Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Growing Potatoes In Growbags

I find growing potatoes to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of growing veggies at home.  There are few things in life that are as comforting and delicious as good old spuds.  It is incredible the difference it makes to the humble spud to grow it at home.  I have found home grown ones to be far more fluffy and soft than shop bought ones.  Furthermore, in my opinion, the skin on homegrown spuds is so much tastier than that of its shop bought brother.

Spuds are so simple to grow and there's a variety of ways in which you can grow them.  You don't need to grow them in growbags at all.  If you have space in your garden, then stick some in there.  Last year, I planted three spuds in a window box and enjoyed a good crop of little potatoes.  Obviously, the more space they have, the bigger they can grow (they're a bit like goldfish that way).  Growbags are a fantastic alternative because they have a lot of depth, which provides the spuds with plenty of space (translation: plenty of good size spuds for you) and they don't take up a lot of space, making them ideal for people who don't have a big garden.  They can be kept indoors, on patios, on balconies, outside; wherever you want really.  In short, growbags are the kind of tool that fit in with your life, as opposed to you having to make concessions for them.


When choosing a variety of spuds to grow, decide what you like to do with your spuds.  In other words, do you like to mash them or bake them or make them into a salad etc.  Knowing what your intentions with respect to your spuds are, will position you far better to select a variety of spud that is right for you.  You can go to garden centres like B&Q and Homebase and buy spuds for planting and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this if you choose do so.  However, I always find that I have spuds left over after I've bought a bag from the supermarket, so I just place these in a plastic bag in a dark cupboard and leave them to grow roots.  Then I plant them. Simple!

TIP: I mentioned in a previous post that you should wait for the roots to turn white.  They will be green when they first start to grow, but if you leave them for a while they will soon turn white and be ready to go into the ground. you have your growbags, your soil and your spuds.  The big question is how do you combine all of these elements to form a masterpiece that will yield a magical return.  Look no further, you wonderful budding gardeners, the answer is revealed below.

First things first, you must ensure that the time of year is right for planting spuds.  The first crop can be planted in Spring.  These should be ready for harvesting in Summer.  You can also plant in Summer and these should be ready in Autumn.  So, really anytime between Spring and Summer, you can plant spuds till your hearts content.

TIP FOR UK GROWERS: Your first batch of spuds should be planted after St. Patrick's Day on the 17th March 2011.

Having determined that the time is right to grow your own spuds, open up your growbag and fill it approximately one quarter of the way with some good quality soil.  I recommend using fruit and veg compost, as it has all the nutrients necessary to help your spuds grow into healthy, wonderful delights.  You may want to add a bit of fertiliser to give the soil a bit of extra oomph.  Place you spuds in the soil with the roots facing upwards.  You simply need to push them into the soil until they can stand upright on their own, which should be the depth of about half the spud.  You could probably plant about 5 or 6 spuds per growbag, depending on the size of the spuds you're using.  Once you have done this, cover the spuds with soil to about half way up the growbag.  You should ensure that all the roots are covered and there is no part of the spud sticking out.  Give them a good watering.  You will notice that the soil will draw down once you have watered it.  I would say that 3 good waterings with a watering can should be sufficient.

Now that you have done the ground work, you can leave your spuds to blossom and grow.  You will notice after a few weeks (perhaps even less) that your spud plants will start to grow through the soil. 

When you see the leaves coming out, fill the growbag to the top with soil.  This will fool the spuds into believing that they have not yet begun to grow and will ensure that you end up with many more spuds than you would otherwise have done.  They may be tasty and delicious, but they're not very bright!  Once you have filled your growbag to the top, give it another good watering, about 2 or 3 times with the watering can and leave your spud plants to grow.  Once again, this should only take a few weeks.

The key to harvesting spuds is flowers!  When your potato plants start to flower, it means that your spuds are ready for harvesting.  That is not to say that it is not altogether unlikely that your plants may not flower.  My plants didn't flower last year and I was deeply concerned that my spuds had failed.  However, it's good to know that no flowers does not necessarily mean no spuds.  When I dug up my flowerless spuds last year, I had a good crop.  So,  if you don't have any flowers after approximately 3 months, just dig up your spuds anyway and you will be surprised to find the delightful treasures that await you beneath the soil.

The most fabulous thing about growbags is that they enable you to dig out your spuds from underneath.  They have a pouch at the bottom that you open up when your spuds are ready for harvesting and dig them out this way.  This minimises mess and enables you to get straight to the point with digging them up.  I absolutely LOVE this idea!

The growbag's pouch is one of the best things about them. You can dig the spuds out from the bottom!

