Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home - Perfect Parsnips

    Parsnips_piled_in_basket

    Parsnips are a good vegetable for the inexperienced gardener as they require very little work and are easy to grow.  Parsnips taste great used in stir-fries, mashed with potato or carrot or as an accompaniment to a traditional roast.

    Where to grow parsnips

    Do not grow parsnips on freshly manured ground - a bed manured for a previous crop in the preceding season would be ideal. Ideally the soil needs to be stone free and dug over during the winter to produce the best quality parsnips and adding compost from your heap will help to improve the soil without it becoming over rich.

    Parsnips like an open sunny site, but will tolerate light shade.

    Sowing

    Sow in late winter to late spring in drills 1cm deep and space seed about 15cm apart.  Alternatively sow in rows and thin out at the seedling stage.  Rows should be spaced 30cm apart and protection with Easy Tunnels will aid germination, which can take up to three weeks.

    Intercropping between the rows is a good idea with rocket or radish working well.

    Aftercare

    Thin out the seedlings to 15cm apart and water the crop during dry periods - parsnips hate to dry out.  Regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help avoid damaging the crowns of the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting them when the foliage begins to die down in mid Autumn.  The best tasting parsnips are lifted after the first frosts.  Lift them only when required - the remainder can be left in the ground through to late winter.

    A slight cautionary tale - parsnips are related tot he Giant Hogweed which means the leaves can cause severe skin irritation and blistering.  So if you have sensitive skin then consider wearing gloves when harvesting or weeding around the plants.

    Parsnip Pests and diseases

    Generally trouble free but Parsnip Canker can affect the crop, especially in acid or over manured soils. Carrot Fly can be a problem in some areas so as a precaution it would be sensible to try a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

  • Grow at Home - Cucumbers

    cucumber_slices_3Growing Cucumbers

    Like many other veg, cucumbers you grow yourself have much more flavour than those from a supermarket.  And that is the first reason to grow them.  Another reason is that they are versatile and you can grow them inside or outside, in the ground, in pots or in grow bags so they work whatever your space.

    Male & Female

    Cucumbers, like most cucurbit plants, produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant.  Which variety you choose seems to be the real crux of cucumber growing and governs what you have to do to grow them successfully.

    Excuse me if I get a little technical for the next few paragraphs but the ins and outs of male and female flowers needs a little explanation. If you aren't interested in this and just want to get your cucumbers in the ground then just check what your seed packet says in terms of flower removal and skip to the Sowing section!  If not, here goes...

    There are two sorts of cucumbers - monoecious and gynoecious and both of these can be parthenocarpic i.e. they can produce fruit without pollination.

    cucumbers_flowerThe traditional variety- monoecious

    Traditional varieties have both male and female flowers in a ratio of about 10 male to 1 female.  The male flowers usually appear first followed by the female.  This leads some to believe that their plant will not produce female flowers but if you hold your nerve you will be rewarded.

    If you have a variety that needs pollination then there is no need to remove the male flowers.  Their pollen will hopefully be transferred, usually by bees, or wind, to the female flowers to pollinate them. After which your cucumbers will appear.

    If you have a parthenocarpic variety (no pollination needed) then these take a bit of care as you have to pick the male flowers off.  Otherwise they will pollinate the female flowers and the fruit will be bitter. (see below for more on bitterness)

    To identify the sex of the flower, look behind it and see if there is a cucumber growing.  This is a  female flower.  Leave these.  If there is no swelling behind the flower then this is a male and the flower must be picked off depending on your variety.

    The Modern variety - Gynoecious 

    These are simple to grow as the flowers will be predominantly female.

    With Parthenocarpic varieties they will produce fruit without pollination and will be seedless.  Take care as, even though they don't need to be pollinated, they still can be from nearby plants.  So you may want to grow in  a greenhouse or cover them to avoid getting bitter cucumbers.  Some seed packets class these as "indoor cucumbers".

    With the Gynoecious variety pollination is still needed so some traditional varieties will also need to be sown alongside.  Plant your own or check with neighbouring plot holders!

    These 'modern' cucumbers are shorter than traditional ones but you do get more of them.  The fruiting period is shorter too so you are more likely to have a glut of cucumbers.  A traditional variety will give you a longer steady flow over the summer.

