Love to Grow

  • How to Grow: Aubergine or EggPlant depending on which side of The Pond you are...

    aubergine_with_green_stalks

    Not so very long ago the Aubergine (or Egg Plant) was a rare sight on the supermarket shelves and considered to be for adventurous cooks only.  Now they are available everywhere and more and more of us are growing them on allotments and in greenhouses.  We are enjoying not just the end results, but the growing of a gloriously beautiful glossy crop of tropical fruits.

    Aubergines are tender and in temperate climates are best grown under glass rather than outside where they will struggle to thrive in anything but a long hot summer. The large striking fruits range in colour from the darkest purple, to white and all shades in between.  There are even striped varieties!

    They taste delicious when cooked, stuffed with meat, rice or vegetables or when used to make ratatouille or moussaka.

    Soil and Aspect

    Grow under glass in grow bags or pots using a peat free potting mix. Plants grown outside require a fertile, well-drained soil and should have a general fertiliser applied before planting.

    Aubergines thrive in a warm sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind.  If you don't have a greenhouse try a Sunbubble, Grower Frame or Lantern Cloche.

    Sowing

    Soak the seeds overnight to improve the germination rate and then sow into individual pots or Rootrainers in Spring.  Once the seedlings are large enough they can be planted into growbags or bigger pots.

    Aubergines can be hardened off and planted outside if the temperature doesn't drop below 15c. Allow 50cm between plants.

    Aftercare

    Canes and string may be needed to support the plants once they have reached 40-50cm.     Fold-a-Frame would be ideal. Pinch out the tips of the plants when they reach 40cm in height in order to encourage fruit formation.  Water well throughout the growing season and feed once every two weeks with a high-potash liquid feed.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Cut each aubergine fruit from the plant when it is large enough - the flavour quickly deteriorates if they are allowed to become overripe. Harvest under glass from mid-summer and autumn for outside varieties.  Aubergines are best used fresh from the allotment although they can keep for up to two weeks once picked.

    Pest and Diseases

    The usual greenhouse pests affect this crop if grown under glass. Aphids, red spider mite and whitefly are the main pests. Damping the floor down and misting the leaves will increase humidity, which will in turn discourage red spider mite.

  • How to Grow: Damsons

    Growing Damsons

    Damsons_with_toast_damson_jamFirstly what are damsons?  Well, they are a sort of plum but not one you would want to pluck from the tree and eat.  They are tart rather than sweet.  They need to be cooked and are perfect for jams, pies, wine and Damson Gin (like Sloe Gin only nicer!)

    So why bother with them and not plump for a nice Victoria Plum?  The answer is that they are a hardy tree and so will fruit in situations where a plum tree may struggle.  You can even choose a dwarf damson which will allow you to have the tree in a small garden.  Or even grow it in a container such as the Vigoroot Potato / Tomato planter. 

    The trouble with growing  trees in pots is that the tree will eventually become pot bound.  Once fruit trees become pot bound they produce less fruit.  The advantage of growing in Vigoroot is that the roots are air pruned, so the tree will never get pot bound and the improved root structure encourages the tree to produce more fruit.  So, provided it is given enough food and water it should produce a bumper crop every year.

    When to plant damsons

    Damson trees often come "bare-rooted" which means that there is no soil around the roots. Plant them from late autumn to early winter as trees generally shut down and become dormant in winter.  So this is the best time for them to be planted as it means that their growth is not interrupted.  

    Pot grown (with soil around the roots) can be planted at any time. 

    Where to Plant

    Most trees like full sunlight, south facing perfection.  Damsons are less fussy so provided you can shelter it from being too wind blown and get the soil right it will give you fruit.

    Growing Damsons

    Damsons need a good, nitrogen rich soil with a high pH of above 6.  So it is worth testing your soil with a simple kit from the garden centre before you plant.   

    Planting

    If your soil needs adjustment then dig a big hole, if not then just big enough for your roots to fit in without being cramped.  If your soil needs adjustment then you may need to add bonemeal to the base of your hole and mix in compost as you are refilling the hole.  Test again and if your pH is still below 6 then mix in some lime to get the conditions just right.    

