Grow At Home

  • Grow At Home: Mushrooms

    Mushrooms_in_basket

    Mushrooms are turning into big business in both the UK & the USA.

    Sales and prices are up, and growers are struggling to keep up with demand.  This is thought to be due to an increasing number of people moving to a plant-based diet.  Mushrooms are an obvious meat alternative. Even if you don't favour a plant based diet though, mushrooms are fat-free, low calorie, low sodium and gluten free, delicious, nutritious and available all year round.  So the reasons are stacking up to try and grow your own.

    Button mushrooms remain the most commonly eaten variety, But demand is picking up for specialty varieties, such as shiitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms.

    Growing mushrooms

    Despite 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, and one of the only foods that you can eat happily for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  They are 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 dish?

    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.

  • Grow at Home: Winter Salads

     

    winter_salad_in_soil

    Many people are surprised to know that you can grow salad in winter very successfully without needing too much space or even a greenhouse.  A sheltered spot and a little bit of care and attention and you can enjoy a healthy harvest all year long.

    Although we tend to associate salad with long summer days, there's nothing like the taste of a fresh green salad at any time of year.  Often winter lettuce is actually slightly sweeter than the summer varieties.  Choose hardy varieties of your favourite summer lettuce or try something with a bit of heat such as a mustard spinach.

    A few healthy plants will probably be all you need to see you through so that you can pick leaves as and when you need them.  Vigoroot Balcony Garden will give you strong healthy plants in even the smallest space.  It will also allow you to cover your crop up if the weather turns really nasty.

    Sowing Salad

    For a continuous supply, sow a few seeds every four weeks.  Some lettuce varieties, such as 'Arctic King’ and other winter salads are fine to grow all year round.  They just need a little extra protection during colder months. The cut-and-come-again crops are loose-leafed and you can pick a few leaves from the plants every few days.

     Ideally sow seed up until mid November- earlier rather than later to avoid frost damage to seedlings.  But if you’ve missed the chance to sow, then  supermarket bought trays of living salad will do well if planted now.  Easy Seedling Tunnels or a Baby Victorian Bell Cloche will protect young plants during cold weather, especially frosty nights.

    Sow short lines of winter lettuce seed every couple of weeks or so. Water well afterwards; winter rainfall will probably be enough to keep plants watered. Thin out plants as they start to crowd each other – you can eat the thinnings in a sandwich!

    Protection

    Keep seedlings warm and watered and choose a sheltered area if possible.  To protect your plants from cold winds as sharp drop in temperature may kill off seedlings and young plants.

    Keep an eye on the weather and protect crops with a cloche or cover overnight.  Remove the covering in the day to keep a good circulation of air and avoid rotting.

    If you have to leave the cover over the plants, remove it every day or so and check them.  The soil may need a little forking over to avoid it getting compacted and wet. A Vigoroot Easy Table Garden is ideal for growing winter salads and can be moved to the sunniest spot and the cover removed easily on warmer days.

    Harvest

    Winter lettuce crops can be used as and when the plants are big enough. Varieties that produce a firm head are best left to fully mature.  Although a taking a leaf or two once in a while won’t hurt. The cut-and-come-again varieties should be picked regularly after they are about 2in high. They will produce more leaves if you pick some.  Or you can allow the plants to grow to about 8in and cut the whole head off, leaving a stump – a new plant should soon re-sprout. 

    Whatever you grow it will give you a little reminder that Summer is never far away!

  • Grow at Home: Companion Planting

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    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 - Perfect Parsnips

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    Parsnips are a good vegetable for the inexperienced gardener as they require very little work and are easy to grow.  Parsnips taste great used in stir-fries, mashed with potato or carrot or as an accompaniment to a traditional roast.

    Where to grow parsnips

    Do not grow parsnips on freshly manured ground - a bed manured for a previous crop in the preceding season would be ideal. Ideally the soil needs to be stone free and dug over during the winter to produce the best quality parsnips and adding compost from your heap will help to improve the soil without it becoming over rich.

    Parsnips like an open sunny site, but will tolerate light shade.

    Sowing

    Sow in late winter to late spring in drills 1cm deep and space seed about 15cm apart.  Alternatively sow in rows and thin out at the seedling stage.  Rows should be spaced 30cm apart and protection with Easy Tunnels will aid germination, which can take up to three weeks.

    Intercropping between the rows is a good idea with rocket or radish working well.

    Aftercare

    Thin out the seedlings to 15cm apart and water the crop during dry periods - parsnips hate to dry out.  Regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help avoid damaging the crowns of the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting them when the foliage begins to die down in mid Autumn.  The best tasting parsnips are lifted after the first frosts.  Lift them only when required - the remainder can be left in the ground through to late winter.

    A slight cautionary tale - parsnips are related tot he Giant Hogweed which means the leaves can cause severe skin irritation and blistering.  So if you have sensitive skin then consider wearing gloves when harvesting or weeding around the plants.

    Parsnip Pests and diseases

    Generally trouble free but Parsnip Canker can affect the crop, especially in acid or over manured soils. Carrot Fly can be a problem in some areas so as a precaution it would be sensible to try a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

     

  • Pests and Diseases : Red Spider Mite

    What are Red Spider Mites

    Red spider mite are so small (less than 1mm) they are almost invisible without a magnifying glass but they can wreak havoc in a greenhouse or on houseplants.

    Spider mites reproduce rapidly especially at in conditions with high temperature and low humidity.

    At 25°C, a freshly laid egg will hatch, grow into an adult mite and lay more eggs after only 10 days - At 30°C, it's  only 7 days!

    Females can produce up to 150 eggs in their life, laying around 10 eggs per day. These are 0.14mm in diameter and transparent at first. Eventually, they turn white to light yellow.

    What do they look like?

    Confusingly, for most of the year of the year they aren’t red in colour at all as their name suggests.

    They begin life as a greenish-yellow, and only turn red in the late summer/early autumn. The first you know of them may be what looks like sandy coloured ‘dust’ moving around the growing tips and undersides of new leaves.

    What do Red Spider Mite Do?

    Red spider mite suck sap from plants through foliage.

    They will attack almost anything in the greenhouse, in fact, very few plants are fully resistant to this mite. They will feast on fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, as well as flowering plants, like fuchsias, pelargoniums and orchids, and many more besides.

    How to prevent and treat Red Spider Mite

    • Keep a regular eye on all you plants to look out for the early signs. On leaves, you’ll see subtle marks and mottling, and, if you have your reading glasses on you may be able to see the mites themselves underneath the leaf
    • You may also spot white shedded ‘skin casts’, and sometimes tiny round eggs as well. In severe cases, you will see very fine webs near the top of the affected plants
    • It is important to be vigilant and look out for bleached, unhealthy looking leaves, often with yellow or brown speckles. If under continuous attack, leaves will dry up and fall off and the host plant can become severely weakened
    • Red Spider Mite like hot, dry conditions so keeping the greenhouse well ventilated will help to deter attacks
    • Damping down can help to keep the atmosphere humid – which the Spider mite hate. Spray water from a hose or can onto the greenhouse floor and under the staging to keep the air moist – the plants will enjoy it too!
    • Washing leaves with a mild soap solution can be very effective if done regularly
    • Encourage ladybirds and other predators into your garden – they will feast on mites and aphids in your greenhouse. Other biological controls include the predatory mite phytoseiulus persimilis Which can be introduced once temperatures in the greenhouse reach 21 degrees
    • Spider Mites can remain dormant once the temperature drops for up to a year so good hygiene and thorough washing of pots and equipment at the end of the season is a must

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