Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home: Green beans

    Green beans come in bush or pole varieties and within these there are many, varied cultivars from runner beans to dwarf beans.  Traditionally called "green" beans the cultivars come in a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours including purple, orange, yellow and mottled.  So plenty to brighten up the veg garden and put on a show.

    What to plantBeans_on_plant

    What to plant depends a lot on what you like to eat, when you want to eat it and a little on the space you have.

    Bush green bean varieties grow to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. They come in a week or two earlier than pole beans, but produce fewer beans

    Pole bean varieties can grow 8-10 feet (2.5-3 m), and need a trellis or something to climb on for support. They’re called “pole beans” because one popular way to grow them is in “teepees” made of bamboo poles or branches.  Pole beans take longer to start producing than bush beans, but they produce for a longer period and seem to have a bit more flavour.

    Runner beans are the ancestors of the modern green bean varieties and grow to 10-12 feet (3-4 m),  Many are put off by the stringiness of the shop bought ones but picking them fresh from your own garden is a different matter so these should still be on your list of potentials.

    If you really like green beans and have the space, then plant both bush and pole beans.  The bush beans will come in early in the summer, followed by the pole beans which will keep producing after the bush beans are done.

    Sowing

     

    If you have space, start the beans off indoors on a windowsill or in a propagator, in late April or May. Sow a single seed 1" (2.5cm) deep in Rootrainers or small pots.  Put them outside when the weather is good to harden them off.  They are a tender plant though that doesn’t tolerate frost so wait to plant them out until the risk of frost has passed.  Usually in late May/early June in the UK.  If in doubt (and to give them an extra boost) then once outside, cover them with a cloche or a tunnel to get them off to a great start.

    You can sow them directly outside from May to July but virtually no one does! Some types such as Climbing French beans will crop continually into September. But dwarf French beans crop only over a few weeks, so you may want to make an additional later sowing.

    Beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil.  Fork in some well-rotted manure before you plant yours out.

    Container Growing

    bean_planterIt is perfectly possible to grow beans in containers.  The Pea and Bean Planter holds 6 bean plants in the space of little bigger than a tea tray.  It has pockets to slot your canes into so makes it easy to support them.  This planter allows those with just a balcony or very little outside space to enjoy a summer's worth of home grown beans.

    You can also grow beans in Vegetable Planters or even a 5L Vigoroot Pot with a Water Saucer so the plant can take water as and when it needs it.  Beans will usually need a much larger volume of compost than this to grow successfully.  But, because Vigoroot air-prunes the roots then a compact 5L pot is all you need.

     

     

    SupportCane_bean_climbing

    When properly spaced, bush varieties grow together into small bushes and support each other, and need no trellising.

    All the climbing varieties need support though.  From the traditional A Frame or tippee arrangements of 6' to 8' bamboo canes held with ties to the sturdier no nonsense Steel Pea & Bean Frame.  This frame is great for beans, peas and even sweet peas.  It is a perfect option if you find tying canes together to be a bit too fiddly.  But your veg garden doesn't have to be boring, there are also more ornamental frames such as the Square Ornamental Frame or even a statement piece like the Eiffel Tower which could make your garden stand out from the crowd. 

    Whatever method you choose, loosely tie the plants to your support an they will naturally start to climb. Once the plant reaches the top of the support, remove the growing point. This will encourage side stems.

    Flower setbean_flowers

    Runner beans sometimes fail to set (there are flowers but no beans)  This was a particular problem in 2018 when there was actually a summer in the UK (!) The prolonged spell of really hot weather meant that there was insufficient moisture and flowers did not set.  To avoid this ensure the soil is constantly moist and doesn't dry out and mulch in June to retain moisture.  Watering the plants in the evening will also help and gently spraying the whole plant including near the flowers to increase the humidity encourages flowers to set.

    Flower set is better in alkaline, chalky soils. If your soil is neutral or acidic adding lime will help.

    French beans set flowers more easily than other varieties so if this is a persistent problem then it might pay to choose a different variety the following year..

    Harvesting

    Bush beans will take about 50 to 60 days to be ready to harvest.  Pole varieties will be a little longer at 70 to 80 days.

