Grow at Home – Cucumbers

cucumber_slices_3Like many other veg, cucumbers you grow yourself have much more flavour than those from a supermarket.  And that is the first reason to grow them.  Another reason is that they are versatile and you can grow them inside or outside, in the ground, in pots or in grow bags so they work whatever your space.

Male & Female

Cucumbers, like most cucurbit plants, produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant.  Which variety you choose seems to be the real crux of cucumber growing and governs what you have to do to grow them successfully.

Excuse me if I get a little technical for the next few paragraphs but the ins and outs of male and female flowers needs a little explanation. If you aren’t interested in this and just want to get your cucumbers in the ground then just check what your seed packet says in terms of flower removal and skip to the Sowing section!  If not, here goes…

There are two sorts of cucumbers – monoecious and gynoecious and both of these can be parthenocarpic i.e. they can produce fruit without pollination.

cucumbers_flowerThe traditional variety- monoecious

Traditional varieties have both male and female flowers in a ratio of about 10 male to 1 female.  The male flowers usually appear first followed by the female.  This leads some to believe that their plant will not produce female flowers but if you hold your nerve you will be rewarded.

If you have a variety that needs pollination then there is no need to remove the male flowers.  Their pollen will hopefully be transferred, usually by bees, or wind, to the female flowers to pollinate them. After which your cucumbers will appear.

If you have a parthenocarpic variety (no pollination needed) then these take a bit of care as you have to pick the male flowers off.  Otherwise they will pollinate the female flowers and the fruit will be bitter. (see below for more on bitterness)

To identify the sex of the flower, look behind it and see if there is a cucumber growing.  This is a  female flower.  Leave these.  If there is no swelling behind the flower then this is a male and the flower must be picked off depending on your variety.

The Modern variety – Gynoecious 

These are simple to grow as the flowers will be predominantly female.

With Parthenocarpic varieties they will produce fruit without pollination and will be seedless.  Take care as, even though they don’t need to be pollinated, they still can be from nearby plants.  So you may want to grow in  a greenhouse or cover them to avoid getting bitter cucumbers.  Some seed packets class these as “indoor cucumbers”.

With the Gynoecious variety pollination is still needed so some traditional varieties will also need to be sown alongside.  Plant your own or check with neighbouring plot holders!

These ‘modern’ cucumbers are shorter than traditional ones but you do get more of them.  The fruiting period is shorter too so you are more likely to have a glut of cucumbers.  A traditional variety will give you a longer steady flow over the summer.

The key to success is to make sure you understand which sort you have from the information on the seed packet.  Follow the instructions and you will be fine.

cucumber_plantSowing

Sow the seeds 1″ (2.5cm) deep into 3″ (7.5cm) pots from late Feb to March if you have a heated greenhouse or similar environment.  Or late March if you don’t. They are good growers so you will need to re-pot them before they are ready to go outside.  In late May put them outside for a few days in their pots to hardened them off.

This deadline has passed this year but all is not lost, you can still buy small plants from the garden centre.

 

 

Planting Out

cucumbers_largePrepare the bed.  Dig in some rotted organic matter, such as a sack of garden compost, and rake in 100g per square metre (3½oz per square yard) of general purpose fertiliser.  Transplant the plants into their final position 18″ (45cm) apart in June.  To give them a head start and the warmth they need to boost growing, keep them covered once outside.  Bell cloches or an Easy Poly Tunnel are both ideal for this.   These will also keep the pests away – watch out particularly for slugs!

You could also sow directly outside in late May or early June.  If you do this then pre-warm the soil with an Easy Poly Tunnel or Fleece Blanket and cover the seeds again once planted.

Train the main stem up a vertical wire or cane. As they grow, pinch out the growing tips when they have 6 or 7 leaves so that the plants can put all of their energy into producing quality cucumbers.  Pinch out:-

  • the main shoot when it reaches the roof of your greenhouse or the top of your cane.
  • the sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower
  • the tips of flowerless side-shoots once they reach 2′ (60cm) long.

Cucumbers are 96% water so make sure you give them plenty of water too as they are a thirsty plant. Make sure you water round the plant not onto it.  If in the greenhouse, keep the humidity high by watering the floor too.

Once planted out, feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

Harvesting

Harvest will be 50 to 70 days after sowing.  Cut the fruits when they are about 6″ – 8″ (15-20cm) long using a sharp knife.  They will last 2 to 3 weeks if stored well.

Common Issues

Bitterness

Getting bitter cucumbers sometimes happens but there are some ways to avoid it.