    In early spring scatter 75 grams per square yard of general purpose fertilser such as blood, fish & bone around your tree. 

    For best results its a good idea to retest your soil every 3 to 4 years and add some lime around the plant if needed to keep the pH up to around 6.

    Caring for your Damson Tree

    Watering

    They need to be kept moist. Especially bareroot trees as they may suffer a little root damage when they are lifted.  To help with this place a Tree Mat around the base of the tree to reduce water loss and to protect the tree from weeds.  In dry weather water well, especially in the early years until it has become fully established.

    A new tree will not produce fruit for the first 2 to 3 years until it has become established.

    Pruning

    Damson trees need little pruning. They will generate some twiggy growth which can be cut back when the tree becomes too congested but it doesn't have to be done every year.

    Like other plums, damsons should only be pruned from late spring to early autumn (April to September). Pruning during the winter increases the chance of the tree becoming infected with silver leaf fungus.

    Pollination

    Damsons are self-fertile, so you don’t need to plant more than one. However, like all self-fertile trees it is likely to produce a much better crop if cross-pollinated by another tree.  So if you want to add a plum tree then this will help your damson crop.  Make sure you choose one that flowers at the same time though. 

    Harvest

    Harvest in late August – September.  The fruits quickly become soft when picked so make sure you have your plans in place for how you will use them before you pick.  

    Common Problems

    Silver Leaf Fungus - The fungus infects the wood through wounds - mainly caused by pruning - and causes a silvering of the leaves followed by death of the branch.   Avoid it by pruning only in summer when there are far less spores around and wounds will heal quicker.  Remove any infected branches and leaves as soon as you see them.

    Frost & Wind damage - losing blossom to frost or high winds will severely affect the crop.  You can prevent this by using a Fruit Tree Net  When bad weather is forecast, fit the net over the tree and wrap any excess around the trunk.  Remove it once the blossom has set in Spring, to allow for pollination.  You can then put it on again to provide chemical free pest protection until your crop is ready to pick.   

    Trunk damage - Another common problem for young trees is damage to the trunk from mowers and strimmers.  This can be prevented by using the Tree Mat as detailed above to suppress plant growth close to the tree.  You can also use a StrimGuard to wrap around the tree whilst you are strimming or mowing.

  • New sustainable gardening tools

    new_prodcut_2019_bamboo_scoopHaxnicks Bamboo Scoop

    A garden scoop is one of the most useful things to have in the garden.  Yet, many gardeners get by without one.  They scoop compost out with a whatever is to hand.  A handy trowel maybe?  It works but as it has no sides it holds very little it makes pot filling much longer than it could be.  The alternative is to pick up the bag of compost and tip it.  Cue compost all over the floor and an aching back at home time!  So, i say even though you can get by without a garden scoop make 2020 the year you treat yourself to a Bamboo Scoop!

    The new Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is made from the same tough material as the Bamboo pots.  If treated nicely (don't leave it down the side of the shed in the rain all winter!) It will last 5 years +.  After use it is fully compostable.  Just break into pieces to speed the process and add to your compost heap.  See exactly how, and learn more about the material in this video. If you have a trusty plastic one then do keep using it until it gives up the ghost. But when it comes to replacing it, the more sustainable Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is the way to go.

    Bamboo Plant Markers

    new_rpoduct_2019_bamboo_plant_markerAnother first from Haxnicks.  The first sustainable Bamboo Plant Markers.  Their purpose needs no explanation but I'd just add they are compostable just like the rest of the Bamboo range and free of BPAs and petroleum based plastics.  And they will help you remember where you planted your carrots. Because, lets face it, although you are 'sure' you will remember - if you are like me, you never will!

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: Cauliflower

    Growing Cauliflower

    cauliflower_purple

    Cauliflower can be a tricker crop than many to succeed with, but the effort is well rewarded, with beautiful white or purple heads (also known as curds) that taste delicious and leave the shop bought versions behind.

    Soil and Aspect

    Cauliflowers need a well-consolidated soil which is deep, fertile and moisture retentive, so best to dig several months before planting, incorporating well-rotted manure or garden compost.  Alternatively plant after a crop of nitrogen-fixing green manure.

