mean far less green tomatoes to deal with at this time of year.

    Grower Frame with Poly CoverHaxnicks_Grower_frame_with_poly_cover_for_ripeing_tomatoes

    This is a quick, easy and affordable way to make the perfect, low maintenance, ‘grow your own’ space in any sized garden.  And tomatoes love it.

    Especially useful if you don't have a greenhouse as you can start your tomatoes off in it using the poly cover to give them the warmth they need to start well.  You can then use the frame and cover over them in the final planting position.  There should be enough space to grow all your other salad ingredients alongside them too and there is also the option of an ultra fine Micromesh cover if the weather gets too hot but you still need to protect from pests.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: Rosemary

    rosemary_bushes_along_side_of_pathRosemary is a must-have herb native to Southern Europe. The bush form grows up to 1.2m tall - large enough to double as an evergreen shrub in the border. The low growing prostrate varieties are perfect for tumbling over a dry sunny wall or the edge of a terrace.  They make an excellent ground cover plant.

    As well as being a useful culinary herb, Rosemary is also a beautiful, drought resistant plant.  It  is great in landscaping in place of box or lavender. The attractive blue flowers that are a great source of nectar for bees.

     

     

    Soil and Aspect

    Rosemary thrives in a well-drained soil in a sunny position.  It is slightly tender and will suffer if it is planted in a wet soil during the colder winter months.  It is, however, an excellent plant for coastal areas.

    Rosemary is one of very few plants that thrives on neglect.  It will die if you fertilise or water it too much!  It also prefers a sparse soil without too much nutrient so is ideal for a stony dry corner where not much else will survive.

    Rosemary does well in containers with plenty of grit for good drainage and will benefit from protection In cold winters - Easy Fleece Jackets are ideal.

    Propagation

    rosemay_in_open_rootrainers_showing_roots

    Rosemary is best bought as an established plant or raised from cuttings.

    Cuttings couldn't be easier - on a cool morning snip off shoots of new growth without flowers  10-15cm long.  Remove most of the lower leaves so you have a clean length of stem.

    Use a sharp knife to cut off the base of the stem just below a leaf node – the point from which the leaves grow.  You can dip the ends in hormone rooting powder to speed up the rooting process.

    Fill Rootrainers with a gritty compost mix and insert one rosemary cutting into each cell.

    Water in cuttings from above to settle compost around their stems.  Then place in a cold frame or a sheltered area, using the Rootrainer lid to retain moisture.

    Once they have a good root system - which you will be able to see by gently opening your Rootrainers to inspect -  pot up individually into a loam-based compost. Plant cuttings out in their final position in Spring or Summer to get established before the temperature drops.

    One plant is usually ample for culinary use but if you do want to grow more then allow 75cm between plants.

    Growing from seed is not recommended as the germination is slow and often erratic.  If you wish to try it though, sow the seeds in good quality seed sowing compost about 1 cm deep. Keep them warm on a sunny windowsill or propagator.. Once you have some seedlings make sure you don’t overwater them.  Rosemary is drought tolerant and even at the seedling stage it is easy to overwater them.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Harvest the young, tender stems and leaves, taking off no more than one third of the plant at once.  For drying, harvest just before flowering and store the dried leaves in an airtight jar for use in the kitchen.

    Culinary Uses

    Use rosemary leaves for making tea, in sauces or for flavouring many dishes.  It is great over oven roasted potatoes and perfect with meats - especially lamb.

    Use it fresh or dried.  It has a powerful yet aromatic flavour and is excellent in herb breads or infused in oil.

     

  • Grow at Home: Sage

    sage_leaves_with_water_dropletsSage is found worldwide and has over 800 varieties.  Whatever the variety; sage is a must have in the garden for me.

    It sits quietly on its bush ready to be used fresh or dried.  Ready to pack a punch in sage and onion stuffing.  Or combine nicely with butter and Parmesan to make a quick tasty pasta dish when there is nothing in the cupboard.

    Not only is it useful in the kitchen but, as it is evergreen and has many different varieties, it also looks great in borders. There are plain green varieties, green with hints of purple, variegated green/white varieties, or even Tricolor varieties that have green, white and pink leaves. Something to suit any colour scheme.

    It is quite usual to buy sage as a small plant from your Garden Centre.  If you want to grow from seed or cuttings then these are both possible too. It will take longer but be more economical in the end.