First, for varieties that do not require pollination, remove male flowers or keep the plants out of reach of pollinators to avoid accidental pollination. A question I have been asked is why those varieties that do require pollination do not suffer in the same way.  The answer is that for some reason, most likely genetics, the varieties that require pollination simply don’t produce the cucurbitacin chemicals that would make them bitter.

Secondly give the plant proper care as stress often causes bitterness.  Stress comes when the plant is too hot, receives uneven watering, or is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.

The other issue – and one you can’t do much about – is heredity.  There is a recessive trait that can cause a plant to produce bitter fruit from the start. You may plant seeds from the same packet and treat them all the same, only to discover one of the plants produces bitter.  If this is the case the only option is to scrap that particular plant and sow again.

All male flowers

When the plant is stressed for example by lack of water or high plant density it may react by only producing male flowers.  High temperatures like we saw in 2018 can also do this to plants.  Other stresses, such as damage from insects or blowing soil or low light intensities can result in fewer female flowers.  To avoid this try to reduce the stress the plants are under by watering regularly and well. Ensure there is adequate space between your plants and some shade if the weather is particularly hot.

Pests

Slugs are the main problem with outdoor varieties.  Try a Slug Buster to keep them away.

Cucumber mosaic virus is passed by aphids, so it is very important to control greenfly. The virus stunts the plants and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterns. Flowering is reduced or non-existent, while any fruit that do appear are small, pitted, hard and inedible.  Destroy Infected plants and wash your hands after touching them so you don’t spread the virus.

Mildew is a serious problem to varieties that are not resistant.  It shows as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel up. Treat by keeping the soil moist and consider a cooler location for your next planting.

Grow at Home – Salad Leaves

6_lettuces_growingGrowing your own salad leaves is SO easy and a great way to start if you want to grow your own food.

The best thing about salad leaves is that they are quite quick to grow.  You can also cut them as they grow so there is no waiting for weeks for the entire plant to grow and ripen.  Great if you are impatient and/or new to gardening.  You can simply harvest as and when you need it and the plant will grow more ready for your next meal.

What to plant

There are many different salad leaves so why not plant a few different varieties so that you can reproduce those mixed bags you get in the supermarket. But, without the one leaf that they always put in that you really don’t like, of course!

It is good to sow seeds at regular intervals – a couple of weeks apart – so that you ensure a regular supply over the summer.  So if you start sowing in February/March you could keep going until September and – with the help of tunnels and winter varieties – even longer.   If you get over excited and sow the whole packet then you will end up with a glut.  It would make you popular with the neighbours but see you buying from the supermarket again which would be a waste.

Where to Plant

Mixed_salad_leavesSalad leaves are best grown in full sun on well-drained soil.  They are ideal to grow in containers such as Vegetable Patio Planters or a Self Watering Tower Garden or Vigoroot Balcony Garden which can be placed right outside the backdoor for easy access from the kitchen.

 

If you want to grow them in the garden then they can have their own bed.  Or they can be slotted in between rows of other plants where they will help to keep the weeds down.

 

Sowing

Sow indoors from February on a nice warm windowsill. Or outdoors from mid-spring to late summer.

For containers, sow thinly by sprinkling the seeds on the surface and covering with about 1cm (½in) of compost.

For outdoor sowing, prepare the seed bed by removing weeds and stones and raking it over. Next, make shallow drills about 1cm deep.  A great way to do this is to press a bamboo cane into the soil. Water along the drill before sprinkling in the seeds. Cover thinly with soil or compost, and water gently.

 

 

 

 

Put each individual type of salad seed in separate containers or in rows.  Mark them so you know what you are eating (and can decide if you want to grow it again).  Alternatively use a packet of mixed leaf seeds and hope for the best in terms of identifying which you liked!

Lettuce_long_rowsThin out some seedlings when they reach about 2″ (4cm) by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinnings to add a hit of flavour to your shop bought salads.

You may wish to cover the plants with ultra fine Micromesh netting from June to August to prevent pests such as slugs, snails. flea beetles and Lettuce Root Aphid getting to them.

Care for them by watering well.

Pests

Slugs and snails are your number one enemy with salads.  Pick off any that you see and use traps such as the Slug Buster to keep them away.

Lettuce root Aphid. These affect older plants.  You might not see the actual aphids as they are below the soil but you might notice the plant wilt and die back.  Another sign is lots of ants round the plant.  They feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce.  To deal with them you can pull the lettuce up – wash the aphids off and replant in fresh compost.

