SEED BEARING PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING WILD FINCHES



Wild finches are some of the most colourful and beautiful birds that can visit the suburban garden, and so it’s no wonder that many of us use shop bought seed mixes to try and encourage as many of them into our gardens as we can. Unfortunately growing numbers of local finch populations are becoming directly dependent on humans supplementing their diets, but how sustainable are these ‘man made’ populations in the future?

When bird populations are artificially increased because of their reliance on humans for the majority of their food , problems can occur when we take holidays, or move away from the area.

In some cases this can cause starvation and even death particularly in young birds as the parents find it impossible to find food in large enough quantities to maintain their larger broods.

It is clearly better practice to grow a variety of foods that can support finch population naturally through the key periods of the year.

Below is a list of plants that help with this.

Michaelmas daisy - Aster novi-belgii – also very popular with bees and butterflies.
Milk thistle - Silybum marianum – particularly good for attracting goldfinches.
Sunflower - Helianthus annus – an obvious choice but also good for attracting honey bees, bumblebees and aphid eating hoverflies.
Tickseed - Bidens ferulifolia – not only good for attracting; linnets, greenfinches, redpolls and goldfinches, but also for bees.
Goldenrod - Solidago – also good for attracting bees, butterflies and moths.
Greater knapweed - Centaurea scabiosa – also good for attracting bees, bumblebees and
Teasal – popular with gold finches they are also good for attracting bees and butterflies.
Artichoke – popular with goldfinches and also good for attracting bees and butterflies.

Flowering grasses such as millet, Pennisetum, Miscanthus, and Cortaderia – pampas grass – depending on the size of your garden you may prefer the dwarf varieties. Try to keep to species plants rather than cultivated varieties as these will generally ‘seed’ better.

Even though we associate finches as just being ‘seed eaters’ they will eat a wide variety of foods including insects, berries and seasonal fruits. The RSPB recommend such plants as Cotoneaster, Berberis species, wild honeysuckle – Lonicera periclymenum and Pyracantha but consider growing cherries, apricots, blackberries, outdoor grapes, nectarines, peach, pear, strawberries and raspberries. Introducing these fruits along with the seeds on the seed tables will encourage finches to recognise them from their respective trees and bushes - although your neighbouring gardeners may not thank you for doing this!

You can always be a bit cheeky and try germinating the various seeds found within shop bought packet of Wild Finch food - but you will need to start this approximately 6 weeks before the last frosts are expected as many of these seedling will be either annuals or tender varieties.

HOW TO CURE AND STORE PUMPKINS




Curing pumpkins is all about getting the rinds to harden, and to do that you can bring them into a greenhouse or a sunny window in your kitchen. If you can leave them there for about a fortnight what you will notice is that the skins will colour up and the flesh inside will sweeten as the starches inside turns to sugar improving the flavours no end. After the fortnight, turn them upside-down so that the bases colour up as well. Clean the fruit before storing and wipe with a weak household disinfectant solution, then they will be ready for storage in a frost free place for several months.

It is too warm indoors for long-term storage so you will need a cool alternative space such as a shed, garage, greenhouse - or if you are lucky enough - a barn. Positioning is also important as you should never place a pumpkin directly onto a wooden table top or even on to carpet.

These surfaces can soften the pumpkin on the blossom end and even cause it to weep pumpkin juice. Even if it doesn't weep, the moisture in the shell can damage wooden surfaces. Also storing on a hard non-porous surface can cause your pumpkin to age prematurely. Your best bet is to sit the pumpkin onto a circle of cloth, straw or cardboard so that you can create a gap between the pumpkin and the surface you are storing it on. Good ventilation is important as it will reduce the incidence of moisture on the pumpkins surface and associated attack by fungal spores. Avoid letting the pumpkins touch and only ever try to store as a single layer as they will keep longer this way.

If freezing temperatures are expected then cover your pumpkins with blankets or a good layer of straw. Remember to check them every week or two, and either discard or use any that are starting to soften or mould. You will also need to keep an eye out for mice, as they will love to eat pumpkins. Most pumpkin varieties will store for at least 3 months although some varieties will store successfully for 6 months or more such as the 'Jack-O-Lantern' variety.

HOW TO TELL WHEN PUMPKINS ARE READY TO HARVEST?





So, how do you know when a pumpkin is ripe? As soon as the summer starts to come to an end most pumpkins will be ready to pick although you may wish to wait until the first frosts if you are intending to eat your pumpkin rather than use it for Halloween decoration.

The leaves on the pumpkins will go crispy and shrink back after the first frost revealing the swollen fruits beneath, and you should be able to tell that they are ripe because they will have a nice orange skin. However not all pumpkins need to be 'all the way' orange to be ripe, and some pumpkins varieties will still be completely green such as 'Fairytale' and the old Italian favourite 'Marina Di Chioggia'.
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When you are ready to harvest a pumpkin, there are three checks that you can make that will tell whether it is ripe or not. The first is to give it a good thump or a slap. If the pumpkin sounds hollow, that the pumpkin is ripe and ready to be picked.

The second way is to check the skin as it should be hard once the pumpkin is ripe. Using your thumbnail – presuming that you have one - gently try to puncture the pumpkin’s skin. If the skin dents - but does not puncture - then the pumpkin is ready to pick. The third way is to check the stem leading from the pumpkin. When it starts to turn hard, the pumpkin is again, ready for picking.

One of the first to ripen is the popular 'Baby Bear', one of the micro-wave varieties with just enough sweet potato like flesh for a meal for two. Other varieties such as 'Uchikeri' will still be ripening and you can tell this as the stem will be bright green. When it come to harvesting un-ripe pumpkins its always important to leave a few inches either side of the stalk. That’s because you want the stalk to dry off slowly and naturally so that it seals between the stalk and the pumpkin flesh. If it’s not perfectly sealed then rots can get in and your crops won’t keep. If done properly you crops should last well providing for good meals up until February.

