Love to Grow

  • Grow at Home - Chilli Peppers

     

    We’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of chillies this year and have dried and stored the harvest to use in oils, sauces and recipes throughout the year. If you’ve never grown chillies then make this the year you do!

    When to Grow

    Sow from late January - this is one crop that really enjoys being given an early start and plenty of time to ripen before the end of summer.  Many varieties can be grown outside, but most benefit from protection and do best undercover, in the greenhouse or a windowsill at home.

    Sunbubble is a great alternative to a greenhouse for a little extra growing space under cover.

    If you're growing inside then early sowing is idea. If you plan to move plants outside eventually delay until March or April to ensure the temperature will have risen in time for transplanting.

    How to Grow

    Scatter seeds thinly across a tray of compost – Bamboo Seed trays are a robust and sustainable alternative to plastic – and cover them lightly with compost or vermiculite.

    Water well and place in a warm location such as a propagator or sunny window sill.

    Keep the soil moist and seedlings should be large enough to transplant after 2-3 weeks. Vigoroot planters are ideal to encourage healthy compact plants.

    If you're growing your plants outside, place them outside for a few hours at a time to harden off until you feel confident to leave them out overnight, avoiding frosts. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with well drained soil and expect a smaller and later crop than any in a greenhouse.

    Water regularly for a bumper crop and once the first flowers appear a fortnightly feed with a general purpose fertiliser will keep the plant cropping well throughout the season.

    Encourage the fruit to set by gently spraying with tepid water and although chillies are self fertile, a gentle shake of the flowing stems to release the pollen can help them along.

    Harvesting

    Chillies can be ready to harvest from late July depending on the conditions. By early Autumn the fruits will have developed their rich colour, full flavour and heat if that’s what you’re going for.

    Snip the chillies from your plant and cut a little way up the stem to leave the green cap and a short length of stalk intact. Avoid any imperfect fruit, as any blemishes will quickly worsen in storage and may turn rotten, infecting healthy fruits too.

    Storing

    Dry thin-skinned chillies, like cayennes and jalapenos, to hang up in your kitchen and use as you need them through the winter. Any thicker-skinned types, like habaneros, are best frozen whole – chop them straight from the freezer to use in your cooking.

    Thread a large needle with strong cotton or fishing line, then poke the needle through the fattest part of the stem of each chilli. String them together side by side - If you angle the needle at 45 degrees to horizontal, the chillies will sit in a spiral, like a bunch of grapes – the traditional Mexican way of hanging them up, known as a ‘ristra’.

    Aim for a string of chillies about 60cm long - any longer forces the chillies together, making it difficult for them to dry. Hang your chillies somewhere warm and after a couple of weeks they will have dried completely. Then use them to pep up your cooking or to make flavoured oil – a great present for keen cooks.

     

    Try this delicious chilli recipe to add a kick to your winter veg!

     

  • Tips and Tricks: Seed Germination

    Germination

    Germination is the process by which an organism grows from a seed or similar structure and develops into a new plant. Three key environmental factors are important to trigger the seed to grow. We are going to call these the Germination Triangle and these factors are :

    • how how much water is available
    • the temperature
    • the planting depth of the seed

    A careful balance is needed between these three factors.  How dependent the seed is on them varies depending on the plant.  Some seeds will grow anywhere (and we wish they wouldn't!) whilst some need infuriatingly perfect conditions to germinate.

    Stagesseeds_in_bowls_pre_germination

    Water is key as the first stage is for the seed to fill with water in a process called imbibition. The water activates special proteins, called enzymes which that begin the process of seed growth.

    First the seed uses the carbohydrates and proteins stored inside to grows a root (radicle).  The root accesses water before the next stage begins: sending up a shoot above ground. As the shoot develops there will be secondary root formation and branching of the roots.

    By now the seed's reserves are running out so the next stage is to grow leaves to harvest energy from the sun. The leaves continue to grow towards the light source in a process called photomorphogenesis.

    etiolated_seedling_post_germination

     

    Light is very important at this stage.  If there isn't enough light this causes the plants to become etiolated. This is a natural adaptation to help the shoots elongate quickly to break through the soil and reach the light.  However, if it takes too long to reach light the resulting plants will not be strong.  The seedlings will become elongated, spindly, leafless and pale with a poor root system.

     

     

     

     

     


    The Germination Triangle

    Water

    The amount of water has to be just right for optimum growth.  Too little and the seed won't grow.  Too much and the seed will be unable to access the oxygen in the soil and won't develop.  It will basically drown.
    With careful watering, this balance is simple to achieve when you germinate your seeds in seed trays or pots.  If you are sowing direct outside preparing the soil ahead of planting will help you get the water balance right.  Ways you could do this include:-

    • Keep off the soil to prevent compacting - if you have to walk across it then lay long planks to use
    • Aerate the soil - if there are no air gaps then you can create them by aerating the soil with a garden fork or machines that do the job can be hired easily
    • Dig through a balanced fertiliser to break up and improve the soil
    • Use a Raised Bed - the easy way to do it but remember not to walk on it and compact the soil
    •  If your plot is very waterlogged adding a ditch or seasonal pond at the lowest part of the garden for excess water to soak away will be helpful.  This has the advantage of creating a habitat for slug eating frogs and toads which you can read more about in our Pests & Diseases - Slugs & snails blog.

