Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home: Melons

    melon_cut_in_twoMelons are popular with gardeners who have plenty of space to accommodate the spreading vines under glass.  A greenhouse or cold frame are needed in cooler climates but in warmer areas, a sheltered South facing spot may allow outdoor success for growing this delicious crop.  Of all the many varieties of Melon, Cantaloupe are reputed to be the sweetest, but do not tolerate cool temperatures well, and Honeydew Melons store particularly well.

    Where to grow

    Melons can grow outside in sheltered locations but will generally do better undercover.

    Clear an area with fertile, well drained soil that is not too rich a few weeks before sowing, and prepare a 'planting pit'.  Each pit should be 30cm square.  Place a good spadeful of well rotted manure in the base before backfilling.

    Water the pit well and then cover to warm the soil in readiness for planting.  A Giant Easy Poly Lantern would be perfect for the job.

    Sowing

    Sow seeds in early to mid Spring.  Plant in their final positions - either outside or under glass - when they have developed four leaves and all danger of frost has passed.

    Allow at least 1.5m between plants and plant with the pot soil just above the ground level as a precaution against stem rot.  Water the plants in, rather than firming them in.

    Aftercare

    'Stop' Melons at the fourth or fifth leaf to encourage the production of fruiting side shoots.  Keep the four strongest side shoots then remove the rest after 2-3 weeks.

    melon_on_ornamental_frame

    Ground growing plants should be trained into an 'X' shape or supported on a frame such as the Ornamental Square FrameAs fruits develop they may need supporting in a sling - old tights work well!

    If bees can't access your plants easily, pollinate by hand and with a soft brush.  Once the crop has set, pinch out the growing shoots and side growth.

    Regular feeding and watering are key to a good crop.  You may find thinning the fruits to concentrate on just one or two pampered melons is a good approach to avoid overloading the plant.

    Harvesting and Storage

    The fruits are mature when there is a characteristic melon scent and circular cracking appears near to the stalk.  Eat straightaway, preferable warm from the vine.

    Pests and Diseases

    For an exotic crop Melons are relatively free of pests and disease.  Powdery mildew and stem rot can be a problem if there is not sufficient ventilation.  so watch out for this.

     

     

  • Grow at Home : Radish

    This extremely fast growing vegetable is available in more varieties than many people realise.  Along with the familiar round red radish often used in salads, there are also varieties with pink, yellow or white roots.  There are few more attractive plants to see in the ornamental kitchen garden than a neat row of ruby red radishes peeping out from the soil!

    In fact, in ancient Greece, radishes were so highly regarded that gold replicas were made of them. The Greek name for the radish, Raphamus, means "quickly appearing," which perfectly describes their reputation for being the first vegetable to sprout in a spring garden.

    Where to grow

    Radishes will grow in most soils, but thrive in soil that is rich in organic matter and is moisture retentive.  Dig in plenty of garden compost before sowing if the ground has not been previously manured.

    Choose an open sunny site, although radishes can cope with dappled shade in the height of summer which makes them ideal for intercropping at this time.

    Radish Sowing

    Summer crops can be started by sowing outside under cloches in late winter and early spring.  Sow thinly 1 cm deep with 15cm between rows and thin as plants develop.

    Successional sowing is important to prevent a glut - small rows every 2 weeks will give you a good continuous supply.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered and weed free - radishes are a very easy crop to care for!

    Harvesting and Storage

    Pick radishes before they get too old and woody.  Select the larger roots first and leave the rest of the crop to grow.  Late crops can be covered with straw to protect them from the cold or kept under a fleece cloche.

    Radish Pests and Diseases

    Radishes are related to cabbages and so prone to the same pests and diseases.  Flea Beetle and slugs are normally the main issue.

    On the plus side radishes are also good at deterring cucumber beetle so a great companion plant for cucumbers.

  • Grow at Home: Avocados

    avocado_halved_hands This one is for fun!  If you are growing your plant from a stone taken from a supermarket avocado it is unlikely to be anything other than a decorative foliage plant.  At any rate you'd have to be in it for the long haul if you want to eat avocados from your own tree.  The trees take around 10 years to fruit. But it is still a lot of fun to see that giant seed sprout so why not have a go?