Curing Pumpkins

Curing pumpkins is all about getting the rinds to harden, and you can do this by bringing them into a greenhouse or by sitting them by a sunny window in your kitchen. If you can leave them there for a fortnight or so you will notice that the skins will colour up and the flesh inside will sweeten as the starches inside turns to sugars and improve the flavours no end. After the fortnight, turn them upside-down so that the bases can colour up as well. Then they will be ready to be kept in a frost free place for several months where they will still remain edible.

HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN TO HARVEST POTATOES?
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ORGANIC CONTROL OF APHIDS ON LETTUCE





Controlling aphids on lettuce crops can be a real problem as they tend to end up hidden deep within the heart of the plant. They can also be well camouflaged coming in several colour forms ranging from green to orange and even pink in colour. Aphids are a well known pest insect that can quickly colonise the soft tissue parts of your plants. They damage and weaken the plant by sucking the sap out of pressurised parenchyma cells just below the leave cuticle especially on the soft, young growth.

Symptoms: Lettuce aphid likes to feed deep inside the plants, preferably toward the centre on the new leaves. In head lettuce types such the crisphead and butterhead varieties, aphids are found almost exclusively at the heart of the plant.

On the looser leaved varieties such as Cos and Butterhead, just tease out some of the younger, central leaves. Clusters of these small insects are readily recognised and in severe cases, the infected leaves can begin to wither due to the quantity of sap being removed from that area. The foliage can become sticky due to honeydew and may show signs of a harmless black mould called sooty mildew.

Treatment: As an edible crop you should avoid using chemical controls however there are a number or organic solutions that can be very effective. If you are prone to aphid attack then you can pre-empt an infestation by growing under plastic cloches. For early infections you can try blasting the pests off with a hose but this can end up as a weekly task if you are using no other control methods. Keep down weeds in the local areas as these can be breeding grounds form more aphid attacks, and if you want to use a spray to knock them out then make sure that it is organic.

CAN RAW FOOD HELP FIGHT CANCER?





The modern human body has been evolving on this planet for a little over 1 million years and up until the last 100 years or so it had been brought up on a diet mainly consisting of fruit, berries, nuts, root vegetables and fish. Around the world the majority of these foods would have been eaten raw and as much as this may now seem unpalatable to most people, there is no other diet more perfectly suited for our bodies.

Once mankind learned how to control fire it wasn’t long before we began using fire in the preparation of our food - and why not. Cooking makes food taste better by bringing out and combining its flavours and it can also make some types of food easier to chew and digest by softening it. Perhaps more importantly cooking food destroys harmful micro-organisms that could otherwise make you ill. A god-send in times when food was scarce and you had to either stave or eat what was available - no matter how long it had been lying around.

However there is a downside to heating food. Many of the complex and highly nutritious enzymes’ and proteins found in fresh/raw fruits and are damaged through the heating process. In fact temperatures even as low as 40 degrees Celsius will cause the irrevocable breakdown of many of these health promoting chemicals. It is also well-known that cooking will result in the loss of vitamins and minerals although some vitamins will be lost due to other factors such as exposure to air, light or water.

The human body’s immune system and its ability to repair and regenerate itself are marvels of the scientific world. Given some of the right ingredients - as found in the complex enzymes and nutrients of fresh/raw fruit, nuts and vegetables – and almost miraculous feats of recovery can be witnessed from life threatening diseases perhaps the most important of which is cancer. Unfortunately, eating the wrong things can make things worst, in fact the ‘National Cancer Institute’ estimates that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be down to a poor diet.

Perhaps the most important chemicals found in plants that help in the fight against cancer are the antioxidants. These are substances that protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals, and it is this damage that can lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause.

Below is a list of some of the best cancer fighting foods that need to be eaten raw for the best effect.

Avocados

Avocados are rich in glutathione - a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body - by blocking the intestinal absorption of certain fats.

They also supply even more potassium than bananas and are a strong source of beta-carotene. Research from Ohio State University has found that certain nutrients from the avocados neutralise or restrict the growth of precancerous cells that could lead to oral cancer. Scientists also believe that avocados may also be useful in treating viral hepatitis - a cause of liver cancer.

Blueberries

Known as a popular ‘Super food’, blueberries contain large amounts of flavenoids - the rich pigment of the berry - which has repeatedly shown to protect against several cancers. They also contain the compound pterostilbene which is believed to fight colon cancer.

Carrots

Carrots are full beta carotene and part of the healing family of carotenoids which are known to be a powerful antioxidant.s Beta-carotene also provides protection against: cancer, especially lung, bladder, breast, oesophageal and stomach cancers; heart disease, and the progression of arthritis by as much as 70 percent. In February 2005 a research team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Danish Universities found they also contain falcarinol, a chemical believed to reduce the risk of developing cancer. High levels of beta-carotenes are also found in beetroot sweet potatoes and other yellow-orange vegetables.

Figs

A report by investigators at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Tokyo say benzaldehyde – of which a derivative is found naturally in figs - is highly effective at shrinking tumours. Figs are high in polyphenols, and also have other compounds with anti-cancer activity such as those from the coumarin family.

Garlic

Garlic is perhaps the world's oldest known medicinal and culinary herb and again is packed with antioxidants that can not only help fend off cancer but also heart disease and the effects of ageing. The sulphur compounds that give garlic its pungent odour are thought to be responsible for its healing benefits as it boosts the immune system and can reduce development of some tumours. Eaten in its raw state it is believed to reduce the risk of many types of stomach cancers. Studies have shown that garlic keeps the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, fighting free radicals and keeping blood from clotting. Garlic also has potent anti-fungal properties and can help treat asthma and yeast infections.