    The key to success is to make sure you understand which sort you have from the information on the seed packet.  Follow the instructions and you will be fine.

    cucumber_plantSowing

    Sow the seeds 1" (2.5cm) deep into 3" (7.5cm) pots from late Feb to March if you have a heated greenhouse or similar environment.  Or late March if you don't. They are good growers so you will need to re-pot them before they are ready to go outside.  In late May put them outside for a few days in their pots to hardened them off.

    This deadline has passed this year but all is not lost, you can still buy small plants from the garden centre.

     

     

    Planting Out

    cucumbers_largePrepare the bed.  Dig in some rotted organic matter, such as a sack of garden compost, and rake in 100g per square metre (3½oz per square yard) of general purpose fertiliser.  Transplant the plants into their final position 18" (45cm) apart in June.  To give them a head start and the warmth they need to boost growing, keep them covered once outside.  Bell cloches or an Easy Poly Tunnel are both ideal for this.   These will also keep the pests away - watch out particularly for slugs!

    You could also sow directly outside in late May or early June.  If you do this then pre-warm the soil with an Easy Poly Tunnel or Fleece Blanket and cover the seeds again once planted.

    Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. As they grow, pinch out the growing tips when they have 6 or 7 leaves so that the plants can put all of their energy into producing quality cucumbers.  Pinch out:-

    • the main shoot when it reaches the roof of your greenhouse or the top of your cane.
    • the sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower
    • the tips of flowerless side-shoots once they reach 2' (60cm) long.

    Cucumbers are 96% water so make sure you give them plenty of water too as they are a thirsty plant. Make sure you water round the plant not onto it.  If in the greenhouse, keep the humidity high by watering the floor too.

    Once planted out, feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

    Harvesting

    Harvest will be 50 to 70 days after sowing.  Cut the fruits when they are about 6" - 8" (15-20cm) long using a sharp knife.  They will last 2 to 3 weeks if stored well.

    Common Issues

    Bitterness

    Getting bitter cucumbers sometimes happens but there are some ways to avoid it.

    First, for varieties that do not require pollination, remove male flowers or keep the plants out of reach of pollinators to avoid accidental pollination. A question I have been asked is why those varieties that do require pollination do not suffer in the same way.  The answer is that for some reason, most likely genetics, the varieties that require pollination simply don't produce the cucurbitacin chemicals that would make them bitter.

    Secondly give the plant proper care as stress often causes bitterness.  Stress comes when the plant is too hot, receives uneven watering, or is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.

    The other issue - and one you can't do much about - is heredity.  There is a recessive trait that can cause a plant to produce bitter fruit from the start. You may plant seeds from the same packet and treat them all the same, only to discover one of the plants produces bitter.  If this is the case the only option is to scrap that particular plant and sow again.

    All male flowers

    When the plant is stressed for example by lack of water or high plant density it may react by only producing male flowers.  High temperatures like we saw in 2018 can also do this to plants.  Other stresses, such as damage from insects or blowing soil or low light intensities can result in fewer female flowers.  To avoid this try to reduce the stress the plants are under by watering regularly and well. Ensure there is adequate space between your plants and some shade if the weather is particularly hot.

    Pests

    Slugs are the main problem with outdoor varieties.  Try a Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Cucumber mosaic virus is passed by aphids, so it is very important to control greenfly. The virus stunts the plants and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterns. Flowering is reduced or non-existent, while any fruit that do appear are small, pitted, hard and inedible.  Destroy Infected plants and wash your hands after touching them so you don't spread the virus.

    Mildew is a serious problem to varieties that are not resistant.  It shows as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel up. Treat by keeping the soil moist and consider a cooler location for your next planting.

  • Grow at Home - Salad Leaves

    6_lettuces_growingGrowing Salad Leaves

    Growing your own salad leaves is SO easy and a great way to start if you want to grow your own food.

    The best thing about salad leaves is that they are quite quick to grow.  You can also cut them as they grow so there is no waiting for weeks for the entire plant to grow and ripen.  Great if you are impatient and/or new to gardening.  You can simply harvest as and when you need it and the plant will grow more ready for your next meal.