    Indoor or Outdoor?

    Avocado trees grow to 20m.  They are a tropical fruit and hail from Mexico and Central America and as such they don't tolerate freezing temperatures.  They can survive in the right site in the South of England but you are better off growing them in a large pot indoors.

    Avocado Growing

    You can buy avocado seeds or most common, just take the seed from your shop bought avocado.  It will take from 3 to 8 weeks to germinate but development is rapid after that.  You can start them in water or compost.

    Planting In water

    • Wash and pat the seed dry
    • Find a jar with a neck wide enough to fit your seed in.  An old jam jar would be perfect.
    • Fill it with water nearly to the top.
    • Wedge the avocado seed so that it sits at the top of the jar with the bottom touching the water.  You can use 3 toothpicks or nails pressed gently into the seed to balance it or little pieces of wood or cork to wedge it in place.
    • Put it somewhere warm - ideally a temperature of 20-25°C (68-77°F)
    • Check it daily and top up so the base of the seed is kept in contact with the water.

    You should see leaves and roots start to appear.

    • You will need a well-drained 5" pot filled with potting compost. The Haxnicks Bamboo pots would be perfect.  When the leaves and a reasonable amount of root has developed, carefully remove it from the jar and plant. so the seed is covered.

    Planting in compost

    There are two methods - use whichever you like depending on how much effort you want to put in (and how good you are at remembering a pot in the airing cupboard!)

    Method 1:

    • Soak the seed first in hot water for 30 minutes at 40-52°C (104-125°F)
    • Cut a thin slice from the pointed end off the seed
    • Sow in a pot of moist sandy compost with the cut end slightly above the soil surface and keep warm - around  20-25°C (68-77°F)

    Method 2:

    • place the seed in a pot, and cover it completely. Water well, allow to drain and leave in a warm, dark place, such as an airing cupboard.
    • Check on the pot every week to ensure it is moist, and water if necessary.
    • Once shoot start to show, move the pot to a sunny spot, such as a windowsill

     

    Planting in the compost Heap

    Bit of a strange one this one but the compost heap - if managed well - provides the ideal temperature and moisture level to germinate avocado seeds.  So it might be worth experimenting by burying some avocado stones and retrieving and potting up any that sprout.

    Care

    However you have grown it, when the stem reaches 15cm (6 in) tall, cut back by half.  Once it has grown another 15cm (6 inches), pinch out the two newest sets of leaves to encourage bushy growth.  

    Apply a general pot plant feed every week to ten days during the spring and summer.  You can feed less the rest of the year - around every six to eight weeks.

    When roots appear through drainage holes, re-pot. This is likely to be needed yearly and is best done in the spring when the container is full of roots.  The timing is very important for avocado plants as this is when they are set to grow.

    This plant is not likely to do well long term so plan to have it for a few years and then start the fun again with a new seed.   After two to three years you may start to see leaf discoloration which can't be remedied.  One of the issues causing them not to fare terribly very well long term is the indoor atmosphere.  One reason could be the lack of humidity so try keeping it somewhere humid if possible to extend its life.

    Flowering & Fruiting

    If your tree makes it to 1.5m tall then one trick to encourage the plant to flower is to treat the tree roughly. To do this attack the trunk of the tree with a knife or other sharp implement. Only cut the surface of the bark.  You don't want to damage the tree too much or it won't grow properly. The stress brought on by this attack is said to panic the plant into flower, where it will then hopefully bear fruit.

    You will to ensure that bees and other insects have access to your flowers so that they can pollinate them.  So remember to leave the greenhouse or conservatory door ope in warmer weather and you may just get avocados!

    Pests & Diseases

    They are prone to a number of greenhouse pests such as Whitefly, Red Spider Mite and Mealybugs.  They can also suffer from fungal leaf spots so watch out for these..

