Posts Tagged ‘gardening tips’

Growing Potatoes from Planting to Harvest

March 13th, 2019 | News | 2 Comments

Growing Potatoes from Planting to Harvest

Potatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables you can grow. It’s not just the growing part that’s so satisfying – harvest time is what makes the potato really special, when those delicious tubers are finally unearthed like buried nuggets of gold. Garden-grown potatoes are really something else! So if you’ve never tried growing them before, make this the year you do.

Read on or watch the video for our planting to harvest guide to potatoes…

Types of Potato

Before you plant you need to decide what to grow. There are two main types of potato: maincrops and earlies.

Maincrop varieties are usually bulkier and give a bigger harvest, and many can be stored for winter use. Maincrops are typically harvested in late summer or autumn.

Early varieties are ready from early to midsummer and are further divided into first earlies and second earlies. First early varieties are first to crop, while second earlies follow on a few weeks later. Early potatoes tend to be smaller than maincrop types, but they have the best flavour and often have a smoother, waxier texture that makes them perfect in salads. They’re also sublime when served steaming hot, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of herbs.

Check variety descriptions for potatoes suited to different uses, whether baked, boiled, sautéed or cut up into wedges – or even a combination of these. Some varieties offer good resistance to common diseases including blight, which can ruin a crop in warm, wet summers. Or grow first earlies, which are usually harvested before the main blight risk.

Prepare for PlantingFebruary Gardening Advice - time to start chitting your potatoes

To plant a crop of potatoes you’ll need to get hold of some seed or sprouting potatoes, also sold as simply ‘tubers’. Large seed potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces to make them go further. Make sure each piece has at least two ‘eyes’ and allow the cut to air dry for a day before planting.

In regions where spring’s arrival is a little slower to arrive, it’s worth sprouting or ‘chitting’ your seed potatoes. Do this up to six weeks ahead of planting to give your crop a head start. Lay them out in a single layer so the ends with most eyes – that’s the dimples where the shoots will sprout from – face up. Place them into trays or old egg cartons, which hold the potatoes steady. Keep them in a cool, bright place to sprout thick, sturdy shoots.

Where to Grow Potatoes

Potatoes love rich, moist soil that’s been gradually improved with organic matter such as well-rotted compost or manure. Avoid poorly draining soil to prevent tubers from rotting. A sunny spot on the plot will encourage the strong growth you’re after.

How to Plant Potatoes

Plant first earlies once the soil has begun to warm up in early spring. Second earlies are planted a few weeks later, while maincrops follow on a couple of weeks later still, in mid-spring. You can use our Garden Planner to check the best times to plant in your area, based on data from your local nearest weather station. The Planner is also a great resource for browsing variety descriptions and, of course, to lay out potatoes on your plan so you’ll know exactly how many seed potatoes you’ll need to fill the area you have.

Plant seed potatoes into dug trenches or individual planting holes. Space them out so that they’re a foot (30cm) apart along the row. Additional rows of early varieties should be spaced at least 18 inches (45cm) apart, while maincrops need a minimum of 30 inches (75cm) left between rows. Dig a hole for each potato and plant so it’s around 6in (15cm) deep.

Caring for Potatoes

Shoots should poke above ground within about 2-3 weeks. They’ll tolerate very light frosts but are best covered over with row cover or fleece if something colder is forecast.

Once they reach 6 inches (15cm) tall, begin hilling or earthing up your potatoes. Hilling mounds up the soil along the row to encourage more tubers to grow and to reduce the risk of light exposure, which turns them green. Use a hoe to draw up the surrounding soil around the shoots, leaving just the very tops exposed. Hill in stages like this each time the foliage reaches a similar height above soil level, and continue until the mounds are either a foot (30cm) tall or the foliage above has closed over.

Remove weeds early on, but fast-growing potatoes soon crowd out any competition. Potatoes need ample moisture for all that growth though. Water thoroughly in dry weather so tubers grow to their full potential, free of any cracks or hollows.

When to Harvest

You can harvest tubers small as new potatoes as soon as the plants begin to flower a couple of months after planting. Continue harvesting early varieties in stages from this point on, leaving the remaining plants to grow on until needed. This staggered approach to harvesting makes it easier to enjoy potatoes at their freshest and tastiest.

Maincrop potatoes are usually harvested towards the end of summer or in early autumn once the foliage has died back. Leave the tubers underground for a further two weeks then, on a dry day, lift them up with a fork, taking care not to accidentally pierce any of the tubers. Brush off excess soil, let the potatoes air dry for a few hours then store out of the light in a cool but frost-free place.