    What to plant

    There are many different salad leaves so why not plant a few different varieties so that you can reproduce those mixed bags you get in the supermarket. But, without the one leaf that they always put in that you really don't like, of course!

    It is good to sow seeds at regular intervals - a couple of weeks apart - so that you ensure a regular supply over the summer.  So if you start sowing in February/March you could keep going until September and - with the help of tunnels and winter varieties - even longer.   If you get over excited and sow the whole packet then you will end up with a glut.  It would make you popular with the neighbours but see you buying from the supermarket again which would be a waste.

    Where to Plant

    Mixed_salad_leavesSalad leaves are best grown in full sun on well-drained soil.  They are ideal to grow in containers such as Vegetable Patio Planters or a Self Watering Tower Garden or Vigoroot Balcony Garden which can be placed right outside the backdoor for easy access from the kitchen.

     

    If you want to grow them in the garden then they can have their own bed.  Or they can be slotted in between rows of other plants where they will help to keep the weeds down.

     

    Sowing

    Sow indoors from February on a nice warm windowsill. Or outdoors from mid-spring to late summer.

    For containers, sow thinly by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and covering with about 1cm (½in) of compost.

    For outdoor sowing, prepare the seed bed by removing weeds and stones and raking it over. Next, make shallow drills about 1cm deep.  A great way to do this is to press a bamboo cane into the soil. Water along the drill before sprinkling in the seeds. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.

     

     

     

     

    Put each individual type of salad seed in separate containers or in rows.  Mark them so you know what you are eating (and can decide if you want to grow it again).  Alternatively use a packet of mixed leaf seeds and hope for the best in terms of identifying which you liked!

    Lettuce_long_rowsThin out some seedlings when they reach about 2" (4cm) by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinnings to add a hit of flavour to your shop bought salads.

    You may wish to cover the plants with ultra fine Micromesh netting from June to August to prevent pests such as slugs, snails. flea beetles and Lettuce Root Aphid getting to them.

    Care for them by watering well.

    Pests

    Slugs and snails are your number one enemy with salads.  Pick off any that you see and use traps such as the Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Lettuce root Aphid. These affect older plants.  You might not see the actual aphids as they are below the soil but you might notice the plant wilt and die back.  Another sign is lots of ants round the plant.  They feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce.  To deal with them you can pull the lettuce up - wash the aphids off and replant in fresh compost.

    Harvesting

    Cut the salad leaves when they reach around 4" (10cm) as you need them.  You should be able to do this three or four times.  Once the plants start to flower the leaves become bitter so you will know this is time to stop.  By the time your first batch have finished cropping the next batch you sowed will be ready giving you a summer full of salad.

  • Grow at Home - Brussels Sprouts

    brussels_sprouts

    Brussels Sprouts are delicious if cooked well – home growing can convert even the most ardent sprout avoider! There are many really tasty and reliable F1 Hybrids available, which freeze well and with a bit of planning you could be harvesting right through the winter.

    Where to grow Brussels Sprouts

    Brussels Sprouts thrive in an open sunny position that is protected from strong winds.

    Dig the soil well and incorporate well-rotted manure of garden compost in Autumn. Sprouts do not grow well in acidic soil so add lime if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7

    Sowing

    Sow outside in a nursery bed from early to mid spring. Start by sowing the early varieties and successionally sow mid season and later varieties in turn. Sow thinly in rows 1cm deep with 15cm between rows.

    After germination, thin out the seedlings to 8cm apart. Transplant when the seedlings are 10cm high – watering well the previous day will help the seedlings lift easily – and Plant in rows with 75cm between plants - The space between rows is ideal for a catch crop such as salad.

    Firm the soil well to prevent air pockets and help keep the plants stable.

    For late summer picking start the sowing off in Rootrainers under glass in late winter. Harden off and plant outside when the young plants are 10cm high using cloches to protect during the early stages - Easy Tunnels are ideal if you plant in rows and for block planting an Easy Lantern Cloche will do the job well.

