Asparagus

Asparagus
  • Growing asparagus is a long term project – it takes at least two years to come into production but will then continue for up to 20 years, repaying the initial investment many times over.
  • Asparagus is not suited to either close spacing or container growing.
  • You can buy asparagus seed, but it is more usual to cultivate from one-year-old asparagus crowns.

Growing Your Own Asparagus

A raised bed is considered the best method of cultivating asparagus. It likes a well-drained, sandy soil, but can be successfully grown on heavier, even clay soils providing they have been cultivated first with plenty of humus and some grit or sand to aid drainage.

In April, plant the crowns 20 cm (8 inches) deep, 30–45 cm (12–18 inches) apart, into a trench 30 cm (12 inch) wide. In a standard raised bed (1.2 metres/4 feet wide), dig the trench in the centre of the bed and make it slightly mounded, so that the roots will slope downwards and out.

Cover the crowns with fine sieved soil to about 5 cm (2 inches) above the top of the crown. Fill to the surface as the plant grows.

Keep weed-free but be careful not to damage the shallow roots as you do so: best to hand-weed. Water as required, but avoid making the trench too wet.

Don’t take a crop in the first year. The spears will turn into foliage to feed the plants. As the foliage turns yellow in autumn, cut it off 5–10 cm (2–4 inches) above ground level.

In spring, draw up a ridge of soil over the centre of the plants, about 10 cm (4 inches) high. Add a general purpose fertilizer such as fish, blood and bone or Growmore. The spears will start to appear in early May. Take just a few and leave the rest to develop.

Cut the spears with a sharp knife some 7.5cm below the ground when they are about 10cm high above the ground. You can actually buy a special knife, especially shaped for cutting asparagus.

The real season starts in mid-May and runs through June when you must show restraint and stop cutting.

In the second year just take 6 or 8 spears per plant, double that in the third year and expect about 20 to 25 spears per plant for the next 20 years.

Protect from late frosts with fleece.

Harvesting Asparagus

  • Do not over crop in the first year as this will give you weakened plants and spindly spears. Remember that asparagus is a long-term investment. Restraint can be hard, but you will see the benefits in later years!
  • In the first year, don’t harvest at all. In the second year take just 6–8 spears per plant; double that in the third year. You can expect 20–25 spears per plant per year over the next 20 years or so.
  • When the spears are around 10 cm (4 inches) high, harvest by cutting them with a sharp knife about 7.5 cm (3 inches) below the ground.
  • The season runs from mid-May to June, when you must stop cutting.

Pests and Problems with Asparagus

  • Slugs are the main pest.
  • Rust (a fungal disease) can be a problem in wet years. Remove affected shoots if rust appears.
  • The main problem with asparagus is over cropping in the early years causing weakened plants and spindly spears. It is hard, but restraint will pay you back.

Blueberries

Blueberries need a sheltered site in well-drained, moisture-retentive, acidic soil (pH 4.5-5.5) in sun or part shade. If you can grow azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias in your garden, blueberries should be successful too. Check your soil pH if unsure.

If your soil is only slightly acid, you can try acidifying it to lower the pH to the optimum level for ericaceous plants.

If you garden on heavy clay or alkaline soils, it is best to grow blueberries in containers. Improve the soil before planting by removing all weeds and incorporating lime-free soil improvers such as composted bark, bracken, leafmould, pine needles.

Avoid adding manure or mushroom compost which are too alkaline for blueberries.

Highbush blueberries can reach 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) in height and half-high about 0.5-1.2m (20in-4ft). When planting, space highbush cultivars with 1-1.5m (3¼ft-5ft) all round and half-highs with about 1m (3¼ft) all round. Mulch newly-planted blueberries with pine bark (composted or chipped).

Pollination, fruiting & harvesting

Although many blueberries are partly or fully self-pollinating, it is best to grow a minimum of two, as cross-pollinated plants tend to produce larger fruit. To achieve this, plant two or preferably three different cultivars to ensure reliable, abundant crops.

Pick fruit when it is completely blue and has a white surface bloom. Fully productive plants around seven years old produce up to 2.25-5kg (5-11lb) of berries.

Watering and Feeding

During dry spells water blueberries with rainwater, not with tap water, unless you have no alternative in a drought.

If growing in containers keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and don’t allow the compost to dry out between waterings. Feed container plants every month using a liquid fertilizer formulated for ericaceous (lime-hating) plants, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Mulch plants in open ground in spring or autumn with 7-8cm (2½-3in) layer of acidic or neutral organic matter, composted or freshly chipped pine bark.

Annual additions of organic matter with 15g per sq m (½oz per sq yd) of sulphate of ammonia sprinkled round the plants in late winter. If plants are not growing well try an application of fertilizer recommended for ericaceous (lime-hating) plants as directed by the manufacturer.

Avoid overfeeding, as blueberries are sensitive to high fertiliser levels. Poor growth may be a result of high pH, excess nutrients (high soluble salts) and fluctuation of soil moisture levels.

Winter Protection

Not all blueberry cultivars are fully hardy. Even hardy cultivars, as with many other plants, can be damaged in winter if exposed to a combination of low temperatures and wet conditions, especially if container grown. Move containerised plants indoors in a shed or garage during prolonged cold spells, or wrap the pot in hessian or bubblewrap to protect the roots. Protect flowers from late frosts with a double layer of horticultural fleece.

Pruning and Training

Blueberries fruit on short sideshoots produced during spring or early summer of the previous year. They can also form fruit buds on the second flush growth produced later in the summer, at the tips of strong shoots.

Pruning is rarely needed in the first two years, just remove any crossing or misplaced branches.

Prune any time over the dormant season (November to March), but ideally in late February or early March when the fruit buds can easily be distinguished from the leaf buds. Fat buds produce flowers and fruit, while smaller, flatter buds form shoots and leaves.

A mature bush should contain about one-third old, one-third middle-aged and one-third young stems.

Prune Out

  • Dead, diseased, dying, weak, rubbing or damaged stems, plus any that are touching the ground
  • Twiggy growth at the ends of the branches that fruited last year, cutting back to a low strong, upward-facing bud or branch
  • Remove up to a quarter of the oldest and thickest stems at the base of a mature plant or prune to a younger strong shoot lower down on the branch

We suggest using the Rootgrow for Ericaceous plants to help plants settle in.

RHS Rootgrow

The first and currently the only plant or soil treatment to be licensed by The Royal Horticultural Society.

RHS gardeners find plants treated with Rootgrow:

  • Have superior plant establishment with better natural vigour
  • Overcome re-plant problems more successfully
  • Have better developed root systems
  • Are better able to cope with conditions of drought
  • Are supported for their entire lifetime after a single application.

Brassicas

How to grow Brassicas

The leafy brassica family includes cabbages, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Swede, turnips and radishes are also part of the family.

Kale is a very easy member of the brassica family, so it’s a good one to start with if you’re new to brassicas. It has the added bonus that you can pick a few leaves at a time rather than having to wait for it to form a head, like a cabbage. Purple sprouting is another great vegetable to grow – it can be expensive in the shops, and it’s really nutritious as well as tasty. Brussels sprouts are fun to grow, and there’s nothing like eating your own crop for Christmas dinner!

Brassicas like a bit of shade, so pick an area that won’t be in full sun all day if you can. Begin by digging your brassica patch over in the autumn, adding a good dose of compost or well-rotted manure to it and working it in well. Once dug, trample over it to make it nice and firm, just how brassicas like it.

Brassicas can be quite picky about the soil they grow in. They like a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, so get a soil tester and add some lime to the soil if it’s too acidic.

Planting out Brassicas

Once the plants reach about 8cm (3”), or 15cm (6”) for kale and Brussels sprouts, they should be ready to plant out. Make sure you give the young plants a good soak the day before you move them. Dig a hole in the soil with a trowel and pour some water into it, remove the plant from the module carefully and place it in the hole, then fill in the sides and firm it down well.

Growing tips for leafy vegetables

These leafy plants will benefit from a couple of feeds. Use a nitrogen-rich feed once when you plant them out in June, and again in September.

Most brassicas are quite drought-hardy, but they will need watering when you first plant them out, until they are settled in and well-established.

If you don’t want your brassicas to be decimated by caterpillas, set up netting over them. Make sure the netting is high enough for taller plants like kale and purple sprouting. The netting will also stop the brids from going after young, tender plants.

