WHAT IS THE TULIP BREAKING VIRUS?




The 'Tulip Breaking Virus' is an almost a mythical disease that had confounded tulip breeders for centuries. Responsible for the stunning colour breaks in single, block coloured tulips these 'broken' colour tulips were a major factor in the financial madness that occurred during the Tulipmania period of 1636-1637 .

During this time ownership of these rare specimens was a reflection of your wealth and standing within society, and for a short period also made good business sense. The introduction of single coloured bulbs infected by the Tulip Breaking Virus caused an immediate sensation Up until then, the majority of contemporary tulips - although bold in colour - were only ever a single colour, ie if they were red then they would be a block of red colouration, if they were yellow then they would be a block of yellow colouration. With the introduction of the new 'broken' tulip - this meant that the tulips lock on its single bold colour was broken allowing unique colour variations never seen before.

We already know that tulips had been popular right across Europe for several centuries with the first specimens traded through the Ottoman Empire. So when these rare and incredibly beautiful new strains arrived, there was a market for them ready and waiting. It's no wonder that these stunning bulbs were so sought after and commanded such extraordinary prices.

For centuries, generations of Europe's top Tulip breeders believed that it was environmental conditions that cause these single colour tulips to break. It was generally believed that these unique colouration's could be induced by either frequently changing the soil, allowing the bulb to weaken by allowing it to seed, or storage on exposed condition s so that the bulb would be 'acted' upon by the rain wind frost or sun. Eventually it was series of experiments by Dorothy Cayley that led to the discovery of the 'Tulip Breaking Virus' began in 1928. Working at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, She discovered that by transferring infected tissue from broken bulbs to healthy bulbs during their dormant state, the infective agent that caused the break in colour would also be transferred. These experiments were further refined to include the tiny amounts that could be transferred by an insect which became her final deduction. The virus was eventually proven to be transferred by the following aphid species; Myzus persica, Macrosiphum euphorbiae, Aphis fabae, Aphis gossypii, Dysaphis tulipae, and Aulocorthum circumflexum.

The transfer of the virus is simple, as the aphid bites into an infected plant, small amounts of the virus are left in it mouth-parts. When the aphid moves to another host the virus enters the plants vascular system when the aphid once again starts to feed

Typically, the symptoms of the Tulip breaking virus caused colour breaking on the petals of pink, purple and red flowered cultivars although yellow and white coloured varieties are not affected. This 'breaking' can take the form of conspicuous white or yellow streaking across the petals or streaking of a darker shade compared to the original colour. Sometime you may see a combination of the two effects, and on rare occasions you may come across mottling or stripping of the plants leaves.

Unfortunately there is a serious downside with the virus as it has a detrimental effect on the bulb itself. Infected bulbs will often grow stunted and weak, and as the virus progresses through each generation of plant the bulbs, it reduces their vigour, making them difficult to propagate. Eventually the bulb has no strength left to flower, eventually withering to nothing and ending the genetic line. It's for this reason alone that some of the most famous examples of colour broken bulbs - the 'Semper August'' and the 'Viceroy' - are no longer in existence.

In many countries such as Great Britain, bulbs infected by the virus are illegal for sale to prevent it from spreading and weakening cultivated stocks. Control of the Tulip breaking virus is also notoriously difficult to control although perhaps the best means of treatment is to remove and burn infected plants as you see them. As a precaution, do not plant tulips next to lilies as they are also able to carry the virus, allowing cross contamination to occur.

There are a small number of tulips dating from the Tulipmania period that are still in existence today, some are even available to buy for only a few pounds at your local plant retailer. However, and rather surprising, there are a few varieties of 'broken' bulbs whose worst aspects of the viral infections have remained benign. One such example is the rare Tulip 'Absalom' that is still around today and is shown in the photograph above. However, like the Rembrandt tulips, there are many copies around that try to rekindle the look of the old Dutch greats - many of them are poor imitations but there is one - Tulip 'Rem's Sensation' that does at least get close.

In the 21st century there appears to be only one place where the breeding of broken Tulips is alive and well and that is 'The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society' - the last of the great Tulip Societies in Great Britain.