You can’t beat a perfect potato! If you have any clever potato growing techniques or advice of your own, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Peppers from Sowing to Harvest

March 7th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

 

Growing Peppers from Sowing to Harvest

Whether you like the sweet crunch of a bell pepper or the feisty fire of a chili pepper, there’s none like those you’ve grown yourself. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from – and deciding what to grow is half the fun!

Now’s the time to sow them, but before you so much as rip open a seed packet we thought we’d better share a few secrets to pepper growing success. Read on or watch the video for our sowing-to-picking guide to peppers.

Types of Pepper

Few crops come in the variety of shapes, sizes and of course heat levels as peppers and chili peppers. With so many to explore, there’s always something new to enjoy. Grow them yourself and you’ll be able to harvest at the peak of perfection and enjoy unrivalled flavour.

When to Sow Peppers

Peppers need warmth and sunshine to thrive. Warmth is especially important for germination and then to encourage strong seedling growth, so they will need to be started off indoors or under cover in most climates. Sow seeds in late winter or early spring, no more than two months before your last frost date.

How to Sow Peppers

Sow peppers into pots or plug trays of seed-starting mix

Sow into pots or plug trays of seed-starting mix. Space seeds at least an inch (2.5cm) apart across the surface then cover with a little more mix. You might want to wear gloves if handling seeds from especially hot varieties and -please – take care not to rub your eyes after touching them! Water the seeds in using a fine spray.

Seedlings appear quickly when pots or trays are placed onto a heat mat or into a heated propagator set to around 70ºF (21ºC). Alternatively, secure clear plastic bags over your pots using a rubber band then move them to a warm windowsill to germinate.

Once the seedlings are up, remove covers and then grow on somewhere warm and bright. After a few weeks, carefully transfer seedlings to their own pots. Do this while they’re still fairly small yet big enough to handle, and always hold seedlings by their leaves, not their delicate stems. Grow lights can be used to help give seedlings a strong start.

Continue growing, potting the young plants on again if the roots fill their pots before they are ready for planting.

Planting Peppers

Peppers love sunshine, so reserve them a place in full sun where they will get at least six hours of direct sunshine every day. Acclimatize plants before setting them outside by leaving them out somewhere sheltered for gradually longer timespans over a two-week period, taking care that a late frost doesn’t accidentally damage them. Plant out once your last expected frost date has passed.

Plant peppers directly into open ground that’s been improved with plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost. Set plants a minimum of 16in (40cm) apart, or plant into containers that are at least 1.5 gallons (6 litres) in volume. Use good-quality potting soil enriched with added organic matter and plant the young peppers so that the soil surface reaches just shy of the rim. This will help to avoid runoff every time you water.

In cooler temperate climates, peppers will come into flower far quicker if they are grown on with the added protection of a greenhouse, hoop house or conservatory. Plants may also be grown on a bright, sunny windowsill.

Caring for Peppers

Keep plants upright and encourage more reliable growth by pushing in a cane or stake next to each plant, then tying the main stem to it with twine. Larger plants may need several canes.

Pinch out the growing point at the top once plants reach about 8in (20cm) to stimulate plants to produce more branches. This creates a bushier habit and healthier plants with the knock on effect of more flowers and fruits.

In hot weather you may find you need to water your pepper plants daily

Once they start producing flower buds, feed plants regularly with a liquid feed high in potassium, such as a tomato fertilizer. Water plants often in dry weather so the foliage doesn’t wilt, as this can cause undue stress and potential problems such as blossom end rot or leaf curl. In hot weather you may find you need to water daily. A tray or similar reservoir at the bottom of pots helps to contain the water that drains through so it can be fully absorbed back up through the drainage holes.

 

Harvesting Peppers

Peppers are ready to harvest as soon as they have taken on their final colour. Cut the fruits away with a sharp pair of clean pruners then store in the refrigerator ready to enjoy. They freeze well too. Chili peppers may also be dehydrated then pulverized in a food processor to store as chili flakes in airtight jars. Or how about threading them in a spiral formation to create stunning chili ristras?

What sorts of peppers do you prefer? Do you have any tips or tricks for growing them? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

March 4th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

Longer days and the first brave flowers pushing through – spring is nearly here! This is the perfect time to plan for the coming growing season. If you’re new to gardening – welcome! This is for anyone looking to start a new vegetable garden. You’re about to embark on a journey that’s equal parts challenging and rewarding, mystifying but uplifting. Read on or watch the video for the top ten things I wish I’d known when I started out…

1. Let the Sunshine In

The first thing to consider when starting a vegetable garden is light. Most vegetables, fruits and herbs grow best in full sunshine – somewhere that receives at least 6 hours and preferably 8 hours of direct sunshine a day, though some shading is welcome in hotter climates.

