grow your own food

  • 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..

  • Grow At Home: Rocket

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

    Sowing

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

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

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

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

    Care

    Mid _size_rocket_growing

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

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

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

     

    Pests

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

    Harvest

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

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

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

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

  • Grow at Home: Onions from seed

    Many people grow onions from sets - mini, immature onion bulbs - to get a head start.  The advantage of growing onions from seeds, instead of from sets, is that it is far cheaper if you are going for a big harvest. So if you eat a lot of onions then seeds are worth a try but you need to get them in ASAP now.

    Sowing

    Make sure you use fresh seeds as the germination rate reduces the older seeds get.  They will still germinate but if you are using a packet from last year you may need to sow a few more to get the crop you are hoping for.  Sow the seeds on a windowsill or in the greenhouse, from February to April.

    spring_onion_cutThey will germinate without extra heat, but providing a little heat underneath the seed trays or pots will speed up the germination process.  So, add a lid or enclose in a plastic bag and put it on a heat mat or somewhere warm like on top of the fridge.  Germination should take around 7 to 10 days.

    Onion seedlings sometimes have trouble shedding the seed husk and end up doubled up like an ostrich with their head in the sand.  If you want to help them move along then you can snip the thinner bit, pull it out complete with seed husk and discard it.  The thicker side of the loop can then get on with growing.  This is fiddly and they will sort themselves out eventually so you can decide if you have the time and energy to do this or want to just let them get on with it.

    Whether you are growing in the ground or containers make sure that that the young onions get plenty of light. If you are not growing in a greenhouse, then put the seedlings outside on warm sunny days to get maximum light benefit and to help harden them off. Use a large Bell cloche, poly lantern cloche or poly tunnel to help protect from wind and temperatures below 10˚c. Once you are happy that night time temperatures are well above 8˚C then the onions can stay out without protection.

    Planting Outside

    onions_growingTransplant them outside in May or June when they produce a third leaf and are about 3” (8cm) high. Dig some rich fertiliser into the ground where you are going to plant them.  Make sure you put it directly under where the onions will be as their roots are concentrated directly down from the bulb.

    Plant them vertically and handle them gently. The bulb should be ½” (1cm) below the surface. Depending on the onions final sizes, plant them between 2-10” (4-25cm) apart, with 9" (22cm) between rows.

    Container Growing

    If you want to grow onions in containers then transplant them at the same stage as for outdoors. The container will need to be at least 10" (25cm) deep and each onion will need about 8cm (3 inches) of space to grow. So, the wider the container the better.  Make sure that the compost you use to fill the container is not too high in nitrogen.  If it is you will get a lovely leafy display above ground and very little below ground.

    Looking after your Plants

    The important thing while they are growing is to keep the weeds down.  Onion seedlings don't compete well with weeds and it will affect the size of your onions.  So weed regularly.

    You can also keep trimming them back to around 5" so that they don't flop over.  Once again they will be OK if you leave them to their own devices, so if you're not growing them for the Village Show you may want to miss this step.

    Keep them well watered especially when it is dry. When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Possibly even clear a little of the soil at the top of the bulb too.

    Harvest

    onion_bulb_in_groundHarvest them from July to October.  Lift the onions as you need them from July to October.  There is a danger that they can rot in the ground when it starts to get very wet so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie in the sun for a couple of days.

    Storage

    Only store the onions that are perfect - use any that aren't straight away.   The best way to store them is in a jute Veg Sack.  This allows air to circulate and keeps them cool and dark. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, light a couple of candles.  This should stop your eyes watering, as the vapours from the onions will be absorbed in the candle flames.

  • Grow at Home: Green beans

    Green beans come in bush or pole varieties and within these there are many, varied cultivars from runner beans to dwarf beans.  Traditionally called "green" beans the cultivars come in a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours including purple, orange, yellow and mottled.  So plenty to brighten up the veg garden and put on a show.

    What to plantBeans_on_plant

    What to plant depends a lot on what you like to eat, when you want to eat it and a little on the space you have.

    Bush green bean varieties grow to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. They come in a week or two earlier than pole beans, but produce fewer beans

    Pole bean varieties can grow 8-10 feet (2.5-3 m), and need a trellis or something to climb on for support. They’re called “pole beans” because one popular way to grow them is in “teepees” made of bamboo poles or branches.  Pole beans take longer to start producing than bush beans, but they produce for a longer period and seem to have a bit more flavour.

    Runner beans are the ancestors of the modern green bean varieties and grow to 10-12 feet (3-4 m),  Many are put off by the stringiness of the shop bought ones but picking them fresh from your own garden is a different matter so these should still be on your list of potentials.