    Growing Sage from Seed

    Sow your seeds into small pots in Spring - up to two weeks before the last frost date-  and cover with a thin layer of perlite.  Place in a propagator to germinate.  Seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate. Continue to keep them moist but not over-watered until they have 3 pairs of true leaves. You can then move them to their final position.  

    Sage will grow happily in a herb planter or the ground.  If planting in the garden, you will need a sunny spot which is sheltered from very strong winds.  Dig the area over and weed well.  Dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost before planting.

    If you want to keep it in a pot - maybe to keep it close to the kitchen door.  Plant in a 12" (20-45cm) pot filled with soil-based compost.

    Growing from a Cutting

    sage_plant_with_ladybirdThe best time to grow from cuttings is from July until late summer. Take the cutting before it flowers.  

    Use a sharp knife to cut off a young shoot about 2.5" (6 cm) below the leaf crown. Strip off the lower leaves so that the cutting is left with at least three pairs of leaves. Then plant the cutting into a 5" pot filled with compost and water it.  Keep the soil moist and place it somewhere humid if you can.  Once the roots have grown plant it out into its final position.

    You can also put a cutting into a glass of water. After about 2 weeks the cutting should have developed sufficient roots so that it can be planted into a pot or directly outside.

    Aftercare

    Water plants regularly, especially during dry spells, but avoid overwatering as sage does not like wet roots.  Putting your pots onto feet will help moisture drain and keep the plant happy. Pruning plants after flowering helps to maintain an attractive shape and encourages lots of new growth.

    To protect the plant from the worst of winter weather and keep leaves in good condition use an Easy Fleece Jacket. Pop it over the plant and you will be able to pick whenever you need.

    Pruning

    Early spring is a the best time to cut back sage. Don't cut before winter as the plant may struggle to get through the harsh weather.

    Harvesting & Storage

    During the first year, only harvest lightly (if at all) to allow the plant to become established.  After that, the leaves can be picked at any time and used fresh. If you need to prune the bush or have a glut of leaves, dry or freeze the excess.

    Pest & Diseases

    Powdery Mildew: This will show as a white powdery deposit on the leaf surface.  Leaves  become stunted and shrivel. To avoid this keep the soil moist and if its in a pot try moving it to a cooler location.

    Capsid bugs: Pale green, sap-sucking insects cause damage to the leaves.  These are mainly active from late spring to the end of summer. Leaves develop many small, brown edged holes, and often become distorted. Plants will generally tolerate these.  Check the plants regularly and remove any bugs you see.

    Rosemary beetle: If you notice your leaves disappearing it will be either these beetles or their larvae.  The beetles are small and oval with metallic green and purple stripes.  The larvae is greyish white  Again, check plants regularly and pick beetles off by hand.

     

  • Don't let your plants go outside without a jacket or a blanket to keep them warm!

    Fleece_jacket_to_protect_from_frost Easy Fleece Jacket (small). by Haxnicks

    Frost damage is hard if not impossible to recover from.  Plants cost a lot of money.  Plus if you've grown them from seeds or cuttings, then an awful lot of research, time and anxious moments too!  So you don't want early frost to catch you out.  This could at best set their growth back and at worst kill them off.

    The RHS offer several ways to avoid frost damage.  Some for the start of the winter and some for the end:-

          Garden design - where to plant

    • Choose plants that are reliably hardy and suited to your growing conditions.
    • Cold air flows downwards on sloping ground, collecting at the lowest point creating what is known as a 'frost pocket' - avoid planting tender plants in areas such as this.
    • Grow slightly tender plants in a warm sunny spot like a south-facing wall, to provide extra warmth and winter protection

      Protection from Early Frosts

    • Cover plants with a double layer of horticultural fleece when frost is forecast
    • Mulch the root area of evergreens, conifers, tender shrubs and tender perennials with a thick layer of organic matter to prevent the ground becoming frozen
    • Move container grown plants to a sheltered part of the garden in cold weather and provide some extra protection by wrapping the pot in an  Easy Fleece Jacket
    • Leave the previous seasons’ growth on more tender plants until spring,  to provide valuable frost protection
    • Lift Tender plants or move them to a more sheltered position or greenhouse.  Ensuring that adequate heating and insulation is in place to prevent damage.
    • Protect fruit and strawberries from frost by covering  with an Extra Thick Fleece Blanket
    • Avoid applying nitrogen-rich fertilisers late in the season as they stimulate soft growth which is especially vulnerable to frost damage

      Protection from Late Frosts

    • Plant tender bedding plants out after the danger of frost has passed; this is generally late May in the south of England and June elsewhere. Always harden plants before planting outside

    So choosing the right plant in the first place is clearly a good idea.  As is, moving them to the greenhouse if you have one, or a more sheltered spot.  A good solution but not always possible with larger heavier plants.  As the RHS recommend a great alternative as autumn approaches and early frosts threaten is to use a fleece.  The Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jacket.  is a simple way to protect exotic plants, hanging baskets and other semi-hardy plants in pots patio containers.

