Flea beetles are a skittish pest and are able to create a lot of damage while - on the whole - managing to get away with with it scot-free. Why, well it's because of their size and speed, a flea beetle is not much more than 1mm in length but it can jump approximately 1ft in distance in a single bound. This being the case, as soon as you are close enough to see one, it would have already hopped off, disappearing into the undergrowth. Because of the flea beetle ability to disappear fast the culprit behind such damage is often miss-identified.

Cause: Even though these tiny, fast moving insects are difficult to spot, there are perhaps the most easily recognised pest of tomato plants due to the characteristic damage that these beetles cause.
Symptoms: These beetles can cause significant damage by leaving copious amounts of small holes in the leaves. As the leaves grow, the holes become larger and end up looking as though they have been hit by a shotgun blast. This infestation is usually experienced at two distinct times of the year, usually in April and July.
Control: Flea beetles are difficult to control as they have a habit of ‘hopping’ away if disturbed, making contact insecticides a bit 'hit and miss' in their application. However, you can also consider “trap crops” such as radish which may help lure the flea beetles away from your treasured tomatoes. So long as the radish is not in flower (as the applied insecticide will then harm beneficial pollinating insects) you may wish to use a systemic insecticide, however this will make the radish crop inedible. With this in mind, remember to label it clearly to prevent human ingestion.

How to Grow Giant Tomatoes
ATLAS BEETLE - Chalcosoma atlas
.ATLAS BEETLE - Chalcosoma atlas


Despite their tropical looks, Eucomis species and cultivars are easy to grow and the same can be said when it come to propagating them.
Although they can be raised from seed (although they are unlikely to grow true to the parent) or from genetically identical bulblets from the parent plant, perhaps the most practical method of propagation is going to be from leaf cuttings. Although this may seem complicated, it is in reality quite straightforward so long as you make sure that you know which end of the leaf should face up and which end should face down. The best time of the year to start taking leaf cuttings will be around the end of June to the beginning of July, when the plant is at its most metabolically active.

Before you begin, make sure that you choose a healthy, undamaged and newly-matured leaf that will be taken from a parent plant well watered from the day before. Using a sharp and sterilised knife, cut through the base of your chosen leaf, making sure not to damage any of the remaining leaves. Lay the leaf down on a flat surface then, using the sterilized knife, cut the leaf into 2 -3 inch long sections. Always ensure that you keep the leaf sections facing in the same direction that they were on the plant. Alternatively, make the cuts into shallow chevrons to point the way for you.

Prepare a well drained potting mix of 3 parts John Innes seed to 1 part perlite and then, depending on how many cuttings you are making, fill up some 5-6 inch diameter terracotta pots with th efinished mix. Gently water the compost in, then place the leaf sections in an upright position- bottom face down – into the mix so that now only half of the leaf cutting is showing. With no more than 3-4 cuttings per pot, place them into a cool shady position where they can be left over the summer period. Alternatively, for a better take, place the cuttings into a propagator, or cover with a clear plastic bag. Try to keep the temperature at an average 20°Celsius, and be carefull not to overwater. Remove the cover a few times each week - for a few hours each time - to reduce the risk of fungal rots. If you do come across any signs of mould or mildew then spray with a copper based fungicide and improve ventilation.

By the autumn, these leaf sections should have rooted, and on the base of each section should be small embryonic bulbs that are genetically identical to the parent plant. These can be removed from the leaf cutting and grown on as a single, separate plants into a 3 inch terracotta pots using a fresh compost mix, again of 3 parts John Innes seed to 1 part perlite. Make sure that you only plant one bulb per pot which can now be moved to a sunny position. Water well while the bulbs when in active growth, but reduce watering during the winter months. You may wish to move the young plants into a protected environment, such as frost-free greenhouse, for the first couple of winters.

You will find that the young bulblets are fast-growing and will require regular re-potting. They will also mature faster than many other bulb varieties, coming into flower any time in the following two to five years. Once they are of a flowering size they can them be treated as mature bulbs.