Some cool-season crops – for example spinach, cabbage and radishes – can be grown in part shade, while there are plenty of flowers for both sunny and shady locations.

2. Convenience is Key

You’ll need to tend your garden regularly, so if possible position it close to the house where you will see it – that way you won’t forget about it and can see what needs doing as it needs doing. Try to site it near a source of water too, or install water barrels or other means of collecting rainwater close by to make watering quick and easy.

Nourish your soil with organic matter, including garden compost and manure

3. Love Your Soil

Lavish your soil with love! Nourish it with organic matter, including garden compost and manure. Manure must be rotted down for at least 6 months before applying it because fresh manure contains weed seeds, can harbour disease and may ‘burn’ plants due to its very high nitrogen content.

Add organic matter whenever you can, and at least once a year. This can be simply laid on the soil surface as what’s known as a ‘mulch’. Over time your soil structure will improve, becoming better draining and a healthier environment for roots. You can add organic fertilisers too of course, but think of these as a short-term boost rather than building up long-term soil health like organic matter can.

4. Don’t Be Too Hasty

As a new gardener it’s easy to get carried away, but a little restraint is essential. Plant too soon and tender plants are likely to be caught out by a sudden frost or will fail to thrive as they grow on. In most areas your last and first frost dates define your growing season.

Our Garden Planner can help. It automatically calculates your frost dates based on your location. As you add plants to your plan the accompanying Plant List grows too. Open it up and you’ll be able to see exactly when you should be sowing, planting and harvesting your chosen crops.

5. Give Plants the Best Start

Begin sowing outside only once your soil has warmed up and dried out enough to become workable. Seed beds – that’s the area you sow into – should have a fine, crumbly texture. Sowing under cover into plug trays and pots is a great way to get a head start while outside temperatures are still too low.

Transplants need planting holes that are bigger than the existing rootball. The soil then used to fill in the hole will be looser, which will make it easier for new roots to grow out into the surrounding soil and help plants to establish quicker in their new home.

Most plants need an average of 2-5cm of water a week

6. Water Well

Most plants need an average of 1-2 inches (2-5cm) of water a week. You’ll probably need to water more as it gets warmer, but this does depend on rainfall. It’s better to water heavily once a week than a little every day. This forces roots to reach further down into the soil to seek moisture, improving self-reliance. Plants in containers can’t do this of course, so water them more often.

7. War of the Weeds

Remove weeds as soon as you see them so they don’t have a chance to produce seeds and spread. Hoeing is quick and easy, and severed weeds may be left where they fall to wither in the sun. Keep the blade edge sharp and close to the surface to prevent damaging crop roots. Hand-weed where the hoe can’t reach.

Mulching with organic matter is a great way stop new weeds popping up as well as improving your soil as it gradually rots down.

8. Keep Picking

Some vegetables must be picked regularly to keep the harvests coming. Beans, courgettes and tomatoes are just a few examples where picking will encourage even more pods and fruits to follow.

Similarly, removing old blooms from ornamental flowers – called ‘deadheading’ – encourages more to follow, extending the display a little longer.

9. End of the Season

Add leaves to compost heaps, compost them alone to turn them into leafmould, or pile them thickly over tender perennials to protect them over winter

An end-of-season tidy up is a great way to ensure a clean start the following year, but don’t get too carried away. Old seed heads of, for example, coneflowers and thistles will help feed birds over winter, while ornamental grasses can be left to add movement and structure to the garden – and overwintering sites for beneficial bugs such as butterflies.

Fallen leaves are a welcome resource. Add them to compost heaps, compost them alone to turn them into leafmould, or pile them thickly over tender perennials to protect them over winter.

10. Keep Records

Good gardeners make lots of mistakes, but they learn from them! By keeping track of when, where and what you grew and noting any pests, diseases or failures, you can build up a personal record of what works best for you and your garden.

Take advantage of our free online Garden Journal, which makes record keeping easy. Take photos outside on the go, then upload them with your written notes. Record when you planted, watered and tended your crops, get to the bottom of problems, and see how much you’ve harvested.

These tips are our recommendations, but of course everyone has a different opinion based on their own experiences. So if you’re not so new to gardening, what advice would you give to beginners? Let us know by commenting below, or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Onions from Sowing to Harvest

February 27th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Onions from Sowing to Harvest

Onions are a must-grow vegetable. Why? Well, where to begin! To start, onions are very easy to grow and properly prepared bulbs will store reliably for up to six months. As with potatoes, there’s something deeply satisfying about the weighty harvest you can get from even a small area, and as the starting point to so many recipes there’s every reason to grow more of your own. So let’s not hang about – read on or watch the video for the sowing to harvest guide to onions.

