BritishVeg Round-up

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#BritishVeg round-up 18th June – Herbs

#BritishVeg hour was all about herbs this week – and it turned out to be a very popular topic… although reading the round-up it may sound as though #BritishVeg was turning into #BritishIceCream hour.

Herbs are easy to grow, useful and many are ornamental too. You don’t even need a garden to grow them – lots of herbs will be quite happy in a pot or windowbox.

The discussion started with soft herbs – that’s basil, parsley, coriander and the like…

When growing from seed, sowing into modules was preferred by some, but others like to direct sow into prepared ground for herbs like parsley, chervil, coriander and dill. Successional sowing through spring and summer is good for a regular supply – although you should be able to get a few harvests from each plant. Making regular sowings also works well for leafy herbs that tend to bolt in warm weather.

And these were some of the soft herbs that #BritishVeg growers like –

Coriander – ‘Leisure’ is a popular variety for leaf production because it’s slower to bolt than others. Most people said they had no problems getting seed to germinate, but a tip for easier germination is to try semi-crushing the seed.

Parsley – can be very slow to germinate (the story is that it has to travel down to hell to pay its respects to the devil before it will germinate), for the best chance of success you’ll need fresh seed, a bit of heat and a lot of patience. If started off indoors with a heated propagator, parsley should germinate in a couple of weeks at this time of year. Direct sown outdoors it will be nearer to three weeks. Italian giant was recommended as a flat leaf variety. The curled leaf parsley overwinters better outdoors, but flat leaf will be fine with some protection.

Basil – ‘Sweet Genovese’ was a favourite variety. Purple leaved varieties were not so popular – pretty plants but the leaves can have quite an astringent flavour. Mammoth leaf, Greek (with small leaves and plenty of flavour) also got a mention. Basil is another herb to start off in modules before planting in a greenhouse or polytunnel (or pots on a sunny windowsill). It likes damp, deep, rich soil –given the right conditions a single plant can get quite big and will produce just as many, if not more, leaves than the pots containing lots of seedlings from the supermarket. Basil makes a good ice cream.

Chives and garlic chives – both are worth growing for leaves and edible flowers. Add the flowers to salads and omelettes. Bees love the flowers too.

Fennel – a herb that gets very big, but is ornamental and useful in the kitchen. Fennel pollen is popular in restaurants, it has great flavour and is easily collected by knocking it off the flowers into a bag before the pollen beetles get to it.

Celery leaf – grown for its celery flavour, cut when about 15cm tall or bigger

Lemon balm – easy and reliable, use to make a tasty ice cream

Borage – the leaves have a lovely cucumber flavour and the edible flowers are very pretty. Steam the leaves then pan fry in olive oil

Mint – lots of different varieties of mint available. Moroccan was a favourite, it’s compact, doesn’t suffer from mildew and has a good flavour. But then there is Florence, Chocolate, Basil, Black, Apple, Ginger, Spearmint, Pineapple and lime mint. Chocolate mint is good with vanilla ice cream – chop the leaves finely and sprinkle them over.

Then we moved onto woody herbs…

Rosemary – some people are seeing dieback on older plants this year, particularly ginger rosemary

Lemon verbena – a handful of leaves make a lovely cup of tea, and are good for flavouring cakes too

Thyme – common thyme was generally thought to be best for everyday cooking, lemon thyme also good but not so hardy. Use with potatoes and chicken, and add the flowers to salads. Lemon thyme can be added to a persillade, and citrus thymes are good for flavouring ice cream

Hyssop and bergamot – both very reliable

Greek oregano – a good form to grow for cooking with

The hour finished up with a list of herbs we wouldn’t want to be without in the garden. So here, in no particular order, are some herbs you might want to try growing – parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, coriander, basil, tarragon, chives, garlic chives, dill, fennel, wild garlic, mint, savory, bergamot and lemon verbena.

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#BritishVeg round up 11th June – Beans and compost

Growing beans and making compost were the two subjects up for discussion this week, with both topics generating a lot of interest.

