Gardening Advice

  • Successional Sowing: How to Get The Most From Your Raised Beds

    Sometimes less is more, so whether you have an allotment, a large kitchen garden or just a single raised bed, you should use successional sowing to ensure a steady, regular and appropriate supply of vegetables throughout the growing season, rather than experiencing a glut all at once. Basically, using the principle of little and often, it involves extending your harvest by sowing a row every few weeks or so. Quick growing crops such as French beans, peas, spinach, salads and carrots lend themselves to this way of cultivation. In this way you can ensure a regular, fresh supply of vegetables that otherwise would perish quickly under storage conditions.

    Other varieties that are prone to bolting (growing less leaves and moving into flower and seed production) such as rocket, spinach, broccoli, cilantro, basil, cabbage and lettuce especially need to be sown successionally.

    If you sow the longer fruiting crops such as courgette, cucumbers and runner beans and sweet corn in two batches, spaced a few weeks apart, you can optimise produce availability well into the autumn.

    There are four key methods for successional planting.

    1) Same crop, staggered plantings.

    Here you need to space out your plantings of the same crop, to around every 2-4 weeks, or when the plants from the preceding sowings are well developed, with four true leaves for leafy crops, or are around 5cm (2 inches) high in the case of peas or 10cm tall (four inches) for beans. Many vegetables put all their effort into producing a first flush of produce and then fade throughout the season, giving smaller and weaker yields. By employing a staggered approach, sowing more seeds as the first plants start to fade, you will ensure a regular supply of optimum produce over a longer period. Harvest mature, whole plants once they reach their peak. This will get light, water and space to neighbouring plants and make room for more sowings.

    2) Different vegetables

    Some crops like peas have a short growing season, so the area that they previously took up can be used to grow a later season plant like aubergine.

    3) Shared space

    Many a vegetable can be grown side by side quite well, and may even help to control pests. Try growing quick maturing radishes, which loosen the soil, ready for late sprouting carrots. Plus growing leeks or spring onions next to carrots may help to deter carrot fly. If you are really short of space, why not sow some veggies between your flowers in the borders. There are no rules to say you have to keep them separate and a few lettuce plants can look very good interspersed amongst the flowers

    Variety is the spice of life and if you want to keep a regular supply of salads going throughout summer, choose a range of varieties for continuous cropping. Lettuce ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Red Gem’ variety ‘Dazzle’ and carrot ‘Marion’ are ideal for successional sowing, and the later maturing varieties are also capable of being sown little and often. Once mature, they will also remain in good condition for longer.

     

    If sowing outdoors, sowings can be made every one to four weeks, from mid-April through to late summer. Indoors spring sowing can begin in March.

    Sow seeds thinly, in short rows, and if the seed is very fine, use shallow drills, watered first, prior to sowing. Don’t forget to label your rows, and space apart according to the instructions on the seed packet. By keeping an eye on how well the seeds are growing, you can work out when to re-sow. Don’t forget to keep your plants well-watered.

    WoodBlocX raised beds are ideal for sowing short rows in succession, and make for easier harvesting too. As with any sowing, ensure the soil is well dug in with organic matter (except for carrot sowing, as it makes them fork and grow into weird shapes).

    For the smaller sized wooden planters that WoodBlocX offer, use baby varieties such as carrot ‘Atlas’, an early maturing type that has round smooth roots that can be harvested at 2-3cm diameter. It grows well in any soil and has a good fungal resistance. ‘Baby Beet Action’ is a very sweet and tender variety, which still retains its round shape if sown quite thickly, and they can be harvested when they are about one inch in diameter.

    Wooden planters are also ideal for growing salads on a ‘cut and come again’ basis, harvesting the larger leaves by cutting them as required, leaving the smaller leaves to continue growing for cutting later on. Then sow another crop about three weeks later.

    Some cultivars do not need to be sown successionally, such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes because they produce fruits over a long period, so are hence self-regulating. Similarly, those that store well, like onions and garlic, do not need to be sown successionally either, and neither do varieties that need longer to mature, like sprouts and leeks, which are best left to over-winter in the ground for picking as and when required.

