Posts Tagged ‘gardening advice’

Growing Lettuce from Sowing to Harvest

June 17th, 2019 | News | 2 Comments

Growing Lettuce from Sowing to Harvest

It’s quick-growing, fuss-free and can be grown just about anywhere. What are we talking about? Lettuce of course! Whether you’re growing it for sweet, firm hearts or for a pick-and-mix of leaves, you won’t want to run short of this dependable staple. If you fancy growing more of it you’re in the right place, because here’s our sowing to harvest guide to lettuce! Read on or watch the video for more.

Types of Lettuce

Lettuce needs little introduction. Grown for its luscious leaves, there’s a cornucopia of both hearting and loose leaf varieties to explore. Lettuces that form dense heads for harvesting whole include creamy butterhead types, upright romaine and cos lettuces and the classic, crunchy iceberg. Loose leaf lettuces can be harvested whole or a few leaves at a time, ‘cut-and-come-again’ style. Choose from the classic salad bowl lettuce, handsome oak leaf types or any number of other colourful leaves that’ll brighten vegetable beds and ornamental borders alike.

Where to Grow Lettuce

Sow lettuce in batches for a continuous harvestGrow lettuce in any well-drained, fertile soil – soil improved over time with plenty of compost is ideal – or grow lettuces in pots or tubs of potting soil. Lettuce prefers a bright, open position with good air circulation to promote strong, disease-free growth.

Lettuce is a cool-season crop, so in hot climates you may get better results growing it in a cooler, shadier spot, especially as the young plants start out. Either way, lettuces don’t take long to reach maturity, which makes them an excellent choice for growing in-between slower-to-establish crops such as corn or leeks.

When to Sow Lettuce

Make the earliest sowings under cover from late winter to grow on in greenhouse or hoop house beds for a super-early harvest. Then from early spring, it’s time to sow for growing outside. You can use our Garden Planner to check exactly what months you can sow in your area. The Planner uses your nearest weather station to ensure the accompanying Plant List is tailored to your location.

Sow in batches, about once a month, for a continuous harvest. The last sowing of the season, made at the end of summer, will be of winter lettuces. These hardy plants will happily sit out the winter, often with little or no protection in milder climates, to give the first outdoor harvests of spring. Or plant winter lettuces under cover for a reliable supply of leaves throughout the winter.

Direct Sowing Lettuce

Sowings may be made directly into prepared soil or into module trays of multipurpose potting soil. To sow direct, remove any weeds then rake the soil level to a fine, crumbly texture. Mark out shallow drills, 8-12 inches or 20 to 30cm apart, using a stringline as a guide if this helps. Then, sow the tiny seeds in clusters – a pinch of seeds every 4in or 10cm. Backfill the seed drills, label with the variety and water.

Thin the seedlings once they’re up to leave the strongest plant at each point. Then a few weeks on, thin again to leave plants  8-12 inches – or 20-30cm – apart.

Sowing into Plug Trays

Young lettuce plants are ready to go into the ground once the roots have filled their plugsAlternatively, sow into module trays of multipurpose potting soil. Fill the trays, firm the potting soil then sow a pinch of about 3-5 seeds into each plug, onto the surface. Cover the seeds with the very finest layer of potting soil, then water the trays by placing them into reservoirs of water so they can soak up moisture from the bottom. Remove the trays once you can see surface is damp. Continue to water whenever the potting soil dries out at the surface. Starting lettuces off in plug trays stops slugs from annihilating seedlings, while giving an arguably neater result at planting time.

The young plants are ready to go into the ground once the roots have filled their plugs. Space them 8-12 inches or 20-30cm apart in both directions. Carefully remove the plants from their plugs then dig a hole for each lettuce plant. Firm it in, and once you’ve finished planting water to settle the soil around the roots.

Caring for Lettuce

Encourage early or late-season lettuces by laying row covers or horticultural fleece over plants to trap valuable warmth. Low polythene hoop houses or tunnels are another excellent way to cheat the seasons.

Water plants in dry weather to ensure robust growth and to prevent your lettuce from bolting, when plants quickly go to seed. Use a sharp hoe to decapitate weeds as they appear, or hoik out the occasional intruder by hand.