Grapes

Grapes, red contain bioflavonoids, powerful antioxidants that work as cancer preventives. They are also a rich source of resveratrol, which inhibit the enzymes that can stimulate cancer-cell growth and suppress immune response. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound that blocks enzymes that are necessary for cancer cells - this also appears to help slow the growth of tumours. Further studies have shown that grapeseed extract also has an effect on skin, breast, bowel, lung, stomach and prostate cancer cells.

Oranges

Rich in vitamin C, research has also shown that oranges are also full of other potent anti-cancer compounds. In fact, oranges contain more than 170 photochemicals, including more than 20 from the potent carotenoid family alone. Compounds called limonoids - which give citrus fruit their slightly bitter taste – also appear to be highly active anti-cancer agents and it is worth knowing that regular consumption of oranges is associated with significantly lower lung and stomach cancers.

Peppers/Capsicums

Chili, bell, sweet and jalapeno peppers contain the chemical capsaicin. A recent study from Nottingham University has shown that the family of molecules to which capsaicin belongs, the vanilloids, will bind to proteins in the cancer cell mitochondria triggering cell death without harming the surrounding healthy cells.

Raspberries

Raspberries contain many vitamins, minerals, and the antioxidants known as anthocyanin that can help protect against cancer. According to a recent research study reported by Cancer Research, rats fed diets of 5% to 10% black raspberries saw their number of oesophageal tumours decrease by 43% to 62%. Strangely though, the study showed that a diet containing 5% black raspberries was more effective than a diet containing 10% black raspberries. Research reported in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in May 2002 shows black raspberries may also prevent and reduce colon cancer.

Tomatoes

These contain lycopene which can decrease the amount of free radicals from entering our body. This level of lycopene is also found to be higher when tomatoes are concentrated such as in a puree or in ketchup and is more easily absorbed into the body if it is accompanied by an oil dressing. As well as being able to ward off certain kinds of cancer, tomatoes can help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, and maintain mental function as we age.

Studies have shown that men who eat more tomatoes or tomato sauce have significantly lower rates of prostate cancer. Other studies suggest that lycopene can help prevent lung, colon and breast cancers. Tomatoes also contain the antioxidant glutathione, which helps boost immune function.

WHICH VEGETABLE SEEDS CAN BE SOWN IN SEPTEMBER?




The long, hot days of summer are behind us now, and even though we are moving into the cooler days of autumn there are still a few vegetable crops that are worth getting now for harvesting over late autumn and winter.

During September, air and soil temperatures are still excellent for germination so you can still sow some of the faster growing crops that you would have been familiar with in the spring.

Although it's too late for most things now you will still have an excellent chance of success with one last sowing of spring onions, and radish. However, your best – and almost bulletproof - choices would be plants from fast growing salad families.

Onion ‘Hi Keeper’

This is the best bulb variety to sow outdoors in autumn for over-wintering, Onion Hi Keeper produces quality bulbs, approximately120grams in weight and are ideal for exhibiting as well as in the kitchen. It has good winter hardiness, preferring a rich, moist soil in an open situation.

Onion ‘White Lisbon’ – winter hardy

This is a dual purpose onion that resists bulbing up enabling it to be pulled for a longer period than regular varieties. Spring Onion Winter White Bunching also has excellent overwintering qualities and, can be sown either late August for late May pulling or in spring and summer for summer/autumn crops.

Spring Cabbage

There are a number of different varieties of spring cabbage available, all of which are suitable for planting in September for harvesting next spring. They will need an open, sunny site which offers some protection against harsh winter winds. The soil should be light and well-drained as nothing will damage them more than cold, water-logged conditions in the cold winter. Don't add manure or nitrogen rich fertilisers as this will simply encourage vulnerable green growth.

Radish: this is an ideal crop to grow after the heat of summer as the shorter, cooler days will inhibit flowering. This is important as flowering will cause the flavoursome root to turn bitter and unpalatable. Sow directly into prepared seed beds in a sunny position.

For more on growing radish from seed click onto:
How to Grow Radish from Seed

Salad leaves

There are still a few mixes and varieties of salad leaves that can be grown at this time of year for both ‘cut and grow’ or just as a normal crop plant. Conveniently, they will all have very similar growing conditions. They require a free draining, humus rich soil that will hold plenty of moisture during the growing period. To prevent the common physiological disorder of 'Tip burn' that can be experienced with some soils, you may wish to add lime before planting. In preparation to sowing, dig over the soil and add plenty of compost such as leaf mould or well rotted manure, then a week or so before sowing your seeds, rake the soil over to produce a fine tilth. You may also wish to apply a general fertiliser at this time. Below is a list of salad varieties that are commonly available.

Lettuce Winter Gem

A specially bred, Little Gem Cos lettuce, this late season salad is ideal for sowing from September to January. Although this fantastic variety loves the cold it will need to be kept under protection during the worst of the winder either in an unheated greenhouse or in a cold. Lettuce Winter Gem has delicious small, crunchy, sweet hearts equal in taste to Little Gem. Sow seeds into individual pots or a seed tray of a good quality seed compost, cover seeds with 6mm (¼in) of compost or vermiculite, keep at a minimum of 15C (60F), until germination which takes 7-10 days.
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Also try Lettuce 'Winter Density - a semi-cos type with outstanding winter hardiness. and one last batch of Lollo Rossa and Bioda, Oriental Mustard,Lambs lettuce - also known as Corn Salad or Mache, Mizuna Kyoto - oriental baby leaf salad, and Mesclun- a mix of small salad leaves popular around the Mediterranean.

NEW '50 BEST BRITISH WILDLIFE WEBSITE' LISTING FOR GARDENOFEADEN.COM


Congratulations are in order as the Gardenofeaden.com website makes it into the '50 Best British Wildlife Websites' list as put forward by the BBC Countryfile Magazine.