Harvesting

Cut the salad leaves when they reach around 4″ (10cm) as you need them.  You should be able to do this three or four times.  Once the plants start to flower the leaves become bitter so you will know this is time to stop.  By the time your first batch have finished cropping the next batch you sowed will be ready giving you a summer full of salad.

Grow at Home – Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are delicious if cooked well – home growing can convert even the most ardent sprout avoider! There are many really tasty and reliable F1 Hybrids available, which freeze well and with a bit of planning you could be harvesting right through the winter.

Where to grow

Brussels Sprouts thrive in an open sunny position that is protected from strong winds.

Dig the soil well and incorporate well-rotted manure of garden compost in Autumn. Sprouts do not grow well in acidic soil so add lime if necessary to bring the pH up to 6.5-7

Sowing

Sow outside in a nursery bed from early to mid spring. Start by sowing the early varieties and successionally sow mid season and later varieties in turn. Sow thinly in rows 1cm deep with 15cm between rows.

After germination, thin out the seedlings to 8cm apart. Transplant when the seedlings are 10cm high – watering well the previous day will help the seedlings lift easily – and Plant in rows with 75cm between plants – The space between rows is ideal for a catch crop such as salad.

Firm the soil well to prevent air pockets and help keep the plants stable.

For late summer picking start the sowing off in Rootrainers under glass in late winter. Harden off and plant outside when the young plants are 10cm high using cloches to protect during the early stages – Easy Tunnels are ideal if you plant in rows and for block planting an Easy Lantern Cloche will do the job well.

Aftercare

An Net Easy Tunnel will deter pigeons. Weed throughout the growing season and water in dry periods. Apply a foliar feed during the summer and stake any plants that need it. During the early Autumn draw the soil around the stems to steady the plants against the wind – A  Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier will give extra protection. Apply felt or plastic collars around the base of the plants to prevent cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs

Harvesting and Storage

Start harvesting from the bottom of the plant, picking the sprouts when they are still tight, after the first frosts as this improves the flavour. Pick just a few from each plant and every time you harvest work further up the stem. When all the sprouts have been harvested you can cut off the top of the plant and use as you would cabbage.

Pest and diseases

Prone to the same problems as cabbages the main issue is Club Root – a soil borne fungal disease. Infected plants should be destroyed and not composted.

Small white butterfly caterpillar and aphids may also affect the crop. Protect the crop from butterflies with net and remove caterpillars by hand and I spray aphids with soapy water.

What a nice thing to say! (but I bet the pigeons don’t like us as much)

Micromesh1It’s nice to wake up to a compliment, isn’t it?  So this morning I was really pleased to read that someone’s plants were on the road to growing happy and healthy due to the Haxnicks Easy TunnelsAnd even better they had taken these great pictures of the Tunnels in action.

Iwona and Neil , the inhabitants of “The Wonky shed at Number 13” dreamt of sauerkraut last year and planted accordingly.  Returning to the plot several days later, they found that slugs, snails and an unexpected flock of pigeons had visited.  It cost them their cauliflowers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kalettes, and their many different cabbages.   (This family clearly love their veg!)

They say “We decided to get some netting and on the plot next to us there was this mesh tunnel from @haxnicks that we really liked. We did some research and got one for ourselves and we grew a few more cabbages under it. The tunnel proved  really great for pest control and so we got a few more for this season. ”   They have used these – ever ambitious – to plant Chinese cabbage, pak choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and little gem lettuce.

The tunnel they chose was the Haxnicks – Easy Micromesh Tunnel which has ultra fine 0.6mm mesh which keeps out even tiny aphids and carrot flies and is ideal for brassicas.  Next year maybe they will add a Haxnicks Easy Poly Tunnel to warm the soil so they can plant earlier and lengthen the growing season to grow even more veg.

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Grow at Home: Onions from seed

Many people grow onions from sets – mini, immature onion bulbs – to get a head start.  The advantage of growing onions from seeds, instead of from sets, is that it is far cheaper if you are going for a big harvest. So if you eat a lot of onions then seeds are worth a try but you need to get them in ASAP now.

Sowing

Make sure you use fresh seeds as the germination rate reduces the older seeds get.  They will still germinate but if you are using a packet from last year you may need to sow a few more to get the crop you are hoping for.  Sow the seeds on a windowsill or in the greenhouse, from February to April.

spring_onion_cutThey will germinate without extra heat, but providing a little heat underneath the seed trays or pots will speed up the germination process.  So, add a lid or enclose in a plastic bag and put it on a heat mat or somewhere warm like on top of the fridge.  Germination should take around 7 to 10 days.

