HOW TO PREPARE AND MAKE AN ASPARAGUS BED




Of all the edible crops you are likely to grow, asparagus will probably require the most preparation of any that you will come across. And for good reason too because you could be reaping the rewards of freshly cut asparagus tips for the next 15 or even up to 30 years. Not a bad return for what many believe to be the ultimate in gourmet vegetables. The first thing to consider before anything else is where to position your asparagus bed and it will need to be of a reasonable size too as the root system of each plant can extend out by as much as 1 sq/yard.. When planting in rows you will need to look at creating a bed about 4ft wide and as long as you like so long as each plant is about 1½ft from the edge of the bed as well as between each subsequent plant. If you are short of space try planting them in a zig-zag pattern to help use your space more efficiently.

Asparagus will thrive in most well-drained soils, but they will need to get full sun for at least six hours per day and a certain amount of protection from strong winds. In exposed area you will need to put in some type of support to avoid damage to the stems. In preparation for the new crowns (try not to plant anything over two years old as they tend not to transplant well) you can start in the autumn by thoroughly digging over the proposed bed area, removing any perennial weeds you come across.

You can also consider testing your soil’s nutrient levels and pH at this time as this will help you to determine what type and how much fertilizers your bed will require. Poor levels of nutrition can cause fibrous spears and weak growth while soils with an acidic pH of less than 6.5 can restrict growth or in severe cases even kill the crop itself. If your soil is too acidic, you’ll need to apply the appropriate amount of lime as indicated by your soil test. Conversely, if your soil is too alkaline then you can consider apply ‘flowers of sulfur’ or epsom salts. If that all seems a bit technical don’t worry, just dig the bed over as thoroughly as possible mixing in plenty of well-rotted farm manure as you do so. Again, dig over the ground thoroughly.

You may also wish to add general fertilizers at this point and possibly even apply specialized fertilizers high in micro-nutrients. When adding organic matter try not to go down further than eight inches, especially in clay soil. This can cause anaerobic decomposition within the soil which in turn can easily damage the root systems of your asparagus plants.

THE 'DEEP PLANTING' TECHNIQUE

Once you've applied the various remedies to help improve you soil for asparagus production they can be left until the spring. Them after the last of the spring frost you can dig out planting trenches of no less than 10 inches deep and 10 inches wide – any additional trenches should be spaced about 2 ½ ft to 3ft apart. At the bottom of the trench add dig some more well-rotted manure, but also add about one teaspoon of phosphate fertilizer for each foot of the trench. Add another inch of soil on top of this so as to avoid placing the crowns directly onto the fertilizer. Slightly mound the soil down the center of the trench, and you are ready to plant your crowns.

Trying not to damage any part of the root system, carefully remove your new asparagus plants from their pots and settle them on the bottom of the trenches about 1½ ft apart. Back fill the trench until the roots are covered by a couple of inches soil – making sure that the green buds are still above the soil level - and give them a good watering in. Over the summer, continue to gradually back-fill the trenches as the new shoot grow above ground level, but be careful not to cover any of the asparagus foliage. When the trench is completely filled, mulch around the plants with another couple of inches of organic matter and continue to keep weeds away from the plants root systems.

Asparagus have a tendency to "rise" as the plants mature which allows the crowns to gradually grow closer to the soil surface. This ‘deep planting’ technique will encourage a not only a stronger root system, but it will also protect the slender shoots of young plants from damage by strong winds. During their first season, keep newly planted crowns damp and try to avoid them from drying out during hot weather. Although succulent spears may appear soon after they have been planted, try to avoid the temptation to harvest them as you will only weaken the crowns. During their first two years of growth, asparagus plants should really be left to produce as much ferny foliage as possible. Once these have been allowed to die back naturally in the autumn they can be cut down to a couple of inches above the soil level.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE ROOTS!