Slugs aren’t a major problem when ground is kept weed-free and watering limited to a thorough soaking once or twice a week, but extra measures to keep a check on slugs include beer traps and the removal of shady hiding places like old pots.

How to Harvest Lettuce

Harvest whole heads of lettuce in one go by simply pulling up the plant from the ground. Lift them just before you need them for best taste and the freshest leaves.

Or enjoy your lettuces over a longer period by cutting just a few leaves from each plant at a time. Called cut-and-come-again harvesting, taking leaves like this not only prolongs the cropping period – so individual plants crop for anywhere up to two months – it will also give you many more leaves. Simply cut or twist the leaves from the stem, taking care not to damage it. Leave the central leaves untouched to grow on for the next cut.

With so many leaf shapes and colours, lettuces are a genuine joy to behold! How do you grow yours – in containers, in serried rows, or among other crops? What are your favourite varieties? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

June Gardening Advice

June 3rd, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

June Gardening Advice

Summer has barely begun, yet already garden borders are filing with colour, and allotment beds are beginning to swell with growing vegetables.

With a warming soil, you can now sow directly into the ground. Any remaining plants can go outside into their final growing position, without the risk of a late frost. You may need to thin out newly-established plants to give everything an opportunity to grow.

So, whatever you get up to this month, there really is no excuse to enjoy those longer days, and warmer nights. So, get outside and grow!

In the flower garden

Sow

With the frost now a fading memory, you can sow directly outside. If it’s colour and blooms you want, consider direct sowing sweet william, coreopsis or sunflowers. Ensure the soil has a fine tilth, sow where you want your flowers to grow, and water.

Summer bedding

Time to get the last of your summer bedding out of cold frames and greenhouses. Harden off, and plant up into their final growing positions. If garden borders aren’t an option, try using containers, troughs or hanging baskets. A basket of trailing blooms suspended beside a front door gives a warm welcome to any visitor. But with balmy days ahead, try planting up with water retention gel, and ensure a regular watering and feeding regime throughout summer. Irregular watering may cause certain plants to bolt, or dry-out and die.

Staking

Perennial and lily plants will have taken on a lot of growth and height, so now’s the time to stake them. Not only will this prevent wind damage, it’ll ensure you see the full benefit of those newly forming blooms.

Sweet peas
Ensure you pick your sweet pea flowers daily, and remove any that are going to seed

By now, these flowers will be looking their best, producing blooms daily. To prevent them from going to seed, ensure you pick flowers daily, and remove any that are going to seed.

Roses

Some roses will now be looking past their best, so consider deadheading. Not only will this keep your rose bush looking fresh, it will encourage new blooms. Ensure all weeds are removed from the base of the plant, add a slow release fertiliser and water in well.

June gaps

Most spring flowers will have come and gone, leaving you with gaps in your borders. If you’re in need of a splash of colour, consider dahlias. There’s no end to the choice of colour, shape and size available. Or if it’s height you’re after, nothing says ‘summer’ better than a vibrant sunflower. Whether you want tall, small, yellow or orange, there are now so many varieties to choose from.

Lawns

With warmer days and brighter evenings, the garden centrepiece at this time of year will be your lawn. Keep it looking good by mowing at least once a week, and trim the edges. You may want to consider raising your lawnmower blades to decrease the stress on your grass. It’s also good to apply a lawn feed. When those hotter spells do arrive, either water first thing in the morning, or later in the evening when temperatures aren’t so high. There’s less water loss due to evaporation, and lawns won’t be scorched by the searing sun.

Cuttings

This is the perfect month to take softwood cuttings from garden favourites, such as lavender, forsythia and fuchsia. Take 10cm cuttings from the tips of your chosen shrub, making a sharp horizontal cut just below a pair of leaves, and remove any lower set of leaves or buds. Fill a small pot with gritted compost, and push the cuttings in, parallel to the side of the pot. Space cuttings equally, water and place in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.

Second flourish

Delphiniums, lupins and ornamental poppies make a lovely addition to any garden, but their blooms can fade all too quickly. Once flowered, cut away the fading stem. Not only will this make the plant look tidier and bushier, it will encourage a second bloom later in the season.