    Temperature

    Temperature is also an important factor. The temperature a seed needs to germinate will often be determined by where the plant originates.  Those that come from Northern climates will often germinate at cooler temperatures than those native to the tropics.  Of course there are exceptions to any rule but many seeds will only germinate when the weather reaches spring temperatures. This can lead to confusion in plants when a freak warm spell causes them to germinate too early leaving them vulnerable to frosts which should be over.

    Some seeds only germinate after extreme temperatures, such as after a forest fire or an extended cold period but there aren't many of these plants in your average veg garden.

    The best way to judge soil temperature is to test with a metal thermometer.  Insert it 3 or 4 inches into the soil 3 or 4 days in a row.  The soil can be warmed by the sun later in the day so morning is the best time to test.  If the soil isn't warm enough then warming it with a Seedling Tunnel is a good option to allow you to start planting earlier than your neighbours.

    Charts are available online to tell you what temperature a particular plant may prefer.  From an optimum 40 degrees for a pea plant to 70 degrees for a tomato.  Once you feel the soil is warm enough, check the long range weather forecast for expected cold snaps and you should be safe to plant.  If the forecast fails you then methods such as or using Bell Cloches or Poly tunnels to shield young seedlings are foremost in the gardener's armoury to start successful germination.

    Planting Depth

    Planting at the right depth improves the seeds chances dramatically and will increase your germination success rate.  The seed will only store enough energy to sprout and reach the light so planting too deep may mean it does not have the energy to make it out of the ground.  If you plant it too shallow then it may fall prey to birds or dehydrate preventing germination.

    Generally the seed packet will clearly show the planting depth so is simple enough to achieve.  But what if a friend gave you the seeds, you harvested them yourself or just lost the packet?   You can look it up on the seed company's website or check out similar packets at your garden centre.  Or you could try and work it out yourself.

    To calculate it yourself, the word on the allotment is that seeds should be planted no deeper than two (or three - opinions vary!)  times their diameter.   This may differ from what's on the seed packet which too often seems to be 1/4 of an inch.  So experimenting planting some at the packet depth and some at the calculated depth might improve germination rates.

    Shallow planting

    Some seeds actually need light to germinate e.g. lettuce and dill.  These tend to be very tiny and should be placed on the surface of the soil and not covered.  The challenge with these is to keep them moist as they quickly dehydrate without a covering. If growing in seed trays  - cover with plastic to prevent the water evaporating away. Or cover with a fine layer of vermiculite - a soilless, mineral growing medium - which is porous and lets light shine through, while keeping enough water around the seeds so that they remain moist.

    Deep plantingRootrainers_with_seed_gemination

    Those that need to be planted deeper can benefit from Rootrainers where deeper cells can be chosen for plants that need the extra depth and moisture can be retained by using the integral cover.

    Position

    The final piece in the puzzle is where you plant them.  Some seedlings such as carrots do not like to be transplanted so it is important to sow these in the position you want them to grow.  Others can handle being moved so give you an opportunity to make the most of the short growing season by starting them off inside and transplanting them into growing position the minute growing conditions are right.

    table_of_veg_

    I hope that this has given you some tips to increase the germination success rate in your garden.  Given the delicacy of the balance that needs to be struck for healthy robust seedlings to germinate and grow you can only marvel at how the self seeders in your garden manage so easily what gardeners work so hard to achieve.

  • Grow at Home: Leeks

    What are they?Leeks_in_soil

    Leeks, which are famous as the Welsh national emblem, are related to the onion but easier to grow.  They have flat overlapping leaves forming an elongated cylindrical bulb which together with the leaf base, is eaten as a vegetable. They generally mature in autumn/winter and hence are a tasty addition to any winter stew or soup such as your classic Leek and Potato.

    Types

    As with other plants there are three main varieties – early, mid season and late. So decide which ones you want to have or get all three. I would just go for one variety as I want as many different vegetables growing in my patch as possible. It depends how many leeks your household gets through...

    Planting

    SOW SEEDS IN GREENHOUSE/ON WINDOWSILL:       February to April

    SOW SEEDS DIRECTLY OUTDOORS:                            March to April

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                                             May to July

    DEPTH TO PLANT SEEDS:                                               ½” (2cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                                         12” (30cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                                       6” (15cm)

    Soil Type

    Leeks are tolerant of a wide variety of soil types but prefer firm, well drained soil.  A safe bet is to dig well rotted garden compost into your soil.  Freshly manured soil is not suitable.  There will be too much leaf growth and the resulting leeks will be coarse, tough and no good for eating. 

