Posts Tagged ‘garden tips’

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.

Growing Autumn Salad Leaves from Sowing to Harvest

September 21st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Early autumn, with its often hazy mornings and cooling temperatures, signals change is in the air. Many of summer’s staples are winding down and growth all over the garden is noticeably slower.

But if you think it is time to hang up the fork for winter, well think again – because now’s the moment Oriental leaves such as bok choy, mustards and mizuna really come into their own.

Give it a try! Read on or watch the video to discover how to grow them.

Types of Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves offer a fascinating range of leaf shapes, textures and flavours. Enjoy smooth and creamy leaves from rosette-forming tatsoi or bok choy (also known as pak choi), the crunch of Chinese cabbage or the narrow or deeply serrated leaves of mibuna and mizuna. And then there’s the intriguing range of spicy mustards: frilly, spoon-shaped, red-veined, red-leaved – even golden!

Where to Grow Oriental Leaves

Cool-season Oriental leaves are best sown in the last weeks of summer to grow on into autumn and beyond, making them ideal for following on from earlier crops.

Sow direct into prepared ground, or start them off in module trays to plant out a few weeks later. Most are pretty hardy and will continue to give some leaves for cutting throughout winter, especially if provided some protection in the form of a greenhouse or hoop house.

Don’t forget other winter-hardy salads too, including mache or corn salad, and miner’s lettuce or winter purslane.

Oriental leaves grow well in pots, troughs and trays too, either as individual plants or sown as a mixture of different leaves and/or varieties, to give a tasty explosion of flavours in one handy container.

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When to Sow Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves are brassicas that often bolt, or flower, as days lengthen earlier on in the season. Sowing them from the second half of summer avoids this problem and there are fewer pests, such as flea beetle, about too.

Sowings earlier in the year may be made – just be prepared to pick the leaves very often to slow bolting, when the plants push up flower stems and leaf production ceases. Plants grown in part-shaded locations are often slower to bolt too, while sowing every few weeks should ensure a steady supply of usable leaves at this tricky time of year.

How to Sow Oriental Leaves

Prepare the ground for sowing or planting by sprinkling over a general-purpose organic fertiliser, then raking it in to leave a fine, crumbly surface.

To sow, mark out drills about 1/2 inch (1cm) deep. Space rows 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm) apart. Sow seeds thinly along the drills then cover back over. Water well if it’s dry. Once germinated, thin the seedlings in stages to their final spacings. For most plants that’s 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) apart, depending on what you’re growing.

Sowing into module trays before planting out has some advantages. You can start plants off while the final growing area is still occupied by another crop, and tender seedlings are at less risk of slug damage. Fill trays with multi-purpose potting soil, firm it down with your fingertips then sow one or two seeds into each cell. Cover with more potting soil, water and place the tray somewhere bright to germinate. The seedlings are ready to plant out about a month later.

Seed mixes, sown into their final containers for cut-and-come-again picking, should be scattered evenly onto potting soil before covering with more of the same. The seedlings shouldn’t need thinning.

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Planting Out

Plant module-raised seedlings at their final spacings. Carefully remove plants from their plugs then lay them onto prepared ground. Use a dibber or similar to make the holes, then position and firm the plants into place. If it’s dry, be sure to thoroughly water after planting.

Caring for Oriental Leaves

Weed between plants to keep them free of competition – particularly important during the colder, darker months of the year. Slugs can be a nuisance, readily rasping holes into tender leaves. Pick them off at dusk or set up slug traps filled with beer and remove the slugs you trap.

Protect plants grown earlier in the year from flea beetle by enclosing newly sown beds with row covers or insect mesh. You can hamper overwintering flea beetles by forking over the soil surface and clearing leaf litter from surrounding areas in early winter. Netting or mesh will also keep pigeons from pecking plants to pieces.

In cooler regions, setting up a hoop house or cloche will improve growth rates as winter approaches, while a greenhouse almost guarantees harvests in all but the very coldest weeks of the year.

Harvesting Oriental Leaves

Harvest plants like Chinese cabbage and bok choy whole by cutting through base of the plant. Loose, open plants such as mizuna should be harvested little and often, by taking a few leaves at a time from each plant. Pinch leaves off between finger and thumb or use a pair of scissors. After each cutting there should still be enough leaves left for the plant to recover.

Overwintered plants will grow strongly when warmth returns in spring, giving plentiful harvests before eventually bolting.

If you have any experience growing these loveable leaves, then comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Six Ways to Extend Your Harvests

September 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Pickings from fruiting and pod-producing vegetables such as beans and tomatoes are coming thick and fast right now, but as summer wanes both the quantity of what you pick and how often you are able to pick it will begin to tail off.

Keeping these productive staples cropping for longer is the aim of the game, so read on or watch the video for some top tips to keep those pickings coming…

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Keep on picking

The first rule with any fruit or pod-producing vegetable is to keep up with the picking.

Leave those courgettes to swell into marrows and you’ll inadvertently slow the initiation of new flowers and fruits. Beans will also stop producing more pods if the existing ones are left to ripen to biological maturity – by forming seeds, the plants will have completed their lifecycle, and will have no reason to continue flowering.

