This article has been written by guest author Dani Higginson.

Even if you only have a small urban garden the good news is that you can still grow potatoes successfully. The secret is to grow them in pots.
With proper preparation, the right type of container and some TLC, 12 to 16 weeks after planting you can be enjoying some first early potatoes. And there is nothing like the taste of a homegrown potato pulled straight from the ground, gently washed, lightly steamed, and served with lashings of butter.

So what will you need?
Some good quality seed potatoes of course, and a decent compost mix. Resist the temptation to use garden soil, as you will be growing a large crop of weeds as well as potatoes if you do.
Starting from the beginning, you will need some sort of container hold the seed potatoes in order to chit them (grow strong shoots before planting); this is necessary to kick-start the growing process. Recycle some old egg boxes and turn them into chitting trays. Stand a tuber, blunt-end up, in each compartment and store in a cool, light place for about six weeks prior to planting out.

Then choose your planting container. Terracotta ones look very nice on a patio, as will the plastic imitation variety; these are lighter and are less prone to frost damage. They will also prevent the compost drying out quickly as what will happen with terracotta pots.

If you are a keen 'recycler', old dustbins are also ideal for potato growing - as are old fertilizer bags, but watch that they don't overheat! As these types of container are often produced from a dark PVC or plastic, they can easily absorb energy the sun in the form of heat and this will cause the compost inside to dry out far quicker than other types of container. There is an upside to this as the higher temperatures will increase the metabolism of your potato plants, creating a longer and more productive growing season and will also help to increase the size your final crop! Just remember that you will need to make some holes in the bottom for drainage, so that your potato plants do not become waterlogged.

Whatever kind of container you choose make sure that it is big enough. Forty liters is a minimum - any smaller and you will be watering endlessly. For this size of pot don’t be tempted to plant it with any more than four seed potatoes.

...When you come to plant the tubers make sure that they have at least two good shoots; smaller and weaker shoots can be rubbed off. Half fill the container with potting compost, with some slow-release fertilizer mixed in. Push the tubers gently into the soil with the shoots (the eyes) upwards and cover with 1 to 4 inches of soil.

Keep the growing medium moist, and add more soil /fertilizer mix around the plants when they reach around six inches in height to prevent light reaching the developing tubers. It does not matter if the green top is almost covered as it will grow on strongly and will develop more tubers. If light gets to the tubers they will turn green and become inedible.

Most of the popular varieties of potato grow well in pots. Earlies are especially good - planted in late March they will be ready for eating in late June. Nothing is better from the garden than those first early potatoes, but they do need protection from frosts in March and April (cover shoots with newspaper if frost is forecast). Arran Pilot is an old variety, but is still one of the best all-rounders.

Second earlies take 16 to 17 weeks to mature; Maris Peer is a good one to grow.

Main crop potatoes such as Maris Piper and Cara have an 18-week growing time and will take you right through to a late October crop.

It is quite easy to grow potatoes organically in pots. There is really no need to use any form of chemicals when growing potatoes on this scale. Always buy your potato tubers from a reputable source to eliminate the risk of diseases such as potato blight.

Growing some potatoes of your own each year is certainly worth the trouble. Most people stick with first earlies, as the taste of an early crop straight from your own garden cannot be surpassed.

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Success with any root vegetable has a lot to do with to the quality of soil they're grown in, and same is true when it comes to growing carrots. So to get the most out of your crop it's worth taking the time to prepare your site before you even start to think about sowing any seed!

Begin (if you can) by digging over your soil in late winter or early spring and remove any stones you find as this will help to prevent the carrot root from 'forking' as it develops. Then thoroughly turning the soil until it has a fine, crumbly texture.

Carrot seeds are small, but it's wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This will reduce the amount of thinning necessary and reduce the potential risk from pests. One week before sowing your seeds, rake in a light dressing of general fertiliser.

Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around 2-3cm (1in) deep, covering the seeds once in place. Early sowings in March and April may need to be protected with a fleece or cloche in the colder parts of the country.
If you have difficulty sowing carrot seed thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing the seeds and sand together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow for a thinner sowing.
Sowing thinly is important because if carrots are competing for growth in the same space, you will end up with a overall smaller crop.

Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to appropriately 5cm (2 in) between plants.