    You may have used horticultural fleece, bought off a giant roll at the Garden Centre?  But this is unruly and requires securing.  The fleece jacket is quicker and easier.  Slip it over your plant and the job is done. Secure with the integral, rot-proof drawstring and locking toggle = instant protection against frost, harsh weather and pests.

    Fleece_cloche_over_bedIf your plants are in the ground rather than containers then it may be a Easy Fleece Lantern Cloche or even a Fleece blanket you need to instantly cosset your crops.

     

     

     

     

    Or if your crops closed_fleece_tunnel_with_carrotsare in rows then, you might choose the Easy Fleece Tunnel instead.  It has all the advantages of both Net and Poly Tunnels because it creates warmth and insulation whilst allowing water and sunlight to filter through to the plant.

     

     

    All of these have the advantage that not only will they protect crops this end of the season but, laid over the soil in Spring they can bring it up to temperature before all your friends.  This allows you to sow or plant out weeks ahead of others.  As a result it will extend the growing season and hopefully reward you for your care with an increased yield.

    Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jackets are available in three sizes, priced at £7.99 per pack

  • Grow at Home: Spring Cabbages

    Spring cabbage is delicious and tender.  It will be one of the first proper crops you can enjoy in the Spring.
    Autumn is the ideal time to sow - seedlings will over winter and produce heads the following year.

    Where to Grow

    Spring Cabbage is classed as a heavy feeding plant so add plenty of garden compost and/or well rotted farmyard manure your soil before sowing or planting.

    Cabbage takes up a lot of room in your garden needing up to 45-60 cm all round so the available space may dictate your numbers.

    Sowing Spring Cabbage

    Spring cabbages, smaller and sweeter that the summer varieties, can be sown directly into the soil but for the best results Rootrainers will give your seedlings the perfect start.

    Autumn sown Spring Cabbage thrive in a greenhouse or similar environment for planting out under protection after about 4 weeks - for this hardening off period use a Fleece Lantern Cloche or  Easy Fleece Tunnels

    Planting Out

    Spring Cabbage should be planted 45 cm between plants and 45 cm between rows.

    Water plants well before you begin and make a hole in the soil with a dibber or trowel.

    Fill the planting hole with water before planting the seedling - this will help the plant to establish. Push the soil in around the roots firmly bout avoid compacting the soil which can prevent water reaching the roots.

    Keep well watered and weed free - a Speedhoe make this quick and easy - and protect with fleece in extreme weather.

    As Winter approaches earth up the cabbage stems by dragging soil up around the stems to prevent them rocking in the wind.

    Harvesting Spring cabbage

    Spring cabbage has a short harvesting period  and need to be cut before they run to seed.   They have a neater more conical shape than round Summer cabbages.  So they may be ready sooner than they first appear.

    Remove every second cabbage as Spring greens in March.  Leave the remaining plants to heart up for harvesting in April/May.

    Harvest cabbage by cutting the stem with a sharp knife close to soil level. Cutting a deep cross in the stump will give you the bonus of a secondary crops of mini cabbages from the old stem!

    Dispose of the root on the bonfire rather than compost to avoid encouraging club root.

    Pests and diseases

    The main threat to your crop is Cabbage Root Fly. - The best way to it is to keep the flies out by covering your crops with fine mesh - Giant Easy Tunnels are ideal as they have the height to accommodate the growing plants -  making sure it is secure at the edges so nothing can creep underneath.

    Check periodically for small yellow eggs of the Cabbage White Butterfly on the underside of the leaves.  Remove them by brushing them off. Cover the seedlings with fleece or micromesh to keep out cabbage white butterfly

    Pigeons can make quick work of your cabbages - Netting is the answer if you have a pigeon problem.

     

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: Onions from sets

    two_rows_of_young_green_onionsOnions are easy to grow from baby onions; otherwise known as sets.