    Aftercare

    An Net Easy Tunnel will deter pigeons. Weed throughout the growing season and water in dry periods. Apply a foliar feed during the summer and stake any plants that need it. During the early Autumn draw the soil around the stems to steady the plants against the wind - A  Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier will give extra protection. Apply felt or plastic collars around the base of the plants to prevent cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs

    Brussels Sprouts: Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting from the bottom of the plant, picking the sprouts when they are still tight, after the first frosts as this improves the flavour. Pick just a few from each plant and every time you harvest work further up the stem. When all the sprouts have been harvested you can cut off the top of the plant and use as you would cabbage.

    Pest and diseases

    Prone to the same problems as cabbages the main issue is Club Root – a soil borne fungal disease. Infected plants should be destroyed and not composted.

    Small white butterfly caterpillar and aphids may also affect the crop. Protect the crop from butterflies with net and remove caterpillars by hand and I spray aphids with soapy water.

  • What a nice thing to say! (but I bet the pigeons don't like us as much)

    Micromesh1It's nice to wake up to a compliment, isn't it?  So this morning I was really pleased to read that someone's plants were on the road to growing happy and healthy due to the Haxnicks Easy TunnelsAnd even better they had taken these great pictures of the Tunnels in action.

    Iwona and Neil , the inhabitants of "The Wonky shed at Number 13" dreamt of sauerkraut last year and planted accordingly.  Returning to the plot several days later, they found that slugs, snails and an unexpected flock of pigeons had visited.  It cost them their cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kalettes, and their many different cabbages.   (This family clearly really love their veg!)

    They say "We decided to get some netting and on the plot next to us there was this mesh tunnel from @haxnicks that we really liked. We did some research and got one for ourselves and we grew a few more cabbages under it. The tunnel proved  really great for pest control and so we got a few more for this season. "   They have used these - ever ambitious - to plant Chinese cabbage, pak choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and little gem lettuce.

    The Tunnel

    The tunnel they chose was the Haxnicks - Easy Micromesh Tunnel which has ultra fine 0.6mm mesh which keeps out even tiny aphids and carrot flies and is ideal for your brassicas.  Next year maybe they will add a Haxnicks Easy Poly Tunnel to warm the soil so they can plant earlier and lengthen the growing season to grow even more veg. They could get up to an extra 6 weeks growing time with this tunnel.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    We love to hear how you are using our products.  So please tag us in your Social Media posts and tell us how much you love the products.  Maybe you will make a star appearance on our blog too!

  • Grow at Home: Onions from seed

    Many people grow onions from sets - mini, immature onion bulbs - to get a head start.  The advantage of growing onions from seeds, instead of from sets, is that it is far cheaper if you are going for a big harvest. So if you eat a lot of onions then seeds are worth a try but you need to get them in ASAP now.

    Sowing

    Make sure you use fresh seeds as the germination rate reduces the older seeds get.  They will still germinate but if you are using a packet from last year you may need to sow a few more to get the crop you are hoping for.  Sow the seeds on a windowsill or in the greenhouse, from February to April.

    spring_onion_cutThey will germinate without extra heat, but providing a little heat underneath the seed trays or pots will speed up the germination process.  So, add a lid or enclose in a plastic bag and put it on a heat mat or somewhere warm like on top of the fridge.  Germination should take around 7 to 10 days.

    Onion seedlings sometimes have trouble shedding the seed husk and end up doubled up like an ostrich with their head in the sand.  If you want to help them move along then you can snip the thinner bit, pull it out complete with seed husk and discard it.  The thicker side of the loop can then get on with growing.  This is fiddly and they will sort themselves out eventually so you can decide if you have the time and energy to do this or want to just let them get on with it.

    Whether you are growing in the ground or containers 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.

    Planting Outside

    onions_growingTransplant them outside in May or June when they produce a third leaf and are about 3” (8cm) high. Dig some rich fertiliser into the ground where you are going to plant them.  Make sure you put it directly under where the onions will be as their roots are concentrated directly down from the bulb.

    Plant them vertically and handle them gently. The bulb should be ½” (1cm) below the surface. Depending on the onions final sizes, plant them between 2-10” (4-25cm) apart, with 9" (22cm) between rows.

    Container Growing

    If you want to grow onions in containers then transplant them at the same stage as for outdoors. The container will need to be at least 10" (25cm) 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.  If it is you will get a lovely leafy display above ground and very little below ground.