Most asparagus plants will be ready for harvesting after two years, although there are now several modern varieties have been cultivated for earlier cropping. To harvest spears, wait until they are about 6 inches long and then break them off using a firm twisting motion while holding them near the bottom. If you use a knife or similar blade then you risk damaging the newly forming spears as they appear at ground level. Finish harvesting in mid-June as this will allow the plant to build up its energy reserves for next years harvest. It is also a good idea to give your plants application of general fertilizer or another mulching of well rotted farm manure as this will help enormously with foliage and root production. Without a healthy root system the asparagus plant will be unable to produce anything like the size or quantity of quality spears you would otherwise expect.

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HOW AND WHY DOES OVERWATERING KILL PLANTS?



The biggest problem with recognising plants that have been over-watered is the confusion brought on by the symptoms they display. The trouble is that when plants are stressed in this way they normally show identical symptoms to those that have been stressed through under-watering, i.e leaf curling, stem drooping and leaf drop etc. Although at first this may seem to make no sense at all, the reasons behind this is actually quite straightforward - and it's all to do with air!

If you look at the roots of a plant you can easily spot the main body of the root which is used to transport water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. Then if you look a little closer, you should also be able to see extremely fine, hair like roots, and these are the parts that are most important here. Each of these tiny root hairs is in fact a single modified plant cell, and as with all plant (and animal) cells they need oxygen to metabolise. This is also the same for the cells found in the human body which is why we have a need to regularly breath air (oxygen) into our lungs. That way it can be absorbed into our blood where a dynamic vascular system transports the highly oxygenated blood around our bodies. It also moves poorly oxygenated blood back to our lungs where the gaseous by-product carbon dioxide is expelled harmlessly from our bodies.

The root hairs receive their available oxygen from tiny air pockets that exist in the surrounding soil, and although in their normal environment they may become filled with water from periodic rainfall, this excess of water will normally drain away allowing new air pockets to form. It's only when the water doesn't drain away through floodings or constant heavy rainfall, that problems then occur within the root environment.

By denying an adequate supply of oxygen to the root hairs, these specialised cells are unable to metabolise and although they will be able to tolerate these conditions for a short while, continued exposure to over-watering will cause them to eventually die. The trouble is that all plants need a reasonable supply of water for transpiration (breathing), to maintain temperature so that they don't overheat, and to remain turgid and upright.
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As mentioned previously, plants need these specialised root hairs for their uptake of nutrients and water. If enough of these specialised root hairs die then the plant will be unable to take up enough water to ensure its survival, and of course, will begin to dry out internally showing the characteristic dessication symptoms often mistaken for drought. The point is this, even though there is more than enough water in the root environment, if the root hairs have died through 'suffocation' then the plant is no longer able to access the water to replace that which is used through its normal regulatory functions. The irony here is that the plant now enters a phase of stress due to internal drought and by trying to reduce water loss through leaf curling or drooping it exhibits the same symptoms as though it was suffering from a lack of water in the root environment. Unfortunately when people are unaware of this they will see the plant wilting and give it yet more water compounding the problem and causing further root death.

The only way to avoid this is to check the soil first before watering. You can buy various gadgets for this, use you finger or by judging the weight of the pot and comparing the weight of the pot and compost to what you know is wet or dry. You will find that the greatest cause of death among pot grown plants is in fact over-watering. It is also the easiest one to avoid.
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HOW TO SAVE AND RECOVER AN OVERWATERED PLANT



Depending upon how far gone your over-watered plant is will depend on the treatment given. As a rule of thumb - the worse the condition the more drastic the treatment.

The immediate course of action is simple, remove the plant from its pot (or carefully lift the plant from the ground so as not to cause any further root damage) and to place it onto a couple of thick newspapers. The papers will act as a superb 'water-wick' drawing water down through the root ball. In extreme cases you may need to replace the soaked newspaper with dry every couple of hours, but if you are luck enough to be doing this on a sunny day then the sodden paper you have just removed will probably be dry enough to be used again - should you require it - later. With small pot grown plants, try not to be tempted to squeeze the root ball like a sponge as this can further damage to the root ball.

