Friday, May 13, 2011

How to Grow Parsnips

Burpee sell some great parsnip seeds which you can buy online. Just click on any Burpee ad on this page to view their website.
Parsnips have a very strong and distinct flavor that adds a certain something to stews and soups. I hate being without it in the kitchen garden.
So, you've bought your seeds, what are you going to do with them?

Parsnips have a long growing season  they are basically a winter crop but it takes all year to grow them.
Plant them out in February/March in long drills you have prepared in the soil. Because they grow like carrots, you will need to have prepared your soil well first and removed all stones, and broken the soil down to a fine tilth.

  1.  Plant 1 seed every 3 inches or so along the drill. 
  2. Cover over with soil using a hoe or similar garden tool. 
  3. Water well. 
  4. If you live in a cooler area you may want to pre-heat the ground first with a cloche or black polythene first.
  5. Allow you grow on, remove weeds as they appear.
  6. By Christmas, your parsnips should be ready to start lifting for use in the kitchen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to Grow Tomatoes

You really want to learn how to grow tomatoes, because there is nothing nicer than tomatoes that are home grown. They taste sweeter and more succulent than those you can buy in the shops. And tomatoes are very easy to grow.

Nowadays you can buy tumbling tomatoes that grow in hanging basket, but the fruit tend to be small, While small tomatoes are usually sweet and delicious to eat straight from the bush, I have always preferred growing the upright type, which you can support with a cane, or if grown in a greenhouse, a string support attached to the roof.

Tomatoes will grow to maybe 10 feet tall if just left to their own devices, but most gardeners nip the growing tip off when they have reached a height their space allows, or that they can still be reached.

Growing Conditions for Tomatoes

Tomato plants love heat and light. If you live in a warm climate you can grow tomatoes outdoors although you will find yourself having a constant battle with insect life and birds, who also love tomatoes.
If you have a greenhouse, they are perfect for growing tomatoes, but if not, any sunny windowsill inside your home that is wide enough to take a large pot will be perfect too.

Growing Tomatoes from Seed

When you buy a packet of tomato seeds, unless you have bought a special F1 Hybrid variety, you will have too many seeds unless you are running a nursery or market gardening business. Imagine that every seed you plant is going to germinate and only plant what you need. Burpee seeds have a very good reputation for having a high germination rate, so don't plant too many.

At this stage, all you will need is a nice clean pot, and some good quality compost. Fill your pot with the compost and light press down. Water well, and when the water has drained away, even up the soil level and scatter your seeds over the surface. Then take a handful of soil and cover the seeds and no more. Place in a warm and light position, and do not allow the compost to dry out.

After just a few days, you should see the first tiny leaves emerging.

Wait until the seedlings are at least a couple of inches high, and have developed at least their second set of leaves, then gently transplant the baby tomato plants into individual pots.

Really important
When transplanting, always hold the seedling by a leaf, and NEVER the stem. No matter how gentle you think you are being, any damage at all to the stem will result in its death.

Growing on

After a week or two, your little plant will be throwing roots out from the bottom of its pot, and that is a signal to move it into its permanent growing position. If you buy a baby tomato plant in a shop, it will be at this stage too.

You can grow tomato plants in big pots, or on Grow Bags especially deigned for tomato plants. Place the pot or bag in their final growing position, and pop you tomato plant in, watering well in the process.

Staking and supporting your tomato plants

As your plant grows, and they grow quickly, it will need some form of support. A cane does the trick and you can use plastic ties to keep it in position. As the plant grows, just add more at intervals.

Pinching out Side Shoots

Pinch out the side shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaf branches. If you pinch them out when they are very small, your plant will suffer less trauma. this is an ongoing task and will need done daily.

Flowering and Fruiting

When your tomato plants start to flower is a good time to start using a fertilizer. Buy a special tomato plant fertilizer and not a general purpose one. Tomatoes have different needs than most plants. Follow the instruction on the label.
When the flowers open out fully, gently shake the plant to ensure pollination, in the absence of insects which normally do the job for you. If you are growing them in a greenhouse, try and encourage bees to come in by leaving the door open in good weather.

When the fruits turn red, pick them when they have reached a level of maturity that you like. Pull off any rotten fruit or tomatoes that you missed and have gone by their best. This will encourage your tomato plants to fruit more.

Tomatoes are annuals, and so will only last one summer. They take about 2 - 3 months to start fruiting from seed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to Grow Potatoes

Potatoes are tubers which means the edible part grows underground. The leaves and stalk which grow above ground are inedible.
Have you ever noticed how the potatoes you buy in the shops develop 'eyes' if you leave them for a while? These 'eyes' grow into roots if the potato is planted underground. Sometimes your kitchen potatoes sprout leaves, but when planted underground the shoot will stretch upwards and the leaves will develop above ground in the sunshine.

When you plant your potatoes depends on the variety of potato as well as the climate you want to grow them in.
Potatoes like free draining soil and plenty water.
Your best is to buy seed potatoes from suppliers like Burpee Seeds, who will send you out the correct seed potatoes for planting at that time.

You may be tempted to plant your kitchen potatoes that have sprouted. This is never a good idea. Chances are that these potatoes have been specially hybridized and will not grow well.

  • Buy good quality seed potatoes and store in a cool, dark and dry place until required.
  • Keep well watered. 
  • Eventually the plants will flower and the foliage starts to die back. 
  • This is a good time to open up the ground to check how well your potatoes have grown, and to start harvesting them if they have reached a reasonable size.
Potatoes are great for 'clearing' ground that has not previously been planted on. If you ever dig over a plot to grow vegetables for the first time, I highly recommend you plant potatoes first, as you will find the soil easier to work with and more productive the following year.

Never grow potatoes in the same place two years running. In fact this is good practice in all vegetable gardening. Always rotate your crops. It prevents the ground being leeched off goodness, and helps avoid disease.

Growing Potatoes in Containers

If you don't have a suitable plot in which to grow potatoes, potatoes will quite happily grow in any old container you have lying around - flowerpots (big ones), old tires, anything at all that has some depth. Even old sack or large plastic bags will do. Simply make sure there is a drainage hole or two in the bottom, fill with compost or garden soil and plant your potatoes as above.