    Harvest the beans regularly as this will stimulate the plant to produce more beans.  Picking regularly will also prevent any pods reaching maturity.  Once a pod reaches maturity the plant will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. and the bean season will be over too soon.

     

    Youtube_LogoDid you know that Haxnicks has a YouTube Channel?  Subscribe Here for general gardening tips and to see how to use our products to get bigger, better yields from your crops, tackle pasts and generally make your gardening life easier.

  • How to Protect Carrots from Carrot Fly

    You might think it is too early to think about carrot fly.  However, there is a lot you can do at the planting stage to ensure you get a healthy crop.  So well worth reading this now before you sow.

    If you have yet to experience that awful sinking feeling of lifting carrot after carrot riddled with dark crevices, tunnelled out by the dreaded carrot fly larvae, then consider yourself lucky. But for those of you that have, fear not! Haxnicks have been fighting various garden pests for over 20 years, and have picked up a few tricks along the way...

    How to protect your Carrots from Carrot Fly with Haxnicks
    Image courtesy of www.morguefile.com

    But first... some facts about carrot fly:

    • Carrot fly also affects other vegetables in the parsley family, such as Parsnip, Celery, Dill, Coriander, Fennel and Celeriac
    • They are attracted to the smell of bruised foliage
    • The larvae that damage the roots can continue to feed through the autumn into winter, moving between plants
    • The adult carrot fly is approximately 9mm long.  It is a slender, metallic, greenish-black fly with yellow legs and head. Larvae are creamy white, tapering maggots

    How can you tell if your carrots are infected? - Check for reddening of the foliage and stunted growth

    So now we know a little bit about the pest itself, we can look at some of the ways which we can protect our crops from infestations:

    1.  Make sure to avoid using previously infested ground. Carrot fly larvae are capable of surviving through the winter.  So avoid re-sowing any vegetable from the Parsley family (see above)
    2. Avoid sowing during the main egg-laying periods, which are (for most parts of the UK): mid-April to the end of May & Mid-July to the end of August.
    3. Sow disease and pest resistant varieties such as Fly Away F1 and Resistafly F1, available from garden centres and online seed suppliers.
    4. Erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel - with 0.6mm netting it will keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.
    5. Sow thinly so as to avoid ‘thinning out’, releasing the smell of bruised foliage
    6. Thin out or harvest on a dry evening with no wind – or use scissors so that no bruising of foliage occurs
    7. Try companion planting - growing varieties of pungent Rosemary, Sage or Marigold as a deterrent/’smokescreen’
    8. Grow your carrots in a tall planters - for example the Haxnicks Oxford fabric planter or Carrot Patio Planters
    9. Lift main carrot crops by Winter, especially if any are infected – don’t leave them in the ground to serve as food for overwintering larvae.

    Thinning out tip: Use scissors to avoid bruising the foliage (and releasing the carrot-fly attracting scent)

    To find out more about carrot fly, and the other pests that may arrive in your garden check out Pippa Greenwood's excellent RHS book for plant by plant advice on Pests and Diseases

    Have you any experience of carrot fly damage? What do you think went wrong? Please let us know your thoughts using the comments section below.

  • 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: Tomatoes

    Beef_Tomato_on_plantTomatoes are an easy and rewarding crop to grow.  Quite often they are the first plant a child will toddle home from school with and are a perfect introduction to growing your own food.
    The main reason to grow them though, is flavour.  Supermarket tomatoes are grown to travel well and stay looking good for as long as possible on the shelves. They are often picked before they are ripe too which is not ideal.  Flavour is on the list of criteria but much lower down than it should be.

    Technical Tomato Terms

    First let's start with some technical tomato terms that you may come across.  These will help you choose the right variety for the space you plan to grow them in.

    Indeterminate or Cordon varieties

    This is your typical, tall tomato plant.  They have a single long stem and usually grow up canes or twine up to 6' (1.8m) in height.  Cordon varieties produce side shoots which need to be removed, as they appear, or they will grow into large lateral branches leaving a tangled plant with a lower yield of ripe fruit.

