Posts Tagged ‘garden tips’

Using Wood Ash in Your Vegetable Garden

December 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

If you’ve had a bonfire recently, or you like to warm yourself in front of the fireplace or wood burner, then you’ll probably have lots of ash. Getting rid of it can be a bit of a nuisance, but it’s also a valuable source of nutrients which makes it a great resource for the garden.

Read on or watch the video to find out when and where to use ash in your garden.

What’s in Wood Ash?

Wood ash is naturally high in potassium, which encourages flowering and fruiting. It also contains phosphorus as well as a catalogue of micronutrients including manganese, iron, zinc and calcium.

Younger wood, such as twiggy prunings, produces ash with a higher concentration of nutrients than older wood. Similarly, ashes from hardwood like oak, maple and beech contain more nutrients than ashes of softwoods.

Ash from lumpwood charcoal is also good, but avoid using the ash from coal or treated timber, which could harm your soil and plants.

Wood Ash in Compost

Wood ash is alkaline, so applying it to compost heaps helps to balance the tendency of compost to be more acidic. It also creates better conditions for composting worms, which will speed up decomposition.

Compost that’s less acidic is perfect for mulching around vegetables. Add wood ash little and often in thin layers – a few handfuls or one shovelful every 6in (15cm) of material is fine.

Wood Ash on Soil

Wood ash can play a useful role in correcting overly acidic soil. Most vegetables need a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, so if your soil’s below 6.5 sprinkle wood ash over the surface then rake or fork it in. Test your soil if you don’t know its pH.

Wood ash is especially useful if you use lots of cattle manure in your garden, as this type of manure is very acidic.

Wood ash is approximately half as effective as lime in neutralising acid. As a general rule, apply about 2 ounces of ash to every square yard (50-70g per square metre). Do this on a still day in winter, and wear gloves to protect your hands.

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Use the alkalinity of wood ash to improve soil for brassicas such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. This is a great way to prevent club root – a common disease when the soil’s too acidic.

Apply it the winter before planting, or as a side dressing around actively growing plants. Its high potash content means wood ash is ideal to use around most fruit bushes including currants and gooseberries, where it also helps wood to ripen, thereby improving hardiness, disease resistance and productivity. In fact, mix it into any soil used to grow fruiting vegetables, especially tomatoes.

Where Not to Use Ash

Due to its alkalinity, wood ash shouldn’t be used around acid-loving plants such as blueberries and, to a lesser extent, raspberries. Avoid it coming into contact with seedlings too, and don’t apply it to areas used to grow potatoes as alkaline soil encourages potato scab.

You’d need to add lots of wood ash to make your soil too alkaline for most crops, but for peace of mind retest your soil’s pH every couple of years to check it doesn’t go above 7.5.

How to Store Wood Ash

Because the nutrients wood ash contains are soluble, you’ll need to keep it out of the rain so they don’t wash out. Containers with close fitting lids are perfect for keeping ash dry until you’re ready to use it.

Wood ash can be a truly useful addition to the garden. If you have experience with using wood ash and have any handy tips or tricks, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Gooseberries from Planting to Harvest

November 29th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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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.

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.