Air Pruning: Pippa Greenwood Expert Advice

Air pruning is an amazing way to grow healthy plants that give bigger yields.  Learn all about it from expert horticulturist and BBC Broadcaster, Pippa Greenwood.

Click on the picture below to increase the size or download the document here Air Pruning pdf.

Air Pruning Page1 Air Pruning Page2

For products that air prune see the following links

Rootrainers

Vigoroot 

Read more about air pruning in these blogs

The magic of Vigoroot

Exploring the rhizosphere: how to grow trouble free onion sets…

 

Grow at Home – Garlic

Used in everything from stir fry to Shepherds Pie it is pretty rare to find a household that does not have garlic in their kitchen cupboard. But, despite it being relatively easy to grow, many gardeners do not include it in their planting.

It is a hard working plant that does more than just give a delicious crop though.  Like most of the onion family, garlic is great for companion planting.  Plant between rows of vegetables especially carrots and its scent will deter pests.  This gives a natural boost to your garden’s pest protection.  Also, garlic is pollinated by bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects too so great for encouraging wildlife onto your plot.

Types of garlic

There are two main sorts.

Softneck

Softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum) is the garlic which most supermarkets stock.  The bulb has a slightly hotter flavour than the Hardnecks, produces more smaller cloves and stores very well. Since the necks are soft, this is the sort you want if you have the time and energy create a garlic plait.  They also sprout relatively quickly so are satisfying to grow for the garlic novice.

Hardneck

Hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with more complex flavours. These garlics have subtle flavour differences created from the soil and weather patterns in the region where you grow them. The advantage of Hardneck varieties for the cook is that their skins usually slip off easily.  They do not store as long as Softnecks though.  Cure and eat them within 3 to 10 months, depending on the variety.

Garlic_bulbs_with_flowers

 

There is some debate about hardiness with some believing that Softneck will grow only in the warmer parts of the UK so if in doubt in the coolest parts of the UK it might be a better to choose Hardneck.  Which you choose is up to you though as there is anecdotal evidence of both thriving in areas of the country where they should be struggling.

There are many varieties of each sort to choose from depending on the flavour and bulb size you would like to produce.

 

Planting

When to Plant

Garlic needs a long growing season.  The cloves can be planted in late Autumn or early Spring but you will get a bigger crop if you plant in Autumn.

Garlic_plants_in_bed

Whatever variety you choose, to grow well, it needs a cold period of at least two months. For Autumn sowing, it is therefore essential to sow from early-October to allow the roots to develop before the cold weather sets in. With this in mind Hardnecks should be planted at the beginning of October but Softnecks can wait until around Christmas time. 

The  Hardnecks will be slower to show themselves so even with this planting timetable you may see the Softnecks appear first.

Where to plant

We recommend growing garlic in a rotation system with carrots, onions, leeks, and other root vegetables.  A classic rotation is tomato family, broccoli family, onion family including your garlic.  But as a companion plant we find it makes a great space filler between carrots, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce and parsnips, roses and other flowers too.

How to plantrows_of_garlic_growing

Garlic is rarely planted from seed with the cloves used instead.  These are readily available from seed companies and garden centres but you can use pretty much any garlic cloves hanging around your kitchen … just gently break apart the bulb and each clove will produce it’s own plant

It can be planted directly into the soil but if you suffer from pests such as birds ripping out your young plants then sowing into Rootrainers first may help your plants survive.  See our recent Overwintering Onions Blog for the full story.

Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. A Raised Bed works very well. Remove stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Work several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with your fertiliser of choice.

Planting
  1. Break up the bulbs no longer than 24 hours before you plant them.  Be careful not to bruise or damage them.
  2. Sow the individual cloves 10 cm below the surface, root down (pointy end up) around 4 inches apart to give the bulb room to grow.
  3. Hardneck garlic loves to flower.  Cut off the stem close to the base of the bulb once the flower stem starts to coil.  This will concentrate the plants’ energy into the crop beneath increasing the size of the bulb.
  4. Once the leaves go yellow/brown stop watering the plants.  Harvest 2 to 3 weeks later (June onwards)
  5. Try to harvest when the weather is dry.  Loosen beneath it with a fork to prevent bruising the bulb then pull up like a weed.  Leave the plants on the surface of the soil to dry in the sun for a few hours.  Move to somewhere warm and dry, to cure for 3 weeks.
  6. Thoroughly dry the bulbs then store them in a cool, ventilated place away from sun.