    Looking after your Plants

    The important thing while they are growing is to keep the weeds down.  Onion seedlings don't compete well with weeds and it will affect the size of your onions.  So weed regularly.

    You can also keep trimming them back to around 5" so that they don't flop over.  Once again they will be OK if you leave them to their own devices, so if you're not growing them for the Village Show you may want to miss this step.

    Keep them well watered especially when it is dry. When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Possibly even clear a little of the soil at the top of the bulb too.

    Harvest

    onion_bulb_in_groundHarvest them from July to October.  Lift the onions as you need them from July to October.  There is a danger that they can rot in the ground when it starts to get very wet so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie in the sun for a couple of days.

    Storage

    Only store the onions that are perfect - use any that aren't straight away.   The best way to store them is in a jute Veg Sack.  This allows air to circulate and keeps them cool and dark. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, light a couple of candles.  This should stop your eyes watering, as the vapours from the onions will be absorbed in the candle flames.

  • Grow at Home: Peas

    There is nothing quite like the taste of freshly picked peas especially in a home grown salad. The moment the peas is picked its natural sugars start to break down into starch, which affects the flavour. With careful planning and by using a range of varieties, peas can be harvested from late spring until late Autumn.

    Where to grow

    Grow peas in fertile moisture retentive soil. Dig to a good depth in the Autumn and incorporate plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost. Avoid areas that may become waterlogged – the plants will rot at the base if too wet.

    As with most crops, peas do best in a sunny open spot, but they will tolerate light shade.

    Sowing

    Varieties such as ‘Fetham First’, categorised as first earlies, are smooth skinned, while second earlies and main crop, such as ‘Onward’ and ‘Alderman’ have wrinkled skin. First earlies can be sown outside in mid to late Autumn and overwintered under cloches to protect against frost.

    Peas do really well when started in Rootrainers before being transplanted outside.  This gives them a super strong root system  which allows the plants to produce a bigger crop of delicious peas.

    Sow main crop varieties at regular intervals from early spring to mid Summer and will not need protection unless there is a period of prolonged frost.

    Sow double rows in flat bottomed trenches 23 cm wide and 5 cm deep with 50cm between trenches.

    Or for a 'no dig' solution use a planter specifically designed for peas - the Haxnicks Pea & Bean Planter. These planters are reinforced with rigid tubes and have 6 cane pockets to hold canes in place without disturbing the soil.  They are ideal for those without space in their garden who still want to grow their own veg..

    Aftercare

    Immediately after sowing protect the crop from birds by covering with wire netting or twiggy branches over canes or using the Haxnicks Birdscare.

    Provide support using pea sticks or netting when the crop reaches around 8cm high. For tall varieties place the supports on either side of the growing stems. Water regularly during dry spells especially when the plants are in flower. Mulching with garden compost will help with moisture retention.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Harvest when the pods are plump but not fully grown, picking from the bottom of the plant and working your way up. Keep picking to encourage production of more pods.

    If you are growing Mange Tout or Sugar Snap varieties pick on the early side to ensure the pods have not become tough.

    Peas are best eaten straight away, but will also freeze well in container or can be left to dry in their pods – wait until you can hear them rattle – and stored in an airtight container to use in stews or soups.

    Pest and diseases

    Peas are prone to a number of pests and diseases. Pigeons and small birds can devastate young crops – Micromesh netting is the best protection. Mildew can also be a problem. Pea and Bean weevil can cause stunting of plant growth.  The crop may come under attack from Pea Thrips too in hot sunny weather. Silvery patches are seen on the pods and leaves which will affect the yield.  Pea moth can also be a problem.  The adults lay their eggs when the peas are in flower – sow early or late to avoid the moth’s flying period.

  • Grow at Home: Potatoes

    About the Potato

    Pink_potato_flower Potato flower

    Potatoes can be so cheap to buy, so why bother to grow your own?

    One reason is taste - the chance to get tasty tatties that are full of flavour is not to be missed. Another reason is to try a different variety.  The shops stock a limited range and often bag them without even telling you what variety you are buying.  As a result, even if you liked it, you couldn't guarantee to get it again.  Go to your Garden Centre and your eyes will be opened to all the varieties of seed potato available.