If you have never tasted the sublime delights of an artichokes heart then you are definitely missing out on a treat. Step back through the centuries and this once forbidden ‘fruit’ was only afforded by Kings and the wealthy aristocracy. Today it’s a different matter with hundreds of varieties to choose from including some of the old historical favourites. Easily grown by seed - or bought in the spring from any good plant retailer -artichokes are surprisingly straightforward to grow, but for best results they need to be grown and harvested quickly.

To begin with, positioning is all important so try to choose a rich, free-draining soil - preferably with a pH of around 6.5 to 7.0. However, the most important aspect with growing artichokes is to make sure that they receive as much sun throughout the day as possible, so you are looking at a South to South-west facing position.

Artichokes also have a high nutrient requirement and so - if you are able to - try to prepare your site a month or so before planting. Dig the soil deeply adding plenty of well-rotted manure, you may also wish to mix in some horticultural grit to improve the drainage. In fact you can even go as far as adding some general pelleted fertiliser – such as poultry manure or ‘Growmore’ – to the soil in order to help encourage further vigour.

Dig a hole bigger than plant so that the soil mark on the stem sits at the same level as the soil surface. Backfill the hole around the root-ball, adding some compost along with it to help with the initial root development. Gently firm the plant in and then thoroughly water. It's important to keep an eye on the watering at this crucial stage in their development, ensuring that they don't dry out over the summer. In hot weather it's wise to give your young artichoke plants a good, regular, moisture-retaining mulch. Remember that Artichokes will need plenty of available water in order to produce those big, succulent buds which – during hot dry spells - can be as much as three times a week while the buds are forming. Of course, water so much that the roots are left sodden for extended periods of time and you can expect them to rot off.

With their large, delicately cut, silvery foliage, artichokes also make great architectural statements in the ornamental garden, but be aware of the plants around them as - with an overall height of and width of up to 6 feet - they can easily shade out smaller, more delicate specimens. Also, maintaining these damp conditions while the plants are still young can make them an easy target for slugs and snails so make sure that some kind of slug deterrent is put in place.

Although a native of the regions around the Mediterranean, there are some varieties suitable for the colder climate, but if temperatures start to regularly dip below -4 degrees Celsius during the winter period, you can expect some root damage. To help avoid this,make sure they get a heavy mulching to act as cold protection, and consider some kind of protection to keep the cold and wet off the soil. In very cold climates the outer skin of the artichoke can blister, turning whitish in colour, although his will make them look unattractive it will not affect the eating quality.

During the plants first year, they will need to direct all their energy into making foliar and root growth, so remove any flower-heads as they form. In the second year, the edible heads can be allowed to fully develop for harvesting later on in the summer. These edible buds will develop at the tips of 1-inch-thick stalks, while the terminal bud – the top-most bud on the centre stem - is normally the largest and the first to mature. Harvest the artichokes before the buds start to open - while they're still green and tight – carefully slicing through the stem with a sharp knife just below the bud. If a few buds escape your knife, they will open into spectacular, purple-blue, 6-inch thistle-like flowers. However, allowing the buds to flower may reduce the plant’s vigour for the following year’s crop.

Prepare and eat the artichoke as soon as possible or refrigerate to ensure their freshness.

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SCOTCH THISTLE - Onopordum acanthium


Artichokes are at risk of becoming one of the gardeners worst kept secrets. Still considered to be a true gourmet food, artichokes once commanded such high prices that only kings and members of the aristocracy could afford to eat them. Today things are a little different with hundreds of varieties available - even to the passionate, amateur gardener - with many of them suitable for growing as an annual or perennial crop - even in the cooler northern European climates. If you are prepared to do a little research you can still buy a few of the old historic varieties such as 'Violetta di Chioggia', and 'Gros Vert de Laon'.