Beans
Beans are generally easy to grow vegetables – give them good soil and plenty of sun, and you should do well. Although slugs and mice can make things difficult early on (more on this later…)

Favourite varieties were –
Climbing French beans:
‘Sultana’ – a pencil podded variety, good flavour and stringless
‘Cobra’ – good tasting, regular, straight beans and prolific
‘Blue lake’ – prolific and long cropping
‘Hunter’ – waxy, flat variety with good flavour
‘Neckargold’ – yellow beans
Bush beans:
‘Cupidon’ – long cropping and good flavour, available from Real Seeds
Runner beans:‘Enorma’ – early cropping, with good flavour
‘Red rum’ – reliable and heavy cropping (tastes good too)
‘Scarlet emperor’ – a heritage variety that’s still very popular, so it must be good
‘Polestar’ – stringless and tasty
Borlotti beans:
‘Lamon’ – the best for flavour, can be used fresh or dried

Cultivation
If there’s time, you can dig bean trenches in winter and fill with compostable waste (uncooked kitchen waste only, to make it less of an attraction for rats), before covering with soil and planting into them. If you missed out on the winter trench digging, adding lots of well rotted compost to the soil before planting is good.
For support the traditional canes are bamboo or hazel. But whatever you can get hold of will work, as long as it is tall enough.
Mulch the bean plants with grass clippings to keep moisture in – recommended by allotment growers.
Mice can be a problem, eating the bean seeds before or as they germinate. Try sowing into modules and putting them somewhere out of reach of mice. Soaking the seeds in paraffin is the old way to make them unpalatable to mice, but seaweed solution was also recommended for soaking the beans before sowing. Sowing in modules or pots also means you can get the bean plants to a decent size before planting out so that they stand some chance against slug damage.

Real Seeds were recommended as a supplier of bean seeds – they have a small range, but the seeds are reliable.

Compost
Perfect, crumbly compost is what every gardener is aiming for, and to get the best you need a good mix of carbon and nitrogen. Nitrogen comes from things like grass clippings and other green garden waste, carbon from straw, cardboard and wood shavings.

It’s best not to add anything that’s cooked or meat based if you are worried about attracting rats. On the other hand, you can add nettles, bracken, yarrow and comfrey – most weeds really, just avoid those with roots that will continue to grow and don’t add weed seeds. Cardboard, egg boxes (the cardboard type) and loo roll tubes can all be put on the compost heap to add carbon.

Nettles and comfrey are good for adding extra nitrogen if needed. In fact, the general consensus was that every garden should have a comfrey patch. As well as being good for adding to compost, the bees love the flowers, the leaves can be cut finely and use as a mulch or steeped in water to make comfrey tea for a liquid feed. Unless you have unlimited space or are looking for a garden entirely filled with comfrey, it’s best to plant the variety ‘Bocking 14’ which doesn’t set seed.

Alternatives to a compost heap
Worm bins are good way to compost small amounts of kitchen waste. They’re easy to maintain, and you get compost and liquid feed from them.
A Bokashi bin is a Japanese system of composting. Good for getting rid of meat or cooked waste that can’t be added directly to the compost heap, and for those with limited space for composting. The resulting mixture can be fed to worms, added to the heap or put straight on the soil. The bins do need some management – inoculated bran is sprinkled over the waste as it is added.
Tumbler bins are great for rapid compost production. Add 1/3 brown to 2/3 green material, and you can get compost in just 4 weeks during the summer.

And finally, if you’re looking for a good, compost-related read – Clare Foster’s book ‘Compost’ was recommended.

It’s been great to see the number of people joining in with #BritishVeg hour growing over the weeks. And if you’ve missed it so far, it’s not too late to come along… just follow #BritishVeg on Twitter, Tuesday evenings 8-9pm.


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#BritishVeg round up 4th June – Peas and Sweetcorn

This week in #BritishVeg hour it was the turn of two vegetables really worth growing at home, because the flavour is just so much better anything from the shops. But in both cases you need to be quick from plot to pan – the sugars start to break down as soon as you harvest, and the best flavour comes from eating them as soon as possible.