    The best reason for me though is the plant itself.  Far from being a dull and functional plant, it has lush green foliage and delicate white or pink flower.  One of the prettiest flowers in the garden and loved by pollinators so winning on all levels.

    Types of Seed Potato

    There are three sorts of potatoes based on when you plant and harvest them: First Earlies, Earlies and Maincrop.  The titles are fairly explanatory but basically the First Earlies are 'new' potatoes, small potatoes harvested as early as June followed by Earlies and Main Crop which produce larger potatoes later in the season.

    Plant in Garden Plant in Containers Harvest
    First Earlies Late March Late Feb / Early March June/ July
    Earlies Early/ Mid April Late March/ Early April July/ August
    Maincrop Mid/Late April Early/Mid April August/ October

     

    Chitting

    Chitted potato with face drawn on

    As soon as you buy your seed potatoes lay them out on a tray or in open egg boxes in a cool, dry, light position to allow them to sprout.  This is known as chitting.

    Believe it or not there is a 'right' way up for potatoes.  The 'rose' end or the end with the most eyes and dimples should be placed uppermost.  The debate is ongoing as to whether chiitting is needed at all though, so I doubt getting them the wrong way up at this stage will have a significant effect.  The chits take about 4 to 6 weeks to grow.  However you may find that your seed potatoes have started chitting before you buy them.  They are ready to plant when the chits are about 1" (3cm) long.  On early potatoes, rub off the weakest shoots, leaving three per tuber.

    To ensure that you don't get a glut of potatoes you may wish to chit enough for one planter (3 or 4) leave it 7 to 10 days and chit a second batch etc etc so that your potatoes are planted and harvested over a period rather than all being ready at the same time.  Our  Potato Planters come in a pack of 3 so you can do the bags one at a time to achieve this easily.

    Where to Plant

    The first choice to make is where you want to grow them - in the ground or in containers.  This depends on what space you have and how much digging you want to do.  Containers are by far the easiest way but if you have lots of space and fancy the exercise then growing directly in the ground is an option.

    Planting in containers

    Take a large 40L Potato Planter or if you want an even bigger crop a Vigoroot Potato Planter that will air-prune the roots.  

    Pour about 5cm of good multipurpose compost into the bottom.  Place your seed potatoes - 3 or 4 per planter- onto the soil making sure that your chits are facing upwards.  Cover with a further 5cm of compost.  Water and wait.  That's it.

    Earthing up: containers

    In Containers - earthing up couldn't be easier.  When the shoots have reached 10cm pour more soil into the planter until the tips of the plants are just covered.  Keep the soil moist and continue to cover as the shoots grow. Maincrop potatoes benefit from a nitrogenous fertiliser around the time of the second earthing up.  The bag will be full by the time you are finished.

    Harvesting

    Early potatoes take between 12-15 weeks to mature, main crop take about 20 weeks.

    Once they have finished flowering and the leaves start to die back your potatoes are probably ready to harvest.  To get the best results, and potatoes that will store really well, leave it 2 weeks after the foliage has died back to harvest. If frost is expected within two weeks while plants are still green and vigorous, you can defoliate the tops in order to kick start the skin setting process. The best way to do this is to shred the leaves and stems of the plants so that death is gradual rather than sudden. If the plants die suddenly (including death to hard frost), the tubers may be discoloured.

    The skin on mature potatoes is thicker and firmly attached to the potato.  To check if your potatoes are ready you can delve into the bag with your hand and find a potato.  Rub the skin with your finger and if it comes off really easily they are probably not ready yet and need a little longer.
    Once you are sure they are ready you can harvest.  Simply turn the bag upside down on a plastic sheet, into a wheelbarrow or a corner of the patio.  Shake the soil from the roots and you will see the potatoes which you can gently remove.

    Potato Curing & Storing

    It is best to harvest on a sunny day, brush off excess soil and then leave the potatoes out in the sun for a minimum of 2 hours, prefereably 2 days.

    Let them sit in temperatures of 7-16C  (45 to 60 F) for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. they will then store longer & cook without disintegrating.