Plants lose moisture through stomatal pores found on the underside of leaves and the more leaves the plant has then the greater the surface area - and stomatal pores - it has with which to loose precious water from. In nature, when a plant become distress due to intense heat and drought, one of the safely mechanisms it will use is to drop its leaves, and move into a period of enforced dormancy until more favourable conditions return. This is a good system for deciduous plants which are genetically capable of dropping leaves, but when evergreen plants employ the same system it is usually to late for them to recover as they have dried out to far within the core plant.

With our over-watered plants we can enforce the same procedure. On deciduous plants -where over-watering has been recognised early - no further action may be required although you can remove some of the older, lower leaves to be on the safe side. Should the plants condition be a little more extreme it can be pruned back by 1/3 of it original growth. Also, if the specimen has particularly large leaves you can consider cutting these leaves in half.

The last thing to do is move the plant to a cool, shaded room and spray the remaining foliage periodically with tepid water.

Once the plant is on the road to recovery - this will be recognised by the appearance of new fibrous roots - it can be potted on, or replanted, taking care not to reproduce the conditions that cause the initial problem. Be aware though that when taking such drastic measures as outlined above, it can take several years before the plant will make a full recovery and begins looking like the specimen it was before over-watering occurred. With inexpensive and readily available plants you may be better off throwing the poor thing away and trying to learn from the mistake so that it is not repeated.

For further information click onto:
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WHAT IS OVERWATERING AND HOW TO RECOGNISE IT



Over watering is perhaps the biggest killer of pot and container grown plants and the main problem with recognising plants that have been over-watered is the confusion brought on by the symptoms they display. The trouble is that when plants are stressed in this way they normally show identical symptoms to those that have been stressed through under-watering, i.e leaf curling, stem drooping and leaf drop etc.

Why is over-watering a problem?

If you look at the roots of a plant you can easily spot the main body of the root which is used to transport water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. Then if you look a little closer, you should also be able to see extremely fine, hair like roots and these are the parts that are most important here. Each of these tiny root hairs is in fact a single modified plant cell, and as with all plant (and animal) cells they need oxygen to metabolise. This is also the same for the cells found in the human body which is why we have a need to regularly breathe air into our lungs. That way oxygen can be absorbed into our blood where a dynamic vascular system transports the highly oxygenated blood around our bodies. It also moves poorly oxygenated blood back into our lungs where the gaseous by-product carbon dioxide is expelled harmlessly from our bodies.

The root hairs receive their available oxygen from tiny air pockets that exist in the surrounding soil, and although in their normal environment they may become filled with water from periodic rainfall, this excess of water will normally drain away allowing new air pockets to form. It's only when the water doesn't drain away - through flooding or constant heavy rainfall - that problems occur within the root environment.

By denying an adequate supply of oxygen to the root hairs, these specialised cells are unable to metabolise and although they will be able to tolerate these conditions for a short while, continued exposure to over-watering will cause them to eventually die. The trouble is that all plants need a reasonable supply of water for transpiration (breathing), to maintain temperature so that they don't overheat, and to remain turgid and upright.

As mentioned before, plants need these specialised root hairs for their uptake of nutrients and water. If enough of these specialised root hairs die then the plant will be unable to take up enough water to ensure its survival, and of course, will begin to dry out internally showing the characteristic desiccation symptoms often mistaken for drought. The point is this, even though there is more than enough water in the root environment, if the root hairs have died through 'suffocation' then the plant is no longer able to access the water to replace that which is used through its normal regulatory functions. The irony here is that the plant now enters a phase of stress due to internal drought and by trying to reduce water loss through leaf curling or drooping it exhibits the same symptoms as though it was suffering from a lack of water in the root environment.. Unfortunately when people are unaware of this they will see the plant wilting and give it yet more water compounding the problem and causing further root death. If over-watering is allowed to continue then eventually the whole plant will die

How to Recognise Over-watering?