Eating Garlic

Garlic is unbelievably good for you.  It can lower blood pressure, fat and cholesterol levels.  It can also combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

There are lots of opportunities for the gardener growing their own garlic to plant a few extra and leave it to flower or to experiment with young garlic, picked before it has matured.

As well as eating the bulb the leaves and flowers are also edible.  They have a milder flavor than the bulbs, and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. You may see “green garlic” in the shops.  This is immature plant that has been pulled rather like a scallion.
When green garlic has grown past the “scallion” stage, but not fully matured, it may produce a garlic “round”, a bulb not separated into cloves like a mature bulb. This imparts a garlic flavor and aroma in food, minus the spiciness of the mature bulb.

New products for 2019/20 – its all about greener for Haxnicks this year!

New Products 2019/20.  In preparation for the new season Haxnicks are launching some new products to make life in the garden that little bit greener in more ways than one.

The first of these builds on our use of natural materials by adding to our bamboo range.

Bamboo pots

new_products_bamboo_potsThe range of biodegradable bamboo pots was incredibly well received last year so we have added 3 new pot sizes – 3″ pot, 4″ Pot and 8″ Pot to help make your greenhouse plastic free,  We have also added two new saucer sizes 3″ Saucer (for use with both the 3″ and 4″ pot) and 8″ Saucer.

Like the 5″ and 6″ pots and saucers and seed tray launched last year, the new sizes come in sage green or terracotta colour and still have the same 5+ years life and are compostable after use.

Bamboo Plant Markers & Scoop

Continuing the theme we have added a Bamboo Scoop and Bamboo Plant Markers to the range.  They are every day gardening necessities but with the increasing demand for non plastics they will add a new choice for gardeners.   The scoop is a good generous size and the plant markers are easy to write on so they will both work hard for you in the garden.

Microgreens Mats

new_rpoduct_2019_microgreens_closeup

Continuing our use of natural materials we are introducing a Microgreens Growing mat.

Made from natural coir, the mats are designed to fit neatly into the Haxnicks Bamboo Seed Tray.  This gives you a plastic free way of growing these highly nutritious micro-crops.  They can also be cut to size to fit other trays so are very versatile.

Perfect for the urban gardener or anyone who would like to grow their own food. and isn’t sure where to start.

Green Fern Fleecenew_product_2019_green_fern_fleece_jackets

The final product are a stylish addition to our Easy Fleece Jackets range.  The Green Fern Fleece Jackets are made of the same thick fleece as the current range but offer a natural leafy design that blends into your garden.  They come in Small (Pack of 4), Medium (Pack of 3) or Large (Pack of 2) so you can protect tender plants whatever their size.

Simply slip them over your plant and pull the draw string to keep harsh weather at bay.  You can even double them up and add a second fleece if the forecast is really bad.

Availability

All of the New Products 2019/20 are on the website so that you can learn more about them.  You can also register here to be the first to know when they go on sale.

Bamboo Pots, Plant Markers and Scoop.  These will be available to buy in garden centres and online in early to mid November.

Microgreens mats and Green Fern Fleece.  These will be available to buy in garden centres and online in early to mid December.

Grow at Home: Horseradish

Horseradish can be a bit of a giant in the garden with leaves reminiscent of Dock (Rumex).  Used really fresh as either a herb or a vegetable it adds a real kick to your harvest!

Horseradish is easy to grow and the challenge may be preventing it from spreading too much .  It makes a perfect container plant and as long as you are aware that is is invasive, it is easy to handle.  The strong taste means that you need only small quantities so growing a single plant is ideal.

It can be grown from seed but is easier to grow from pieces of root called thongs.  These can be bought all year round but planting is generally in Spring or Autumn.