    When to Plant

    There are 3 sowing dates for leeks – if planting from seed they should be sown in Rootrainers before planting out

    Variety Sow Plant Out
    Summer and Autumn (Hannibal)

     

    February Mid April
    Autumn & Winter(Blue-green winter, Northern lights)

     

    Mid March Mid May
    Late Winter (Blue Solaise)

     

    Early May Early June

    It is usual to start the seeds off in containers or a seedbed before moving them to their final position once they are established.  This is because sowing them directly into their final position takes up a lot of space which could be being used for fast growing crops such as lettuce. Leeks are perfectly happy to start off in the greenhouse or windowsill and move when your salads are done. 

    Growing from seed is easy and germination rates are high.  Sow your seeds into Rootrainers or small 3” (8cm) pots.Germination should take from 14-21 days.
    Start thinning the seedlings out straight away.  Thin to about 2" (5cm) the first time as some of the plants may die, and then thin again when everything seems to be going well, so that the plants are about 4" (10 cm) apart.

    If you don't want to plant seeds you could also let someone else do the work and buy established seedlings and plant out as the weather permits.

    Planting Out

    When the leeks are about 8" (20cm) tall, plant them into their final positions. If possible plant when the weather is showery, if not then water them well. Keep watering well until they are really established.

    To ensure you get lovely blanched stems make a deep hole around 6" (15cm) to plant the leek.  Fill in with an inch or two of soil and allow the remainder of the hole to fill up with soil as it is washed in with watering.  This will ensure some white stem on your leek which many think is enough (both white and green parts of the leek are edible).  If you want more white and less green though, see the section below on Blanching, for how to use collars.  

    Where to plantContainer_Leeks_in_snow

    When choosing the site to sow leeks make sure you consider that you might want to leave them in the ground to be dug as required during the winter months, and you could leave them in the ground for a year or more.

    It is not advisable to grow leeks in the same place year after year as there will be an increased risk of pests and diseases such as Leek Rust. 

    In crop rotation, leeks follow lettuce, cabbage or peas.  Many people leave planting their leeks until immediately after lifting early potatoes. However, do not plant them where the potatoes were as the soil will be too loose and disturbed and leeks do best on a firm soil.

    Feeding

    Leeks need food and will benefit from a sprinkle of something like a seaweed feed around the roots. This will increase the thickness of the leeks. Don’t feed overwintering leeks after August.

    Blanchingpulled_leeks

    The leeks you buy in the supermarket will have long white stems.  To increase the length of white stem in your home grown leek, blanch the stem by gently drawing up dry soil around the stem in stages.  Start this process in August. 

    If you have your leeks growing in a trench, gradually fill the trench in with soil to the bottom of the lowest leaves each time until the plants have finished growing, which will probably be around mid to late autumn. You are aiming for 4-6" (10-15 cm) of blanched stems. Use dry, fine soil to do this as wet soil will cause rot to set in and lumpy soil wont keep out the light properly.

    If your leeks are growing in a flat bed or container, push the soil up around the plants increasing the soil depth by about 2" (5 cm) each time. You can keep the stems free of soil by using collars.  Secure them around the leeks leaving around 5" (12.5cm) of leaf showing. 

    Collars

    Get your recycling hat on for this bit as many materials are suitable to make a collars. For instance, sawn lengths of plastic piping, the middle of toilet rolls and wrapping paper, or brown paper tied up with string or rubber bands. Whatever type of collar you decide on the minimum diameter should be 3" (7.5 cm) and 12-15" (30-37.5cm) long. Attach the collars before carrying out the earthing-up process.  The collar will keep the light out and the soil will stop it blowing away in the wind.  As the plants grow, draw up more and more soil adding another collar if needed.

    This will increase the amount of the plant that is edible and improve the flavour.  Keep the soil from falling between the leaves otherwise you will have a lot of cleaning to do or risk gritty stew!

    Harvesting

    HARVEST: September to Mayfrosty_baby_leeks

    Harvest your leeks by lifting gently with a fork, either as pencil thin baby leeks or as fully grown 3” (8cm) diameter ones.

    If you want to eat them then do not let your leeks flower as the leek turns into a woody stem once the plant flowers and is too tough to eat.  Leek flowers are a very decorative addition to the garden though so you might want to let some of them flower as they will produce seeds that you can happily collect to use the following year.

    Eating

    Leeks will stay fresh for 1 to 2 weeks if stored in a cool place. Once harvested they are delicious in soups or stews or try them in a white sauce covered in cheese and grilled.  A perfect side dish for your Sunday roast and a lovely vegetarian lunch in its own right..       

  • Grow At Home: Mushrooms

    Mushrooms_in_basketDespite being a much used ingredient, mushrooms are not an everyday crop in your average garden.  If you are nervous of wild foraging but long to harvest mushrooms then growing your own gives the reassurance of getting safe, delicious mushrooms without the chance of the poisonous or mind altering effects.

    Mushrooms are perennial organisms that can live for decades, and have two distinct parts.
    Underground, a web of threadlike hyphae known as mycelium cover an often huge area, absorbing nutrients and powering the fungi.
    Above ground is the visible fruit which is the reproductive organs - the bit we eat.