For further information click onto:
Do Black Tulips really exist?
Gardenofeaden
How to Grow Tulips?
Lost Tulips of the Dutch Golden Age- Semper Augustus and Viceroy
The History of the Tulip
Old, Broken and Unusual Tulip Varieties
Old Dutch Tulips - Tulip 'Absalom'
Old Dutch Tulips - Tulip Duc van Thol 'Rose'
Old Dutch Tulips - Tulip Duc van Thol 'Scarlet'
Old Dutch Tulips - Tulip 'Lac an Rijn'
Tulip
Tulip Diseases
Tulip History and Popular Varieties
Tulipa 'Rem's Sensation'
What is Gluten?
What is Horticulture?
What is Poison Oak?
Images care of http://z5suburbangardener.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/tulips.html

HOW TO GROW GARLIC





If you are used to having even a reasonable success with main-crop onions then you should have no problems at all with growing garlic as their cultivation needs are almost identical. It is definitely a crop worth growing yourself because the absolutely best garlic you can get is that lifted fresh from the ground – known as wet garlic. This garlic is sweeter, less pungent and far more digestible than dried garlic, and the only way to guarantee your personal supply is to grow it yourself.

It’s all in the preparation, and if you can, you should be preparing your garlic bed by the end of summer. The reason for this is simple - the secret in getting really big bulbs, with plenty of divisions, is to get them planted in the ground by around the middle of October.

Dig in plenty of well-rotted farm manure as garlic plants love to be grown in a rich fertile soil, but strangely they don’t care for high levels of nitrogen and so avoid planting on freshly manured soil. Instead, dig over and add manure to the ground several months before planting which means you could be preparing your garlic bed as early as August. You may even wish to add a little bonemeal at this time.


Drainage is also important as garlic will rot in water-logged conditions so if you intend planting into heavy soil add plenty of organic matter and even horticultural grit to improve its drainage.

If you soil is too acidic – below pH 5.5 – you will need to add lime to the bed, but only do so according to manufactures recommendations. In general, garlic plants will prefer a pH of between 6 and 7.5.

When planting at this time of year you must stick to using specific cultivated varieties such as ‘White Pearl’, 'Albigensian Wight', 'Early Purple Wight', ' Iberian Wight', 'Lautrec Wight' - widely regarded as Frances finest garlic, and Purple Moldovan Wight, all of which are known to suitable for growing our northern climates. Unfortunately, if you try to some of the larger supermarket bulbs they have probably been treated to prevent sprouting and are highly likely to die off in the cold wet weather.

Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and then set the largest and healthiest looking cloves aside for planting. Plant the garlic cloves 4 inches apart in rows 8 inches apart. Place them in an upright position, no more than 1 ½ inch below the soil surface - the bottom of the clove is identified by its flattened, slightly concave end.

From May, try adding a general fertiliser - like growmore - every four weeks for extra fertility, but you can also consider adding micro-nutrients - in particular boron and zinc – which are important in garlic production in order to get the best taste. Consider giving your garlic plants a periodic liquid feed of seaweed based fertiliser but if your garlic plants are clearly growing well this will probably be unnecessary.


Although it’s important to grow garlic in a free draining soil, they will still need watering especially in hot, dry weather.

When growing garlic in rows, leave enough space between the rows to get your hoe in for weeding. However, always hand-weed between your garlic plants as they are easily damaged by garden tools.

Your garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August to September depending on both the weather and individual varieties. The bulb will be mature when the foliage turns yellow and begins to tip over, but you will need to leave them for another couple of weeks before lifting.

The problem with harvesting garlic is knowing when they are ripe in order to lift them. Harvest them too early and the bulbs will be too small, but harvest too late and the bulbs will begin to loose their quality. If the weather is wet in early August, pull up a single bulb and see how many sheaths (the thin papery layers that surround the bulb) you can peel off the bulb, if the answer is three then the bulb is ready to be lifted. 

If you can remove four or more layers then it is best to wait another couple of weeks or at least until most of the leaves have turned brown. Once lifted, most of the bulbs can be washed and dried, and then placed into a warm dry part of the garden to dry out, however if rain is forecast then they will need to be brought indoors. Once dried off, these bulbs should now keep in good condition for 3 months or more.

For more information click onto:
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Garlic
Garlic - a Cure for Cancer?
Garlic - a Cure for High Blood Pressure?

Growing Garlic in Containers
How to Grow Amaranth
How to Grow Asparagus
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How to grow Cilantro from Seed
How to Grow Garlic in Pots and Containers
How to Grow Garlic in the Garden?