    Determinate or bush varieties

    These are smaller tomato plants that are great for growing in containers, hanging baskets or anywhere where space is limited.  Bush varieties are sprawling rather than having a single central stem.  Because they are low and sprawling they are suitable for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels.  They spread about 2 or 3 foot and removing side shoots is not necessary as the bush is ‘self stopping’.

    Dwarf varieties

    These are very small and compact plants growing no more than 8 inches high. Ideal for container growing.

    Truss

    A truss is a group or cluster of smaller stems where flowers and the subsequent tiny green tomatoes develop.  Much of the support and pruning of the plant is done in relation to where the bunches of tomatoes, or 'trusses', are growing so it is useful to know this term.

    Where to Grow

    Tomatoes require full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK where summers are unpredictable and sunlight can be scarce.  Position them against a wall or fence if possible to get the best results.  Tomatoes need good fertile soil. Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.

    Container Growing3_cane_tomato_planter

    If you don't have a large garden or allotment and want to grow in a container or planter then Haxnicks have a big variety to choose from.  Which container you choose depends on the variety you have selected above.

    There is a useful table at the bottom of this blog which shows the whole range of planters with a  short description and link to find out more.

     

    When & How to Grow

    Sow seed indoors in late February to June.  If sowing early then use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill.

    Tomatoes can be sown 3/4" (2cm) deep in compost filled seed trays.  Try and keep your seedlings warm and give them as much light as you can.  Too little light will result in tall and weak seedlings.  The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin. Compost should also be kept moist and should never be allowed to dry out.

    When your seedlings have 5 or 6 leaves you will need to prick them out and pot them on into 10" (22cm) pots filled with a rich potting compost.  When they are 12" (30cm) tall move them to their final position in your plot or container. To grow really strong plants you can transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into Rootrainers and plant them out after around 6 weeks when they should have developed a super-strong root system.

     

    Support

    Supported_red_tomatoes

    Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow.  Canes have long been the traditional way to do this.  If using canes then ensure that the plants are tied gently to allow the stem to grow in both width and height.  Tying too tightly will restrict growth and damage the plant.  A frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster is an ideal way to gently support the plants without damaging them.  A properly supported plant can put all of its energy into producing fruit leading to higher yields.  So if you want to triumph at the village show or simply want to be self sufficient in tomatoes then this could be your secret weapon.

    Pinching Out

    If you have chosen a cordon variety you will need to pinch out side shoots as the plants grow.  You will find these shoots between the main stem and the branches.  To the novice gardener it seems like this will mean you get less tomatoes but the opposite is actually true.  Pinch them out when they are 1" (2.5cm) long and this will add light and air to your plant, keeping it healthy and allowing it to concentrate its energy on fruit production.

    Pruning

    When the plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.

    Watering and Feeding

    Tomatoes love a regular, consistent water supply so water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist.  Fluctuating moisture levels can cause the fruit to split.
    Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set.

    If you are growing in containers or growbags there will be restricted root space so you will need to feed them more.  You will also need to pay close attention to watering.  Some self watering planters such as Vigoroot Easy Table Garden and Vigoroot Self Watering Tower Garden will make this easier but containers generally do require frequent watering.

    Pests & Diseases

    Blossom End Rot: the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
    It is caused by irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil.  Consistent regular watering and feeding will help avoid this disease.

    Tomato blight: this causes the fruit and foliage rot and is most common in wet weather.  Avoid planting in areas that have had plants with the disease in.  Instead grow your tomatoes elsewhere in containers and leave these areas to rest for a year or two.  Choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.

    Tomato leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes and rarely seen in outdoor grown ones.  Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface and a pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found under the leaf. It causes significant yield loss.  To avoid this, keep the greenhouse well ventilated or choose a resistant variety of plant.

    Tomato splitting and cracking: This is to be avoided as it leaves the plant vulnerable to being infected by a fungus, such as grey mould.  To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. Feed and water regularly to maintain a constant soil moisture level.

    Companion planting Growing garlic and nasturtiums near your plants will help deter bugs.