    Which Variety of Mushrooms to Grow

    If you have been given a mushroom growing kit for Christmas then the choice of which mushroom to grow has already been made for you.  However, if you are planning your own mushroom growing adventure then what variety do you choose?

    If you're a beginner, start out by growing Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)  The Oyster Mushroom mycelium grows vigorously and will survive a wide range of temperatures so it is easy to grow.

    Another great choice is Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes). These are both easy to grow and taste great and will save you ££££s at the supermarket as they are often sold dried and a little more pricey than your ordinary button mushroom.

    Your methods and materials are other factors to consider. You can grow mushrooms on manure, wood, straw, paper or compost.  Certain species do better on certain substrates, and matching them up is essential to a good crop.

    Timing

    Plant: all year round but temperature should be between 10° and 18° Beyond this the key consideration is when you are planning on starting and harvesting. Different mushrooms fruit in different seasons, so matching your mushroom to its preferred season will give you the best success.

    Method

    There are different ways of buying the spawn but the basic steps for growing mushrooms are the same for all

    1. Choose your substrate - dependent on your mushroom variety.
    2. Add the mushroom spawn - known as inoculation.
    3. Moisten and keep at the correct temperature for the mycelium to start to grow.
    4. Change the environmental conditions to trigger fruiting - usually by dropping the temperature and increasing the humidity.
    5. Wait until fruits are big enough and harvest.

    Spawn

    You can get the spawn in a number of forms.

    • In plugs or impregnated dowels - hammer these directly into a piece of wood.  You can not use old wood.   Cut the logs to use fresh (within 6 weeks) from disease-free healthy living trees. Logs should be around 50 cm or 1 metre in length with a diameter from 10 to 30 cm.  The type of mushroom chosen dictates how wide your log needs to be and how many plugs you'll need. The instructions that come with your plug will guide you.
    • Grain - sprinkle this onto manure or between the damp pages of a book.   (A great way to recycle your Yellow Pages!) before wrapping in a plastic bag until the mycelium start to grow.
    • Blocks  - planted in the ground, particularly good for under trees.  These can be planted round the roots of trees or under a patch of turf in your lawn.  You will not be able to mow there and it should be an area where there is little traffic as the mycelium don't like compacted ground.
    • Mushroom growing kits - these are a great way to start and come with the appropriate growing medium.  Often this is on straw which has been pre-sterilised so that you know the only fungus you are growing is the one you planned to grow.  It may even be pre inoculated with the mushroom spawn or you may have to add this yourself before moistening and keeping warm until the mycelium have started to grow.

    Where to Grow

    Mushrooms_two_whiteMushrooms grow in the shade in buckets or shallow planters, in the green house or the shed, or outside in the lawn, beneath trees or on the edge of the compost heap.

    Many people think that mushrooms need to be grown in the dark.  This is a myth and the truth is that mushrooms lack the ability to use energy from the sun. They do not have chlorophyll so are not green plants.  Therefore they can grow in the dark or light as their energy does not come from the sun but from its growing medium.   They do however, need to remain moist, not wet or dry, at all times and it is easier to achieve this in a shady spot.

     

    Mushrooms are a great source of non animal protein, very low in calories and a great addition to many recipes.  They are also a lot of fun to grow so well worth trying.  For a tasty way to enjoy them why not try this recipe?

    War Time Mushrooms

    Cut up one clove of garlic and add it to a frying pan of melted butter.  Cut up a large handful of your home grown mushrooms and add to the pan.  Fry until brown, tip onto a piece of toast and eat hot.  Simple but delicious.

  • Pests & Diseases: Slugs and snails

    Slugs & Snails: what are we dealing with?

    Snails

    There are around 120 species of snail in the UK.  These range from 1mm Dot snails (punctum pygmaeum) to the Roman Snail (Helix pomatia) which has a 5cm shell and is good with garlic butter.  Some of these species are specific to geographical areas so not all will turn up on your plot.  The main one we are interested in is the European Brown Garden Snail (Helix aspersa) - a terrestrial gastropod mollusc.

    These Gardens Snails have a life span of 2 to 6 year.  They can produce up to six batches of eggs in a single year, and each newborn will take one to two years to mature.

    Slugs

    Snail_slug_on_broom_handle

    Slugs evolved from terrestrial snails, they are basically a shell-less snail.  A tiny number of species still have a small shell and the remainder have a vestigial shell inside them.  There are around 40 species of slugs in the UK.  No consolation when they're eating your lettuce but only a few of these are pests.   Many species perform a key role in composting though releasing nutrients back into the ecosystem and helping your plot to grow.

    A slug can lay between 100-500 eggs in groups of 10-50, generally sheltered in a hole it digs. Slugs can produce up to two generations per year.  They live between 9-18 months depending on the species and conditions.

    Feeding

    Though it may feel like they travel in packs, slugs and snails are lone operators.  They feed by licking your veg with a cheese-grater-like radula and can cause a lot of damage while your back is turned.