Check plants every couple of days and remove fruits and pods before they get too large or overripe. And if you’re heading away from home for more than a week, encourage your neighbours to harvest them – they’ll get free food and you’ll come home to more pickings!

Keep watering

All vegetables need water, but fruit and pod-producing vegetables are particularly thirsty – water-stressed plants quickly slow down.

Aim to water regularly for consistent soil moisture which will encourage plenty of well-formed fruits and pods, free of problems such as blossom end rot. It will also avoid the annoyance of fruits splitting, which happens when they have dried out too much then receive a sudden deluge of water.

Continue feeding

Don’t scrimp on feeding your crops. Continue watering a suitable organic liquid fertiliser on to fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and aubergine.

Feeding plants costs money but does mean more fruits of better quality, so the investment is well worth it. Or why not make your own liquid feed from fast-growing, nutrient-rich plants such as comfrey?

Top up mulches

Mulches of organic material applied earlier in the season may now be looking a little scant.

Top up mulches with new material – straw that’s free of seeds is a great mulch for many fruit-bearing crops including, of course, strawberries. It’s naturally full of potassium, which fruit and pod-bearing plants love. Grass clippings are a ready-to-hand source of instant mulch too, and will help to keep plant roots cool and moist in hot, dry weather.

Let the sunshine in

Strong growth over the summer months can mean that taller plants cast shade where they didn’t before, compromising crops that need plenty of direct sunlight. Consider cutting back overhanging foliage and act promptly to remove spent crops so that those remaining enjoy plenty of sunshine and good air circulation.

In cooler climates, now may be the time to wash off or remove any greenhouse shading, to trap more of the late summer sunshine.

Keep plants warm

Later on in the season stragglers can be encouraged to keep producing for a week or two longer by adding the thermal comfort of a floating row cover such as horticultural fleece or plastic.

Remove covers during the day to enable pollination, then replace it in the evening to provide a little warmth and protection against lower temperatures.

 

If you have any advice on how to keep the pickings coming, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

 

 

How to Save Seeds from Beans, Peppers, Onions and More

August 28th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

You’ve sown it, grown it and harvested it. But how can you take your vegetable growing one step further?

Easy: by saving your own seed from this year’s crops to sow next season.

When you come to think about it, saving seed is the ultimate in self-sufficiency; it’ll save you money and closes the loop on your growing but, above all, it’s delightfully satisfying.

Read on or watch the video to find out how to save those seeds.

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What to save

Some vegetables are easier to save seed from than others. Especially suitable candidates include peas and beans, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, which can all be saved at the same time they are harvested or very soon afterwards.

Some biennial crops, such as onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, beetroot and chard are also worth saving, though you’ll need to overwinter a few plants from one season to flower and set seed the next.

What not to save

Avoid saving seeds from the cabbage family. These plants readily cross-pollinate with other members of the same family, so you’re unlikely to get what you hoped for.

The same goes for F1 hybrid which, because they are created from two separate parent varieties, simply won’t come true to type. For this reason, only ever save the seeds of traditional, open-pollinated varieties. F1 hybrids should include ‘F1’ in the variety name on the seed packet.

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Saving bean and pea seeds

Peas and beans are the easiest of the lot. As the end of the season approaches leave some pods to dry out on the plants. You’ll be able to see and feel the beans swelling within their pods. They’re ready to pick and collect when the pods themselves turn leathery or crisp to the touch.

You can get a lot of seeds from just a few plants, which makes saving these seeds very worthwhile indeed. Shell the pods to reveal the beans or peas inside, then discard any very small, misshapen or damaged seeds. Save only the best clean seeds. Spread them out onto newspaper to dry out on a warm windowsill for 7-10 days.

Fava beans, or broad beans, can cross-pollinate with other varieties, so only save seeds from these beans if you are growing just one variety.

Saving lettuce seeds

Lettuces produce literally thousands of seeds on each seed head. You may find you need to stake the plants as they stretch out to flower.

Once the plant displays its fluffy seed heads, pull it out of the ground and hang it upside down indoors to dry. After a few weeks like this the seed heads can be rubbed between the palms of your hands to coax the seeds free.

As with any vegetable, it’s important to choose the very best plants to collect seed from. This way you will actively select for those plants that perform the strongest and are best suited to the conditions in your garden.

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Saving pepper and tomato seeds

The seeds of tomatoes and peppers are ready when the fruits themselves are good for eating.

Wait until sweet peppers and chillies show their mature colour, then simply scrape away the seeds from the pith. Spread the seeds out on paper to dry out for a week or more before storing.

Before drying and storing tomato seeds, the pulp around them must first be removed. This isn’t difficult, but there is a specific process to do this correctly. See more on our blog for tips on how to do this.

Saving onion and leek seeds

Onions, leeks and shallots set seed in their second year. These plants cross-pollinate, so you’ll need to overwinter more than one plant of the same variety to flower the following season. The flowers are beautiful though, and provide welcome food for local bees and other pollinators.