.The unavoidable fact and so called ‘worst kept secret’ is that artichokes plants are just so easy to grow from seed. While they will not all grow genetically ‘true’ to the parent plants, because they are so easy to germinate it is just a matter of growing a few extra plants so that any rogue specimens that turn up can be removed later on without the worry of losing some of your future crop.
Artichokes can be started from seed in a greenhouse, conservatory or even in a well lit, warm room by the windowsill. Starting anytime from around late February, plant a couple of seeds into 9cm pots using a good quality soil-based composts such as John Innes ‘Seed’. You may wish to mix in a little horticultural grit or perlite to help with the drainage. Give the seeds a further, light covering of compost, then water in well - placing them in a greenhouse or warm room once the excess water has drained off. Water as necessary from that point on, but at no time should the compost be left sodden or be allowed to completely dry out.

The seeds should germinate between 2-3 weeks but they will need to remain in their protected environment right up until the threat of late frosts are over. Wait a couple of weeks after germination before removing the weaker artichoke seedlings from each pot. They can now be placed outside, but they will still need 2-3 weeks to harden off before planting out into their final position, so try to keep them under some sort of cover such as a cold frame or plastic tunnel. Starting them off early in a protected environment like this is a vital step in producing artichokes during the first year, whether they are grown as an annual or as a perennial.
Artichoke seedlings need lots of nutrients as they develop, so feed them once a week with a good quality liquid plant fertiliser. They will be ready for planting outside once the soil has warmed up and - as said before - once the danger of frost is over. Typically the transplants should be around 8 to 10 inches tall, with stocky stems and two sets of true leaves. Because they grow quite large, they should be planted at least 4 feet apart into a rich, deep, free-draining soil. For best results place them in a sheltered position where they can receive full sun for most of the day.

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The Globe Artichoke - Cynara cardunculus - has for centuries been considered a food that only a true connoisseur’s could enjoy. In fact some of the more flavoursome varieties, such as the Italian cultivar 'Violetta di Chioggia', were for a time only allowed to be eaten by the Italian aristocracy.
Although these delicately flavoured flower heads owe their history and cultivation to the Mediterranean regions of Southern Europe, its true origins are believed to have come from North Africa where they are still found in the wild state. Even its name, a derivation of the North Italian dialect word ‘articiocco’, has its origins in the Arabic name for this plant- al-khars hof.

There is a Greek myth which tells us that the first artichoke was a woman of surpassing beauty named Cynara, who lived on the island of Zinari. The God Zeus – who was there visiting his brother Poseidon - fell in love with her and decided to make her a goddess, but Cynara missed her home and mother so much that she would sneak back to earth from Mount Olympus to visit her them. This infuriated Zeus, who in a fit of rage, exacted his retribution by hurling her back to earth, and transforming her into the first artichoke. It is from the woman's name Cynara that we now get the botanical name for artichoke.

Catherine de M├ędici, who was married to King Henry II of France at the tender young age of 14, is credited with bringing the artichoke from her native country of Italy to France, where it became a huge and instant success. However, it was the Dutch who introduced artichokes to England, where they were grew in Henry VIII’s garden at Newhall in 1530. Henry became such a fan of the artichoke that records show he eat them in 'generous quantities'. Surprisingly, during the 16th Century, it was considered scandalous for women to eat artichokes. In fact the plant was held in such high regard during this time that- for a while - the artichoke was even denied to women and reserved only for men because of the belief that it could enhance sexual power.

Nowadays, the artichoke is a much more humble crop, easy to grow with many varieties now suitable for the colder regions of Europe. The old cultivars such as 'Violetta di Chioggia', and 'Gros Vert de Laon' are still available today and growing these historic varieties from seed is a relatively easy affair. So if you want to step back in time and eat the ‘forbidden fruits’ once only reserved and enjoyed by the European aristocracy why not try and grow some yourself today?

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We are lucky in this country because even though we are an island nation we have in fact 27 different species of native bumble bee to our credit! A fantastic diversity and something we should cherish and be proud of. Unfortunately with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower rich pasture land was lost to us as it was turned over to crops. As a result of this, native bumble bee populations are on the decline and two of our native bees species have already become extinct.