    Best planted in an open sunny site, it is important to avoid frost pockets if growing winter varieties.

    Sowing Cauliflower

    Sow the seeds of summer varieties in a cool greenhouse in mid-winter for an early crop. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough and harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out in rows 50cm apart with protection in early spring.

    Autumn and Winter varieties can be sown outdoors in the late spring.  Sow thinly in nursery beds before planting in a permanent site. Thin to 5cm apart and transplant seedlings when they are 10cm tall and bearing 5 to 6 leaves - take care in lifting them.  Remember to water in well.

    Depending on the variety the final spacing should be 60-70 cm apart.

    Aftercare

    After planting, mulch the crop with garden compost - quick to produce in a Rollmix Composter.

    Water in dry periods with occasional feed and cover with netting to protect from birds - Giant Easy Net Tunnel will help shade from the sun too.

    Fold the leaves up around the head to protect from rain and frost.  Then use collars around the stems to protect from cabbage root fly.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting when the heads are small so that not all of the crop is taken at the same time.  Florets separate or turn brown when they are too mature.  So better to opt for smaller specimens than leave it too late.

    Cauliflowers can be stored on the stem, hung upside down in a cool dark place for up to three weeks - mist occasionally.

    Pests and Diseases

    Cauliflowers are susceptible to the issues as cabbages - pick up some tips in our Spring Cabbages Blog.

     

     

     

  • Grow at Home: nutritious Microgreens

    What are Microgreens?

    new_rpoduct_2019_microgreens_closeup

    Microgreens are tiny, edible, immature veg plants.  They are ready - from seed to plate - in just a few weeks so are satisfyingly quick to grow.  They need very little space or equipment so are great for beginners or urban gardeners.  You can eat both the leaves and stems and harvest them simply with scissors or snips as and when you need them.

    As an extra plus side they are packed with a higher percentage of nutrients than their more mature versions.  Do not confuse them with sprouts which are generally grown in a jar and are germinated seeds that are eaten root, seed and shoot.

    So if you are looking for freshness and want to to make your home cooking a little more "fine dining"  without breaking the bank then try microgreens.  They can be used in many dishes and will add flavour, colour and texture to even a simple sandwich.

    Which seeds to choose?

    Most of the veg you would normally grow in the garden such as beetroot, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, salad greens, herbs etc can be grown as microgreens.

    You can buy specific microgreen seeds which are sold in most garden centres.  This is a good place for beginners to start as they are specifically designed for easy, successful growing and often contain a colour coordinated mix which will look good too.   If you have seeds that weren't sown last year though - or know someone who does -  it is worth giving these a go as microgreens too.

    Microgreens are usually grown inside.  They can be grown outside in warmer months too though.  As you will have to do more pest protection plus remember to water them it is probably easier to keep them on the windowsill where they will get your attention though.

    Sowing Microgreens

    Take a shallow container or seed tray - the Haxnicks Bamboo Seed tray is ideal.  Next take a Haxnicks Microgreens Mat and place it into the tray.  The Microgreens mat is a made of natural materials making the whole set up plastic free.

    If you want to use a different seed tray or a container like the plastic container your grapes came in or an old take-away container, then just poke some holes in the bottom to make sure there is drainage and cut the mat to fit.

    • Check the seed packet for any special instructions.  Sprinkle the seeds evenly onto the mat
    • Water lightly - or mist if you have a suitable sprayer.
    • Place it on a warm, sunny (ideally south facing) windowsill in direct sunlight.   If the weather is not too warm then you may wish to cover with a piece of glass or clear plastic to encourage germination.
    • Mist or water the mat once or twice a day- depending on the temperature - to keep it moist not wet.  Sprouts should appear within around four to seven days.  Continue to water once or twice daily.
    • Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover (if you used one.) Continue to mist once or twice a day.

    Harvesting

    microgreens_in_seed_trayThey should be ready in around two to three weeks.  Harvesting is simply a case of taking scissors and snipping off a few.  Cut just above the mat as and when you need them.