Types of Onions

Onions come in traditional yellow and red which are both great for the kitchen, but look out for white varieties too, which are often bigger, milder and great thinly sliced into salads.

For an extensive list of varieties check out our Garden Planner where you can bring up a list of varieties for every crop (including onions of course!) and read through variety descriptions at your leisure. Drop some onions into your plan, then bring up the Plant List to check the best sowing, planting and harvesting dates for your specific location.

Where to Grow Onions

Onions love a sunny and open site, and well-drained soil enriched with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. If your soil is heavy and tends to remain overly wet, then grow onions in raised beds or on mounds to improve drainage.

Starting Onions Indoors

Sow onion seeds into plug trays or pots of potting mix to transplant later as seedlingsFor the earliest start, sow onion seeds into plug trays or pots of potting mix to transplant later as seedlings. This avoids the need for thinning out, encourages a more economical use of seeds and, given the protection of a greenhouse or cold frame, means sowing can start at least a month sooner in late winter.

Fill trays with seed-starting or general-purpose potting mix, pressing it down into the cells for a solid fill. Sow a pinch of 4-8 seeds per cell, then cover with more potting mix to a depth of a 1/4 – 1/2 an inch (1cm). Water with a fine spray.

Transplant the resulting seedlings while they’re still quite small to avoid disturbing the delicate roots. Make holes into prepared ground, planting each clump of seedlings about 4in (10cm) apart before firming in and watering.

How to Sow Outside

Direct sowings can commence in spring as soon as the soil is workable and has warmed up a little. Rake the soil level then mark out seed drills about 1/2 inch (1cm) deep and 1ft (30cm) apart. Sow the seeds very thinly, cover back over then water along the rows to settle them in. Thin the seedlings in stages until they’re about 2in (5cm) apart for lots of smaller onions or 4in (10cm) apart for fewer but bigger bulbs.

Covering early sowings or transplants with row cover or fleece helps to speed things along at the start of the season, and may help reduce the tendency to bolt (or flower), which makes bulbs too tough to eat.

Some especially hardy varieties of onion may also be sown in late summer to sit through winter and give an extra early crop in spring or early summer.

Planting Onion Sets

Onion sets are super-easy to grow and save time sowingIn many regions you may be able to buy onion transplants for immediate planting. Another alternative is to plant sets. Sets are part-grown onions that are super-easy to grow and save time sowing. On the downside, they don’t store as well as onions grown from seed or transplants, and they carry a higher risk of bolting. There are, however, heat-treated varieties available that are more resistant to bolting. Nevertheless, sets are clear winners when it comes to convenience.

Plant sets in mid spring into prepared, weed-free ground that’s warmed up a little. Leave just the tips poking up from the ground and space them 2-4in (5-10cm) apart, depending on the final size of bulb you’re after. Some sets may also be planted in early autumn, to give a harvest up to two months earlier next summer.

Caring for Onions

Onions transplanted from module trays may be left as they are or thinned out once they’ve grown on to give bigger bulbs. You can enjoy the thinnings as green (or spring) onions.

As shallow-rooted plants, onions must be kept watered in dry weather. Keep on top of weeds too, hoeing carefully between rows, then hand-weeding within the rows so as not to damage the roots.

When to Harvest

Harvest time is approaching once most of the leaves have bent down towards the ground. Bulbs will continue to swell over the next few weeks before colouring up nicely in time for harvest.

Onions for StoringWhen storing onions in warm, dry climates simply leave the onions where they are on the soil surface to air out

When they’re ready, lift them up with a fork or trowel, then move those destined for storing under cover to dry. Any form of cover, from an airy shed to a greenhouse is ideal, or in warm, dry climates simply leave the onions where they are on the soil surface. Space bulbs out so there’s good airflow between them – racks can help with this. This drying process, called ‘curing’, takes about two weeks and toughens up the outer skin of the onion so it will keep for longer.

Store onions suspended in nets, tied into bundles or woven into beautiful onion strings. Onions should keep until at least midwinter, and as long as spring.

Awesome onions – you’ve got to love them! But grow them yourself and you’ll love them some more. If you have any of your own tips and tricks for growing onions, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden

January 21st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden

Harvesting more from your vegetable garden is a worthy ambition, but just what are the most effective ways to increase productivity? Healthy soil, careful planning, and defending your crops from pests, weeds and weather extremes is the answer, so let’s dig a little deeper.

Read on or watch the video for 10 proven ways to boost productivity in your vegetable garden this growing season.