  • Pumpkin Beth Tomato trial - great news for those growing in Vigoroot

    Vigoroot Pots: Tomato Trial  

    beef_tomato_plant

    Horticulturist and garden writer Pumpkin Beth recently completed a Tomato Trial.  It found that the Vigoroot Potato/ Tomato Planter out-performs ordinary plastic pots when growing 12 out of the 15 tomato varieties tested.

    The average yield was 30% higher in Vigoroot than in normal plastic pots.

     

     

    Trial Method

    All pots used the same Dalefoot compost.  All plants received the same amount of water throughout the trial. Due to its porous nature Vigoroot pots actually require more water than plastic pots. However, since it was necessary to maintain standard conditions across the trial this was not possible. As a result, the plants in the Haxnicks pots were slightly underwatered.  This was noticeable during the trial and subsequently the yield was lower than it could have been. In order to test the true capability of Vigoroot the pack instructions would need to be followed fully so the plants were given sufficient water.

    Growing Problems

    Blossom End Rot or Splitting damaged some of the fruit.  The yield figures did not include this fruit.  However, the plants in the Vigoroot Pots suffered far less than those the plastic pots.

    Tomato_Trial_Disease_table_Vigoroot

    Vigoroot_pot_with_tomato_plantConclusion

    Many people are short of growing space either because they don’t have a garden or because they allocate the space they have to other uses. For these people, growing in containers is a simple and effective solution.

    The 30% higher yield from Vigoroot Tomato / Potato planters is a remarkable result.  Especially as the design of the trial did not allow them to be used to their full potential.

    As well as the simplicity and ease of use of Vigoroot pots and planters, it is evident that they also produce excellent results.

     

    Published with kind permission of Pumpkin Beth.  Website www.pumpkinbeth.com For the complete trial information please see the full report here: https://www.pumpkinbeth.com/2019/02/haxnicks-vigoroot-planters/

  • Grow at Home: Companion Planting

    Companion_planting_marigold_red

    Companion Planting

    Companion planting is where two or more crops are grown together for the benefit of one, or all. The most successful combinations mirror nature.  They can be an important part of planning a successful and productive garden.

     

    Deterrent Smell

    Plants have natural affinities with others of their kind.  The smell of volatile oils from many plants can above all discourage pests, making them excellent companion plants. Perhaps the most well known is the relationship between the tomato plant and the strong smelling French Marigold.  This is said to deter whitefly, for instance.

    While there is little scientific proof of these associations working, if you talk to any experienced gardener they will certainly provide plenty of anecdotal evidence.  Tomatoes like to be grown with Basil and Parsley.  Useful for cooks as well as gardeners.  And separating rows of brassicas with onions has always been popular.  This is possibly due to the strong scent of onions confusing the cabbage pests.

    Companion_planting_marigold_carrotsAttracting Pollinators

    English Marigold (Calendula) can provide welcome splashes of colour in the kitchen garden.  The added benefit is that they attract pollinators.  Along with Yarrow (Achillea) and Hyssop they also attract hover flies.  The hover flies will lay their eggs around these plants and when they hatch the larvae feast on aphids.

    Lavender_in_pot_in_flowerEnhancing fragrance

    Some gardeners know Chamomile as the 'plant doctor'.  This is because of its alleged ability to encourage the production of essential oils making their scent and taste stronger. It is attractive and easy to grow so a worthwhile addition to any planting scheme.

    Another garden 'must have' is the super fragrant Lavender. This acts as a general insect repellent whilst still attracting bees to your plot.

    Crops and their Companions

    Different combinations work in different conditions, so experimentation and experience is the best guide. Below are some combinations of crops and their companions that work well in most situations:

    • Asparagus: Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil
    • Beans: Carrots, lettuce,parsley, spinach
    • Beetroot: Onions, cabbages
    • Cabbages: Celery, mint, thyme, onions, nasturtiums
    • Carrots: Peas, radish, chives, onion, leek
    • Courgette: Nasturtiums
    • Lettuce: Strawberry, beetroot, radish
    • Onions: Carrots, beetroot, chamomile, courgette
    • Parship: Garlic
    • Peas: Potatoes, radish, carrot
    • Spinach: Strawberry
    • Tomato: Celery, basil, marigolds, foxglove
  • Grow At Home: Rocket

    Rocket_in_seed_trayWho doesn't love a little peppery rocket in their salad?  And who hasn't gone to the fridge and found a bag of sorry looking rocket that is more limp than lovely!  The solution is simple.  And that is to grow your own.