    It is also possible to grow them from seed which is very cost effective if you use a lot of onions.  However, sets are a lot easier and quicker.

    if you still want to grow from seed, check out our Grow at home: Onions from seed blog .  If not, read on.

    Planting Onions

    Onions grow best in open ground.  However, they do grow well in containers.  Just choose a deep planter to allow room for the developing onions.  Potato planters work very well if you only have a small space.  A Raised Bed System that comes with a cover to protect them would also work if you have more room.

    Wherever you plant them, onions need a sunny, sheltered site with fertile, well-drained soil. For best results test your soil .  Inexpensive kits are available from your garden centre to make sure the pH is above 6.5. You may need to improve the soil before planting.  A bucket of well-rotted manure or garden compost to every square metre (yard) and some general purpose fertiliser will do the trick.

    You can buy your onion sets from your garden Centre.  There are many different varieties to choose from.  So, select something that you would like.  Maybe something out of the ordinary like giant onions that you can show off, red onions for a bit of colour or shallots for your winters stews.

    When to plant your Onions

    You can plant onions in spring or autumn.  Depending on their final size, plant the onion sets 5-25cm (2-10in) apart in rows 25-30cm (10-12in) apart from mid-March to mid-April for spring planting.

    Autumn onions should be planted in mid September to mid October.  They will pretty much look after themselves over the winter.  You need to take care as they have a long growing season and won't be ready for harvesting until next summer.  As a result they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring.

    There are two ways to plant: either directly into your ground or planter or into Rootrainers.

    Which you use depends on the number of birds you have in your area.  Birds can be a problem lifting the new sets.  They aren't after the sets themselves but the earth worms that congregate in the microbe rich area around the roots (see this interesting blog about what goes on in the Rhizosphere for more info.) Starting your sets in Rootrainers means by the time that you plant them out the roots will be strong enough to keep your plants where you planted them!

    If you choose to plant direct into the ground or planter then either cover with a Fleece Tunnel  or stretch some Birdscare across your bed until the roots are established.  This will give the  plants time to establish and be too firm for birds to pull out.

    However you choose to plant do it by gently pushing the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the pointed tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

    Weeding and Watering Onions

    It is important to keep the weeds down as this can affect the size of your onions. Water when dry and give an occasional feed with a general liquid fertiliser. Stop watering and feeding once the onions have swollen in mid summer

    When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, you can bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this but not everyone agrees with it any more so you may want to try it and see how you get on.

    Remove any flower spikes as soon as you see them.

    Harvest & Storage

    Onions_large_pile_of_small_brown_onions_fills_frameOnions can be harvested when the foliage starts to turn yellow and topple over. For spring planted sets this will be in late summer to early autumn. And for winter planted sets this will be early to mid summer.

    Lift the bulbs as you need them, ideally before the foliage completely dies down.  Importantly,  don’t let them rot in the ground so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie on a rack in the sun outdoors or a well-ventilated greenhouse for one to two weeks to ripen fully. They are ready for storage once the foliage is dry and papery,

    Only store the onions that are perfect. Store them either in natural jute Vegetable Sacks hung up or in old tights knotting after each onion. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Pest & Diseases

    Fungal diseases are the main problem for onions.  White Onion rot, Leek Rust and Onion Downy mildew are the main culprits.

    There is little you can do about any of these once they have taken hold so prevention is the answer.  Use the correct spacings to make sure there is plenty of light and air around each plant as humidity will encourage the spread of fungus.  Weed regularly and avoid overhead watering if possible. Remove infected leaves and dispose of away from the garden.  Fungus can be transported in contaminated soil, for example on muddy tools or boots. So take particular care not to pass it on to the next garden or allotment when you visit.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, either use a ceramic knife - the extra sharpness means less crushing and so less vapour.  Or light a couple of candles.  The candle flames should absorb most of the vapours from the onions and stop your eyes watering, .

  • Grow at Home: Turnips


    3_turnips_purple_growing_in_ground
    Turnips are an easy to grow crop to grow at home.  And if you've been put off by the flavourless shop bought version, you may be pleasantly surprised by what a delicious and versatile crop it can be.

    Although the root is normally round, cylindrical root shapes are not uncommon in earlier varieties and colours can range from white to yellow and purple.

    Where to grow turnips

    Turnips thrive in firm, fertile soil that retains moisture. Dig in the autumn and incorporate plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost to help retain moisture.

    Grow best in a sunny position but can tolerate some degree of shade.

    As always, especially with root crops, rotate your planting to avoid soil-borne pests and diseases.