Broad Beans (Fava Beans)

For Crop Rotation plant them with peas and beans (legumes)

  • Easy to grow.
  • Sow direct in their final growing position as described below or start them in 3″ pots. Plant these out when the seedlings begin to show.
  • Broad Beans in the UK called Fava Beans in the USA
  • Autumn varieties are sown in October / November
  • Spring varieties are sown in February / March or as late as early May
  • Germination takes about 21 days
  • They like a good level of humus and a lot of potash. Potash helps to prevent the fungal infection , chocolate spot.
  • After harvesting put the stalks on the compost heap and leave the roots in the ground to decompose . They are legumes, and capture their own nitrogen in their root nodules .

Varieties of Broad Beans

There are three main types of broad (fava) beans:

  • Longpods – Long narrow pods up to 15 inches ( about 38 cm) long with 8–10 beans per pod. There are both green and white varieties
  • Windsor– shorter and broader than longpods, with 4–7 beans per pod. There are both green and white varieties are said by some to have a finer flavour. They are not generally frost hardy.
  • Dwarf varieties – the plants freely branching and grow to only about 12-18 inches ( 30–45 cm) high. About half the height of longpods and windsors . They are good to grow under cloches.

Longpods

  • Aquadulce Claudia (white) is a popular choice for autumn sowing. It is hardy and prolific and good for freezing. Awarded the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM).
  • Masterpiece Longpod (green) has a fine flavour and crops early – which can be good if you suffer with chocolate spot or rust. Awarded the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM).
  • Red Epicure (redish brown) are a distinctive good flavour and turn colour slightly when cooked.

Dwarf

  • The Sutton (white) is  an excellent dwarf variety. It only grows to a height of 45cm (18 inches) and is suitable for windy sites and for growing in pots or containers. Each pod produces 5-6 nutty flavoured broad beans.Awarded the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM).

Varieties available in seed or plant may differ from those listed above.

Pests and Problems with Broad Beans

Tall broad bean plants can be blown over in windy conditions , so support should be provided. The easiest way is to us stakes or strong canes and horizontal strings on each side of the row of bean plants.

The main pest on broad beans is blackfly on the young growing tips in summer. Remove the top portion where the blackflies gather.  Or you can wash them off with soapy water or a hosepipe. Rust can be a problem on broad beans later in the growing season.  It is a fungal disease spread by the rain and makes the plants look as if they are going rusty. It grows rapidly in warm wet conditions causing leaf drop and possibly reduce the size of the pods.

Chocolate spot is another fungal disease. It causes dark, chocolate-coloured spots on all parts of the plant. It can cause the plant to collapse and is worse in overcrowded , cool, moist, conditions. A lack of potash may weaken plants so add extra potash to the soil.

Sowing and Growing Broad Beans

Sow winter varieties in late October–November for an early crop in June, In a bad wet winter plant losses can be high so consider your local climate. Sowings under cloches from late February through to early May can give a crop from June–October, but the later you sow them the more prone they are to blackfly and fungal diseases.

For best results, sow into 8 cm (3 inch) pots under glass or in a cool greenhouse. These can be planted out about three weeks later. Or sow directly into their growing position. If you do it is a good idea to sowing a few seeds into pots to fill any gaps where they have not germinated . The usual spacing is 20 cm (8 inches) apart in double rows 20 cm (8 inches) apart, staggering the plants. This helps them to support each and some sticks and string will ensure they are not blown over. Space these staggered rows 60–75 cm (24–30 inches) apart.

If you are growing a few in containers, use larger pots, planting 15 cm (6 inches) apart, with at least six plants per pot to support each other.

Harvesting Broad Beans

  • Pick young tender sweet broad beans when you can feel the bean inside the pod .
  • Broad beans freeze really well although they can be dried.

Blanch older beans and remove the tough outer skin before eating or freezing.

Carrots

Carrots are quite easy to grow but need deep fertile sandy soil . They come in various shapes and colours ranging from small round varieties, short cylindrical (stump rooted) to the long-rooted types . There are early and maincrop varieties.

The earliest carrots are ready to be eaten after about 10–12 weeks and are suitable for raised beds and containers in a 50:50 mixture of sand and multipurpose compost. They can be grown for an earlier crop undercover, under cloches, in coldframes or in the greenhouse.

The maincrop varieties need about 16 weeks to grow and will store for use over the winter. Carrots don’t like stony ground or ground which has had manure or compost recently added; this can cause them to fork or fang – making them impossible to prepare for cooking.

Seeds may take about 16-20 days to germinate and can retain viability for 3 years.

Sow carrots in a sunny spot outdoors in situ from late February (under cloches before mid-March or in the open after that) until to July for harvest during June to December . Carrot varieties come in short (golf ball to long finger), intermediate and long-rooted varieties.

Pests and Problems with Carrots

Carrot fly maggots mostly causes damage to carrots, but can also affect the roots of other crops such as parsnip, celery and parsley. They hatch from eggs laid in late May–June and in August-September. So those are the months when your crop is at danger.

The fly is attracted by the smell of carrots, which can be particularly strong when you have been thinning them. It is most active during the day laying its eggs in the soil near the carrots. The newly-hatched larvae feed on the fine roots then bore into the tap root.

To avoid damage from carrot fly you should;

  • Thin your crop late in the day and immediately remove the thinnings
  • Intercrop with onions to disguise the smell of the carrots (may work)
  • Build a vertical barrier around the crop or plant in a high container as the fly tends to stay near the ground but not always.
  • But the best method of prevention is to cover the crop with horticultural fleece or fine mesh like enviromesh.

Growing Your Own Carrots

The soil for carrots should be fairly deep and fertile but free from lumps of manure and large stones. Sandy soil best for carrots but they can be grown in heavier soils that have been improved by the addition of sand.

Draw a shallow drill half an inch (1-2 cm) deep and sow very thinly, preferably covering the drill with sand. Allow 6 inches (15cm) between rows. After germination, thin the seedlings down to about one carrot every 2-3 inches (5-8cm).

You can also scatter the seeds thinly on the entire surface – this is especially suitable when growing in containers – and cover thinly with sand. Thin the seedlings to a spacing of 3inches (8cm) in each direction . Larger thinnings are good to use raw in salads.

Vitamin Content of Carrots

Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium. They also contain vitamins B6 and C, folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium.

Celery

Celery is a mainstay flavouring vegetable as well as popular snack vegetable. With regular watering and weeding, celery is fairly easy to grow. Come autumn, if you still have extra plants, you can dig them up and store them indoors for a few more months of use.

Celery Pests and Problems

Slugs can be the primary problem in the celery plot not only with leaf munching but they can introduce a bacterial disease called celery heart rot, which needs little explanation.

Celery, a bog plant, is very sensitive to any heat and moisture stress so it’s important to keep plants regularly and well watered in hot spells. If plants are in full sun, then some added shade is very beneficial.

Celery fly, parsley worms, carrot rust fly and nematodes can also be a problem. Avoid planting next to parsnips, carrots and celeriac which can be affected by the same pest.

Sowing and Growing Celery

Sow indoors in heat, under glass in late March–early April in a compost and sand mix. Water regularly. Seedlings are temperature sensitive so avoid wide temperature fluctuations to maintain steady growth and ensure there is good air circulation to avoid humidity problems.

Harden them off carefully for planting into their final positions in late May–early June.

Celery is a greedy, thirsty crop that needs hummus-rich soil mixed with plenty of manure or Growmore, and bonemeal. And plenty of water at all times.

Plant in a block, with 20 cm (8 inches) between plants in a partly shaded area. If high heat becomes a problem, add some overhead shade cloth so plants do not bolt, and keep well watered. Feed every 14 days.

For varieties that are not self-blanching, you may need to insert straw between the plants and wrap the outer plants with brown paper, or cardboard tied around the plant.

Harvesting, Eating and Storing Celery

Wait 3 to 5 months after planting the celery to harvest it. The growing period for celery is much longer than 3 months, but they’re best when harvested immature. Wait for 3 months after transplanting, or 4 months after the seed was first started to harvest the stalks.

The longer the celery grows, the tougher it will become. However, the tougher the celery, the more nutritious it tends to be. Harvest according to your personal preferences, but don’t wait longer than 5 months to harvest your first stalks!

