Fruit Garden, Grow Your Own Guides

Blueberries in Tubs

No matter how much growing space you have, sometimes you just have to use containers. Blueberries require an acid soil and our soil doesn’t quite cut the mustard, so to keep our little blueberry bushes happy I planted them into old galvanised bath tubs filled with ericaceous compost and placed them in a sheltered spot on top of a wide gravel path. This should provide perfect conditions for them.

Blueberries also require plenty of water, containers are notorious for drying out quickly during prolonged dry weather but we’re hopeful the size of the bath tubs and they fact they’re non-porous will be beneficial. However, blueberries are shallow-rooted and can dry out quickly so we need to make sure we water regularly during warm weather. We plan to use a mulch of pine leafmould to help retain moisture (we have an endless supply here thanks to the enormous pine trees that shade our chicken runs) and use water from the water butts to keep them happy.

Blueberries are usually part or fully self-pollinating but it’s better to grow two rather than just one as cross-pollinated plants tend to produce larger fruit. To ensure reliable, heavier yields try growing more than one variety. At the moment we have ornamental variety ‘Hortblue Petite’, a high bush (Vaccinium corymbosum) but a more compact version. We’re on the look out to add another variety soon.

Reading this back we realise how much pampering they require but it’s got to be worth it for the end result. Fingers crossed for our first picking of blueberries this year, we’re not expecting great things yet but excited just the same.

Grow Your Own Guides

Tips For Potting On Tomatoes

Tomato seedlings can be potted on when large enough to handle but I prefer to do this once the first or second pair of true leaves emerge. Handle tomato seedlings carefully by the leaves and pot on individually into 3 inch pots, avoid handling by the stems which can easily snap.

Plant deeper than they were previously to encourage a better root system, this helps with watering during the summer months and creates a stronger plant all round. Leggy seedlings in particular benefit from deeper planting, don’t be afraid to plant them right up to the seed leaves – they’ll soon grow tall again! Depending on the time of year you may need to re-pot again before planting to final positions, again plant deeper.

Don’t risk all your hard work by placing seedlings outside or in an unheated greenhouse too early, frost and low night temperatures will kill them. Keep them tucked up indoors in a warm sunny room until risk of frost has passed.

Grow Your Own Guides

Easy Way of Planting Potatoes

I want to make life as easy as possible when planting our seed potatoes so I use my ‘potato planting tool’. Ok so it’s not the real tool (they do exist look them up), rather the handle of what was once a perfectly useable spade until I broke it during our allotment days.  Now it is used for making potato-size planting holes by pushing the pointy end into the soil, moving the handle from side to side to widen. I’m sure a long-handled dibber or similar would do the job just as well, have a rummage in your shed or garage and see what you come up with.

How we plant our seed potatoes:

Position seed potatoes on top of the soil leaving approximately 15 inches between each one and 18 inches (or so) between each row, this distance works fine with early salad varieties but you might want to increase distance between rows for maincrop varieties. Once you’re happy with the arrangement make a planting hole (approximately 5 inches deep) for each potato and drop it in, eyes (shoots) up.

planting potatoes

planting potatoes

Fill the planting holes in (apply organic fertiliser beforehand if you wish) and mound each row by simply drawing soil over the top of the newly planted potatoes or by adding fresh compost to form the mounds. From our experience this helps to prevent haulms from toppling over later on, although it’s not necessary to mound until the first leaves start to show. As the potatoes grow, keep mounding or earthing up to protect foliage from frost damage and prevent the developing tubers from turning green and poisonous from exposure to light.

Potatoes also do well in containers. Deep tubs or special grow bags, anything really as long as it’s deep enough and has drainage holes.

earthing up potatoes

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

How to Force Rhubarb

rhubarb forcer
If you’d like to get an earlier crop of rhubarb now is a good time to force it. Choose an  established rhubarb in your garden and simply cover the crown with a forcing jar, upturned dustbin or very large pot. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Restricted light creates baby pink stalks which taste less tart and not as fibrous, ready approximately 8 weeks after covering.
forced rhubarb stemsHowever, once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year (preferably two years of recovery), forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Before forcing, be sure to clear away the area around the base of the crown, removing decaying leaves and weeds to avoid the rhubarb crown rotting. Add a mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure to give a boost of nutrients.