Soil and Aspect

Horseradish thrives in any light rich soil, although it is not fussy and will prosper almost anyway where the soil has been prepared.

Ideally you should grow it in it’s own area rather than among other crops.  As with mint, it is possible to restrict the spread by planting in a planter.  Choose a deep planter to accommodate the roots.  The Haxnicks Potato Planter is ideal.

Propagation

For a container use ½ manure and ½ compost as horseradishes love manure.  Make some deep vertical holes with a dibber, then drop in a thong so that the top is 2in (5cm) beneath the surface of the compost and cover. Three thongs in a container is the maximum.  You only need a tiny amount though, so as I mentioned before you may only want one plant.  Place in a sunny or partially shaded spot or in the greenhouse if you are starting them off early. Growth will soon appear above the surface of the soil in Spring.

Once you have established your plants you can divide them to get more.  Plant clumps or root sections out in the Autumn or Spring to increase your number of plants.  If you are planting more than one then allow 30cm between them.

Harvesting and storage

If you intend to lift plants completely that have been growing on lighter soils then you must make sure to remove all of the root to avoid regrowth and deep roots travelling across your plot.

Horseradish is best harvested as it’s needed during the growing season. If using the leaves then these are certainly best used fresh from the plant and harvested when young.

For winter use, the roots can be lifted and stored in trays of moist sand for up to two months

Culinary Uses

Fresh Horseradish has a stronger flavour than shop bought versions so do be prepared and taste as you go along!

The roots are the main harvest from the Horseradish.  They can be simply peeled and grated for use in salads or mixed with creme fraiche and vinegar to make a sauce for use with roast and cold meats.

The leaves can be used in mixed salads in the same way that you might add herbs and also in dishes where you may like to add them to Chard or other leafy vegetables to add depth of flavour.

 

Grow at home: how to ripen green tomatoes

 Ripening tomatoes

Ripening tomatoes is something that most people growing tomatoes end up doing.  Due to our climate it is not at all unusual to be left with tomatoes that haven’t ripened.

Preparing for the end of the Season

beef_tomatoes_half_ripe_on_vine

From September on, any new flowers are very unlikely to come to anything.  So, toward the end of the season remove any tiny tomatoes, flowers and foliage.  This will allow the plant to concentrate its energy on the bigger fruits.  It is best to leave the fruit on the vine for as long as possible.  However, fruit will not ripen below 10° C (50°F). or above 29ºC (85ºF), as carotene and lycopene will not be produced and the tomato will not turn red.  The high temperatures are generally not a problem in the UK.  But when day time temperatures are this low its time to step in and help them to ripen.

Ripening Tomatoes – How long does it take?

How long they’ll take depends on how red they are already.  Tomatoes ripen from inside out so when you see the skin turning colour, the inside is already well on the way to being ripe.  As a guide:-

Half red tomatoes  – 7 days

Red only on the ends – 14 days

Pale green – ripen if given the right conditions (see Methods below)

Dark green – if they haven’t matured then they will not ripen.  To test this cut one in half.  if it has yellowish interiors and jelly-like or sticky tissue, then it could ripen.  But if not then its better to use these for making chutney.

Did you know:?

ripening_tomatoes_green_red_tomatoes_on_plant

This is just for info a there is not much you can do about the weather turning against you and being left with green tomatoes! But, there is a stage in ripening called the “breaker stage,” when the tomato is half green and half red. Once the tomato reaches this stage it seals itself off from the vine stem.  From this point on, the tomato can be picked and ripened indoors without losing flavour.  Your green tomatoes will be sweeter if picked after the breaker stage.

Ripening tomatoes – top 5 methods

Method 1 : Newspaper & Cardboard box

If the tomatoes are dirty then wash them gently and air dry.  Wrap the tomatoes individually in newspaper and store in a cardboard box at between 14° and 21°C.  The lower you keep the temperature the longer they will take to ripen.  So if you have a large number you may wish to store them in different boxes and places so that you don’t get them all ripening at once.  Check the box weekly to take out any ripe ones and get rid of any that are starting to go mangy.