Celery also dehydrates very well for use in soups and stews.

Self Blanching Celery does not have to be earthed up in order to keep daylight off the stems. No, it is not quite as ‘crunchy’ as the real thing, but the taste is there, and new varieties are being bred all of the time to get that little bit of Celery Crunch that we all love.

Chillis

Chilli peppers are Capsicums. They grow well in a greenhouse or polytunnel, although they can be grown outside in a good summer in the milder South. They will also do well on a sunny window sill.
The heat in peppers and chillies is measured in Scoville Heat Units. Sweet peppers are rated zero but some of the hotter chilli varieties are rated at 1,000,000 SHU!

Sowing and Growing Chilli Peppers

  • Sow during January, February and March, Maintain at 21ºC (70ºF) until seedlings germinate, ideally in a heated propagator , as some varieties need high temperatures to germinate reliably
  • When large enough, prick out seedlings into 8 cm (3 inch) pots. Pot-on into 15 cm (6 inch) pots as they grow, before moving them to their final home.
  • Chillies can be grown in the greenhouse/polytunnel border or in growbags or 20–25 cm (8–10 inch) pots. Try to maintain temperatures above 16C
  • Some varieties grow as high as 90 cm (3 feet). The stems are brittle so the weight of fruits can break the plants if they are not tied to canes.
  • Mist the plants with water once the flowers appear. This encourages the fruit to set and discourages red spidermite.

Leave fruits to turn a rich red colour for a hotter taste.

The hotter the variety the longer the whole growing process will take (from germination through to ripening) so bear this in mind when selecting your preferred type.

  • Chilli plants like growing in containers where the temperature can be easily regulated.
  • If growing outside select a sunny, sheltered, well drained position. If growing inside a sunny window sill or conservatory is perfect, just remember – don’t let the soil dry out.
  • Pinch out the growing tip when the chilli plant gets to about 20cm high – this encourages bushy growth and better crops.
  • Feed with Maxicrop every other week as soon as flowers start to appear.
  • Pollination does need to occur to get fruits. Rub the bristles of a small paint brush, or your little finger, gently over the flower heads to ensure that pollination occurs. If growing outside the chances for natural pollination are higher so this is not necessary.
  • Give at least 2 inches of water per week once the fruits have appeared, spray rather than water at the base to prevent over watering.
  • Chilli plants grown indoors can be treated as perennial houseplants and will need a good prune in the Winter months.

Harvesting Chilli

  • Chillies come in many shapes and sizes, so it helps to know what size the ripe fruit should be for picking, especially if picking them at the green stage.
  • Most varieties have fruit which is green when first formed. The colour changes to yellow or red over a few weeks on the plant.

Pests and Problems with Chilli Peppers

  • The main pests are red spidermites and aphids. Misting the plants with water helps to deter spidermite or there are effective biological controls.
  • Water regularly as Chilli peppers can suffer from blossom end rot.

Varieties of Chilli Peppers

You’ll find many varieties of chilli peppers to grow, of varying degrees of heat. The heat of chillies is caused by a chemical called capsaicin – the more of this the chilli contains, the hotter it will be.

  • Some AGM (Award of Garden Merit) varieties to try are Apache, Demon Red, Fiesta and Filus Blue, a pretty plant with purple flowers and fruit.
  • Habanero, Prairie Fire, and Thai Dragon are very hot.
  • Hungarian Hot Wax is easy to grow and medium hot. It can be a used as a spicy alternative to sweet peppers.

Storing Chilli Peppers

  • Chillies will keep for up to year dried. Tie or string the chillies in open bunches and hang them up in an airy, warm and dry place, they can also be frozen
  • The heat of chillies is caused by a chemical called capsaicin – the more of this the chilli contains, the hotter it will be.

Companion Planting

The following is a guideline for companion planting vegetables. Keep in mind that companion planting is not the same for everyone, everywhere; it will require experimentation to find what works best in your area.

VegetableCompanionsAntagonistsInsight
AsparagusBasil, Coriander, Dill, Parsley, Carrots, Tomatoes, MarigoldsGarlic, Potatoes, OnionsMarigolds, Parsley, Tomato protect from asparagus beetles
BeansBeets, Brassicas, Carrot, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Celery, Chards, Corn, Eggplant, Peas, PotatoesAlliums (chives, garlic, leeks, onions), Peppers, Tomatoes For Broad Beans: FennelCorn is a natural trellis, and provides shelter for beans. Beans provide nitrogen to soil.
BeetsBrassicas (ie. broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi,turnip), Kholrabi, Garlic, Lettuce, Onion, SagePole and Runner BeansThe beans and beets compete for growth. Composted beet leaves add magnesium to soil when mixed.
BroccoliBasil, Bush Beans, Chamomile, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Onion, Potato, Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, TomatoGrapes, Mustard, Oregano, Strawberry, TomatoRosemary repels cabbage fly. Dill attracts wasps for pest control.
Brussels SproutsDill, Potato, ThymeStrawberry, Tomato
CabbageBeets, Bush Beans, Celery, Chamomile, Dill, Mint, Onion, Potato, Oregano, Rosemary, SageBeans (Pole and Runner), Mustards, Peppers, Strawberry, TomatoCelery, onion and herbs keep pests away. Rosemary repels cabbage fly.
CarrotsBeans (Bush and Pole), Garlic, Lettuce, Onion, Parsley, Peas, Rosemary, TomatoDill, ParsnipBeans provide nitrogen in soil which carrots need. Onion, parsley and rosemary repel the carrot fly
CauliflowerBeans, Celery, Oregano, Peas, TomatoStrawberriesBeans provide the soil with nitrogen, which cauliflower needs.
CeleryBush Beans, Cabbage, Dill, Leeks, Marjoram, TomatoesParsnip, Potato
ChivesBasil, Carrots, Marigold, Parsley, Parsnip, Strawberries, TomatoBeans
CornBeans, Cucumbers, Marjoram, Parsnip, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, ZucchiniTomatoTomato worm and corn earworm like both plants. Beans and peas supply nitrogen.
CucumberBeans, Celery, Corn, Dill, Lettuce, Peas, RadishPotato, Sage, strong aromatic herbs, TomatoCucumbers grow poorly around potatoes and sage.
DillCabbage, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Fennel, Lettuce, OnionsCilantro, TomatoCross-pollinates with cilantro, ruining both. One of only a few plants that grows well with Fennel.
EggplantBeans, Marjoram, Pepper, Potato
KohlrabiBeets, Lettuce, OnionsStrawberries, Pole Beans, TomatoLettuce repels earth flies.
LeekCarrots, Celery, Lettuce, OnionsBeans, PeasCompanion attributes are the same as garlic, onion, chives (alliums).
LettuceBeans, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Marigold, Onions, Peas, Radish, StrawberriesParsleyMints repel slugs (which feed on lettuce).
MarigoldBrassicas (broccoli, etc), Cucurbits (cucumber, etc), Peppers, Tomato, and most other plantsIt is said that you can plant Marigolds throughout the garden, as they repel insects and root-attacking nematodes (worm-like organisms). Be aware they may bother allergy sufferers.
OnionsBeets, Cabbage, Carrots, Lettuce, Marjoram, Rosemary, Savory, Strawberry, TomatoBeans, PeasRepels aphids, the carrot fly, and other pests.
ParsleyAsparagus, Beans, Radish, Rosemary, TomatoLettuceDraws insects away from tomatoes.
PeasBeans, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Marjoram, Parsnip, Potato, SageAlliums (Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots)
PotatoBeans, Cabbage, Corn, Eggplant, Horseradish, Marjoram, ParsnipCelery, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Rosemary, Strawberries, TomatoCucumber, tomato and raspberry attract harmful pests to potatoes. Horseradish increases disease resistance.
PumpkinBeans, Corn, RadishPotato
RadishCabbage, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Lettuce, Marjoram, ParsnipRadish is often used as a trap crop against some beetles(flea and cucumber).
SageBeans, Cabbage, Carrots, Peas, Rosemary, StrawberriesRepels cabbage fly, some bean parasites
SpinachBeans, Lettuce, Peas, StrawberriesNatural shade is provided by beans and peas, for spinach.
SquashFruit trees, strawberriesSimilar companion traits to pumpkin.
StrawberriesBorage, Bush Beans, CarawayBroccoli, CabbagesThe herb, Borage, is likely the strongest companion.
TomatoesAlliums, Asparagus, Basil, Borage, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Marigold, PeppersBrassicas, Beets, Corn, Dill, Fennel, Peas, Potatoes, RosemaryGrowing basil about 10 inches from tomatoes increases the yield of the tomato plants.
TurnipPeas
ZucchiniFlowering herbs (for pollination)

Cucumber

For information on growing Cucumber

Search “C” for Courgette

Clematis

Pruning

When pruning clematis there is one really important consideration: when does it flower? 