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

A tip is to grow 3 crowns (providing you have the space), allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. A good variety for forcing is Victoria.
rhubarb january
Timperley Early rhubarb in our kitchen garden 8th January 2017
Our favourite rhubarb variety to grow is ‘Timperley Early’, it starts cropping naturally as early as March. If you grow this variety you have to get a wiggle on and force it earlier than other varieties to produce an earlier crop, usually December for cropping in February. As you can see, our young crowns (planted last year) are already well on their way to producing some fine stalks! They’re not established enough to start forcing them yet, it’ll be another year or two before we can use the forcing jars on them.
Fruit Garden, Grow Your Own Guides

Preparing a New Raspberry Bed

raspberries

I’m currently preparing a new bed for planting raspberry canes. I really miss the raspberry patch from our previous kitchen garden, snacking on fresh juicy raspberries from the garden was one of the highlights of summer. So, I’m putting this right by making a start on the first raspberry patch here in the garden smallholding.

Bare-rooted canes are available to purchase from November and usually cheaper than potted canes, so I’d better get my skates on because I’m battling couch grass at the moment and I really want to be sure I’ve got rid of it, or as much as I possibly can before planting my canes. I’ve decided to grow autumn fruiting raspberries in this new bed, extending the picking season through to October. The berries of autumn-fruiting varieties are often larger than summer ones, and dare I say it, tastier. They’re also easier to prune (although summer canes are really not too difficult once you know how) and there’s usually no need for support posts.

new raspberry bed

As easy as raspberries are to grow, a little extra effort should be afforded when preparing a new bed. It’s important to clear the site of perennial weeds before planting as these are difficult to control once raspberries are established due to their shallow and delicate roots. I’m going to plant 5 canes in the new bed, a variety called ‘Polka’ has grabbed my attention. Once the bed is thoroughly weeded and well dug over I will add plenty of organic matter such as well rotted chicken manure (thanks girls!) before planting my canes.

Grow Your Own Guides

How to Grow Garlic

garlic

Now is the time I start planting garlic. According to the search stats finding my blog recently, the topic of how to grow garlic seems be quite popular. Planting times, growing and harvesting garlic appears to be causing confusion to some, so I thought I’d put this guide together. I’m not an expert by any means, but it might be useful to those searching the internet looking for information.

When to plant garlic:

I tend to plant garlic during November or December, but you can plant from October right up until early spring, if conditions are right. Reasonably well-drained soil is perfect for autumn planting, and this gives your garlic a longer growing season to produce bigger bulbs. If your soil tends to be too claggy for autumn planting, try starting garlic off in small pots of compost instead, leave them outside your back door or anywhere they won’t blow away! Plant your pots of sprouting garlic out in early spring once soil conditions are right.

growing garlic in a raised bed

Where to buy garlic:

Ideally you should use seed garlic for planting, and this can be bought from many places nowadays. It’s not actually little seeds that you are going to plant, but pre-grown bulbs from disease-free stock. Seed garlic usually come in packs of 2 or 3 bulbs. The usual way to purchase seed garlic would be via a seed merchant catalogue or specialist websites (more choice with varieties), but many more places offer what we need to grow our own, such as DIY chain stores (B&Q for example) and local garden centres, even supermarkets such as Waitrose are recognising the increased interest in kitchen and allotment gardening.

planting garlic

How to plant garlic:

An open sunny site with free draining soil is best. Split the seed garlic into individual cloves before planting, each one of these cloves will grow into a new bulb. I space each clove by stretching my thumb and forefinger apart and place the clove on top of the soil, it’s a rough planting distance but it works for me. Once I’m happy with my rows I make holes with a dibber and place the cloves in the holes, pointy end upper-most. Cover over with soil, the garlic tips should be hidden just below the surface.

Newly planted garlic can be disturbed by birds. To combat this problem I cover my raised beds with wire mesh frames, which simply sit on top and prevent anything from gaining access to the bed until lifted. The frames are easy to make from scraps of wood and chicken wire.

veg frames for raised beds

When to harvest garlic:

Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow, this is usually early summer, depending on planting time and variety. Lift from the ground using a garden fork. After I harvest my garlic I lay the bulbs over the side of a raised bed to allow worms to free themselves from the roots and drop back into the soil below, before dark I take them in from the garden and place somewhere dry to complete the drying process, such as a greenhouse or a shed.

drying garlic bulbs

How to store garlic:

Allow the bulbs to fully dry out before storing, when the bulbs are fully dry they’ll be papery white and rustle when touched. Now you can plait them together if you wish using the stems, or place in a net bag for storing. Trim excess roots.

garlic plait

I store my bulbs in an unheated greenhouse over winter, bringing bulbs to the house when needed. A cool, dry shed or garage would do.