If you are impatient then speed ripening by adding a couple of apples to your box.  They will release ethylene which will help the tomatoes to ripen.

Method 2: Paper Bag

This one is probably better for cherry tomatoes.  Who wants to wrap those little suckers individually – not me!  For this method, place your tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripening banana (yellow with green ends).  Loosely seal it to keep the gas in.  As with the apples in Method 1, doing this should help ripen your tomatoes.  If the banana really starts to rot before the tomatoes ripen then replace it with a new banana.  You can also do this in a jar with a sealing lid instead of a paper bag but you can’t cram the tomatoes in as they will bruise so unless you only have a few tomatoes it is probably better to use a paper bag.

Method 3: Hanging the plant

If you have room, simply cut off the leaves and dig up your tomato plant.  Shake off the soil and hang it upside down in a cool dry place like a garage out of direct light and leave to ripen. Check regularly and bring a few into the warmer house to ripen quicker when needed.

Method 4: Bring on the Stress!

As you reach the end of the season, take off all the leaves and then make a cut through the roots with a shovel.  This will stress the plant and make it react  as if it is under attack (which it is!) and it should bring on rapid ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this ‘shock’ method.

If this feels too violent for you then a careful pull upwards at the bottom of the stem will disturb the roots below and may also work to signal the plant to ripen the fruit.

Another way to stress the plant is to cut back on water – just make sure that the soil doesn’t get too dry or the next time you water, skins may split.

Avoid feeding late in the season as any feed with excess nitrogen will slow the ripening process.

Method 5: Socks!!

Place your unripened tomatoes in woolen socks and store in your wardrobe!  And then do let us know if this works because we have no evidence that it does!

How to avoid this problem next year

The question is how do you avoid this happening next year?  The answer is to get yourself a longer growing season with more “tomato friendly” conditions.  Haxnicks can’t control the weather but we do have a number of tools to help with this.

The Twist Up Tomato ClocheHaxnoicks_Twist_Up_Tomato_for_ripening_tomatoes

Once your plants are ready to go out into the garden why not use the Twist Up Tomato Cloche to give them their perfect growing environment.

You can use it over plants in pots or in the ground.  For both it will lengthen your growing season by allowing you to put your plants out earlier than you would if they were unprotected.  The Cloche, evens out temperature changes and, apart from taking it off for a short spell for pollination, your plant will be happy in it all season.  It really comes into its own at ripening though.  Each ripening fruit releases ethylene which helps the other tomatoes to ripen.  If its windy then this gas is blown away without affecting the other fruit.  In a Twist up Tomato Cloche the gas is trapped and helps all of your fruit to turn a delicious red.

Tomato Crop Booster Haxnicks_Tomato_crop_booster_frame_with_cover_on_patio_for_ripening_tomatoes

If you really love your tomatoes then this is a great way to grow them.  The  Crop Booster Poly cover gives all the advantages of the Tomato Cloches when it comes to ripening but the main advantage is how the Crop booster Frame supports the plants.  Properly supported plants are able to concentrate their energy into fruit production leading to a much greater yield of tomatoes.  Giving them the conditions they need throughout the season should mean far less green tomatoes to deal with at this time of year.

Watch this helpful video to see it ‘in action’ How to Grow Juicy Tomatoes

Grower Frame with Poly CoverHaxnicks_Grower_frame_with_poly_cover_for_ripeing_tomatoes

The Grower Frame is a quick, easy and affordable way to make the perfect, low maintenance, ‘grow your own’ space in any sized garden.  And tomatoes love it.

Especially useful if you don’t have a greenhouse as you can start your tomatoes off in it using the Grower Frame Poly cover to give them the warmth they need to start well.  You can then use the frame and cover over them in the final planting position.  There should be enough space to grow all your other salad ingredients alongside them too and there is also the option of an ultra fine Micromesh cover if the weather gets too hot but you still need to protect from pests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grow at Home: Rosemary

rosemary_bushes_along_side_of_pathRosemary is a must-have herb native to Southern Europe. The bush form grows up to 1.2m tall – large enough to double as an evergreen shrub in the border. The low growing prostrate varieties are perfect for tumbling over a dry sunny wall or the edge of a terrace.  They make an excellent ground cover plant.

