Archive | Fruit, Vegetables & Herbs

Tips on growing good Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs

Brussels Sprouts Difficulties

Good, firm, mild flavoured Brussels Sprouts are a heavy yielding crop that only need a bit of care and consideration. Here are our top tips.

Correct Growing Techniques

  • F1 seeds will give the best results. It is a case of you get what you pay for. Cheap Brussels Sprouts seeds often lead to open pollinated varieties that fail to justify the time and space utilised.
  • Firm almost packed soil is appreciated by Brussels Sprouts. Draw some soil up around 10″ of the stem in late summer to prevent wind rock or tie plants to a firm stake. Open loose soil encourages blown. ‘fluffy’ sprouts.
  • Wet seasons can lead to foliage loss and leaf disease. Plant 12-18″ apart or wider on an open site to reduce the severity of infection. Water in summer if there is a drought.
  • Where white blister and ringspot diseases are severe choose resistant varieties like Dimitri, Cronus,  & Bosworth.
  • This year I am trying Burbane and Rudolph from Kings seeds.

Pests and Other Problems

  • Whitefly, caterpillars and aphids can be a problem mid season. It is no fun if they get into the buttons. Cold weather cures these problems but failing that I treat plants with a mild insecticide.
  • Yellow fungus infected rotting leaves can’t be treated with any garden approved fungicide. Pull off any affected leaves and bin them.
  • As with other brassicas their is a danger of club root that is best solved by crop rotation into fresh soil improving drainage and adding lime. I have heard of planting the sprouts with a rhubarb leaf as a prophylactic.
  • Frost can be both good and bad. Young plants need to be planted mid summer well after any frost but stalks can stand into winter and are sweeter if frosted first.
  • Old sprouts can have an odor caused by compounds containing sulfur. This may be the cause of sprouts falling out of favour in some kitchens until new varieties were discovered.

Varieties & Variations of Brussels Sprouts

  • Top Eight F1 varieties include  Brendan, Trafalgar, Crispus. Nautic, Bridget, Brodie, Maximus F1 and Hastings.
  • Flower sprouts are the result of crossing a Brussels Sprout and curly Kale resulting in tasty small green and purple sprouts with curly leaves ideal for adding to stir fries.
  • Older varieties of Brussels Sprouts have the best flavour, but it is the modern hybrids which have the ability to hold the small tight buttons for a long time on the stem.
  • Red Brussels Sprouts  deepen in colour as the weather gets colder. Red Bull produces medium sized buttons with an unusual nutty flavour. The colour reverts to green when cooking. Red Ball is hardy and has a long cropping season.

Harvesting Brussels Sprouts

  • Take the buttons from the bottom of the stalk first.
  • Take off blown or flowering sprouts and any yellowing leaves as you go.
  • Cut off the whole stalk and use the sprouts indoors as you need them. They keep better on the stalk.
  • The top of the stalk can be eaten like a small cabbage

Rhubarb All the Talk at a Local Society

RhubarbEarly Spring Rhubarb breaking Through

What Does Rhubarb Mean to You

  • Rhubarb is a vegetable that thinks it is a fruit and has royal pretensions with top varieties called Victoria and Early Albert
  • Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb is an indistinct chant  or none sense word shouted out in an unsynchronised manner at a public event.
  • ‘A rhubarb’ is baseball slang for a fight or argument among players.
  •   “Stop talking rhubarb”. Complete and utter balderdash and b*****s.
  • Stewed or in a pie it is the food of gods. Even raw with the stick end just dipped in a little sugar – gear nosh.
  • Already his year I have had Rhubarb flavoured gin and a special cider flavoured as Rhubarb and custard.
  • According to some ‘Its very name means “food of the barbarians” the people who live beyond the Rha, now the river Volga’.
  • To some less fortunate Rhubarb is a strong purgative.

In Praise of Growing Rhubarb

  • It is one of the earliest crops in the garden.
  • It can be forced into even earlier cropping if kept in the dark with a bit of warmth eg from a straw wrapper in an upturned bucket. The stems will then be thin, blanched pink and juicy.
  • Rhubarb is hardy and if fed and watered will produce for many years.
  • The big leaves are easy to compost. Even though they contain Oxalic acid they do no harm in the compost heap.

Young Stems



A Late sowing of Kale


Here in Oxford, we tried sowing some Kale in the middle of August.

We sowed some directly into pots and as an after thought sowed some directly into the ground.

Going on holiday for two weeks after sowing seeds is always asking for trouble, and by the time we got back they had shriveled up and were only good for the compost heap. However, the seeds sown direct into the ground did quite well. A few got eaten by slugs but a couple grew fast enough to escape their clutches.

