THE SECRETS TO GROWING BONSAI





All photographs are reproduced with the kind permission of Peter Chan

If you want to know how to grow bonsai then you really can't do better than to ask Peter Chan, owner of Britain's premier Bonsai nursery - Herons Bonsai.

Peter Chan is the author of eight books on the subject and a winner of no less that  21 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medals (a feat that no other bonsai specialist has managed to achieve). I doubt that there is anything that Peter Chan doesn't know about his specialized subject .


Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of an unexpected meeting with Peter at his bonsai nursery in Surrey, England. I say lucky because Peter spends a fair amount of his time travelling the globe either procuring bonsai, or promoting bonsai to the world. Therefore, the chances of seeing the great man at his home at Herons Bonsai can be rather slim!

After deciding to visit Herons Bonsai in order to find a pot the exact shade of blue that the future Mrs. Eade had decided on, I managed to meet up with Peter near his landscaped Japanese 'Stroll garden'.

After introductions, I was blessed with a private tour of the inner workings of the nursery. It was time to glean the secrets of growing bonsai from the best mind in the country.

The first surprise I came across was that all the Acer species of bonsai were produced on site at the nursery making Herons Bonsai completely self sufficient for stock of this family of plants. How does Peter achieve this? Well of course, propagation through seed and cuttings will account for all the small stock, but what about the decent number of larger specimens.

Even though Peter has been producing Bonsai at Herons since 1986, the only realistic way that he could have built up such a large and varied selection of mature specimens would have been by not selling any of them  - which is of course ridiculous. So how does he do it?

The first secret

Air layering on Acers
Peter Chan is able to produce a large number of high quality, interesting stock by using the propagation technique of 'air layering'.

Air layering is a propagation technique by where a section of branch is encouraged to break in to adventitious roots.

Adventitious roots are those which arise out of sequence from the more usual root formation, and instead originate from the stem, branches, leaves, or old woody roots.

Air layering is executed by wounding a section the stem with a sterilised blade where the roots are required to form. If necessary, a dusting of rooting hormone powder can be applied to these wounds in order to encourage the adventitious roots to initiate.

Air layering on hornbeam
Wrap the wounded stem section loosely with plastic, sealing it at one end with some weather-proof adhesive tape

Pack the wrapping sleeve with a moist rooting medium to a thickness of 3-4 inches. The rooting medium is then secured in place using clear plastic.

The rooting medium should always provide aeration and a constant supply of moisture. Peter Chan prefers to use sphagnum moss.


Leave the wrapping in place for up to a year, and check it occasionally for signs of rooting.

When strong new roots are visible through the moss, remove the plastic sleeve. Cut through the stem just below the rooted section

Once sufficient root has been produced, a cut can be made below the adventitious roots, and this new plant can be potted on until it is large enough to plant outside


By carefully selecting interesting branch formations Peter Chan is able to produce the foundation of a new specimen in a traditional bonsai style.

This saves years on trying to produce stock by seed or cuttings, plus you have the advantage of an instant, mature plant.

Peter Chan also uses this technique on hornbeam, and on rare occasions beech.

The second secret

Carpinus species growing in sphagnum moss
In order to produce vigorous root growth in poorly specimens - or specimens that that need to be deliberately accelerated, Peter Chan doesn't use anything as pedestrian as potting compost.

Instead, these bonsai's are potted on into a medium made up entirely of sphagnum moss - which is of course sterile.

Therefore, all the plants nutrients are supplied using a liquid feed and these bonsai's will remain in sphagnum moss for up to two years before being potted on to a more commercial compost mix.

The third secret

Copper wire embedded in pine
Most growers of bonsai will use copper or aluminium wire to help guide the shape of their bonsai.

They will also remove or replace them as the plants branches increase in size.

Peter Chan's method is leave the wire in place and allow the trees bark to grow and callous over the wires forming a pleasing, gnarled effect.

Just be aware that there are no short cuts to this effect, and you can expect it to take a number of years to come to fruition.