Once you have opened your pouch and dug out your beautiful spuds, all that is left for you to do is cook them in a manner you so choose and enjoy them!

Growing spuds in a growbag is probably one of the simplest veggie growing processes and I highly recommend it for novices to give you some inspiration to get growing.  In fact, growing spuds in general is an easy process, whether it be in growbags, in a window box or directly into a garden.  You really should give it a go.  If there is one thing that will motivate you to keep going with the whole veggie growing concept, it has to be growing your own spuds!  So, go out there; get yourself a growbag (cheap), some soil (cheap) and some leftover spuds (cheap) and reap the veggies of your labour as soon as possible.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

How To Sow Seeds In 6 Easy Steps

When I first started growing veggies, I had no idea how to sow seeds.  My lack of knowledge was quite crippling and was enough to put me off indulging in this wonderful hobby, but fortunately my hubby was at hand to help me through my seed sowing anxieties.  Once I had done it once and realised just how simple it really is, there was no stopping me.  However, it occurred to me that there must be plenty of veggie growing novices out there that don't have a clue how to sow seeds and could be put off growing their own veggies before they've even started.  My knowledge of how daunting this task can be, coupled with this realisation lead me to post this blog in an attempt to shed some light where there is currently nothing but darkness.

So, here are 6 easy steps to sowing seeds...

1. The first thing you need to consider is the quantity of each individual veggie you would like.  Once you have decided how much of each veggie you want, you can make a decision about how many seeds to sow.  You have to take into consideration the fact that some seeds probably won't grow and some may start but then turn out to be fairly weak in which case they could die or alternatively may need to be thinned out.  As a rule of thumb, I generally sow three rows of seeds for each veggie in my seedling tray.  Don't forget to check the back of the seed packet to ensure that your seeds can be sown at the time of year that your are planning to sow them.

2. Next, make sure you have your seedling tray, your trowel, your dibber and your seed sowing compost (or whichever compost you are choosing to use) to hand. 

A Dibber

Fill as many compartments of the seedling tray as you will need with compost.  Fill each compartment to the very top and smooth over.  Gently press the compost down in each compartment.  You will notice that you can push it down quite a way and what originally seemed like a compartment filled with soil will suddenly be closer to half.  Don't push the compost down too firmly at this stage.  Once you have done this, fill each compartment to the top once again and gently press down.  Keep doing this until the compartments all remain fairly full when you gently press down.

3. Next, you will need to check the back of the seed packet to establish at what depth your seeds need to be sown.  Once you have established this, get your trusty dibber and find the correct measurement on the side of it.  Use the dibber to bore down into the soil to the correct depth.  When I first started, I didn't have a dibber so I simply used a chopstick and estimated the depth. This worked well as a starting point, but now that I have my dibber, I can tell that not all my estimations were very accurate.  Nevertheless, it doesn't seem to have done any harm.

4. Once you have created your little holes, place your seeds in them.  How many seeds you should place in each hole varies from one veggie to the next.  I generally base it on size (I have no idea whether this is right or wrong but it seems to have worked for me so far).  The smaller the seed, the more I place in each hole.  Mint seeds are minute so I just place a pinch of seeds into each hole.  I placed two chili seeds and pepper seeds in each hole and only one pea in each hole.

5. Once you have placed your seeds in your holes, cover them up with the compost that you have already placed in each compartment.  At this point, press the compost in each compartment down firmly.  When you water the seedling tray, you will notice that the water will pull the compost right down so you need to make sure it's as compressed as possible so that the seeds don't become exposed at that point.  Top up the compost in each compartment as needed and press down firmly.  Keep doing this until each compartment is filled with compost.

6. Now, get your trusty watering can and give the seedling tray a gentle but generous helping of water.  Try not to have any kind of pressurised watering device (such as a tap) as this can cause the compost to move and scatter the seeds, reducing your chance of successful germination.  Once you have watered the seedling tray, give the water a moment to draw down.  You will notice it doing this.  Thereafter, add another gentle but generous helping of water.  This would probably be enough water, but you can make your own judgment call.

You have now successfully sown your seeds into your seedling trays and they will probably look a little something like the picture below.

All that is left to be done is to either place the tray on a windowsill, patio, greenhouse or whatever location you are intending to make their home.  The seed packet may indicate a temperature at which they should ideally be kept.  If so, try and find a place that you think would be nearest in temperature to the recommendations made on the packet.  You may want to consider placing plant labels in your seedling tray as a reminder of what has been sown and when they were sown.

Keep your eye on your seedling tray and water as necessary.  In time, you should notice your little seeds turn into sprouting beauties.