    If you really like green beans and have the space, then plant both bush and pole beans.  The bush beans will come in early in the summer, followed by the pole beans which will keep producing after the bush beans are done.

    Sowing

     

    If you have space, start the beans off indoors on a windowsill or in a propagator, in late April or May. Sow a single seed 1" (2.5cm) deep in Rootrainers or small pots.  Put them outside when the weather is good to harden them off.  They are a tender plant though that doesn’t tolerate frost so wait to plant them out until the risk of frost has passed.  Usually in late May/early June in the UK.  If in doubt (and to give them an extra boost) then once outside, cover them with a cloche or a tunnel to get them off to a great start.

    You can sow them directly outside from May to July but virtually no one does! Some types such as Climbing French beans will crop continually into September. But dwarf French beans crop only over a few weeks, so you may want to make an additional later sowing.

    Beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil.  Fork in some well-rotted manure before you plant yours out.

    Container Growing

    bean_planterIt is perfectly possible to grow beans in containers.  The Pea and Bean Planter holds 6 bean plants in the space of little bigger than a tea tray.  It has pockets to slot your canes into so makes it easy to support them.  This planter allows those with just a balcony or very little outside space to enjoy a summer's worth of home grown beans.

    You can also grow beans in Vegetable Planters or even a 5L Vigoroot Pot with a Water Saucer so the plant can take water as and when it needs it.  Beans will usually need a much larger volume of compost than this to grow successfully.  But, because Vigoroot air-prunes the roots then a compact 5L pot is all you need.

     

     

    SupportCane_bean_climbing

    When properly spaced, bush varieties grow together into small bushes and support each other, and need no trellising.

    All the climbing varieties need support though.  From the traditional A Frame or tippee arrangements of 6' to 8' bamboo canes held with ties to the sturdier no nonsense Steel Pea & Bean Frame.  This frame is great for beans, peas and even sweet peas.  It is a perfect option if you find tying canes together to be a bit too fiddly.  But your veg garden doesn't have to be boring, there are also more ornamental frames such as the Square Ornamental Frame or even a statement piece like the Eiffel Tower which could make your garden stand out from the crowd. 

    Whatever method you choose, loosely tie the plants to your support an they will naturally start to climb. Once the plant reaches the top of the support, remove the growing point. This will encourage side stems.

    Flower setbean_flowers

    Runner beans sometimes fail to set (there are flowers but no beans)  This was a particular problem in 2018 when there was actually a summer in the UK (!) The prolonged spell of really hot weather meant that there was insufficient moisture and flowers did not set.  To avoid this ensure the soil is constantly moist and doesn't dry out and mulch in June to retain moisture.  Watering the plants in the evening will also help and gently spraying the whole plant including near the flowers to increase the humidity encourages flowers to set.

    Flower set is better in alkaline, chalky soils. If your soil is neutral or acidic adding lime will help.

    French beans set flowers more easily than other varieties so if this is a persistent problem then it might pay to choose a different variety the following year..

    Harvesting

    Bush beans will take about 50 to 60 days to be ready to harvest.  Pole varieties will be a little longer at 70 to 80 days.

    Harvest the beans regularly as this will stimulate the plant to produce more beans.  Picking regularly will also prevent any pods reaching maturity.  Once a pod reaches maturity the plant will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. and the bean season will be over too soon.

     

    Youtube_LogoDid you know that Haxnicks has a YouTube Channel?  Subscribe Here for general gardening tips and to see how to use our products to get bigger, better yields from your crops, tackle pasts and generally make your gardening life easier.

  • How to Protect Carrots from Carrot Fly

    You might think it is too early to think about carrot fly.  However, there is a lot you can do at the planting stage to ensure you get a healthy crop.  So well worth reading this now before you sow.

    If you have yet to experience that awful sinking feeling of lifting carrot after carrot riddled with dark crevices, tunnelled out by the dreaded carrot fly larvae, then consider yourself lucky. But for those of you that have, fear not! Haxnicks have been fighting various garden pests for over 20 years, and have picked up a few tricks along the way...