    Harvesting

    Pick the fruit when it is ripe.  At the end of season you may have green tomatoes and not enough sunlight to ripen them.  If this happens then you can either make delicious Apple & Green Tomato Chutney or you can try and ripen them.  There are several ways to do this:

    • lift the plants with unripe fruit and lay them on straw under cloches
    • place fruits in a warm, dark place and wait
    • put the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which will release a gas that aids ripening.
    Try something new? Mycorrhizal Fungi

    If you have grown tomatoes before and want to try something extra to boost your crop then tomatoes respond well to inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi.  The fungi and the tomato plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi form a network of hyphae which transport water and minerals to the plant and in return the roots produce sugars to nourish the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are available as a powder to coat seedlings when planting out.

    Which Haxnicks Container is right for me?

    Planter
    (click on title to see details)
    Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties Determinate or bush varieties Dwarf About this product
    Tomato Crop Booster X A frame that properly supports tomato plants giving a higher yield.  Poly cover sold separately to turn it into a mini greenhouse.
    Tomato (climbing) Patio Planter X Planter with 3 sided plant support included.
    Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack) X X X 2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.
    Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter X X X Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato.  Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants
    Grower System X X A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.
    Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden X X A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.
    Vigoroot Easy Table Garden X X Vigoroot fabric planter with integral self-watering system & poly protection cover - a raised bed, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one!
    Other Tomato Accessories
    Tomato Tubes X X X Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.
    Twist Up tomato Cloche X
  • Grow at Home: Carrots

    There are few vegetables that taste better when they are home grown than carrots.  Freshly pulled, sweet and full of favour compared to what can be bland and watery 'shop bought' versions.  You don't need to stick to traditional orange either.  There are purple, yellow and white varieties to try and many shapes and sizes as well.

    Where to grow carrots

    Although they will grow in heavy clay, carrots do best on light sand soils where the drainage is good and root growth is not restricted.  The soil should be free of stones and not too rich - both will cause the carrot to 'fork' so avoid manuring ground you plan to sow carrots in next season.

    As with many crops, an open sunny site will suit carrots best.  Carrots also grow well in containers and Haxnicks do a specific Carrot Patio Planter.  The planter means that anyone can grow carrots even if they don't have a garden.  Plus no digging is needed which is a bonus, simply fill it with compost before planting your seeds.  

    Sowing

    Sow thinly outside from early spring or under cloches from late winter - Easy Tunnel would be ideal to keep them warm.  Plant around 1cm deep with 15-20cm between the rows.  If you make a new sowing every few weeks through to early summer you'll be well supplied throughout the year.

    If your soil is very heavy you may like to dig deep along the trench and loosen the soil with a mix of compost and some grit and then sow on top of this.

    Thin the seedlings to around 5 cm apart. Do this on a still evening to avoid attracting carrot flies and bury the thinnings deep in the compost heap to hide the smell.

    Another way to reduce the chance of carrot fly is to erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel - with 0.6mm netting will also keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.

    Aftercare

    Weed the crop regularly making sure not to disturb the roots too much.  A good mulch will help to retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay - keep the seedlings well watered in dry weather.

    Harvesting and storage

    Start to harvest from late Spring onwards - usually 7 - 8 weeks after sowing. Lift carefully with a fork rather than pulling, especially when the soil is dry.

    Maincrop carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as required.  Later in the year you may need to cover with straw of fleece as the temperature drops.

    Alternatively you can lift your crop in mid Autumn and store in a box of sand or dry potting compost.  Trim the foliage to 1cm and make sure the carrots are not touching. Stored in this way they should last throughout the winter.

    Pests and diseases

    The main pest is Carrot Root Fly which lays it's eggs on the plant and can destroy the whole crop.

    There are several ways to deter the fly:

    • A later sowing in early summer will avoid the main egg laying periods in late Spring and early Autumn
    • Lift early summer crops before the risk of infestation
    • Use a micromesh barrier around the crop - the carrot fly stays close to the ground and so will not approach the plants from above
    • Companion planting of strong smelling crops such as onion will mask the carrot smell which attracts the fly

    For more information on carrot flies and tips on how to get a successful crop see our Carrot Fly Blog

  • 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.

    Curing & Storing

    After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. 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. 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.

     

  • Pests & Diseases: Asparagus Beetle

    Asparagus beetle (Crioceris asparagi) is a small beetle that affects vegetable asparagus, but not ornamental Asparagus species.