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How to Grow Mushrooms at Home
How to Grow your own Garlic in the Garden
How to Grow Giant Onions

How to Grow Potatoes
How to Grow Rosemary from Cuttings?
How to Grow Runner Beans from Seed
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Pots or Containers
How to Grow Vegetables?
How to Make my Recipe for English Onion Soup

How to Plant Garlic
How to Plant Garlic in Containers

How to Sow and Grow Spring Onions from Seed
Is Garlic Good for the Heart?

Onion
Turmeric Spice - a Cure for Cancer, Dementia, and Arthritis?

When do you Harvest Garlic

HOW TO GROW GARLIC IN POTS





Growing garlic in containers is an excellent way of providing your kitchen with one of the freshest, and most flavoursome herbs, especially if you are short of space in the garden. Not only is garlic simple to grow, it has also been used throughout history for its medicinal value too.

The best time to plant garlic in containers is mid-October as the cold weather helps to initialize growth that will result in far larger bulbs and a greater number of cloves.

When planting at this time of year you must stick to using specific cultivated varieties such as ‘White Pearl’, 'Albigensian Wight', 'Early Purple Wight', ' Iberian Wight', 'Lautrec Wight' - widely regarded as Frances finest garlic, and Purple Moldovan Wight, all of which are known to suitable for growing our northern climates. Unfortunately, if you try to some of the larger supermarket bulbs they have probably been treated to prevent sprouting and are highly likely to die off in the cold wet weather.

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You can plant as late as April although your ‘crop’ won’t be as big, although at this warmer time of year you can try planting up any spare cloves left over from a supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and then setting the largest and healthiest looking cloves aside for planting.
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Fill a deep container - with a circumference of at least 6 inches - with John Innes ‘Seed and potting compost’. The depth is important here as although garlic is now a highly cultivated plant – its wild ancestors would have originate from the mountainous regions of Asia. In this environment their fine roots were programmed to search for water far deeper than other similar plants, a natural result evolved to ensure their survival in these harsh conditions. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position, no more than 1 ½ inch below the soil surface - the bottom of the clove is identified by its flattened, slightly concave end.

Water the pots well and place them outside in a sunny position, and if you are planting up before winter, try and keep the pots out of the way of cold winds. From early-June onwards, begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks.

Your garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August to September depending on both the weather and individual varieties. The problem with harvesting garlic is knowing when they are ripe in order to lift them.

Harvest them too early and the bulbs will be too small, but harvest too late and the bulbs will begin to loose their quality, and so a more accurate method is needed to determine whether or not the garlic is ready to harvested.

If the weather is wet in early August, pull up a single bulb and see how many sheaths (the thin papery layers that surround the bulb) you can peel off the bulb, if the answer is three then the bulb is ready to be lifted. If you can remove four or more layers then it is best to wait another couple of weeks or at least until most of the leaves have turned brown.

When harvesting garlic bulbs, gently ease them out of the ground using a trowel to loosen the surrounding soil, taking care not to bruise them as they will then not keep for long. Once lifted, most of the bulbs can be washed and dried, and then placed into a warm dry part of the garden dry out, however if rain is forecast then they will need to be brought indoors. Once dried off, these bulbs should now keep in good condition for between 3-4 months.

For more information click onto:

HOW TO GROW ONIONS FROM ONION SETS




Growing onions from onion sets is probably the easiest way to produce a fantastic crop of quality onions, and in most cases you will be able to achieve better success this way when compared to growing onions from seed. Why? Because most of the hard work has been done for you.
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To begin with, start with a sunny site that has good drainage, but the key is to grow them in a permanent bed that is maintained year on year in order to build up the soil fertility.

There is a down-side to this however as you can also encourage the build up of soil pests and diseases. Therefore, some advise that you to rotate your onion bed with the rest of the vegetable garden. If you are starting fresh, avoid soils that have been planted with onions within the past three years, and because onions are shallow rooted and poor competitors with other plants, try and avoid sites with a history of perennial weeds.

It certainly is possible to grow onions on the same bed year after year, but in order to maintain successful and healthy cropping a strict health routine must be followed. If there are any onions that you suspect are harbouring any kind of disease then remove not only the plant, but also a small amount of soil from where the onion was growing.

Hopefully this will eliminate any unwanted bacteria in the soil. With this in mind, it is also worth watering the bed with a dilution of Jeye's Fluid once the crop has been harvested - this again will help to kill any unwanted bacteria or fungi.

There are onion beds that were started over 140 years ago that are still in production today using this method!

