Posts Tagged ‘growing vegetables’

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.

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.

The 5 Best Crops for Your Edible Container Garden

May 3rd, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

5 Best Crops for Your Edible Container Garden

Growing some or even all of your crops in containers offers greater flexibility – and opportunities too. You can grow edibles in pots that you can’t in your soil, easily move frost-tender plants under cover when it gets cold, or perhaps use containers to make the most of a suntrap patio.

Most edibles can be grown in pots, but it got us thinking – if we had to pick five of the best crops to grow this way, what would they be? It’s a tough one, but we’ve given it a go. Read on or watch the video to find out more.

1. Strawberries

Let’s start with something sweet and tempting – juicy strawberries! Who doesn’t love the prospect of freshly-picked berries, ripened to perfection for maximum flavour?

As well as pots, try growing them in guttering, hanging baskets or purpose-bought strawberry planters too. They need a nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive potting soil to really thrive. For best results, mix some organic fertiliser into the potting soil before planting.

Container-grown strawberries should escape the attention of most slugs, but you might still have to protect developing fruits from birds. Make sure birds can’t get under any netting you use. A mulch of straw or gravel will help to keep the fruits clean and the root zone cool and moist.

2. Tomatoes

stockier bush types and smaller tumbling varieties of tomato are easy to grow in containers because they don’t need any pruning or pinching out as they grow

Grow tomatoes in tubs and pots for an at-the-ready supply of fruits bursting with taste. Like strawberries they need lots of nutrients, consistent moisture and, of course, sunshine if they are to ripen their fruits in a timely fashion.

All types of tomato can be grown in pots, but stockier bush types and smaller tumbling varieties are easiest because they don’t need any pruning or pinching out as they grow. Tumbling tomatoes can even be grown in hanging baskets. Plant a few marigolds with your tomatoes – they’ll add some colour and their scent is said to help to repel aphids. Use a potting mix that includes some added loam, which will help it hold moisture for longer.

Closely related aubergine and peppers are also great candidates for container growing.

3. Salad Leaves

Salad leaves are both quick and easy to grow, and because they’re shallow-rooted, make the perfect pick for a container crop. The whole plant can be harvested at once or as cut-and-come-again leaves, picked as and when you need them over several weeks.

Extend the harvest by sowing a new pot of salad leaves every 3-4 weeks. Towards the end of the season, protect the plants with row covers or move the pots into a cold frame to keep the leaves coming for even longer.

Sow a mixture of leaves for a range of leaf shapes, colours and textures. Lettuce is the obvious choice, joined by the likes of rocket, mizuna and mustard. Pots of other salad staples, including radish and spring onion, are natural partners to your leafy lovelies.

4. Carrots

Carrots are great for growing in tall containers to protect them from dreaded pests like carrot flySmaller varieties of carrot are exceptional crunched raw as part of a salad or lightly steamed to preserve their sweet taste. They’re just the job for tall containers because growing them this way means they’re less likely to be attacked by their low-flying nemesis, the carrot fly.

Sow carrots throughout spring and summer, starting the season with a hardier, early variety. Mixing the tiny seeds with sand will help to space them out as you sow, though it’s likely some thinning of the seedlings will still be necessary. Harvest finger-sized roots in stages, taking the biggest first so that those left can continue to grow.

5. Chard

Our fifth container crop is chard – a prolific leafy vegetable with a very long harvest period, making it exceptionally hard working for the space it occupies. Varieties come in a range of truly spectacular stem colours that almost appear to glow against the light. Chard isn’t just productive, it’s a bit of a head-turner too!

Sow chard directly into containers from spring, or start them off in plug trays to plant as seedlings. Plants should end up at least 6 inches (15cm) apart. You should be able to pick your first leaves about three months after sowing. Pick little and often to encourage more leaves to follow. Looked after well, chard can potentially crop until well into autumn, and in milder areas throughout the winter.

Caring for Container Crops

Container crops don’t have a very extensive root system, so you’ll need to keep plants hydrated in dry weather, watering up to twice a day in summer. Nourish plants with liquid fertiliser during the growing season. Tomato feed that’s high in potassium is good for both tomatoes and strawberries, while a general-purpose feed such as liquid seaweed is suitable for most other potted crops. Direct sunshine is almost always welcomed, but leafy salads and chard may prefer a shadier aspect in relentlessly hot conditions.

So that’s our top five crops for pots – we hope you’re tempted to grow at least a few of them! What are your favourite edibles to grow in containers? 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…

pick-your-crop-regularly-to-keep-your-plant-producing

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.

saving-seeds-from-this-seasons-crop-to-sow-for-next-season-saves-money-as-well-as-being-self-sufficient

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.

seeds-from-pea-and-bean-pods-are-the-easiest-to-harvest-for-next-season

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.

scrape-sweet-pepper-and-chilli-seeds-away-from-pith-to-save-then-dry-out-on-paper-for-at-least-a-week

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.