I hope this blog has been helpful in some way, shape or form and has taken you out of the seed sowing wilderness.  It really is a very simple process and doesn't take much time at all once you get the hang of it.  So don't procrastenate, get sowing as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

10 Essential Items For Growing Veggies (In My Humble Opinion)

I decided that if I'm going to attempt to start a veggie growing revolution, I must provide as much useful information to veggie growing novices as I can.  I did not have a clue what I would need to start growing my own veggies.  I was lucky in that my husband comes from a family who has always been very avid vegetable growers, so he was a great help.  However, not everyone out there will have the same advantage.  With this in mind, I thought it would be handy for me to provide a list of things that I found essential when embarking on this exciting adventure.

So, here goes...

1. Seedling Trays

These are the trays that you initially sow your seeds in.  After germination and when the seeds have grown into something vaguely recognisable, you will either transplant them into pots or alternatively plant them out to their final location.

Seedling trays are relatively inexpensive and there is a huge variety of them available on the market.  Some seedling trays decompose so you can actually plant the germinated seed together with its little container into its next location.  I don't have these ones and I have to remove my sprouting beauties from their compartment within the seedling tray, but this is easily done by simply pinching the bottom of the compartment.

2. Pots, Pots And More Pots

Some seeds don't need to be planted into seedling trays and can be planted directly into pots or even their final location.  Read the back of the seed packet to get an idea of your seeds needs.  Carrots and peas can be planted directly to their final location, whether that be the ground, a pot or a grow bag, although I first sowed them into seedling trays.

Ensuring you have plenty of pots is very important.  When you sow your seeds, you will inevitably sow quite a number and when the time comes to move them into pots, you may well need a few just for one variety of vegetable.  My chilli seeds took really well and so when the time came for me to transplant them to pots, I needed five or so just to accommodate them all.  Some of these may eventually die (having not handled the transplant too well) or may be thinned out in due course when it's obvious to determine which are the strong ones and which are the weak ones, but until then an abundance of pots is necessary.

It is nice to have a wide range of different shapes and sizes to add a bit of charisma and flamboyance to your greenhouse, windowsill, blacony, patio or wherever it is you intend to grow your vegetables.  You can also be creative in respect of what you use as a pot.  We have an old fish tank at home that is no longer in use and I have decided to use that to plant my herbs in when they are ready to be moved to their final location.  It's different and I think it will look lovely.  When being creative, remember to be mindful of drainage.  Most vegetable plants like well drained soil.  This is easily rectified if you are using a fish tank like me or even a pot with no hole or holes in the bottom.

Tip: A really handy tip is to place some gravel or stones at the bottom of the pot and then place the soil on top of them.  This will allow the water to drain right through the soil and into the gravel, leaving the soil well drained.

3. A Trowel

A trowel (or a small spade) is an obvious necessity.  You will need one of these little gems to dig up compost and to transfer compost from the bags that they come in into the seedling trays.  When you are putting compost into pots or grow bags, you can simply tip the bag into them, but seedling trays are a little too small and this tactic might just result in compost being strewn everywhere, which is a bit of a nightmare.

A trowel is also handy to help loosen the compost, which can sometimes be quite clumpy.  Vegetables like carrots need the soil to be loosened because if they hit a clump when they are growing, they will alter their shape to grow around it, which could leave you with some mutant-looking carrots, as opposed to nice, straight ones.

You will also need a trowel to dig holes for bigger plants when planting them out to their final location.

4. A Dibber

"What on earth is a dibber?" was my first question when such a thing was put to me.  A dibber is a tool for 'boring' holes into the soil into which you will sow the seeds.  Again, they are relatively inexpensive.  A dibber almost looks like a plastic, small, upside down hammer with measurements on the side.  You will notice that the seed packets will advise you to sow seeds at a certain depth.  The dibber will help you to make a hole that is the correct depth to maximise your seeds' chances of success.  They are also very handy for digging holes when planting out smaller plants.

5. Seed Packets

This is quite an obvious one.  Without seeds, there will be no veggies.  When buying your seeds, have a look at the back of the pack to see what time of the year they can be sown and when you can expect a harvest.  Different seeds need to be sown at different times of the year, so making sure you're getting the right seeds for the time of year you're sowing is essential if you are going to get going as soon as possible.  Also, be sure to check that the veggies you are interested in can be grown in containers, if you don't have a garden.  The back of seed packets contain a wealth of information and will tell you everything you need to know about that specific seed.