    Ways to control them

    So we have established that they are a nuisance in the garden and can devastate your veg patch in a very short time but how do we deal with this?  There are many ways, some of which involve total eradication.  What the gardener should aim for though is control rather than a complete purge.  What you are looking for is a balanced ecosystem within your space.  Complete obliteration of every slug and snail will take away the good things they do like composting and lead to a vacuum which in time will draw more of them to your plot.

    Block their path

    For both slugs and snails mucus is essential for their movement. A gland situated at the front of the foot secretes mucus which is squeezed below the sole and allows them to slide along leaving the silvery trail we know so well. Because they move like this,  putting something in their path to make their progress painful is very effective.  So try one of these to make getting to your plants feel like walking on broken glass.

    • crushed egg shells (bonus that they add calcium to your soil)
    • used coffee grounds
    • food-grade diatomaceous earth
    • sheeps wool round the stems of tender plants
    • Don't use salt.  It will kill the slugs and snails but will also kill your plants.

    Pesticides

    Slug pellets: These get justifiably bad press.  They certainly kill slugs and snails but also poison pets, children and the unfortunate predator that eats prey that has consumed one.  I have put them first in this list to get them out of the way and hope that you will be able to find at least one better, more environmentally safe choice in what follows.  Most slug pellets are not organic and even the organic ones are not wise to use: when the slugs die, the predators leave to find food elsewhere – leaving you in need of more pellets.  And so it goes on...

    Traps and Barriers

    Trapping slugs and snails is a good way to stop them.

    Beer Traps:

    Slug_climbing_into_beer_trap

    This is the method that I use and it is hugely successful.  Haxnicks Slug Buster buried a little way into the ground and filled with cheap beer will have them flocking.  They are attracted to the smell of the yeast in the beer.  Add some oats to make it even more enticing.

    The lidded design wins over home made traps as it stops the rain getting in and diluting the beer.  It also creates the nice dark space that both slugs and snails look for.

    Hiding Place Trap: Alternatively set up a Hiding Place Trap.  Slugs and snails like to hide in dark,  damp spaces. Find a wet piece of wood or wooden plank.  Place it near an area where snails and slugs are frequently spotted. The next morning, check the wooden plank and get rid of any attached to it.
    The same works with an upturned plant pot or hollowed out grapefruit half.  Prop the edge up on a stone to allow them to crawl inside.
    Make sure to check the trap in the morning.  Dispose of its residents otherwise all you have done is set up a campsite close to the buffet for the little critters!

    Copper: Slugs don't like to crawl across copper so putting a border of copper is supposed to prevent them.  A variety of products are available such as copper tape to put round plant pots, mats to sit pots on etc.  I have never had much luck with this method but it is widely used so you might want to try it.

    PlantingMint_leaves_with_apple

    Plant things they don't like such as rosemary, thyme and all sorts of mint  If you need to cut back a prolific mint plant then you can also dig the clippings through the soil to further deter them.  If you live by the sea then seaweed will also work in this way.

    Slugs and snails love Lawn Camomile.  So rather than planting to deter them, plant this to attract them away from your seedlings- especially good if you want to collect the slugs to get them out of your garden as you know where they will be.

    The slugs that attack growing potato tubers live under the soil where you can't see them.  So growing your potatoes in protected Potato Planters that you know are full of slug-free compost rather than in the ground may be an effective way to grow them whilst you get your slug problem under control.

    Removal

    Picking them off by hand - especially after dark while they are more active -  is a sure fire way to get rid of them.  Search for them under stones, wood and plant pots to seek out their most likely hiding places.

    The big issue with this method is how to dispose of them.  Moving them just unbalances someone else's ecosystem but many find it hard to kill them.  Drowning - in a jar of water, not a bucket as they will be able to climb out - works if you have the heart for it.  Leave them in the open for birds to take.  This will also encourage bird life into the garden.  Ensure you have enough birds interested to do this though otherwise you will be meeting the same creatures every night.

    Introduce a predator

    Birds:  Birds love slugs and snails so encourage birds into your garden by setting up a birdbath and feeding table.  Or if you have room introduce chickens and ducks as they both LOVE a nice slug.  So, introducing some birds to your plot will be a win win situation.

    Nematodes:  This is the quick, effective and easy to do and will create a slug free area for up to 6 weeks. Nematodes are slug parasites.  They are microscopic worms that kill slugs. You use them by watering on to the soil surface, where they search for prey and invade it. Special 'nematode food' bacteria, are released and multiply rapidly to nourish them and keep them working. An infected slug stops feeding in about 3 days before beginning to swell. The nematodes multiply inside the slug which starts to decompose and the new nematodes spread and start looking for their next prey.

    This treatment is so effective though that all slugs are eliminated. This means that the natural - non nematode predators - also disappear to look for food elsewhere.  The garden now contains loads of slug food and no slug predators.  So once it is rediscovered by the next generation hatching or itinerant slugs they will have free reign.