Peas
The first question covered was whether to grow bush or climbing peas. Climbing peas have a longer season and better flavour. These varieties are not grown commercially because they can’t all be harvested at once, but they are perfect for home growers.

Favourite varieties among the #BritishVeg growers were –
‘Telefono’ – a climbing pea growing to 5-6′ in height. Large pods, lots of peas and an excellent flavour
‘Kelvedon Wonder’ – a good early variety
‘Meteor’ – another early variety, good for growning in containers or in the ground
‘Waverex’ – compact and bushy petit pois variety, producing lots of sweet-tasting peas
‘Desiree’ – a purple podded pea, an attractive plant but the peas themselves weren’t great
‘Carouby de Mausanne’ – mange tout, appreciates 3-4′ of support, need to keep an eye on it and harvest the pods young because they grow quickly
‘Shiraz’ – mange tout with purple pods, best eaten raw or lightly steamed to keep the colour
‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ – a sugar snap pea with good flavour

Peas can be grown in the ground, in tubs and in bags –rich, moisture retentive soil is what they need. If you’re organised enough, making a pea trench in the winter is good for growing in dry years, helps to prevent mildew becoming a problem
Successional sowings give a more even harvest, rather than a single glut. And it’s not too late to sow for a crop this year.

Pests affecting peas include the pea moth, which lays its eggs on the flowering pea plants. The caterpillars then eat the peas inside the pods. Pea weevil can also be a problem – the larvae live in the soil and feed on the root nodules, while the adults eat the edges of the leaves. But this is rarely a serious problem, and a spray with garlic solution every 3 days when the plants are flowering helps.

Sweetcorn
This is a vegetable that really does need warm weather before it is planted out (min 10C night time temperature). But it can be grown in large tubs under cover for an early harvest (shake the plants every day when in flower to ensure good pollination).

Some of the new varieties, like ‘Seville’, are more cold tolerant. These might be a good choice for growers in northern areas.

While peas need to be eaten soon after harvest, sweetcorn is at its best immediately after it is picked. This is true of baby corn too, which tastes far better home grown than from the supermarket– similar to the difference in taste between freshly harvested and shop bought asparagus. ‘Minipop’ is the variety to choose for baby corn – very reliable.

You can also grow your own popcorn. Variety wise – ‘Strawberry’ is good, ‘Britpop’ reported to sometimes not pop.

If you missed #BritishVeg hour but have a question, suggestion or growing tip, you can leave a comment here on the blog.
And you can always join in next week – Tuesday, 8-9pm on Twitter.


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#BritishVeg round up 28th May – Carrots & Beetroot

Two easy to grow root vegetables were the subjects of this weeks #BritishVeg hour.

Carrots

Carrots were generally thought to be well worth growing because they taste so much better freshly pulled from the garden rather than pre-wrapped and of uncertain age from the supermarket.  It’s all to do with the natural sugars in the carrot breaking down to form starches after harvest – fresh is best.

Favourite varieties were –

‘Resistafly’ – because it shows some resistance to root fly attack

‘Paris market’ – a short rooted variety – good in containers

‘Autumn king’ – one of the best maincrop varieties

‘Chantenay red core’ – old variety with very good flavour

‘Sugarsnax’ – sweet and early maturing

And for a bit of variety in colour – ‘Atomic red’, ‘Cosmic purple’, ‘Solar yellow’

Carrots are a good crop to grow in containers – this way they can also be started off early in a greenhouse or polytunnel for an earlier harvest.  Containers are also a good option for gardeners with heavy clay soils, which carrots don’t like.

It is possible to start carrots off in modules – just need to take care when transplanting, and do it before the root reaches the bottom of the module.  Short rooted varieties are easier in this respect.