    Sowing

    Rocket can either be started off in small pots on the windowsill, in the greenhouse, or it can be sown directly outside.

    Sow seeds inside from March to June or outside from June to September.  Sow small amounts at regular intervals (say every 3 to 4 weeks) so that you don't create your own rocket glut and instead have a nice steady supply all summer long.

    Choose a sunny spot with rich, fertile well drained soil.  Sow thinly, 0.5-1cm (¼- ½in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart.

    Keep the seedlings covered with a Easy Poly Tunnel or a  Victorian Bell Cloche during the Spring and with a Easy Net Tunnel or a Easy Fleece Lantern Cloche  during the hotter months, This helps to protect them and speed up their growth.  When the seedlings are big enough to handle, thin them out a little and use the thinnings in salad.  Your first taste of home grown rocket!

    Care

    Mid _size_rocket_growing

    Rocket very quickly goes to seed once it has matured, keeping it watered well can help stall this and stop it bolting.  As flower buds appear, pinch them out to prolong cropping, unless you want the plants to set seed. The flower buds can also be used in salads.

    If you do turn your back for a moment and find your rocket bolted then you can always harvest the seeds for next year and tell people it was deliberate! This means the next sowing has cost you nothing which will make it taste even better!

    Provide some shade in really hot weather as too much sun will make the leaves tough and not nice to eat.  Also, try not to over water as this will dilute the taste.

     

    Pests

    Flea beetle are sometimes a problem on rocket.  The leaves will become covered in small holes and damaged areas turn brown. To prevent this use fleece, especially whilst its still young, and keep the soil moist. If you water in nitrogen-rich fertilser then the crop can recover from this .

    Harvest

    pasta_bowl_with_rocketHarvest lasts from April to November but you can pick your fist leaves around 4 weeks after planting.  Don't pick all the leaves form one plant as this will weaken its growth.  Instead, pick a few leaves from each plant and they will keep providing so you can ‘cut-and-come-again’ for much longer.

    Try to pick just what you need but if you do pick more you can store them in a paper bag (will work just as well as a plastic one without the environmental impact) in a cool place for 2-4 days. Don’t let the rocket get too cold or it will wilt as soon as it warms up.

    Rocket adds a great peppery taste to salads. It is delicious with a balsamic vinegar dressing, in a bacon butty or scattered over pasta.

    For grow a whole range of salads along with your rocket see our Grow at Home: Salad Leaves Blog too.

  • Grow at Home: Spinach

    Growing Spinach

    Spinach_seedlingsYou will have heard (maybe from the lips of the legendary PopEye) that spinach is super high in iron.  This, and the rumor that a scientist put the decimal place in the wrong spot thus multiplying the iron content by ten, both appear to be unsubstantiated and probably false.    However, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.  It is also tasty and versatile and can be used from smoothies to stir fries to salads. Oh, and its easy to grow!

    Sowing & Harvesting

    Sow your seeds directly outside in their final positions from March to August. Sow them in shallow lines quite thinly. Cover them with poly tunnels or cloches to protect them and to encourage growth, you may also need a Slug-Buster.  If you don't have a large garden then spinach will also thrive in a container. Choose a Shallow vegetable planter -as spinach doesn't 't have long roots - and plant thinly exactly as you would outside.

    As the seedlings appear, thin them out to about 6-8” 15-20cm apart. You can pick the smaller more tender leaves when they are about 3” 7cm long and use them in salads, anything bigger than that should be cooked for a short amount of time and be eaten as a hot vegetable.