The old rhyme “if it flowers before June do not prune” will get you out of most trouble but clematis can be subdivided into three flowering groups;

Group 1

Early flowering (up to late May). includes C. montana, C. alpina, C. armandii, & C. macropetala. They tend to have many small flowers which are produced on growth made the previous summer. So if you prune now you will be cutting off all flower buds. You will not harm the plant but will radically reduce the quantity of flowers. Trim as necessary (i.e to shape and size) in June. Garden shears are often the best tool for this.

Group 2

Mid season flowering (late May to early July). Tend to have much less vigorous growth and much larger flowers. Include ‘Niobe’, ‘Barbara Jackman’, ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘The President & H.F. Young’. These often flower twice, first on growth produced the previous year and again on new growth. The second flush is always of smaller flowers. 

If you prune hard at this time of year you will not have any early, large flowers but plenty in late summer. The best bet is to remove all weak or straggly stems now as well as all growth above the top pair of healthy buds.

Group 3

Late flowering (after mid June) Includes clematis ‘jackmanii’‘, ‘C. viticella’, ‘Gypsy Queen’, ‘Hagley Hybrid’, ‘Perle d’Azur’ and ‘Ville de Lyon’. All are multi-stemmed. They all flower on growth made in spring so all the previous year’s growth should be cleared away now. Always cut down to about 2ft from the ground, leaving at least two healthy pairs of buds. 

Courgettes (Marrow, Squash, Cucumber)

Courgettes are one of the cucurbits which also include: marrows, squash and cucumbers and are grown in the same way. They are prolific croppers and are suitable for growing in containers.
Courgettes may fail in poor weather if pollinating insects are few but the F1 hybrids will set fruit without pollination.

As well as standard shaped green courgettes, you can grow yellow and ball-shaped varieties too.

Sowing and Growing Courgettes

Courgettes can be sown during late April indoors or March–May outside in 3 inch (8 cm) pots. Sow three–four seeds and keep the strongest two (which will be plenty for a family). Sow the seeds standing on their edge to prevent rotting. Move plants to their final site when there is no more risk of frost.

They can be grown in a large container but if you are planting in the ground, allow 2½–3 feet (75–90 cm) between plants. Remember that courgettes need a lot of food and water so feed them regularly with tomato feed once they start cropping during June – October

Pests and Problems with Courgettes

Courgettes are mainly trouble free, but they are susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew. Slugs are probably your biggest enemy.

Varieties of Courgettes

Please see our range of seeds from Kings Seeds or our plants in the Veg & Herb tunnel.

Harvesting Courgettes

Courgettes are varieties of marrow that have been developed to be at their best when immature so don’t leave them on the plant to grow large because will have an inferior marrow and the plant will stop producing fruit. You can put a large cloche over them later in the season to extend their cropping. Harvest cylindrical varieties when they are about 4 inches (10 cm) long. Pick regularly to keep the plants in production. The flowers can also be eaten.

Eating

They can be eaten raw , thinly sliced or grated with salads or cooked in many ways including delicious courgette loaf. The bright yellow flowers can be picked before they full open , stuffed with herbs and cheese and fried quickly or dipped in light batter and deep fried tempura style. Or just toss them in olive oil until slightly wilted, then stirred through a risotto. The flowers don’t last so pick and cook them on the same day.

Lettuce

Lettuce is an easy plant to grow almost all year-round (under cover during colder months). It can be grown in pots and window boxes as well as the open ground, and is generally happy at close spacings.

Types of Lettuce

  • cos (a little slower to mature than butterheads, with crisp oval hearts)
  • crisphead / iceberg (solid heads and few outer leaves)
  • butterhead (quick to mature, more tolerant of poor conditions, with soft leaves and loose heart)
  • looseleaf (do not heart up and are ideal for ‘cut and come again’ picking)

Recommended varieties

  • Little Gem is probably the best known cos lettuce, with other varieties including Winter Density, Romaine and Winter Gem
  • Crisphead varieties include the traditional favourite Webbs Wonderful
  • All the Year Round is a well-known butterhead variety; Sangria has red-tinged leaves, and Tom Thumb is small and quick to mature
  • Looseleaf varieties include Salad Bowl (red and green), Lollo rossa (red), and mixed salad leaf types.
  • You can also buy mixed packets of salad leaves or create your own from e.g. mizuna, mustard, oak leaf lettuce, basil, rocket and raddichio
  • Alternatives salad leaves include corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, purslane and land cress

Pests and problems

  • Slugs and aphids are frequent pests of lettuces (aphids can be washed off), although birds sometimes enjoy pecking at the leaves too
  • Lettuces bolt very easily; if this happens, simply pull the plant out
  • Brown edges to the leaves indicate irregular watering or weather that is too hot

Harvesting, Eating & Storing

  • Cut looseleaf varieties with scissors about 5 cm above the ground
  • For the other lettuces, pull up the entire plant and place it in a cool place in a vase of water to keep it fresh. Harvest leaves as desired.

Marrow

For information on growing Marrows

Search “C” for Courgette

Onions

Onions are the most valuable, yet underrated, vegetable partly due to the bland taste of shop varieties. Home gardeners can choose from a wide variety of onions to suit their taste, from very mild to eye-watering strong. You can also choose particular colours, size, and onions for specific purposes. And a tasty onion is also a healthy choice with Vitamin C, B6, Folic Acid, as well as a good source of fibre.

The onion’s famous potency is due to the sulphur content as well as how you grow your onions such as the type of soil you have, what hummus you incorporate, water content, weather conditions, and the type of feed or fertilizers you use.

Like all plants, onions need potash; the more potash they have available the less sulphur they absorb. Using low potash fertilisers will result in smaller, but stronger tasting onions.

Recommended Varieties of Onions

There are many varieties to choose from depending on the potency you wish, the size desired from pickling to big slicers, colour, and day length.

A popular storage set onion is Sturon and favourite sweet eating onions include Ailsa Craig (subject to availability).

Onion Pests and Problems

The onion root fly can be a problem and fine netting can control this. Slugs can also do some surface damage and eelworms can do significant bulb damage.

Another problem appearing in wet years is onion rot that can totally wipe out a crop and the spores remain in the soil for another 5 or more years.

Onion neck rot is a fluffy grey growth on onion necks.

Sowing and Growing

Main bulb onions are either grown from seeds or sets, which are simply small bulbs. Spring onions or scallions are always grown from seed. Beginners find sets are easier because the onions have a head start even if planted late, are more disease resistant and crop better in poorer soils, and they tend to avoid the onion fly a bit better.

Main crop onion seeds are usually started indoors around February. There is considerable more variety in seeds which are less prone to bolting and usually store better. Start these in modules or flats. Note that onion seeds have a short shelf life so it’s worth purchasing smaller seed packages. When planting time approaches, harden off onion seedlings before planting out.

In the damper UK climate, it’s best to rotate onion growing areas every year to avoid onion rot. Recently cultivated areas from grass will likely contain eelworms.

Bulbing onions are day-length sensitive, and most European long-day onions bulb once 15 or more hours of daylight occur. Short-day onions, often called Japanese onions, can be planted in fall when 9-10 hours of sunlight are available. The short-day type do not store well but do fill the gap until main crop onions arrive a bit later. Choose what suits your area and needs.

Onions have a limited root system therefore improving the soil with plentiful organic matter is invaluable. Apply two bucketfuls of well-rotted manure or other organic matter such as garden compost every square metre (yard). This will help add nutrients, improve the soil structure and hold moisture. Avoid using fresh manure.

Little fertiliser is required at planting, apply 35g per sq m (1oz per sq yd) of Growmore or twice as much organic fertiliser such as dried poultry manure pellets. If you cannot apply organic matter – use more fertiliser, up to twice as much if the soil is poor.