  • Top Tips For Designing Your Dream Garden

    A new garden design – or a new determination to transform your garden – can be a daunting prospect. Caitlin McLaughlin, the RHS Young Designer of the Year 2016, gives us her take on what makes a successful garden design in the above video.

    Below are some tips on things to consider when preparing to design a garden.

    Before you start, spend some time thinking about exactly what you want the garden for. Do you want purely ornamental planting, or productive areas as well? Your plans might have to be amended as you go along to accommodate different circumstances – adding lower maintenance areas for example, or including more veg-growing space because you’ve discovered you enjoy cultivating plants for the kitchen. WoodBlocX can be used to build a wide range of raised bedsplantersseatingedging and even ponds – in a variety of shapes and sizes and all without a power tool in sight.

    Another consideration is how much, if any, lawn do you want – do you need to supply a sports pitch or play area for the children? What about seating and entertaining areas and storage - where’s the lawnmower going to live? Even the most difficult-looking of gardens can be transformed with a bit of thought. A steep slope can be terraced to create a stepped garden with flat beds and paths. Front gardens and courtyard gardens are often neglected, but a few simple beds or some edging can really transform their look and feel. Corner beds are especially good for small urban courtyards – WoodBlocX have single and multi-level options, or you can give them your specifications and receive a free bespoke design.

    After assessing what you want against how much time you will have to look after it, amend your plans as necessary. Once these decisions have been made, then it’s time to design your garden.

  • How to deal with Creeping Buttercup

    The Creeping Buttercup is a low growing perennial weed which prefers wet heavy soils. Creeping Buttercups spread with vigorous creeping stems that run along the ground rooting at intervals with a very fibrous rooting system.

     

    You need to make sure you remove all the fibrous roots as well as the main part of the weed, as this tricky weed will just keep coming back if any is left behind.

  • The Benefits of Crop Protectors

    When we spend so much time helping our carrots, cauliflowers and cucumbers to grow it would be a real waste to let the pigeons get in there for the first bite!

     

    Crop protectors allow you to defend your veg against invaders, but make sure you choose a net that matches your needs.

  • Problem Weeds.. Ground Elder

    Ground Elder can be a real pest, and a tricky one to get rid of when it takes hold of your vegetable patch. But if you follow these quick tips you should be able to banish it from your garden in no time.

     

    The key thing is to make sure you pull out the whole root, not just the plant itself. Each section of the white fibrous root will grow back into another plant, so dig down and make sure all the little pieces are taken out to.

    Then check back to the same area a once or twice a week for the next 4 weeks to make sure no more pop up.

  • How to grow French Beans

     

    Plants don’t get much more productive than French beans. The beans hang so heavy on the plants you’d think the stems would collapse, giving you a plentiful harvest from minimal space in your raised vegetable beds. They are also very attractive, offering various flower and bean colours, so you could even incorporate them into your ornamental beds. Bees love the flowers too! French beans are more versatile in the kitchen than runner beans – you can eat them raw, and they don’t get as stringy – and also have the added advantage that they can be grown as dwarf plants as well as climbers.

    The versatility of French beans in their cultivation, harvesting and consuming is matched only by the versatility of WoodBlocX raised beds in their style, size, shape and height.
    If you have relatively low raised beds, a wigwam of climbing beans is a really pretty way to grow these plants, and once started, they won’t need much attention other than watering and harvesting of the beans. Use six or eight poles tied together at the top – hazel poles are best, but bamboo canes are a fine substitute – and then you’ll have plenty of beans all summer from only about a square metre’s worth of garden space.

    However, if your raised beds are more than a foot or two high dwarf beans will be the best option, unless you have a ladder for picking them! These plants are grown in rows and produce plentiful beans as well, but tend to bear them all in one go (climbers give fewer beans at a time but over a longer period), so successional sowing is the best way to avoid gluts.

    Bean shapes and colours can generally be split into round or flat pods, in green, white/gold or purple, and all combinations of the above. It’s also worth considering growing borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, (‘Lingua di Fuoco 2’ is the best variety) with its beautiful speckled pattern on both pods and beans, which can be left to mature and dry on the plant then stored to make ribollita and other tasty dishes throughout the winter.