What with the problems that honey bees have had to contend with regards to the varroa mite and the still ‘causes unknown’ Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the protection of our native bumble bee population has never been more important. What other pollinating insect has the slightest chance of stepping into the honey bees boots should the relentless 30-35% year-on-year loss of honey bee hives continue unabated?

You only need two things to attract native bumble bees into the garden. The first is a reasonable selection of nectar-rich plants that will provide fuel and nutrition throughout their active season. This is important as bumble bees tend to have quite small territories and won’t fly to far from the nests in order to find nectar. The second is a suitable habitat in which to build their nests. Unlike honey bees, most bumble bees live in nests under the ground which are normally only used for that year, but they need a particular type of soil and position.

The nectar that the bumble bees are looking for is the sweet sugary liquid that plants excrete in order to attract pollinators. It is normally found at the base of the flower, and pollinating insects use this nectar for energy. While they are drinking the nectar the bees are busy scrabbling away with their legs, scraping away at the pollen on the anthers. Using specialised ‘comb like’ hairs on their legs they deposit the pollen into basket like structures on their hind legs. It ‘s the pollen that is the major ‘pay off’ here as it is used as a high protein food source for the adult bees and more importantly it is used for feeding (along with honey) to the juvenile larvae.

You can try and create favourable nesting conditions in the garden by providing a free-draining, loose substrate, which is easily dug into by the bees. By creating mounds of soil mixed with about 20% natural sand, and providing a good range of nectar rich plants, you will have a good chance of attracting those queen bees looking for possible nesting sites. Research has shown that queen bees also prefer some kind of shelter and support structure around the nest, so try positioning your soil sounds around established tree roots or by the base of a sturdy wall. The most important thing for your new bumblebee nest is that it is kept dry at all times. The risk of accidental flooding carries the very real threat of death for both the adult bees and their larvae.

Bumble bees are generally separated into two groups. The first is those bees with short tongues while the second group holds those bees with long tongues. While short tongues bees are more ‘generalist’ feeders and able to make a living off of most flowering plants, the long tongued bees are far more more specialist and it is this group of bees that are predominantly at risk and are currently suffering population declines. However, with front and back gardens accounting for approximately 1 million hectares in this country, even a small change in the type of plants that we grow could have an enormous effect on re-building dwindling bee populations.

To help encourage long tongued bees into the garden, simply providing nectar rich plants isn't the whole answer although it is still a fantastic way to attract other beneficial pollinating insects and butterflies to your garden. You will need to include plants whose flowers have an extended tubular base so that it will accommodate the 'long tongued bees’ long tongue. Plants such as bugles, honeysuckles and quite a few from the lamiaceae family are ideal.



For centuries North America has been known as the ‘Breadbasket of the World’ but with over one third of American crops dependant on insect pollination, and increased hysteria over the collapse of honey bee populations, is it time for the American farmer to reach out for a ‘fall back’ plan?

There have been concerns regarding honey bees for many years now. First it was their hybridization with African bees to create the infamous swarming, killer bee, next came the varroa mite, and now it’s the alarming and still unknown causes behind Colony Collapse disorder. With hive death rates currently at 30-35% year on year are we really looking at the beginning of the end for the hard working honey bee?

The probable answer to this question is a worrying yes, and this has spurred the UDSA into providing $4,000,000 towards researching the causes behind of CCD. Unfortunately the answer to CCD has yet to be found, but we seem to be overlooking - what is hopefully at least - a temporary solution that has been sitting under our noses throughout the honey bee’s long problematical history. It is, of course, another bee and one that is not affected by the varroa mite, or CCD, and does not threaten life by swarming dangerously. The bee in question is the native American bumble bee.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the bumble bees is that they do not produce the excesses of 'cash valuable' honey as seen with the honey bee. Neither do they have the range of territory, or will they pollinate as many flowers in the same time period – but this is not the point. If the honey bee is no longer a player in the pollination of American crops there will be no choice other than to find a suitable alternative and the bumble bee is by far the most obvious.