    This is where the Microgreens mat really comes into its own.  The microgreens need to be washed but as they have not been in soil this process is much easier than it would if they had been grown in compost,  Simply wash them  as you would salad and pat dry on paper towels.

    Use in sandwiches or to scatter over salads, soups and other dishes to give an extra punch of flavour.

    You can pick what you need and leave the rest to continue growing.  However, if you feel the microgreens are getting a little large then you can cut them.  Store them unwashed  in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.  Then just remove, wash and use as required.

    Pest and Diseases

    As you are growing inside pests are much less likely but light may be an issue early in the year.  Like any plant, Microgreens need direct sunlight to thrive.  Around four to five hours a day should be enough.  However, watch out for spindly, pale growth which might indicate insufficient light.  If you find they aren't getting enough then either use a grow light or wait until a little later in the year to try again when days are longer and can meet the plants' light needs

  • Grow at Home: Shallots

    Shallots are a member of the onion family.  Divine in stews where they enrich the whole dish as they melt into oozy gorgeousness.  They can also be pickled if you like a crunchy tang.

    Sowing Shallots

    banana_shallots_cut_in_half_on_slateShallots can be grown from seed but sets (immature bulbs) are the more common way to start them. Sets are quicker to mature and better in colder regions.  They are also harder for pests such as birds to unearth giving a greater success rate.  Seeds are, of course, more economical as you get more of them for your money.

    Plants are easy to grow and can be grown in any well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. They need a long growing period but make a good companion plant so can be planted between faster-growing crops.

    Preparing the Ground

    To prepare your bed add some organic matter such as manure or garden compost.  Also add in a moderate dressing of any general purpose fertiliser.

    Plant the sets 10" (25cm) apart in rows 16" (40cm) apart from mid-November to mid-March. Gently push them into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them.

    Birds can be a problem lifting the sets; covering with fleece will prevent this.  If this is a problem in your area you may actually want to sow the sets into Rootrainers instead.  See this Exploring the Rhizosphere blog if you'd like to know why this works!

    If you would rather start shallots from seed, sow from March to April 1cm (½in) deep in rows 12 in (30cm) apart. Each seed produces a single shallot. Thin seedlings to anything from 1-3in (2.5-7.5cm) apart, depending on how large you want the individual shallots to develop.

    Growing Shallots

    You will need to keep them weeded so that they don't get overwhelmed.  The SpeedHoe or SpeedHoe Precision if you have planted them in a busier bed will both be perfect for this task.  Water if the weather is dry.  Try to avoid overhead watering as this could encourage Onion Mildew (see below). Remove any flower spikes as soon as they are seen.

    Harvesting

    In around July the foliage will start to turn yellow.  this means that the shallots are ready to harvest. Use a fork to lift the bulbs.  Separate the clusters and allow to dry. Store them like onions in a Haxnicks Veg Sack in a frost free place.

    Pest & Diseases

    Onion white rot - A soil-borne fungus that can cause yellowing and wilting of the foliage and  rotting of the roots and bulb below the soil. A white fluffy fungus appears on the base of the bulb and later becomes covered in small, round black structures.

    There is no real cure for onion white rot once it is in the soil. Get rid of contaminated plants.  Take care to avoid spreading it to other sites on muddy boots or tools used in the area.

    Onion downy mildew - another fungal disease that damages foliage and bulbs. Watch out for this when there are very damp conditions.   It leads to reduced yields.

    Try to avoid it by using the recommended spacings and not sowing plants too densely.  Weed regularly too.  This will ensure that they have plenty of light and air around them.   Remove any affected leaves.

     

  • Grow at Home: Spring Onions

    spring_onion_cut

    These easy to grow and quick to harvest salad essentials can be eaten either raw or cooked. Spring Onions must be eaten fresh and cannot be stored like other onions - a perfect reason to grow them at home and enjoy fresh from the garden. Sow continuously throughout the growing season and harvest eight weeks after sowing.

    Soil and Aspect

    Like most onions, Spring Onions prefer a light soil, but there will grow in most soils that are rich in organic matter. Crop rotation helps prevent infection from pests and diseases. They can also be grown in window boxes or planters in a peat free potting mix such as Growlite.