It is possible to pick up on over-watering quite quickly so long as you have a routine of checking the condition of your plants as you come to water them. Rather than water your plants on an individual basis, check and water each one - should they require any - every time you water and do so in the same order every time . That way you will know that none of your plants have been missed. Try and familiar yourself to the weight of the pots not only when the compost is wet but also when it’s dry. You will often see staff at plant retailers and nurseries judging whether a plant needs watering or not just by lifting it up.
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If you come across a plant that is showing signs of drying out first check the condition of the soil. You can do this by placing your hand on the surface of the compost. If it is still damp from the last time you watered then there is very likely to be a problem of root ‘suffocation’. If the soil feels dry to the touch then scrape away the surface of the compost and see how damp it is below. If it is wet you should be able to feel it, but also there should be a change in the colour. Wet compost is almost always much darker than dry compost.

In extreme case – and this only works with flexible plastic pots – you can give the pot a gentle squeeze and if water begins to drip out of the base of the pot then again you will have a clear sign of over-watering. You can also try removing the pot and checking the condition of the soil and the roots.

If you are still not sure whether a plant is wilting due to root damage brought on by over-watering then you could consider giving it some more water. Be careful though, if there are no signs of improvement within 24 hours then you must take action to dry out the root ball.

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LILIUM NEPALENSE - The Lily of Nepal



Not surprisingly the rare species Nepalese lily - or Lily of Nepal as it's commonly called - is considered to be one of the most beautiful of all the lilies. Originating from the south of the Himalayas it natural habitat spreads from Northern Indian to Nepal and Bhutan. Typically, it grows in wet forest borders, between 1200m and 3000m above sea level.

Lilium nepalense is much-prized for its large funnel-shaped flowers which can be as many as eight on each stem. They are richly coloured, open trumpet shaped blooms with a lime-green, recurved hood. With a suitable background or foil, this contrasts dramatically with their royal-purple throats and spots. Normally unscented, you will also find that these spectacular downward-facing blooms are perfect for flower arranging as they can lasts for days once cut.

Image credit - www.yizhouhuahui.com
Best suited to the cool greenhouse, the Nepalese Lily will also happily grow outside so long as it isn’t susceptible to extremes of temperatures and conditions.

It prefers a slightly acidic, humus rich and free-draining soil, so if you are planting outside add plenty of leaf mould and horticultural grit to your soil. Like clematis, the Lily of Nepal needs to keeps its roots in the shade while its head stays in either semi-shade or full sun so make sure that it gets a good top dressing of either gravel, ornamental or composted bark to keep the heat off the soil.

Keep it moist during the spring until it comes into flower from June to July, and if you are using the Nepalese Lily as a specimen plant - rather than for ornamental height amongst the borders -then it may well need additional support. Like other lilies it will reach heights of between 3ft and 4ft.

Once flowering is over you will need to stop watering so that the plant can die back naturally. That way it can absorb valuable carbohydrates and nutrients back into the corm. However, if watering is continued then you may find that when it comes to lifting and storage, your corm may have rotted away.

If they were grown or planted in the ground while still in their pots, the pots can be lifted and turned on their side – that way they can also avoid natural watering from seasonal, heavy down-pours. Once spring returns, watering can begin again as this will replicate the melting snow normally found in its natural environment. Surprisingly, once this plant becomes established it seems to be quite tolerant of drought.

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HOW TO GROW TOMATOES - GROWBAGS OR SOIL



It almost doesn't matter where in the country you live or the property you are living in because there is almost always at least one spot in the sun that can accommodate a single grow bag. In one fail swoop the ‘growbag’ revolution made it possible for the ordinary person to successfully grow fresh produce at home, irrespective of whether they had a garden or not.

Such is the culture of the grow bag that most amateur gardeners including a fair number of professional gardeners have an almost mythical belief in it’s capabilities to grow traditional greenhouse crops. With regards to growing tomatoes, if you have no ground in which to plant them in then clearly using a growbag is your best option, but if you have good quality soil available should you still use the bag or put your trust nature and plant your tomatoes in the ground?