How to prepare an onion bed
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If you can, start preparing your onion bed in the autumn by digging in plenty of well-rotted farm manure.

This will give the ground a chance to settle over the winter period and allow frosts to break down the soil clods.

If your soil is to acidic, below pH 5.5, you will need to add lime to the bed according to manufactures recommendations.

In general, onions prefer a pH of between 6 and 7.5, and a fine tilth to be planted into. Weather permitting, the frosts should do a good job of this.
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You can plant onion sets as soon as your soil will allow you to which can be any time from late February, but you can steal a march here by picking a dry day a few weeks before planting and raking the soil to a fine tilth.

Onions like a firm bed so tread over the area you have just raked.

Try adding a general fertiliser like growmore for extra fertility, and for an even earlier crop you can plant onion sets under protective cloches at the end of January.

There is an advantage that can be gained by setting up cloches before planting.

If cloches are placed over the ground prior to planting, the ground has some time to warm up, reducing the chances of a check in growth. The soil may require some watering to achieve a uniform moisture before planting onion sets, but try and avoid planting them into a dry bed.
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Plant onion sets 4 inches apart in rows about 1 foot apart and plant them to a depth where only the very tips of the sets are just showing through the soil. Dig a hole in the soil with a trowel and place them in the hole with their necks uppermost. Do not just push them into the soil as they may grow out of the soil as the season progresses.
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Micro-nutrients are also important in onion production - in particular boron and zinc - so look at giving your onions a periodic liquid feed of seaweed based fertiliser. However if your onions are clearly growing well then this will probably be unnecessary.
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You will need to keep a a particular eye on newly emerging onion shoots as these will often attract the attention of inquisitive birds (particularly pigeons and black birds) who will lift your juvenile plants straight out of the seed beds for nothing more than a little mischievous fun.

If you don't have some kind of protection in place you can end up loosing almost an entire crop!

Onions are not very good at suppressing weed growth, and if regular weeding is neglected they will easily be out-competed for nutrients. This will result in your crop becoming stunted.

If you can leave enough space between the rows to get your hoe in for weeding. However, always hand-weed any weeds close to your onions as they are easily damaged by garden tools.

To have a year-round supply, you can make a second planting during the late summer which should be ready to harvest from June, although a second planting isn't recommended in heavy, poorly drained soils.

For more information click onto:
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Allium giganteum
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Growing Carrots
Growing Garlic in Containers
Growing Mushrooms 
Growing onions in Africa
Growing Onions from Seed
Growing Onions from Sets
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How do you Plant Out Onion Seedlings?
How to grow Allium Giganteum from Seed
How to Grow Amaranth
How to Grow Asparagus
How to grow Avocado
How to Grow Basil
How to Grow Basil from Seed Outdoors
How to Grow Broad Beans
How to Grow Butternut Squash
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How to grow Cauliflower from Seed
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How to grow Cilantro from Seed
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How Grow Courgettes from Seed
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How to Grow Cucumbers from Seed
How to Grow Outdoor Cucumbers
How to Grow Cauliflowers from Seed
How to grow Cucumbers
How to Grow Cucumbers from Seed
How to Grow Cucumbers from Seed
How to Grow French Beans from Seed
How to Grow Garlic
How to Grow Garlic in Pots and Containers
How to Grow Garlic in the Garden?
How to Grow Giant Onions
How to Grow Giant Vegetables
How to grow Japanese Onion Sets
How to Grow Leeks from Seeds
How to Grow Leeks from Seed
How to Grow Marrows from Seed
How to Grow Mushrooms
How to Grow Oyster Mushrooms
How to Grow Okra
How to Grow Onions From Seed
How to Grow Parsnips
How to grow Peas from Seed
How to Grow Peanuts
How to Grow Peppadew Peppers from Seed
How to Grow Plants
How to Grow Potatoes
How to Grow Radishes
How to Grow Runner Beans from Seed
How to Grow Rosemary from Cuttings?
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How to Grow Spinach from Seed
How to Grow Sweet Corn
How to Grow Sweet Corn from Seed
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How to Grow Tomatoes?
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How to Grow Vegetables?
How to Grow Watercress
How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed
How to Make and Prepare an Onion Bed
How to Make my Recipe for English Onion Soup
How to Plant Garlic
How to Plant a Tomato Plant
How to Sow and Grow Spring Onions from Seed
Is a Peanut a Nut?
Mexican Jumping Bean
Onion
Onion Soup
Plants
Planting Onion Sets
Potagers
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The Secrets to Growing Bonsai
The Snake's Head Fritillary - Fritallaria meleagris
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What is Butternut Squash?
What is the Difference Between Fruit and Vegetables
What is a Peanut?
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Where do Peanuts come from?
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When do you Harvest Garlic
Why do Onions make you Cry?
बीज से प्याज कैसे विकसित करने के
Images care of http://www.soilman.net/2009/alliums/planting-onion-sets-for-spring/ and http://www.excellentdevelopment.com/articles/people-amp-communities/africa-sand-dam-foundation and http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-drying-onions-sun-image12042815