    All French beans are tender plants, and will suffer in a frost, so sow them in mid-spring in modules or small pots and only plant out once all risk of frost has passed. Two plants per cane of a wigwam is best, or space dwarf beans around 25cm apart each way (check the seed packet, but remember the soil in raised beds is more productive than the ground, so you can squeeze them a little closer together). You may also want to give dwarf beans the support of a small cane just to keep the beans off the soil surface; tie them in as necessary. Another sowing of dwarf beans in late spring and a final one in early to mid-summer will keep the supply going into autumn.

    Harvest the beans once they are a suitable size but still young and tender by pulling carefully (hold on to the stem as well) or preferably snipping them off the plant. Left too long they will get tougher; and make sure you don’t miss any, as those that are allowed to develop and dry into seeds will send the signal to the plant to stop producing more. You’ll be able to keep picking climbers all summer, and get a couple of harvests per dwarf plant.

    So, the answer to a successful bean harvest is to raise your beans in a WoodBlocX raised bed.
  • Grow your own Strawberries this summer!

     

    Most people who grow their own food will tell you that it is that strawberries – or sometimes tomatoes – are the ‘epiphany’ plants. Once you’ve tasted a home-grown fruit, plucked from the plant at perfect ripeness, warmed by the sun so its natural sugars are at their peak….there is no going back. And if that were not enough to convince you, strawberries are incredibly easy to grow and every year supply you with more baby plants, so once you’ve bought a few, you’ll never need to buy any more again!

    Raised beds are perfect for growing strawberries. The bed can be filled with a compost or manure-rich soil that will give them all the nutrients they need for a bumper harvest. WoodBlocX raised beds will also help you to get one over on Mother Nature…the soil in raised beds warms up faster than the ground in spring, bringing on the plants sooner and allowing for earlier cropping. . Raised beds, in which the ripening berries can dangle over the sides, also help to keep the berries clean and free from their main disease, botrytis (grey mould, see below*) by having better air circulation.

    When your raised bed is ready, put in your strawberry plants in early spring. They are available to buy from garden centres and even supermarkets, usually in packs of four or six plants, but you can also order them online. Buying ‘bare root runners’ is much cheaper, and these are usually supplied in bundles of 10 or 12 plants per variety. These do not have any soil around their roots, and need a soaking overnight before planting straight away so they don’t dry out.

    Plant your strawberry plants so that the point at which the roots turn into shoots (called the ‘crown’) is exactly at soil level. This will ensure the best growth of the plant. Leave about 30cm between plants in a row, and 50-60cm between rows. Keep the soil moist but not wet, always watering the soil not the plants (again to avoid spreading botrytis). Once the fruit appears, you can spread some straw between the plants to help keep them off the soil, but it’s not essential. If they are close enough, putting them over or on the edge of the bed where they will catch the most sun will keep them clean and speed up the ripening process.

    Plant a few different varieties that ripen at different times (early, mid- and late season) to give you good pickings over a long time. Good choices include Honeoye, Cambridge Favourite, Pegasus and Royal Sovereign; but trial several to find your favourites. Only pick a strawberry when it is a deep crimson red all over and you won’t look back!

    After fruiting, the plants will produce long stems with baby plants on them, called runners. Peg down the first baby plant on two-three runners per mother plant, cutting off the rest of the runner. Once it’s rooted into the soil it can be severed from the mother plant and replanted elsewhere or potted up to give away. The mother plant is best replaced every 3-5 years, so by potting up a few runners every year you’ll have a good rolling stock of fresh plants, all for free.

    *Botrytis is a fungal disease that is in the air and easily infects soft fruit. To prevent it taking hold, pick all ripe fruit promptly, cut back dead leaves and stalks and if you see any grey mouldy bits, remove and burn them as quickly as possible.

  • An Introduction to planting Seeds

     

    A seed in an embryonic plant waiting to get out. It's the pleasurable task of the gardener to turn the seed from dormancy into a living thing by providing warmth, light, air and moisture.

    Seeds even have their own food supply to start them off, at least until they can put down roots and draw food and water from the soil.

    Some seeds are quite unfussy about the conditions that trigger them into growth and many weed seeds fall into that category. Others are so sensitive they require a carefully controlled environment to germinate.

    Fortunately, the great majority of flower and vegetable seeds will emerge from their big sleep quite readily, just make sure you follow our tips, and your seeds will be sprouting in no time.