    Frogs and Toads:  If you have room for a pond then keeping frogs in it will sort your slug and snail problem.  Hopefully an obliging frog will come and spawn in your pond - check out local ponds to see if you have any living near by.  If you don't have room for a pond then you could still have toads as they do not require a pool.  As long as there are enough moist hiding spaces for them round the garden you should be OK.

    Other predators you might like to consider building habitat for are:

    • Hedgehogs  - contact your local rescue centre to see if your plot is suitable
    • Carob beetles - eat eggs as well as grown ones so double whammy from these
    • Centipedes - ensure you get carnivorous centipedes as oppose to herbivorous millipedes which will eat your plants

    I wouldn't like to try it with slugs but the Common Garden snail is edible so if all else fails you could always eat them yourself!

    Think like a slug 

    Slug_on_broom_handle

    Water: Snails and slugs need a moist environment.  They are generally more active at night for this reason.  If you water your garden in the evening, you lay yourself and your veg open so they can glide toward your plants at a rate of knots.
    If you water your plants in the morning, the sunlight will dry the plants out before dark and make them less attractive to slugs and snails.

    Tidy plot: Keep your plot tidy and you can deter slugs and snails.  Don't leave piles of pots, planks of wood and old watering cans around that they can use for shelter.  Make sure beds are tidy with well spaced plants so that moving between lunch and dinner is harder for them.

    It will be an ongoing battle I am sure but hopefully there will be some new ideas here that help you to create a balance in your garden so that your seedlings make it through and you can successfully harvest some unchewed veg.

  • Grow at Home - Garlic

    Used in everything from stir fry to Shepherds Pie it is pretty rare to find a household that does not have garlic in their kitchen cupboard. But, despite it being relatively easy to grow, many gardeners do not include it in their planting.

    It is a hard working plant that does more than just give a delicious crop though.  Like most of the onion family, garlic is great for companion planting.  Plant between rows of vegetables especially carrots and its scent will deter pests.  This gives a natural boost to your garden's pest protection.  Also, garlic is pollinated by bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects too so great for encouraging wildlife onto your plot.

    Types of garlic

    There are two main sorts.

    Softneck

    Softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum) is the garlic which most supermarkets stock.  The bulb has a slightly hotter flavour than the Hardnecks, produces more smaller cloves and stores very well. Since the necks are soft, this is the sort you want if you have the time and energy create a garlic plait.  They also sprout relatively quickly so are satisfying to grow for the garlic novice.

    Hardneck

    Hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with more complex flavours. These garlics have subtle flavour differences created from the soil and weather patterns in the region where you grow them. The advantage of Hardneck varieties for the cook is that their skins usually slip off easily.  They do not store as long as Softnecks though.  Cure and eat them within 3 to 10 months, depending on the variety.

    Garlic_bulbs_with_flowers

     

    There is some debate about hardiness with some believing that Softneck will grow only in the warmer parts of the UK so if in doubt in the coolest parts of the UK it might be a better to choose Hardneck.  Which you choose is up to you though as there is anecdotal evidence of both thriving in areas of the country where they should be struggling.

    There are many varieties of each sort to choose from depending on the flavour and bulb size you would like to produce.

     

    Planting

    When to Plant

    Garlic needs a long growing season.  The cloves can be planted in late Autumn or early Spring but you will get a bigger crop if you plant in Autumn.

    Garlic_plants_in_bed

    Whatever variety you choose, to grow well, it needs a cold period of at least two months. For Autumn sowing, it is therefore essential to sow from early-October to allow the roots to develop before the cold weather sets in. With this in mind Hardnecks should be planted at the beginning of October but Softnecks can wait until around Christmas time. 

    The  Hardnecks will be slower to show themselves so even with this planting timetable you may see the Softnecks appear first.

    Where to plant

    We recommend growing garlic in a rotation system with carrots, onions, leeks, and other root vegetables.  A classic rotation is tomato family, broccoli family, onion family including your garlic.  But as a companion plant we find it makes a great space filler between carrots, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce and parsnips, roses and other flowers too.

    How to plantrows_of_garlic_growing

    Garlic is rarely planted from seed with the cloves used instead.  These are readily available from seed companies and garden centres but you can use pretty much any garlic cloves hanging around your kitchen ... just gently break apart the bulb and each clove will produce it's own plant

    It can be planted directly into the soil but if you suffer from pests such as birds ripping out your young plants then sowing into Rootrainers first may help your plants survive.  See our recent Overwintering Onions Blog for the full story.

    Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. A Raised Bed works very well. Remove stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Work several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with your fertiliser of choice.

