Posts Tagged ‘garden advice’

Growing Gooseberries from Planting to Harvest

November 29th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

growing-gooseberries-from-planting-to-harvest

People often ask “What’s the best fruit bush for beginners?” Well, one stands head and shoulders above the rest – the gorgeous gooseberry!

Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils, they’re very easy to prune, are self-pollinating which means you can get away with growing just one, and generous gooseberries give up their sumptuous fruits in hearty profusion. In short, you really need to grow one! Read on or watch the video to find out how.

Types of Gooseberry

Choose from either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked with sugar to temper their naturally sour taste. They’re perfect in jams, pies, puddings and a gooseberry fool.

Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush – a treat you’re unlikely to experience unless you grow your own. You can also pick some of the berries before they’ve ripened to use in the same way as culinary gooseberries.

The berries themselves are typically pale green, but look out for eye-catching red or yellow varieties too. Most plants are very thorny, but some varieties are easier on the hands with considerably fewer thorns.

Where to Grow Gooseberries

Gooseberries will thrive in most gardens, but to get the most from them grow them in a bright position in rich, well-drained soil.

Gooseberries naturally grow into bushes but may also be trained – as standards on a long single trunk, or against a fence as fans or single-stemmed cordons. Take heart if you really don’t have much space to spare or you only have a patio, because this hardy fruit can successfully be grown in containers too.

(Please note: in a few areas of the United States growing gooseberries is prohibited because they can serve as a host to white pine blister rust, a disease devastating to the lumber industry. Check for local restrictions before sourcing plants.)

How to Plant a Gooseberry Bush

Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberries from late autumn to early spring – you’ll probably need to wait until spring if the ground freezes solid over winter where you garden.

Dig a generous planting hole then add some well-rotted compost or manure to the excavated soil. Place the gooseberry into the hole so that the previous soil level is flush with the new soil level. Feed back the enriched soil around the roots or rootball, taking plenty of time to firm in the soil as you fill to anchor the roots. Water copiously to settle the soil further, then finish off with a mulch of organic material to help suppress weeds and feed your new plant.

If you’re planting more than one gooseberry, space bushes at least 4ft (120cm) apart. Cordons can be planted much closer – just 45cm (18in) apart – but tie the stem to a supporting bamboo cane that’s in turn secured to horizontal wire supports.

Caring for Gooseberries

In moisture-retentive soils established bushes need very little additional watering, but regular watering in hot, dry weather is a must for young plants and essential for container-grown gooseberries.

Apply an organic, balanced fertiliser at the end of each winter to give plants a good start ahead of the new growing season. Then remove any weeds around the root area before topping up mulches to at least an inch (3cm) deep. Use organic materials like garden compost or bark chippings for this.

Pruning Gooseberry Bushes

Prune established gooseberry bushes to encourage an open, evenly spaced branch structure. This will let in plenty of light while allowing for good air circulation to discourage disease and pests such as sawflies.

Pruning is completed in winter when the bush is dormant. To start, cut out all dead or diseased wood, any shoots growing close to the ground, plus tangled or overcrowded branches. Now prune the branches that are left by cutting back the previous season’s growth by a half. Sideshoots coming off the main branches should be cut back to between one and three buds from the base of the shoot. Make all cuts just above an outward facing bud to encourage that all-important open habit. Finally, dig up any suckers – that’s stems growing from the ground away from the main stem.

Harvesting Gooseberries

Birds can sometimes pilfer fruits before you’ve had a chance to pick them. Stop them in their tracks! Cover plants with netting or grow bushes inside a purpose-made fruit cage.

Gooseberries are ready to pick from early summer onwards. Harvesting dessert or dual-purpose varieties in stages gives early, under-ripe fruits for cooking, then later fruits to enjoy sweet and fresh. The berries that remain after the first pickings will also be able to grow larger.

Handle the soft, plump fruits gently and wear thick gloves if the thorns become too painful to bear!

Gooseberries are at their sumptuous best immediately after picking, but they’ll stay fresh enough in polythene bags kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or freeze gluts for a well-deserved taste of summer later on in the year.