PESTS AND DISEASES OF WATERCRESS



With regards to watercress, it’s worth noting that they don't suffer too much from pests or disease but should you be unlucky enough for your plants to become infected by a fungal infection, it is likely only to occur at the propagation stage rather than on mature plants in their aquatic environment - with the exception of crook root. Therefore, it is particularly important to apply good high standards of hygiene during the propagation stage in order to minimise the need for subsequent chemical use. Be aware that watercress diseases tend to be most prevalent during dull, cool weather when the crop is unable to grow away.
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DAMPING OFF (Pythium species)

Cause: This is very common fungal infection which is implicated in the disease commonly known as 'damping off'. When propagating seed in damp soil, the soft underground plant tissues can be attacked particularly if conditions are extremely and if plant growth is slow. Any aerial parts of the plant should remain unaffected unless they have contact with the soil.

Symptoms: You will typically lose part – or in extreme cases – all of the root system and your plants (rather obviously) will begin to lack vigour. Some Pythium species only attack the root tips, which can turn from white to brown and ending with their eventual collapse.

Treatment: Washing and disinfecting seed trays will help to minimise disease risk. Compost should always be kept from sources that may have been exposed to the fungus, e.g. by contaminated dust, or water , and your watering supply must also be kept free from sources of infection.

CROOK ROT

Cause: This destructive fungal disease invades the plants by means of spores that penetrate the root cells. This fungus then goes on to systematically invade the leaves and stems of young shoots. The organism will also multiply within the root, producing large numbers of viable spores. At certain stages during its life cycle, only dormant spores are produced which are highly resistant to poor environmental conditions. When favourable conditions return, the dormant spores become active, and become released into the environment where it can infect more host plants. Crook root is especially most damaging in winter when watercress is growing more slowly.

Symptoms: Once the fungus reaches the new growth, the plant will begin to produce swollen and malformed, leaves and stems. As the disease moves into the secondary shoots, these will become stunted resulting in malformed plants.

Control: There are no chemicals that can be used to control this pathogen, however you can try purging your watercress with large volumes of water as this can reducing the rate of infection by washing away the viable spores.

FLEA BEETLES

Cause: This is perhaps the most recognised pest of watercress due to the immense, characteristic damage that these beetles can cause.

Symptoms: These beetles can cause significant damage by leaving copious amounts of small holes in the leaves. This normally serious infestation is usually experienced at two distinct times of the year, usually in April and July.

Control: Beetles can be removed by submerging your crop of watercress for about 2 hours. This causes the beetles to float off, at which point they can be skimmed off the surface of the water. You can also consider “trap crops” such as radish which may help lure the flea beetles away from your watercress. With the appropriate equipment – and if you don’t have too many plants - Flea beetles can be vacuumed off the foliage. However this must be repeated frequently to avoid another invasion of your plants.

MUSTARD BEETLE (Phaedon cochleariae)

Causes: Like flea beetles, adult mustard beetles can lead to an almost continuous infestation of watercress throughout the summer.

Symptoms: Eggs are not laid on Watercress so damage is limited to the leaf and by the feeding adult beetles.

Control: Again, these beetles can be removed by flooding the cropping beds for about 2 hours to allow them to naturally float off before being skimmed off the surface of the water.

APHIDS

Cause: Most aphid infestations are caused by the black bean aphid or the Peach blossom aphid (Myzus persicae).

Symptoms: Aphids generally feed on watercress over the summer, but severe infestations may cause serious losses. They damage and weaken the plant by sucking the sap out of pressurised parenchyma cells found just below the leaf's surface. Clusters of these small insects are readily identifiable, normally at the plants tips or on the underside of their leaves. In severe cases, the infected parts can begin to curl down due to the quantity of sap being removed from that area. Aphids will also excrete honeydew which causes leaves to first become sticky and shiny. They eventually turn black because of a sooty-mould fungus growth.