Because onions are a cool weather plant, hot temperatures or other stress conditions like irregular watering in dry times can cause the plant to bolt (go to seed). The bulbing tip can be snapped off and the onion grown on, but it will not store well so should be marked for use once harvested.

One caveat for onion growers is to not overwater them. They are shallow-rooted and once established they do not need much water. They also do not compete well with weeds at any time, particularly when young. In years of heavy rainfall, they appreciate a clear, protective cover to keep soil a little drier.

Harvesting, Storage and Eating

Onions can be harvested at any time as needed, but for storage expect to wait about 12 – 18 weeks depending on variety size. At this time, when the onion tops start to fall over, it’s time to gently push all the leaves downward at the neck and leave the plants to ‘die off’ for about 2 weeks. Once most of the leaves are brown or dried out, the bulbs can be pulled out and placed on screens or slatted flats to dry out for a further few days, even weeks. They cannot be safely stored until all the tops are crispy brown and a dried outer skin has formed. At that time the dried roots can be trimmed, as can the dried tops. Thick-necked onions will not store as long as thin-necked ones.

Once properly cured (dried), onions need air space to stay dry so shallow slatted boxes are idea, as are slim nets or simply roped into strings. Store in a cool, well-ventilated darker space such as a shed that does not freeze.

Onions can be used in any form in most dishes – cooked or raw. The acidity of onions helps soften tough meats which is why they’re so popular in meat dishes. The best way to avoid teary eyes when cutting onions is to cut them either under running water or in a basin filled with water.

Please note that onions are toxic to dogs, cats and other small animals. The severe toxicity is caused by the sulfoxides present in raw and cooked onions which they cannot digest, and this leads to anaemia that can damage red blood cells. Avoid feeding them pizzas, casseroles, onion rings, and other foods containing onions.

Roses

Roses can be planted at any time during the year. The extreme weather conditions that we advise against planting in are when the ground is frozen, water-logged or during a drought. 

Roses thrive on direct sunlight. For best results, a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight is recommended. However, even when planted against a north wall (meaning no direct sunlight) roses can still perform well. 

For best results, plant your rose 3 feet (1m) away from other plants and 2 feet (60cm) from other roses. Avoid planting a rose under an overhanging tree branch.

How to plant roses

Here are some steps to planting roses in the garden:

  1. In the area where the rose or roses are to be planted, mix in at least one bucket of well-rotted organic matter per square metre, forking it into the top 20-30cm (8in-1ft) of soil. Farmyard manure is ideal for this.
  2. Apply general fertiliser, at 100g per sq m (3oz per sq yd) over the surface of the planting area and fork it in to the same depth as the organic matter. Note: if you are using a mycorrhizal fungi (e.g. Rootgrow) then it is best not to apply a fertiliser at all as phosphorus (found in general fertilisers and superphosphate) can suppress the fungus.
  3. For each rose dig a hole roughly twice the width of the plant’s roots and the depth of a spade’s blade.
  4. Carefully tease out the roots of container plants because, if this is not done, the roots may be very slow to extend outwards, leaving the young plant more susceptible to drought in summer.
  5. Place the rose in the centre of the hole and, using a small cane to identify the top of the planting hole, ensure the graft union (i.e. where the cultivar joins the rootstock and the point from which the branches originate) is at soil level (not below as this is reported to increase the risk of rose dieback).
  6. Back-fill gently with the excavated soil and organic matter mixture.
  7. Spacing depends on type and habit. Check catalogue or label details.

If you are replacing old roses with new roses, ensure that you dig out the soil to a depth and width of 45cm (18in) and exchange it with soil from a different part of the garden, as roses are at risk from replant disease, also known as soil sickness.

Rootgrow

How much water

As a guide, we recommend watering the following amount per rose each time you water:

  • Shrub roses – 5 litres
  • Climbing roses – 10 litres
  • Rambling roses – 10 litres
  • Standard tree roses – 10 litres
  • Roses in pots – 5 litres

When to water roses

The need for watering varies greatly throughout the year and is directly related to the amount of rain that has fallen. We suggest the following:

October – February:

You are unlikely to need to water in the UK.

March – May:

Watch out for particularly prolonged dry spells of two weeks or more, particularly if the weather is warm. Newly planted roses – water every two or three days. Established roses – water once a week.

June – September:

Established roses – water once a week. As your rose starts blooming, take note if your flowers are wilting. This will happen in extreme heat but is a reliable sign that your roses need more water. Newly planted roses – water every other day.

It is best to water as close to base of the rose as you can. If the water is starting to flow away from the base, stop for a moment to allow the water to soak in, then continue.

Don’t water over the flowers or foliage. Watering foliage can encourage disease problems, particularly if it remains on the leaves overnight.

Feeding Roses

All roses appreciate being fed, If you wish to get the most out of your roses we always recommend feeding.

When to Feed:

For the best results, we recommend two annual feeds: Late-March/April at the beginning of the growing season. Late July after the first bloom cycle has finished, promoting stronger repeat flowering.

What You Need:

For the best results, we recommend either Maxicrop or Vitax Rose Food. An Autumn mulching of well rotted farmyard manure sets the roses up for the following year.

How to feed:

Maxicrop, dilute as per instructions on label and with the Vitax simply sprinkle Rose Food around the base of each rose (see packaging for full instructions).

Why should I prune?

Pruning is essential if you really want your rose to thrive. Roses are naturally vigorous and, if left without pruning, may become large and leggy shrubs.

The main purpose of pruning is to create a shapely, attractive shrub, with good structure, you can do this by simply removing parts of the plant during the non flowering season. Pruning encourages fresh new growth and plentiful blooms for the following season.

When should I prune?

We recommend pruning in late winter/early spring, when the first growth is beginning. This is generally between January and February. It is ok to prune earlier, but it can be more difficult to identify the less healthy stems that you will want to prune out. If you still haven’t pruned by March it is still better to do so.

Year One:

We define Year One as any rose that has completed its first season of flowering. At this stage your rose will still be establishing its roots to support growth in the future, thus only very light pruning is required.

  • Step 1 – cut back the flowering shoots by 3-5 inches and any very strong shoots that are disproportionate to the rest of the plant.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains. This is where disease spores can lay dormant ready to challenge your plant next year.

Year Two:

Your plant will still be developing its root system and will not be at its mature size or shape.

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems by one third. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Three:

By the third year your rose will be a fully formed plant. Your choice of how much you cut back is a little more flexible. You now have the opportunity to influence the size and shape of your shrub.
Before pruning, choose from one of the following:

  • For a taller shrub – cut back by less than one third.
  • To maintain its current size – cut your rose back by one third.
  • To reduce its size – cut back by a half or even more. This will reduce the size of the shrub without impacting the amount of flowering.

Then follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – cut back all stems depending on your choice from above. Cut back any particularly long stems to the same length as the rest of your shrub.
  • Step 2 – the ‘four D’s’ – remove any dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems.
  • Step 3 – remove any foliage that remains.

Year Four and beyond:

To ensure your rose performs to its optimum, we recommend following the steps in Year Three every year.

To create a short climber follow the Light Pruning and allow the current year’s growth to grow, after a couple of years of doing this the rose will be 5’-7’ and you don’t have to bend down to get your nose into a rose!

Key Points

  • Shaping is essential. Try to create a rounded shrub.
  • Don’t worry about cutting back too much. Roses are extremely strong and will grow back even if you cut all of the stems right back to the base.
  • Carefully dispose of foliage. Foliage should never be composted and should be removed from your garden. This ensures spores that can initiate disease are removed from your garden.
  • Look out for loose roses. Look out for any roses that are loose in the ground due to the wind rocking them to the point where they are no longer standing upright. Firm around the base of each loose rose and cut them back a little more to reduce wind resistance.

How to Prune an Established Climbing Rose

Pruning is arguably the most important job you can do for your roses. It gives your rose shape, structure and encourages new blooms for the season ahead.

Climbing Roses.  This can be subdivided into two groups:

  1. True climbers which tend to have single, large flowers covering the period from early summer right into autumn. These should be pruned in Autumn  or Winter, trying to maintain a framework of long stems trained laterally with side branches breaking from them. These side branches will carry the flowers on new growth produced in Spring. Ideally a third of the plant is removed each year – the oldest, woodiest stems -so that it is constantly renewing itself. 
  2. Ramblers which have clusters of smaller flowers just once in mid summer. These need little pruning but should be trained and trimmed immediately after flowering as the flowers are carried mostly on stems grown in late Summer.