    Spring Onions grow best in an open sunny site, but can tolerate some shade.

    Sowing

    Sow every three weeks from early Spring to late summer for a continuous crop from spring through to early Autumn. To harvest an early Spring crop sow ‘White Lisbon Winter Hardy’ or any other hardy variety in late summer or early autumn. This crop will overwinter and be ready for picking in early Spring. Sow crops thinly in rows 1cm deep with 10cm between each row.

    Aftercare

    Water in dry condition and weed during the growing season. Protect overwintering spring onions with a cloche in cold weather - Easy Tunnel would be ideal.

    Spring_onion_tops

    Harvesting and storing

    From sowing to harvesting takes around seven to eight weeks. Use a small hand fork to loosen the ground before pulling. Thin out the crop when harvesting, taking out every other plant and leaving the rest to grow on.

    Pests and diseases

    Onion fly is the main pest, turning the leaves yellow as the bulb is eaten by the maggots eventually killing the plants. Onion eelworm is another major pest killing young plants and damaging older ones by softening the bulbs. Destroy affected plants. Diseases such as onion white rot and onion downy mildew can also affect the plant. This is not a severe problem, however as their lifespan is so short – move to another growing site if symptoms appear.

     

     

  • Grow at Home - Pak Choi

    Pak_Choi_cut_on_white_Background

    The standard Pak Choi (sometimes known as Bok Choy) is juicy, crisp and fast-maturing with a really good, strong flavour, good resistance to bolting and fast growth.  A welcome green leaf in any winter kitchen garden.

    The green-stemmed cultivars tend to have a better flavour than white-stemmed varieties.  They can  also be eaten raw, stir fried or lightly steamed and served with soy sauce.

    Soil and Aspect

    Grow Pak Choi in full sun or part shade in well-drained but moisture retentive soil rich in organic matter. Add  compost to  beds before planting and mulch with compost again at mid season to help with moisture retention.

    As it is shallow-rooting Pak Choi is ideal for container growing - try growing on a patio or balcony in Vigoroot or Patio Planters 

    Sowing Pak Choi

    Pak choi is a versatile plant that can be cultivated as a cut-and-come-again crop - ready to harvest in as little as 30 days - or harvested as a mature plant.

    It is best sown before or after the hottest part of the year, either around April, just after the last frost date in your area or in August for a late-season crop.

    Cut and come again seedlings can be sown any time from April if you use bolt-resistant varieties and offer some shade in the hottest weather -  Easy Net Tunnels will help reduce bolting.

    Sow seeds in situ as soon as the soil is workable (early crops should be sown under cloches) and continue sowing until late summer.

    Space 15cm apart for small varieties, 20cm apart for medium-size and 35cm apart for large.

    Aftercare

    Pak choi has shallow roots so needs watering little and often in dry spells rather than drenching.

    A nitrogen rich liquid feed will help produce a bumper crop and shade from Easy Net Tunnels will prevent bolting.

    Harvesting and storage

    Pak_Choi_flowersA Cut and come again crop can be harvested at any stage from 4-13cm high.

    Depending on conditions, this could be within three weeks of sowing and two or three cuts should be possible. A headed crop (ready after around six weeks) can be lifted entirely.  Alternatively, you can cut 2.5cm above ground level and leave to re-sprout.

    Less likely to go limp than lettuce, Pak Choi is best kept cool and eaten within a week.

    Pest and Diseases

    Pak Choi is susceptible to all of the brassica problems.  Flea beetle, aphids, cabbage whitefly, caterpillars, root fly, slugs, snails and birds.

    But don't be put off!  As it is so fast growing, it is perfectly possible to avoid most issues with some protective netting and regular watering. This will keep the plants in top condition.

    Companion planting with Onions or Garlic can be very effective.  A row of sacrificial radishes is also good to draw the flee beetle away!

  • Winter Plant Protection - introducing the Green Fern Fleece

    Good morning Gardeners! Are you wrapping up to go outside today? Coat, scarf, gloves, woolly hat perhaps? Well, if so, then spare a thought for your more vulnerable plants that might need something to keep the cold, damp and frostbite at bay.