Onion seedlings sometimes have trouble shedding the seed husk and end up doubled up like an ostrich with their head in the sand.  If you want to help them move along then you can snip the thinner bit, pull it out complete with seed husk and discard it.  The thicker side of the loop can then get on with growing.  This is fiddly and they will sort themselves out eventually so you can decide if you have the time and energy to do this or want to just let them get on with it.

Whether you are growing in the ground or containers make sure that that the young onions get plenty of light. If you are not growing in a greenhouse, then put the seedlings outside on warm sunny days to get maximum light benefit and to help harden them off. Use a large Bell cloche, poly lantern cloche or poly tunnel to help protect from wind and temperatures below 10˚c. Once you are happy that night time temperatures are well above 8˚C then the onions can stay out without protection.

Planting Outside

onions_growingTransplant them outside in May or June when they produce a third leaf and are about 3” (8cm) high. Dig some rich fertiliser into the ground where you are going to plant them.  Make sure you put it directly under where the onions will be as their roots are concentrated directly down from the bulb.

Plant them vertically and handle them gently. The bulb should be ½” (1cm) below the surface. Depending on the onions final sizes, plant them between 2-10” (4-25cm) apart, with 9″ (22cm) between rows.

Container Growing

If you want to grow onions in containers then transplant them at the same stage as for outdoors. The container will need to be at least 10″ (25cm) deep and each onion will need about 8cm (3 inches) of space to grow. So, the wider the container the better.  Make sure that the compost you use to fill the container is not too high in nitrogen.  If it is you will get a lovely leafy display above ground and very little below ground.

Looking after your Plants

The important thing while they are growing is to keep the weeds down.  Onion seedlings don’t compete well with weeds and it will affect the size of your onions.  So weed regularly.

You can also keep trimming them back to around 5″ so that they don’t flop over.  Once again they will be OK if you leave them to their own devices, so if you’re not growing them for the Village Show you may want to miss this step.

Keep them well watered especially when it is dry. When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Possibly even clear a little of the soil at the top of the bulb too.

Harvest

onion_bulb_in_groundHarvest them from July to October.  Lift the onions as you need them from July to October.  There is a danger that they can rot in the ground when it starts to get very wet so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie in the sun for a couple of days.

Storage

Only store the onions that are perfect – use any that aren’t straight away.   The best way to store them is in a jute Veg Sack.  This allows air to circulate and keeps them cool and dark. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

Top Tip

When peeling chopped onions, light a couple of candles.  This should stop your eyes watering, as the vapours from the onions will be absorbed in the candle flames.

Grow at Home: Green beans

Green beans come in bush or pole varieties and within these there are many, varied cultivars from runner beans to dwarf beans.  Traditionally called “green” beans the cultivars come in a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours including purple, orange, yellow and mottled.  So plenty to brighten up the veg garden and put on a show.

What to plantBeans_on_plant

What to plant depends a lot on what you like to eat, when you want to eat it and a little on the space you have.

Bush green bean varieties grow to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. They come in a week or two earlier than pole beans, but produce fewer beans

Pole bean varieties can grow 8-10 feet (2.5-3 m), and need a trellis or something to climb on for support. They’re called “pole beans” because one popular way to grow them is in “teepees” made of bamboo poles or branches.  Pole beans take longer to start producing than bush beans, but they produce for a longer period and seem to have a bit more flavour.

Runner beans are the ancestors of the modern green bean varieties and grow to 10-12 feet (3-4 m),  Many are put off by the stringiness of the shop bought ones but picking them fresh from your own garden is a different matter so these should still be on your list of potentials.

If you really like green beans and have the space, then plant both bush and pole beans.  The bush beans will come in early in the summer, followed by the pole beans which will keep producing after the bush beans are done.

Sowing

 

If you have space, start the beans off indoors on a windowsill or in a propagator, in late April or May. Sow a single seed 1″ (2.5cm) deep in Rootrainers or small pots.  Put them outside when the weather is good to harden them off.  They are a tender plant though that doesn’t tolerate frost so wait to plant them out until the risk of frost has passed.  Usually in late May/early June in the UK.  If in doubt (and to give them an extra boost) then once outside, cover them with a cloche or a tunnel to get them off to a great start.

You can sow them directly outside from May to July but virtually no one does! Some types such as Climbing French beans will crop continually into September. But dwarf French beans crop only over a few weeks, so you may want to make an additional later sowing.

Beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil.  Fork in some well-rotted manure before you plant yours out.