Pests & Diseases

You can’t really have a discussion of carrot growing without talking about carrot fly… just about everyone who has grown carrots will have come across the rusty brown tunnels eaten out of the root by the fly larvae.  Possible solutions generally involve barriers to prevent the fly reaching the crop, or growing another plant with a strong scent close by to disguise the scent of the carrots (the female flies use the scent to find them and lay her eggs).  Covering the crop with fleece or enviromesh keeps the fly off the carrots, but the cover needs to be put in place as soon as the seeds are sown.  Suggestions for strongly scented plants to grow with carrots included onions and coriander.  Another idea was to water the carrots with a garlic solution whenever they are touched.

Slugs can also be a problem.

 

Beetroot

The variety recommended by just about everyone was ‘Boltardy’, a good reliable beetroot.

Also mentioned were ‘Chioggia’, which has a nice striped effect to the root, and the golden beetroot ‘Burpees golden’, which has good colour and doesn’t ‘bleed’ the way red varieties do, but may not be so sweet and juicy.

Beetroot are easy to start in modules.  You just need to remember that each seed is in fact a cluster of seeds, so you may well get more than one root from each seed.

And you don’t need to grow beetroot just for the roots – it’s a very versatile vegetable that can be used as microgreens, baby leaf, baby veg, edible leaves, small roots in salads (grated beetroot and carrot mixed is lovely), or larger roots for roasting.

Beetroot stores well too, and will keep all winter if kept moist and frost free in containers.

Pests and diseases seem to be less of a problem with beetroot than carrots.  Plants may get holes in leaves – possibly caused by flea beetle.  This isn’t really a problem, although it may slow growth a little, and if growing for leaves it can look unsightly.

Next Tuesday it’s peas and sweetcorn up for discussion.  Join us between 8-9pm on Twitter using #BritishVeg.


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#BritishVeg round up 21st May – Salads, leafy vegetables & microgreens

Need some ideas of which lettuces to grow this year, or which leafy veg can add variety and flavour to summer salads?  Then look no further – this week’s #BritishVeg hour has it covered…

Lettuces

There are so many lettuce varieties available it can be difficult to pick just one or two, but highly recommended are –

‘Little gem’ – a small cos variety with a good flavour

‘Green Salad Bowl’ – a good variety for sowing thickly to produce baby leaves, it can be harvested as cut and come again leaves

‘Lollo rosso’ – the crinkled, red leaves add colour to salads

‘Black Seeded Simpson’ – crunchy, tasty and hardy enough to grow as a winter lettuce

Other salad leaves

Then to add some colour, texture and different flavours, why not try growing –

Rocket – peppery flavour, easy to grow, although it tends to bolt in warm weather

Lamb’s lettuce – mild flavoured, and a good leaf for winter salads

Mustards, pak choi and other oriental leaves – easy to grow, add variety of flavour and texture.  Sow thickly and pick as baby leaves.  These leaves seem to be less attractive to slugs

Chard – why isn’t this vegetable more popular?  It has a long harvest season, the young leaves can be picked for salads, and larger leaves cooked and used as you would spinach.  The range of stem colours adds to visual appeal of salads.  It’s also good in soups, risottos and lentil dishes

Bull’s blood beet – good in a mixed leaf salad, has a nice ‘earthy’ flavour

Strawberry spinach – leaves can be eaten like spinach

Amaranth, perilla and golden purslane to add variety to a salad mix

Borage leaves – hairy but edible (they have a slight cucumber flavour).  Use in a salad or steam them then fry in olive oil

Spinach – recommended varieties were ‘Missouri’, which is high yielding, has good sized leaves and will overwinter undercover, and ‘Mikado’, slow to bolt and should be good for summer growing.  Perpetual spinach is also good for summer harvests

Pea shoots – another easy to grow veg.  Sow peas thickly into compost in pots or boxes, keep watered and harvest the tips as they develop.  The variety to use seems to depend on what you have to hand – Stephen thought that ‘Douce Provence’ might produce nice fleshy shoots.

And if you’re looking to grow something a bit different, why not try cardoons for a late summer/autumn veg (the leaves are edible, but need to be blanched), or seakale.