    Keep picking the leaves so that a) they don’t run to seed and b) they keep on growing.

    tiny_spinach_plants_in_groundPerpetual Spinach is the one that I always plant as you only need to plant one lot and it lasts for months and months, sometimes even years.  Very easy. Perpetual spinach is not actually spinach but looks and is eaten in exactly the same way.  Well worth planting for a regular supply.

  • Grow at Home - Perfect Pumpkins

    Big_pumpkins_in_field_with_many_behind

    Pumpkins are a perfect crop to grow with children as they look impressive and can be put to use at Halloween as lanterns.  The flesh makes great soups and pies and there are many other than the huge orange varieties which are developed for great flavour rather than size.

    Where to grow

    Deep fertile soil that is rich in Humus. Before planting out dig a panting pit 45cm deep.  Fill the pit with well rotted manure or garden compost and back fill again.

    Plant or sow pumpkins in a sunny position and protect from strong winds

    Sowing

    Sowing can begin under glass in late spring at a temperature of 15-18c.  Soak the seed overnight to speed up germination.  Rootrainers will give them the perfect start.

    Plant out in the prepared space in early summer after all threat of frost has passed. Alternatively sow direct in early summer under an Easy Tunnel to aid germination.

    Keep a distance of 1.5m between rows or use one Medium Veg Planter per plant.

    Aftercare

    To keep the vigorous growth in check, train the stems around the plant pinning them to the ground with pegs or opt for a decorative frame to support the developing crop.

    Watering needs to to take place throughout the growing season and feeding every two weeks will support the rapid growth of the pumpkins.  Pinch out the trailing tips and once the fruits are mature stop watering and feeding completely.

    Harvesting and Storage

    The fruits will mature best on the plant.  Harvest the entire crop before the first frosts, leaving a stem of about 5 cm. Leave them in a sunny position for about a week for the skins to harden - they will then store well.

    Pumpkin Pests and diseases

    Slugs can be a problem, especially when the fruits start to grow - Slugbusters will help to protect the crop.

  • Grow at Home: Super Strawberries

    strawberries_flower_portrait

    Strawberries can be grown in the ground, in hanging baskets or in containers.  They are simple to grow and an easy and delicious place for kids to start their gardening journey.

    They come in early, mid and late season varieties so if you choose your plants carefully you can have strawberries on tap throughout the summer.  Not only will you save money at the supermarket but you will have fresher, tastier strawberries too.

    How to Start your Strawberries

    Strawberries can be grow from seed, runners or small plants bought at the Garden Centre. It should be noted that they produce their best fruit when they are in their second and third years so however you start them, do not expect much in the first year.  Whichever one you choose they need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation.

    Growing Strawberries from Seed

    strawberries_in-handsCheck your seed packet for instructions but many strawberry seeds need to be cold treated before they will germinate.  To do this, place the seeds, in an airtight container, and put it in a freezer for 2 to 4 weeks. This simulates winter so once they thaw the seeds are fooled into coming to life.  Remove the seeds from the freezer and leave them to gradually warm up to room temperature.

    Once your strawberry seeds are at room temperature you can plant them in a seed tray filled with suitable compost.  Moisten the mixture with water and sprinkle your strawberry seeds evenly over it. Cover them with a light dusting of soil ensuring that some light can still reach them as they need it to germinate.  Keep them indoors in a well-lit room and in direct sunlight.  They should germinate in two to three weeks.

    Keep the soil moist and keep the tray somewhere warm.  On top of a fridge or with a heat pad underneath are both good options.  Gently transfer the strawberry seedlings to larger containers or pots after they gain their 3rd leaves. 

    If weather allows, the strawberry seedlings can be planted directly outside after hardening off first.

    Growing from Runners

    Strawberries are so easy to propagate (to have babies – reproduce). After the harvesting season you will notice that off the strawberry plant there is a shoot or 'runner'.  This will often have a baby strawberry plant developing on the end. When this shoot has rooted itself to the ground you can a) leave it there b) move it to a better spot c) replace an old plant with it d) give it away if you don’t want it!  Most gardeners are happy to pass these runners on to others and spread the strawberry love so its a great way to start your strawberry patch.