Tip: Potatoes are great because you can simply place some left over potatoes that you have bought from a shop in a dark room and wait for roots to grow from them.  Once the roots turn green (they will initially be white), the potatoes can be stuck in the ground.  It's as easy as pie!

Tip: When cooking with fresh chillies and peppers, dry the seeds that you remove from them.  These dry seeds can be sown to grow chilli and pepper plants.

6. Seed Sowing Compost

It's a good idea to get seed sowing compost, as it is specifically designed to provide seeds with the correct nutrients.  This compost is easily available at any good garden centre.  I ensured that I used this when I started growing my veggies because I thought I could do with all the help I could get.

7. Fruit & Veg Compost

There are all sorts of different composts out there designed to make gardening of any nature easier.  I found some compost specifically for fruit and vegetables at B&Q.  As with the seed sowing compost, this compost has been specifically formulated to assist in the growing of fruit and vegetables.  It's rich in whatever nutrients fruit and veg need.  You will need this compost when the time comes to transplant your seedlings into pots.

The one thing that I have noticed is that a lot of compost goes a very short distance when growing veggies.  Fortunately, it is extremely inexpensive, so you shouldn't be too concerned about the vast quantity required.  It will not cost you an arm and a leg to keep an ongoing supply.

8. Watering Can

The watering can is an extremely essential item.  It is especially important to have one with which to water your seeds.  When you have sown seeds, it is very easy to scatter them if the pressure of the water when watering them is too much.  This will affect the depth at which they are sown and can, in turn, hinder the growing process.  This is where the watering can comes into its own.  It's the perfect tool to ensure that scattering is minimised and that the watering process is a gentle one.

9. Plant Labels & Pencil

If I'm honest with you, plant labels and pencils probably aren't an absolute necessity, but they are a great thing to have, particularly when you have a variety of seeds growing in your various seedling trays.  The plant labels enable you to label what seeds are where.  It's also a good idea to state the date on which you sowed them.  This will allow you to keep track of their progress more effectively.  I also placed plant labels into the pots and grow bags once I had transplanted my seeds and noted the date on which they were transplanted.

When I started with my veggies, my husband said to me, "All good gardeners write in pencil".  This will enable you to use your plant labels over and over again without ever having to replace or replenish them.  Apart from that, I personally don't think it makes you a bad gardener if you decide to use a pen.

10. Greenhouse

I've listed greenhouse last because I think it's probably the least important item on this list.  You most certainly do not need a greenhouse to grow veggies at home.  Many veggies can be grown indoors and in pots and containers, so if you don't have a garden or the space necessary for a greenhouse, do not be disheartened.  You can still grow veggies till your heart's content, just be sure to check the back of the seed packs to make certain that you are placing your pots and containers in an area that is the right temperature for the seeds that are growing in them.

However, if you do have even just a small garden, I would recommend considering a greenhouse of some description.  There is such a wide variety of greenhouses available to suit all shapes and sizes of gardens.  My garden is extremely small, so I got a small lean-to greenhouse, which takes up very little space.  If you have a larger garden, take a look into what is available that's suitable for the space that you have.

The benefit of a greenhouse is that you can place your veggies outside without them being harmed by harsh weather conditions.  The greenhouse is designed to retain heat and so will always be considerably warmer than the outside temperature, provided of course that it is placed in a sunny spot in the garden.  Some vegetables require warm conditions to grow and a greenhouse can fool them into believing that they are being grown in a warmer climate.  One such example is Basil.

This is my little greenhouse.  It's perfect for me because it really doesn't take up too much space.  Although it doesn't look particularly full in this picure, it has plenty of space inside and can hold loads of pots.

Right, so that's my list of the 10 most essential items to get you on your way to growing your own veggies.  I hope that it has inspired you to bite the bullet, take up this hobby and to start a more organic and fulfilling way of life.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Growing Veggies At Home For The First Time

Last year, I dabbled in the art of growing veggies at home...if you could call it that.  I bought myself a tomato plant from Homebase and I planted some spuds in a windowbox.  It was a complete success and I delighted in the juiciness of my tomatoes for as long as possible.  When the time came to dig out my potatoes, I was delighted to have a good number.  Here's a good juncture to mention that the potatoes could be considered nothing more than new potatoes, as they were extremely small.  However, they were sublime and hugely complemented the roast lamb that they accompanied.

So, after having dipped my toe in the water of vegetable gardening and realising that I quite fancied the idea, I decided that I would be brave and give it a solid chance in 2011.  I acquired a lean-to greenhouse, which is perfect for my small garden and I purchased a plethora of seeds to get me going.  Furthermore, I bought a mushroom growing kit (a story unto itself, into which I shall delve later).  Let the gardening begin.