Look our for pests like lily beetle, vine weevil and aphids in the garden in JuneMaintenance

Pests and diseases will be at their worst, so keep a lookout and remove all culprits. Red mite may start appearing in greenhouses, so it’s a good idea to dampen down the paths each day, and keep doors and windows open for plenty of ventilation. Introducing shading to your greenhouse will ensure plants don’t burnout on particularly hot days. Other culprits to watch-out for in the garden, are lily beetle, vine weevil and aphids.

Autumn planting

It’s hard to fathom, but in a few months, autumn will be knocking at our door, so now is a good time to get some of those autumn plants germinating. From pansies to polyanthus, sow seeds onto a tray of fine compost, water and cover lightly. Then place in your greenhouse. Check them regularly to ensure germination, and don’t let them dry-out.

On the veg patch

June drop

Fruit trees holding heavy crops of fruit will drop a certain amount in June. This improves sunlight, air circulation, reduces the spread of pests, prevents heavy branches snapping, and it means the remaining fruit get all the nutrients they need to grow and ripen. The ‘June Drop’ occurs in apples, pears, plums and peaches. So, if you come across scattered fruit below your tree, fear not, it’s Mother Nature’s way of giving your fruit tree a helping hand.

Strawberries

As you start enjoying this season’s harvest, think about producing additional plants by propagating the runners off this year’s plants. Or, to retain the plant’s energy for next year’s fruit, cut plants down to 5cm. This will encourage new growth and help prevent grey mould. Also, give the plants a feed with a general fertiliser.

With flowers on the plant, it’s time to start giving your tomatoes a twice-weekly potash feed to encourage the fruit to swell.Tomatoes

Whether you’re growing cordon or bush varieties, pinch-out side shoots, and ensure your plants are secure, and cordon tomatoes are tied in. With flowers on the plant, it’s time to start giving your tomatoes a twice-weekly potash feed to encourage the fruit to swell. This also applies to peppers, aubergine, and chilli plants.

Harvest

Crops you planted back in early spring may now be ready for harvesting. Peas, runner beans, broad beans, chard, potatoes and salad, should all be ready to go. If you notice your onions or garlic foliage is dying back, then these are also ready to harvest. Once lifted, leave them out on the bed to dry, preferably on a sunny day.

Plant

Greenhouse grown squashes, pumpkins and sweetcorn will now be ready to go out onto the plot. Give these crops plenty of space to grow, and ensure the soil is rich and moist. Once planted, give a heavy mulch to help retain moisture. These are greedy crops so they will require regular watering.

When planting out sweetcorn, arrange the plants in a fairly tight grid formation, as this will encourage the pollination of all plants.

Maintenance

June is a a good time to turn your compost heapsNow’s a good time to turn your compost heaps. The warmer weather will help the process of breaking down matter.

Weeds will be thriving, so maintain beds and remove with a hoe, ideally on a warm day, when the soil isn’t as moist, as weeds can easily be removed.

Some vegetables, such as brassicas, will need netting to prevent birds attacking them, and to stop the white butterfly from laying their eggs.

Carrots are often affected by Carrot Fly, so create a fleece or mesh barrier at least 50cm high. This pest can only fly so high, so a netted barrier will prevent them from attacking your young carrots.

Another method of discouraging pests is companion planting. Plants such as marigolds, should be planted around tomato plants as their smell discourages pests.

Other jobs

  • Blanket weed should be removed from ponds, to help both fish and plants breathe. Try to do this at the end of the day, when temperatures are cooler. Also, leave any removed foliage at the side of the pond overnight. This will give any caught animals and insects a chance to return to the water. Check water plants for pests and remove. Pond fish may need feeding.
  • With increased light levels, you could consider setting up a herb tray on a windowsill. Herbs such as basil, and coriander are worth considering, and make a wonderful addition to any meal.
  • If you have lavender flowering in the garden, then why not take cuttings and bring indoors. Simply bunch together, tie and suspend somewhere where you can enjoy its fragrance. Or, consider drying it out to create lavender sachets for your drawers and pillows.