As well as being a useful culinary herb, Rosemary is also a beautiful, drought resistant plant.  It  is great in landscaping in place of box or lavender. The attractive blue flowers that are a great source of nectar for bees.

 

 

Soil and Aspect

Rosemary thrives in a well-drained soil in a sunny position.  It is slightly tender and will suffer if it is planted in a wet soil during the colder winter months.  It is, however, an excellent plant for coastal areas.

Rosemary is one of very few plants that thrives on neglect.  It will die if you fertilise or water it too much!  It also prefers a sparse soil without too much nutrient so is ideal for a stony dry corner where not much else will survive.

Rosemary does well in containers with plenty of grit for good drainage and will benefit from protection In cold winters – Easy Fleece Jackets are ideal.

Propagation

rosemay_in_open_rootrainers_showing_roots

Rosemary is best bought as an established plant or raised from cuttings.

Cuttings couldn’t be easier – on a cool morning snip off shoots of new growth without flowers  10-15cm long.  Remove most of the lower leaves so you have a clean length of stem.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the base of the stem just below a leaf node – the point from which the leaves grow.  You can dip the ends in hormone rooting powder to speed up the rooting process.

Fill Rootrainers with a gritty compost mix and insert one rosemary cutting into each cell.

Water in cuttings from above to settle compost around their stems.  Then place in a cold frame or a sheltered area, using the Rootrainer lid to retain moisture.

Once they have a good root system – which you will be able to see by gently opening your Rootrainers to inspect –  pot up individually into a loam-based compost. Plant cuttings out in their final position in Spring or Summer to get established before the temperature drops.

One plant is usually ample for culinary use but if you do want to grow more then allow 75cm between plants.

Growing from seed is not recommended as the germination is slow and often erratic.  If you wish to try it though, sow the seeds in good quality seed sowing compost about 1 cm deep. Keep them warm on a sunny windowsill or propagator.. Once you have some seedlings make sure you don’t overwater them.  Rosemary is drought tolerant and even at the seedling stage it is easy to overwater them.

Harvesting and Storage

Harvest the young, tender stems and leaves, taking off no more than one third of the plant at once.  For drying, harvest just before flowering and store the dried leaves in an airtight jar for use in the kitchen.

Culinary Uses

Use rosemary leaves for making tea, in sauces or for flavouring many dishes.  It is great over oven roasted potatoes and perfect with meats – especially lamb.

Use it fresh or dried.  It has a powerful yet aromatic flavour and is excellent in herb breads or infused in oil.

 

Grow at Home: Sage

sage_leaves_with_water_dropletsSage is found worldwide and has over 800 varieties.  Whatever the variety; sage is a must have in the garden for me.

It sits quietly on its bush ready to be used fresh or dried.  Ready to pack a punch in sage and onion stuffing.  Or combine nicely with butter and Parmesan to make a quick tasty pasta dish when there is nothing in the cupboard.

Not only is it useful in the kitchen but, as it is evergreen and has many different varieties, it also looks great in borders. There are plain green varieties, green with hints of purple, variegated green/white varieties, or even Tricolor varieties that have green, white and pink leaves. Something to suit any colour scheme.

It is quite usual to buy sage as a small plant from your Garden Centre.  If you want to grow from seed or cuttings then these are both possible too. It will take longer but be more economical in the end.

Growing Sage from Seed

Sow your seeds into small pots in Spring – up to two weeks before the last frost date-  and cover with a thin layer of perlite.  Place in a propagator to germinate.  Seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate. Continue to keep them moist but not over-watered until they have 3 pairs of true leaves. You can then move them to their final position.  

Sage will grow happily in a herb planter or the ground.  If planting in the garden, you will need a sunny spot which is sheltered from very strong winds.  Dig the area over and weed well.  Dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost before planting.