The location in the garden wasn’t the best, with shade from Conifer and other trees limited the amount of direct sun, as Autumn progressed, they were lucky to get one hour of sun per day. Yet, despite little direct sunlight, they kept growing and soon started to encroach on each other. We started picking some leaves from the bottom of the plants and got a few meals out of them.

As the nights shortened, growth slowed down almost to a stop and the Kale pests seemed to be taking out more than they were able to grow. I think later damage came from pigeons or the like, it doesn’t look like the work of slugs – too big and neat.

Anyway, they look OK, in the mostly empty border and were a good ground-cover as we await a new fence. The last few straggly plants will be harvested and will make the odd meal or two.

But, for late sowing, they didn’t get enough sunlight to really get going – even the richest soil can’t compensate for lack of light. But, next year, we’ll pick a better spot and hope that they really take off. We may also try a later sowing because Kale is a good plant for providing fresh veg through the winter months. However, we may have to take pest control a bit more seriously which will mean netting to stop both butterflies and pigeons – so maybe not in the flower border.

Here’s a useful post on growing organic Kale.

Related posts at Gardenerstips


Edible Hedges You Can Grow & Pick

Sloes and damsons are in good supply this September in your local hedgerows. I have relied on my own blackberries this year but from the train window yesterday there were masses of plump black fruit for picking.

Forage amongst the book shelves to get a cornucopia of edible wild plant ideas.

Book Cover
You can plant your own edible hedge now until late March which will give you a supply of edible fruit and berries for years to come. Bare rooted plants are very reasonably priced.

Easy Step by Step Hedge

Clear the ground to remove weeds and old roots by digging or using Glyphosphate based weedkiller. Leave for a few weeks.
Pick a frost free day and when ready to plant put bundles of bare rooted plants into a bucket of water to give them a drink.
Mark out the line of the hedgerow bearing in mind you will want two staggered rows of plants. You can put down mulch matting and plant through it if you wish.
You will need 4-5 plants per square yard.
Continue Reading →


Selecting a New Apple Tree

There are over 7000 different varieties of apple tree including those classed as eaters, cookers, crab or cider apples. 10% of these are available from RHS plant finder recommended nurseries.

Horticultural Considerations

  • Your apple tree should last a long time and be fruitful and satisfying. It is worth taking care to get the selection right.
  • The growth and size of your tree will depend to a large extent on the ‘rootstock’. The most common rootstocks are M27 5-6 feet tall, M26 8-12 feet tall and MM106 12-18 feet tall.
  • Some varieties of apple in clay based soil may grow slightly quicker and larger than an apple planted on light, sandy or chalky soil.
  • Most apple trees need another cultivar to pollinate their flowers and set fruit. It must flower at the same time. Triploid trees are very poor pollinators.
  • Some varieties are more disease resistant than others. Seek out award of garden merit AGM varieties or discuss with a specialist nursery.

Personal Selection Criteria

  • Warm country imports from supermarkets often have less flavour than your home grown apples.
  • Autumn apple days are held around the country and can offer a wealth of local advice. Sample tasting may be possible or you can select trusted well known favourites.
  • How you want to grow your tree can affect the selection. A trained espalier tree or cordon grown on a slant, a ballerina tree grown in a large pot or a ‘step over hedge’ tree are currently popular in designer gardens. The choice is yours but plan now for planting later this autumn.
  • Two year old trees will cost more but crop sooner than maidens.


June 17th Potatoes from a Waterbutt

This £1 packet of supermarket potato tubers have just been harvested to cook as new potatoes tonight. The variety was Charlotte, they were chitted in February and planted out in a frost shelter in March.

The results were better than usual in that they didn’t ‘go into the water’ when boiled. The potatoes were quite waxy, tasty and good value considering the price I paid. I used an old waterbutt rather than these special gro’bags see below. They had let me down in the past as I think they do not hold enough moisture. One advantage of both planters is that the ground stays clear and the space can now be used for other items.

I am now going to try use these planters for some late Chrysanthemums that can be kept outside in summer but brought into the greenhouse for autumn.


Long White Radishes

Mild-flavored winter radish usually characterized by fast-growing leaves and a long, white fleshy roots

White Radish (Raphanus sativus) Facts

  • Seeds of the Daikon, Mooli, Japanese or Oriental Radish are  popular for their pure white roots.
  • Generally they have  a crisp mild flavour that won’t go pithy.
  • Fully winter hardy they are best grown for autumn and winter production.
  • Roots can remain in the ground in good condition over a long period.
  • They can be lifted and stored the same as other root crops.
  • They produce best in sun and moist, fertile soil.
  • Radish do not transplant well but you can try using plugs.