Container Growing

bean_planterIt is perfectly possible to grow beans in containers.  The Pea and Bean Planter holds 6 bean plants in the space of little bigger than a tea tray.  It has pockets to slot your canes into so makes it easy to support them.  This planter allows those with just a balcony or very little outside space to enjoy a summer’s worth of home grown beans.

You can also grow beans in Vegetable Planters or even a 5L Vigoroot Pot with a Water Saucer so the plant can take water as and when it needs it.  Beans will usually need a much larger volume of compost than this to grow successfully.  But, because Vigoroot air-prunes the roots then a compact 5L pot is all you need.

 

 

SupportCane_bean_climbing

When properly spaced, bush varieties grow together into small bushes and support each other, and need no trellising.

All the climbing varieties need support though.  From the traditional A Frame or tippee arrangements of 6′ to 8′ bamboo canes held with ties to the sturdier no nonsense Steel Pea & Bean Frame.  This frame is great for beans, peas and even sweet peas.  It is a perfect option if you find tying canes together to be a bit too fiddly.  But your veg garden doesn’t have to be boring, there are also more ornamental frames such as the Square Ornamental Frame or even a statement piece like the Eiffel Tower which could make your garden stand out from the crowd. 

Whatever method you choose, loosely tie the plants to your support an they will naturally start to climb. Once the plant reaches the top of the support, remove the growing point. This will encourage side stems.

Flower setbean_flowers

Runner beans sometimes fail to set (there are flowers but no beans)  This was a particular problem in 2018 when there was actually a summer in the UK (!) The prolonged spell of really hot weather meant that there was insufficient moisture and flowers did not set.  To avoid this ensure the soil is constantly moist and doesn’t dry out and mulch in June to retain moisture.  Watering the plants in the evening will also help and gently spraying the whole plant including near the flowers to increase the humidity encourages flowers to set.

Flower set is better in alkaline, chalky soils. If your soil is neutral or acidic adding lime will help.

French beans set flowers more easily than other varieties so if this is a persistent problem then it might pay to choose a different variety the following year..

Harvesting

Bush beans will take about 50 to 60 days to be ready to harvest.  Pole varieties will be a little longer at 70 to 80 days.

Harvest the beans regularly as this will stimulate the plant to produce more beans.  Picking regularly will also prevent any pods reaching maturity.  Once a pod reaches maturity the plant will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. and the bean season will be over too soon.

 

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How to Protect Carrots from Carrot Fly

You might think it is too early to think about carrot fly.  However, there is a lot you can do at the planting stage to ensure you get a healthy crop.  So well worth reading this now before you sow.

If you have yet to experience that awful sinking feeling of lifting carrot after carrot riddled with dark crevices, tunnelled out by the dreaded carrot fly larvae, then consider yourself lucky. But for those of you that have, fear not! Haxnicks have been fighting various garden pests for over 20 years, and have picked up a few tricks along the way…

How to protect your Carrots from Carrot Fly with Haxnicks
Image courtesy of www.morguefile.com

But first… some facts about carrot fly:

  • Carrot fly also affects other vegetables in the parsley family, such as Parsnip, Celery, Dill, Coriander, Fennel and Celeriac
  • They are attracted to the smell of bruised foliage
  • The larvae that damage the roots can continue to feed through the autumn into winter, moving between plants
  • The adult carrot fly is approximately 9mm long.  It is a slender, metallic, greenish-black fly with yellow legs and head. Larvae are creamy white, tapering maggots

How can you tell if your carrots are infected? – Check for reddening of the foliage and stunted growth

So now we know a little bit about the pest itself, we can look at some of the ways which we can protect our crops from infestations:

  1.  Make sure to avoid using previously infested ground. Carrot fly larvae are capable of surviving through the winter.  So avoid re-sowing any vegetable from the Parsley family (see above)
  2. Avoid sowing during the main egg-laying periods, which are (for most parts of the UK): mid-April to the end of May & Mid-July to the end of August.
  3. Sow disease and pest resistant varieties such as Fly Away F1 and Resistafly F1, available from garden centres and online seed suppliers.
  4. Erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel – with 0.6mm netting it will keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.
  5. Sow thinly so as to avoid ‘thinning out’, releasing the smell of bruised foliage
  6. Thin out or harvest on a dry evening with no wind – or use scissors so that no bruising of foliage occurs
  7. Try companion planting – growing varieties of pungent Rosemary, Sage or Marigold as a deterrent/’smokescreen’
  8. Grow your carrots in a tall planters – for example the Haxnicks Oxford fabric planter or Carrot Patio Planters
  9. Lift main carrot crops by Winter, especially if any are infected – don’t leave them in the ground to serve as food for overwintering larvae.