There are many ways to enjoy the glorious gooseberry! In jams, pureed with elderflower cordial for drying into fruit leathers, or boiled with other fruits to make a tangy, sweet compote to dollop onto ice cream or yoghurt. Give gooseberries a go! They’re reliable, hard-working fruits that deserve to be more widely grown.

If you have any gooseberry growings tips, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

8 Ways to Garden in Harmony with Nature

November 9th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Gardens are special places where, as gardeners, we’re privileged to get up close to the natural world. But working with nature also makes you realise how precious it is. Our impact on the planet is well documented and it’s up to us to adopt more environmentally conscious ways of living. Growing your own food is a great start, but how you grow it makes all the difference.

Read on or watch the video as we share eight great ideas to help you garden more sustainably, in step with nature.

1. Use Human Power

Let’s start by replacing electric or gasoline-powered equipment such as lawnmowers, tillers and leaf-blowers with more sustainable human-powered alternatives whenever we can. It’ll save natural resources, and by breaking big jobs down into regular smaller blocks, it’s a great way to stay active and keep fit.

2. Work with Nature

Artificial fertilisers and pesticides are energy intensive to manufacture and carry many undesirable side effects, from polluting rivers to harming beneficial insects and soil life.

A natural approach – adding organic materials to the soil to build long-term soil fertility, and planting flowers to attract pest predators – avoids these negative impacts while creating a livelier, healthier garden.

3. Plant Trees

Trees lock up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Let’s plant more of them! Trees range from tiny to massive to suit every space, and can be planted into otherwise wasted or underused parts of the garden. Most are easy to grow and many trees are productive too – just think of a handsome apple tree, for example.

Trees offer birds somewhere to nest, feed and shelter. In return they will keep many plant pests in check while contributing their melodious song.

4. The Best Plant Food

Much of our waste can be composted. Composting is a natural process and a far more environmentally friendly alternative to burying it in landfill. Garden-made compost is often richer in valuable nutrients than bought-in sources of compost.

Make your own and enjoy a free source of natural fertiliser to feed your soil and the plants growing in it. Setting up a simple compost bin or heap doesn’t take long. It’s easy to add to and, don’t worry, it won’t smell!

5. Reconsider Your Lawn

Lawns demand a lot of effort and watering to stay green, especially in hotter climates. How much lawn do you really need? Can any of it be repurposed? For example, a native wildflower meadow only needs cutting once or twice a year.

Make the lawn that remains more sustainable by simply leaving the grass to grow a little longer between cuts. Then leave the clippings where they fall at least once a month to return their nutrients to the soil.

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6. Upcycle and Reuse

Don’t be in a haste to throw away old pots and seed containers. Reuse them as often as you can by washing them after each season so they’re ready and clean for the next. Look after your tools by storing them somewhere dry so they last longer. Keep moving parts oiled, and sharpen blades regularly so they work like new.

Opt for lower energy, natural materials in the garden – from biodegradable pots made of coir, cardboard or even old newspaper, to

a greenhouse built from sustainable wood in place of aluminium.

Many gardeners are only too happy to repurpose old items into new ones for the garden. And there’s all sorts of fun to be had in getting creative!

7. Free Resources, Naturally

Nature gives us lots for free. Set up barrels to collect rainfall and cut your consumption of treated water – and your water bill! Rake up fallen leaves to make leaf mould – the perfect material for improving soil structure or creating your own, packaging-free potting mix.

Create more spaces for wildlife. Flowers rich in nectar feed pollinators, as well as drawing in other insects to feed on the bugs you don’t want. Include a pond for frogs and toads – the ultimate slug controllers!

Extra room for wildlife doesn’t mean sacrificing valuable ground space. For example, install a green roof on your shed or put together a simple bug hotel. Projects like this are great fun for adults and kids alike. Many projects are easily completed in a weekend to bring benefits lasting long into the future.

8. Grow What Thrives

Growing plants that naturally thrive in your location means you’ll enjoy more success and less heartache. Pick the right plant for the right place: for example, vegetables like tomatoes and beans for sunny areas or leafy salads in the shade.