The only thing that needs to be done to make bumblebees a viable crop pollinator is to ensure that you have sufficient population numbers and this can be achieved by ensuring suitable natural habitats near to where the crops are grown. With most crops cultivated on a mono-crop (one field, one crop species) basis, there would only be a relatively short flowering season so their nectar/pollen based diet would need to be supplemented by other means to ensure the bees year-round survival. This can be addressed by providing dense plantings of year round nectar rich plants along field margins as well as creating nectar islands within larger fields. If appropriate, nectar rich, ‘non-competitive’ plant seed could be mixed amongst the crop seed to help extend the bees territory.
Bumble bee nest
Unlike honey bees, most bumble bees live in nests under the ground which would make it almost impossible to move them from crop to crop. This means tat they would need to be allowed to make permanently nests in fixed positions, although you would need to take into consideration these nests are normally used for one year only, with a fresh one built the following year.

This is good sense on the bees part as it helps to prevent the build up of harmful pests and pathogens within the nest, ensuring healthy living conditions (ref CCD). Suitable conditions can be created to attract Queen bees to possible nesting sites by providing a free-draining, loose substrate, that is easily dug into by the bees. Research has shown that they prefer some kind of shelter and support structure around the nest such as tree roots or the base of a wall. However, the most important thing for a healthy bumblebee population is to keep the nest dry. If there is a risk of the nest flooding caused by intensive irrigation or heavy downpours, then there will of course be the very real threat of death for the adult bees and their larvae.

Without bees and other pollinating insects to ensure the success of our crops how will the ever growing human population manage to feed itself? As Albert Einstein observed

 ‘...No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man...’



Honey bees have had a tough ride of it over the past couple of years what with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), indiscriminate insecticide use, and the varroa mite. The trouble is this, not only are these worrying factors having a severe impact on bee populations, there will eventually be a terrible ’knock on’ effect on the production of the very food we eat.

In certain areas of China, the local people are already paying the price for indiscriminate insecticide use which has devastated the natural populations of pollinating insects. Nowhere has been more effected than the pear orchards of southern Sichuan whose bizarre story should be a frightening lesson to us all. By the end of the 1980’s bees were effectively wiped out from this area forcing local farmers to scrub pollen from the pear trees, dry it, and then carefully dust it onto each pear blossom by hand. This incredibly slow, and laborious task is still carried out each spring with thousands of rural residents taking to the trees clutching makeshift step-ladders and feather dusters.

Our native bees and honey bees are responsible for pollinating the majority of flowering plants in this country, which in turn, produce many of our crops. In fact many of our fruits, vegetable and nut crops rely solely on insect pollination and it's believed that at least 1/3rd of our diet is directly dependant on the relationship of flowers and their pollination by bees.

In the spring of 2008 around one third of honey bees were lost in the UK, and while it’s not entirely clear what had caused this massive population drop, if such loses continue it will have a devastating effect on the countries crop production. Such figures have also brought to light the importance of native English bumble bees to crop pollination should honey bee populations eventually crash.

There used to be about 27 species of native bee within the UK, but with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower-rich pasture land was lost to us when it was turned over to edible crops. As a result of this, two species of our native bees have already become extinct while general native bee populations are in decline. If - at the every least - native bumble bee populations can be sustained, then at least there is some hope for the future of UK crop production. However for a more 'fruitful' future, steps will need to be taken to allow more land to return back into its natural 'wild flower' state, and for pesticide use to be more closely regulated.

The time to make a difference and stop the decline in native bee populations is long overdue, and with front and back gardens accounting for approximately 1 million hectares, even a slight change in the selections of ornamental plants that we grow, could have an enormous effect on our dwindling bee populations. The problem with native bumble bees is that they are unable to store large amounts of honey and this requires them to feed from a continual supply of nectar rich flowers. Without a constant supply, the honey resources within the nest can become quickly depleted and leaving the bees and their larvae to starve to death. As Albert Einstein observed ‘...No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man...’