    Planting
    1. Break up the bulbs no longer than 24 hours before you plant them.  Be careful not to bruise or damage them.
    2. Sow the individual cloves 10 cm below the surface, root down (pointy end up) around 4 inches apart to give the bulb room to grow.
    3. Hardneck garlic loves to flower.  Cut off the stem close to the base of the bulb once the flower stem starts to coil.  This will concentrate the plants' energy into the crop beneath increasing the size of the bulb.
    4. Once the leaves go yellow/brown stop watering the plants.  Harvest 2 to 3 weeks later (June onwards)
    5. Try to harvest when the weather is dry.  Loosen beneath it with a fork to prevent bruising the bulb then pull up like a weed.  Leave the plants on the surface of the soil to dry in the sun for a few hours.  Move to somewhere warm and dry, to cure for 3 weeks.
    6. Thoroughly dry the bulbs then store them in a cool, ventilated place away from sun.

    Eating Garlic

    Garlic is unbelievably good for you.  It can lower blood pressure, fat and cholesterol levels.  It can also combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

    There are lots of opportunities for the gardener growing their own garlic to plant a few extra and leave it to flower or to experiment with young garlic, picked before it has matured.

    As well as eating the bulb the leaves and flowers are also edible.  They have a milder flavor than the bulbs, and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. You may see "green garlic" in the shops.  This is immature plant that has been pulled rather like a scallion.
    When green garlic has grown past the "scallion" stage, but not fully matured, it may produce a garlic "round", a bulb not separated into cloves like a mature bulb. This imparts a garlic flavor and aroma in food, minus the spiciness of the mature bulb.

  • Lush Leftovers: Soy, Chilli Brussels Sprouts with leeks & carrots

    I'm thinking you will have leftover sprouts from christmas dinner to use up so here is a lovely quick recipe.  Years of careful breeding mean that sprouts are no longer as bitter as they once were and this new sweetness, combined with the honey and soy might just convert sprout haters.  If you can get them to try it...

    Ingredientsbrussel_sprouts_on_plant

    • 250g (8oz) Brussels sprouts, halved
    • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 leek, finely sliced
    • 1 small onion finely sliced
    • 2cm (1in) piece fresh ginger, finely sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
    • 1 red chilli, seeded and finely sliced (or used chilli flakes or dried chilli to taste if you don't have fresh)
    • 1 large carrot, grated
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tsp clear honey
    • 150g (5oz) dried noodles

    Method

    1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the sprouts and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pat dry and set aside.  If your sprouts are already cooked then miss this step out and skip to step 2.  You may wish to leave them whole rather than halving them if they are already quite soft.
    2. Cook the noodles according to pack instructions and run under cold water and set aside.  Or you can use 'straight to wok' ones if you have these to hand.
    3. Put the oil in a wok over a medium high heat. Add the leek and onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the sprouts, stir-fry for 2 minutes more, then add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Stir-fry for a further minute, until fragrant, then add the carrot.  Stir fry for 1 minute more then add the soy sauce and honey. Toss to combine.
    4. Add the noodles and stir-fry until combined and heated through. Serve.
  • Make it a very Merry Christmas for the gardener in your life...

    Here comes Christmas, the offices are festooned with decorations and everyone is starting to get excited!

    For the serious gardener, pretty much any Haxnicks product makes a cracking present.  For those of you who are still struggling to complete that oh so challenging gift list, I thought I'd highlight the best that we have to offer when it comes to getting the perfect present.

    You'll find everything on our website, just use the links or tap in the name in the search box.

    Bell_Cloches_in_3_sizesHaxnicks Bell Cloches King Size, Original or Baby  are a popular gift item, being aesthetically pleasing AND very practical.  Whether sitting over a prized plant in the garden deterring pests, cats, children and any number of other hazards or keeping out the frost and howling wind these bells will always make an original and successful present.

     

     

    Haxnicks_veg_sacks_with _cane_toppers_christmas_present

    How many times do you receive gifts that you will never use?  Gifts that are pretty quickly shoved to the back of a cupboard or given swiftly to charity?  We are all being asked to buy less so why not buy something you know will be used and enjoyed?

    Here's an idea: With a trend towards natural wrapping rather than 'glittery' wrapping paper that can't be recycled, the Haxnicks Vegetable Sacks double as wrapping and a gift.  Stuff full of gardening related stocking fillers. Add a reusable bow and you'll have a hit on your hands and somewhere to store your spuds come autumn.

    A little knowledge?

    Down_to_earth_gardening_book_madeliene_cardozoA gardening book will keep giving year after year. 
    Down to Earth 
     is a practical veg growing guide that covers the most common household favourite as well as some less often grown choices.  Beautifully photographed it is as at home on the coffee table as in the potting shed.  It makes an ideal present for the novice or the experienced gardener wishing to expand their range.

    New & different?

    wrapped_veg_with_bamboo_pots_and_christmas_treeIts always nice to be the first to have something so make them the envy of their gardening chums with Haxnicks Bamboo Pots, Saucers and Seed trays.  These are new and different and make a great gift.

     

     

    Hampers

    Pea_growing_hamperHow about a Christmas present and New Year's resolution all rolled into one?  Does your other half yearn to eat their own potatoes at Christmas Dinner 2019?  Is a planter full of fresh peas or beans on their 'to do' list?  Making up a hamper couldn't be easier - Rootrainers, planters, cane toppers, soft tie, veg sacks  Some things they will already have but add the things they don't and they will be ready to go once the weather warms up.