    Symptoms

    common_asparagus_beetle

    Affected plants may have crooked spears and chewed bark and foliage which can dry up and turn yellowish brown.  You will also see the beetles and/or their grubs on the plant.  The beetles emerge from the soil in late spring and lay their eggs on the stems and leaves.

    They are most active from May to September.  Even if the infestation is after the cropping season, action is needed as the damage they do can weaken the plant and affect the crop the following year.

    Eggs

    The eggs are black and elongated and attach to the both spears and leaves of the plant by their end.  The eggs will not harm the plant but he more you can get rid of, the fewer beetles will be produced.  They hatch in about a week.
    Size:               1/16" (1.5mm) long

    Grubsasparagus_beetle_grub

    The grubs are creamy black in colour with 3 pairs of legs toward the head. There are two generations between late spring and early autumn.  They feed on the plants for around two weeks before falling to the ground and pupating in the soil.
    Size:               3/8" (8-10mm) long

    Adults

    After pupating in the soil for about a week the adults emerge.  The adults are easy to spot as they are black with 6 creamy white patches on their wing cases and a reddish thorax (see photo above).  The beetles overwinter in the soil and they can fly so will re-infest the plants from nearby if not disposed of.
    Size:               1/4" (6-8mm) long

    Control

    A light infestation will not affect future cropping and it is perfectly possible to pick the grubs and adults off by hand if you have a smallish asparagus bed.   Drop the beetles into a bucket of soapy water so they drown.  Going forward, cut back the old stems in autumn and burn them to get rid of overwintering beetles.  Also, clear up the bed so there is no leaf litter for them to live in.

    In the unlikely event that you have a severe infestation and can't combat it with hand removal then it can be sprayed with the organic insecticide pyrethrum.  Avoid doing this when the plants are in flower though as this can harm pollinators such as bees.

    Other Asparagus Pests & Diseases

    Crown Rot  If you don’t support the foliage, then as the wind blows the stems they can create a funnel shape in the soil around them which channels water to the crowns and can lead to crown rot.  So if weather is particularly windy you may wish to watch out for this and support the leaves.

    Spotted Asparagus Beetlespotted_asparagus_beetle

    (Crioceris duodecimpunctata) Like the common Asparagus Beetle the Spotted variety lay eggs on asparagus, feed on it - often on the berries - but they do less damage.  They arrive in the garden slightly later in the spring, so the adults have less opportunity to feed on the spears, and they only lay eggs on the foliage. Because the larvae feed mostly on the berries instead of the foliage, it doesn’t affect the plant’s health as much.

    Violet Root Rot  This is very bad news.  It is a distinctive purple looking mould and there is no known cure.  The only solution is to burn affected plants.  Wet soil exacerbates this fungus so improve drainage in the bed before considering replanting.

    Slugs & Snails These can nibble the tips as they come up so use the usual methods such as Slug traps to keep them away.  If slugs and snails are a real problem then check out our recent blog post on them Pests & Diseases: Slugs & Snails 

    Aphids Both the Potato-Aphid (Macrosiphum Euphorbiae) and the Melon-Cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii) are fond of asparagus.  Try to remove them if possible as they will weaken the plant and may even infect it with Asparagus Virus.  The virus has no obvious symptoms but it weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to other pathogens

    Growing Tips

    For more tips and tricks on growing asparagus have a read of our Grow At Home: Asparagus blog

  • Grow at Home: Asparagus

    What it is

    Asparagus (Asparagus Officinalis) is a perennial flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus. It is long lived and once established the plants can last for 20 to 30 years.   Its young shoots are a much sought after spring vegetable.

    Types

    Asparagus_spears_in_soil

    Asparagus is either male or female. The male plants produce more plentiful and larger spears so gardeners often prefer them.  The female plants expend a huge amount of energy producing seeds and so provide less for your table.

    In the past all asparagus varieties produced a mix of male and female plants. However, ways have now been found to effectively propagate all-male varieties of asparagus.  So look out for all male varieties such as the Jersey Series when buying your seeds or crowns.