Carrots will need little further attention during their growth period, although the plants should be kept well watered - too little water results in coarse, woody roots.

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You often see huge, seasonal artichoke heads in the supermarket, and as exotic as they are - there is no obvious part of it that looks remotely edible.
And you would be right. All the tasty goodness is hidden away inside and without a point in the right direction, you are like to give trying to find it after your the first bitter taste of an artichoke petal. Yes, a petal - because the artichoke is nothing more that a huge, cultivated thistle flower!
The first thing to be aware of are the thorns that could be sticking out of the end of the outer petals. While some shop bought varieties are almost completely thorn less  seed grown plants will often show a little genetic variation which can result in a rows of wickedly sharp thorns - do not put them in your mouth!

The petals themselves are bitter tasting and inedible, however once cooked in boiling water these easily peel away from the base of the flower head. However, at the base of the removed petal is a tiny morsel of delicious artichoke heart which can be scrapped of with your teeth and eaten.
Unless the artichoke is very small, you will definitely want to avoid the hairy choke.

When left to mature on the plant, these hairs go on to produce part of the seed body and if by accident you happen to get some of the choke in your mouth, the texture of it is so unpleasant you will have no alternative that to spit the whole thing out!
The stem is also bitter tasting, however where it attaches to the heart, it too possesses some of that gorgeous artichoke flavour.

The heart is the most delicious part and the only piece that is truly coveted by the gourmet chef.
The base of the outer petal are also particularly nice, and are traditionally eaten along with a tasty, creamy dip.
On juvenile artichokes you can eat the choke as well as the bottom half of the inner petals. As mentioned previously, you can also eaten the internal part of the stem that is nearest to the choke.


So, how can you tell when potatoes are ready to harvest? A tricky question when your crop is obscured by a foot or two of your best soil. Without the benefit of ground penetrating radar, the most obvious method appears to be digging up the crop and having a look! Unfortunately, this action can cause unnecessary damage to the potato tubers, and - if they are not yet of a suitable size - lifting them is only going to damage the existing root structure severely delaying any future growth.

Of course there is a far easier and much less damaging way to tell when your potatoes are ready for harvesting, and it is just a matter of waiting for mother nature to show her hand.

Within a few weeks of planting your seed potatoes, fine root hairs will be produced. As these grow larger, nodules form along the roots which - in turn - will form tiny juvenile potato tubers.

These juvenile tubers will continue to swell and grow right up until the time the potato plant proper begins to produce its flowers.

As soon as this occurs, the energy from the plant will be diverted away from the production of tubers and over to the production of flowers, and the subsequent formation of its fruit and seeds.

You can consider removing any flowering heads as they form to encourage further tuber development, but with a large crop of potatoes this may be an unrealistic challenge.

So the answer to the question of when can you start lifting you potatoes is this:

As soon as they come into flower, because it is unlikely that your plants will produce and more - or any bigger - potatoes after this point.

Note. If you allow potato seeds heads to form and mature, next year you will be inundated with potato seedlings. Don't forget that these seedlings will NOT grow true to the parent plants and should be removed when seen.

HOW TO RECOGNISE POTATO BLIGHT - Phytophthora infestans


If you have never eaten Globe artichoke then you are really missing out on a taste sensation. For centuries the artichoke has been the domain of both Kings and the aristocracy - and even today, it is still considered to be very much the gourmet’s choice.

However the problem with the artichoke is that it is not obvious to the casual bystander what you should do in order to prepare it. Worst still, without a passing familiarity to its flavour or texture, who in their right mind would invest the time and effort into a creating a dish that contained the artichoke as the main ingredient.

Clearly, a quick and simple recipe is required to metaphorically dip a toe into the ‘artichoke’ waters. Globe artichoke with Dijon mustard should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare, cook and serve. It is simple, with very few ingredients, and makes full use of the sublime artichoke flavour - SERVES 2


2 medium globe artichoke
1 lemon for the vinaigrette
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 tbsp olive oil

To begin with, cut off the stalks of the artichokes and remove any hard outer leaves. Cut the lemon in half and rub the exposed flesh over each artichoke.

Squeeze the remaining lemon juice into a pan of rapidly boiling, salted water. Plunge the artichokes into the water and boil uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, until the outer leaves are easily detached.

