salad

  • Grow at Home: Endive

    Endive

    endive_curly_2_plants

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

    Sowing

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

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

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

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

    Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harvesting

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

    Harvest ‘cut and come again’ leaves with scissors.

    Pests & Diseases

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

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

     

  • Grow At Home: 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 - 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 - Salad Leaves

    6_lettuces_growingGrowing Salad Leaves

    Growing your own salad leaves is SO easy and a great way to start if you want to grow your own food.

    The best thing about salad leaves is that they are quite quick to grow.  You can also cut them as they grow so there is no waiting for weeks for the entire plant to grow and ripen.  Great if you are impatient and/or new to gardening.  You can simply harvest as and when you need it and the plant will grow more ready for your next meal.

    What to plant

    There are many different salad leaves so why not plant a few different varieties so that you can reproduce those mixed bags you get in the supermarket. But, without the one leaf that they always put in that you really don't like, of course!

    It is good to sow seeds at regular intervals - a couple of weeks apart - so that you ensure a regular supply over the summer.  So if you start sowing in February/March you could keep going until September and - with the help of tunnels and winter varieties - even longer.   If you get over excited and sow the whole packet then you will end up with a glut.  It would make you popular with the neighbours but see you buying from the supermarket again which would be a waste.

    Where to Plant

    Mixed_salad_leavesSalad leaves are best grown in full sun on well-drained soil.  They are ideal to grow in containers such as Vegetable Patio Planters or a Self Watering Tower Garden or Vigoroot Balcony Garden which can be placed right outside the backdoor for easy access from the kitchen.

     

    If you want to grow them in the garden then they can have their own bed.  Or they can be slotted in between rows of other plants where they will help to keep the weeds down.

     

    Sowing

    Sow indoors from February on a nice warm windowsill. Or outdoors from mid-spring to late summer.

    For containers, sow thinly by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and covering with about 1cm (½in) of compost.

    For outdoor sowing, prepare the seed bed by removing weeds and stones and raking it over. Next, make shallow drills about 1cm deep.  A great way to do this is to press a bamboo cane into the soil. Water along the drill before sprinkling in the seeds. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.

     

     

     

     

    Put each individual type of salad seed in separate containers or in rows.  Mark them so you know what you are eating (and can decide if you want to grow it again).  Alternatively use a packet of mixed leaf seeds and hope for the best in terms of identifying which you liked!

    Lettuce_long_rowsThin out some seedlings when they reach about 2" (4cm) by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinnings to add a hit of flavour to your shop bought salads.

    You may wish to cover the plants with ultra fine Micromesh netting from June to August to prevent pests such as slugs, snails. flea beetles and Lettuce Root Aphid getting to them.

    Care for them by watering well.

    Pests

    Slugs and snails are your number one enemy with salads.  Pick off any that you see and use traps such as the Slug Buster to keep them away.

    Lettuce root Aphid. These affect older plants.  You might not see the actual aphids as they are below the soil but you might notice the plant wilt and die back.  Another sign is lots of ants round the plant.  They feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce.  To deal with them you can pull the lettuce up - wash the aphids off and replant in fresh compost.

    Harvesting

    Cut the salad leaves when they reach around 4" (10cm) as you need them.  You should be able to do this three or four times.  Once the plants start to flower the leaves become bitter so you will know this is time to stop.  By the time your first batch have finished cropping the next batch you sowed will be ready giving you a summer full of salad.

  • Salad anyone?

    We have returned back to a very grey and rainy England with not much hope for our little shoots after slight neglect for a week. However, we were greeted with huge shoots bursting to get out of their Rootrainers!  Seems like time to get the husband out building the Haxnicks Raised Bed with it’s very handy Raised Bed Polythene Cover to keep those courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes growing upwards and outwards into something edible for my plate.

    Haxnicks Raised Bed with polythene cover on and plants inside I have plants now in my Raised Bed

    Most of all, the joy of this Raised Bed is that you construct and locate it wherever you wish, so for convenience it is sitting right outside our kitchen garden door.  As much as I love my garden who wants to traipse to the end of it to pick their veggies!  We have added a variety of herbs too - why not!

     Haxnicks Raised Bed with polythene cover off and salad plants showing  

    Pull back the polythene cover for easiy watering and as you can see we have a little bed of very healthy young plants which we hope to harvest sometime in July.  We will be back in July with an update!

    Haxnicks Raised Bed with polythene cover off and slightly larger salad plants inside Really growing now - here comes summer!

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