Now, a few months down the line, I thought there might be some budding veggie growers out there who feel daunted and are not sure where to begin.  Then I began to think...perhaps I should share my experiences so far to try and help anyone who is either too scared to get going or is equally as much of a novice as myself.  The added bonus is that it is possible that a veggie growing veteran or two might encounter this blog and be able to offer some valuable advice.

So, let's get going...

The first thing that pleasantly surprised me was the array of greenhouses available.  I was always put off by the size of my garden.  It's not big by any stretch of the imagination and I was always convinced that I didn't have enough space to contemplate growing my own veggies.  However, on discovering that there are such things as lean-to greenhouses designed for smaller gardens, my excitement levels surged and so began a beautiful story.  There are also plenty of veggies out there that can be grown in containers or indoors so don't be deterred if you have a small garden.  Instead, pop into your local garden centre and see what's out there for the space that you have available.  I can guarantee you there is something for everyone in this particular hobby.  Just make sure you place it in a warm, sunny spot in your garden.

I started sowing seeds in February.  I had all sorts of wild ideas about what I wanted to grow.  I was a little thrown when I realised that I couldn't just do what I wanted to when I wanted to.  That may sound incredibly ignorant and stupid, but my knowledge of growing veggies was as limited as you could possible imagine (possibly more).  It is, therefore, important to read the back of the seed packs.  They will tell you exactly when you can sow what, whether they should be sown in seedling trays or into pots or directly to their final location, whether they need planting out and when, most importantly, we can expect to reap the fruits (or veggies as the case may be) of our labour.  I learned that Basil and Mint can be sown in February, but Parsley can only be sown in March and Rosemary has to wait until April.  Chillies too must wait till March and need to be sown indoors until after germination (when the seed starts to grow).  Carrots can be sown in February but peas should go in in March.  I planted peppers in March (as per instructions) but placed the seedling tray directly into the greenhouse.  I wish now that I had covered them in cling film and left them in the bathroom as I did with the chillies as they haven't germinated yet and I'm starting to worry, so that may a useful tip for anyone wanting to sow peppers.

Many seed packets will suggest sowing the seeds in a propagater, which is essentially a mini greenhouse that can be placed on a window sill (well, that's my definition anyway).  I don't have one so I wrap all seedling trays housing seeds  for which this is recommended in cling film and place them on the bathroom window.  My bathroom is probably the warmest room in our house, which is why I place them there but you may have a different room that you would prefer.  The chillies are doing very well and germinated as expected.  They have now been transplanted into small pots and placed in the greenhouse.  When big and strong enough, I'll transplant them into even bigger pots where they will live to bear chillies and make me very happy.

Another great thing to know about is growbags.  These are quite literally bags that you can grow things like potatoes in.  They have a little pouch at the bottom so when the time comes to dig out the potatoes, you can simply open the pouch and dig them out from below.  It's fabulous!  I've also transplanted my carrots into growbags.  This is primarily due to my lack of space.  Carrots grow down, so you need more depth than you do width for these.  By the way, carrots are a great veggie to start with because they are quite resilient and you are more likely than not to have success with them.  The same goes for peas and potatoes.

As previously mentioned, I also purchased a mushroom growing kit.  These are meant to guarantee success.  Unfortunately, the kit I bought came complete with Springtail.  Although this insect is generally more helpful than harmful, as luck would have it they seem to feed on decaying matter and mushrooms.  As a result, the growth of my mushrooms has been considerably hindered.  Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of these delights is to dry out the conditions because they thrive in moist soil.  The thing is, mushrooms require moist soil to grow.  Consequently, I am currently cutting down the amount of water I give to my mushrooms without totally drying out the soil to see if I can at least reduce the population.  If you see these in your greenhouse, don't be repulsed, alarmed or disheartened.  Like I said, they are generally more helpful than harmful.  They are an indication of good soil conditions and tend to focus the attention of things like frogs on them more than on your veggies so no harm done.  Despite my unfortunate experience, I highly recommend mushroom growing kits.  They are great fun and quite inexpensive so if (like me) you end up with an invasion and you can't resolve it, you can always just replace it at very little cost.

As I said before, my veggie growing days are in their infancy so that's about all I have to share for now.  Perhaps, this is not the most informative blog but it's only intended to be an introduction.  As I gain experience, I'll share my successes and failures to, hopefully, help out those who are equally as daunted by this this wonderful experience as I was.

It truly is a magnificent experience that brings with it an immense sense of achievement and accomplishment so don't delay, get growing today.