Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Fascinating Facts: Blueberries

January 9th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

RHS-fascinating-facts-blu

Botanical name: Vaccinium corymbosum

Origins: Also known as the northern Highbush Blueberry, this North American native has naturalised in Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

First cultivated: Elizabeth White (daughter of a New Jersey farmer) and botanist Frederick Coville harvested and sold the first commercial crop of blueberries out of Whitesbog, New Jersey in 1916.

Types: Popular varieties to grow in the UK include ‘Aurora’, ‘Draper’, Duke’ and ‘Bluecrop’.

Skill level:  Blueberries are easy to grow provided the right conditions are maintained.

Preferred location and conditions: The plants need moist, well-drained, acidic soil in a sunny and sheltered spot.

Good for containers: Yes.

Harvest time: July to September.

Planting and growing: The soil needs to be pH 5.5 or lower, and watered regularly with rainwater (tap water makes the compost more alkaline over time). Plant in the autumn and winter and mulch in the spring (they love chopped up pine needles so this is a great way to recycle your Christmas tree!) Blueberries may take a few years to reach their full fruiting potential so don’t be disheartened if you only have a couple of berries in the first year.

Possible problems:  Birds sometimes eat the fruits, buds and leaves, so use netting to protect the plants when necessary.

 

Did you know?

Many hundreds of years ago, the Native Americans recognised the health benefits and versatility of blueberries, gathering the wild fruit from the forests and bogs. They revered the fruit, calling them ‘star berries’ because of the shape of the calyx, which forms a five-pointed star. Tribal elders told stories of how the Great Spirit sent them ‘star berries’ to appease their children’s hunger during times of famine.

Blueberries make an excellent natural dye, and early American colonists even made grey paint by boiling blueberries in milk!

After Coville and White harvested and sold the first blueberries in New Jersey in 1916, ‘blueberry fever’ swept the region and by the early 1960s, 200,000 seedlings had spread across 13 states. Health researchers began to explore the antioxidant activity in blueberries in the 1990s and since acquiring ‘superfood’ status in the 2000s, their global popularity has soared.

Blueberries are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They’re an excellent source of vitamin C which can boost the immune system and help with the absorption of iron. They contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K which all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength. Studies have also shown that blueberries can help prevent Alzheimer’s, lower the risk of heart disease, boost brain power, combat high blood pressure and even stimulate hair growth!

Blueberries are an excellent choice for a post-Christmas detox as they have a high soluble fibre content and are rich in detoxifying antioxidants which are crucial for maintaining a healthy liver. Add a handful of blueberries to a breakfast smoothie to get your body back in shape if you’ve over-indulged over the festive period, and to give your immune system a welcome boost during the winter months.

The plants make a wonderful ornamental feature in the garden with their delicate, bell-shaped flowers and glorious autumn colours. The variety ‘pink sapphire’ is particularly striking with its bright pink berries.

Blueberries are costly to buy from the supermarket so it makes sense to grow your own for a summer-long harvest, and they freeze really well; by putting in a little effort initially to establish the correct conditions for the plants, you can enjoy these health-boosting berries throughout the year at a fraction of the cost.

 

To browse all our varieties of soft fruits just follow this link to the fruit section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own blueberries.

January Gardening Advice

January 8th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

It’s time to say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018. To the relief of many, the days are beginning to uncurl and stretch out once again. Sunlight hours increase daily as gardeners relish the prospect of a new growing season ahead. Perennials mark the occasion as they set about putting on new growth.

However, let’s not forget, we’re still in the depths of winter. Snow flurries are likely, as Jack Frost continues to bite, leaving landscapes shy of colour.

Nevertheless, what can’t be done outside, can be planned inside. Lists are drawn, and seed catalogues marked for must-haves and old favourites.

A new year brings with it resolutions. Maybe it’s time to sign up for an allotment, join the gardening committee, or be part of a community garden project. Could this be the year you bring your gardening to a wider audience, by creating a blog? Write about your horticultural experiences, the successes and failures. Or, perhaps take pleasure from reading other gardening blogs. If writing isn’t your thing, how about photography? You don’t need to be an expert to point you phone camera at your winter hyacinths and take a picture. Open an Instagram account and fill it with snap shots of all your gardening triumphs and failures. The internet can be a wonderful place to meet like-minded people, to share tips, and ideas. So, start the year as you mean to go on, and grow.

In the flower garden

Mulch

Don’t be too quick to bin your exhausted Christmas tree as there’s still plenty of value in it. Shred it for chippings to spread on ericaceous plants, such as blueberries, or use it to create allotment paths. The branches can also make useful allotment plant supports for peas and broad beans.

Perennials

Make way for new growth by cutting down and tidying up flower borders. Ensure you do not cut into new growth as not only will you lose vital young shoots, but an exposed wound will be open to the elements, which could potentially kill the plant.

 

Sprinklers-on-lawnLawn

If you can, keep off the grass. The freezing weather combined with your weight can cause permanent damage to your prized lawn.

 

Water supply

If you haven’t done so already, cover those garden taps. Frozen water can expand, forcing taps and pipes to burst.  Better still, if you can, turn off the external water supply altogether.