Allotment, Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

Growing Happy Carrots

carrots collage

We haven’t done very well with growing carrots at the allotment, our plot in its 3rd year of being worked (previously uncultivated land) is still quite troublesome in places due to heavy clay soil. Carrots prefer light soil, growth will become stunted if grown in heavy soil resulting in stumpy carrots come harvest time. Some of our raised beds have better soil than others, growing potatoes (helps to break up stubborn soil) and adding organic matter has helped with improving the soil structure, but not quite enough to grow carrots successfully, it seems.

Being reasonably inexpensive to buy and readily available all year round, am I ever tempted not to grow my own carrots? It’s true they are fussy little blighters when it comes to soil type, making them tricky or almost impossible to grow for some. So are they really worth my time and effort? For me, the taste of a home-grown carrot is superior to any mass-produced, shop bought, plastic bag carrot. I don’t mind them being forked (some shapes are hilarious!) and I enjoy the sensation of pulling carrots that I’ve grown from the earth, a sweet carroty aroma drifts in the air with each satisfying pull. Soft, feathery leaves sway in the gentlest breeze making carrots an attractive crop to grow. For these reasons, I think carrots are well worth growing.

carrot leaves

This year we’re determined to grow some decent allotment carrots, like these….grown in our previous vegetable garden.

carrotsharvesting carrots

To solve our heavy soil problem we identified a raised bed with soil that had improved the most and filled it right up to the top with good quality compost. Pushing my hand down into the compost to check the depth, my entire hand and wrist were buried deeply before my fingers found the heavier soil. This should be deep enough for our carrots to be happy. Finally, I covered the rows with plastic tunnel cloches to keep the soil warm, helping the seeds to germinate.

Carrots can also be grown in containers of compost, try using large plant pots or get creative and thrifty by using things like trugs, barrels, crates, toy boxes, car tyres or emptied water butts with the bottom removed. As long as the soil is light and the container is reasonably deep (don’t forget drainage holes), just place it in the sunshine and you’ll be pulling carrots of your own.

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

How I Support Peas

growing peas

I love seeing peas scrambling up natural pea sticks, tiny tendrils stretching out, curling tightly around their rustic support like miniature green springs. However, when it comes to supporting taller and heavier cropping peas (‘Blauwschokker’ for example), sometimes a sturdier or taller form of support is needed. Using several long bamboo canes and pieces of chicken or welded mesh wire, I fashion together support structures that have served me well for many years, even through gales. Unlike netting, wire mesh is safer for wild birds, so it gets a big thumbs up from me.

peas

Measure out the area that you wish to use for planting, then cut your wire to fit using wire cutters making sure it’s at least 5 ft high. Take a cane and pass it through one of the lower holes of the wire at one end, repeat again somewhere in the middle and one last time near the top. Leave at least 7 inches of each cane bare at the bottom of the wire, these will be pushed into the soil. Repeat this process for the other end of the wire and pop another cane or two in through the middle section for extra strength. Once you’re happy, push the bare cane sections into the soil, keeping it taut as you go. If you use chicken wire, secure to canes with short lengths of garden wire if needed.

peas

peas on chicken wire

For some years now I’ve grown peas this way, the support structures can be left permanently in place and to save growing space and adhere to crop rotation practices, place the support structure near the end of a raised bed and refresh several inches of soil every spring to keep diseases and pests to a minimum.

Allotment, Fruit Garden, Grow Your Own Guides

How to Prune Autumn Fruiting Raspberry Canes

Autumn fruiting raspberries should be cut down to ground level to in February or March to encourage fresh growth
Autumn fruiting raspberries should be cut down to ground level to in February or March to encourage fresh growth

An allotment visit was needed today to cut the autumn fruiting raspberry canes down. Autumn raspberry varieties fruit on the current years growth, cutting all canes down to ground level during February or March helps to direct energy where it’s needed, encouraging fresh new growth (canes) from the base. The new canes will eventually bear fruit in late summer/autumn.

Cut each cane a couple of inches above ground level.
Cut each cane a couple of inches above ground level.
This is how your row of autumn fruiting raspberries should look after pruning
This is how your row of autumn fruiting raspberries should look after pruning

It was quite cold in the wind and raining on and off, apart from one other plot holder we were the only ones there.

