Love to Grow

  • Soft-Tie; soft on plants, strong on the Job

    Haxnicks Original Soft-TieIntroducing SoftTie

    In every season of the gardening year there are things that need tying back or supporting.  However, it doesn’t matter how good your plant supports are if the tie used is not appropriate for the job. The award-winning Haxnicks Soft-Tie comes in two widths to ensure that plants stems benefit from the right amount of cushioning, so delicate stems are not bruised or broken.

    Soft-Tie has an inner core of galvanised steel wire which gives it its strength.  While its outer coating of a unique, UV-stabilised rubber compound gently cushions and protects plant stems from damage. It is easy to secure with just a twist.  As a result there is no need for messy balls of string and fiddly knots.  Cutting to length is easy with a sturdy pair of scissors.

    When plants grow the string usually has to be untied and retied.  Not with Soft Tie.  A couple of quick twists and the new support position is in place.  Put a twist between the support and the stem and you have a ready-made spacer to prevent damage from chafing. Most noteworthy is that Soft-Tie does not rot.  So it lasts much longer than regular ties and it can be washed and re-used. Its natural green colour allows it to blend with foliage making it as unobtrusive as possible.

    Original Soft-Tie

    With a 7mm diameter and a slightly thicker steel core, the Original Soft-Tie  is the perfect choice for tying up plants that are heavily-laden with growing crops, or for tying up the thicker stems of trees, shrubs, roses, large climbers and fruit bushes. With its superior cushioning and strength, it’s a good choice for any plants in exposed spots.  It will keep them secure and protect from  wind damage.

    Slim Soft-Tie

    Slim Soft-Tie  is half the width of Original Soft-Tie, only 3.5mm in diameter, and is designed for use with the thinner, more delicate stems of climbing annuals, young vegetables and shrubs, tall perennials and houseplants.

    It really is an essential bit of kit for gardeners.  Use Soft-Tie for many other things around the home -too.  Once you start using it you will come up with masses of uses - check out the Soft-Tie video for inspiration.  I'm sure it will make you smile!

  • Grow at Home: Kale

    kale_grown_plants_rowKale is one of the easier to grow brassicas as it does not need full sun, tolerates cold weather quite well and is relatively free from pests and diseases.

    It is also highly nutritious and full of green goodness.  In times gone by it was used to feed cattle during the winter but now, cooked in the right way, it makes a delicious addition to your plate.  You can also eat the small leaves in a salad if you pick them when they are young and tender.

    Sowing Kale

    Indoor

    Sow seeds from March to May ½” (1cm) deep in 4"-5" (10-12cm) Pots in the greenhouse or on a windowsill.  When the seedlings appear prick out the weakest leaving only 1 strong plant per pot. Transplant the seedlings to their final positions from May onwards when they are about 3-6” (6-12cm) tall.

    Outdoor

    Or sow direct into the seedbed from April to August ½” (1cm) deep in rows 1'-2' (30cm-60cm) apart.

    Planting Out & Growing

    kale_close_UpWhen the plants are 6" (6-12cm) tall, and have 5 or 6 true leaves, plant them out placing the lower leaves at ground level.  Water well both before and after planting and mulch to retain moisture for best results.

    If you intend to eat fully grown kale, plant out in rows 2’ (60cm) apart.  But to eat earlier, when the leaves are younger and more tender, make the rows 1’ (30cm) apart.
    Cover with an Easy Poly Tunnel to protect them from weather and pests.

    Harvest

    Harvest the crop from November to April cutting the leaves off as you need them.  Sometimes they can grow again after they have been cut.

    Store in a cool place and they will last for about 10 days. Or blanch, cut up, place in a freezer bag and then put in the deep freezer.

    Eating

    Many people want to like Kale but find they just don't and this could be because they are not preparing it right.  So here are 3 top tips for making your Kale more lovable.

    • Remove the stems - the stems of kale are bitter, chewy and frankly not very nice.  So fold the leaves in half and slice out that stem before preparing.
    • Tenderise a little - the leaves are also tough so you need to massage them to break down some of those tough cell walls before you eat.  Just a couple of minutes of handling will make it far more palatable.
    • If you are using it for a salad rather than cooking then use an acidic dressing -including something like cider or balsamic vinegar.  This will help to break it down and soften it to make it nicer to eat.

    Pests

    Watch out for slugs when the plants are small and for caterpillars and aphid later on. Birds can also be a problem finding both the seedlings and the buds tasty.
    Prevention is always better than cure though.  So using tunnels to cover the plants is advisable.  Then it should be a small job to pinch off any pests that get through your defenses.

    Another good idea is to plant nasturtiums nearby as they attract white butterflies and keep them off your kale and other brassicas.

  • Grow at Home: Endive

    Endive

    endive_curly_2_plants

    Endive is a really great ingredient to be used for salads or as greens.  It comes in two types.  An upright Batavian or escarole with larger broad leaves. This type is very robust, crops in the winter and the outer leaves can be used as greens.  And the second type, is a curly or fringed frisee hence its alternative name of Curly Endive.  This has delicately serrated leaves and crops in the summer.

    Sowing

    Endive germinates best at 20-22°C (68-72°F) but can germinate at temperatures as low as 15°C (59°F). Plants tend to bolt if temperatures fall below 5C (41°F) for too long, but bolt-resistant cultivars are around so looks these out.

    For winter varieties. Sow in Rootrainers for best results from mid to late August, transplant and grow in the greenhouse or plant outside and use Bell Cloches from October- November.

    Sow from February to October for ‘cut and come again’ seedlings.  Warm the soil by covering with an Easy Poly Tunnel  for a month before you plant.  Then cover with an Easy Fleece Tunnel to keep out the chill.  Sow in broad drills or containers every three weeks.

    For summer varieties Sow thinly from April to August, 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart, thinning to 23-38cm (9-13in) apart.

    Growing

    Soils should be light, rich and free draining, It is all about getting the water right for Endive.  They don't like to be soggy so make sure they don't get waterlogged.  And dry soil can cause them to ‘bolt’ so try to keep the soil moist.

    If you like your endive bitter than pray for a hot summer as high temperatures encourage the  bitterness.  Water thoroughly before the onset of dry weather, mulch and keep weed free. Liquid feed fortnightly in summer with a general fertiliser.

    endive_3_in_bowlIn order to keep the texture at its best for eating blanch the at about 12 weeks after sowing. This will keep the plant white and tender.  Blanch a few at a time as they need to be eaten soon after blanching.  Make sure the leaves are dry  so that they don't rot and then choose whichever way you find easiest.  Some of the options are

    • tie the leaves loosely together with raffia or soft string.
    • Build up the soil round the plant leaving just the top exposed
    • cover with a bucket or a black plastic pot with the drainage holes covered

    This process takes about 10-14 days, but if its cold may take longer.

    ‘Cut and come again’ crops can be harvested after about five weeks – one or two cuts are possible before they bolt.

    Harvesting

    Cut off the head with a sharp knife when the head is mature and the leaves are creamy white.

    Harvest ‘cut and come again’ leaves with scissors.

    Pests & Diseases

    Slugs and snails: feed on the young seedlings so make sure you protect your plants with a Slug Buster.

    Aphids:  Greenfly love the soft shoot tips of plants and the leaves.  Pinch them off with finger and thumb or try to encourage their predators like lady birds into your garden by planting wildlife friendly plants.

     

  • 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 an Easy Net Tunnel  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.

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