Not sure? Then use the fully searchable GrowVeg Garden Plans Gallery to see what others are growing in your area and seek some inspiration. Or step in and explore the GrowVeg Garden Planner for yourself. It’s easy to narrow down the selection of plants to, for example, those that will happily grow in partial shade or are frost tolerant. And because the software knows your location, you can even filter the list to show only those plants suitable for sowing, planting or harvesting during a specific month in your location. Simple!

Don’t be in too much of a hurry at the start of the growing season. Work back from the last frost date so tender crops like squashes aren’t sown too early and are ready to plant when the time’s right. This will also minimise the need for costly heating. The Garden Planner includes a handy Plant List to help with this too!

Of course, growing any fruits, vegetables or herbs is a big step towards a more Earth-friendly lifestyle, so grow as much as you can: plan ahead, re-sow throughout the growing season and set aside some of your homegrown bounty for the leaner times of the year. You’ll be doing yourself and the planet a world of good.

If you have any tips of tricks for gardening more naturally, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

How to Prepare Your Garden Against Frost

November 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. The garden has gotten close to freezing on a number of occasions, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter will be with us any minute. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy.

Read on or watch the video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.

Mulch Bare Soil

Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of  material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed while nourishing the soil itself, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.

Row Covers at the Ready

Keep row covers or horticultural fleece at the ready.

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Store it somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground out of the way of vermin such as mice.

Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.

When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.

Homemade Protection

Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for slipping over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.

Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. For example, one can be made by securing a rigid piece of polycarbonate onto a simple wooden frame, with hinges at the back to allow for the lid to be opened and closed – very simple, but very effective.

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Temporary Hoop Houses

Row covers may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy hoop house. A way of achieving this is by using lengths of PVC water pipe secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.

 

Protecting Root Crops

Many root crops such as carrots and beetroot can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.

Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mould about 6 inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest threat to containerised plants like herbs is wet. Persistently wet potting soil can freeze, turning lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant purpose-sold pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.

Delicate containers can also crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble wrap, burlap or hessian, or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.

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Warmer Greenhouse

Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat up the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row covers or fleece, or section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.

Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly – or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra temporary protection on extra-cold nights.

Know Your Frost Date

Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. The GrowVeg Garden Planner uses your precise location to anticipate the date when this is likely to occur, so you’re pre-warned and can take action to winter-proof your plot. Check the calender to find your expected first frost date, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter.

If you have any tips or tricks for getting your garden winter-ready, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

November Gardening Advice

November 1st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

November-gardening-advice-2018

The smell of wood smoke, the crackle of bonfires and the colourful explosion of fireworks means we’re into November. So, get out the woollies, wrap up warm and embrace autumn. Collect conkers, kick-up fallen leaves, light fires and enjoy hearty soups made from your homegrown vegetables.

Although gardens and allotments are starting to wind down, there are still plenty of jobs that need doing which will keep you warm on a chilly day.

But if you don’t fancy venturing out into the dropping temperatures, then kick back and get cosy. This is a good time to take stock, think back to this year’s successes and failures, and consider what you want to grow next year. Draw up lists, make plans, and think ahead.

 

In the flower garden

 

TULIP BULBS

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Temperatures are on the decline, the ground is starting to feel the chill, and with little threat of tulip fire infection, now is a good time to plant your tulip bulbs. Avoid bulbs that show signs of decay, mould or damage, and plant three times to the depth of the bulb. If you’re planting into a heavy soil, add grit for drainage, as bulbs sat in water w

ill rot. You may want to cover the area with netting or wiring, to prevent mice and squirrels digging them up.

Think ahead to the spring months and the look you’re hoping to achieve. Are you wanting great swathes of tulips, or something in the way of companion planting? Plan and plant.

ROSES

Why not add fresh colour to next spring’s garden by planting roses. Bare root varieties are easier on the pocket than potted plants, and now’s the ideal time for planting. Ensure they are well-watered and thoroughly mulched to prevent frost from damaging the roots.