Control: There is no chemical control that is recommended against use on watercress, however using trap crops such as lettuce or bedding nasturtiums may help to entice aphids to these alternatives rather than to your edible crop.

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WATERCRESS - The new super food




History tells us that the ancient European civilizations had great faith in the health giving properties that watercress had to offer. In fact, Hippocrates - the Father of modern medicine - is said to have deliberately located his first hospital beside a stream so that he could grow a plentiful and convenient supply of watercress with which to help treat his patients.

Through the latter half of the twentieth century the popularity of watercress had been falling, mainly due to increased competition from imported and more exotic ‘fresh produce’. However since its identification as a ‘super food’, watercress has been experiencing something of a revival and has now become one of the most popular salad crops available today.

Brimming with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and packed full of beneficial glucosinates, watercress contains- gram for gram - more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folic acid than bananas.

However what really makes watercress a ‘super food’ is the release of recent research which shows that eating watercress regularly can help cut the chances of developing cancer.

The University of Ulster has published a report in the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ that suggests a regular intake of fresh watercress can significantly reduce DNA damage to white blood cells within the human body. In fact, they found that DNA damage to white blood cells was cut by an incredible 22.9%. This is a terribly important find, especially as white blood cell damage is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer.

In addition to this, watercress also appears to raise the levels of beneficial compounds within human cells allowing them to protect themselves from the damaging effects of particles known as ‘free radicals’.

When cell samples were exposed to hydrogen peroxide – a highly reactive substance which is used to generates large numbers of free radicals within the body - damage levels were found to be 9.4% lower than would normally be expected. In addition to this, the research found that the blood levels of antioxidant compounds, such as lutein and beta-carotene (naturally occurring chemicals important in combating the effect of free radicals) were also increased significantly. In contrast, levels of potentially harmful triglycerides were reduced by an average of 10%.

With important discoveries such as these being discovered within one of the cheapest and easiest to grow salad plants that you can find, you would be foolish not to include watercress as a part of your everyday meal plan. Not only can it help reduce the incidence of this countries number 1 killer, it actually tastes good too.

For further reading click onto:
Buy Watercress Seed
Blackcurrants - The New Superfood
Can Raw Food Help to Fight Cancer?
Easy to Grow Plants that can Help to Fight Cancer
Edible Nuts - the Answer to Lowering Cholesterol?
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Green Tea - a Cure for Prostrate Cancer
How to Grow Watercress from Seed
Mint Tea - the Latest in Pain Relief?
Pests and Diseases of Watercress
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Watercress - Nasturtium officinale
What Causes Pond Water to go Frothy?
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What is Vitamin D deficiency?
What is Watercress?

WATERCRESS - Nasturtium officinale



The European watercress - Nasturtium officinale, as been eaten as part of the human diet as far back as history can record. Fortified with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals, even since ancient times its health giving properties have been highly valued. In fact Hippocrates - the Father of modern medicine - is said to have deliberately located his first hospital beside a stream so that he could grow a plentiful and convenient supply of watercress with which to help treat his patients.

Through the latter half of the twentieth century the popularity of watercress had been falling, mainly due to increased competition from imported and more exotic ‘fresh produce’. However since its identification as a ‘super food’, watercress has been experiencing something of a revival and has now become one of the most popular salad crops available today.

Low growing and trailing, the perennial European watercress is a member of the mustard family which is no surprise when you consider its delicious peppery taste. In its native habitat, watercress easily naturalizes in springs, streams and even boggy ground, a habit that makes it a particularly undemanding plant to grow in the garden. Although it is easily propagated from seed, it is usually produced from stem sections which readily take root in wet soil. If you are feeling particularly lazy, you can throw a rooted stem into any body of slow moving water and can expect it to grow with no further involvement.

Although there is a lot of good identified with the consumption of watercress there is a word of warning to those of you who intend collecting watercress from the wild. Dirty streams can make watercress unfit to eat and so as a rule of thumb - if you wouldn't drink the water, you shouldn't eat the watercress. More importantly though is collecting watercress from bodies of water found near to where sheep and cattle are farmed. Water that has come into contact with their dung can cause watercress to become contaminated by liver flukes. Acute infection from liver flukes will cause severe abdominal pain, intermittent fevers, eosinophilia, malaise, and weight loss due to liver damage.
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For further information click onto:

HIMALAYAN BLUE POPPY - Meconopsis betonicifolia




The Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia is one of those plants that captures the imagination, but generally lets you down once you start trying to grow it yourself. The problem with this plant is that most people try and raise it under normal garden conditions, making no allowances to adjust the local environment so that it mimics its native conditions.