  • Long White Icicle is currently on offer from Suttons in support of Cancer Research.
  • 23 varieties of Asian Radish seeds from
  • Or try our link to Thompson & Morgan top right



Mesclun Gardeners Salad from Seed

Mesclun is a name for a traditional melange of salad leaves. The name mesclun doesn’t feature in any of my gardening reference books before 1980 so old gardeners may not recognise the term.

Anything Goes Mixes

  • Traditionally the mixture was a blend of wild and cultivated chicory, as well as lamb’s lettuce and young dandelion leaves.
  • There are regional variations for mesclun, in Provence they use a blend of chervil, arugula, lettuce and endive.
  • One particular  American special ‘Salad Leaf Mesclun Mix is lettuce based on a colourful mix of Red Batavia, Green Batavia, Little Gem, Tango, Red Salad Bowl and Cerbiatta varieties.
  • An Italian equivalent for mesclun is misticanza, Thompson & Morgan’s Misticanza D’Insalate contains: Lettuce Bionda a Foglia Liscia, Bionda a Foglia Riccia, Verde a Foglia Riccia, Meraviglia Delle 4 Stagioni and Biscia Rossa.. seeds
  • A speedy UK mix to be sown all year indoors contains Salad Rocket Victoria, Greek Cress, Mizuna, Mustard Green & Red Frills, Pak Choi Canton White.

How to Grow Mesclun

  • Seeds should be sown thinly outdoors in summer or in an unheated greenhouse during the autumn and winter months.
  • Sow little and often to get continuity
  • Germination is quick and you can start picking within as little as 28 days.
  • Thining out is not necessary or plant out quite close together as leaves are for eating young and fresh.
  • Leaves are tastiest at the baby stage start cutting when  2-3 inches high. Cut and come again in a few weeks.
  • If the weather turns hot many varieties tend to bolt.

Some mixtures include more exotic greens, especially those quite popular in Asian cuisine. One particularly flavorful variety is called mizuma, a delicate-leaved sort that is popular in Japan. Another is the Asian tat-soi, which has rather sweet dark green leaves.


Courgette Fruit Problems


Curcurbits are members of the 965 species gourd family that includes Marrows (Courgettes), Cucumber, Melon, Pumpkin and Squash.  

Courgette Fruiting

Plants produce both male and female flowers. The male flowers grow on a thin erect stem. Female flowers are recognisable because they contain an ovary within a swelling behind the yellow flower. Male flowers grow above the vine with a central stamen containing pollen with which to fertilise the female.

The fruit grows behind the pollinated femail flower eventually sheding the petals. Left to grow the courgette will continue into a marrow sized fruit. Some small varities have now been bred to produce small fruit.

 What can go wrong:

  1. Male flower production will be favoured by low temperatures and or excessive shade. Give plants enough space. Choose a warm sunny position.
  2. At the start of flowering often only male flowers grow. As days lengthen both flowers should be formed.
  3. Fruit only swelling at the neck near the top indicates incomplete pollination due to cold or lack of insect visits. Remove these fruit to avoid end rot and shriveling.
  4. Too many fruit on a plant will encourage shriveling and rotting of fruitletes. Remove all useable fruit as soon as possible.
  5. Fruit allowed to grow to maturity as marrows will switch off the cropping as the reproduction is done.

Pollinating Tips

  • Encourage insects to help move the mature pollen. Avoid insecticides.
  • Wind can help pollination but the flower petals are more designed for insects making a funnel shape .
  • In a greenhouse or cold frame the gardener can remove a male flower and manually transfer the pollen from male to female by tapping the male flower above the ovary.
  • Do not pick male flowers  for hand pollination until the pollen is mature.

Biennial Apple Trees

An apple a day is not possible if you only get an apple every other year and that is the fate of some trees. Biennial bearing or a high crop followed by virtually no crop is not the sort of apple production a gardener needs.

Causes of Erratic Fruiting

  • Some types of apple cultivars are more prone than others to fruiting only in alternative years. Beauty of Bath and Laxton’s Superb naturally tend to fruit biennally.
  • Trees can be tipped into biennial mode by frost when no pollination takes place.
  • No crop, high crop, no crop becomes learnt behaviour
  • Heavy crop during an on year depletes the resources and the tree takes a rest or year out
  • Keeping too much old wood reduces new wood and can lead to biennial bearing.
  • Cropping patterns are internally regulated by the tree.

Solutions to Erratic Apple Bearing

  • Select varieties and pollinators with care.
  • Thin out the flower clusters leaving only 10% of the flowers to shock the tree and modify its behaviour. It may take several seasons.
  • Water your trees and look after them during both years.

Other Comments

  • Apple trees  initiate flower buds for next season’s crop in the current season.
  • An alternation of large and small crops can be caused by competition between the current season’s crop and the coming season’s flower buds.
  • Seed-produced hormones from the developing ovules have an inhibitory effect on flower development. Apple may be prone to this floral inhibition.

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