HEDGES

As we enter the dormant season, this is the ideal time to plant hedgerows and conifers. Before planting, ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil. With clay soil, you may also want to add grit for drainage. Winter is a season of storms and high winds, so depending on the hedge, once planted it may need a support, and tying in, just until it establishes itself. Water in well, and mulch.

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LAWN

Now’s the time to put away the lawn mower and reach for the rake. At this time of year, leaves will be constantly falling, creating debris on the lawn. By keeping your lawn free of leaves, you’re preventing pests taking shelter, and there’s no chance of damaging your lawn with the ‘browning off’ effect. Finally, if you wake to frosts, try to keep off the lawn, as you could potentially damage it.

 

MAINTENANCE

This is the time to retreat to your sheds and carry out maintenance work. From secateurs to shears, your tools could do with cleaning and sharpening after a season of use. Ensure all lawn mowers have been cleaned, checked, and drain off any fuel. It’s also an ideal time to clean and store pots and seed trays. Try to reduce waste and use less plastic by avoiding buying new pots, and using what you’ve got. Or, you could make your own pots. There are kits available for making biodegradable plant pots that will add a personal touch to your plant growing next season.

If you’re leaving stone or terracotta pots outside over winter, make sure they’re standing on clay feet to raise them off the ground, otherwise a ground frost can damage them and cause them to crack. Being raised also helps drain off excess water.

Pots can be expensive, so protect them as best you can by grouping them all together in the sunniest part of the garden. You could also try wrapping them in bubble wrap.

 

WILDLIFE

If you haven’t done so yet, fill your bird feeders. Ensure they’ve been thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water, and rinsed.

Put out fresh water for the birds, but try to ensure it doesn’t ice over.

You can also consider building insect hotels. Leave small piles of wood in corners of your garden to allow wildlife somewhere to rest over winter.

On the veg patch

 

BROAD BEANS AND PEAS

If you’re hoping for an early crop next year, then now’s the time to sow. Ensure the ground is enriched with plenty of organic matter. With seeds planted, water in well and cover over with either a cloche or horticultural fleece. Not only will the seeds benefit from the extra warmth, but they’ll be protected from birds and vermin.

Certain crops benefit from a good frost, turning their starches into sugars. Vegetables such as parsnips, swede, and Brussels sprouts will be tastier after a cold spell. If you are lifting these crops on a cold day, make sure you do it with a fork, carefully prising them from the hardened soil.

SPRING CABBAGE

If you’ve sown cabbage seed weeks ago, then they should be healthy young plants by now. With five to six sets of leaves, they’ll be ready to be planted out. Ensure the bed has been well cultivated with plenty of organic matter dug in. Whatever the season, brassicas are hungry plants, so will need all the feeding they can get.

Charlotte potatoes in tyre planters

Plant your plants deep, to just below the first set of leaves, to prevent damage from ‘wind rock’. Water in well and mulch. You may also want to protect your plants with horticultural fleece or cloches.

CHRISTMAS POTATOES

If you’re growing spuds for the big day, then check them regularly. If they’re in grow bags or sacks, try to keep them somewhere, bright, warm and protected. As the stems gather height, ensure you earth them up. Not only will this encourage further tubers, but it will protect them from the chill. Finally, with dampness in the air and fluctuating temperatures, keep an eye out for blight.

GLUE BANDS

Pests will be looking for somewhere to rest up over the next few months, laying eggs and eating tender shoots which can have a devastating effect on fruit trees. Try wrapping glue bands around the trunk base of your apple, pear, cherry and plum trees to stop pests, such as winter moth caterpillars, climbing the trees to lay their eggs.

Other Jobs

Disconnect garden hoses and protect garden taps as frozen water can burst pipes.

Regularly check stored fruit, onions, squashes and potatoes for rot. Disregard any that have been spoilt.

With gardens dying back, you get a real sense of the blueprint of your garden. So, if you’re thinking of doing structural work, such as laying a new path or building a fence, this is a good time to do it.

If you are planning to have a bonfire to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, then check the wood pile first for any wildlife taking shelter.

If you have any advice of your own for looking after the garden in November, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Apple Storing and Processing Made Easy

October 9th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Isn’t autumn magnificent!

