grow your own

  • Grow at Home: Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Calabrese

     

    broccoli_plant

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli  and Italian Calabrese are often confused as the supermarket sold 'broccoli' is in fact the large green headed calabrese.

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli is an excellent crop for filling the harvesting gap at the end of the winter and heralds the start of the new grow your own season for many gardeners.  It is also the hardiest and easiest broccolis to grow.

    Where to grow

    All forms of broccoli and calabrese do best in an open sunny position. Protection from strong winds will prevent the plants from rocking.

    Both require a rich soil. Manure in the Autumn and apply lime  if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7 in particular for the purple sprouting variety. You can get soil testing kits from the garden centre which will quickly tell you the pH of your soil.

    Sowing

    If growing from seed then plant in the greenhouse or a windowsill from March to April.   You can plant in pots or for a better result try Rapid Rootrainers.   These will allow you to transplant them without root disturbance that could slow their growth.

    You can also sow seed thinly direct into their final position.  Sow in rows to a depth of 1cm with 15cm between rows. After germination thin to 5 cm apart in preparation for transplanting to their final position.

    Calabrese do not transplant as happily so should ideally be sown direct and thinned to 30 cm apart. Easy Poly Tunnels will aid germination and Easy Net Tunnels protect the young seedlings from birds.

    Transplant deeply with the first leaves sitting on the soil surface to discourage cabbage root fly and help stabilise the plant.  Firm in well, again to help secure the plant and eliminate any air pockets.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered during dry periods to allow healthy growth throughout the long growing season.  Mulching the rows with garden compost will help retain moisture and keep weeds in check as will regular weeding between rows with a Speedhoe will help loosening the soil around the developing plants.

    Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting in late winter and continue through to mid spring, depending on the variety grown.  Harvest shoots of Purple Sprouting varieties  before they flower at around 15cm long.  Regular cutting encourages new shoots and any that reach flowering stage should be removed to prevent exhausting the plant.

    Calabrese can be harvested from late summer to early autumn.  Heads should be cut, starting from the central flower head, while still tightly closed. Spread harvesting of the crop to avoid completely stripping a plant.

    Broccoli Pests and diseases

    Cabbage root fly is the main pest to effect broccoli and calabrese.  Protect with fleece during the early stages to help avoid this - Easy Fleece Tunnels are ideal for this.

    In order to prevent damage to the roots from wind rock (damage to the roots of young plants, caused by the movement of the stem in the wind.)use a Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier

    For a really thorough way to keep pests off them the Haxnicks Grower Frame with the Micromesh cover  The Grower frame is taller than your average growing space so ideal for broccoli.  The Micromesh cover is an ultra fine netting that will keep insects as small as aphids and carrot flies out.  Your broccoli and many other veg will be more than happy to be grown in one.     

     

  • 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 Green Tomato & Apple 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?

     

    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

    (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!)

  • 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 - Broad Bean

    Broad_bean_plant_in_flowerThe Broad Bean is the hardiest and earliest of all the beans to grow yourself.  Like many vegetables, shop bought versions don't do the tasty flavour justice.  They are well worth growing to enjoy fresh from the furry pod.  There many varieties to try including the Red Flowered which has stunning deep red flowers and a beautiful fragrance as well as delicious beans.

    Soil and Aspect

    Grow Broad Beans in heavy soils that are well manured and have good drainage - Manure should be incorporated and dug in during the Autumn.

    Choose an open sunny site, protected from strong winds, especially if growing over the winter.

    Broad Bean Sowing

    Overwintering varieties are sown in late Autumn.  Other varieties can be started off from late winter through to the end of the Spring.

    Sow in double rows in a shallow trench 20 cm wide and 4 cm deep with 20 cm between the seeds.  Alternatively Broad Beans can be started off in Rootrainers in the greenhouse early in the year for planting out in the Spring.

    Aftercare

    Broad_bean_pods_on_bushKeep weed free throughout the growing season - a Speedhoe will make short work of weeds between the rows.  If there is a dry spell, give plenty of water throughout the period until the pods start to swell.  Provide support for taller varieties with canes or an Ornamental Frame. When the first pods start to form, pinch out the top 8cm of growth - This will reduce the danger of black fly attack and aid pod formation.