As a native of the South American rainforests, the normal dispersal of tomato seed would begin with its consumption by wild animals or the local indigenous peoples. The digestive process helps to strip the seed of its jelly like coating which contains specialized chemicals that inhibit the seeds germination. After a few hours the seed is returned to the soil along with a dose of natural fertilizer. With the heat of this environment combined with high levels of rainfall, the tomato seeds will germinate within a couple of weeks, making full use of the nutrient rich soil that has been fermenting below them.

For growing outdoor tomato varieties horticultural practice mimics nature as it is usual to prepare the soil before hand, digging in plenty of organic matter or well rotted farm manures. This is fantastic for the crops flavour as it has abundant supply of nutrients - both macro and micro - readily available within the root environment. Without the required range of nutrients, the tomato 'fruit' will be unable to manufacture the proteins, enzymes and pigments etc. that give us that rich and characteristic 'tomatoey' flavour organic gardeners strive for. Compare this to the growbag which in essence it a small bag of sedge peat which holds no real nutrients of its own.
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Sedge peat differs to moss peat in that it becomes greasy and compacts easily but it doesn't create a good open environment for root development. This is why all peat-based multi-purpose and specialist composts will contain moss peat and not sedge peat. It is however very cheap and as mentioned before, like moss peat it has no nutrients of its own which is why all grow bags must be supplemented with liquid feeds on an almost daily basis throughout the growing season. The problem with this is that the only nutrients that are available to your plants are the ones supplied by you.

Is this really a problem, well it is when you consider the ‘Law of limitations’? With regards to available nutrients a plant cell can only grow to the limits of its lowest available nutrient. This means that there may well be plenty of nitrogen, potassium and phosphates within the root environment, but if there is a shortage of calcium for example – a nutrient vital for the formation of plant cell walls – the cells within the tomato fruit will only grow so big until the cell walls collapse due to calcium deficiency resulting in catastrophic cell death. This is exactly the situation that occurs when tomatoes fruit suffer from blossom end rot.

So which is better for growing tomatoes, growbags or soil? At the end of the day tomatoes will always taste better in the ground but be aware though that constant cropping in the same soil can bring serious problems such as corky root, wilt and eelworm. To avoid this you would need to consider soil sterilisation, or change the soil every few years digging out the old soil and replacing it with humus rich, loamy soil from a part of the garden that has never cropped potatoes. The reason for this is that both tomatoes and potatoes are from the Solonacae family (compare their flowers) and you may inadvertently transfer blight spores with infected soil. To continue the argument, the problem with growbags is that they limit both the size and the flavour of your crop, however they are convenient.

At the end of the day the choice is yours, but perhaps the most important thing here is that you do get a choice.

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टमाटर बीज कैसे विकसित करने के
Images care of http://tinyfarmblog.com/sweet-potatoes/

HOW TO PRUNE BLACKCURRANTS



Along with many soft fruit bushes, pruning is important for two main reasons. Firstly it helps to encourage good cropping year on year, and secondly, it can also help reduce the incidence of fungal attacks.

As blackcurrants produce fruit on stems grown the previous year it’s important to achieve a regular supply of fresh new growth year on year. to replace the older wood as it becomes less viable for cropping.

To begin with all new blackcurrant bushes - normally grown from hardwood cuttings - would be just a single stem, and this is cut back to a couple of inches above soil level to encourage 'stooling' (this is the traditional method of growing edible berrying bushes). These are now left for a couple of years before more work is needed. Modern varieties that may have been grown as a multi-stem can also have all their growth cut back to a couple of inches above the soil level.

Once they have been in the ground for their first two years they would have formed their basic bush shape, but as this wood becomes older it will also become less productive. This production issue is dealt with by the removal of any stems that are four years or older. This selective pruning is carried out while the bush is dormant, after leaf-drop in the autumn. Each year – as a general rule of thumb - remove about one quarter to one third of the oldest stems. These can be recognised from their darker bark which is a deep purple in colour - almost to the point of being black. If the bush is a mass of thick congested growth you can also use this time to remove any weak stems helping to open up the bush allowing in light and more importantly air circulation. Also remove any stems that are rubbing together, as well as dead, diseased or dying stems that you may also find.