.Furthermore, the Gardenofeaden.com website came in at a very respectable third in its category - Best Bug Websites. This is fantastic news for 'The Garden of Eaden'.

HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN SWEETCORN IS READY TO HARVEST?





It is going to be difficult to know when sweetcorn is ready to pick, especially if you have never grown them before because the entire cob is hidden by layer after layer of thick, fibrous husk. The trouble is that you need to get the timing right – pick too early and you have just wasted an ear, pick too late and the corn has lost all of its delicious, sweet flavour.

The ripening of the cob will of course depend on the weather, however you can expect it to be ready for harvesting anytime from 17 to 25 days after the time the first silks have appeared - but you are going to have to keep a close eye on it. A good indicator for this time would be when the silks have turned very dark brown to black. Of course sweetcorn will mature more quickly in hot weather and slower in cool weather.

Sweetcorn are ready to harvest when the kernels are in the 'milk' stage, and there is a simple test that you can do to check this. When the fluid inside each kernel is still liquid and the skin of the kernel is still tender then the cob is ready for picking so puncture a kernel with your thumbnail to make sure. If a clear liquid appears, then the corn is immature. If the liquid is milky, then the corn is ready, and if no liquid appears then the corn is over-ripe.

Once the cobs have been picked they can turn very quickly as the sugar within the kernels will rapidly turn to starch. Even when stored properly they can be past their best within a couple of days, however there are steps you can take to make the most of this short harvesting period.

Try to harvest sweetcorn in the morning before you get a build up of field heat but if this is unavoidable submerge the cobs in cold water for a minute or so to let them cool down. Then – as soon as you can – they need to be refrigerated with a mind to being eaten over the next couple of days. There is an old wives tale saying that the pot should be boiling when the corn is picked and although that is a slight exaggeration it does convey the importance of speed when it comes to picking and eating corn at its best.

HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN TO HARVEST POTATOES?
WHEN TO HARVEST BEETROOT

WHICH PLANTS CAN ATTRACT BATS INTO THE GARDEN




Which plants can help attract bats to the garden? At first glance this seems like a rather odd question, especially when even most school children know that bats will either eat insects, fruit or drink blood – depending on who you talk to.

Image credit - http://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/
Luckily in the UK none of our bat species drink blood, but because flying uses a lot of energy they do have enormous appetites when it comes to eating insects – which all of our native bats do.

Five species, including the long-eared bat, prefer moths, but most bats rely more heavily on flies as food more than any other insect group.

Especially important are craneflies, and a range of midge families and their relatives. In a recent study Pipistrelles - the bat most likely to visit your garden – have been shown to eat as many as 3000 insect in a single night!

During this century bats populations have been decreasing at an alarming rate; in fact some species have fallen by over 50 per cent. As a result, the greater horseshoe bat, once found throughout southern England, has now become extremely very rare, along with sightings of the elusive Bechstein's and barbastelle bat.

Image credit - http://www.bio.bris.ac.uk/
Sadly, the mouse-eared bat has been declared officially extinct since 1992. One of the major reasons for this is the steady decline in night flying insects - vital in supporting healthy bat populations.

However by providing suitable plants and habitats - such as wildlife ponds and log-piles - insect numbers can be easily increased to provide more food for adult bats supporting their young.

A word of warning - never use indiscriminate, insecticides in areas frequented by bats as this can dramatically reduce the available food source and contaminate their food chain.

Image credit - http://2.bp.blogspot.com/
Below is a list of nectar rich plants that will encourage more insects into the garden although if you only get to choose one, pick either the fantastic Euonymus japonicus or the native Ivy - mature form preferably.

Buddleia, Arabis, Aubrietia, Wallflowers and Polyanthus. Sedum spectabile - not the fancy cultivars, Honeysuckle, alyssum, Asters, Phlox, Rosemary, Hyssop, Lavender – especially Munstead, french marigolds , Hebe – particularly Great Orme and Mid-summer Beauty, Verbena bonariensis, Heliotrope, Echivera - ice plant, Chrysanthemum swan lake, Bergamot, and Marjoram.

Also consider growing the following native plants. The European Gorse, Ivy - hedera helix, Hazel, Honeysuckle - Lonicera periclymenum, Elder and English marigolds.

LIGHT POLLUTION AND THE DECLINE IN BAT POPULATIONS




During this century bats populations have been decreasing at an alarming rate; in fact some species have fallen by over 50 per cent. As a result, the greater horseshoe bat, once found throughout southern England, has now become extremely very rare, along with sightings of the elusive Bechstein's and barbastelle bat. Sadly, the mouse-eared bat has been declared officially extinct since 1992.

There are a number of factors that are believed to be responsible for these dramatic population declines, and perhaps the most obvious is the destruction of their woodland habitat. This has reduced the availability of natural roosting sites, and even when bats have tried to establish roosts in more built up areas these too are being continually destroyed as old buildings are renovated or demolished.

Perhaps the most sinister problem is the ‘double-edged sword’ effect that light pollution is having on bat populations. Nocturnal insects are attracted to bright lights and become sucked out of the countryside – the bats natural feeding grounds - and into suburban areas. A German study back in 2003 concluded that a single street light would kill, on average, 150 insects a night. In direct relation to this Philipp Heck - president of Dark Sky Switzerland - has suggested that the 50,000 or so streetlights left on in Zurich would kill over one million insects every night. But the attraction of nocturnal insects to night luminescence isn't the biggest problem here as captivated insects seem unable to feed, drink or procreate, only to end up dead from exhaustion. Unfortunately not only are bats losing the main food source from their habitat, they positively shy away from lights as this makes then vulnerable to attack from nocturnal predators. In our modern world of 24 hour activity we have the insects moving in one direction while the bats are going off in the other. Eventually the bats are going to lose.