While the artichokes are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Combine the vinegar and mustard by placing them in a small container that has a detachable sealed lid. Now carefully add the salt and freshly ground pepper to your preferred taste.

Next, pour in the olive oil into the container before securing the lid, then shake the mixture vigorously to make a thick dressing. Taste check it first before adding any more mustard, vinegar or seasoning - this dressing will keep fresh in the fridge for several days.

Once the artichokes have finished cooking, drain off the water, then carefully – because they will be very hot - turn the artichokes upside down and squeeze out most of the remaining water.
Using a sharp knife, remove the top half of the artichoke. Peel off the rest of the leaves and then remove the 'hairy' choke. Take out the hearts carefully using a spoon, and serve immediately with the vinaigrette dressing. Enjoy!

Note. It is worth keeping the leaves as they contain a delicious and succulent base. Dip the base of the leave in the dressing then draw through your teeth to remove this tasty morsel.

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For many of us, weed control can a real chore. At its best, its a job that takes time out of the day when you could be doing something more productive. At its worst it can be a never ending nightmare that saps your resolve and drains your passion for gardening.

Of course there a number of ways that you can attack the problem of serious weed infestation - landscape fabric, herbicides or even soil sterilisation. However, when the going gets tough the most vigorous of weeds can still grow through.

I have had the great fortune to discover the short videos of Jami and Brian Boys, the brains behind the excellent An Oregan Cottage home and gardening site. I love these two and the work they do, and they have provided this brilliant short clip about the benefits of using plastic in the garden.


Early February is perhaps the best time to sow pre-packed auricular seed, because there are usually a few late frosts on the horizon which can help to break seed dormancy. However if you are collecting your own seed then sowing immediately as this will usually give you a far greater seed viability and will avoid the need for breaking any dormancy.

For the best start it is wise to use a decent compost mix. Try using John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’ as a base, but add to it some horticultural grit or perlite at a ratio of 2:1, make sure that it is well mixed before use.

Image credit -
Stand a pot or pan of seed compost in bowl of water until it is well soaked, then gently spread the auricular seed around the surface. Sprinkle some more of the same compost on top to give the seed a thin covering. Date and label the pot or pan then place a transparent cover – such as a small piece of glass – over the top of it. Place outside into a cold, well-ventilated greenhouse or partially opened cold frame. This will allow the seed to receive the cold temperatures whilst protecting them from becoming waterlogged.
Towards the middle of March the pots will need to be moved to a position where they are protected from strong sunlight. This can be as simple as placing them under a bench in the greenhouse or bring them indoors and placing them into a cool room away from direct sunlight. The transparent cover will still need to be kept in place.

Inspect your seeds daily from this point on as you wait for germination to occur, and when a few seedlings have started to emerge the transparent cover can be partially removed to give them some air - however, seedlings must still remain protected from strong sunshine.
Be aware that seedling growth will be very slow and once it looks like all the viable seeds have germinated, give them a very weak liquid feed in the region of ¼ normal strength. When the young plants are big enough to handle, prick them out into a good quality compost – such as John Innes ‘No 1' - and grow them on. Again, you may wish to add horticultural grit or perlite to help with drainage.

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BULLEY'S PRIMROSE - Primula bulleyana


Although you will always see zucchini on the vegetable isle they are actually the immature fruit of a marrow squash. More specifically, they are the swollen ovary of the female flower. Otherwise known as courgettes, zucchini can be yellow, green or light green, and generally have shape similar to a ridged cucumber.
Zucchini prefer heavier soils, and will always do best in a sunny, sheltered position - away from cold winds. When it comes to preparing the ground, it is well worth adding plenty of well rotted farm manure before hand – in fact, this can be done as early as the previous autumn.
If you intend starting early, you can protect an early planting with cloches. It is a good idea to put your cloches in place where you plan to plant your zucchini plants a couple of weeks before you need them as this will to help warm up the soil below. Doing this will greatly increase your early planting chances of success.
If you are going to sow your zucchini from seed directly into the ground then you can do this any time from early May onwards – around about the time of the last late frosts. With cloches you can sow zucchini seed up to three weeks earlier.