Runner Beans

Runner Beans are a worthwhile crop, one of the most productive and pretty crops for small spaces. In fact they were first grown for their flowers in Britain and people thought the beans were poisonous! Members of the legume family, they produce their own nitrogen, although they still need some additional fertilizer. They can be successfully grown up a wigwam of canes in a large container (50 cm/20 ins) if fed with liquid tomato fertilizer and watered regularly.

Sowing and Growing Runner Beans

  • Sow from early May (indoors) to June.
  • Harvest August–October.
  • Beans are thirsty plants and this is the reason behind the traditional bean trench. These help a lot if you grow on light soil which doesn’t hold water well.
  • In winter, dig a trench 20–30 cm (8”–12”deep) and a spade’s blade in width. Line it with cardboard or sheets of newspaper, fill with vegetable peelings, covering with soil (to stop vermin) as the layers are added. By May, and planting time, this will have reduced well and will help the soil to retain water over the growing season.
  • Start the seeds in pots (one seed per 8 cm/3 inch pot) under glass, or on the window ledge, in early May. You can also sow direct at the base of your canes at a depth of 5 cm (2 ins), 22 cm (9 ins) apart in June.
  • Runner beans are not hardy so plant out after all risk of frost in late May or June. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and if frost is forecast protect with fleece or newspapers. Runner beans are most often grown up a double row of sticks/bamboo canes with 45cm (18 ins) between the rows. Canes in the rows are 22cm (9 ins) apart and tied at the top to a horizontal support.
  • It is easier to build a wigwam or 2. Push 2.4 m (8 foot) canes into the soil at 22 cm (9 in) spacing in a circle tied at the top to create a wigwam.
  • Pinch out the growing tip once the plants reach the top of the canes, to encourage bushy growth.
  • Water regularly if the weather is dry and feed occasionally with a liquid tomato feed.

Harvesting Runner Beans

  • Harvest regularly to keep the plants productive and pick before the beans become tough and stringy.
  • You can leave some pods on the plants to ripen and the ripe beans are tasty used in stews and casseroles. You can also save some to use as seed next year.
  • Runner Beans freeze well and there are lots of recipes in which to use them, including chutneys.

Pests and Problems with Runner Beans

  • Generally trouble-free, although young plants are at risk from slugs and pigeons; black fly can be a problem as the plants grow.
  • The plants are not hardy and will be destroyed by frost, or sit sulking if the weather is cold, so don’t plant out too early.

Varieties of Runner Bean

  • There are varieties with pink, white and red flowers.
  • If you want large beans, look for varieties described as ‘stringless’.
  • Some varieties, such as Enorma, tend to produce larger pods.

Squash

For information on growing Squash

Search “C” for Courgette

Sweetcorn

Straight from the plant, sweetcorn is one of the most delicious vegetables for the home grower. It needs a long growing season but the main reasons for failure are overcrowding and under feeding.
It produces masses of tall foliage and is not really suitable for container growing or close spacing.

Sowing and Growing Sweetcorn

  • Sweetcorn needs a lot of nitrogen to provide food for its growth. It requires plenty of space and to be planted in a way that encourages pollination – poor pollination results in patchy development of the corn kernels.
  • Start in late April–early May. Chit (or sprout) the seed first. Lay a sheet of damp kitchen paper in the base of a shallow, lidded container. Place the seeds on the paper and cover with another sheet of damp paper. Pop the lid on the container and put it in a warm, dark place (around 78ºF/20ºC – an airing cupboard is ideal). After three days check to see if any have sprouted, and then check daily. Usually, the seeds will sprout within a day or so of each other.
  • As soon as the seeds have started to sprout, plant them 3 cm (1 inch) deep into multi-purpose compost in 8 cm (3 inch) pots or root trainers. You can also use toilet roll inner tubes filled with compost, but they tend to dry out quickly so will need a daily spray with water if necessary (the tubes are planted out and will rot away in the soil). Water with tepid, not cold water, to avoid shocking the seedlings.
  • Keep the seeds warm (over 50ºF/10ºC). Cover with fleece if cold, particularly at night. Warm the final planting position with a cloche or fleece before planting out.
  • Once the plants are around 10 cm (4 inches) tall, plant out into holes 5 cm (2 inches) deeper than your pots, filling the holes to the soil level of the plants, so that they are sitting in a small depression. If you didn’t manure the soil the preceding winter, sprinkle a little dried blood or sulphate of ammonia around each plant to provide the nitrogen boost they need to get off to a good start. Cover with cloches and leave them on until the plants push them away with their own growth.
  • When the plants reach 60 cm (24 inches), draw soil up around the stem, filling in the depression and a little above. This encourages strong root growth. Keep weed-free.
  • In June apply a liquid feed to boost cob production, either a comfrey feed or a general purpose liquid fertilizer.

The alternative, simpler method of cultivation, standard:

  • Sow directly into the soil mid-May, dropping two seeds in a hole 3 cm (1 inch) deep: if both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one. Cover with a cloche or use clear plastic 2-litre drinks bottles, with the bases removed, over each plant as mini-cloches.
  • If the leaves look yellowish or the plants do not seem to be growing quickly, try a high-nitrogen liquid feed which should effect a fast recovery.
  • Sweetcorn pollinates by wind pollination so the plants need to be planted in blocks not rows. Depending how many plants you have, plant either 3×3, 4×4 and so on allowing 12 inches between plants. Sweetcorn grows to around 6 feet high so either stake with canes or bank up the soil around stem of the plants as they grow to protect from wind damage. Once the plants have formed corns feed with Maxicrop or tomato food.

Harvesting Sweetcorn

  • Its a fine line between under-ripe and over-ripe, when the corn hardens.
  • Sweetcorn is ready to harvest when the tassels hanging from each cob turn brown. Double check by carefully peeling back the leaves and pinching a kernel – if the juice is milky then they are ready to pick. Just twist the cob away from the plant.

Pests and Problems with Sweetcorn

  • Pigeons can be a pest, pulling away the leaves and eating the kernels.
  • Earwigs are partial to sweetcorn. Try stuffing plant pots with hay or shredded paper and placing them in and around the plants. The earwigs will hide in the pots – just shake them out, well away from your vegetable garden.

Varieties of Sweetcorn

  • The ‘super sweet’ F1 varieties are extremely tasty. The ‘tender sweet’ have a less chewy texture.
  • Lark F1 is an excellent variety; Sundance F1 is better for freezing and more reliable if you live in the north.
  • Never inter-mix varieties as they will cross-pollinate, with unpredictable results. If you do grow two varieties, they must be at least 8 metres (27 feet) apart.

Eating Sweetcorn

  • The connoisseur’s advice is to put a pan of water on to boil and then run (not walk!) back to the kitchen with your freshly harvested cobs, since the moment they are picked, the natural sugars begin to turn to starch.
  • However, sweetcorn keeps well for a week or so in the fridge and a glut can be frozen on or off the cob.

Sweet Peppers

Capsicum is another name for both sweet, bell-shaped peppers and hot chilli peppers. In the UK, sweet peppers are normally a greenhouse crop although in a good summer it is possible to grow them outdoors or in pots.

Varieties of Pepper

Please see our range of seeds from Kings Seeds or our plants in the Veg & Herb tunnel.

Pests & problems

  • If watered irregularly, peppers can suffer with blossom end rot.
  • The main pests are aphids and red spidermites. Effective biological controls are available for both. Misting the plants with water helps to deter the spidermites.

Sowing and growing

  • Start seeds under heat in late February–March.
  • Transfer the seedlings to 8 cm (3 inch) pots when large enough to handle, and then into 15 cm (6 inch) pots before moving them to their final home.
  • Peppers can be grown in growbags, 8-10 inch (20-25 cm) pots, or the greenhouse border.
  • The plants are cold sensitive so select a warm, sheltered area for them.
  • Staking growbag and border plants is recommended as they can reach 60 cm (3 feet) and fruit weight could damage the stalks.
  • To encourage fruit set and discourage red spidermite, mist the plants with water once the flowers appear.
  • When the flowers appear, feed with a tomato fertilizer.
  • Harvest July–October.