    Timings

    Asparagus is a vegetable for the patient gardener.   It can be grown from seed or from mature crowns bought from a garden centre. The plant needs to establish a strong root system though so, if grown from seed, the shoots will not be ready for harvest for 3 or even 4 years.  Even if grown from a crown, the shoots should not be harvested until the year following planting.  In short, asparagus epitomises the saying "Good things come to those that wait"!

    Seeds

    IN GREENHOUSE/ WINDOWSILL:             February
    Depth: 1/2" (1cm)

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                       April to June

    Crowns

    SOW CROWNS DIRECTLY OUTDOORS:   April to June
    Depth: 6" (15cm)

    Both

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                     30” (80cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                  20” (50cm)

    HARVEST:                                                    May and June – (once plant is mature - see Timing above)

    Planting

    Asparagus does not like to have its feet “wet,” so be sure that your garden bed has excellent drainage.  Raised Beds are a great place to plant asparagus and mean a lot less digging.

    How to plant

    Firstly, clear the bed and make sure there are no weeds.  Then, work in a 2"-4" layer of compost, manure or soil improver.
    Prepare shallow trenches about 12" (30cm) wide and 6" (15cm) deep.  You might want to make these slightly deeper if you have sandy soil (8"/ 20cm) or slightly shallower if you have heavy soil (4"/ 10cm)
    Space the crowns 15" to 20" (38-50cm) apart in rows that are 30" (80cm) apart. Spread the roots out in the trench with the buds pointing upward.
    Lastly, once planted, completely fill in the trench with soil.  In your grandfather's day many people used to gradually fill the trenches with soil as the plants grew but no one seems to do this anymore.  When the trench is filled, add a 4-8" (10-20 cm) layer of mulch and water regularly.

    For the first year, just let the asparagus grow to give the crown a chance to get well established. If growing from seed then repeat this for the next 2 to 3 years! The following spring, remove the old fern growth from the previous year.  You should see new spears begin to emerge.

    Pests

    Though not a huge threat, the main threat to your asparagus is the Asparagus Beetle - read more about this in out Pests & Diseases: Asparagus Beetle Blog

    Harvesting

    Only harvest from established plants - see Timings above.  Allow the shoots to grow to roughly 6” (15cm) then cut it 2” (5cm) under the ground with a sharp knife.  This will give a partially blanched stem where the lower stem has had no light.  The French, who are great lovers of asparagus,  like to grow it under mounds, blanching them when the tops peek out.  They then cut them 10” (25cm) under the ground.  So if you prefer your asparagus white then this is an option.

    The spears grow quickly so leave it no longer than every other day to check for spears ready to harvest.  They will quickly become woody and inedible of you miss your window,

    Once an asparagus spear starts to open and have foliage, it’s too tough for eating. Stop harvesting spears when the diameter of the spears decreases to the size of a pencil. At that point, it’s time to let them grow and gain strength for next spring.  

    Immature plants will have a season of only 2 to 3 weeks. With proper care though this will extend to up to 8 weeks for established plants.

    When the harvest is over let the plants grow into fun leafy plants. Always leave at least one spear.  Keep the area around them weeded to keep the plants strong. Cut back the asparagus to about 2" (5cm) above the ground in autumn when the foliage has died back and turned yellowy, brown.

    Lastly, before cutting back, mark the bed well so that you don't accidently dig up your precious plants.  Otherwise your patient waiting will have been for nothing!

    Storing

    Asparagus does not last for long, best to eat the spears as fresh as possible. It has to be one of the main benefits of growing it yourself to pick it straight from the garden to eat the same day.  You can of course blanch them and then freeze them, but they are never as good.

    If you do need to store them then the best way, if you have enough space in your fridge, is to  treat them just like cut flowers and place the spears in a 2-3" of water.  Alternatively, bundle the spears together, wrap the stem ends of the spears in a moist paper towel, and place the bundle in a plastic bag. Store in the salad drawer of your refrigerator. 

    Eating

    Simple is best.  Lots of melted butter or a simple Hollandaise Sauce are perfect accompaniments.

    To see an asparagus bed being put together and get more hints and tips why not visit our YouTube channel and take a look at Madeleine's helpful video Growing Asparagus ?

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