    How to protect your Carrots from Carrot Fly with Haxnicks
    Image courtesy of www.morguefile.com

    But first... some facts about carrot fly:

    • Carrot fly also affects other vegetables in the parsley family, such as Parsnip, Celery, Dill, Coriander, Fennel and Celeriac
    • They are attracted to the smell of bruised foliage
    • The larvae that damage the roots can continue to feed through the autumn into winter, moving between plants
    • The adult carrot fly is approximately 9mm long.  It is a slender, metallic, greenish-black fly with yellow legs and head. Larvae are creamy white, tapering maggots

    How can you tell if your carrots are infected? - Check for reddening of the foliage and stunted growth

    So now we know a little bit about the pest itself, we can look at some of the ways which we can protect our crops from infestations:

    1.  Make sure to avoid using previously infested ground. Carrot fly larvae are capable of surviving through the winter.  So avoid re-sowing any vegetable from the Parsley family (see above)
    2. Avoid sowing during the main egg-laying periods, which are (for most parts of the UK): mid-April to the end of May & Mid-July to the end of August.
    3. Sow disease and pest resistant varieties such as Fly Away F1 and Resistafly F1, available from garden centres and online seed suppliers.
    4. Erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel - with 0.6mm netting it will keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.
    5. Sow thinly so as to avoid ‘thinning out’, releasing the smell of bruised foliage
    6. Thin out or harvest on a dry evening with no wind – or use scissors so that no bruising of foliage occurs
    7. Try companion planting - growing varieties of pungent Rosemary, Sage or Marigold as a deterrent/’smokescreen’
    8. Grow your carrots in a tall planters - for example the Haxnicks Oxford fabric planter or Carrot Patio Planters
    9. Lift main carrot crops by Winter, especially if any are infected – don’t leave them in the ground to serve as food for overwintering larvae.

    Thinning out tip: Use scissors to avoid bruising the foliage (and releasing the carrot-fly attracting scent)

    To find out more about carrot fly, and the other pests that may arrive in your garden check out Pippa Greenwood's excellent RHS book for plant by plant advice on Pests and Diseases

    Have you any experience of carrot fly damage? What do you think went wrong? Please let us know your thoughts using the comments section below.

  • Grow at Home: Tomatoes

    Beef_Tomato_on_plantGrowing Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are an easy and rewarding crop to grow.  Quite often they are the first plant a child will toddle home from school with and are therefore a perfect introduction to growing your own food.
    The main reason to grow them though, is flavour.  Supermarket tomatoes are grown to travel well and stay looking good for as long as possible on the shelves. As a result, they are often picked before they are ripe too which is not ideal.  Flavour is on the list of criteria but much lower down than it should be.

    Technical Tomato Terms

    First of all, let's start with some technical tomato terms because these will help you choose the right variety for the space you plan to grow them in.

    Indeterminate or Cordon varieties

    This is your typical, tall tomato plant.  They have a single long stem and usually grow up canes or twine up to 6' (1.8m) in height.  Cordon varieties produce side shoots which need to be removed, as they appear, or they will grow into large lateral branches leaving a tangled plant with a lower yield of ripe fruit.

    Determinate or bush varieties

    These are smaller tomato plants that are great for growing in containers, hanging baskets or anywhere where space is limited.  Bush varieties are sprawling rather than having a single central stem.  Because they are low and sprawling they are suitable for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels.  They spread about 2 or 3 foot and removing side shoots is not necessary as the bush is ‘self stopping’.

    Dwarf varieties

    Dwarf plants are the smallest, very compact plants growing no more than 8 inches high. Ideal for container growing.

    Truss

    A truss is a group or cluster of smaller stems where flowers and the subsequent tiny green tomatoes develop.  Much of the support and pruning of the plant is done in relation to where the bunches of tomatoes, or 'trusses', are growing so it is useful to know this term.

    Where to Grow

    Tomatoes require full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK where summers are unpredictable and sunlight can be scarce.  Position them against a wall or fence if possible to get the best results.  They also need good fertile soil. Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.

    Container GrowingTomatoes_growing_in_Haxnicks_3_cane_tomato_planter

    If you don't have a large garden or allotment and want to grow in a container or planter then Haxnicks have a big variety to choose from.  In reality, which container you choose depends on the variety you have selected above.

    There is a useful table at the bottom of this blog which shows the whole range of planters with a  short description and link to find out more.

     

    When & How to Grow

    Sow seed indoors in late February to June.  Due to the temperature, if sowing early use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill.

    Tomatoes can be sown 3/4" (2cm) deep in compost filled seed trays.  Try and keep your seedlings warm and give them as much light as you can.  Too little light will result in tall and weak seedlings.  The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin. Compost should also be kept moist and should never be allowed to dry out.

    When your seedlings have 5 or 6 leaves you will need to prick them out and pot them on into 10" (22cm) pots filled with a rich potting compost.  Subsequently, when they are 12" (30cm) tall move them to their final position in your plot or container. To grow really strong plants you can transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into Rootrainers and plant them out after around 6 weeks when they should have developed a super-strong root system.