Unfortunately there are a number of varieties - particularly older ones - that as prone to fungal attacks which is why they were traditionally grown using the 'stool' method. This method allows the bush to grow out from a single basal stem, raising the main bush up from the ground in such a way that it allows far more air circulation around your plants compared to those left to develop their own shape. Good air flow is very important as it reduces the humid conditions that can build up within the plant's 'canopy'. These humid conditions are ideal for fungal spore production - a problem that is particularly troublesome in most soft fruits.

If you are growing mildew resistant blackcurrant varieties like’ Ben Garin’, and ‘Ben Connan’ then you may wish to try an alternative method of planting. Instead of cutting back to a couple of inches in the first year in order to create a ‘stooled’ bush, you can plant your blackcurrant bush about 6 inches deeper than the actual soil line. That way the plants will produces vigorous its new stems from below ground. These are then used to replace older ones that are removed as they loose productivity.

If you have taken on patch of land or garden with old or neglected blackcurrant bushes then again, come the autumn, all of the wood can be cut back down to just above soil level and give it a good mulch of well rotted farm manure.

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HOW TO PLANT AND GROW BLACKCURRANTS



With increasing competition from imported exotic fruits the old fashioned blackcurrant has been falling out of favour since the Second World War. For years it has been the ‘preserve’ of jams and fruit cordials, but recently it has gained a new identity as one of the latest additions to the recent super food craze.

On English soils the blackcurrant is relatively easy to grow although they will do best on a slightly acidic, heavy clay loam situated in a sunny, sheltered site away from strong winds and late frosts.

Preparation is - as always - important so before planting, dig over your soil adding plenty of well rotted farmyard manure.

On lighter soils you may also wish to add leaf mould or any other organic matter as this will help to reduce its free draining properties and typical leaching of nutrients.

Blackcurrant bushes are usually bought as pot grown plants but you may also be able to purchase them bare-rooted from specialist nurseries during their dormant period of November to February.

As blackcurrants produce fruit on stems grown the previous year it’s important to achieve a regular supply of fresh growth year on year. This is done by either growing it as a multi-stemmed bush or by using the ‘stool’ method which allows the bush to grow out from a single basal stem.

By raising the main bush up from the ground this way you are also allowing good air flow around your plants and in so doing reducing the incidence of grey mould which can be particularly troublesome in most soft fruits.

Water your plants well after planting and continue to do so during hot dry weather in the first year as blackcurrants are relative shallow rooted.

Space the bushes between 5ft and 6ft apart depending on the variety, and for all new plants cut back all the growth to a couple of inches of soil level.

If you are you are growing a multi-stemmed bush then you have nothing more to do, but if you want to encourage stooling then you need to remove all but one healthy stem which again is cut back to within a couple of inches of the soil line. These can now be left for two more years before they need pruning again

In subsequent years mulch your bushes every spring with a well rotted farm manure, this will help to add valuable nutrients to the soil, conserve moisture and help to keep down the weeds as blackcurrants have difficulty competing with them. If your plants are growing strongly then you may wish to change your mulch to something less rich such as straw, leaf mould or wood chips.
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BLACKCURRANTS - The new super food




Sitting on the back of the blueberry super-food craze, the humble British blackcurrant is having somewhat of a revival. With most of the country’s blackcurrant production going to either Ribena or Danish bacon – they use it as an edible ink for printing the words ‘Danish Bacon on their food – the current fashion for any food that has credible medical benefits has started to see a change in the blackcurrants fortunes.