Originating from the lush, mountainous regions of south-eastern Tibet, this almost magical plant will require a cool, sheltered position in order to survive. However, the trick with this particular plant is to be able to provide it with an acidic, moist, yet free draining soil that won’t dry out – especially during the summer months.

Taking this into consideration, when introducing this plant to the garden, the ground will need to be dug over deeply, adding plenty of humus rich and ericaceous (lime-free) compost. Meconopsis also has high nutrient requirements so it’s worth mixing in some well-rotted farm manure as well as periodically feeding with a dose of balanced fertilizer as the plant becomes established. Try and avoid any competition from tree roots, and the area should be partially shaded – preferably from deciduous plants - so as to protect the plants from mid-day summer heat, but also allowing plenty of winter light.

In its native habitat the Himalayan poppy is the product of its environment which – outside of the harsh winter months - is permanently watered by the melting mountain snow. Although tolerant of cold temperatures, sharp frosts and heavy snowfalls, if they are over-wintered in wet, soggy conditions, especially around the crown of the plant, then the root system of this stunning plant will fail with no hope of new growth the following spring.

Even with the extra work involved in preparing for this unusual yet beautiful perennial, it’s well worth the effort for the reward of those captivating blossom. They first start to emerge in the spring, producing a rosette of light green, hydrophobic leaves. Then in late spring, they will end up a flower shoot sometimes several feet tall. This will produce one or more terminal flowers usually followed by further flowers lower down the stem. If you happen to live in an exposed area you would be wise to employ some kind of plant support as unless they are surrounded by herbaceous plants of a similar height they are inclined to flop over in windy conditions.

The flowers tend to nod downwards but some will face upright. Like hydrangeas the soil ph will affect the shade of blue that the flower will display, ranging from a clear pale sky blue through intense pure blue and even on to violet shades. Alkaline soils produce more violet shades even in cultivars which would otherwise be a pale blue. Once the flowers have finished you would be wise to collect the seed as soon as it has ripened for propagation later on. The stem will then begin to naturally die back leaving the rosette of foliage to remain over the rest of the summer which will spread into a clump over the following years. Unfortunately any weak plants which may have not produced offsets will die back completely, unable to re-grow the following year – a problem typical of poor growing conditions. Keep an eye out for this as this is the reason behind keeping the viable seed.

For more information click onto:
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Buy Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia seed
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How to Grow Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia from Seed
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How to Plant and Grow the Himalayan Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia
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The Snapdragon - Antirrhinum majus
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WHAT ARE PLANT MACRO-NUTRIENTS AND MICRO-NUTRIENTS




The problem with plant nutrients is that there are so many of them. You have your macro nutrients – nutrients that plants require large amounts of, and then you have your micro nutrients – nutrients that plants require only in small quantities. The main macro nutrients Nitrogen (N), phosphorus - phosphates (P), and Potassium (K) are commonly found listed on the sides of packaged fertilizers either as a percentage or ratio N:P:K, but there are others - see listed below. Each nutrient is in fact an element and found within the periodic table and the capital letters (shown in brackets) are those assigned to each element.

Macronutrients

(H) Hydrogen - Essential for photosynthesis

(C) Carbon - Essential for photosynthesis

(O) - Oxygen - Essential for photosynthesis

(N) Nitrogen - A vital constituent of amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids etc

(K) Potassium - A building block for 40 or more enzymes, and also has a important role in stomatal movement. Potassium also helps to maintain electroneutrality in plant cells.

(Ca) Calcium - A vital constituent of plant cell walls amongst others.

(Mg) Magnesium - This is required non-specifically by a large number of enzymes and is also a vital part of the chlorophyll molecule.

(P) Phosphorus - This is a vital component of sugar phosphates, nucleic acids, coenzymes etc.

(S) Suphur - A vital component of proteins, lipoic acid, coenzyme A, thiamine etc.

The list of micro nutrients that plants can use is huge - numbering 72, but the most important ones to be aware of are iron, copper manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and chlorine. If your soil is deficient in any of these you will experience characteristic physiological symptoms on the leaves of your plants. This is because without these vital nutrients the plant is unable to make those critical proteins and enzymes required to function. This is also called the 'Law of the Minimum' because plants can only grow as the minimum available nutrient will allow.