     

    Support

    Tomatoes_red_on_the_plant

    Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow.  Canes have long been the traditional way to do this.  It is especially important, if using canes, to ensure that the plants are tied gently to allow the stem to grow in both width and height.  Tying too tightly will restrict growth and damage the plant.  The best way to support them is with a frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster.  Since this will gently support the plants without damaging them.  A properly supported plant can put all of its energy into producing fruit leading to higher yields.  So if you want to triumph at the village show or simply want to be self sufficient in tomatoes then this could be your secret weapon.

    Pinching Out

    If you have chosen a cordon variety you will need to pinch out side shoots as the plants grow.  You will find these shoots between the main stem and the branches.  To the novice gardener it seems like this will mean you get less tomatoes but the opposite is actually true.  Pinch them out when they are 1" (2.5cm) long and this will add light and air to your plant, keeping it healthy and allowing it to concentrate its energy on fruit production.

    Pruning

    When the plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.

    Watering and Feeding

    Tomatoes love a regular, consistent water supply so water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist.  Therefore, fluctuating moisture levels can cause the fruit to split.
    Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set.

    If you are growing in containers or growbags there will be restricted root space so you will need to feed them more.  You will also need to pay close attention to watering.  Some self watering planters such as Vigoroot Easy Table Garden and Vigoroot Self Watering Tower Garden will make this easier however, containers generally do require frequent watering.

    Pests & Diseases

    Blossom End Rot: the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
    It is mainly due to irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil.  Consistent regular watering and feeding will help avoid this disease.

    Blight: this causes the fruit and foliage rot and is most common in wet weather.  Avoid planting in areas that have had plants with the disease in.  Instead, grow your tomatoes elsewhere in containers and leave these areas to rest for a year or two.  Furthermore, choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.

    Leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes.  Therefore, rarely seen in outdoor grown ones.  Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface and a pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found under the leaf. It causes significant yield loss.  To avoid this, keep the greenhouse well ventilated or choose a resistant variety of plant.

    Tomato splitting and cracking: This is to be avoided where possible as it leave the plant open to infection.  Consequently, a fungus, such as grey mould may get in.  To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. It is most important to feed and water regularly to maintain a constant soil moisture level.

    Companion planting Growing garlic and nasturtiums near your plants will help deter bugs.

    Harvesting

    Pick the fruit when it is ripe.  However, at the end of season you may have green tomatoes and not enough sunlight to ripen them.  If this happens then you can either make delicious Apple & Green Tomato Chutney or you can try and ripen them.  The best ways to do this are:

    • lift the plants with unripe fruit and lay them on straw under cloches
    • place fruits in a warm, dark place and wait
    • put the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which will release a gas that aids ripening.

    For further information on ripening green tomatoes see our Ripening Blog

    Try something new? Mycorrhizal Fungi

    If you have grown tomatoes before and at this point in time want to try something extra to boost your crop then tomatoes respond well to inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi.  The fungi and the tomato plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi form a network of hyphae which transport water and minerals to the plant and in return the roots produce sugars to nourish the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are available as a powder to coat seedlings when planting out.

    Which Haxnicks Container is right for me?

    (Please note: the different marker symbols don't denote anything - they are just indicating which tomato is best with which frame.  For some reason, the publishing program didn't like the same symbol being used so this is the work around!)

    P

    lanter
    (click on title to see details)

    Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties Determinate or bush varieties Dwarf About this product
    Tomato Crop Booster A frame that properly supports tomato plants giving a higher yield.  Poly cover sold separately to turn it into a mini greenhouse.
    Tomato (climbing) Patio Planter Planter with 3 sided plant support included.
    Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack)   ◊ 2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.
    4) Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato.  Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants
    Grower System A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.
    Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.
    Vigoroot Easy Table Garden Vigoroot fabric planter with integral self-watering system & poly protection cover - a raised bed, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one!
    Other Tomato Accessories
    Tomato Tubes Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.
    Twist Up tomato Cloche
  • Grow at Home - Sweet/Bell Peppers/Capsicum

    What are they?

    The Bell Pepper (Capsicum annuum) is also known as the Sweet Pepper or Capsicum and is originally native to the Americas.  As its name suggests, it is sweet rather than spicy.  This is because it does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that creates a strong burning sensation that makes the other members of the family such as chillies taste 'hot'.

    Botanically speaking, like tomatoes, bell peppers are fruits.  However, when cooking they are considered a vegetable and despite their sweet taste no one is going to thank you for adding them to the apple crumble!