Unfortunately there are still more problems that bats populations have to endure. Many more colonies are poisoned by the toxic chemicals used in timber treatments, but more worryingly are the indiscriminate use of blanket insecticides that not only have depleted the food supply but have also contaminated the food chain.

What can be done?

It is a slow process changing the way our farmers grow our foods as insecticidal use is ingrained in their normal practice. However we can support those growers who produce their food crops organically and also stop using systemic insecticides in our own gardens.

Unfortunately, eradicating the world of night lighting will never be an acceptable solution, but there are steps that can be taken which will reduce its impact. At the very least we can give nocturnal insects a fighting chance to recover from the worst effects of intensive night lighting. Where appropriate, using timer switches and passive infer-red (PIR) motion sensors on outdoor lighting can at least reduce the amount of time they stay on, reducing both insect death and electricity costs. Perhaps the most useful way the man in the street can help is to plant flowers that – unlike most plants - are nectar rich during the night. This way, exhausted insects have a chance to recover their vital energy needs by dawn. Such plant species would include Red valerian – Centranthus ruber, the common evening Primrose, Old Mans Beard – Clematis vitalba, summer jasmine – Jasminum officinale, the perennial sweet pea – Lathyrus sylvestris, Verbena bonariensis, white campion – Silene alba, honeysuckle and the night scented stocks.

Consider improving the insect friendly habitats in your garden by introducing a wildlife pond and/or logpiles. Both of these will help support a range of flying, nocturnal insects throughout their differing life cycles.

Finally, and perhaps the easiest thing to do in the garden, is to grow those nectar rich plants that will support a wide range of healthy insect populations, and preferably ones that are native to the UK as these will be the most productive. Below are lists of suitable plants – many of which you probably already grow. However if you only get to choose one, pick the fantastic insect attracting Euonymous japonicus or native Ivy - mature form preferably.

Buddleia , Arabis, Aubrietia, Wallflowers and Polyanthus. Sedum spectabile - not the fancy cultivars, Honeysuckle, alyssum, Asters, Phlox, Rosemary, Hyssop, Lavender – especially Munstead, french marigolds , Hebe – particularly Great Orme and Mid-summer Beauty, Verbena bonariensis, Heliotrope, Echivera - ice plant, Bergamot, and Marjoram.

Also consider growing the following native plants. The European Gorse, Elder, Ivy - hedera helix, Hazel, Honeysuckle - Lonicera periclymenum, and English marigolds.

EASY TO GROW PLANTS THAT CAN HELP TO FIGHT CANCER






The modern human body has been evolving on this planet for a little over 1 million years and up until the last 100 years or so it had been brought up on a diet mainly consisting of fruit, berries, nuts, root vegetables and fish. Around the world the majority of these foods would have been eaten raw and as much as this may now seem unpalatable to most people, there is no other diet more perfectly suited for our bodies.

Once mankind learned how to control fire it wasn’t long before we began using fire in the preparation of our food - and why not. Cooking makes food taste better by bringing out and combining its flavours and it can also make some types of food easier to chew and digest by softening it. Perhaps more importantly cooking food destroys harmful micro-organisms that could otherwise make you ill. A god-send in times when food was scarce and you had to either stave or eat what was available - no matter how long it had been lying around.

However there is a downside to heating food. Many of the complex and highly nutritious enzymes’ and proteins found in fresh/raw fruits and are damaged through the heating process. In fact temperatures even as low as 40 degrees Celsius will cause the irrevocable breakdown of many of these health promoting chemicals. It is also well-known that cooking will result in the loss of vitamins and minerals although some vitamins will be lost due to other factors such as exposure to air, light or water.

The human body’s immune system and its ability to repair and regenerate itself are marvels of the scientific world. Given some of the right ingredients - as found in the complex enzymes and nutrients of fresh/raw fruit, nuts and vegetables – and almost miraculous feats of recovery can be witnessed from life threatening diseases perhaps the most important of which is cancer.

Perhaps the most important chemicals found in plants that help in the fight against cancer are the antioxidants. These are substances that protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals, and it is this damage that can lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals might otherwise cause.

Of course there has been plenty of research in recent years – beginning with the advent of the popular term ‘superfoods’ – that has uncovered numerous cancer fighting chemicals within many of our common foods. However the most important point with regards to eating these ‘Super’ fruit and vegetables is to eat them at their most fresh and preferably straight from the plant.

Below is a list of the most easily grown fruit and vegetables that are suitable for the garden.

Carrots
Carrots are full beta carotene and part of the healing family of carotenoids which are known to be a powerful antioxidant.s Beta-carotene also provides protection against: cancer, especially lung, bladder, breast, oesophageal and stomach cancers; heart disease, and the progression of arthritis by as much as 70 percent. In February 2005 a research team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Danish Universities found they also contain falcarinol, a chemical believed to reduce the risk of developing cancer. High levels of beta-carotenes are also found in beetroot sweet potatoes and other yellow-orange vegetables. Note: Cooked carrots have considerably higher levels of antioxidants than uncooked.

Garlic
Garlic is perhaps the world's oldest known medicinal and culinary herb and again is packed with antioxidants that can not only help fend off cancer but also heart disease and the effects of aging. The sulphur compounds that give garlic its pungent odour are thought to be responsible for its healing benefits as it boosts the immune system and can reduce development of some tumours. Eaten in its raw state it is believed to reduce the risk of many types of stomach cancers. Studies have shown that garlic keeps the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, fighting free radicals and keeping blood from clotting. Garlic also has potent anti-fungal properties and can help treat asthma and yeast infections.

Peppers/Capsicums
Chili, bell, sweet and jalapeno peppers contain the chemical capsaicin. A recent study from Nottingham University has shown that the family of molecules to which capsaicin belongs, the vanilloids, will bind to proteins in the cancer cell mitochondria triggering cell death without harming the surrounding healthy cells.