If you want to keep it in a pot – maybe to keep it close to the kitchen door.  Plant in a 12″ (20-45cm) pot filled with soil-based compost.

Growing from a Cutting

sage_plant_with_ladybirdThe best time to grow from cuttings is from July until late summer. Take the cutting before it flowers.  

Use a sharp knife to cut off a young shoot about 2.5″ (6 cm) below the leaf crown. Strip off the lower leaves so that the cutting is left with at least three pairs of leaves. Then plant the cutting into a 5″ pot filled with compost and water it.  Keep the soil moist and place it somewhere humid if you can.  Once the roots have grown plant it out into its final position.

You can also put a cutting into a glass of water. After about 2 weeks the cutting should have developed sufficient roots so that it can be planted into a pot or directly outside.

Aftercare

Water plants regularly, especially during dry spells, but avoid overwatering as sage does not like wet roots.  Putting your pots onto feet will help moisture drain and keep the plant happy. Pruning plants after flowering helps to maintain an attractive shape and encourages lots of new growth.

To protect the plant from the worst of winter weather and keep leaves in good condition use an Easy Fleece Jacket. Pop it over the plant and you will be able to pick whenever you need.

Pruning

Early spring is a the best time to cut back sage. Don’t cut before winter as the plant may struggle to get through the harsh weather.

Harvesting & Storage

During the first year, only harvest lightly (if at all) to allow the plant to become established.  After that, the leaves can be picked at any time and used fresh. If you need to prune the bush or have a glut of leaves, dry or freeze the excess.

Pest & Diseases

Powdery Mildew: This will show as a white powdery deposit on the leaf surface.  Leaves  become stunted and shrivel. To avoid this keep the soil moist and if its in a pot try moving it to a cooler location.

Capsid bugs: Pale green, sap-sucking insects cause damage to the leaves.  These are mainly active from late spring to the end of summer. Leaves develop many small, brown edged holes, and often become distorted. Plants will generally tolerate these.  Check the plants regularly and remove any bugs you see.

Rosemary beetle: If you notice your leaves disappearing it will be either these beetles or their larvae.  The beetles are small and oval with metallic green and purple stripes.  The larvae is greyish white  Again, check plants regularly and pick beetles off by hand.

 

Easy Fleece protecting Hanging Baskets from Frost by Haxnicks

Don’t let your plants go outside without a jacket or a blanket to keep them warm!

Fleece_jacket_to_protect_from_frost

Easy Fleece Jacket (small). by Haxnicks

Frost damage is hard if not impossible to recover from.  Plants cost a lot of money.  Plus if you’ve grown them from seeds or cuttings, then an awful lot of research, time and anxious moments too!  So you don’t want early frost to catch you out.  This could at best set their growth back and at worst kill them off.

The RHS offer several ways to avoid frost damage.  Some for the start of the winter and some for the end:-

      Garden design – where to plant

  • Choose plants that are reliably hardy and suited to your growing conditions.
  • Cold air flows downwards on sloping ground, collecting at the lowest point creating what is known as a ‘frost pocket’ – avoid planting tender plants in areas such as this.
  • Grow slightly tender plants in a warm sunny spot like a south-facing wall, to provide extra warmth and winter protection

    Protection from Early Frosts

  • Cover plants with a double layer of horticultural fleece when frost is forecast
  • Mulch the root area of evergreens, conifers, tender shrubs and tender perennials with a thick layer of organic matter to prevent the ground becoming frozen
  • Move container grown plants to a sheltered part of the garden in cold weather and provide some extra protection by wrapping the pot in an  Easy Fleece Jacket
  • Leave the previous seasons’ growth on more tender plants until spring,  to provide valuable frost protection
  • Lift Tender plants or move them to a more sheltered position or greenhouse.  Ensuring that adequate heating and insulation is in place to prevent damage.
  • Protect fruit and strawberries from frost by covering  with an Extra Thick Fleece Blanket
  • Avoid applying nitrogen-rich fertilisers late in the season as they stimulate soft growth which is especially vulnerable to frost damage

    Protection from Late Frosts

  • Plant tender bedding plants out after the danger of frost has passed; this is generally late May in the south of England and June elsewhere. Always harden plants before planting outside

So choosing the right plant in the first place is clearly a good idea.  As is, moving them to the greenhouse if you have one, or a more sheltered spot.  A good solution but not always possible with larger heavier plants.  As the RHS recommend a great alternative as autumn approaches and early frosts threaten is to use a fleece.  The Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jacket.  is a simple way to protect exotic plants, hanging baskets and other semi-hardy plants in pots patio containers.

