Crop protectors allow you to defend your veg against invaders, but make sure you choose a net that matches your needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve ever despaired at your children’s lack of interest in eating fruit and vegetables, why not try growing some with them? Following the whole process from sowing the seed to harvesting the crop, and then cooking it together, can really make children invest in their labours – they’ll want to taste what they’ve spent all that time growing. WoodBlocX raised beds make the whole project so easy for children to enjoy and the chances are they’ll suddenly discover that they do like carrots after all!
For those with a short attention span, crops that show a quick return are best. Micro-leaves offer the fastest harvest time, as they are just seedlings and can be grown like cress; (remember the cress ‘hair’ in the eggshell heads you probably made when you were a child?) All sorts of salad crops can be grown this way, or even on a piece of damp kitchen towel, such as lettuce leaves, beetroot and radishes.
Full grown radishes also offer a fast turnaround from sowing to harvest, and baby versions of mainstream crops such as carrots and parsnips are harvested sooner, and are often naturally sweeter too. Then it’s time to think about the crops that can be eaten straight from the plant; fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and various tree fruits like apples, plums and cherries are all great choices. Peas can be eaten straight from the pod – or eat the whole pod with mangetout (literally ‘eat-all’). When a vegetable is freshly harvested its natural sugars are at their highest level, and peas can be munched like sweets. New potatoes also offer excitement and learning opportunities – planting one potato results in many more, and digging for the harvest is like digging for buried treasure.
Giving children ownership of their own growing space also means they are more likely to be invested in the outcome. A WoodBlocX raised bed can be a great way to do this – a small contained space, separate from your own flower bed /vegetable beds so there is no chance of precious plants being trodden on. Being raised off the ground also makes it easier for children to reach. If blueberries are a particular favourite, a raised bed is also a great way to introduce the right soil – acidic – for these plants in a neutral or alkaline soil garden.
A strawberry plant in each corner - a central sunflower (for use as a support for a climbing bean plant) - a row of baby carrots - a row of peas - a row of first early (new) potatoes that once out, could be replaced with a pumpkin plant for Halloween (though this will probably trail out of the bed a bit as well).
Alternatively, by going for a slightly deeper bed – 45cm as a minimum, such as the hexagonal 1.55m x 0.925m bed from WoodBlocX – you could go for the lower maintenance option of a fruit tree surrounded by herbs and flowers. Children love to try the different scents on the leaves; mints are great for this, coming in flavours such as strawberry and chocolate. Pineapple sage is another good option, and nasturtiums are a brilliant seed to sow with children as their seeds are large and easy to handle and germinate relatively quickly and reliably.
We all know that our country’s wildlife is getting increasingly put-upon by growing urbanisation and commercial agriculture. So what can we do to help? Well, there are a number of very simple and easy steps to take that will not only lend a hand to the wildlife, but also bring some excitement to our gardens as well.
Bees are increasingly under pressure, so why not plant some good plants for nectar? Often bees get stranded when out looking for food, so providing a little staging post will allow them to recharge their batteries and make it home to the hive. This is especially important in early spring and autumn when the weather is a bit cooler (affecting their energy levels) – so include plants such as primroses, lungwort, asters and sedums, as well as summer flowers such as cosmos and Echinacea.
These are of course just a few suggestions – there are many more flowers suitable for bees. When choosing your plants, keep the bees in mind by going for open flowers. Many of the modern hybrids have double flowers with so many petals that it’s impossible for the bees to get to the nectar in the centre. Daisy types are especially useful, but there’s a list supplied by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that details good plants by type and season (https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/conservation-and-biodiversity/wildlife/rhs_pollinators_plantlist) and look for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ symbol on plant labels.
When planting for butterflies, think ‘landing pad’ – they prefer flower types that have a large, flat top like yarrow and sedums, which give them space to land and drink the nectar. Again, refer to the RHS list for appropriate choices. Finally, if you include some plants that not only provide nectar in the summer, but also seed heads in the winter, you’ll get some bird visitors as well.
With all this going on in the garden, it’s a shame to miss it. Watching wildlife going about its daily business is a great way to relax and forget about the worries of the human world, and so planting in raised beds allows you to get that much closer to the action, without getting muddy or grassy knees!
Alternatively, for a front-row seat, why not add a raised bed with integral seating or a bench with planters at either end? WoodBlocX have a number of kits for both of these options, or you could use their free design service to create a bespoke bed or seat to turn your garden into a wildlife theatre!
WoodBlocX uses only sustainably-sourced timber, and other components are created from recycled materials, so its environmental credentials are already very high making the application of WoodblocX products a safe and superior choice for your garden.
You may have heard gardeners talking about the ‘right plant right place’ principle, but what does it actually mean?
In essence, it refers to working with Mother Nature rather than against her. By looking to a plant’s origins – where in the world it is from, the kind of environment it has evolved to grow in – we can ensure that we give it that same environment in our garden and maximise its chances of success.
For example, if a rosemary plant, which has adapted to free-draining soil and the hot, dry weather of the Mediterranean, was planted in a boggy, cold spot in the garden, it would quickly wither and die. Similarly, if a hosta, whose large, thin leaves are adapted to maximise sunlight absorption in the dappled shade of damp forests was to be planted in a hot, sunny spot, its leaves would scorch and the plant would die. Raised beds are a brilliant way to create the perfect environment for plants that we might not otherwise be able to grow.
The right soil is a crucial component for creating a specific environment, and by using a raised bed, it’s possible to mix together the exact type of soil different plant groups need. Here are some ideas of plants you could grow:
Finally, don’t forget that raised beds can also offer several different soil environments in one bed: by segmenting the bed into different areas, and even different heights, the bed can accommodate separate plant groups in one area, which would never be possible in the open ground. WoodBlocX offer corner beds, rectangular beds and octagonal raised beds in a range of height and size combinations. For example, to create a herb bed to grow the full range of culinary herbs, use the shallowest part for the rosemary, sage and thymes, a deeper area for chives, lovage and lemon balm, which prefer a richer, moister soil, and a separate area for mints, which tend to rampage over other plants and are best contained within their own area.