Important Micronutrients

(Cl) Chlorine - This is required for the photosynthetic reactions involved in the production of oxygen

(B) Boron - Used for carbohydrate transport within the plant and also forms complex molecules within certain carbohydrates

(Fe) Iron - Vital for nitrogen fixing and respiration, iron is also a constituent of cytochromes and iron proteins involved in photosynthesis.

(Mn) Manganese - This is required non-specifically for a large number of enzymes as well as for the production of oxygen during photosynthesis.

(Zn) Zinc - This is a vital constituent for a number of important enzymes such as glutamic and alcohol dehydrogenase.

(Cu) Copper - This is an essential component of - amongst others - ascorbic acid oxidase, tyrosinase and monoamine oxidase.

(Mo) Molybdenum - This is an important constituent of nitrate reductase and is essential for nitrogen fixation.

For more information click onto:
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HOW TO MAKE AND PREPARE AN ONION BED




To begin preparing a new onion bed you need to first choose a sunny site with good drainage but the real key to growing onions in a permanent bed in is to build up the soil fertility first. There is a down side to this however as you can also encourage the build up of diseases so it is advisable to rotate your onion bed rotate with the rest of the vegetable garden. Try to avoid soils that have been planted with onions within the past three years, and because onions are shallow rooted and poor competitors with other plants, avoid sites with a history of perennial weeds. .

Soil sterilisation
It is possible to grow onions on the same bed year after year but in order to maintain successful and healthy cropping a strict health routine must be followed. If there are any onions that you suspect are harbouring any kind of disease then remove not only the plant but also a small amount of soil from where the onion was growing. Hopefully this will eliminate any unwanted bacteria in the soil. It is also worth watering the bed with a dilution of Jey's Fluid once the crop has been harvested - this again will help to kill any unwanted bacteria or fungi. There are onion beds that were started over 140 years ago that are still in production today using this method!

If you can, start preparing your onion bed in the autumn by digging in plenty of well-rotted farm manure. This will give the ground a chance to settle over the winter period and allow frosts to break down the soil clods. If you soil is to acidic – below pH 5.5 – you will need to add lime to the bed according to manufactures recommendations. In general, onions prefer a pH of between 6 and 7.5 and a fine tilth to be sown into. Weather permitting, the frosts will do a good job of this.
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You can sow main-crop onion seeds as soon as your soil will allow you to which can be any time form late February, but you can steal a march here by picking a dry day a few weeks before sowing time and raking the soil to a fine tilth. Onions like a firm bed so tread over the area you have just raked.

Try adding a general fertiliser like growmore for extra fertility, and for an even earlier crop you can sow onion seed under glass or cloches in January. (There is an advantage that can be gained by setting up cloches before planting. If cloches are placed over the ground prior to planting, the ground has some time to warm up, reducing the chances of a check in growth). The soil may require some watering to achieve a uniform moisture before seeding onions, but try to avoid sowing into a dry seed bed.
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Micronutrients are also important in onion production - in particular boron and zinc - so look at giving your onions a periodic liquid feed of seaweed based fertiliser. However if your onion are clearly growing well then this will probably be unnecessary.

For the adventurous, try this old recipe for giant, exhibition onions care of W.Robinson's home of the Mammoth Onion.

Dig out a trench 1 ½ ft deep, further forking over the bottom of the trench if the base ground is solid. Then, into every four square yards of the bed work the following: 4 Forkfuls of pea, bean or tomato haulms 1 garden barrow of well rotted farmyard manure 5oz Bonemeal 6oz Sulphate of Potash and every 5/7 years only 2oz Sulphate of Iron.
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First scatter the haulms at the bottom of the trench, and then mix the fertiliser into the bed. It is essential that the greater proportion of the manure should be near the top of the bed within 3 inches of the soil surface. This will enable the roots to come into contact with the manure during the early stages of growth. This work is best done in the Late Autumn or Early Winter when the bed is reasonably dry, this can then be left to the elements over the winter period. Come March, work the top of the bed into a fine tilth adding the following to an area of 4sq yards. 2oz Superphosphates 1oz Hydrated Lime or 1.5lbs Calcified Seaweed.
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For further information click onto:
How to Sow and Grow Spring Onions from Seed
Onion
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Planting Onion Sets
What is Crop Rotation?
What is a Seed?
Which Vegetable Seeds can be Sown in August?