Thinning out tip: Use scissors to avoid bruising the foliage (and releasing the carrot-fly attracting scent)

To find out more about carrot fly, and the other pests that may arrive in your garden check out Pippa Greenwood’s excellent RHS book for plant by plant advice on Pests and Diseases

Have you any experience of carrot fly damage? What do you think went wrong? Please let us know your thoughts using the comments section below.

Grow at Home: Peas

There is nothing quite like the taste of freshly picked peas especially in a home grown salad. The moment the peas is picked its natural sugars start to break down into starch, which affects the flavour. With careful planning and by using a range of varieties, peas can be harvested from late spring until late Autumn.

Where to grow

Grow peas in fertile moisture retentive soil. Dig to a good depth in the Autumn and incorporate plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost. Avoid areas that may become waterlogged – the plants will rot at the base if too wet.

As with most crops, peas do best in a sunny open spot, but they will tolerate light shade.

Sowing

Varieties such as ‘Fetham First’, categorised as first earlies, are smooth skinned, while second earlies and main crop, such as ‘Onward’ and ‘Alderman’ have wrinkled skin. First earlies can be sown outside in mid to late Autumn and overwintered under cloches to protect against frost.

Peas do really well when started in Rootrainers before being transplanted outside.  This gives them a super strong root system  which allows the plants to produce a bigger crop of delicious peas.

Sow main crop varieties at regular intervals from early spring to mid Summer and will not need protection unless there is a period of prolonged frost.

Sow double rows in flat bottomed trenches 23 cm wide and 5 cm deep with 50cm between trenches.

Or for a ‘no dig’ solution use a planter specifically designed for peas – the Haxnicks Pea & Bean Planter. These planters are reinforced with rigid tubes and have 6 cane pockets to hold canes in place without disturbing the soil.  They are ideal for those without space in their garden who still want to grow their own veg..

Aftercare

Immediately after sowing protect the crop from birds by covering with wire netting or twiggy branches over canes or using the Haxnicks Birdscare.

Provide support using pea sticks or netting when the crop reaches around 8cm high. For tall varieties place the supports on either side of the growing stems. Water regularly during dry spells especially when the plants are in flower. Mulching with garden compost will help with moisture retention.

Harvesting and Storage

Harvest when the pods are plump but not fully grown, picking from the bottom of the plant and working your way up. Keep picking to encourage production of more pods.

If you are growing Mange Tout or Sugar Snap varieties pick on the early side to ensure the pods have not become tough.

Peas are best eaten straight away, but will also freeze well in container or can be left to dry in their pods – wait until you can hear them rattle – and stored in an airtight container to use in stews or soups.

Pest and diseases

Peas are prone to a number of pests and diseases. Pigeons and small birds can devastate young crops – Micromesh netting is the best protection. Mildew can also be a problem. Pea and Bean weevil can cause stunting of plant growth.  The crop may come under attack from Pea Thrips too in hot sunny weather. Silvery patches are seen on the pods and leaves which will affect the yield.  Pea moth can also be a problem.  The adults lay their eggs when the peas are in flower – sow early or late to avoid the moth’s flying period.

Grow at Home: Tomatoes

Beef_Tomato_on_plantTomatoes are an easy and rewarding crop to grow.  Quite often they are the first plant a child will toddle home from school with and are a perfect introduction to growing your own food.
The main reason to grow them though, is flavour.  Supermarket tomatoes are grown to travel well and stay looking good for as long as possible on the shelves. They are often picked before they are ripe too which is not ideal.  Flavour is on the list of criteria but much lower down than it should be.

Technical Tomato Terms

First let’s start with some technical tomato terms that you may come across.  These will help you choose the right variety for the space you plan to grow them in.

Indeterminate or Cordon varieties

This is your typical, tall tomato plant.  They have a single long stem and usually grow up canes or twine up to 6′ (1.8m) in height.  Cordon varieties produce side shoots which need to be removed, as they appear, or they will grow into large lateral branches leaving a tangled plant with a lower yield of ripe fruit.

Determinate or bush varieties

These are smaller tomato plants that are great for growing in containers, hanging baskets or anywhere where space is limited.  Bush varieties are sprawling rather than having a single central stem.  Because they are low and sprawling they are suitable for growing under cloches or mini polytunnels.  They spread about 2 or 3 foot and removing side shoots is not necessary as the bush is ‘self stopping’.

Dwarf varieties

These are very small and compact plants growing no more than 8 inches high. Ideal for container growing.