The fourth secret

This may seem obvious, but correct watering is paramount to producing a high quality bonsai. Too much and your bonsai will die. Too little and again your bonsai will die.

The root balls of bonsai are deliberately cropped in order to induce the environmental stress that helps the 'miniaturization' of the plant.

Peter Chan, the future Mrs. Eade and baby George
It is this miniaturization that typifies the bonsai style. The problem is that these small root balls are prone to drying out as they can only hold a limited amount of water.

With this in mind you will probably find that during the growing season your bonsai will need watering almost every day, and during the peak of summer this will probably need to increase to twice a day. You may wish to move you bonsai to a shaded, sheltered area under these circumstances to reduce the risk of drying out.

Underestimating this will result in leaf drop as your bonsai reacts to environmental shock. Of course try not to make things worse by leaving you bonsai in a bucket of water for a few days to compensate as this will quickly kill off what was left of your bonsai's root system.

Of course, there is so much more to learn from Peter Chan than time would allow. However, you can find out more by reading his best selling book:

 Bonsai Secrets: Designing, Growing And Caring for Your Miniature Masterpieces

If you would like to find out more about Peter Chan and Heron Bonsai then you can visit his website from this linkhttp://www.herons.co.uk/

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The Secrets to Growing Bonsai

WHAT IS POISON OAK?







For most Europeans, the poison oak is a bit of a mystery. We hear about it in popular American television programs, but this only causes confusion as there is no such thing as poison oak in Europe - should we be worried?

No, luckily for us, poison oak is a deciduous shrub native only to North America, and is found widespread throughout the mountains and valleys of California. It thrives in shady canyons and riparian habitats, and commonly grows as a climbing vine with aerial (adventitious) roots that adhere to the trunks of oaks and sycamores.

If you are sensitive to the effects of poison oak - and over half the population of the United States are - you can develop an itchy, blistering rash by coming into contact with these plants.

The rash is caused by contact with an oil - urushiol, which is present in all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems, flowers, berries, and roots.

Urushiol is an allergen, so the rash is actually an allergic reaction to the oil in the poison oak.

Indirect contact with urushiol can also cause the rash. This may happen when you touch clothing, pet fur, sporting gear, gardening tools, or other objects that have come in contact with one of these plants. But urushiol does not cause a rash on everyone who gets it on his or her skin.

The rash usually appears 8 to 48 hours after your contact with the urushiol. But it can occur from 5 hours to 15 days after touching poison oak. The rash usually takes more than a week to show up the first time you get urushiol on your skin. But the rash develops much more quickly (within 1 to 2 days) after later contacts. The rash will continue to develop in new areas over several days but only on the parts of your skin that had contact with the urushiol or those parts where the urushiol was spread by touching.

The rash is not contagious. You cannot catch or spread a rash after it appears, even if you touch it or the blister fluid, because the urushiol will already be absorbed or washed off the skin. The rash may seem to be spreading. But either it is still developing from earlier contact or you have touched something that still has urushiol on it.

The more urushiol you come in contact with, the more severe your skin reaction. Severe reactions to smaller amounts of urushiol also may occur in people who are highly sensitive to urushiol. Serious symptoms may include:

Swelling of the face, mouth, neck, genitals, or eyelids (which may prevent the eyes from opening).
Widespread, large blisters that ooze large amounts of fluid.

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What is Air Layering?
WHAT IS FASCIATION?


WHAT IS GOUT?






When we think of gout, images of Henry VIII, and the books of Charles Dickens come to mind. Like typhoid, Gout is a disease that is now confined to the history books, an illness the result of an age of ignorance and squalor. But you would be wrong, people all over the world today still suffer from this painful illness which is almost a direct result of our modern, and often stressful lifestyles.

It turns out that gut is a type of arthritis, in which crystals of sodium urate produced by the body can form inside your joints.

The most common symptom of gout is sudden and severe pain in the joint, along with swelling and redness.

Strangely, the joint of the big toe is usually affected, but gout can develop in any joint.

