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Category: Fruit, Vegetables & Herbs

Tips on growing good Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs

Plum Rot and a Rotten Crop

Plum Rot and a Rotten Crop

From this to this 

With clear blue skies and good blossom spring 2019 started so well for my plums. But then many things began to  go wrong. The first disaster was a snap frost that did for my Victoria blossom. Fortunately another variety of plum flowers a bit later, is better sheltered and survived unaffected by frost. That didn’t save the crop from the fungal attack of ‘brown rot’.

More on Plum Problems

  • Plum fruit infected with Monilinia laxa have grey coloured pustules. This fungus can also be responsible for end of stem wilt.
  • Plums infected with Monilinia fructigena have pustules that are buff coloured.
  • It looks like I might be blessed with both fungal infections.
  • Brown rot survives on mummified fruit and small cankers on the tree. It passes quickly on to other fruit in the cluster particularly in moist weather.
  • There is no spray available to gardeners so I will have to improve my hygiene and collect up and burn or bury deeply all infected twigs and fruit.
  • Unhappy with previous years crops I had invested in a new victoria plum tree  and I will hope for more success in years to come.
Small Spaced Kitchen Gardens

Small Spaced Kitchen Gardens

Where space is limited or very limited there are still many ways to create a productive kitchen garden.

Optimising Space for your Kitchen Garden.

  • It seems common sense to plan to use what you have available. That covers layout, sequential growing and innovation.
  • If you have a ‘general’ garden then you can interplant kitchen plants eg herbs with box hedges, colourful veg with annuals and fruit trees instead of conifers.
  • Substitute kitchen garden plants for other plants and features as they did when digging for victory.
  • I grow potatoes in old compost bags and pots on my many paths.
  • Other garden veg can be grown in pots even runner beans. Another plant I am having success with is tumbler (Cherry) tomatoes in smallish pots. The are compact easy to grow and are currently producing lots of small sweet fruit.
  • Chose plants and varieties that grow and mature quickly eg salad, radish courgettes and edible flowers.
  • Herbs can be grown in slender strawberry pots with several opening spaces.

Small Garden Fruit

  • Dwarf rooting stock has opened up the opportunity to grow and pick fruit from  small constrained trees or shrubs.
  • Trained apple, pear or currants can be grown as cordons, espalier or fans against a wall. I have also seen a gooseberry grown this way. ( Cordons are diagonal branches that are only allowed short laters, espaliers are grown with a vertical and one or two level branches forming a cross).
  • Grape vines normally need a lot of space but with rigorous training and the right location you can succeed in a small plot.
  • Soft fruit including strawberries and blue berries are ripe for pot growing.
  • I would always find space for rhubarb but that is due to my ‘pie fetish.’
A Raspberry to Virus

A Raspberry to Virus

A virus has struck my favourite raspberries and the leaves have gone mottled. The light lemon green could have been a sign of magnesium deficiency but that turns out to be wishful thinking on my part. One variety partially effected last year is now in full denial and full of virus (its not just raspberry flu either.)
As can be seen below full symptoms of my raspberry virus are obvious.

  • Browned off leaves
  • Stunted cane growth
  • Minimal fruiting and small berries to boot.
  • Dead or dying plants getting ready to infect other near by plants.

I originally planted 3 varieties at the same time from a fruit tree specialist. ‘Glen Moy’ (Early season summer fruiting) – produced an abundance of firm, medium sized fruits from June to July on virtually spine-free canes, which made harvesting a pleasure (and jam eating ed.)

Raspberry ‘Glen Ample’ (Mid season summer fruiting) gave larger berries and some new canes a fair distance from the parent.

Tulameen was a wash out and most canes died. The supplier replaced them without any fuss but the cropping has remained below par. Not what I hoped for or expected but now I am worried about all my chosen varieties catching the virus.

Raspberry Nutrition


Brambles or Blackberries Is it Just a Name

Brambles or Blackberries Is it Just a Name

It is not a question of which name but Brambles and Blackberries should be thought of together as one is the fruit of the other.Looking carefully at this picture you can see young unopened buds at the top center with some flowers that have been pollinated and begun to show nascent green fruitlets which will turn into blackberries when they swell and ripen.