    Finally a great reason for choosing a gardening gift is that you can get it at a Garden Centre.  There is nowhere more Christmassy than a good Garden Centre.  So you will get your fill of Christmas spirit with loads of parking and its open right up until Christmas

     

    Haxnicks_Stocking_fillers

     

    Happy Christmas from all at Haxnicks, and we look forward to seeing your growing projects in the New Year.

  • Hold onto Autumn and use your stored pumpkin for this lovely recipe...

    Autumn_Leaf_in_leaf_litterLashing rain from frequent storms makes it feel like Autumn is over.  In Greek mythology, Autumn began when Persephone was abducted by Hades to be the Queen of the Underworld. In distress Persephone's mother, Demeter who was goddess of the harvest, caused all the crops on Earth to die until her daughter was allowed to return, marking spring.

    I think maybe it is more to do with temperatures dropping and chlorophyll in leaves declining allowing us to see the other chemicals present but it's a nice story!

    Regardless of its origins Autumn is when the mercury drops and we can think of soup.  Lovely thick soup, warm chunky bread and melting butter. And if you have pumpkins stored in your Haxnicks Veg Sacks  its time to get one out an warm up the advancing winter.

    And what better ingredient than pumpkin?  It is perfect for adding body and a creamy texture to soup.  It is also low in saturated fat, very low in cholesterol and high in fibre not to mention it packs a punch in cold fighting super heroes like Vitamin C.    An all round super food so here is my very simple to make take on the recipe.

    Pumpkin Soup

    Preparation: 30 – 35 minutes Cooking time: 45 – 55 minutes Serves: 6 – 8

    Ingredients:pile_of_pumpkins

    2lbs (900g) pumpkins

    2 medium sized onions

    2 tbs olive oil

    1 1/2 pints (700ml) stock

    6 floz (150ml) double cream

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Sprig of parsley to decorate

     

    Directions:

    1. Chop and fry the onions gently with the olive oil in a pan large enough to take the entire soup.
    2. Deseed and chop the pumpkin into little chunks, add these to the frying pan. Cook gently stirring occasionally for a further 5 – 10 minutes.
    3. Add the stock, salt and pepper and bring to the boil for about 10 minutes.
    4. Add the cream and boil again.
    5. Now put the whole lot into the liquidiser and whizz until smooth.
    6. Serve with a few parsley leaves placed on top, hot, with delicious fresh bread on a cold winters day.

    For a printable PDF click here Pumpkin Soup 

     
  • Exploring the rhizosphere: how to grow trouble free onion sets...

    Rootrainers are what I've chosen for years to grow overwintering onion sets, garlic and spring planted onion sets. Onion sets (small immature onions) allow me to have onions all year round. But, originally manufactured to grow tree seedlings, why would I use Rootrainers for onion sets?

    Growing Onions using Haxnicks Rootrainers
    Growing onions from seeds can be a hit and miss affair, with weather, birds and the like all affecting the young seedlings’ growth outdoors, particularly those seedlings that have to overwinter. I am not after prize winning onions anyway or even huge onions so don't need to use onion seeds. I prefer sets. However, whenever I planted sets direct into the soil outdoors, within a few days, I would find many of the sets had been pulled up from where I had planted them and scattered all over the soil. Who or what was responsible?

    Some detective work - root zones and rhizospheres...

    The root zone is the name for the region of the soil around plant roots as they grow.  The roots produce secretions that help and protect them as they force their way downwards through the soil. The immediate area around the root is called the rhizosphere. There will be many rhizospheres within the root zone of a plant.

    The rhizosphere is the most dynamic environment in the soil, or a microbe ‘hot spot’, the fast food areas of the soil! The roots are also continually shedding old tissue and sloughed-off plant cells. The root secretions and dead plant cells are a feast for microbes living in the soil. In return the soil microbes provide nutrients for the plants, which encourage plant growth. More plant growth means more roots. A win-win situation! Hence soil microbes themselves congregate around the roots. Microbes in turn are a beacon for earthworms, who sense the root secretions and microbes in the soil and target such ‘hot spots’ to feast upon them!

    The Culprit!

    In my garden its the blackbird.  Blackbirds deliberately pull up the onion sets to seek out earthworms and other such tasty morsels, living and feeding in the root zone underneath the onion set.

    By planting onion sets in Rootrainers, the roots will grow in and around the compost, binding it together.  Then when planting them outdoors, unless the blackbird has fed on at least 3 Weetabix (!) that morning, it will not have the energy or strength to pull out the onion set with its well rooted fibrous compost ball, which is a lot heavier than an onion set on its own. Result:  no more scattered onion sets!

    Due to their size onion sets are great for children and school projects too.  Handling them is easy.  Planting requires less skill as sets are easier to handle than seeds.  Together, sets and rootrainers make the exercise easy and interesting for children to do for themselves. One major advantage for schools is that the children can grow AND harvest them all within the school year.

     

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