    Store your cured potatoes at about 4 C (40 F) in a dark place.  A jute Veg Sack is ideal for this and will keep out the light that would turn them green and make them poisonous.

    Planting In the Garden

    If planting outside make sure that before you plant the potato bed has been turned over well then warm up the beds by placing mini poly tunnels over them a few days before planting.

    The traditional planting method is to dig a narrow trench and place the tubers with chits facing up between 4” (10cm) Earlies and 8” (20cm) Maincrop deep.

    Leave about 12" (30cm) Earlies and 15" (37cm) Maincrop between plants and 24" (60cm) Earlies and 30" (75cm) Maincrop between rows.

    Finally, replace the poly tunnel to keep the soil warm, give them a good start and protect from late frosts once the shoots break through.

    Earthing Up: outside

    When shoots get to around 9" (23cm) start 'earthing up'.  Basically, make small mounds of soil around them, covering the leaves creating a ridge about 6" (15cm) high.  As the stems grow, repeat the process. The final height of the ridges will be about 12" (30cm). This will protect the plants from frost and keep the light from the developing potatoes which makes them go green and poisonous.

    Harvesting

    To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a spade or a fork. You can harvest just for supper i.e just what you need right now.  However, it is quite stressful for the plant so be as gentle as you can.  To do this drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.

    To harvest the whole crop, first test them for maturity by digging up one potato and testing its skin as outlined above.  Especially important when digging up potatoes is making sure that you don't scratch, bruise or cut them. Damaged tubers will rot during storage so these should be first in the pot.  Work through the bed as methodically as you can, feeling round the roots so that you don't miss any potatoes.  Potatoes should then be cured and stored as detailed above.

    Growing potatoes is very rewarding and you may find yourself bitten by the bug and refilling your potato planters immediately after harvest to grow your own potatoes for Christmas!  In the meantime why not try this delicious Potato Scones recipe?

  • Pests and Diseases : Red Spider Mite

    What are Red Spider Mites

    Red spider mite are so small (less than 1mm) they are almost invisible without a magnifying glass but they can wreak havoc in a greenhouse or on houseplants.

    Spider mites reproduce rapidly especially at in conditions with high temperature and low humidity.

    At 25°C, a freshly laid egg will hatch, grow into an adult mite and lay more eggs after only 10 days - At 30°C, it's  only 7 days!

    Females can produce up to 150 eggs in their life, laying around 10 eggs per day. These are 0.14mm in diameter and transparent at first. Eventually, they turn white to light yellow.

    What do they look like?

    Confusingly, for most of the year of the year they aren’t red in colour at all as their name suggests.

    They begin life as a greenish-yellow, and only turn red in the late summer/early autumn. The first you know of them may be what looks like sandy coloured ‘dust’ moving around the growing tips and undersides of new leaves.

    What do Red Spider Mite Do?

    Red spider mite suck sap from plants through foliage.

    They will attack almost anything in the greenhouse, in fact, very few plants are fully resistant to this mite. They will feast on fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, as well as flowering plants, like fuchsias, pelargoniums and orchids, and many more besides.

    How to prevent and treat Red Spider Mite

    • Keep a regular eye on all you plants to look out for the early signs. On leaves, you’ll see subtle marks and mottling, and, if you have your reading glasses on you may be able to see the mites themselves underneath the leaf
    • You may also spot white shedded ‘skin casts’, and sometimes tiny round eggs as well. In severe cases, you will see very fine webs near the top of the affected plants
    • It is important to be vigilant and look out for bleached, unhealthy looking leaves, often with yellow or brown speckles. If under continuous attack, leaves will dry up and fall off and the host plant can become severely weakened
    • Red Spider Mite like hot, dry conditions so keeping the greenhouse well ventilated will help to deter attacks
    • Damping down can help to keep the atmosphere humid – which the Spider mite hate. Spray water from a hose or can onto the greenhouse floor and under the staging to keep the air moist – the plants will enjoy it too!
    • Washing leaves with a mild soap solution can be very effective if done regularly
    • Encourage ladybirds and other predators into your garden – they will feast on mites and aphids in your greenhouse. Other biological controls include the predatory mite phytoseiulus persimilis Which can be introduced once temperatures in the greenhouse reach 21 degrees
    • Spider Mites can remain dormant once the temperature drops for up to a year so good hygiene and thorough washing of pots and equipment at the end of the season is a must
  • Grow at Home - Sweet/Bell Peppers/Capsicum

    What are they?