Growing Kale from Sowing to Harvest

May 30th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

 

Growing Kale from Sowing to Harvest

There’s one undisputed king of the winter vegetable garden – kale! It’s packed with goodness, is remarkably hardy, will carry on cropping throughout most of the winter – and it isn’t half good looking! If you’re looking to grow this hard-working beauty now’s the time to get started. Read on or watch the video for our sowing-to-harvest guide to kale.

Types of Kale

Kale is a stunning vegetable with varieties that offer a choice of frothy, frilled leaves, crinkled leaves, and flatter leaves suitable for both cooking and salads. And then there’s the opportunity to grow red or purple kale, which we reckon wouldn’t look out of place in any ornamental border.

Kale is best sown from late spring to early summer, which makes it the perfect choice to follow on from earlier crops such as garlic, broad beans or early salads.

Where to Grow Kale

Hardy kale is the most reliable crop of the cabbage familyHardy kale is the most reliable crop of the cabbage family. It stands up to frosts with ease and thrives in just about any well-drained, fertile soil. Give it a sunny position in order to encourage stronger growth during the dark winter months.

Like cabbage, kale grows best when well fed. Add plenty of compost to the ground before planting and if your soil isn’t especially rich, top up its fertility by applying a balanced organic fertiliser such as chicken manure pellets a week or two before planting.

How to Sow Kale

Kale needs plenty of room to develop properly. To make the most of the space you have it’s almost always better to start plants off in plug trays or pots. This way you can get seedlings growing while other crops are still in the ground. Once you’ve harvested the previous crop, your sturdy young kale seedlings will be ready to plant.

Fill plug trays or small pots with multipurpose potting soil. Firm it in with your fingertips then make holes about half an inch (1cm) deep. Sow two seeds per plug or pot, cover, and water. Should two seedlings grow remove the weaker of the two.

Depending on how soon you plan on planting your kale, you may need to pot your seedlings on into larger containers. Then, about a week before planting, start moving plants outside so they can acclimatise. Leave them out for gradually longer periods until they’re staying out all day and night.

Transplanting Kale

Space the young plants about 18in (45cm) apart. Dig a hole, pop the plant in and backfill with soil. Kale needs to be well anchored, so be sure to properly firm the plants into position so that the rootballs are in good contact with the soil. Thoroughly water once you’re done.

Kale that will be harvested for smaller salad leaves can be planted closer to leave about 10in (25cm) between plants.

Caring for Kale

Butterfly netting stops butterflies from laying their eggs on your kale plants so that caterpillars won’t get a chance to damage cropsKeep plants well watered and weeded, especially during the summer as they settle in and establish. Remove damaged or yellowing leaves as they appear.

Kale tends to be less prone to the catalog of pests and diseases that afflict other cabbage family crops. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a few precautions against possible attack.

Slugs sometimes prove a nuisance in wetter climates, but they are easily picked off by hand and you can always set slug traps to limit their numbers. If you find that pigeons are tearing at the leaves then set up bird deterrent tape or install barriers of netting supported on, for example, canes with upturned bottles on the ends. Make sure the netting is properly secured at the ground. Butterfly netting also stops butterflies from laying their eggs on your plants so that caterpillars won’t get a chance to decimate your crop.

Whitefly can occasionally turn up. They are easily identified as tiny white triangles that readily take to the air when disturbed. Fuzzy gray cabbage aphids are another common problem. Insect mesh or row covers are a simple way to protect plants. Most pests die off after the first frosts, leaving plants clear and blemish-free once more.

How to Harvest Kale

Harvesting usually begins in the autumn. Pull or twist leaves down and away from the plant, or use a knife to cut the leaves off.

Harvest every few days by taking one or two leaves from each plant so that the central inner rosette of leaves remains untouched. By the end of the following spring kale plants will have grown quite tall as a result of this regular harvesting. When they stretch to flower they can be removed to the compost heap or left as an extra source of nectar for pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

Kale is one of those crops that just keeps on giving, making it a worthy addition to any vegetable garden. Are you growing kale this season? What variety are you growing, and how do you make the most of it in the kitchen? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

10 Unusual Vegetables for Adventurous Gardeners

May 14th, 2019 | News | 1 Comment

The almost-impossibly vibrant watermelon radish is a stunning winter radish

Growing our own food gives us the opportunity to taste produce as fresh and healthy as it’s possible to get. It also means zero food miles and, if we choose, the chance to grow food with fewer artificial fertilisers and pesticides. But the really exciting reason to grow more of your own is the chance to try something different. There are many quirky crops out there just waiting to be discovered. So if you fancy trying something new, read on or watch the video for our top 10 unusual vegetables to shake things up in the garden.