Truss

A truss is a group or cluster of smaller stems where flowers and the subsequent tiny green tomatoes develop.  Much of the support and pruning of the plant is done in relation to where the bunches of tomatoes, or ‘trusses’, are growing so it is useful to know this term.

Where to Grow

Tomatoes require full sun. This is especially important in most areas of the UK where summers are unpredictable and sunlight can be scarce.  Position them against a wall or fence if possible to get the best results.  Tomatoes need good fertile soil. Prepare your beds by adding plenty of well rotted manure at planting time, as much as a full wheelbarrow every 3 square meters.

Container Growing3_cane_tomato_planter

If you don’t have a large garden or allotment and want to grow in a container or planter then Haxnicks have a big variety to choose from.  Which container you choose depends on the variety you have selected above.

There is a useful table at the bottom of this blog which shows the whole range of planters with a  short description and link to find out more.

 

When & How to Grow

Sow seed indoors in late February to June.  If sowing early then use a heated propagator or a warm, south facing windowsill.

Tomatoes can be sown 3/4″ (2cm) deep in compost filled seed trays.  Try and keep your seedlings warm and give them as much light as you can.  Too little light will result in tall and weak seedlings.  The best tomato seedlings are short and stubby rather than tall and thin. Compost should also be kept moist and should never be allowed to dry out.

When your seedlings have 5 or 6 leaves you will need to prick them out and pot them on into 10″ (22cm) pots filled with a rich potting compost.  When they are 12″ (30cm) tall move them to their final position in your plot or container. To grow really strong plants you can transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into Rootrainers and plant them out after around 6 weeks when they should have developed a super-strong root system.

 

Support

Supported_red_tomatoes

Depending on the variety they will need support as they grow.  Canes have long been the traditional way to do this.  If using canes then ensure that the plants are tied gently to allow the stem to grow in both width and height.  Tying too tightly will restrict growth and damage the plant.  A frame such as the new Haxnicks Tomato Crop Booster is an ideal way to gently support the plants without damaging them.  A properly supported plant can put all of its energy into producing fruit leading to higher yields.  So if you want to triumph at the village show or simply want to be self sufficient in tomatoes then this could be your secret weapon.

Pinching Out

If you have chosen a cordon variety you will need to pinch out side shoots as the plants grow.  You will find these shoots between the main stem and the branches.  To the novice gardener it seems like this will mean you get less tomatoes but the opposite is actually true.  Pinch them out when they are 1″ (2.5cm) long and this will add light and air to your plant, keeping it healthy and allowing it to concentrate its energy on fruit production.

Pruning

When the plants reach the top of the greenhouse or have set seven trusses indoors or four trusses outdoors, remove the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss.

Watering and Feeding

Tomatoes love a regular, consistent water supply so water regularly to keep the soil/compost evenly moist.  Fluctuating moisture levels can cause the fruit to split.
Feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high potash one once the first fruits start to set.

If you are growing in containers or growbags there will be restricted root space so you will need to feed them more.  You will also need to pay close attention to watering.  Some self watering planters such as Vigoroot Easy Table Garden and Vigoroot Self Watering Tower Garden will make this easier but containers generally do require frequent watering.

Pests & Diseases

Blossom End Rot: the bottom of the fruit turns black and becomes sunken.
It is caused by irregular watering, together with a lack of calcium in the soil.  Consistent regular watering and feeding will help avoid this disease.

Tomato blight: this causes the fruit and foliage rot and is most common in wet weather.  Avoid planting in areas that have had plants with the disease in.  Instead grow your tomatoes elsewhere in containers and leave these areas to rest for a year or two.  Choosing a blight resistant variety of tomato in the first place is also a good way to avoid blight.

Tomato leaf mould: mainly a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes and rarely seen in outdoor grown ones.  Yellow blotches develop on the upper leaf surface and a pale, greyish-brown mould growth is found under the leaf. It causes significant yield loss.  To avoid this, keep the greenhouse well ventilated or choose a resistant variety of plant.

Tomato splitting and cracking: This is to be avoided as it leaves the plant vulnerable to being infected by a fungus, such as grey mould.  To avoid splitting keep the plants comfortable by controlling temperature and sunlight levels carefully. Feed and water regularly to maintain a constant soil moisture level.

Companion planting Growing garlic and nasturtiums near your plants will help deter bugs.