 

Snow

With the prospect of snow more likely this month, it’s important to brush fallen snow from greenhouses, cloches and cold frames. The extra weight can break the glass, plus the plants inside need all the warmth and light they can get. Remove snow from delicate evergreens and tree branches to prevent damage.

Greenhouse

A heat supply in your greenhouse will give you the advantage of making early sowings, for plants such as sweet pea and aquilegia. If you’ve been growing sweat pea since last autumn, then pinch out the tips, this will encourage side-shoots, and result in a bushier plant.

Storage

Any fruit or veg currently in storage should be checked regularly to ensure they haven’t spoilt. Turn them over, and remove any decaying or damaged produce. Ensure they aren’t touching to encourage a good air supply around them.

Snow drops

If you’re lucky enough to have inherited a garden with established snowdrops, or you planted bulbs yourself last autumn, you just might see their delicate little heads rear themselves from the hardened, snow-covered ground this month. Not only is this a beautiful sight, but it’s a welcome indication to gardeners that spring is on its way!

Blue-Tit-Feeding-in-winterGarden wildlife

If you have bird-feeding stations, ensure food supplies are topped up, and water supplies are changed regularly and not left to freeze. If you have a fish pond, avoid smashing the ice if it freezes over, as this can shock, or even kill the fish. Instead, try to melt the ice gently with hot water. Don’t worry about harming the fish as they tend to remain at the bottom of the pond during the winter.

On the veg patch

Winter veg

Continue to harvest veg, such as swede, parsnips, carrots, winter brassicas, Brussels sprouts, leeks and artichokes. As beds become bare, turn over the soil and add a thick layer of well-rotted manure, or compost. You should aim to get all of your winter digging done by the end of this month at the latest, to give the mulch time to deteriorate and work into the soil.

Seed potatoes

Potatoes-in-soil-in-hands

You’ll find most suppliers are already delivering stock to customers. If you leave it too late, you could run the risk of your chosen varieties being unavailable. Get them ordered now and you could be chitting your first earlies by the end of the month.

Chitting is purely speeding up the aging process of a tuber, and letting its eyes sprout. By the time you come to planting, ground temperatures still won’t be at their warmest, but those weeks of chitting will give your tubers a valuable head start.

Remember, stand the tubers apart (egg boxes make ideal holders), with their eyes facing upwards. Place somewhere warm, dry and with plenty of sunshine, such as a kitchen windowsill, porch or warm greenhouse. Try to keep sprouts down to three maybe four, so the energy isn’t too dispersed, thus producing weaker shoots. Six weeks on, and tubers should be ready for planting out.

Onions

If you have a heat supply to your polytunnel, or greenhouse, you might consider sowing onion seeds. They will need that extra protection, but by giving them an extended growing season, the end result will be worth it.

Chillies and peppers

These crops need a long growing season, so get sowing now. With so much variety and choice, growing these fruits has never been so popular. The seeds can be grown in modules, pots or trays to the depth of 6mm, on a windowsill. Although germination can be slow, once their true leaves have been revealed, it’s important to pot them up. Keep them warm, lit and well-watered.

Fruit

Rhubarb

By forcing rhubarb now, you’re simply speeding up its growth for an earlier harvest, and sweeter stems. As soon as new growth appears from the crown, cover the plant over with a rhubarb forcer or container, excluding all light. Eight weeks on, the stalks should be 20-30cm long, and ready to harvest.

Apple and pear trees are still dormant, and can be pruned. Bare rootstock varieties can be bought, and planted out.

Continue to ensure all trees, fruit canes and climbers are staked and tied-in, thus avoiding wind-rock, and potential winter damage.

 

Indoors

Indoor plants

With Christmas now firmly behind us, the only reminders of the festive season are plants such as Poinsettias, Amaryllis, and early blooming Hyacinths. However, their time is drawing to a close, so introduce a new range of indoor plants to your home. Whether it’s the exquisite Cyclamen persicum, trendy cacti and succulents, or a refined orchid for the bathroom, there are options to give the home-grower endless hours of pleasure, with as little or as much effort they desire. With different structures, styles and colours, the choice is endless; a quick scan of Instagram will show you houseplants have never been so fashionable.

 

Could this be the year you bring the outside in?

 

Turn your Trash into Garden Treasures

January 4th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

The garden is the perfect place to repurpose old items into new ones. You could transform off-cuts of wood into a new raised bed, bricks into paving or old CDs into bird scarers.

Here are a few of our favourite ideas to reuse or upcycle:

Plant pots: Make sure your containers have drainage holes in the bottom for excess water to drain out. Consider the depth of your container as well, as not every plant need as much as depth as others. Old guttering is perfect for shallow rooters like salads or strawberries for example.

Vegetable garden using old pallets

Beds and Borders: You could use old bricks or edging to create the outline to a beautiful herb wheel. Making raised beds is a great opportunity to reuse old wood. Join them at the corners with screws, brackets or hinges. They look great, offer good drainage and an earlier start to the growing season.