The trouble with zucchini is that they like lots of moisture around the roots, but ironically the plants can rot off if there is too much moisture around the base of the plant. To try and overcome this, zucchini are often grown on ridges in order to improve drainage – how to make a zucchini ridge is outlined as follows.

Begin by digging a small trench about 4 inches deep, then fill the bottom of this trench with well-rotted farm manure until the trench is refilled back to its original soil level – now dig over the trench so that the compost and soil is nicely mixed. Now dig a second trench next to this first one placing the soil along to top of the original trench so that you a have formed an elongated mound. This will form a ridge into which the zucchini seeds can be planted into - 3 ft apart. Alternatively, if you are only growing a few zucchini plants, just make one individual mound per plant roughly 1ft 6in square. These mounts do not need to be too high - no more than a few inches at most.

When sowing zucchini seed outside, sow two seeds per planting position – covering with ½in of soil. Each planting position should be about 3 ft apart. When the seeds have germinated they can be thinned out by removing the weaker of the two vigorous seedlings. If you are transplanting zucchini seedlings, then they should be planted into the ridge at the same depth as they were in the pot.

Zuchini require plenty of water so that they are able to grow and fully develop so soak the roots thoroughly and regularly. However, try to keep as much water as you can away from the foliage to help prevent the incidence of fungal infections.


Those of us who still have children in secondary school will know what I mean when I say that children look ‘different’ to how they used too when I was at school – and I don’t mean the mullet haircuts, or any other dodgy 80’s fashion statement.

During the 1980’s the girls looked like super-models (most of them), and the boys were generally athletic with a few skinny geeks thrown in. I remember in my year at school that there was also one fat kid – but compared to fat kids nowadays he was more well-built than anything else (and - as skinny as I was - he still beat me a tennis on a regular basis).

And here lies the difference. In my minds eye, all the children who were at school with me were thin, but in today’s reality most of the children seem to be fat – depending in which part of the country you live in.

So what has changed? Well with the advent of modern technological advances our children spend much of their free time either on the computer, watching TV or playing computer games. And while a more sedentary lifestyle is certainly a major contributing factor to childhood obesity, our 21st century diet has a lot to answer for too. You may be surprised to read that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that older kids should not watch more than 1-2 hours of TV or video per day, and that kids under age 2 not watch any television at all!


We live in an age of consumerism, were life-style and possessions are how we measure success against our peers. But with the high cost of property, foreign holidays and the periodic expectation of a new car, the pressure on a single income family is usually two much to achieve, so for the modern dream to become a reality the ‘double income’ family has become the only viable option.

And here lies the problem. With both partners out at work - and usually too exhausted to become involved in house keeping when they are at home - cooking becomes an inconvenient and time consuming activity when most hard-working folk just want to relax in front of the Telly. Why go to the bother of shopping for individual items, which then need to be prepared and then cooked when you can pull out an easy ready-meal from the freezer. If you really want to push the boat out then you could always buy a takeaway. And remember; think of all the washing up you would be saving on.

Take a look back to the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s when cheap processed food was all about burgers, fish fingers and a tin of beans. Imported food was still expensive and the ‘all year round’ availability of fresh produce was a thing of the future. With most homes having just the one bread winner ‘mother’ had time to cook and prepare ‘proper’ meals. Food was valued because it most of it was only available for short periods during the year (its natural harvest season) and it was expensive – in fact the cost of food shopping during these decades represented an average of 25% of the family budget! At the beginning of the 21st century this has dropped dramatically to an average of just 10%. How many times do you remember being told to ‘…finish you plate because there were starving kids in Africa...’

Food just wasn’t wasted because – quite simply – it was too expensive. You ate what was put in front of you and you didn’t leave the table until it was gone.


The vast majority of our population is isolated from how our food is produced, but perhaps worst still, they are ignorant of where our food comes from or how it is processed.

There is the old joke of asking a city based school children.

“Where does your milk come from?”

Only to receive Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s as a reply. The very thought of milk coming from a cow generally give an air of disgust but nowadays it is not so much a joke as a serious concern.

Our culture is obsessed with making food cheaper and cheaper – devaluing one of our most precious commodities. In addition, the food that we do put in to our mouths is usually manipulated to taste better than it actually is. The question is would we actually eat it if it wasn’t processed. The answer is probably - No!