    Growing from plants 

    The easiest thing to do is to buy some strawberry plants, usually during the early Spring, and then to plant them out.

    Planting Strawberries

    Prepare the soil well.  Fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart. You could use an EasyPath between rows to allow easy access for picking.

    If you don’t have the space for strawberries don’t forget that you can plant them in patio planters, this can be quite good as you can move them to warm spots or even encourage more fruit by placing the whole thing in a greenhouse.  They are really striking in hanging baskets and only dare-devil slugs and snails will make the journey meaning your ripening fruit is safer here than anywhere else.

    After flowering

    strawberries_dewAs soon as the flowers finish, the first tiny green strawberries start to appear or “set”. Make sure you weed carefully and now is the time to set up your slug protection, such as SlugBusters. You may also want to protect the strawberries from rotting by placing some straw underneath, I don’t seem to need to do this myself as my patch is fairly dry but if your patch isn't, this will keep them off the damp ground.

    If your plants are in containers they will need watering but if your plants are in the ground then avoid watering after flowering if possible.  Damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it first thing in the morning so that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.

     

     

    Replacing Old Plants

    Strawberry plants don't last forever and will only last around 4 seasons.  After this both yield and flavour will drop so they should be replaced.  To grow your own replacements, leave a few of this years plants un-pruned and peg down the resulting  runners to the soil.  They will grow into new plants ready for next year.

    Pests & Diseases

    Beware of birds, once they find a supply of yummy ripe strawberries, they will be gone in a matter of hours. Cover them with plant protection nets before they start to ripen. Also beware of slugs they are much slower in their approach but also enjoy strawberries.

    Harvesting & Storage

    The first harvest of your strawberries will be delicious and sweet, towards the end of the season I find that they are not quite as good and this is when I collect them for jam making. Yum.

    I'm not a fan of frozen strawberries - too mushy - but if you have a glut and don't want to make jam then they can be frozen.  Place them in the freezer individually on a tray, when frozen pack them up into bags.

  • Grow at Home: Broccoli and Calabrese

     

    broccoli_plant

    Broccoli (Purple Sprouting) and Italian Calabrese are often confused as the supermarket sold 'broccoli' is in fact the large green headed calabrese.

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli is an excellent crop for filling the harvesting gap at the end of the winter and heralds the start of the new grow your own season for many gardeners.

    Where to grow

    All forms of broccoli and calabrese do best in an open sunny position. Protection from strong winds will prevent the plants from rocking.

    Both require a rich soil. Manure in the Autumn and apply lime  if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7 in particular for the purple sprouting variety.

    Sowing

    During Spring sow purple sprouting seed thinly in rows to a depth of 1cm with 15cm between rows. After germination thin to 5 cm apart in preparation for transplanting to their final position.  Calabrese do not transplant as happily so should ideally be sown direct and thinned to 30 cm apart. Easy Poly Tunnels will aid germination and Easy Net Tunnels protect the young seedlings from birds.

    Transplant deeply with the first leaves sitting on the soil surface to discourage cabbage root fly and help stabilise the plant.  Firm in well, again to help secure the plant and eliminate any air pockets.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered during dry periods to allow healthy growth throughout the long growing season.  Mulching the rows with garden compost will help retain moisture and keep weeds in check as will regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help loosening the soil around the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting in late winter and continue through to mid spring, depending on the variety grown.  Harvest shoots of Purple Sprouting varieties  before they flower at around 15cm long.  Regular cutting encourages new shoots and any that reach flowering stage should be removed to prevent exhausting the plant.

    Calabrese can be harvested from late summer to early autumn.  Heads should be cut, starting from the central flower head, while still tightly closed. Spread harvesting of the crop to avoid completely stripping a plant.

    Broccoli Pests and diseases

    Cabbage root fly is the main pest to effect broccoli and calabrese.  Protect with fleece during the early stages to help avoid this - Easy Fleece Tunnels or Fleece Lantern Cloche are ideal.

    In order to prevent damage to the roots from wind rock (damage to the roots of young plants, caused by the movement of the stem in the wind.)use a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

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