    Harvesting and storage

    Pick the pods when they have become swollen. Do not allow the pods to become too mature because they will become leathery and tough.  Continuous harvesting extends the cropping season.  Broad Beans are best picked and used fresh.  Any surplus beans can be frozen or dried.

    Pest and Diseases

    The most serious problem for the broad bean is black fly - Removing the growing tips when the pods are starting to mature will help to deter this problem.

     

  • Grow at Home : Radish

    This extremely fast growing vegetable is available in more varieties than many people realise.  Along with the familiar round red radish often used in salads, there are also varieties with pink, yellow or white roots.  There are few more attractive plants to see in the ornamental kitchen garden than a neat row of ruby red radishes peeping out from the soil!

    In fact, in ancient Greece, radishes were so highly regarded that gold replicas were made of them. The Greek name for the radish, Raphamus, means "quickly appearing," which perfectly describes their reputation for being the first vegetable to sprout in a spring garden.

    Where to grow

    Radishes will grow in most soils, but thrive in soil that is rich in organic matter and is moisture retentive.  Dig in plenty of garden compost before sowing if the ground has not been previously manured.

    Choose an open sunny site, although radishes can cope with dappled shade in the height of summer which makes them ideal for intercropping at this time.

    Radish Sowing

    Summer crops can be started by sowing outside under cloches in late winter and early spring.  Sow thinly 1 cm deep with 15cm between rows and thin as plants develop.

    Successional sowing is important to prevent a glut - small rows every 2 weeks will give you a good continuous supply.

    Aftercare

    Keep well watered and weed free - radishes are a very easy crop to care for!

    Harvesting and Storage

    Pick radishes before they get too old and woody.  Select the larger roots first and leave the rest of the crop to grow.  Late crops can be covered with straw to protect them from the cold or kept under a fleece cloche.

    Radish Pests and Diseases

    Radishes are related to cabbages and so prone to the same pests and diseases.  Flea Beetle and slugs are normally the main issue.

    On the plus side radishes are also good at deterring cucumber beetle so a great companion plant for cucumbers.

  • Grow At Home: Rocket

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

    Sowing

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

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

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

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

    Care

    Mid _size_rocket_growing

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

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

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

     

    Pests

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

    Harvest

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

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

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

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

  • Grow at Home - Cucumbers

    cucumber_slices_3Growing Cucumbers

    Like many other veg, cucumbers you grow yourself have much more flavour than those from a supermarket.  And that is the first reason to grow them.  Another reason is that they are versatile and you can grow them inside or outside, in the ground, in pots or in grow bags so they work whatever your space.

    Male & Female

    Cucumbers, like most cucurbit plants, produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant.  Which variety you choose seems to be the real crux of cucumber growing and governs what you have to do to grow them successfully.

    Excuse me if I get a little technical for the next few paragraphs but the ins and outs of male and female flowers needs a little explanation. If you aren't interested in this and just want to get your cucumbers in the ground then just check what your seed packet says in terms of flower removal and skip to the Sowing section!  If not, here goes...

    There are two sorts of cucumbers - monoecious and gynoecious and both of these can be parthenocarpic i.e. they can produce fruit without pollination.

    cucumbers_flowerThe traditional variety- monoecious

    Traditional varieties have both male and female flowers in a ratio of about 10 male to 1 female.  The male flowers usually appear first followed by the female.  This leads some to believe that their plant will not produce female flowers but if you hold your nerve you will be rewarded.

    If you have a variety that needs pollination then there is no need to remove the male flowers.  Their pollen will hopefully be transferred, usually by bees, or wind, to the female flowers to pollinate them. After which your cucumbers will appear.

    If you have a parthenocarpic variety (no pollination needed) then these take a bit of care as you have to pick the male flowers off.  Otherwise they will pollinate the female flowers and the fruit will be bitter. (see below for more on bitterness)

    To identify the sex of the flower, look behind it and see if there is a cucumber growing.  This is a  female flower.  Leave these.  If there is no swelling behind the flower then this is a male and the flower must be picked off depending on your variety.

