Love to Grow

  • Pests & Diseases: Asparagus Beetle

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

    Symptoms

    common_asparagus_beetle

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

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

    Eggs

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

    Grubsasparagus_beetle_grub

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

    Adults

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

    Control

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

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

    Other Asparagus Pests & Diseases

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

    Spotted Asparagus Beetlespotted_asparagus_beetle

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

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

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

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

    Growing Tips

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

  • Grow at Home: Asparagus

    What it is

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

    Types

    Asparagus_spears_in_soil

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

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

    Timings

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

    Seeds

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

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                       April to June

    Crowns

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

    Both

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                     30” (80cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                  20” (50cm)

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

    Planting

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

    How to plant

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

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

    Pests

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

    Harvesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Storing

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

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

    Eating

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

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

  • 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..       

  • 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 slugs & snails

    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.

  • 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.

  • Bamboo, sustainability and the environment

    Bamboo_pots_on_windowcillHaxnicks and the Environment

    We are using bamboo pots and seed trays as a sustainable alternative to plastic.
    At Haxnicks we care about the environment and the environmental impact of our products. We are keen to do all we can to protect the environment at the same time as bringing new, practical and genuinely useful products to gardeners.

    For many years Haxnicks has specialised in developing plant protection products that help to avoid the use of chemical pesticides.  Pesticides can be harmful to the environment and we hope that this has had some positive effect. We use plastics in many of our products.  However, we avoid the production of ‘single-use’ products.  We are also continually exploring new technologies to find natural and sustainable alternatives.

    Our range of Bamboo Pots and Seed Trays are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic pots.  Whilst there are many advantages of using bamboo pots as an alternative, we also need to be aware of any environmental concerns arising from the production of these items as well as the inevitable carbon footprint of production processes and transportation.

    These bamboo pots are part of a journey toward a more sustainable way to garden and whilst they are not perfect they are better than what came before.

    The Current Industry

    It is estimated that 500 million plastic plant pots are sold every year.  The majority of these end up in landfill or incinerated.  Very little is recycled and there are few facilities to do so.  production of these petrochemical plastic pots involves a large amount of fossil fuel .  Added to this they take around 500 years to decompose. Meaning that every pot that was ever sent to landfill is currently still there.

    Sustainability of Bamboo

    Much of the bamboo we make our products from is offcuts of the furniture industry so is using up a waste product.

    Bamboo is the largest member of the grass family. It is the fastest growing woody plant in the world growing up to 35 metres tall. New shoots can reach their full height in just eight to ten weeks.  Then reach full maturity in three to five years. The high growth rate of bamboo and the fact that it can grow in diverse climates makes the bamboo plant a sustainable and versatile resource. However, we want to know that our part in the worldwide demand for bamboo does not impact on other native species. We have visited the forests and in the areas where our bamboo grows and have seen no signs of this as yet.

    Harvesting most crops such as timber leaves the soil bare after harvesting. Being a grass, after each cut bamboo regenerates just like a lawn without the need for replanting.  Regular harvesting benefits the health of the plant. Studies have shown that felling canes leads to vigorous re-growth and an increase in the amount of biomass the next year.

    Bamboo grows very densely.  Its clumping nature means a lot grows in a comparatively small area, easing pressure on land use. Average yields for bamboo are around 60 tonnes per hectare whilst for most trees average yields are around 20 tonnes.

    The extensive root system of bamboo and the fact that it is not uprooted during harvesting means bamboo helps preserve soil and prevent soil erosion. The bamboo plant's root system creates an effective watershed, stitching the soil together along fragile river banks, deforested areas and in places prone to mudslides.

    Bamboo minimises CO2 and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. One hectare of bamboo sequesters 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.  While one hectare of young forest only sequesters 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

    Bamboo and water

    Very little bamboo is irrigated.  Bamboo uses water very efficiently which means it is able to handle harsh weather conditions such as the droughts, floods and high temperatures.  These conditions may well become more prevalent as a result of global warming.

    Bamboo grows prolifically without the need for chemical fertilisers and irrigation. It is likely that some bamboo farmers use fertilisers to increase growth.  This practice is much less common with bamboo than with most other crops, and we have not seen this in the areas where we work.

    Our bamboo products come from China, where the bamboo grows.  The finished products move by sea to various countries worldwide. Compared to other transport methods like air, sea has a relatively low carbon impact.  It is not perfect but it is a step in the right direction away from petrochemical plastic pots.  We continue to look at the materials we use and will source locally where practical.

    Child labour

    PRC (China) labour law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16 yrs. However, evidence points to child labour still in certain industries. The US International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) has investigated Child Labour for 25 years and publish a list of known ongoing occurrences worldwide. In China there are lists containing various industries such as cotton, textiles, Fireworks but not bamboo. Burma is the only country where the ILAB list includes bamboo. We have visited various bamboo plantations in the region where we work.  We have not seen any use of child labour or poor working conditions.

  • 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 

     

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