Processed ready meals can contain a range of trace chemicals ranging from insecticides and fungicides, to colorants and preservatives. Unfortunately the downside of 'lack of taste' and 'flavour' often coincides with a significantly reduced nutritional value, but not to worry as this is replaced by Mmmmm - flavoursome fats and sugars, often with a heavy sprinkling of salt. Is this a healthy option or just a convenience option?

But surely the farming industry in this country is heavily regulated to make sure that the food we produced is of the highest standards. It is, but many companies buy their food from countries where production methods are less regulated and therefore cheaper.

The business practice of Bernard Matthews - a well known producer of turkey based products - is a good example. The company imports turkeys from countries with 'cheaper' production costs. However, by processing these ‘foreign’ turkeys into twizzlers or burgers etc in this country they can be legitimately sold as a British product.

Unfortunately importing cheaper foods can have additional risks such as bird flu. Bernard Mathews made the headlines in 2007 when claims were alleged that lethal bird flu may have been brought into Britain on a lorryload of their imported turkeys from Hungary.

The effects on our bodies of a diet high in processed food are well documented. High blood pressure, obesity, increased incidences of cancer and heart problems. Whereas a diet containing a high proportion of organically grown fresh produce eaten raw or properly cooked show substantial health benefits.

The condition of your body has a direct correlation to the quality of food that you put into it. Ask your self this question.

Do you want your children to eat the best quality food, or food that is produced at the cheapest possible cost where its quality – or your children’s health - is not a factor?


The food standards agency states that a healthy balanced diet contains a variety of foods including plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs and lentils and some dairy foods. It should also be low in fat (especially saturated fat), salt and sugar.

Of course there is one way that can guarantee that your food has been locally grown and produced without being sprayed with a cocktail of insecticides, molluscicides and fungicides. The answer - Grow you own!

Quite simply, it all comes down to this simple and rather obvious statement.



There are many tomato sauces that claim to be 'traditional' in origin. Of course, adding the word 'Italian' will not always guarantee its authenticity, but it will summon images of the Tuscan countryside - which in many respects is good enough.

As is the way, some tomato sauce recipes are over-simplified while others are overly - and often unnecessarily - complicated.

However, we are in luck. The recipe below has been handed down through word of mouth in the family of an Italian colleague of mine. He (Gino) swears that it comes directly from his grandmother, and she has never left the home country.

Unfortunately, is has taken me over a week of persuasion to obtain the recipe and as it was never written down there are no measurements. This means that you will have to 'feel' the mixture of flavours until it returns the authentic taste. Of course, the varieties and quality of ingredients will also make a big difference here so it is not so much about making the sauce but more like 'living' the source!

There are some clues however:

Smaller tomatoes will return a stronger flavour compared to larger traditional 'beefsteak or plum varieties.

Roasting the tomatoes first before boiling them down will also return a more 'tomatoey' flavour.


Tomatoes - probably around 1 kg
Garlic – between 2 and 8 cloves depending on your personal taste - peeled and crushed
1 x large onion - roughly cut
Black olives - if you like cooked olives - try between 1 or 2 dozen, cubed
Glass of red wine - but not necassary
Olive oil – 2 x tablespoons full, and not extra virgin
Salt and pepper
1 x large saucepan
1 x small saucepan
1 x colander/sieve
1 x bowl of cold water
1 x potato masher

To begin with, boil up a large pan of water. Place the tomatoes into the sieve and gently lower both tomatoes and sieve into the pan of boiling water. Leave them there until the peel starts to come away from the body of the tomato which should be no more and a minute or so. Lower the sieve of tomatoes into the bowl of cold water so that you can quickly take the heat out of them before the tiresome job of peeling them.

Empty the boiling water out of the large saucepan and replace it with the peeled tomatoes. Heat up the tomatoes then simmer for between 5-8 minutes.

While the tomatoes are simmering, place the small saucepan on the hob, and add the olive oil. Keeping the pan on a low heat, add the garlic and the onion. Allow them to sweat for a few minutes before taking the pan off the heat.
When they are ready, mash the tomatoes down using a potato masher then drain off any excess water. Pour in the red wine, then add to the small saucepan containing the garlic. Simmer for a further 10 minutes. While this is cooking, add the rosemary, basil salt and pepper. Regularly taste check and adjust the seasoning accordingly.