    Fleece is the perfect answer.  And until now, unless you want to bandage your plants in unruly loose fleece, the Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jacket has been the only solution. This year we have added a new product to the range though.  The Green Fern Easy Fleece Jacket.  So if your plant is somewhere where you will see it, and you prefer it to look more leafy then you now have a choice.

    Both versions are a very effective way to look after larger tender or exotic plants.  In 3 sizes, small, medium & large they work for hanging baskets, and problem plants such as acers or tree ferns.  Simply slip them over the top of your plant and tighten the draw string.  If its going to be very cold then you can double or even triple them up by just adding another fleece on top.  Then if you have a mild day you can loosen the drawstring and take them off.  Exactly as you would with your own jacket when the temperature rises.

    Haxnicks small Fleece Jackets for Winter Plant ProtectionWe often receive questions about looking after container grown plants in the winter.  One of the most common being cordyline palms. I would suggest gathering all the leaves together and holding them in an upright position with some string or Soft-tie. When it is really cold though, an Easy Fleece Jacket or Green Fern Easy Fleece Jacket (or two) should help to protect the foliage.  Importantly it will stop the frost getting to the growing point of the palm. Do make sure to remove the jackets when the weather is warmer to avoid rotting though.

    If you have smaller plants in beds, or rows of veg on the go, then the Extra thick Fleece blanket is another way to protect your plants.  Simply secure with fabric pegs to keep the cold out.  Or for individual plants then Victorian Bell cloches will keep out the cold.  Watch renowned horticulturist and BBC broadcaster, Pippa Greenwood explain how Haxnicks Bells can help.

     

  • Grow at Home: Chives

    Chives_flowers_on_plantsChives are a low maintenance perennial herb.  The botanical name, Allium schoenoprasum, derives from the Greek meaning reed-like leek - a very accurate description as they are a member of the onion family.  Their leaves therefore have a mild onion flavour and are great when chopped up finely and added to dishes.  They add that little extra to a potato salad and give scrambled eggs a boost. 

    They are a great addition to your diet as they are a rich source of vitamin K, C and folic acid and minerals such as manganese, magnesium and iron. As well as eating the leaves, they also have edible pink flowers that make an attractive garnish for salads.

    Sowing

    In early spring, sow a few seeds thinly across the surface a 3 inch or 4 inch pot or into plugs.  Cover with a thin layer of vermiculite, water and place in a heated propagator or warm windowsill to germinate.

    If you forget to sow seeds or want to save time, buy ready-grown plants.

    Growing

    Chives form 1ft (30cm) tall clumps.  They grow well in ground or in pots of soil-based compost  preferring a moisture retentive, well-drained soil.  Outside, plant them in a sunny or partially shaded position.

    Chives are very low maintenance.  Just keep them well watered, especially during long dry spells in summer.

    Lift plants every 3 years or so and divide them.  Simply cut with a sharp knife and replant the sections.  This will rejuvenate congested clumps in the ground or pots.  If they are in containers, either divide them or you could move them to a slightly larger pot.

    Chives die back in late autumn. Clear away any dead leaves to discourage pests.

    Harvesting

    Chives_chopped_and_cutYou have a win win situation with chives.  The more you cut the more they will produce. Simply snip the leaves with scissors close to the base of the plant.  To keep plants going, remove the flowers as they start to fade.  Don't forget to or use them for your salads.

    Chives are best used fresh.  If you want to store them then snip them up finely, pack into an ice-cube trays and add a little water and freeze.

    Pests & Diseases

    Aphids: Greenfly may be seen on the soft shoot tips of plants.  If you catch them early then you can just wash them off or pick them off with finger and thumb and squash them.

    Leek rust: This is a fungal disease causing bright yellow spots on the leaves.  You are more likely to see this when the weather has been wet.  Mild attacks of rust won’t harm the plant.  There is no control for rust once the plant has it.  so the best option is prevention.  Avoid crowding the plants, to keep humidity down.  Cut any badly affected leaves and don’t grow other members of the onion family: garlic, leeks or onions in the same spot for three years.

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