You may have used horticultural fleece, bought off a giant roll at the Garden Centre?  But this is unruly and requires securing.  The fleece jacket is quicker and easier.  Slip it over your plant and the job is done. Secure with the integral, rot-proof drawstring and locking toggle = instant protection against frost, harsh weather and pests.

Fleece_cloche_over_bedIf your plants are in the ground rather than containers then it may be a Easy Fleece Lantern Cloche or even a Fleece blanket you need to instantly cosset your crops.

 

 

 

 

Or if your crops closed_fleece_tunnel_with_carrotsare in rows then, you might choose the Easy Fleece Tunnel instead.  It has all the advantages of both Net and Poly Tunnels because it creates warmth and insulation whilst allowing water and sunlight to filter through to the plant.

 

 

All of these have the advantage that not only will they protect crops this end of the season but, laid over the soil in Spring they can bring it up to temperature before all your friends.  This allows you to sow or plant out weeks ahead of others.  As a result it will extend the growing season and hopefully reward you for your care with an increased yield.

Haxnicks Easy Fleece Jackets are available in three sizes, priced at £7.99 per pack

Spring cabbage is delicious and tender.  It will be one of the first proper crops you can enjoy in the Spring.
Autumn is the ideal time to sow – seedlings will over winter and produce heads the following year.

Where to Grow

Spring Cabbage is classed as a heavy feeding plant so add plenty of garden compost and/or well rotted farmyard manure your soil before sowing or planting.

Cabbage takes up a lot of room in your garden needing up to 45-60 cm all round so the available space may dictate your numbers.

Sowing Spring Cabbage

Spring cabbages, smaller and sweeter that the summer varieties, can be sown directly into the soil but for the best results Rootrainers will give your seedlings the perfect start.

Autumn sown Spring Cabbage thrive in a greenhouse or similar environment for planting out under protection after about 4 weeks – for this hardening off period use a Fleece Lantern Cloche or  Easy Fleece Tunnels

Planting Out

Spring Cabbage should be planted 45 cm between plants and 45 cm between rows.

Water plants well before you begin and make a hole in the soil with a dibber or trowel.

Fill the planting hole with water before planting the seedling – this will help the plant to establish. Push the soil in around the roots firmly bout avoid compacting the soil which can prevent water reaching the roots.

Keep well watered and weed free – a Speedhoe make this quick and easy – and protect with fleece in extreme weather.

As Winter approaches earth up the cabbage stems by dragging soil up around the stems to prevent them rocking in the wind.

Harvesting Spring cabbage

Spring cabbage has a short harvesting period  and need to be cut before they run to seed.   They have a neater more conical shape than round Summer cabbages.  So they may be ready sooner than they first appear.

Remove every second cabbage as Spring greens in March.  Leave the remaining plants to heart up for harvesting in April/May.

Harvest cabbage by cutting the stem with a sharp knife close to soil level. Cutting a deep cross in the stump will give you the bonus of a secondary crops of mini cabbages from the old stem!

Dispose of the root on the bonfire rather than compost to avoid encouraging club root.

Pests and diseases

The main threat to your crop is Cabbage Root Fly. – The best way to it is to keep the flies out by covering your crops with fine mesh – Giant Easy Tunnels are ideal as they have the height to accommodate the growing plants –  making sure it is secure at the edges so nothing can creep underneath.

Check periodically for small yellow eggs of the Cabbage White Butterfly on the underside of the leaves.  Remove them by brushing them off. Cover the seedlings with fleece or micromesh to keep out cabbage white butterfly

Pigeons can make quick work of your cabbages – Netting is the answer if you have a pigeon problem.