Symptoms can develop rapidly to their worst point in 6-24 hours and usually last for 3-10 days (this is sometimes known as a gout attack). After this time, the joint will start to feel normal again and any pain or discomfort should eventually disappear completely.

Most people with gout will have further attacks in the future.

What causes gout?

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product made in the body every day and excreted mainly via the kidneys. It forms when the body breaks down chemicals in the cells known as purines.

If you produce too much uric acid or excrete too little when you urinate, the uric acid builds up and may cause tiny crystals to form in and around joints.

These hard, needle-shaped crystals build up slowly over several years. You will not know this is happening.

The crystals may cause two problems:

Some may spill over into the soft lining of the joint (synovium), which causes the pain and inflammation associated with gout.

Some pack together to form hard, slowly expanding lumps of crystals (“tophi”) which can cause progressive damage to the joint and nearby bone; this eventually leads to irreversible joint damage which causes pain and stiffness when the joint is being used.

Factors which increase your risk of gout include:

Age and gender. Gout is more common when you get older and is three-to-four times more likely in men.

Being overweight or obese.

Having high blood pressure or diabetes.

Having close relatives with gout (gout often runs in families).

Having long-term kidney problems that reduce the elimination of uric acid.

Having a diet rich in purines; such as frequently eating sardines and liver.

Drinking too much beer or spirits – these types of alcoholic drinks contain relatively high levels of purines.

What is Air Layering?
What is Poison Oak?

MASHED POTATO






It may sound little strange but father had an absolute love of mashed potato. Not only was it a dish that he took great pride in creating, he also believed that a great pile of it would cure a hangover if enough was eaten!

His obsession may well be due to his farming family background who predominantly grew parsnips and potatoes in the Spey bay region of Scotland. All I know is that Dads mashed potato was excellent.

Getting the right potato

The trouble is that potatoes nowadays just don't have the flavour. Typically floury and flavourless, supermarket potatoes just don't make the grade. Don't believe me, then try cooking up some home-grown or allotment potatoes, the difference will surprise you.

My favourite variety is 'Pink fir Apple'. The trouble is that the yields are poor, but the flavour is second to none! I even cook it with the skin left on - make sure you wash it thoroughly first.

Of course, soil conditions will vary depending on where you live, so if you decide to grow your own potatoes talk to local growers to find the best performing varieties.

How to make mashed potatoes

The main ingredients for mashed potato are as follows:

Potatoes
Salt
Pepper
Milk
Butter - good quality not cheap own brand.

If you are on a diet then loose the butter. If you need fattening up then you can add grated mature cheese and or double cream. If you are posh then add or just top with chopped parsley or chives.

Put simply, peel or not peel the potatoes - depending on your preference - and boil them for approximately 15 minutes in a suitably sized saucepan. Don't overcook them as they will turn into a horrible wet mush when you mash them.

When the potatoes are near to being cooked, test them with a table knife. If the knife doesn't go into the potato then it isn't ready. If the knife slides in comfortably  then it is cooked and ready for mashing. If the knife slides in and the potato begins to fall apart then it is too late - your potatoes are over cooked you Muppet so pay attention for next time!

Using a colander  drain the water off. Once it has stopped dripping place the potatoes back into the hot saucepan. Add a nob of butter, a drop of milk to improve the consistency and a touch of salt and pepper.

Mash the mix with a potato masher. Once all of the lumps have gone taste test the mix and add more of any ingredients that you feel are lacking. Mash it once more and serve. Enjoy, and don't forget to add lashings of thick gravy.

For more information click onto:
HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN TO HARVEST POTATOES?
HOW TO GROW POTATOES

HOW TO GROW WISTERIA




Wisteria are one of the most floriferous and coveted of all climbers. And because they are normally purchased as grafted stock they are also one of the most expensive. With that in mind you will want to get the most out of yours and if you get the pruning right your wisteria really will flower its heart out.

Where to plant wisteria

Wisteria will grow freely in almost any soil.

The ideal is a moist, rich, medium loam, but where this is not available, prepare a planting site that will give plenty of room for root growth.