The seed heads are ready once they have dried out and can be flaked off into a bag for cleaning and sorting. But if you need the space, you can hurry things along by cutting the heads a little earlier. First, check the seeds are ready by opening up a seed pod to observe the seeds inside. If the seeds are black, then you’re good to go.

Leave the seed heads to dry out in a warm, well-ventilated place, such as a greenhouse. Once they’ve turned a straw colour, simply rub the seed heads between your fingers to release the seeds.

How to store saved seeds

Dry seeds can be cleaned before storing by carefully blowing away any remaining chaff, or separating out the seeds through a series of screens or sieves.

Seeds should be stored in paper envelopes labelled with the variety and date.

Store them somewhere cool, dry and dark until you’re ready to sow in spring.

If you have any top tips for saving seeds, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Getting Rid of Weeds

August 22nd, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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Weeds are a bane to gardeners. The combination of persistence and resistance makes them so frustrating.

Weeds can employ some pretty underhand tactics to get the better of us – breaking off bits of root that then regrow, throwing up seedheads that blow all around the garden, or sending their roots deep underground to evade capture.

To outwit weeds you’ll need to wage a concerted campaign on several fronts, but it can be done – and without resorting to weedkillers.

Read on or watch the video for tips and tricks on how to win the war on weeds.

The Enemy

There are two types of weeds: annual weeds and perennial weeds.

Annual weeds complete their life cycle – sprouting, flowering and setting seed – in one season. They’re easier to control, but spread quickly by seed.

Perennial weeds continue growing for a number of years but have far-reaching roots, making them harder to control.

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Fight Back

Starting with a weedy garden can be intimidating and demoralising.

Begin your campaign to gain back control by cutting or mowing weeds to the ground, then cover with a light-excluding membrane or mulch to deprive the weeds beneath of life-sustaining sunlight. Black polythene is very effective for this.

Alternatively, you can use pieces of cardboard. Remove any staples or tape, then position the cardboard so there is a wide overlap between each piece to make it harder for weeds to push through. Weigh the cardboard down to stop it blowing away. You will probably need to replace the cardboard as it rots down.

Perennial weeds with deep or spreading roots including bindweed, ground elder and nettles can take a year or more to die off but all those weeds will eventually rot down, helping to feed the soil for the plants that follow.

Remain Vigilant

With the ground cleared, it’s important to act quickly to remove any resurfacing weeds.

Carefully dig out the resurgents with a trowel or fork, taking care to remove all of the roots. Fragments of perennial weeds can easily re-root and spread, so dispose of the root away from your compost heap.

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Sink Them

Another option is to submerge roots in a bucket of water for at least a month, until they turn into a sloppy ‘goo’ which can then be poured over your compost.

Zero Tolerance

Tackle recently germinated weeds in existing beds by disturbing the surface of the ground as soon as they appear. Use a sharp hoe to skim the surface and dislodge the seedlings.

Do this in the morning if possible, and on a windy or sunny day, so that the exposed seedlings quickly wither. Regularly sharpen your hoe so that the blade slices through the weeds like a knife.

Act fast – a little effort now will save you considerable trouble later on! Revisit growing areas once a week to remove young seedlings before they’ve had a chance to establish.

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Quell the Uprising

The adage ‘one year’s seeding makes seven years weeding’ is very true!

Prolific weeds such as dandelion quickly spread if they’re allowed to produce seeds, so always aim to remove weeds before they get a chance to flower and set seed.

Keep on Top of ’Em

Organic mulches like compost and leafmould help to suppress weeds while feeding the soil for the crops you’re growing. Lay them around existing crops to give them an advantage over the yet-to-emerge weeds beneath. Mulching like this also means you can adopt a no-till method of gardening. By sowing and planting into this top layer of compost there’ll be no need to disturb the soil below, so the weed seeds within it will never reach the surface to germinate.

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Ground Resistance

Resistance is far from futile!

Consider covering bare soil with a cover crop or green manure to crowd out weeds and add valuable organic material. Fast growers like mustards may be sown as late as Autumn to cover the soil surface in a matter of weeks. Weeds won’t get a look in! Then, just before the new growing season, dig them in or pull them out to reveal clear soil ready for planting.

Intensive cropping using leafy vegetables to stop light from reaching the ground is another efficient way to clean the soil of weeds. Potatoes, for example, have masses of lush foliage that are great at excluding light.

Every gardener should aim to keep soil covered as much as possible, whether through efficient use of space with multiple crops grown side by side, or with generous layers of organic mulch or a temporary cover crop to nourish and protect the soil.

Peace Treaty

Peace at last! Once your garden is clear of weeds, you’ll want to keep it that way.

Check new plants for lurking weeds like creeping buttercup, and check that any bought-in manure or compost is well rotted and free of weed seeds too.

Keep compost heaps and potting mixes covered to prevent blown in seeds from settling, and maintain clean tools and boots to minimise the spread of weeds.

If you have any tips or tricks for doing battle with a weedy, jungle-like garden, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.