    Colours  Multi_coloured_peppers

    They come in green, red, yellow, orange, brown, white, purple, lavender and black.  Red peppers are ripened green peppers, the exception being the Permagreen pepper which is still green when ripe and will never turn red.
    The sweetness of the pepper depends on growing conditions and how much it has been allowed to ripen.  So a ripe red pepper will be sweeter than the less ripe green one.  Peppers that have ripened on the plant will also be sweeter than those that were picked and allowed to ripen after.  Not something you can change when buying them but if you grow your own then you can ensure they are as sweet as possible by leaving them to ripen on the plant.

    There are many varieties but I would choose a hardy, early variety such as Yellow Monster or Lipstick to get the best results.

    Sowing

    Peppers are easy to grow from seed and have a high germination rate.  Sow seeds 1/2" (1cm) deep inside in Rootrainers, pots or seed trays from mid-February to end of March.  They will take 2-4 weeks to germinate.

    Peppers like it warm so so use a propagator and aim for a temperature of around 18-21°C (65-70°F) or place on a warm windowsill, with plastic bags over the pots to keep the heat and moisture in.  Of course if you have used Rootrainers then they come with their own lid so you can just pop this on for the perfect environment.

    Transplant into 3" (8cm) pots when two true leaves have formed.  Handle the seedlings by the leaves to avoid damaging the delicate stem.

    If you don't want to grow from seed then most Garden Centres will sell plants.

    Planting

    Position

    If growing in England this crop is much better being grown in a greenhouse or on a windowsill for as long as possible.

    If planting in the ground space the rows 18" (45cm) apart with the same distance between plants.  The more you prepare the bigger the yield you will get so dig in some well rotted manure.  You may also wish to cover the ground with a  Easy Poly Tunnel  to warm the soil before planting.  Once your plants are in position keep them covered with a cloche or a tunnel as they like it warm, but remember to take it off or open it for periods to allow pollination.

    Peppers grow well in containers and can also be grown in grow bag planters or in the garden as long as it is in a sheltered, sunny spot.  Ideally a South or West facing brick wall or fence.

    Potting On

    Once the roots fill your 3" (8cm) pot transfer plants to 12" (30cm) pots of good compost.  Do this in mid-May (heated greenhouse), late-May (unheated greenhouse) or June if growing outside.

    Pinch out the growing tips of chillies when they are about 12" (30cm) tall to encourage bushiness.

    Watch the plants as the fruits begin to grow.  If fruit becomes heavy then stake and tie plants in to prevent breakages.  Also, if growing in a greenhouse the leaves can become scorched so watch out for this and open vents and shade as appropriate if the temperatures start to soar.

    Feeding & Watering

    As with all plants regular water is vital so make sure you keep the moisture levels as constant as you can.

    Once flowers form start feeding with a fertiliser suitable for tomatoes e.g. a high potash liquid fertiliser with seaweed.  Feed every 10 days as you water.

    Harvesting

    Harvest August to November.  Expect to harvest between 3 and 8 peppers per plant.

    Start to pick the fruit when it is large, green and has a glossy sheen.  If you prefer sweeter peppers then leave it on the plant to mature but this will reduce yield.  If you still have peppers on the plant when the frosts arrive then dig up the whole plant.  Hang it upside down in a shed or greenhouse to allow the fruit to continue to ripen.
    Once harvested, if kept cool, bell peppers can store for up to 3 weeks once picked.

     

  • 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: Leeks

    What are they?Leeks_in_soil

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

    Types

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

    Planting

    SOW SEEDS IN GREENHOUSE/ON WINDOWSILL:       February to April

    SOW SEEDS DIRECTLY OUTDOORS:                            March to April

    TRANSPLANT OUTDOORS:                                             May to July

    DEPTH TO PLANT SEEDS:                                               ½” (2cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN ROWS:                                         12” (30cm)

    DISTANCE BETWEEN PLANTS:                                       6” (15cm)

    Soil Type

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

    When to Plant

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

    Variety Sow Plant Out
    Summer and Autumn (Hannibal)

     

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

     

    Mid March Mid May
    Late Winter (Blue Solaise)

     

    Early May Early June

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

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

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

    Planting Out

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

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

    Where to plantContainer_Leeks_in_snow

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

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

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

    Feeding

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

    Blanchingpulled_leeks

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

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

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

    Collars

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

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

    Harvesting

    HARVEST: September to Mayfrosty_baby_leeks

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

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

    Eating

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

  • Grow At Home: Mushrooms

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

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

    Which Variety of Mushrooms to Grow

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

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

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

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

    Timing

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

    Method

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

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

    Spawn

    You can get the spawn in a number of forms.

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

    Where to Grow

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

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

     

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

    War Time Mushrooms

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

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