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It’s healthy, tasty, and looks like little trees- of course it’s broccoli – and it’s a crop that’s missing from many of Britain’s gardens. Despite this, it’s rewarding to grow successfully, and provides a great value staple veg to accompany your more pedestrian potatoes and carrots, as well as being far healthier. Discover more about the benefits of broccoli and the secrets to cultivating this magnificent crop in our guide below.
Growing from seed
Broccoli is best grown from seed in a greenhouse, regularly watered & fed with fertiliser. Plant the developed root balls out into a fertilised allotment with plenty of space between plants, and good level of sun. You’ll also need excellent drainage to prevent the plants developing club root. Broccoli prefers slightly acidic soil and as you continue to feed you plants you’ll want to use a nitrogen-based fertiliser along with their water. As they continue to grow you’ll need to continually space them out until there’s about 30-60cm between each plant, depending on layout (planting in rows requires more space).
Pests pose a big threat to broccoli, and resisting their attempts to feast on your young plants is a big part of cultivating them. Make sure to control the various birds, caterpillars, cabbage root fly, slugs and snails which can seriously damage your young plants & the grown heads if allowed to. Use high quality netting & repellents to deter pests- unfortunately broccoli attracts a wide range of wildlife- if these get access to your broccoli plants, especially when younger, they will wreak havoc. There will be visible damage to leaves and heads if insects can reach your plants, and there’s also the risk of larvae growing around the shallow roots, causing considerable harm and eventually killing your plants.
Your broccoli will be ready to eat once the heads are well developed but the flowers have yet to open. Take the top spears first, before the ones from the sides.
5 surprising broccoli facts:
Whether you’re trying to get your plants through the colder months or giving chilly wildlife a helping hand, you may find yourself heading to the garden. When you do, make sure to keep warm and safe with a good mix of common sense, hot drinks and our winter warmth tips!
The sheds and gardens of Britain won’t have seen much pottering recently- most of us will have been safely hunkering down indoors. But the outdoors sometimes has other plans. From looking after local wildlife to broken guttering to clearing away snow, bad weather sometimes can’t be avoided. When you do venture out, make sure you keep warm to avoid illness or injury as a result of the freezing temperatures.
1.Be warm before you go out
Keeping warm is all about preventing your body’s core temperature from falling too far- it will fall, but the higher it is when you set out, and better you’re insulated against heat loss, the longer before you begin to feel the chill. Before you head outside make sure you’re nice and warm to avoid the chilling effects of cold wind. Keeping warm is actually about retaining heat, so put your jumper, coat and shoes near a radiator. Have a hot cup of tea before heading out. Make sure your coat is done up and your hat’s on before leaving the door. These small things all help retain the heat you built up indoors.
Without getting too scientific, it’s not the clothes themselves that keep you warm: it’s the warm air they trap. Therefore the idea of creating as many pockets of warm air as possible, by layering clothes on top of one another, is now widely seen as better for warmth than one very thick outer layer. In addition, it allows flexibility, taking off one layer without removing too large a part of your own protection from the cold. Advanced modern fabrics are excellent for this sort of careful layering, however wool is an excellent choice, warm but breathable. This reduces sweating, which helps keep you warm but dry- very important in cold weather.
3. Put the kettle on
Regular hot drinks are a great (and delicious) way to boost your body’s temperature. Just holding a warm cup of tea, coffee or cocoa can make a big difference- as well as being a morale booster when working hard in the frost! Of course- most of us won't need reminding of this fact! Regularly topping up from a thermos is a must for everyone outdoors for longer than a few hours.
4. Avoid moisture
There’s nothing worse than being cold…except being cold and wet. Moisture permeates fabric and drops the temperature right down to freezing. Water is far more effective at causing heat loss from the body than air. Warm, waterproof gloves, such as ski gloves, are far better than simple fabric ones that, once wet, will lose all their thermal qualities. Take care as ice may cover puddles which, once disturbed and cracked, might leave an unsuspecting gardener soggy and freezing! If you clothing gets wet, make sure to change it. Similarly, while keeping moving is, of course, a sure way to warm up, building up too much of a sweat can cause your body temperature to drop, as the moisture loses its heat and quickly becomes very cold.
5. Try not to get dirty
This might sound like strange advice for gardening- but contact with soil is by far the fastest way to sap heat from your body. Cold soil is icy and very slow to warm up. Only dig, or handle earth with gloves on- otherwise you’ll quickly feel the nip. Wear suitable shoes that won’t pick up cold earth or freezing mud. And remember to clean any tools you've used, as icy mud can cling on and cause damage to metal or fabric.