1. Cardoon

Let’s start with a real monster of a vegetable! Closely related to globe artichoke and with similarly striking thistle-like blooms, cardoons are in fact grown for their incredible architectural stems. Looking a lot like super-sized celery, the earthy stems are delicious served up in a gratin. Cardoon needs lots of space, sunshine and a free-draining soil.

2. Shiso PerillaShiso perilla is more commonly associated with Japanese cuisine, where it’s used in tempuras and sushi

This leafy exotic is more commonly associated with Japanese cuisine, where it’s used in tempuras and sushi. The taste conjures up a curious mix of herbs, from mint to basil, as well as spices such as cinnamon. Red-leaved shiso perilla is a stunner, but it’s the green form that wins on flavour.

3. Oca

Oca is a member of the wood sorrel family, and certainly has its distinctive leaf shape. The leaves can be eaten in moderation but the real treat lies beneath the ground. Oca tubers are rich in vitamin C and may be eaten raw, or cooked in exactly the same ways as potato. Oca is planted in spring with the tubers forming in early autumn.

4. Celeriac

It tastes like a nutty version of celery but is more often mashed like potato – meet celeriac. This hardy, versatile winter root may also be grated raw, boiled or braised, or cut it into cubes and drop it into stews or soups. With young plants going in from spring, this is the perfect follow-on crop for ground recently vacated by other winter staples.

Malabar spinach is an Asian vine with pretty red stems and delicious, fleshy leaves5. Malabar Spinach

This culinary climber is Malabar spinach, an Asian vine with pretty red stems and delicious, fleshy leaves that are perfect in salads or stir-fried. A perennial, grown as an annual in regions prone to frost, Malabar spinach loves rich, fertile soil and grows best in full sun.

6. Kohlrabi

Next up – kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is an almost alien-looking vegetable that’s used in similar ways to turnip. The ‘bulbs’ are in fact swollen stems and taste like tender broccoli. They grow best from the second half of summer and should be harvested before they reach tennis ball size. We love them sliced then baked into healthy fries.

7. Seakale

Let’s take a look at another member of the brassica family – seakale. This quirky perennial needs a permanent bed like rhubarb or asparagus. Seakale is forced into growth in winter and early spring using special forcing pots to give one of the earliest harvests of the season. The tender, pale stems that follow are a real delicacy and cooked just like asparagus. This maritime native prefers free-draining soils.

8. AmaranthAmaranth is also known as ‘love-lies-bleeding'

Move over quinoa, there’s a new grain on the block! Also known as ‘love-lies-bleeding’ – you can see why in the picture – amaranth seeds are full of hugely healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Amaranth grows well in most soils and prefers a warm, sunny spot. Look out for the variety ‘Red Callaloo’ too, grown for its versatile and nutritious leaves.

9. Winter Radish

Round, red radishes are a summer staple, but did you know there’s a whole other side to the humble radish? Just as easy to grow as their summer cousins, winter radishes include the mild-flavored daikon often used in Asian cuisines, the tender-if-formidable-looking ‘Black Spanish’ radish, and the almost-impossibly vibrant watermelon radish. What a stunner!

10. Salsify & Scorzonera

Two very similar vegetables take up our final slot. Salsify and scorzonera both enjoy light, well-drained soil and a sunny, open position. They don’t look like much above ground, but that’s no problem because it’s the super-hardy roots we’re after, which have a delicate, sweet flavour reminiscent of oysters! Lift them as needed from autumn onwards to enjoy boiled or grated raw.