Protection and support: Create your own cold frame to keep your crops safe at the start of the year, by simply using a polycarbonate sheet screwed to a wooden frame. Another idea is to reuse old plastic water pipes to create arches for your vining crops to                                                                                              climb onto.

 

Scare birds away: Some birds like pigeons can be a pesky nuisance in the vegetable garden. To scare them off, hang some old CDs onto string suspended above your crops. You could also attach silver tape to canes, or string out coloured tape over vulnerable crops such as brassicas. Of course, you always have the option to create a classic scarecrow and get creative with your recycling!

Attract wildlife: pots, bricks, straw, twigs and other offcuts can be used to create cozy homes for beneficial bugs such as beetles or mason bees. Ponds are also an idea if you would like to attract frogs or toads; if you don’t fancy a full size one, why not try a container pond?

Make an apple store: Old furniture, such as a chest of drawers, can be used as apple stores. Just add 1-inch holes at regular intervals for airflow

Using old wood: If you are using pallets, make sure to check the labels to ensure the wood has been heat treated and that there is no risk of contamination from toxic pesticides. Pallets are great for transforming into structures such as compost bins.

Hard landscaping: Add reclaimed bricks and paving to create a lived-in-feel to your garden. You can lay bricks to make hard-wearing paths or patios. Paving slabs can also be positioned between beds for quick and easy access.

 

 

These are just a few tips and ideas to help you get started with recycling and repurposing old items into new ones in your garden. If you have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page

Growing Garlic from Planting to Harvest

December 27th, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

 

Growing garlic from planting to harvest

 

Garlic is really simple to plant grow and harvest. Once planted, garlic needs very little attention. So no matter which variety you decide to go for, it should be straight forward!

Before you start, you should know that there are two types of garlic: “Hardneck” and “softneck”

Hardnecks produce flower stems or “scapes” which must be removed to encourage the bulbe to reach its full potential. The scapes themselves can be eaten in early summer, they are delicious when chopped in salads or stir-fried. This variety is more tolerant to cold weather

Softnecks don’t produce scapes, but store for much longer. Choose softneck garlic if you want plenty of bulbs to keep over winter

 

Where to grow garlic?

You should grow garlic in sunny location in fertile, well-draining soil. You can improve your soil by digging in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost a few months before planting.

 

How to plant garlic?

  • Plant your garlic in autumn, into prepared soil raked to a fine tilth
  • Begin planting by carefully breaking apart the bulb to separate out the individual cloves
  • Plant them pointy end up about 6 in apart, leaving a foot between rows.You can dig a trench or dig a hole for each clove
  • Cover them back over with soil so that the tips of the cloves are only just below the surface.
  • Water if the weather is dry, and weed between rows to keep the plants from getting swamped.

You can also grow garlic in containers, or in module trays for planting out in spring, if you live in a very cold region.

 

Harvesting

Your garlic is ready to lift when the leaves have begun to turn yellow or die down. Use a fork or trowel to ease the bulbs from the ground, then dry them out somewhere warm and airy. Once dry brush off any remaining soil, cut off the leaves and store in a cool dry place. Garlic bulbs can be kept for 3 months or more.

 

These are just a few tips and tricks to help you grow your own garlic. If you have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

6 Proven Strategies for Year-round Harvests

December 20th, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

Harvest all year round

While there’s never any shortage of delicious fruits and vegetables to harvest during the main growing season, those quieter times of the year can prove a little more challenging. Here are a number of tricks and techniques that help to extend the growing season beyond what you’d normally expect.

 

Make the summer last a little bit longer: Mid-autumn is when the first frost appears marking the end of the growing season. But many crops, if given a little bit of protection, will carry on a little bit longer. Use row covers, tunnels and cold frames for additional warmth and shelter. Especially for summer salads, peppers, tomatoes and cucumber.

Shelter sun facing walls also have the effect of creating a warm microclimate.

 

Overwinter vegetables: There are a lot of vegetables that grow in the winter, you would be surprised how many!  Salads, winter lettuce and mustards, spinach and kale and the winter favourites such as carrots, parsnips, beets and leeks. They are perfect for the winter season.

 

Hungry gap: If you plan carefully there can be plenty to enjoy during lean time.  Especially when previous season’s crops are finished, but the ones for the current season aren’t ready yet. In order to avoid gaps, sow broccoli, cabbage or late season leeks in late summer, and they’ll stand over winter.

 

Make an early start: For vegetables that take longer, you could start them off indoors under grow lights, before moving them outside in a month or two. Onions, chard and peas may be sown into modules from late winter to transplant into beds from early spring.

 

Keep on sowing: Keep on sowing quick-maturing varieties little and often throughout spring and summer, to ensure a steady succession of harvest. Choose a mixture of varieties covering early, mid and late season harvesting.

 

Strategy: When the first crops of the growing season are done, sow or plant a succession crop straight away! Succession crops include many autumn and winter-maturing vegetables.

You can also have dedicated “nursery areas” in a greenhouse or cold frame, for you to raise crops from seed and have them ready to pant the moment a gap appears in the garden.

 

These are just a few tips and tricks to help you Harvest all year round. If you have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.