Grapes
Grapes, red contain bioflavonoids, powerful antioxidants that work as cancer preventives. They are also a rich source of resveratrol, which inhibit the enzymes that can stimulate cancer-cell growth and suppress immune response. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound that blocks enzymes that are necessary for cancer cells - this also appears to help slow the growth of tumours. Further studies have shown that grapeseed extract also has an effect on skin, breast, bowel, lung, stomach and prostate cancer cells.

Tomatoes
These contain lycopene which can decrease the amount of free radicals from entering our body. This level of lycopene is also found to be higher when tomatoes are concentrated such as in a puree or in ketchup and is more easily absorbed into the body if it is accompanied by an oil dressing. As well as being able to ward off certain kinds of cancer, tomatoes can help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, and maintain mental function as we age. Studies have shown that men who eat more tomatoes or tomato sauce have significantly lower rates of prostate cancer. Other studies suggest that lycopene can help prevent lung, colon and breast cancers. Tomatoes also contain the antioxidant glutathione, which helps boost immune function. Note: cooked tomatoes are preferable, since heat allows more desirable antioxidants in tomatoes to be made available to the body.

Raspberries
Raspberries contain many vitamins, minerals, and the antioxidants known as anthocyanin that can help protect against cancer. According to a recent research study reported by Cancer Research, rats fed diets of 5% to 10% black raspberries saw their number of oesophageal tumours decrease by 43% to 62%. Strangely though, the study showed that a diet containing 5% black raspberries was more effective than a diet containing 10% black raspberries. Research reported in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in May 2002 shows black raspberries may also prevent and reduce colon cancer.

Figs
A report by investigators at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Tokyo say benzaldehyde – of which a derivative is found naturally in figs - is highly effective at shrinking tumours.

All of the foods from this list – which covers only a selection of the research available - are either easy to grow from seed or readily available from your local plant retailer.
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HOW TO PROPAGATE AND GROW THE BELL PEPPER FROM SEED





Not only are Bell Peppers one of the worlds most popular vegetables they are also one of the easiest to grow from seed. Versatile, tasty and full health promoting antioxidants sweet peppers also have a lot going for them nutritionally as they are good source of vitamin C, beta carotene, folic acid, magnesium and potassium.
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You can start your Bell Peppers off indoors around January for if you want them to establish quickly for outdoor planting or sow anytime up to the end of March for greenhouse growing.
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Sow your bell pepper seeds - adequately spaced - into either plugs or a seed tray containing John Innes ‘seed’ compost. Top them off with another 1/2 inch of compost then gently water them in. It's important that the seeds remain moist until they germinate and as such will require adequate ventilation to prevent fungal rots. If ventilation is poor you may need to spray your newly germinating seedlings with a liquid fungicide once a week to protect them.
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Once germinated – this will be normally between 7 and 24 days - pepper seedlings will require plenty of light, in fact for optimal growth they will need between 12 to 16 hours of light a day. If the weather isn’t yet suitable for planting outside then they will need to be placed onto a south-facing windowsill but remember to turn them daily to keep them from acquiring a permanent lean.
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Once the seedlings have produced four leaves they will be ready to prick out into individual pots, but you need to be careful so as not to damage the fragile root system. The safest way is to gently hold onto one of the sturdier leaves while using either a pencil or slim dibber to lift the roots as intact and undisturbed as possible. When re-potting, use either a standard multipurpose compost or John Innes ‘No.1’ or ‘No.2’ potting compost.
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Grow them on for another couple of weeks and they will be ready for either the greenhouse or for planting directly outside into open ground once the threat of frosts is over. Make sure you choose a location that is in full sunlight and - if you have it - mix in some mushroom compost or other organic compost to help keep the soil fertile and moist.

BUY BLACK SWEET PEPPER SEEDS
HOW TO OVERWINTER CHILLI PEPPER PLANTS

WHICH SALAD CROP SEEDS CAN BE SOWN IN AUGUST?





As soon as the hottest days of summer are behind us you can look towards growing a new seasons worth of vegetable crops over the first part of late autumn and winter.

During August, air and soil temperatures are perfect for germination so you can start sowing some more of the vegetables that you would have already started with in the spring. Although it's too late for tomatoes – perhaps the most popular of all the salad crops - you will still have an excellent chance of success with one last sowing of spring onions and radish and besides. However, your current crop of tomatoes should already be ripe and ready to pick.

Your best – and almost bulletproof – late season choices would be baby leaf spinach, mustard and lettuce.

Onion White Lisbon Winter Hardy
A dual purpose onion that resists bulbing up enabling it to be pulled for a longer period than regular varieties. Spring Onion Winter White Bunching has excellent overwintering qualities, can be sown either late August for late May pulling or in spring and summer for summer/autumn crops.

Radish
This is an ideal crop to grow after the heat of summer as the shorter, cooler days will inhibit flowering. This is important as flowering will cause the flavoursome root to turn bitter and unpalatable. Sow directly into prepared seed beds in a sunny position.

For more on growing radish from seed click onto:
How to Grow Radish from Seed

Salad Leaves

There are many mixes and varieties of salad leaves that can be grown at this time of year for either ‘cut and grow’ or just as a normal crop plant.They will all require very similar growing conditions preferring a free draining, humus rich soil that will hold plenty of moisture in the summer. To prevent the common physiological disorder of 'Tip burn' that can be experienced with some soils, you may wish to add lime before planting. In preparation to sowing, dig over the soil and add plenty of compost such as leaf mould or well rotted manure, then a week or so before sowing your seeds, rake the soil over to produce a fine tilth. You may also wish to apply a general fertiliser at this time. Below is a list of salad varieties that are commonly available.