6. Wear a hat
Have you heard that most heat leaves your body through the head? This has been debunked as a bit of a myth, however because of the amounts of blood present, it’s true that both the head, face and chest sense temperature changes more sensitively than other body parts, and, if uncovered, you will lose most heat through the head- but only because it's uncovered when other parts are wrapped up warm.
Common sense advice such as this can make a big difference, from preventing muscles & joints seizing up to reducing illness and, of course, helping maximise time spent keeping your garden from lapsing into frost-ravaged tundra come spring.
Even seasoned gardeners would rather turn out a prizewinning peony or a mammoth marrow than attempt the humble mushroom: it’s time to rediscover the joy of growing one of the UK’s forgotten native crops.
From morels to lion’s mane, the world of mushrooms is a dazzling array of variety, with exotic and delicious species easily cultivated in even very restricted spaces. The UK has arguably the greatest variety of native mushrooms, yet in stark comparison sit the figures for our consumption: we have one of the least developed diets for fungus in the world- rarely venturing beyond a shitake in our takeaway, or a portabella in a gastropub burger. Unlike our European cousins, we tend to view the ‘fruits of the forest floor’ with suspicion. This is probably due in part to the many poisonous wild varieties that prosper in the UK, which along with a decline in free-growing forests, lack of accessible woodland, and unwelcoming, industrialised rural landscapes, all of which have contributed to the almost complete decline of the foraging that is a staple family activity in Scandinavia, Eastern & Southern Europe. Yet while we’ve fallen out of love with the edible wild mushroom, there remains a world of home-grown fine dining easily within reach of the least experienced gardener.
Because they favour dark & damp environments, mushrooms make a great crop to plant out in otherwise underused parts of the garden, or can be cultivated succesfully indoors.
Two of the strange and surprising ways you can cultivate mushrooms at home:
The ‘under the sink’ method
It might sound hard to believe, but that old copy of the yellow pages can be the perfect growing medium for your mushrooms! A wet book in a carrier bag, exposed to spores, begins to develop a good covering of ‘fur’- which can then be activated by exposure to cold- say a few hours in the fridge.
You will need:
Method: Soak (but don’t saturate) your book throughout with hot water. Allow it to cool, then sprinkle with spores (available in packets) to thoroughly cover the inside. Place the book in a medium temperature (about 20 degrees) dark space, such as under the sink, and leave for a few weeks. In a month or so the book will be covered in fuzz- ready to produce mushrooms. Next you need to activate the mycelium, which means altering the temperature: a weekend in the fridge will be enough to ‘shock’ them into production. Allow plenty of air to get into the bag, and water regularly. You should start to see mushrooms growing within a few days.
Tip: a book is a great, compact way to get started, however if you want to increase your yield, straw can provide an ideal growing medium for larger mushrooms.
The dowel ‘outdoor’ method
You will need:
Some fungi favour wood for their nutrients, and wood chips or logs can be perfect mushroom growers. Drill a dowel into a log, inoculate with spores, then water and cover with plastic. Alternatively create or buy hollow pegs cut with dowels and inseert them into wood chip mulch. Remember to keep damp, dark and covered. Logs containing dowels should be kept out of the sun, off the ground and as shaded as possible- many growers prefer to stack their logs to ensure plenty of dark spaces for mushrooms to grow. It will take up to 18 months for mushroom spores to fully colonise a log, after which it can be moved to an area with slightly more (ideally spotted rather than consistent) sunlight.
Whatever gardening project you’re undertaking, check out our range of top quality composts, soil improvers and other fertility-boosting garden helpers to make sure your plants get off to the best start in 2018. Our shop has everything you need, from mushroom compost & manure for sale, to John Innes compost delivered, so why not check it out today!
Many gardeners seek to expand the variety in their gardens, and a great way to do this is through cuttings. Free, easy and low effort, it’s the perfect technique to share plants with friends, and to spread the enjoyment of beautiful plants between gardens and gardeners. It’s not just about saving money: just like growing from seed, there’s a real pleasure that comes from raising a plant from a cutting. The process of growing a more developed cutting means a faster result that from seed. However, despite the obvious benefits, there are those who avoid it. Taking cuttings is as easy as snipping some scissors: but then growing the full plant from the cutting you’ve taken is a challenge. Here’s our guide to producing a healthy, flourishing plant from the cutting you’ve taken.
Taking a successful cutting is all about ensuring you give your new plant the best possible chance. There are lots of decisions you can make to ensure your plant prospers, and there are real differences in the smallest of factors. The season, time of day and location of the cutting you take all play an important role.
The time of the season is important when taking a cutting. This is because you need to ensure your cutting grows its own roots prior to shoots appearing in spring. The best point in the year to remove a cutting will depend on the species of plant. Early spring is ideal for taking softwood cuttings from flowers. Herbs and berry plants should be trimmed later, in mid or late summer, while cuttings from trees and more mature plants should be taken later, in the Autumn. All cuttings are best taken early in the morning, while the plant is still strong from a night of rest and moisture absorption. Bear in mind that younger plants root more easily that older plants.