1. Feed Your Soil

Deep, nutrient-rich soils encourage extensive root systems and strong plants, so nourish your soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost, manure, or leaf mould. Compost and leaf mould can be easily made at home for free, so compost everything you can and put a thriving composting setup at the heart of your garden.

The best time to add most organic matter is in winter, to give enough time for it to become incorporated into the ground before spring. Then, top up with more organic matter during the growing season, laying it 2-5cm (1-2 inches) thick around existing crops. This surface mulch will also help to slow moisture loss and suppress weeds, saving you time watering and weeding.

2. Feed Your Plants

Many plants will benefit from a further boost of organic fertiliser such as liquid seaweed concentrate.

Alternatively, grow a patch of comfrey – next to your compost bin is ideal – and make your own comfrey tea, a potent brew ideal for hungry plants like tomatoes. Cut leaves can also be laid around plants, or added to the compost heap where they will help to speed up decomposition.

 10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden

3. Grow in Beds

Convert to a system of permanent beds and minimise wasted space while concentrating your resources. Beds may be accessed from all sides and plants can be grown in blocks which maximises productivity. And because you’ll add organic matter directly to the beds, there’s no wasting it on paths or other unproductive ground.

4. Choose Plants that Thrive

It may seem obvious, but growing what thrives in your soil and climate will result in stronger growth and bigger harvests. For example, warm climates are ideal for growing sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Or in cooler areas, opt for crops like chard and cabbage that can cope with the cold.

Choose varieties that have been bred to thrive in your climate. Early varieties are great for short growing seasons, while heat-tolerant varieties are a must for areas with scorching summer sun.

5. Grow More in the Shade

Increasing productivity means making the most of every space available to you – and that includes shadier areas. They’re great for leafy vegetables such as lettuce or Asian greens, slow growers including leeks and parsnip, plus hardy fruits like blackcurrants and gooseberries. You can use the Mr Fothergill’s Garden Planner to filter crop choices to show only those suitable for growing in the shade.

 10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden

6. Collect More Rainwater

Rainwater is the best option for watering vegetables. Rainwater is softer, contains fewer contaminants and is at a pH that is preferred by most plants, encouraging better growth all round. So if you’re still using treated water to irrigate your crops, now’s the time to install additional water barrels and collect as much rainwater as you can. You can use a connector kit to join multiple barrels together.

 

7. Extend the Growing Season

Get familiar with your first and last frost dates, then plan to push your growing season further using plant protection. Cold frames, row covers and cloches enable sowing and planting to begin up to two weeks sooner, while harvests can continue a few weeks longer at the end of the season.

The Garden Planner demonstrates this beautifully. Add crop protection such as a cold frame to your plan. Then bring up the accompanying Plant List, which now displays earlier planting and later harvesting dates for the plants grown under protection.

A permanent structure such as a greenhouse opens up more possibilities, making it easy to enjoy an even earlier start to spring while affording just enough protection for winter-long cropping of, for example, hardy salads.

8. Space Plants Correctly

Be careful to leave enough space between plants – plant too close and your crops will fail to grow properly and be prone to disease, but plant too far apart and you won’t make the most of the space you have. The Garden Planner shows you exactly how many plants may be grown in the area available.

Excellent soil can help you to push the boundaries by growing vegetables a little closer than recommended. Square Foot Gardening takes this to the extreme, with plants spaced up to five times closer. Select the SFG option in the Garden Planner to design your own square foot beds. The planner shows you how many of the selected crop will fit into each square foot.

9. Pair Up Plants

10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden

Some plants are mutually beneficial. Grown together they can help to increase overall productivity.

Companion planting takes many forms. For example, lofty corn can be used as a support for climbing beans, while lettuce grown in-between rows of carrot or onion helps to smother weeds while these slower growing crops establish. The Garden Planner takes care of companion planting too. Simply highlight a crop then select the Companion Planting option to display suitable partners in the selection bar.

10. Work to Prevent Pests

Take a preventative approach to pests to stop them in their tracks. For example, place barriers over susceptible plants to protect them from flying insect pests, or reduce a nuisance slug population by removing hiding places such as upturned pots or long grass in and around growing areas. Then every few weeks, head out when slugs are feeding in the evening to pick off and dispose of them by torchlight.

Make room for flowers in the vegetable garden too. Flowers like alyssum, calendula and poached egg plant don’t take up much space and will improve productivity by attracting predators such as hoverflies and ladybirds to control pests including aphids, mites and mealybugs.

Try some – preferably all – of these techniques for yourself and enjoy the boost in productivity you deserve! If you have any of your own tips and tricks for boosting yields in the vegetable garden, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.