    The Bell Pepper (Capsicum annuum) is also known as the Sweet Pepper or Capsicum and is originally native to the Americas.  As its name suggests, it is sweet rather than spicy.  This is because it does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that creates a strong burning sensation that makes the other members of the family such as chillies taste 'hot'.

    Botanically speaking, like tomatoes, bell peppers are fruits.  However, when cooking they are considered a vegetable and despite their sweet taste no one is going to thank you for adding them to the apple crumble!

    Colours  Multi_coloured_peppers

    They come in green, red, yellow, orange, brown, white, purple, lavender and black.  Red peppers are ripened green peppers, the exception being the Permagreen pepper which is still green when ripe and will never turn red.
    The sweetness of the pepper depends on growing conditions and how much it has been allowed to ripen.  So a ripe red pepper will be sweeter than the less ripe green one.  Peppers that have ripened on the plant will also be sweeter than those that were picked and allowed to ripen after.  Not something you can change when buying them but if you grow your own then you can ensure they are as sweet as possible by leaving them to ripen on the plant.

    There are many varieties but I would choose a hardy, early variety such as Yellow Monster or Lipstick to get the best results.

    Sowing

    Peppers are easy to grow from seed and have a high germination rate.  Sow seeds 1/2" (1cm) deep inside in Rootrainers, pots or seed trays from mid-February to end of March.  They will take 2-4 weeks to germinate.

    Peppers like it warm so so use a propagator and aim for a temperature of around 18-21°C (65-70°F) or place on a warm windowsill, with plastic bags over the pots to keep the heat and moisture in.  Of course if you have used Rootrainers then they come with their own lid so you can just pop this on for the perfect environment.

    Transplant into 3" (8cm) pots when two true leaves have formed.  Handle the seedlings by the leaves to avoid damaging the delicate stem.

    If you don't want to grow from seed then most Garden Centres will sell plants.

    Planting

    Position

    If growing in England this crop is much better being grown in a greenhouse or on a windowsill for as long as possible.

    If planting in the ground space the rows 18" (45cm) apart with the same distance between plants.  The more you prepare the bigger the yield you will get so dig in some well rotted manure.  You may also wish to cover the ground with a  Easy Poly Tunnel  to warm the soil before planting.  Once your plants are in position keep them covered with a cloche or a tunnel as they like it warm, but remember to take it off or open it for periods to allow pollination.

    Peppers grow well in containers and can also be grown in grow bag planters or in the garden as long as it is in a sheltered, sunny spot.  Ideally a South or West facing brick wall or fence.

    Potting On

    Once the roots fill your 3" (8cm) pot transfer plants to 12" (30cm) pots of good compost.  Do this in mid-May (heated greenhouse), late-May (unheated greenhouse) or June if growing outside.

    Pinch out the growing tips of chillies when they are about 12" (30cm) tall to encourage bushiness.

    Watch the plants as the fruits begin to grow.  If fruit becomes heavy then stake and tie plants in to prevent breakages.  Also, if growing in a greenhouse the leaves can become scorched so watch out for this and open vents and shade as appropriate if the temperatures start to soar.

    Feeding & Watering

    As with all plants regular water is vital so make sure you keep the moisture levels as constant as you can.

    Once flowers form start feeding with a fertiliser suitable for tomatoes e.g. a high potash liquid fertiliser with seaweed.  Feed every 10 days as you water.

    Harvesting

    Harvest August to November.  Expect to harvest between 3 and 8 peppers per plant.

    Start to pick the fruit when it is large, green and has a glossy sheen.  If you prefer sweeter peppers then leave it on the plant to mature but this will reduce yield.  If you still have peppers on the plant when the frosts arrive then dig up the whole plant.  Hang it upside down in a shed or greenhouse to allow the fruit to continue to ripen.
    Once harvested, if kept cool, bell peppers can store for up to 3 weeks once picked.

     

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