Recent research has shown that the blackcurrant is “…bursting with more health-promoting antioxidants than most other vegetable and fruits, including blueberries…” Not only do they contain more vitamin C 'weight for weight' than a fresh orange, they are also packed with high levels of vitamins too. Research has also shown that these high levels of potent antioxidants have beneficial effects against a range of illnesses and conditions including heat disease, Alzheimer’s and the super-bug MRSA. Blackcurrants also contain several rare nutrients, like GLA ( Gamma Linoleic Acid, a very rare Omega-6 essential fatty acid) and MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors).

The high levels of anthocyanins that are found in blackcurrants are also shown to be beneficial in warding off ailments including heart disease, cancer, again - Alzheimer’s disease (2006 Tuft’s University Study), diabetes and high blood pressure. But using blackcurrants to treat illness isn't a new phenomenon as they been used since the middle-ages to treat bladder stones, liver disorders, coughs, chest ailments, urinary problems, and various skin conditions

Blackcurrant tart
Once an illegal berry in the United States, blackberries have now been proven to have higher levels of antioxidants, and range of vitamins and minerals than virtually any other fruit - including blueberries and pomegranates - for health-giving qualities.

Eating fresh blackcurrants or drinking blackcurrant juice is an easy way to get access to these health promoting natural chemicals but if you are buying them from the supermarket then you will need to be aware that the longer these fruits stay on the shelves - the further the vitamins levels inside the fruit will drop. Worst still, if you are buying blackcurrants in a carton of refrigerated smoothie you will see on the packet that they have been pasteurised to maintain their freshness. Unfortunately the pasteurisation process also destroys many of the natural health giving enzymes and proteins that are contained within the fruit. The truth is that – at least with regards to blackcurrants - the fresher they are, then the better they are for you, and if you want the freshest crop then you can do no better than growing them in your very own garden.

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HOW TO RECOGNISE POTATO BLIGHT - Phytophora infestans



Unfortunately, even after over 150 years of research there is still no known cure for this dreadful disease although there are many chemical available that can control its spread. Perhaps the best method of control is to try and avoid infection in the first place but to achieve this we must first learn how to recognise it.

It is clearly important to know how to spot potato blight, and the first signs are generally found on the leaflets, leaf stalks or stems. They appear as brownish to purple-black lesions of varying size which expand rapidly, eventually covering the entire host plant.

Each lesion has an outer purplish zone which merges into the remaining healthy and uninfected green tissue as the infection spreads. These infected areas become water soaked and soggy, and the host plant is quickly reduced to a rotting pulp.

The developing potato tubers can also become infected by any blight fungal spores that are washed off infected foliage and allowed to enter into the soil.

In severe cases the tubers are reduced to a rotten mass of wet flesh, but with a minor attack on the tubers the infection will show up just as a dry rot.

This rot won't soften the tissues, but will produce rusty-brown blemishes just below the surface of the skin. This can also can extend further as a variable pattern into the tuber.

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HOW TO GROW GREENHOUSE TOMATO PLANTS FROM SEED



Tomatoes are grown as tender annual plants in most regions, but they are actually classed as short lived perennials in the tropics of south America - their native environment.  To get the most out of you tomato crop they will require high light intensity and a temperature of 21 - 24C, however they will lose vigour if kept above 27C or below 16C . Just remember that tomato plants will not tolerate frost.

Sowing the Seed

Tomato seed is quite easy to handle and is best germinated using a standard seed tray filled with John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost. Space the seed evenly and then cover with about 1.5mm of compost. Tomato seedlings will ususally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C . For the best sowing times, see the recommendations listed in 'greenhouse' or 'outdoor' cultivation below. Pot tomato seedlings on when they are large enough to handle without the need to touch the stem.

Just by handling the leaves, transplant them carefully into 3inch pots using John Innes No.1 potting compost. If only a few plants are required, sow two seeds into a 3 inch pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. Take care not to let the plant and seedlings get cold as frost, cold winds and draughts will cause the plants to turn bluish and in most cases die. If you live in a cold area wait a few extra weeks until the air temperature has risen. Check the compost at all stages for dryness. This is vital in the intitial stages of germination as drought can cause poor germination or failure to germinate at all. If this is the case, add a little clean water from below, being careful not to over water. Too much water can kill seedlings just as easily, as it can spread water borne fungal diseases such as 'damping off'

Greenhouse Cultivation

For greenhouse tomatoes first pick a recommended variety such as 'Santa', 'Matador', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Supersteak' and sow as directed on the individual seed packet. This will generally be from late December/early January onwards and straight into 3 inch pots.