Harvesting, Eating and Storing

  • The fruits are ready for harvesting once they’ve reached the correct size for their variety.
  • All peppers are green when first formed. The coloured varieties change to yellow or red, or other colours, over the next few weeks on the plant.
  • Peppers will store in the fridge for about a week. They can also be blanched and frozen. Or, they dehydrate very well for use in soups and stews.

Tomatoes

The flavour of home grown tomatoes is unbeatable, no shop bought tomato can ever compete with a thin skinned variety picked fresh and sun warm from the vine.

The most critical thing with growing tomatoes is to keep them fed and watered properly. More than any other crop, they need regular watering and feeding to produce successfully. A great way to improve the moisture/air holding capacity of potting soil is to add Perlite.

Perlite holds both moisture and air, so it is ideal for keeping roots healthy and plants growing at a consistent rate.

Every time water only is applied to the roots from above, nutrients are washed away from the top few inches of soil – where most of the fine, nutrient absorbing roots live!

This is one reason for the success of the Grow Pot and “Ring Culture”.

Plants are fed/watered in the inner ring and watered in the outer ring. This avoids the problem of water only, removing nutrients from around the fine roots close to the stem base.

Using Grow Pots is a great way to optimize a grow bag.

It’s very easy to overfeed tomato plants – especially when they are young seedlings. The problem with feeding young plants is that their roots are very sensitive and may be damaged if fed a solution of feed that is too strong – such as the same strength that a fruiting adult plant would have.

If you use good compost (already containing food) there is very little need to feed until the plant is beginning to fruit – assuming that it has been potted-on with new compost. After about four weeks in a small pot the nutrients in the soil will have been used-up, so extra feeding may be necessary if the plant is not potted into a bigger pot with more potting compost.

Tomato plants that are fed “little and often” generally do better than those that are fed once a fortnight. This is especially true when plants reach their reproductive stage – flowering and fruiting.

Tomato plants have two stages of growth:

  • The growth or vegetative stage – before flowering
  • The reproductive stage – flowering and fruiting

Before Flowering

This is when plants need a balance of nutrients and are normally fed with a general fertiliser. These feeds contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) in more or less equal amounts, plus other nutrients and trace elements.

Before feeding with a fertiliser, take into account the compost that your plants were potted into.

There are already plenty of nutrients in new, multi-purpose and grow bag soil, so feeding is not really needed until the food runs out – usually around three weeks in a small pot and five or six weeks in a grow bag, large pot or container.

After Flowering

This is when plants require tomato food and are fed on a weekly basis.

Tomato fertiliser also contains greater amounts of phosphorus and potassium for flower and fruit growth. However, plants still require a small amount of a wide range of minerals, including nitrogen, in order to develop more trusses and top growth.

Liquid Seaweed Extract is an excellent organic supplement and can be used as a foliar spray to encourage healthy and vigorous growth.

What are fertilisers?

Fertilisers contain concentrated sources of plant nutrients in chemical or organic form. Most contain major plant nutrients, which plants need in relatively large amounts. Some also contain trace elements, which plants only need in tiny amounts.

Most fertilisers are based on the three major plant nutrients:

  • Nitrogen (N): For green leafy growth
  • Phosphorus (P): For healthy root and shoot growth
  • Potassium (K): For flowering, fruiting and general hardiness

All fertilisers should quote their N:P:K ratio on the product packaging. For example, a ratio of 20:20:20 indicates a balanced fertiliser, but a ratio of 10:12:24 would indicate a high potassium fertiliser.

Product choice

There are two main types of fertilisers: inorganic (man-made) and organic (derived from plant or animal).

Inorganic fertilisers: These are synthetic, artificial forms of plant nutrients or naturally occurring mined minerals. Inorganic fertilisers are usually more concentrated and faster acting than organic fertilisers. Examples of inorganic fertilisers include: Growmore, Miracle-Gro, Phostrogen, Sulphate of Ammonia, Sulphate of Potash, and Superphosphate and Tomorite

Organic fertilisers: These are derived from plant or animal sources and contain plant nutrients in organic form. Organic products tend to be slower acting, as large organic molecules have to be broken down by soil organisms before the nutrients within them are released for plant use. Examples of organic fertilisers include: seaweed, fish blood & bone, bone meal, poultry manure pellets.

Types of Tomatoes

Cordon or Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

These tend to be the most popular types, usually tied to a cane or string and the side shoots are removed to ensure the plants energy goes into the fruit rather than foliage. When a number of trusses (The plant stalk that bears the flowers and fruit) are set, the plant is stopped to allow the fruit a chance to ripen before the end of the season. 

Bush or Determinate Tomato Varieties

Bush tomatoes differ in that they do not need side shoots removing and are effectively self stopping. The drawback of this is that they take up more room and are not so suitable for growing in pots. They do not generally require much or any support but the fruits are often in contact with the ground, which means more vulnerable to slugs and other pests. They can, in poor years, leave you with more green and under-developed fruits but you can compensate for this if you can get them off to an early start.

Dwarf Bush or ‘Hanging Basket’ Tomatoes

Unlike the standard determinate varieties of tomato, these are smaller plants usually giving cherry tomatoes and are bred to grow in containers such as hanging baskets. My experience is that they can be very successful.

Tomato Fruit Types

As well as plant types there are quite a number of different tomato fruit types. As a home grower, you can find many different – some weird and wonderful – varieties but the main types of fruit are listed below:

  • Standard – the ‘normal’ tomato, spherical in shape and around an inch to an inch and a half in diameter.
  • Cherry – just a small version of the normal tomato, often marble sized. Often from dwarf bush types.
  • Beefsteak – a large version of the normal tomato. Because of their large size, these tomato varieties take longer to mature and ripen so really do not do well except in a greenhouse.
  • Plum – the firm fleshed oval shaped fruit you find in Italian canned tomatoes. Tend to have been bred to store well as bottled (or canned) and they freeze well. (See Storing the Surplus)
  • Marmande – large irregular shaped tomatoes. Often very tasty.
  • Heirloom Tomatoes (Heritage Tomatoes) These are older and often rare varieites prized for their flavour.

Growing Tomatoes in Pots or Grow Bags in the Greenhouse

The advantage of greenhouse growing tomatoes in pots and grow bags is that the compost is fresh each year. This means that it is free from disease build up and pests. Once the season is over, the spent compost from the pots and grow bags can be used as a soil improver on the plot.

What size pot to use for growing tomatoes?

Basically, the larger the pot the better. The minimum size is a 10” (20cm) pot which holds approximately 10 litres of compost.

Grow bags for Tomatoes

The original concept of the grow bag was excellent. They are convenient, neat and effective. Just make some drainage holes in the bag, cut holes on the top and plant through them. The bag effectively stopped evaporation water loss.

The only drawback was watering. One way to solve this was a variant on the old ring-culture growing method. Another solution was grow bag watering pots. These are inserted into the bag and water easily added through them.

Tomato Side Shoot Removal

To channel the plant’s energy into producing fruit rather than foliage we need to remove the side shoots. These always start in the angle between the leaf and stem, above the leaf.

The earlier they are removed, the less energy is wasted. A job to be done at least once a week. They are easy to miss, so whenever you are watering or feeding your tomatoes, keep an eye out for them and remove.

After the plant is stopped, it reacts by producing more side shoots – so watch out. Be careful not to confuse these shoots with a truss. A truss is the stem that carries the flowers, which turn into tomatoes. These grow from the stem but not from the leaf joint.

Rather than cutting these side shoots off, tear them away. It sounds crude but ripping them away results in better formation of scar tissue and is less likely to bleed or allow disease to get in.

Stopping Tomatoes

As the season draws to a close the plant will not have time to set, grow and ripen more fruits and it is time to stop it. This is usually when the plant has set four or five trusses but with some varieties you can get seven or eight.

A lot depends on when you sowed and planted as well as the speed which the plant grows fruit. Tomatoes range from 50 to 80 days to crop from germination.

How to Stop Tomatoes

You just take the leading (main) shoot at the top and pinch or cut it off. This means all the plant’s energy can be diverted into fruit, which will hopefully mature before the end of the season. Be aware the plant will react to being stopped by trying to form new shoots so you need to increase your vigilance when side-shooting.