Oriental Mustard

Lambs lettuce -
Mizuna Kyoto - oriental baby leaf salad

Mesclun- a mix of small salad leaves popular around the Mediterranean

Chinese cabbage - also known as Corn Salad or Mache

HOW TO GROW PEPPADEW PEPPERS FROM SEED





Peppadew is a trademark name. The peppadew pepper is a recent introduction to the culinary word, discovered on an errant bush growing in a South African garden near the Eastern Cape. Since its début at the Fancy Food Show in 2002, its unique, delicious flavour, a mixture of peppery and sweet, has become a popular choice throughout the western world. Looking like a cross between a miniature red pepper and a cherry tomato, some people believe that the peppadew pepper is nothing special at all, and is only a normal miniature red pepper that has been processed using a special, secret recipe. However the peppadew company states that is new variety is a sweet piquanté pepper.

Although clearly controversial there is also a mystery that surrounds the peppadew plant due to the complete lack of availability of its plants or seeds on the open market. It turns out that the distribution of peppadew plant material is strictly controlled and the growers of the peppadew ‘fruit’ are made to sign a contract which, if they are found to be distributing seeds outside the company, could face prosecution from the licence holding company. So jealously controlled are the movements of this plant that the production fields are actually guarded! ..

This intense control and security over what is at best a naturally occurring hybrid has resulted in a ‘growing’ underground movement formed by a small group of incensed yet passionate gardeners. Believing that the entire peppadew operation is extremely ‘thug-like’ and that any naturally occurring hybrid should belong to the world, they will go to any lengths to secure, grow and distribute peppadew seeds around the globe. Should you manage to obtain seeds from the sweet piquanté pepper – legally of course - sow indoors around January for if you want them to establish quickly for outdoor planting or sow any time up to the end of March for greenhouse growing.

Sow your sweet piquanté pepper seeds - adequately spaced - into either plugs or a seed tray containing John Innes ‘seed’ compost. Top them off with another 1/2 inch of compost then gently water them in. It's important that the seeds remain moist until they germinate and as such will require adequate ventilation to prevent fungal rots. If ventilation is poor you may need to spray your newly germinating seedlings with a liquid fungicide once a week to protect them.

Once germinated – this will be normally between 7 and 24 days - pepper seedlings will require plenty of light, in fact for optimal growth they will need between 12 to 16 hours of light a day.

If the weather isn't yet suitable for planting outside then they will need to be placed onto a south-facing windowsill but remember to turn them daily to keep them from acquiring a permanent lean.

Once the seedlings have produced four leaves they will be ready to prick out into individual pots, but you need to be careful so as not to damage the fragile root system. The safest way is to gently hold onto one of the sturdier leaves while using either a pencil or slim dibber to lift the roots as intact and undisturbed as possible. When re-potting, use either a standard multi-purpose compost or John Innes ‘No.1’ or ‘No.2’ potting compost. Grow them on for another couple of weeks and they will be ready for either the greenhouse or for planting directly outside into open ground once the threat of frosts is over. Make sure you choose a location that is in full sunlight and - if you have it - mix in some mushroom compost or other organic compost to help keep the soil fertile and moist.

Of course remember that pepperdew peppers are a brand name for processed sweet piquanté pepper. Applications have been made by the Peppadew company to The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, otherwise known as the UPOV. With this in mind there can be no breeding of the pepperdew pepper without the express permission of the owners of these rights - AVI(South African Company).

BUY BLACK SWEET PEPPER SEEDS
HOW TO OVERWINTER CHILLI PEPPER PLANTS

WHICH PLANTS ATTRACT APHID PREDATORS TO THE GARDEN




Aphids are right here at the top of the the list when it come to garden pests. Not only are the damaging to plants but they also exude honeydew from their abdomens attracting hoards of ants and an unsightly black fungus known as sooty mould. Of course you could go out and spend your hard earned cash on indiscriminate or organic insecticides but wouldn't it be so much easier - and kinder to the environment - if you could get nature to do all of the hard work for you?

Of course it is, but sometimes nature also needs a hand and while there are always a few aphid predators around there are generally not in large enough quantities or aphid infestation have become to great for their predators to make any serious impact.

However there is an alternate way which works particularly well with aphid predator insects where only the larvae are the predators (lacewngs and hoverflies), and that is to provide plants that the adults are attracted to. They may not be as attractive as you normal choice of ornamental garden plants but they more than make up for it in usefulness.

Below is a list of plants that will attract the main aphid predators:

Achillea - ladybirds and lacewings
Alyssum – hoverflies
Angelica gigas – lace wings
Convolvulus minor – ladybirds and hoverflies
Cosmos bipinnatus – ladybirds and hoverflies
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace)- ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies
Filipendulina – Ladybirds and lacewings
Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) - ladybirds and lacewings
Iberis umbellatehoverflies
Limonium latifolium (Statice) – hoverflies
Lupin - hoverflies
Petroselinum crispum (parsley) – hoverflies
Tanacetum vulgare (tansy) – ladybirds and lacewings

By using just a few of these plants you can easily tip the balance in favour of aphid predator adults. More importantly, if your choice of planting is such that you have a good succession of flowering through out the main part of the year, you can reach a point where you will have difficulties in finding any aphid infestations.

And of course, once these plants are established your predators will return year after year without any further intervention.

HOW TO CONTROL FLEA BEETLES ON LETTUCE





Flea beetles are a skittish pest and are able to create a lot of damage while - on the whole - managing to get away with it scot-free. Why, well it's because of their size and speed as a flea beetle is not much more than 1mm in length but 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 probably already hopped off disappearing into the undergrowth. Because of the flea beetles 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, they are perhaps the most easily recognised pest of tomato plants due to the characteristic damage that these beetles cause. The adults will lay their eggs in the soil so that the larvae can initially feed off of the roots, then as adults, they emerge to feed on juvenile leaves only to continue on to the margins of mature leaves.

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 can help lure the flea beetles away from your treasured lettuce.