Most growers start salad leaves off in modules, or in seed trays then prick out the young plants into modules.  Sowing undercover extends the season, young plants can be planted outside when they are big enough to stand a chance against the slugs.  Module sowing can be supplemented with direct sowings outdoors.

Tamsin recommends growing cut and come again leaves in recycled polystyrene boxes.  These boxes can also be used for growing pea tips.

Seeds are easy to get hold of, recommended suppliers include –

Kings seeds – for a good range of well priced seeds

Tozers – again a good choice of seeds, and they hold a good autumn open day

Seeds of Italy – not wholesale, but good quantities of seed in packets, high germination rates and good service

Microgreens

Growing microgreens for a market needs some planning – getting the timing right is key.  For inspiration and to see how it’s done, Tamsin recommends Ken Holland at North Country Organics, and Stephen mentioned the garden at Le Manoir.

Microleaves can be grown in punnets and sold as growing leaves once they reach the first true leaf stage.  Compost is the best growing medium to use to get good flavour from the young leaves.  Some basal heat can help growth, especially in the cooler months.

Salads to try growing as microleaves include, radish, mustards, amaranth and red-veined sorrel.

Next week’s #BritishVeg will cover carrots and beetroot.  What are your favourite varieties, do you grow them as baby veg, any problems with pests and diseases?  Everyone is welcome to join in on Tuesday, 8-9pm – whether you have questions or can help out with answers, #BritishVeg hour on Twitter is becoming a great source of information for all veg growers.


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#BritishVeg round up 12th May

This week’s #BritishVeg hour was an (almost) complete guide to growing tomatoes and chillies.  With lots of ideas for which varieties to grow, how to get a successful and disease-free crop, and even a few cooking tips for your harvest.

Recommended varieties

Starting with tomatoes, it seemed almost everyone had a favourite variety.  Here’s a list, in no particular order –

‘Giant Delicious’ – lives up to it’s name in both respects

‘Pink brandy wine’ and ‘Sungold’ (although not everyone agreed on this one) – recommended for flavour

‘Blizzard’ – early, and grows well even in poor light

‘Golden sunrise’ – great taste and a good cropper

‘Roma’ – a traditional plum tomato with good yields

‘Mexico midget’ and ‘Matt’s wild cherry’ – recommended cherry tomato varieties.  Matt’s wild cherry is good when grilled as a whole truss

‘Shirley’ – early and heavy cropping

‘Ildi’ – small and yellow, good for volume of fruit it produces, but not so good for taste

‘Red pear’ – a red cherry tomato

‘Costoluto Fiorentino’ – reliable Italian variety with good flavour

Recommended chilli varieties –

‘Hot wax’ – very popular because it’s early, reliable, has reasonable heat and is good for stuffing

‘Corno di Rosso’ – good, but needs to be grown under cover

‘Razzmattazz’ – a hot chilli that makes an attractive plant

‘Aji lemon’ – fruits well, and makes a good chilli oil to go with chicken, also great in vodka

Propagation

Tomatoes are generally easier and quicker to germinate than chillies – it’s best to start chillies about 3 weeks before tomatoes.  Chilli seed also benefits from some bottom heat to aid germination – a good quality heated propagator can make all the difference.  Chilli seed can also easily be overwatered, so take care when watering them.  Once growing, both tomatoes and chilli plants need good light and some warmth.

There were some mutterings about the quantities of seed found in packets of F1 seed… some of the extra cost of this seed is explained by the breeding process involved.  But as it’s only available from the big seed companies, there was some thought that these companies can charge what they like.

 

Cultivation

Tomatoes can be grown in grow bags, containers or in the ground – each had their fans.  If using grow bags, it was recommended that some extra lime be added to the compost to help reduce blossom end rot.

Containers were generally favoured for growing chillies.

When potting on, it’s important to remember that tomatoes will stem root, so plant them nice and deep to encourage this.  Chillies don’t produce roots from their stems.