    The Modern variety - Gynoecious 

    These are simple to grow as the flowers will be predominantly female.

    With Parthenocarpic varieties they will produce fruit without pollination and will be seedless.  Take care as, even though they don't need to be pollinated, they still can be from nearby plants.  So you may want to grow in  a greenhouse or cover them to avoid getting bitter cucumbers.  Some seed packets class these as "indoor cucumbers".

    With the Gynoecious variety pollination is still needed so some traditional varieties will also need to be sown alongside.  Plant your own or check with neighbouring plot holders!

    These 'modern' cucumbers are shorter than traditional ones but you do get more of them.  The fruiting period is shorter too so you are more likely to have a glut of cucumbers.  A traditional variety will give you a longer steady flow over the summer.

    The key to success is to make sure you understand which sort you have from the information on the seed packet.  Follow the instructions and you will be fine.

    cucumber_plantSowing

    Sow the seeds 1" (2.5cm) deep into 3" (7.5cm) pots from late Feb to March if you have a heated greenhouse or similar environment.  Or late March if you don't. They are good growers so you will need to re-pot them before they are ready to go outside.  In late May put them outside for a few days in their pots to hardened them off.

    This deadline has passed this year but all is not lost, you can still buy small plants from the garden centre.

     

     

    Planting Out

    cucumbers_largePrepare the bed.  Dig in some rotted organic matter, such as a sack of garden compost, and rake in 100g per square metre (3½oz per square yard) of general purpose fertiliser.  Transplant the plants into their final position 18" (45cm) apart in June.  To give them a head start and the warmth they need to boost growing, keep them covered once outside.  Bell cloches or an Easy Poly Tunnel are both ideal for this.   These will also keep the pests away - watch out particularly for slugs!

    You could also sow directly outside in late May or early June.  If you do this then pre-warm the soil with an Easy Poly Tunnel or Fleece Blanket and cover the seeds again once planted.

    Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. As they grow, pinch out the growing tips when they have 6 or 7 leaves so that the plants can put all of their energy into producing quality cucumbers.  Pinch out:-

    • the main shoot when it reaches the roof of your greenhouse or the top of your cane.
    • the sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower
    • the tips of flowerless side-shoots once they reach 2' (60cm) long.

    Cucumbers are 96% water so make sure you give them plenty of water too as they are a thirsty plant. Make sure you water round the plant not onto it.  If in the greenhouse, keep the humidity high by watering the floor too.

    Once planted out, feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

    Harvesting

    Harvest will be 50 to 70 days after sowing.  Cut the fruits when they are about 6" - 8" (15-20cm) long using a sharp knife.  They will last 2 to 3 weeks if stored well.

    Common Issues

    Bitterness

    Getting bitter cucumbers sometimes happens but there are some ways to avoid it.

    First, for varieties that do not require pollination, remove male flowers or keep the plants out of reach of pollinators to avoid accidental pollination. A question I have been asked is why those varieties that do require pollination do not suffer in the same way.  The answer is that for some reason, most likely genetics, the varieties that require pollination simply don't produce the cucurbitacin chemicals that would make them bitter.

    Secondly give the plant proper care as stress often causes bitterness.  Stress comes when the plant is too hot, receives uneven watering, or is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.

    The other issue - and one you can't do much about - is heredity.  There is a recessive trait that can cause a plant to produce bitter fruit from the start. You may plant seeds from the same packet and treat them all the same, only to discover one of the plants produces bitter.  If this is the case the only option is to scrap that particular plant and sow again.

    All male flowers

    When the plant is stressed for example by lack of water or high plant density it may react by only producing male flowers.  High temperatures like we saw in 2018 can also do this to plants.  Other stresses, such as damage from insects or blowing soil or low light intensities can result in fewer female flowers.  To avoid this try to reduce the stress the plants are under by watering regularly and well. Ensure there is adequate space between your plants and some shade if the weather is particularly hot.