  • How to turn your Raised Beds into Hot Beds

    Our friend Mark Abbott-Compton over at www.learn-how-to-garden.com has put together this great tutorial on how to build your very own Hot Bed using a WoodBlocX Raised Bed. It's a technique that the Victorians popularised throughout the UK many years ago, but is just as effective today!

    Used since Roman times with a cold frame on top, Hot Beds were once quite common as they are an effective way to grow many tender crops. A Hot Bed is also quite ecological because instead of burning fuel or electricity it produces its own heat by fermentation. Victorian gardeners managed to raise almost every sort of exotic crop you can imagine, and continued to use them to grow conventional crops well out of season. A Hot Bed covered with a small glass cover (also called a hotbox) acts like a small version of a hothouse or heated greenhouse.

    A Hot Bed created from a WoodBlocX Raised Bed can revolutionise your own vegetable growing and you could be harvesting salads in March and potatoes in early April. By reviving and modernising this ancient vegetable-growing method with WoodBlocX, you will be able to produce healthy plants that crop at least two months earlier than conventionally grown vegetables.

  • Salads for all seasons from your raised beds

     

    Salad leaves are one of the crops that really do benefit from being home grown. No longer do you need to put up with supermarket salad bags that always seem to have a few soggy, smelly leaves in the bottom, you can pick fresh salad get it almost instantly onto the plate as and when you need it. With a few careful variety choices, and a bit of protection from the cold weather, you can be picking greenery all year round.

    For spring and summer salads you can choose from the wide variety of head lettuce and cut-and-come-again leaves. The former include the small ‘Little Gem’ types, up to butterhead and crispy iceberg varieties. The butterheads and oak leaf lettuces generally provide you a choice between green and red leaves. Good plant choices for home grown lettuce include ‘Red Oak Leaf’ and ‘Buttercrunch’. Sow either in modules for planting out as seedlings, or direct into your raised beds at the spacings specified on the seed packet.

    If you don’t have raised beds then consider installing one. WoodBlocX raised beds are easy to construct and require no heavy lifting or power tools to build. Made from sustainably-sourced wood, our raised garden beds are ideal for growing plants which are destined for the table.

    Cut-and-come-again salads do exactly as described – you cut them and they grow again for a second, sometimes even third and fourth harvest. These seeds should be sprinkled thinly along a shallow drill to give a long line of small leaves, and they should be harvested at this baby leaf stage or they will get overcrowded and run to seed. It’s best to sow them in succession rather than all your rows at once: make an initial sowing in early spring, then once they have germinated, sow a second row and repeat throughout the summer, replacing the earlier rows as they get tired. This ensures you won’t experience a glut. If you’ve got raised beds of around a metre’s width, that’s ideal as a row length.

    The added height of a WoodBlocX bed can also bring well-drained soil to a boggy garden and rooting space to stony ground or even space to grow where there is no soil at all. They can be filled (and easily re-filled) with fresh soil that is free from weed seeds and diseases, and rich in nutrients which is important if you are growing consumables.

    There are plenty of salad mixes available from the seed companies, offering both classic tastes and also those that include spicier, more peppery leaves such as rocket, mizuna and watercress.

    Lettuces (and vegetables and fruit in general) can be planted more intensively in a raised bed enabling the production of bigger harvests from a smaller space. Whatever you’ve sown, be careful to keep the soil around the plants moist at all times, as not only will this mean your lettuce is crisp and tasty (the plant is made of over 90% water after all), but also helps prevent it run to seed in hot weather. If your lettuce does run to seed it is best discarded, as the leaves will be bitter. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails as well – a night-time patrol or using beer traps is the best ways to keep their numbers down organically.

    But salad is not just for summer – it can be for Christmas too! Sown in late summer and autumn, there are whole lettuces such as ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’ and ‘Winter Density’ as well as other leaves (miner’s lettuce is a good one) that will survive the winter. It is best to grow these under the protection of a cloche or tunnel to keep the worst of the cold off and again, keep an eye out for the slugs who like to hide in the folds of tunnel plastic during the day.

    Finally, slugs aside, raised beds can keep plants out of reach of all kinds of household pets, and most importantly as we’re talking lettuce here – rabbits.

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