Compost tea and seaweed are good for feeding the plants – and it was pointed out that a well fed plant growing in good quality compost will be much healthier and better able to withstand pests and diseases.

For supporting tomato plants both strings attached to crop bars in the polytunnel or canes were used by growers, some used both (canes tied on to strings).

There were mixed feelings about whether grafted tomato plants were worth the expense – some felt they were for the huge yields, others were less impressed and thought they were a waste of money.

Chilli plants can be overwintered.  If they are pruned back each year and repotted they can be kept going for 3-4 years.

 

Problems

Blight was a common problem with tomatoes, especially last year.  Aphids were the main problem seen with chillies.

Stephen recommends a weekly spray with citrus extract and garlic – a cure all for all garden woes, it seems!  Good ventilation is also important to minimise the chance of fungal diseases taking hold.

And finally, some dates for your diary –

Next Tuesday (21st May) 8-9pm – #BritishVeg will be discussing leafy vegetables and microgreens.  All vegetable growers, large or small (in terms of the amount of veg grown…), are more than welcome to join in.

10th August 2013 – Tomato tasting day at Victoriana Nursery Gardens, when there will be 60 plus varieties to try.

21st September 2013 – Chilli tasting day at Victoriana Nursery Gardens.


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#BritishVeg round up 7th May

Another busy #BritishVeg hour on Tuesday evening.  First up for discussion were cucurbits – which varieties to grow for large harvests, interest, flowers and flavour.  Stephen recommended growing a range of varieties.  For summer squash, round varieties like ‘One Ball’ or ‘Eight Ball’ are popular with customers.  Courgette ‘Defender’ was recommended for its uniform shape, and ‘Taxi’ a yellow, thin skinned variety.  Also mentioned were ‘Goldena’ a yellow, bush variety, ‘Jemmer’ also yellow, and ‘Astia’ – dark green and well flavoured.  Bush varieties of courgette were recommended for growing in small spaces and containers. If growing for flowers – picking is best done early in the morning when there are fewer pollen beetles in them.

The best time for planting squash plants outdoors was generally thought to be when they are reasonably sturdy plants to help minimise slug damage.  Some growers have plants under cover too, but Tamsin pointed out that for her they take up a lot of space that could be used for higher value crops.  Lots of compost in the planting hole was recommended (or planting straight onto the compost heap), and keeping some fleece to hand if planting out early – just in case of a late frost.  Once out in the ground, the main problems encountered last year were slugs and damage in windy weather.

Moving on to cucumbers, there were quite a few varieties popular with growers.  ‘Marketmore’ was recommended for growing both under cover and outdoors.  ‘Beth Alpha’ and ‘Pyralis’ are good indoor varieties, and ‘Fadia’ was recommended for mini cucumbers. ‘Crystal Lemon’ is also good, but needs to be eaten before it turns orange because it gets bitter.  ‘La Diva’ and ‘Passandra’ produce good mid-sized cucumbers.

Just about everyone’s favourite winter squash was ‘Crown Prince’, easy, reliable, stores well, tastes great… But other squash varieties also got a mention – ‘Little Gem’, ‘Turks Turban’ and the butternut squash ‘Hunter’ have all been grown and liked by #BritishVeg growers.  Vegetable spaghetti was also recommended, especially for children.

The conversation then turned to ways of capitalising on the current interest in locally grown food.  Growers are noticing a change in the types of customers buying from them – more families wanting to grow veg and buy from box schemes.  Education and good communication with customers was seen to be really important.  Parents with young children are often interested in knowing where their food comes from, and encouraging their children to grow veg.  Easy to grow vegetable plants, like broad and runner beans, sell well.  Workshops teaching gardening skills to both adults and children were a popular idea.  And keeping customers happy, so that they say good things about you to their friends who then become new (happy) customers is a good way to generate more sales.

Topics for discussion in next week’s #BritishVeg hour are tomatoes and chillies – which varieties to grow, cultivation methods, staking… and anything else that comes up.  Why not join us on Tuesday from 8-9pm.