    Sowing Turnips

    For an early crop, start by sowing under cloches in late winter - Easy Tunnel or Lantern Cloches would both work well and will also help protect spring sowings from particularly harsh spells of weather.

    Sow thinly in rows 1cm deep with 20 cm between rows.  For the early crops and thin to around 15cm apart after germination. Successional sowing during spring and summer will ensure a steady supply.

    For turnips to be harvested in autumn or winter sow in late summer to the same depth but thin to 20cm between rows for a slightly larger root.

    Aftercare

    Water regularly to prevent bolting.  Keep rows weed free using a Speedhoe

    Harvesting and Storage

    Pick turnips harvested in summer when they are the size of a golf ball - don't allow them to become woody and they will taste better when picked young.

    bunch_of_harvested_turnips_on_bench

    Leave autumn and winter varieties in the ground and harvest when required.  Alternatively lift and store in moist sand in a shed or garage or even easier, in a natural jute bag such as the Haxnicks Vegetable Sacks. (Great for your potatoes and carrots too!)

    Turnip Pests and Diseases

    They are prone to the same pests and diseases as cabbages;  mainly flea beetle.  You should avoid growing in ground previously used for brassicas and cabbages, considering turnips in the same group when planning crop rotation.

    Violet rot and clubroot can be a problem which can be prevented by good crop rotation.  To combat it destroy any affected plants on the bonfire or dispose of away from the garden.

  • Soft-Tie; soft on plants, strong on the Job

    Haxnicks Original Soft-TieIntroducing SoftTie

    In every season of the gardening year there are things that need tying back or supporting.  However, it doesn’t matter how good your plant supports are if the tie used is not appropriate for the job. The award-winning Haxnicks Soft-Tie comes in two widths to ensure that plants stems benefit from the right amount of cushioning, so delicate stems are not bruised or broken.

    Soft-Tie has an inner core of galvanised steel wire which gives it its strength.  While its outer coating of a unique, UV-stabilised rubber compound gently cushions and protects plant stems from damage. It is easy to secure with just a twist.  As a result there is no need for messy balls of string and fiddly knots.  Cutting to length is easy with a sturdy pair of scissors.

    When plants grow the string usually has to be untied and retied.  Not with Soft Tie.  A couple of quick twists and the new support position is in place.  Put a twist between the support and the stem and you have a ready-made spacer to prevent damage from chafing. Most noteworthy is that Soft-Tie does not rot.  So it lasts much longer than regular ties and it can be washed and re-used. Its natural green colour allows it to blend with foliage making it as unobtrusive as possible.

    Original Soft-Tie

    With a 7mm diameter and a slightly thicker steel core, the Original Soft-Tie  is the perfect choice for tying up plants that are heavily-laden with growing crops, or for tying up the thicker stems of trees, shrubs, roses, large climbers and fruit bushes. With its superior cushioning and strength, it’s a good choice for any plants in exposed spots.  It will keep them secure and protect from  wind damage.

    Slim Soft-Tie

    Slim Soft-Tie  is half the width of Original Soft-Tie, only 3.5mm in diameter, and is designed for use with the thinner, more delicate stems of climbing annuals, young vegetables and shrubs, tall perennials and houseplants.

    It really is an essential bit of kit for gardeners.  Use Soft-Tie for many other things around the home -too.  Once you start using it you will come up with masses of uses - check out the Soft-Tie video for inspiration.  I'm sure it will make you smile!

  • Grow at Home: Kale

    kale_grown_plants_rowKale is one of the easier to grow brassicas as it does not need full sun, tolerates cold weather quite well and is relatively free from pests and diseases.

    It is also highly nutritious and full of green goodness.  In times gone by it was used to feed cattle during the winter but now, cooked in the right way, it makes a delicious addition to your plate.  You can also eat the small leaves in a salad if you pick them when they are young and tender.

    Sowing Kale

    Indoor

    Sow seeds from March to May ½” (1cm) deep in 4"-5" (10-12cm) Pots in the greenhouse or on a windowsill.  When the seedlings appear prick out the weakest leaving only 1 strong plant per pot. Transplant the seedlings to their final positions from May onwards when they are about 3-6” (6-12cm) tall.

    Outdoor

    Or sow direct into the seedbed from April to August ½” (1cm) deep in rows 1'-2' (30cm-60cm) apart.