As with many fruit there is much in the breeding and plant selection and I recommend checking the availability of various selections 

Wild Brambles

  • Hedgerows and uncultivated land can become home to robust plants. They are often treated as weeds as for gardeners they have invasive tendencies.
  • Long stems or branches often overflow on to paths and the thorns or spines can catch the unwary.
  • Plants growing in sunshine can provide a large crop of fruit
  • Bramble jelly used to be made from wild collected blackberries.
  • In my opinion they make a good flavoursome crumble or mix well with apples in a fruit tart.
  • Flowers attract a range of bees and wasps which is essential for pollination.

Growing My Vegetables in Containers

Growing My Vegetables in Containers

Potato sacks

You can grow fresh relatively clean vegetables in containers. This is useful for gardeners with restricted space or where you want vegetables close to the kitchen door.

Selecting Containers

  • Growbags get there name for a good reason. They are the first container to consider for vegetables.
  • Old large plant pots are fine as long as you clean them thoroughly. Disinfect with jeyes fluid in necessary.
  • Your own selection of containers, troughs, window boxes, even old drain pipes may be brought into service.
  • Depth for most crops should be at least 1 foot to avoid watering problems.
  • I use an old dustbin to grow ‘large long’ vegetables – it doesn’t always work but they do attract attention.

Compost or Soil

  • To get good results we recommend using sterilised potting media
  • John Innes No 3 holds nutrient, water and has some weight and body.
  • Proprietary potting compost are equally of use.
  • Good quality loam or garden soil will be fine but may lack nutrient, harbour insects and disease.
  • Mix in 20% of well rotted manure if you wish to grow organically.

Crop Selection

  • Sow Broad Beans from February 6-8″ apart.
  • Round carrots like Nantes and Amsterdam sown from February to June. The pots height can stop or deter carrot root fly.
  • Herbs and salad crops do well in containers. Small lettuce can be sown successively from January
  • Potatoes are my favourite as they come out clean and problem free. You can grow lots of varieties this way. One tuber for every foot of container diameter.
  • Peas with edible pods can be sown from March as can beetroot.

I start a few seed potatoes as soon as they arrive, end January/February. They are just starting to flower so I can pick some fresh tubers anytime from now on. They were in a double container if you count the greenhouse and vertical grow  bag.
I cover with fleece in very cold weather and happily move the pots for protection of the really early spuds. If the crop fails I have only lost a bit of effort and I can get on with full quantities in March.

Early Salad Varieties of Potato

Aim for a waxy texture with your salad potatoes and you will probably get some of the best flavoured spuds you have had in a Salad. Waxy potatoes remain intact after cooking and do not go into the water. Waxy potatoes tend to be Early to crop 75 -95 days. Waxy potatoes lend themselves to growing in large pots, barrels or containers.

Charlotte is resistant to blight and has a good cooked waxy texture.

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Herbs and Herbals

Herbs and Herbals

If you feel Herbie, the plants not the films, then sniff out the comments below:

Herbie the Love Bug
Herbie the Love Bug

Herb & Herbal Groupings

  • Culinary herbs for use in kitchens
  • Medicinal herbs, ancient and modern the basis of many drugs and remedies.
  • Vegetable herbs like onions and garlic.
  • Flowering and decorative herbs.
  • Spices and other plants at home in a herb bed.

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Umbels for Gardens & Ornamentation

Umbels for Gardens & Ornamentation

Umbels are far from humble when grown well. When grown badly like Hemlock they are poisonous, even fatal but many species such as carrots, parsnips and fennel are edible or even medicinal.

Umbels flower in a parasol shape with short stalks of equal length rising from a common point opening to a flat or rounded spray.

Book Cover
Unusual Facts About Umbels

  • A small umbel is called an umbellule
  • Fatsia japonica has a globular umbel reminiscent of a golf ball.
  • Sea Holly (Eryngeum) produces fruirlets rather than seed but is still a member of the umbel group of plants
  • Umbellifers are mostly aromatic flowering plants of the genus Apium such as the celery, carrot or parsley family.
  • Queen Anne’s lace is a development from the common carrot
  • The first ‘Herbal’ describing umbels was credited in a ‘History of Plants’ believed to be written circa 300 BC.
  • Coriander leaves produce ‘ cilantro’ which has strong antibacterial and fungicidal properties that helps kill Salmonella bacteria hence its use in food from hot climates

Herbal Umbels in Medicine

  •  Traditionally many umbelifereous plants have been used in herbal medicine.
  • One recurring use of plants from this group of plant is in treating digestive and stomach problems. Parsley, Dill, Fennel,  and Lovage are well known in this respect
  • Angelica, Wild Celery, Caraway, Coriander, Anise, Cow Parsnip and other plants are used for treatments and  a range of medicinal claims, toothpaste, tisanes and poultices.