Your cuttings will flourish with the right care, and it’s vital they get into the conditions they need in time. Trimming part of a plant allows only a fairly small window of time before the part you’re hoping to cultivate begins to wilt. You should refrigerate your cutting to slow decomposition, yet if you’re prepared and in a good position to plant your cuttings straight away, you’ll be able to give your garden’s new addition the best possible chance of prospering. Some vital materials to keep on standby for your cuttings search include:
The most effective type of cutting you can take is a nodal cutting- this is a cutting taken from an area between nodes, or leafs, shoots or buds, areas that tend to build up the nutrients you need to promote root growth.
Take a straight cut from a part of the stem not too brittle or too bendy- as this is likely to be the area of the stem with the best balance of carbohydrates and nitrogen.
When the time comes to take your cutting, cut 6-8 inches of plant and remove leafs from the bottom half of its length before planting into a few inches of rooting medium. Keep it in the greenhouse, under a cloche or indoors in a plastic bag (warm but out of direct, strong sunlight, ensuring to allow it to air regularly) to ensure it grows strong enough to put down roots as desired.
Keeping your cutting healthy as it grows new roots means it needs the right feed, but it’s not regular fertiliser but rooting hormone that’s required. As with all plants, it’s not simply a question of volume: quality is equally important. Overfeeding your plant on nitrogen for instance will weaken the cutting. Similarly, you need to be careful what you plant your cutting in: soil will contain bacteria that can harm the fragile cutting. Using specialist rooting medium is the best way to ensure you get healthy root growth. Your cutting should be kept warm and well fed until its roots grow and it can be moved into a normal pot. Take care not to shock or damage the delicate cutting, and remove any damaged or dying material from the stem as often as you can.
After you’ve planted your cutting in rooting medium, it should take 3-4 weeks for your stem to produce roots. At this point you can move it on to potting out in special potting compost.
Whatever your gardening projects in 2018, we stock everything you need to help your plants prosper in our shop. All our products are rigorously tested on our farm, and we provide great value for money by delivering everything straight to your garden!
If you’re looking for compost for your acid-lovers, remember to check out our shop for great deals on bulk ericaceous compost as well as a range of other specialist compost, topsoils, supplies and more!
We love to see ericaceous plants- nothing stands out like the famously fashionable ericaceous acer or lights up a garden like an azalea. While we here at The Compost Shop have conditioning the soil for your ericaceous plants covered, there’s still a lot to know about these plants. So if you yearn for a striking Japanese maple, a rustic heather or a delicate rhododendron in your garden, read on and discover a whole new dimension to your gardening.
A (non-exhaustive!) list of ericaceous compost questions
The name comes from Ericaceae, the name for heathers. These are classic acid-loving plants, and can create striking boundaries in your borders. Among this huge & diverse family are some surprising heathers, including some you definitely don’t picture on the typical rolling ‘heathland’- cranberry, blueberry, rhododendrons and azaleas.
It’s possible, if you mix your compost in with other compost or even lime (to neutralise the pH) and avoid using it for very chalk-loving plants. However the effort would be extensive and the results possibly unreliable. Ultimately compost stores well if kept correctly, so it would be advisable to use the correct compost as far as possible, and keep your erinaceous supply for the plants that benefit from it the most.
This is an important question. Using a map such as this one, from Cranfield University, can help, as can surveying the types and health of the plants that grow in your garden already. However the best way to be certain is through a reliable soil pH testing kit bought from a reputable supplier. This should give you a definite picture of your soil condition and if you conduct all three of these steps you’ll be in a good position to judge your soil condition accurately.
This would not happen naturally, however there are ways in which humans can adjust the profile of patches of soil to grow particular plants- at the simplest, most localised end of the scale is using something like ericaceous compost to plant a small shrub in a pot or pocket in the ground. On the other end of the scale is perhaps widespread liming of the soil by farms, or adding minerals or chemicals to adjust pH in favour of certain crops. Indeed, over 50 years the government of the Cerrado region of Brazil transformed their agriculture thanks to up to 25 million tonnes of lime per year being spread on fields, boosting soybean production to feed cattle and export.
Many plants show symptoms of poor growth when planted in the wrong soil: the minerals in the soil obstruct healthy uptake of nutrients. Unhealthy, yellow-colour leaves, weak growth and poor root development will make it clear your plants aren’t doing as well as they could. Many people misinterpret these as symptoms of disease, which can unfortunately lead to the same mistakes being made over and over again.
If you have any more questions about ericaceous compost, or the ways in which it can benefit your garden, speak to our team or check out our ericaceous compost information page.
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