Harvesting

Pick the fruit when it is ripe.  At the end of season you may have green tomatoes and not enough sunlight to ripen them.  If this happens then you can either make delicious Apple & Green Tomato Chutney or you can try and ripen them.  There are several ways to do this:

  • lift the plants with unripe fruit and lay them on straw under cloches
  • place fruits in a warm, dark place and wait
  • put the green fruit in a drawer next to a banana, which will release a gas that aids ripening.
Try something new? Mycorrhizal Fungi

If you have grown tomatoes before and want to try something extra to boost your crop then tomatoes respond well to inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi.  The fungi and the tomato plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi form a network of hyphae which transport water and minerals to the plant and in return the roots produce sugars to nourish the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are available as a powder to coat seedlings when planting out.

Which Haxnicks Container is right for me?

Planter
(click on title to see details)
Suitable for Indeterminate or Cordon varieties Determinate or bush varieties Dwarf About this product
Tomato Crop Booster X A frame that properly supports tomato plants giving a higher yield.  Poly cover sold separately to turn it into a mini greenhouse.
Tomato (climbing) Patio Planter X Planter with 3 sided plant support included.
Tomato Patio Planter (2 pack) X X X 2 pack of large planters with pockets for holding canes to support the plants. For growing all varieties of tomatoes.
Vigoroot Tomato/ Potato Planter X X X Large planter for growing all varieties of tomato.  Vigoroot fabric gives stronger root systems for healthier plants
Grower System X X A steel-tube growing frame with poly or Micromesh cover. Ideal for your smaller tomatoes and other veg.
Vigoroot Self Watering tower garden X X A compact circular plant tower perfect for balconies and patios with Vigoroot for strong roots.
Vigoroot Easy Table Garden X X Vigoroot fabric planter with integral self-watering system & poly protection cover – a raised bed, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one!
Other Tomato Accessories
Tomato Tubes X X X Crop protection for those without a greenhouse.
Twist Up tomato Cloche X

Grow at Home: Carrots

There are few vegetables that taste better when they are home grown than carrots.  Freshly pulled, sweet and full of favour compared to what can be bland and watery ‘shop bought’ versions.  You don’t need to stick to traditional orange either.  There are purple, yellow and white varieties to try and many shapes and sizes as well.

Where to grow carrots

Although they will grow in heavy clay, carrots do best on light sand soils where the drainage is good and root growth is not restricted.  The soil should be free of stones and not too rich – both will cause the carrot to ‘fork’ so avoid manuring ground you plan to sow carrots in next season.

As with many crops, an open sunny site will suit carrots best.  Carrots also grow well in containers and Haxnicks do a specific Carrot Patio Planter.  The planter means that anyone can grow carrots even if they don’t have a garden.  Plus no digging is needed which is a bonus, simply fill it with compost before planting your seeds.  

Sowing

Sow thinly outside from early spring or under cloches from late winter – Easy Tunnel would be ideal to keep them warm.  Plant around 1cm deep with 15-20cm between the rows.  If you make a new sowing every few weeks through to early summer you’ll be well supplied throughout the year.

If your soil is very heavy you may like to dig deep along the trench and loosen the soil with a mix of compost and some grit and then sow on top of this.

Thin the seedlings to around 5 cm apart. Do this on a still evening to avoid attracting carrot flies and bury the thinnings deep in the compost heap to hide the smell.

Another way to reduce the chance of carrot fly is to erect a fine-mesh barrier at the time of sowing – at least 70cm high. Check out our Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier which will work for containers and open ground.  Or a Micromesh Tunnel – with 0.6mm netting will also keep the Carrot Fly from getting to your precious crop.

Aftercare

Weed the crop regularly making sure not to disturb the roots too much.  A good mulch will help to retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay – keep the seedlings well watered in dry weather.

Harvesting and storage

Start to harvest from late Spring onwards – usually 7 – 8 weeks after sowing. Lift carefully with a fork rather than pulling, especially when the soil is dry.

Maincrop carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as required.  Later in the year you may need to cover with straw of fleece as the temperature drops.

Alternatively you can lift your crop in mid Autumn and store in a box of sand or dry potting compost.  Trim the foliage to 1cm and make sure the carrots are not touching. Stored in this way they should last throughout the winter.

Pests and diseases

The main pest is Carrot Root Fly which lays it’s eggs on the plant and can destroy the whole crop.

There are several ways to deter the fly:

  • A later sowing in early summer will avoid the main egg laying periods in late Spring and early Autumn
  • Lift early summer crops before the risk of infestation
  • Use a micromesh barrier around the crop – the carrot fly stays close to the ground and so will not approach the plants from above
  • Companion planting of strong smelling crops such as onion will mask the carrot smell which attracts the fly

For more information on carrot flies and tips on how to get a successful crop see our Carrot Fly Blog