Here’s a reminder on how and when to prune summer raspberries https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/tiding-summer-fruiting-raspberry-canes/

Gardening Tips, Grow Your Own Guides

How to Grow Parsnips

If you’re new to vegetable growing perhaps you’ve found parsnips tricky to grow? So far (touch wood) I’ve had good results with growing parsnips so I thought I’d share some tips on how I grow them:

  • Buy seed fresh every growing season to increase germination success, germination is generally slow.
  • Sow from March onwards, direct into the ground (once the soil has warmed) just under the surface of the soil, thin seedlings down to 6 inches apart. Parsnips are a root vegetable, they don’t appreciate being disturbed so it’s best to sow them where they are to grow (although you could start them off earlier in toilet roll tubes if you prefer).
  • Well drained, fairly deep and stone-free soil is ideal. Growing parsnips in raised beds makes it easier to control the desired depth and soil conditions that parsnips require.
  • Choose a sunny spot to sow seed, allowing plenty of space between rows. This will make lifting them easier later on.
  • Don’t sow on a windy day, the papery seed will fly everywhere!

I use Mr Fothergills ‘Gladiator’ seed, a canker resistant variety (the main problem for parsnips). I highly recommend this variety from growing experience. I don’t ‘chit’ my parsnip seed before sowing (placing seed on moist kitchen paper until they sprout), I haven’t found germination a problem with the variety I grow. Parsnips can be left in the ground until the following February/March, frost will sweeten the flavour so don’t worry about them getting chilly!

There’s still time to sow parsnips for your Christmas dinner. Happy parsnip growing!

If you found this post helpful let me know, I’d be happy to do more on other vegetables!

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

Planting Onion Sets

I planted the onion sets yesterday, in went the trusty Red Baron and a new variety (for me), Hercules. I always grow onions from sets, I find them easier and I get better results than seed grown onions. This is how I plant onion sets:

  • Gently push an onion (pointy tip facing upwards) into the soil, butting it up against the line guide to keep your row nice and straight (I use an old piece of wood). Leave the tip of the onion exposed from the soil, if your soil is heavy don’t force the onion in, use a dibber, otherwise you might damage the onion.
  • I know roughly how far apart to plant onion sets by stretching my thumb and forefinger apart (as far as they will go) and using the space between as my guide.
  • Continue this process until you run out of onions sets or your finger and thumb start to ache.
  • Give the onions a good watering and keep the space between them weed free as they grow.

Some folk start onion sets off in cell trays in an unheated greenhouse, planting them out when conditions are right. I haven’t bothered doing this but I’m sure it works fine. I hope the Hercules do well, time will tell. Which varieties are you growing?

Grow Your Own Guides, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Storing Onions

Having grown onions successfully year after year with good yields, I soon realised I should learn how to store onions properly in order for them to keep for as long as possible. I learnt the hard way that there’s little point putting effort into sowing seeds or planting sets, running around your veg patch like a demented scarecrow, arms-a-flapping while you try desperately to protect your tiny onions from birds and cats that seem determined to dig them up, just to end up throwing out rotting onions by the bucket load come late autumn/early winter.

If like me you grow a lot of onions, then storing is vital to see you through winter and beyond. Below is what I’ve learnt so far, it has helped to keep us in onions for some time but I did make the mistake last year of unwillingly feeding a hungry population of field mice in our garage (a hazard of living so near to farmland and woodland), so a more suitable place has to be found for the trays this year.

Lift onions on a dry day, lay them out on top of the soil for as long as possible if weather permits with bulbs fully exposed to the sun, otherwise put them straight onto racks or greenhouse staging in an unheated greenhouse, conservatory or shed. Leave them for as long as possible to fully dry, the leaves will all but wither away but that’s fine. Once the outer layer of white/yellow skin onions starts to darken to a caramel colour (red onions will darken) and become crispy to the touch, drying is well underway and your onions should store well. Drying is key to storing onions for as long as possible.

Discard any bulbs that have signs of fungal growth or disease (avoid compost heap) and use spongy or sprouting bulbs immediately – they won’t store. Once the bulbs have fully dried store them in nets, trays or tie them in bunches and put in a cool, frost-free place such as a shed or garage. If your unheated greenhouse is guaranteed to be frost-free then this would be suitable also. Red onions tend not to store as well as white/yellow onions, different varieties may vary with storing abilities too so it’s best to check this before purchasing onion sets/seeds.

As I said before, this procedure works for me (apart from mice chomping their way through a lot of my onions in the garage) so hopefully this will work for you also. If you have any other points to add with regards to storing onions successfully please feel free to drop them in the comments box.