Be adventurous and try a few of these tasty eccentrics – they’ll certainly bring something new to the dinner table. If you’ve grown any of them before please share your experiences by commenting below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Squash from Sowing to Harvest

May 8th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Squash from Sowing to Harvest

Squashes and pumpkins are among the most thrilling vegetables you can grow – it’s the speed with which they do it! One minute the seedlings are tentatively pushing through and then – bosh! – just a few weeks later, they’re great sprawling monsters with masses of leafy foliage and plenty of fruits. They’re so easy to grow too – as long as you can keep up with their insatiable appetite, that is!

Read on or watch the video to find out the very best way to grow them.

Types of Squash

Squash varieties come in all sorts of shapes, patterns and sizes, but fall into one of two categories: winter squash or summer squash. Winter squash are harvested in one go at the end of the growing season to provide a feast of fruits to enjoy over the winter months. They include favourites like butternut squash, spaghetti squash and the myriad of pumpkins. Summer squash are harvested throughout the summer and include, for example, courgette, patty pan and crookneck squashes.

Squash are either trailing or bushy. Trailing squash can be left to sprawl over the soil surface or trained up onto trellising or wire mesh. For really big pumpkins though, it’s best to leave stems to sprawl. They will send down extra roots as they spread to take up even more of those valuable nutrients and moisture.

Where to Grow Squash

Squash love a warm, sunny and sheltered spot – ideal conditions for good pollination and proper fruit developmentSquash love a warm, sunny and sheltered spot – ideal conditions for good pollination and proper fruit development. The plants are hungry feeders and need a rich, fertile soil. Any soil can be improved by barrowing on lots of well-rotted compost or manure, or create planting pockets by digging out a hole for each plant at least two weeks before sowing or planting. Fill the hole with a mixture of soil and compost or manure and top with a handful or organic fertiliser.

Smaller varieties of summer squash may also be grown in containers that are at least 18 inches (45cm) wide.

How to Sow Squash

Sow squash directly where they are to grow after your last frost date. Sow two seeds to each position then thin the seedlings to leave the strongest. Pop a jar, cloche or cold frame over sowing areas to help speed up germination.

A more reliable alternative is to sow into pots under cover. Sow one seed per pot, about an inch (2cm) deep. Germinate in the warmth, at around 60-68°F (15-20°C). Sowings like this can be made up to a month before your last frost to give good-sized plants by planting out time. You may need to pot the quick-growing seedlings on into larger pots before it’s safe to move them outside.

Most garden stores and nurseries also sell ready-to-plant seedlings – handy if you only want to grow a few plants.

How to Plant Squash

Set your plants out after all danger of frost has passed. Start to acclimatise them to outside conditions two weeks beforehand. Leave them out during the day for increasingly longer periods then, from the second week, overnight in a sheltered position. Plant trailing varieties up to 5ft (1.5m) apart and bush types about 3ft (90cm) apart. Thoroughly water plants into position to settle the soil around the rootball.

Caring for Squash

Keep squash plants well watered to encourage rapid growthKeep plants well watered to encourage rapid growth. You can make watering easier by sinking 6-inch (15cm) pots alongside plants. The pots will hold onto the water and deliver it through the drainage holes directly where it’s needed, at the roots. Mulch around plants with organic matter to help lock in valuable soil moisture and contribute additional nutrients.

Stems of especially vigorous varieties can be pegged down at regular intervals to keep them within their allotted space. Larger fruits, particularly pumpkins, should be lifted off the soil, for instance onto tiles, to stop them rotting as they develop.

How to Harvest Squash

Harvest courgette and summer squash as soon as they are the size you need. Pick often to encourage more fruits to follow. Winter squash and pumpkins are harvested in the autumn before the first frosts, usually when the foliage has started to die back or become infected by powdery mildew.

Cut either side of the stem to leave a T-shaped stub. Avoid the temptation to use the stem as a handle as it could detach from the fruit and serve as an entry point to rot. Move fruits to a warm, dry and sunny spot to cure. Curing hardens the skin ready for storage. If it’s already turned cold and damp outside, cure fruits in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. Winter squash and pumpkins will store for up to six months at room temperature.

Growing squashes to be proud of is really very straightforward. What varieties would you recommend? What’re your tips for growing bigger, bolder fruits? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.