Make sure however that you do not plant your radish crop too close as they can easily transfer back to the lettuce once the tasty juvenile growth on the radish has been exhausted. 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 that in mind, remember to label it clearly to prevent human ingestion.

Alternatively, cover new planted or emerging lettuce seedlings with a light, protective cover – such as horticultural fleece – which will act as an effective barrier to egg laying adults breaking the cycle.

Once the lettuce crop is over, remove any plant debris and destroy. Also, dig the soil over thoroughly as adults have difficulty in reaching the surface once buried. This may need to be done a couple more times before planting.

A word of warning though – if possible it is always better to try and pre-empt a flea beetle attack on your plants that to try and react to one after it has been detected.

WHICH VEGETABLE SEEDS CAN BE SOWN IN AUGUST?





As soon as the hottest days of summer are behind us you can look towards growing a new seasons worth of vegetable crops over the first part of late autumn and winter.

During August, air and soil temperatures are perfect for germination so you can start sowing some more of the vegetables that you would have already started with in the spring. Although it's too late for tomatoes – perhaps the most popular of all the vegetable/salad crops - you will still have an excellent chance of success with one last sowing of spring onions, and carrots. However, your best – and almost bulletproof - choices would be baby leaf spinach, spring cabbages and Swiss chard.

Swiss Chard
The beautiful, broad and colourful stalks of Swiss Chard are a striking addition to the vegetable garden. The sweet stalks can be steamed as a vegetable or, when young, eaten raw in salads. position the plants in a spot that receives a good amount of sunlight.

Chard will tolerate partial shade but will give a much better yield when grown in a sunny spot. A couple of weeks before sowing you should dig over the soil adding plenty of organic matter as this will help with moisture retention and soil aeration.

Carrot Adelaide
This is one of the earliest maturing varieties available and so an ideal choice for August sowing. They produce short tops with smooth skinned, cylindrical roots which fill out quickly to give a crunchy sweet flavour. Carrots prefer a light soil which has been improved with lots of well-rotted organic material fully dug into the soil. If you are growing carrots grown on a heavy soil, or where organic material has not been allowd to properly rot down, they can can become misshapen and grow 'forked'. Stones in the soil will have the same bad effect. Prepare the bed a couple of weeks or so before planting, forking in a handful of bonemeal for each square yard. Ensure that the soil is dug to a spade's depth and is of a crumbly texture. Carrots will do best in full sun, especially if they are to be harvested when young.

Onion ‘Hi Keeper’
This is the best bulb variety to sow outdoors in autumn for over-wintering, Onion Hi Keeper produces quality bulbs, approximately 120 grams in weight and are ideal for exhibiting as well as in the kitchen. It has good winter hardiness, preferring a rich, moist soil in an open situation.

Onion ‘White Lisbon’ – winter hardy
This is a dual purpose onion that resists bulbing up enabling it to be pulled for a longer period than regular varieties. Spring Onion Winter White Bunching also has excellent overwintering qualities and, can be sown either late August for late May pulling or in spring and summer for summer/autumn crops.

For more information on growing onions click onto:
How to Grow Onions from Onion Sets

Spring Cabbage
There are a number of different varieties of spring cabbage available, all of which are suitable for planting in August for harvesting next spring. They will need an open, sunny site which offers some protection against harsh winter winds. The soil should be light and well-drained as nothing will damage them more than cold, water-logged conditions in the cold winter. Don't add manure or nitrogen rich fertilisers as this will simply encourage vulnerable green growth.

Of course, there are plenty of vegetable crops that will be available to lift come the winter period but putting in that little extra effort now will open up to so many more possibilities for the winter kitchen. And besides, there is nothing better that eating out-of-season fresh produce - especially when you have grown it yourself.

HOW TO CONTROL SLUG DAMAGE ON POTATO TUBERS




Out of the two most common pests of potatoes – slugs and wireworms - slugs are regarded as the worst and in particular it‘s the keeled slugs that do the most damage.

Ordinarily, keeled slugs spend their time feeding above ground but they live and feed mainly on decaying organic matter in the soil. Unfortunately for the vegetable gardener they will also feed on living plant material, damaging potato tubers from late summer to autumn.

Working alone they make round holes in the potatoes skin which will often go unnoticed however they will also tunnel out extensive cavities inside the tubers which – in severe cases – makes the tuber inedible! However keeled slugs will often work in conjunction with wireworms and their already created tunnels, widening and extending them as they see fit. Often by the time the potatoes are lifted the slugs have gone back into the soil

Where potato crops are concerned slugs are difficult to deal with as they are generally out of reach of chemical and organic controls. However, there are some cultural control methods that can reduce their incidence.

1. Avoid planting potatoes into heavy soils, as these are favoured by slugs. If this is unavoidable try lightning the soil by adding plenty of compost and well-rotted manure. Also aid excessive watering of your crop as this will only make things worse.

2. Try trapping slugs by encircling you potato crop with old wet sacks and rotten wooden boards. In the mornings, lift the boards and sacks and remove the slugs by hand. I would recommend wearing gloves

3. Dig over your soil once or twice before planting as this will bring slug eggs to the soil surface where they can be eaten by birds.

4. Avoid sowing potatoes into a site bordering grass, compost heaps or piles of organic waste, as all of these provide a base from which the slugs will carry out their midnight raids.

5. You can try planting potato varieties offering high resistance to slug attack. Below is a list of the best varieties. If these are unavailable to you plant early cropping varieties and lift them early so as to avoid the time of year when these slugs are at their most active.

High Resistance to Slugs
Pentland Dell
Pentland Ivory
Pentland Falcon

Medium Resistance to Slugs
Desiree
King Edward
Majestic
Pentland Crown
Pentland Hawk
Record
Romano

Be aware that slug-damaged tubers are prone to secondary rots and should not be stored with healthy tubers.

HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN TO HARVEST POTATOES?