growing guide

  • Winter WoodBlocX getting you ready for spring

    In the south, there have been very few really hard frosts, so even some tender bedding plants like geraniums have survived and it means that many of the bugs and other nasties are also thriving! So now is the time to go slug and snail hunting and dispose of them! Really we do need a good old cold snap to freshen things up.

    The constant damp and heavy recent rainfall is not good for the garden, resulting in waterlogged muddy beds that are difficult to work. So stick to ordering seeds, maintaining your garden, re-edging borders, pruning fruit trees, clearing out the potting shed and repairing your equipment ready for upcoming spring activity!

    Maybe this year you should think about a “No-Dig” system for your veggie patch or  raised beds? It is a low maintenance system, ideal for organic enthusiasts and if combined with a WoodBlocXraised bed, will make growing your own veg easier and less of a chore!

    Basically you remove any surface weeds and dig out perennials (in Autumn) then simply spread a generous quantity of well rotted manure or home made compost, on top of the raised bed (at least 4 inches deep) and leave it to nature. The mulch over the surface helps to keep the soil warm and, therefore, the worms active, drawing the compost into the ground. Later on, when you are watering your raised bed crops, you will find that on an un-dug bed it is easier because it soaks away through this organic matter whilst a bed that has been dug often has a surface that will smear and cause run-off.

    Apart from maybe sowing some shallots, radish, carrots and parsnips under cloches, you are better to wait til the end of February before sowing any seeds, as despite the unseasonably warm weather, low light levels will suppress growth. Carrot Marion is a good Nantes variety which is suitable for all year growing. Towards the end of Feb you can sow early salad crops in the green house and peas and broad beans without heat, but under cover. One of the oldest and most nutritious of all cultivated vegetables, hundreds of years ago broad beans provided protein in a meat poor diet! Try Sciabola Verde or Red Epicure (both from Marshalls-seeds.co.uk)

    Grow Your Own Anywhere!
    Whilst you are planning what new vegetable seeds to order from the catalogues, why not try growing some Dwarf French beans in a WoodBlocX planter? Maxi is a good variety to try and also new White Aubergine- Ivory (what else!) is another crop that can be successfully grown in a planter.

    Have a look at the various WoodBlocX planter options and see how you can create your own small kitchen garden anywhere.

  • Planting Late Summer Seeds… Choi Sum

    There are a whole range of remarkably cold hardy oriental greens. They are ideal to keep your plot going through the depths of winter, particularly if you don't have the space or time for traditional winter veg like brussels.

    Many are good both in salads and cooked - try Pak Choi, Mizuna, Chinese Cabbage, Mibuna, Tatsoi and Mispoona, all of which can be sown from the end of June through to end September (you can keep on sowing through into the winter if you have a polytunnel on you raised bed to).

    Choi Sum (Brassica parachinensis) is a member of the Mustard family is also referred to as a flowering pak choy or choy sum. Its green leaves are juicy and tender. If allowed to mature and bolt, yellow flowers will shoot and the plant becomes sweeter and more succulent. The whole plant is edible, which is why we are such a fan!

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Top Tips for Gardening with Children at School

     

    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.

    In a 90cm by 90cm square bed, such as those available from WoodBlocX, there would be space for the following

    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.

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