Grow Your Own Guides, Projects

Make a Garlic Plait

I harvested all the garlic in July, since then it has been laid out on racks and dried to a perfect ‘rustle’ but there’s plenty left and it needs to be stored. I’ve decided to have a go at plaiting it. I think the bulbs look visually appealing hanging in a plait and it’s a useful way to have the bulbs to hand too – just pluck them as and when you need them. Here’s how I did it:

I started with three bulbs complete with long stem, plait the stems together tightly just as you would for hair styling, an inch or so will do.

Add another three bulbs to the plait, joining each of their stems to one of the other stems in the plait, continue this process until you’ve used up all of your bulbs. Plait any excess stems for a really lovely look and hang it up in a dry place, such as a shed or kitchen.

I’m sure there are fancy ways of plaiting garlic but I’m pretty chuffed with my attempt and it does the job. Have a go yourself!

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

When are Onions Almost Ready for Lifting?

When they begin to do this…..

Some of the onions are naturally bending or ‘flopping’ over now, the leaves are still very green so they’re not ready just yet. What they’re doing now is getting ready for the drying process which is really important if they’re to store well.

At the moment I’ve exposed the bulbs to the sun by removing any built-up soil around the bulbs and re-positioned the leaves to allow maximum sunlight through. I’ll leave them like this until all the onion necks have naturally bent over and the leaves start yellowing, then, gently lift them during a spell of dry weather and place on top of the soil to dry. If wet weather threatens I’ll move them into the greenhouse and place on racks to complete their drying process.

I used the garage to dry onions last year, trouble is the mice are a real pain and happily nibbled their way through some of them so the greenhouse seems to be the better option this year. I have noticed my onions are a tad smaller than previous years, I’m putting this down to the hot dry spring.

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Sweetcorn

I started sowing sweetcorn about a week ago using 4 inch pots inside the greenhouse, the seedlings are germinating well in this tropical heat that we are experiencing at the moment. All you need to keep sweetcorn happy until planted outside (wait until the last frosts are over) is a sunny windowsill, they love the heat but need plenty of space so I only sow one seed per pot. A top tip, don’t sow the seed too deep and avoid overwatering to prevent seed from rotting. Sweetcorn is one of my favourite vegetables to grow, not only because it tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the shops but it also adds a touch of beauty to the veg garden, rustling in the breeze, adding height and interest.

Sweetcorn is wind-pollinated so it’s best planted out in blocks rather than single rows. I usually plant a few blocks using 15 or 18 plants in short rows of 3, this way the plants are closer together which helps to ensure successful pollination of the silks. With this in mind I have sown quite a few seeds to allow for failures. It’s possible to grow a few plants in a large pot successfully but expect a low yield. Despite this, even if you only manage to pick one or two cobs, it’s totally worth the effort for the fresh and sweet taste.

However you decide to grow sweetcorn, cook the cobs as soon as they’re picked for the best flavour.

Fruit Garden, Grow Your Own Guides, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Pulling Rhubarb

My Timperley Early rhubarb is ready for pulling, yay! As its name suggests it is one of the earliest to crop and known to be great for forcing too. My crown is now three years old, huge and healthy. I left it well alone in its first year, no harvesting at all which can weaken a young crown, then only lightly harvesting for a few weeks in its second year. Now it’s big and strong I can harvest sticks as and when I need them – right up until early summer.

To harvest sticks of rhubarb, grab a nice thick stem at the base and give it a gentle tug whilst moving/rocking it from side to side, it should pull away from the base easily. If it doesn’t then it’s not ready yet.

I will be pulling my first sticks of rhubarb this weekend for making that first delicious crumble of the year. I highly recommend this variety for a super early crop.

Fruit Garden, Grow Your Own Guides

Planting Summer and Autumn Fruiting Raspberry Canes

I planted Tulameen and Joan J raspberry canes at the weekend, 3 canes of each variety which will be plenty for my daughter and I, the only raspberry fans of the family. If you’ve never planted raspberry canes before it really is very easy. The following guide shows how I planted the summer fruiting (Tulameen) canes – hand model my very bored better half!

Bash a post into the soil (I used 8 ft long pieces of timber) against the centre edge, at each end of the bed. Using large-head screws or nails, place one at regular sections all the way up both posts, say about a foot apart and even on both posts. Don’t screw/hammer completely into the post, you need to leave a gap to attach wire.

Attach garden wire by wrapping around a screw head, stretch the wire across till it reaches the other post and wrap the wire to secure. Repeat this until you have enough wire secured all the way up the posts.