Sea Holly                             Hedge Parsley  (Torilis japonica)

Ornamental Umbels and Uses

  • The ferny foliage of umbelliferous plants looks attractive when combined in borders with more robust foliage even before the flowerheads are taken into account.
  • See through backdrops and feathery borders can be included in your own bespoke garden design.
  • I grow Angelica in my border and it is a robust plant that survives our northern climate.
  • Many gardeners already grow Astrantia and Burpleurum a couple of other umbels without thinking of them as part of the carrot group.
  • You could grow a whole bed of Eryngium species including, yuccifolium, alpinum, higanteum and variifolium
  • Pennyworts or Hydrocotyle are useful in water gardens and the harder to find Oxypolis is used in wet land.

Wild Carrot                          Pig Nut (Conopodium majus)

Banana Republic and Musa Review

Banana Republic and Musa Review

Banana hand

I have just finished eating a Fyffes banana grown in Costa Rica. They were certified by the Rainforest Alliance and were sold as ‘Ripe, snack size bananas’ and a very appropriate  name it was. In our fruit bowl we also have ‘organic Fairtrade bananas fro the Dominican Republic cutesy of the EEC at least until brexit by which time they will be well overripe.

This encouraged me to dig out an old post with photos from Kew in 2010. I was in the middle of a series of posts on fruit trees from exotic climes and realise that the Banana didn’t quite fit. Bananas are herbs and do not grow on trees. The stem,  can grow quite tall in some species and is really just matted together leaves.

Therefore I offered some of my photographs to show different varieties of Banana growing in Kew hot house and Madeira.

Kew Red Banana
Red Banana

Musa coccinea Red banana
Very Red Banana Musa coccinea

Commercial Banana plantation

Banana in Flower

Banana plantation
Banana Crop in Madeira

Read these articles for more information.

Banana growing in UK
Exotic Gardens to Visit to see Banana growing in UK

Other Musa Species and Genra

  • Plantains are  a cooking variety of Musa and a member of the banana family
  • Wild banana species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana generally have seeds but cultivated bananas are almost always sterile and seedless
  • Wiki as usual has an authoritative list of Bananas and an explanation of their classification.
  • The false banana or ensete is a member of the Musa genra
Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes

Misshapen tomatoes are a bane this summer and the rot is really setting in early .

Cause of the Problem

  • This is my first attempt at growing beef tomatoes. Did I chose a difficult variety with ‘Marmande’ which I now know is known for it’s different shape.
  • After an early start my plants looked fine until sun shine caught me out. I needed to install greenhouse shading earlier but thought I could rectify and catch up OK.
  • Many leaves curled turned brittle both for me and in my neighbors greenhouse.
  • Water and feed was readily available but not in the right  way to avoid problems.

Action Plan

  • I will settle for fewer plants and cull the worst culprits.
  • I have increased the feed and seaweed nutrients.
  • At the end of the season I will consider not growing these tomatoes again.
  • Our local show has a category for misshaped vegetables – will this fruit be according to classification.

Blossom End Rot

  • Too little calcium is the normal reason for this problem shown below. The strange weather may have contributed this year.

Tomato Husbandry Problems

  • Planting out in the cold will shock the plants and although they may live they wont thrive. Avoid impatience.
  • Inconsistent watering can create problems the most frequent being blossom end rot. Keep soil evenly moist. Ventilate well and water in the evening.
  • Forgetting to pinch out side shoots on cordons cuts down on the size of crop.
  • Tomatoes are heavy feeders – follow the instructions on a high potash, liquid  feed.
  • Over crowding can reduce overall number of tomatoes
  • Poor pollination can be helped by gently tapping open flowers and misting the plants.
Brussels Sprouts Difficulties

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