Tomato Pests and Diseases – What’s Eating / Killing my Plants?

Although tomatoes are very easy to grow and are very rewarding there is a vast number of pests and diseases that can attack your precious crop.  Fortunately for the amateur gardener, most of these are unlikely to cause a problem as most are easily preventable or simple to treat.

Tomato Diseases

For the home grower, there are some very simple things that can be done to prevent disease in tomatoes.

Avoiding Tomato Diseases

As healthy plants are much more likely to resist disease and other problems, giving your plants the right soil and fertilizer along with regular watering, you will find that you will have a mainly trouble-free time growing your tomatoes.

If growing outdoors keep the plot free of weeds and debris where insects and diseases can flourish.

Rotate crops each year so that soil-borne diseases cannot get established, if growing indoors (e.g. in a greenhouse) change the soil each year.

Keep your gardening tools and equipment clean, this stops the spread of disease (and the tools last longer as well)

Remove any unhealthy leaves as soon as you see them, and remove any unhealthy plants if needed. Do NOT compost any diseased plant or leaves. Do not water the foliage of your plants, as most diseases thrive in damp conditions.

Leaf Mould

This is a fungal infection that attacks the foliage of tomatoes and is extremely common amongst tomatoes grown in greenhouses. You may sometimes see this fungus referred to as Fulvia fulva or Cladosporium fulvum, but it is now known as Mycovellosiella fulva.  The main symptoms of tomato leaf mould are yellow patches on the upper side of the leaves, with a pale, greyish-brown mould (sometimes purplish) on the underside of the infected leaf.  In severe outbreaks, the mould may also be seen on the upper surface of the leaf.  Eventually, the infected leaves will turn brown and shrivel but tend not to drop.  Occasionally the flowers and fruit may be attacked but this is very uncommon, an infected plant will give reduce yield and lack vigour in growth

The tomato leaf mould fungus produces a huge number of microscopic spores on each affected leaf, which can be spread by air currents, insects, hand and clothing.  These spores are resistant to dry conditions can easily overwinter on the surfaces of the greenhouse structure and on any debris left in the greenhouse, the disease develops and spreads rapidly in warm high humidity conditions.  Plants that have had the soil dry out and then soaked tend to suffer more severe attacks.

Leaf Mould – Non-chemical control

By providing plenty of ventilation, especially at night, to reduce the humidity in the air, and only watering in the early morning avoiding getting the leaves wet, will greatly reduce the risk of infection.  Do not let the soil dry out as this will weaken the plants and make them more susceptible to attack.  If at all possible keep the temperature below 21°C (70°F).  In order to increase airflow remove some of the lower leaves once the fruit has set. At the end of the season remove all plant debris and clean the greenhouse structure of a disinfectant such as jeyes fluid (tar oils) always follow the manufactures instructions on usage.

Grey Mould

Grey Mould (Botrytis) affects many plants not just Tomatoes.  It is a fungal disease that thrives in excessively moist conditions, such as in an unventilated greenhouse. The spores are around all the time and are air-borne and infect a plant through a wound, (such as caused by removing the side shoots).  Grey Mould will affect all upper parts of a plant (leaves, stem and fruit).  The symptoms of Grey Mould are patches of grey fur, underneath which the plant tissue rots.  As the infection matures black sclerotia about 2mm across are produced, which fall to the ground and act as a place for the spores to overwinter.

As there are no fungicides are approved for use against grey mould by amateur gardeners,  prevention is the only real way to fight this disease.  So keep the greenhouse well ventilated, do not overcrowd the plants, remove all infected  leaves, fruits or plants immediately.  The use of Jeyes fluid (tar oils) as a soil sterilant may kill the sclerotia as part of winter hygiene in the greenhouse.

Water or Ghost Spot

This is caused by the spores of Grey Mould infecting the fruit and then drying off as the conditions get warmer and drier. It shows as transparent rings on the stems and the fruit and does not cause any real damage.  To prevent it follow the advice above for preventing Grey Mould and also avoid getting water on the setting fruit.

Blight

This is the same as potato blight, so if growing outdoors avoid growing them together or near each other, also avoid growing where potatoes grew the previous year. You are much less likely to get blight on our tomatoes if you grow them in a greenhouse.  Infected plants develop dark brown to black patches on the leaves and may also have brown patches on the green fruit, more mature fruit will decay rapidly.  Destroy all infected plants as soon as you see them.

When wet weather is forecast from June onwards, protectant sprays are advisable, especially for outdoor tomatoes.

Verticullium Wilt

This is a soil-borne fungal disease that affects the roots of the plants, the first signs of infection are the wilting of the top leaves in hot weather and then the lower leaves start to turn yellow.  After a while, the whole plant wilts and becomes permanently limp.  If you cut through the stem just above soil level you will see brown staining in the internal tissues.  There is no cure for infected plants and they should be carefully removed and destroyed, avoiding spreading the infected soil.  So again prevention is the byword here keep weeds under control, keep your boots and tools clean to avoid spreading infected soil.

Stem Rot

This is caused by the fungus didymella, which infects the stem of the plant just above soil level.  The infection normally shows up as dead rotten patches that can girdle the stem.  Infected plants then wilt and die.  If the disease is caught early enough then it may help to spray with captan. although it is probably better to remove and destroy the infected plant.

Tomato Viral Diseases

Any infected plant should be removed and destroyed.  These viral infections cause a wide variety of mosaic patterns and distortions to the leaves, stunted growth and marbling patterns on the fruit.

Spotted Wilt

This is the most serious of the viral diseases affecting tomatoes as it spreads rapidly and can destroy a crop.  The young top leaves of the plant turn brown with concentric rings appearing on them as well. This virus is spread by thrips so controlling these will help to prevent the spread of this virus.

Mosaic Virus

This shows as pale green or yellow mottling on the leaves which may also curl and distort.  Another symptom is that the fruit will fail to set or will have a bronzed patchy appearance.

Enation Mosaic Virus

This virus causes the leaves to be so badly distorted that they will become long thin curled and twisted threads, mainly affecting the leaves at the top of the plant.

Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot shows as a circular patch, varying in colour from greenish-brown to black, at the end of the fruit that had the flower (the end furthest from the plant). As this patch increases in size, it becomes sunken so that the fruit has a flattened appearance at the affected end. The blackened patch varies greatly: in some fruits, it is only 1cm (1/2in) across, while in others it is 2.5cm (1in) or more in diameter.

Blossom end rot is due to a lack of calcium reaching the fruit and the main reason for this is lack of water flow through the plant. Tomatoes that are grown in pots or growbags (where there is limited root space) are more likely to suffer from this, as they are more likely to have the soil around the roots dry out and hence stop the flow of water through the plant.

To avoid this problem keep the soil evenly moist at all times, and during hot days it may need watering two or three times during the day, which is better than one double dose.  Keep the air humidity down by proper ventilation.

Once a fruit has blossom end rot there is no cure for it.

Greenback

The fruits have hard green patches around the stalk which never ripen, this is generally caused by either too much sun, excessively high temperatures and/or a poor feeding regime.

Blotchy ripening

Parts of the fruit remain orange, yellow or pale green and never ripen, it is also known as whitewall, the causes are the same as for greenback.

Split Fruit

This is the result of irregular watering, either a lot of water has been applied after a dry spell in the greenhouse or heavy rain follows a drought outdoors.

Tomato Pests

Moth; The green or pale brown caterpillars of the tomato moth feed on the leaves and fruit causing a lot of damage. Remove the caterpillars by hand.

Eelworm: Both the potato root eelworm and the rootknot eelworm can affect tomato roots, the infected plant will have stunted growth, discoloured leaves and be severely wilted.  Plants infected with eelworms will usually have tiny cream-coloured cysts on the root.

Red Spider Mite: Tomatoes grown under glass are very susceptible to red spider mite. The mites lay their eggs on and feed on the underside of the leaves producing a reddish mottled look. In heavy infestations, you may see fine silk webbing on the plants, and the leaves lose most of their green colour and dry up or fall off. Heavily infested plants are severely weakened and may die.

Whitefly: Whitefly is a common sap-feeding pest, mainly of houseplants and greenhouse plants. Whiteflies excrete a sticky substance (honeydew) on foliage, which allows the growth of sooty moulds. The adult flies, which look like tiny moths, lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves.

Companion Planting