spinach

  • Grow at Home: Companion Planting

    Companion_planting_marigold_red

    Companion Planting

    Companion planting is where two or more crops are grown together for the benefit of one, or all. The most successful combinations mirror nature.  They can be an important part of planning a successful and productive garden.

     

    Deterrent Smell

    Plants have natural affinities with others of their kind.  The smell of volatile oils from many plants can above all discourage pests, making them excellent companion plants. Perhaps the most well known is the relationship between the tomato plant and the strong smelling French Marigold.  This is said to deter whitefly, for instance.

    While there is little scientific proof of these associations working, if you talk to any experienced gardener they will certainly provide plenty of anecdotal evidence.  Tomatoes like to be grown with Basil and Parsley.  Useful for cooks as well as gardeners.  And separating rows of brassicas with onions has always been popular.  This is possibly due to the strong scent of onions confusing the cabbage pests.

    Companion_planting_marigold_carrotsAttracting Pollinators

    English Marigold (Calendula) can provide welcome splashes of colour in the kitchen garden.  The added benefit is that they attract pollinators.  Along with Yarrow (Achillea) and Hyssop they also attract hover flies.  The hover flies will lay their eggs around these plants and when they hatch the larvae feast on aphids.

    Lavender_in_pot_in_flowerEnhancing fragrance

    Some gardeners know Chamomile as the 'plant doctor'.  This is because of its alleged ability to encourage the production of essential oils making their scent and taste stronger. It is attractive and easy to grow so a worthwhile addition to any planting scheme.

    Another garden 'must have' is the super fragrant Lavender. This acts as a general insect repellent whilst still attracting bees to your plot.

    Crops and their Companions

    Different combinations work in different conditions, so experimentation and experience is the best guide. Below are some combinations of crops and their companions that work well in most situations:

    • Asparagus: Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil
    • Beans: Carrots, lettuce,parsley, spinach
    • Beetroot: Onions, cabbages
    • Cabbages: Celery, mint, thyme, onions, nasturtiums
    • Carrots: Peas, radish, chives, onion, leek
    • Courgette: Nasturtiums
    • Lettuce: Strawberry, beetroot, radish
    • Onions: Carrots, beetroot, chamomile, courgette
    • Parship: Garlic
    • Peas: Potatoes, radish, carrot
    • Spinach: Strawberry
    • Tomato: Celery, basil, marigolds, foxglove
  • Grow at Home: Spinach

    Growing Spinach

    Spinach_seedlingsYou will have heard (maybe from the lips of the legendary PopEye) that spinach is super high in iron.  This, and the rumor that a scientist put the decimal place in the wrong spot thus multiplying the iron content by ten, both appear to be unsubstantiated and probably false.    However, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.  It is also tasty and versatile and can be used from smoothies to stir fries to salads. Oh, and its easy to grow!

    Sowing & Harvesting

    Sow your seeds directly outside in their final positions from March to August. Sow them in shallow lines quite thinly. Cover them with poly tunnels or cloches to protect them and to encourage growth, you may also need a Slug-Buster.  If you don't have a large garden then spinach will also thrive in a container. Choose a Shallow vegetable planter -as spinach doesn't 't have long roots - and plant thinly exactly as you would outside.

    As the seedlings appear, thin them out to about 6-8” 15-20cm apart. You can pick the smaller more tender leaves when they are about 3” 7cm long and use them in salads, anything bigger than that should be cooked for a short amount of time and be eaten as a hot vegetable.

    Keep picking the leaves so that a) they don’t run to seed and b) they keep on growing.

    tiny_spinach_plants_in_groundPerpetual Spinach is the one that I always plant as you only need to plant one lot and it lasts for months and months, sometimes even years.  Very easy. Perpetual spinach is not actually spinach but looks and is eaten in exactly the same way.  Well worth planting for a regular supply.

  • 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.

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