    Planting Out & Growing

    kale_close_UpWhen the plants are 6" (6-12cm) tall, and have 5 or 6 true leaves, plant them out placing the lower leaves at ground level.  Water well both before and after planting and mulch to retain moisture for best results.

    If you intend to eat fully grown kale, plant out in rows 2’ (60cm) apart.  But to eat earlier, when the leaves are younger and more tender, make the rows 1’ (30cm) apart.
    Cover with a Lantern Cloches or an Easy Poly Tunnel to protect them from weather and pests.

    Harvest

    Harvest the crop from November to April cutting the leaves off as you need them.  Sometimes they can grow again after they have been cut.

    Store in a cool place and they will last for about 10 days. Or blanch, cut up, place in a freezer bag and then put in the deep freezer.

    Eating

    Many people want to like Kale but find they just don't and this could be because they are not preparing it right.  So here are 3 top tips for making your Kale more lovable.

    • Remove the stems - the stems of kale are bitter, chewy and frankly not very nice.  So fold the leaves in half and slice out that stem before preparing.
    • Tenderise a little - the leaves are also tough so you need to massage them to break down some of those tough cell walls before you eat.  Just a couple of minutes of handling will make it far more palatable.
    • If you are using it for a salad rather than cooking then use an acidic dressing -including something like cider or balsamic vinegar.  This will help to break it down and soften it to make it nicer to eat.

    Pests

    Watch out for slugs when the plants are small and for caterpillars and aphid later on. Birds can also be a problem finding both the seedlings and the buds tasty.
    Prevention is always better than cure though.  So using cloches and tunnels to cover the plants is advisable.  Then it should be a small job to pinch off any pests that get through your defenses.

    Another good idea is to plant nasturtiums nearby as they attract white butterflies and keep them off your kale and other brassicas.

  • Grow at Home: Endive

    Endive

    endive_curly_2_plants

    Endive is a really great ingredient to be used for salads or as greens.  It comes in two types.  An upright Batavian or escarole with larger broad leaves. This type is very robust, crops in the winter and the outer leaves can be used as greens.  And the second type, is a curly or fringed frisee hence its alternative name of Curly Endive.  This has delicately serrated leaves and crops in the summer.

    Sowing

    Endive germinates best at 20-22°C (68-72°F) but can germinate at temperatures as low as 15°C (59°F). Plants tend to bolt if temperatures fall below 5C (41°F) for too long, but bolt-resistant cultivars are around so looks these out.

    For winter varieties. Sow in Rootrainers for best results from mid to late August, transplant and grow in the greenhouse or plant outside and use Bell Cloches from October- November.

    Sow from February to October for ‘cut and come again’ seedlings.  Warm the soil by covering with an Easy Poly Tunnel  for a month before you plant.  Then cover with an Easy Fleece Tunnel to keep out the chill.  Sow in broad drills or containers every three weeks.

    For summer varieties Sow thinly from April to August, 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart, thinning to 23-38cm (9-13in) apart.

    Growing

    Soils should be light, rich and free draining, It is all about getting the water right for Endive.  They don't like to be soggy so make sure they don't get waterlogged.  And dry soil can cause them to ‘bolt’ so try to keep the soil moist.

    If you like your endive bitter than pray for a hot summer as high temperatures encourage the  bitterness.  Water thoroughly before the onset of dry weather, mulch and keep weed free. Liquid feed fortnightly in summer with a general fertiliser.

    endive_3_in_bowlIn order to keep the texture at its best for eating blanch the at about 12 weeks after sowing. This will keep the plant white and tender.  Blanch a few at a time as they need to be eaten soon after blanching.  Make sure the leaves are dry  so that they don't rot and then choose whichever way you find easiest.  Some of the options are

    • tie the leaves loosely together with raffia or soft string.
    • Build up the soil round the plant leaving just the top exposed
    • cover with a bucket or a black plastic pot with the drainage holes covered

    This process takes about 10-14 days, but if its cold may take longer.

    ‘Cut and come again’ crops can be harvested after about five weeks – one or two cuts are possible before they bolt.

    Harvesting

    Cut off the head with a sharp knife when the head is mature and the leaves are creamy white.

    Harvest ‘cut and come again’ leaves with scissors.

    Pests & Diseases

    Slugs and snails: feed on the young seedlings so make sure you protect your plants with a Slug Buster.

    Aphids:  Greenfly love the soft shoot tips of plants and the leaves.  Pinch them off with finger and thumb or try to encourage their predators like lady birds into your garden by planting wildlife friendly plants.

     

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