 

 

 

 

Grow at Home: Onions from sets

two_rows_of_young_green_onionsOnions are easy to grow from baby onions; otherwise known as sets.

It is also possible to grow them from seed which is very cost effective if you use a lot of onions.  However, sets are a lot easier and quicker.

if you still want to grow from seed, check out our Grow at home: Onions from seed blog .  If not, read on.

Planting Onions

Onions grow best in open ground.  However, they do grow well in containers.  Just choose a deep planter to allow room for the developing onions.  Potato planters work very well if you only have a small space.  A Raised Bed System that comes with a cover to protect them would also work if you have more room.

Wherever you plant them, onions need a sunny, sheltered site with fertile, well-drained soil. For best results test your soil .  Inexpensive kits are available from your garden centre to make sure the pH is above 6.5. You may need to improve the soil before planting.  A bucket of well-rotted manure or garden compost to every square metre (yard) and some general purpose fertiliser will do the trick.

You can buy your onion sets from your garden Centre.  There are many different varieties to choose from.  So, select something that you would like.  Maybe something out of the ordinary like giant onions that you can show off, red onions for a bit of colour or shallots for your winters stews.

When to plant your Onions

You can plant onions in spring or autumn.  Depending on their final size, plant the onion sets 5-25cm (2-10in) apart in rows 25-30cm (10-12in) apart from mid-March to mid-April for spring planting.

Autumn onions should be planted in mid September to mid October.  They will pretty much look after themselves over the winter.  You need to take care as they have a long growing season and won’t be ready for harvesting until next summer.  As a result they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring.

There are two ways to plant: either directly into your ground or planter or into Rootrainers.

Which you use depends on the number of birds you have in your area.  Birds can be a problem lifting the new sets.  They aren’t after the sets themselves but the earth worms that congregate in the microbe rich area around the roots (see this interesting blog about what goes on in the Rhizosphere for more info.) Starting your sets in Rootrainers means by the time that you plant them out the roots will be strong enough to keep your plants where you planted them!

If you choose to plant direct into the ground or planter then either cover with a Fleece Tunnel  or stretch some Birdscare across your bed until the roots are established.  This will give the  plants time to establish and be too firm for birds to pull out.

However you choose to plant do it by gently pushing the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the pointed tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

Weeding and Watering Onions

It is important to keep the weeds down as this can affect the size of your onions. Water when dry and give an occasional feed with a general liquid fertiliser. Stop watering and feeding once the onions have swollen in mid summer

When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, you can bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this but not everyone agrees with it any more so you may want to try it and see how you get on.

Remove any flower spikes as soon as you see them.

Harvest & Storage

Onions_large_pile_of_small_brown_onions_fills_frameOnions can be harvested when the foliage starts to turn yellow and topple over. For spring planted sets this will be in late summer to early autumn. And for winter planted sets this will be early to mid summer.

Lift the bulbs as you need them, ideally before the foliage completely dies down.  Importantly,  don’t let them rot in the ground so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie on a rack in the sun outdoors or a well-ventilated greenhouse for one to two weeks to ripen fully. They are ready for storage once the foliage is dry and papery,

Only store the onions that are perfect. Store them either in natural jute Vegetable Sacks hung up or in old tights knotting after each onion. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

Pest & Diseases

Fungal diseases are the main problem for onions.  White Onion rot, Leek Rust and Onion Downy mildew are the main culprits.

There is little you can do about any of these once they have taken hold so prevention is the answer.  Use the correct spacings to make sure there is plenty of light and air around each plant as humidity will encourage the spread of fungus.  Weed regularly and avoid overhead watering if possible. Remove infected leaves and dispose of away from the garden.  Fungus can be transported in contaminated soil, for example on muddy tools or boots. So take particular care not to pass it on to the next garden or allotment when you visit.

Top Tip

When peeling chopped onions, either use a ceramic knife – the extra sharpness means less crushing and so less vapour.  Or light a couple of candles.  The candle flames should absorb most of the vapours from the onions and stop your eyes watering, .