    Pests

    Slugs are the main problem with outdoor varieties.  Try a Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Cucumber mosaic virus is passed by aphids, so it is very important to control greenfly. The virus stunts the plants and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterns. Flowering is reduced or non-existent, while any fruit that do appear are small, pitted, hard and inedible.  Destroy Infected plants and wash your hands after touching them so you don't spread the virus.

    Mildew is a serious problem to varieties that are not resistant.  It shows as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel up. Treat by keeping the soil moist and consider a cooler location for your next planting.

  • Grow at Home - Brussels Sprouts

    brussels_sprouts

    Brussels Sprouts are delicious if cooked well – home growing can convert even the most ardent sprout avoider! There are many really tasty and reliable F1 Hybrids available, which freeze well and with a bit of planning you could be harvesting right through the winter.

    Where to grow Brussels Sprouts

    Brussels Sprouts thrive in an open sunny position that is protected from strong winds.

    Dig the soil well and incorporate well-rotted manure of garden compost in Autumn. Sprouts do not grow well in acidic soil so add lime if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7

    Sowing

    Sow outside in a nursery bed from early to mid spring. Start by sowing the early varieties and successionally sow mid season and later varieties in turn. Sow thinly in rows 1cm deep with 15cm between rows.

    After germination, thin out the seedlings to 8cm apart. Transplant when the seedlings are 10cm high – watering well the previous day will help the seedlings lift easily – and Plant in rows with 75cm between plants - The space between rows is ideal for a catch crop such as salad.

    Firm the soil well to prevent air pockets and help keep the plants stable.

    For late summer picking start the sowing off in Rootrainers under glass in late winter. Harden off and plant outside when the young plants are 10cm high using cloches to protect during the early stages - Easy Tunnels are ideal if you plant in rows and for block planting an Easy Lantern Cloche will do the job well.

    Aftercare

    An Net Easy Tunnel will deter pigeons. Weed throughout the growing season and water in dry periods. Apply a foliar feed during the summer and stake any plants that need it. During the early Autumn draw the soil around the stems to steady the plants against the wind - A  Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier will give extra protection. Apply felt or plastic collars around the base of the plants to prevent cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs

    Brussels Sprouts: Harvesting and Storage

    Start harvesting from the bottom of the plant, picking the sprouts when they are still tight, after the first frosts as this improves the flavour. Pick just a few from each plant and every time you harvest work further up the stem. When all the sprouts have been harvested you can cut off the top of the plant and use as you would cabbage.

    Pest and diseases

    Prone to the same problems as cabbages the main issue is Club Root – a soil borne fungal disease. Infected plants should be destroyed and not composted.

    Small white butterfly caterpillar and aphids may also affect the crop. Protect the crop from butterflies with net and remove caterpillars by hand and I spray aphids with soapy water.

  • What a nice thing to say! (but I bet the pigeons don't like us as much)

    Micromesh1It's nice to wake up to a compliment, isn't it?  So this morning I was really pleased to read that someone's plants were on the road to growing happy and healthy due to the Haxnicks Easy TunnelsAnd even better they had taken these great pictures of the Tunnels in action.

    Iwona and Neil , the inhabitants of "The Wonky shed at Number 13" dreamt of sauerkraut last year and planted accordingly.  Returning to the plot several days later, they found that slugs, snails and an unexpected flock of pigeons had visited.  It cost them their cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kalettes, and their many different cabbages.   (This family clearly really love their veg!)

    They say "We decided to get some netting and on the plot next to us there was this mesh tunnel from @haxnicks that we really liked. We did some research and got one for ourselves and we grew a few more cabbages under it. The tunnel proved  really great for pest control and so we got a few more for this season. "   They have used these - ever ambitious - to plant Chinese cabbage, pak choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and little gem lettuce.

    The Tunnel

    The tunnel they chose was the Haxnicks - Easy Micromesh Tunnel which has ultra fine 0.6mm mesh which keeps out even tiny aphids and carrot flies and is ideal for your brassicas.  Next year maybe they will add a Haxnicks Easy Poly Tunnel to warm the soil so they can plant earlier and lengthen the growing season to grow even more veg. They could get up to an extra 6 weeks growing time with this tunnel.

    Thanks for the feedback!

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  • 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.

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