Plant the canes in the centre of the bed, just in front of the first wire. Space the canes about 60 cm apart, firm in and tie the canes onto the wire. Water them in well. A long narrow bed is ideal for planting raspberry canes, I planted just 3 canes into my 6 ft long x 3.5 ft wide raspberry bed, if you want to plant more canes use a longer bed.

The autumn canes are in another bed nearby, I’ve grown Joan J before and love the flavour. No special treatment needed for autumn canes, just pop them in a well prepared bed – supports aren’t generally needed because they don’t grow very tall. Cut down all growth on autumn varieties in February or March, they will fruit on the wood produced that year. Summer canes grow tall and need support, they fruit on the wood produced the previous year. New summer canes that are produced this year will bear next year’s fruits and should to be tied onto a wire support system. Cut down fruiting canes once you’ve finished harvesting, this should make pruning summer canes easier!

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

How to Chit Seed Potatoes

chitting seed potatoes

Chitting seed potatoes is a green light to get plans underway for the growing year, it’s a reminder that spring is just around the corner, I can feel it in the air and I can hear it in birdsong – an exciting time for gardeners.

Garden centres and seed merchants are stocking and selling bags of seed potatoes now so I popped out last weekend and bought mine. I went for Charlotte salad potatoes again because we love them, also Picasso which is a main crop variety and a first for me with good disease resistance. Normally if I have the space for growing main crop I usually go for tried and trusted Desiree but I threw caution to the wind and went for something different. Ooh get me!

Chitting seed potatoes encourages shoots to form, this is particularly helpful with early potatoes (earlies) to get them off to a flying start before planting.

chitting potatoes

To chit your seed potatoes simply stand them in an egg box or tray with the eyes facing upwards towards the light, keep them in a cool, light and frost-free place where they will soon produce short dark green sprouts (shoots) which will help give an earlier crop when planted. They can stay in their trays until planting conditions are right, usually from March onwards ready for lifting around June time. Main crop can go in a few weeks after earlies and second earlies, they’ll be ready for lifting anytime from late August through to the end of the year, depending on variety.

Happy chitting and potato growing!

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

Pinching Out Tomato Side Shoots

Tomatoes are one of those vegetables/fruits (whatever) that can be a real pain in the bum to grow. Blight can be a big problem or worry to many tomato grower who do not have the luxury of a glass greenhouse. But, putting all the hassle aside, the taste of home-grown tomatoes makes the stress of growing them so very worthwhile.

I have been quite successful with growing outdoor bush varieties, especially so last year when local gardeners were cursing the dreaded tomato blight and I was busy admiring my beautiful shiny red fruits. This season however, I have gone all mad in the head and decided to have a bash at growing two different types of cherry tomato, Sungold and Gardener’s Delight. Both of these varieties are uprights, also known as cordon or vine, they would probably do better under cover but they can go outside. Today I bought a plastic tomato grow house ‘thingy’, it looks quite good actually and will hopefully help to keep the rain off my tomato foliage as well as provide them with a little extra heat.

Because I have always grown bush varieties I have never bothered pinching out side shoots. Apparently, bush varieties naturally produce a limited amount of side stems so they kind of know when to stop producing shoots and start producing tomatoes, however, cordon varieties will produce far too much foliage and very few fruits if left unchecked. I have never bothered (until now) to learn why cordon varieties need their side shoots removed, it’s all about helping to divert the plant’s energy into producing the fruit on the main stem rather than putting all that energy into the side shoots. Pinching out side shoots is easy once you know what to look for – shoots forming in between the main stem and the leaf stems, in the arm pit of the plant. Hopefully the photo will help (although those shoots are a tad large and should have been pinched out earlier, whoops!) just make sure the first flower truss has set above and away you go with your pinchy fingers. Happy tomato growing!

Grow Your Own Guides

How to Plant Leeks

Yesterday I took the plunge and planted out the leek seedlings, they are a first for me so I have no idea how they will do. Leeks are planted out in a slightly different way to other vegetables, I did a bit of swotting up before planting  them into their final position. This is how I did it:

When your leek seedlings are around 6 inches tall or the width of a pencil they are ready for planting.

Push a dibber completely into the soil to create deep planting holes, around 6 inches deep should do it.

Drop a leek seedling into each hole.

Using a watering can,  fill the holes to the top with water. A little soil will cover the roots which will help to settle the leeks in, don’t be tempted to back fill the holes with soil – the leeks need the space for their stems to swell. Don’t worry, soil will naturally fill in over time.

With a bit of luck I might have a good crop of leeks to harvest from late autumn to early spring.