Plant the young plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your greenhouse border make sure you have dug in plenty of organic compost during the winter.

If you have used the border before for tomatoes, it is better to change the soil or sterilise it before using it for tomatoes again. This will help avoid soil pests and root diseases becoming a problem. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a growbag or pot just remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more then two plants per bag.

Outdoor Cultivation

For growing tomatoes outside, first pick a recommended variety such as 'Gardeners Delight', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Sweet 100' or try 'Tumbler' in a flower pouch or hanging basket.

Wait until approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost is forecast and sow as directed on the individual seed packet in 7.5cm (3in) pots.

When all risk of frost has past and when the plants are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open, you can plant them out. If you are planting into your border make sure you have dug in plenty of garden compost or peat during the winter. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a growbag or pot remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag

Training Plants

How to train or when to pick your fruit will depend on the varieties and types of tomatoes grown. Cordon (indeterminate) varieties will need their side shoots removed, determinate varieties may stop flower production after several trusses, but upward growth can be carried on by training up the topmost side shoot.

Bush varieties will remain low and will not need their side shoots removal. Tomatoes require a lot of water and feed to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. Feed with a general liquid feed until the first truss is formed then alternate with a high potash feed. This will encourage more flowers and fruit.

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Article courtesy of Thompson and Morgan
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ORGANIC AND CULTURAL CONTROL OF POTATO BLIGHT



Potato Blight – Phytophora infestans - is one of the worlds most widely know plant pathogens largely because of the devastating social effects that followed after the destruction of the Irish potato crops in 1845-1850.
 
Unfortunately, even after over 150 years of research, there is still no known cure for this dreadful disease even though there are now many chemical available that can control its spread. So in light of this – and in an attempt to eat a better quality of food - perhaps the best method of control is to try and avoid an infection of Potato Blight in the first place. Below is a list of the best cultural and organic practices which will reduce the incidence of infection by this highly invasive and damaging fungus.

1. Any plant material or debris that is believed to have been infected by blight should be burned to prevent the risk of further infection.

2. Effective ‘earthing’ up can help protect the underground tubers from being infected by soil borne blight spores. Although these spores can survive in the soil for several weeks, they cannot penetrate deeply into it. You could also try and secure polythene sheeting under the plants to act as an effected barrier against the spores from entering the soil.

3. If you have the space available consider increasing the distance between tubers at planting time. This will allow a better circulation of air and will reduce the conditions of high relative humidity necessary for the effective formation of viable blight spores.

4. Remove all ‘ground keepers’. These are infected tubers which remain as weeds from previous crops. Either remove and burn them or change your next crop to cereals.

5. Avoid storing potatoes anywhere that may be damp. Although your crop may not be infected, you may be providing ideal conditions for an infection to take hold that can blow in from infected neighbouring potatoes.

6. Do not water from overhead when blight is actively sporing on the foliage as this can provide ideal conditions for these new spores to leech through the soil and infect the tubers.

7. Never lift your crop when there is evidence of blight on the foliage. Remove and burn infected foliage first to reduce the infection from being transfer to the tubers as they are lifted from the soil.

8. Problems with blight are normally far worse during the higher humidities of late summer and early autumn. Therefore losses from blight can be reduced and even avoided by encouraging the tubers to crop earlier. This can be achieved by chitting the seed at the earliest possible time.
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9. If you believe that the use of traditional copper fungicides is within the bounds of organic gardening then you can use them to control the disease should a serious outbreak occur. However you must be aware that even though many chemicals have been developed that can effectively control potato blight there are as yet no methods that can actually kill it.

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