All those colourful leaves, fresher mornings and wild pickings to be had – and then there’s the abundance of awesome apples! They’ve been cropping since summer, but it’s the later to mature apples that will keep the longest.

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Read on or watch the video to discover how to store apples properly, as well as three delicious ways to process them!

How Long do Apples Keep?

When apples ripen is a good guide to how long they’ll store for. Early ripening apples don’t keep for long at all, so they’re best eaten straight off the tree.

Apples ready to pick mid-season generally keep a while longer – for around 2-3 weeks. To maintain freshness put up to 10 apples into a polythene bag, pierce some air holes into the bag then place your apples into the refrigerator.

Late-season apples are the real keepers. Most varieties should keep to the end of the year, and some as late as next spring – if they’re stored correctly.

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How to Store Apples

Only store varieties known to keep well.

If you can, pick apples in the morning while it’s still cool, and slightly under-ripe so they don’t over-ripen in storage. Only perfect apples make the grade, so use up blemished or bruised fruits immediately.

It’s important to prevent apples from touching in storage – that way if one goes bad it won’t contaminate the others. You can loosely wrap the apples in paper to help avoid this.

Apples should be stored somewhere cool but frost-free. If it’s still warm and you only have a few apples, keep them in your refrigerator until the weather turns fresher.

Place the apples into slatted boxes, racks or a purpose-made apple store. Whatever you use, it must allow for good air circulation. Consider insulating boxes with hay, straw or shredded paper if temperatures are likely to fluctuate or drop too low. Suitable storage spaces include sheds, root cellars, well-ventilated basements and shaded, enclosed porches.

Small apples tend to keep for longer, so eat the largest ones first. Regularly check stored apples and use up or compost any that are going soft or beginning to rot. Your garden birds will appreciate any less-than-perfect apples, especially at a time of year when finding enough food is a struggle.

Freezing Apples

If you haven’t got anywhere suitable to store your apples, freeze them. Frozen apples can be used for baking, smoothies, jam, jelly and applesauce.

Begin by coring then peeling your apples. Cut them into slices then coat the slices in lemon juice to prevent them discolouring. One lemon should give enough juice to treat slices from six to ten apples.

Arrange the slices onto a cookie sheet or baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment, then pop them into the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid they can be transferred into labelled freezer bags or containers to stop the slices from freezing into a single lump – or simply freeze them in portion-sized containers. You can also prepare ready-to-bake apple pie fillings for the freezer.

Making Apple Rings

You could also make your own apple rings.

Start with washed apples, either peeled or left as they are. Core the apples then cut into very thin slices – about 1/8-1/4 inch (3-5mm) thick. Arrange the slices onto oven racks or dehydrator trays so they’re not touching. If you like, add a dusting of cinnamon. Dehydrators make drying easy and give a uniform result. Set the temperature to 135ºF or 57ºC. If you’re using an oven, set it as low as it goes – usually 150ºF, 65ºC or gas mark 1.

Drying takes from 6 to 12 hours depending on slice thickness, water content and drying conditions. Your apple rings are ready when they’re dry and leathery to the touch. Or dry them further for crispy apple chips!

Once your apple rings have completely cooled pack them into airtight bags or containers and store somewhere cool, dark and dry for up to six months.

Making Apple Juice

Apple gluts can also be juiced – and you don’t need any specialist equipment!

Put cored, chopped apples into a large stew pot. Add just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer on a low heat until the apples collapse to a soft mush. Now strain the mash through a fine-mesh sieve, working it back and forth with a spoon to extract all that lovely juice. This will need doing in stages.

If you prefer your juice clearer, filter it through cheesecloth or coffee filters. If necessary, adjust sweetness and add more water if it tastes too strong. Refrigerate your juice to enjoy within the week, can it by pouring hot juice into sterilized jars, or freeze in airtight containers to keep for up to six months.

Whether you eat them fresh, put them into store or process them into delicious snacks and drinks, there’s no excuse for wasting apples this autumn!

If you have any advice or top tips for storing and processing apples, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.