The flower buds are susceptible to damage from late frosts or cold winds.

With that in mind, they will need the protection of a south or west facing wall - particularly in positions where where early morning sun follows the frost.

Plant out young pot grown plants from October to March in temperate weather. Provide a permanent  support, and tie the young growths to it until the twining stems can gain a firm hold.

How to grow wisteria

Excessive fertilizer, in particularly nitrogen can cause your blooms to fail. Wisteria has nitrogen producing  bacteria in root nodules, and while mature plants may benefit from added potassium and phosphate, they will perform poorly with to much nitrogen.

Be aware that if your wisteria is seed grown and not from grafted stock it can be reluctant to bloom if it has not reached maturity. Maturation may require only a few years, as in Kentucky Wisteria, or nearly twenty, as in Chinese Wisteria.

Maturation can be forced by physically damaging the main trunk - but not too much, root pruning, or drought stress.

Wisteria can grow into a mound when unsupported, but is at its best when allowed to climb up a tree, pergola, wall, or other supporting structure.

Whatever the case, the support must be sturdy, because mature Wisteria can become heavy with wrist-thick trunks and stems. These will certainly break apart latticework, crush thin wooden posts, and can even strangle large trees. Furthermore, be careful when allowing wisteria to grow on the sides of houses. They can cause damage to gutters, down pipes, and similar structures.

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WHAT IS HOMEOSTASIS






The term 'Homeostasis' relates to biology. It is the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes.

For example, in a cold environment the body will heat itself back up to its normal temperature.

Why do we need Homeostatasis?

If there was not a constant internal environment, our enzymes would not work properly. That would mean that nothing would operate correctly and we would die.

What has to be controlled?

All of our cells are bathed in a watery solution, which is formed by some of our blood plasma which is allowed to leak out of our blood. This carries away any waste materials back into the blood.

The balance of things in this tissue fluid is critical for the cells and the whole body. There are basically 6 things that are essential for health and that must be controlled:

1. Carbon dioxide

Extra carbon dioxide must be removed, otherwise the body becomes too acidic. It is lost mainly in the air we breathe out, but a small amount is lost in the urine.

2. Urea

This is the waste chemical produced when we digest amino acids in the liver. It is poisonous and so must be removed. This is done mainly through the urine, although some is lost through our sweat.

3. Ions

If the right balance of ions is not kept, our cells can become shrivelled, swollen or even burst!

Important ions include sodium, potassium, hydrogen and phosphate. These are controlled through our urine and the amount of water we drink. We also lose some, like sodium ions, through our faeces and our sweat.

4. Sugar

Having enough glucose for respiration plus adequate stores of glycogen is critical. If the blood glucose level falls too low we will die.

5. Water

Seventy percent of our body mass is water. Without keeping the right amount of water we would die. The kidney is the key means of this control (see later).

6. Temperature

The enzymes that control every chemical reaction in our body work best at their optimum temperature of 37 degrees Centigrade. If our body cells get too hot or too cold they would die. So would we!

A good way to remember these 6 things is by learning this mnemonic.

When (Water)

Shall (Sugar)

I (Ions)

Clean (CO2)

The (Temperature)

Utensils (Urea)

Which organs are involved?

Through the hypothalamus and pituitary glands the brain has a long-lasting and powerful effect on the body by involving hormones.

The hypothalamus monitors water, temperature and carbon dioxide content of blood.

The pituitary gland secretes a number of hormones, a key one is ADH which is important in regulating the water content of the body.

The liver helps to control glucose content of the body by storing it as glycogen. It is also involved in temperature regulation, acting as the body's furnace by increasing the rate of respiration when we are cold.

The lungs are involved by getting rid of carbon dioxide from the body.

The pancreas is involved in maintaining a constant amount of glucose in the body through the actions of glucagon and insulin.

The muscles of the body can help to maintain a stable body temperature as muscular activity and shivering help to generate heat.

The kidney are involved in controlling the amount of water in the body.

The skin is the largest organ and has a central role in maintaining a constant temperature.

What is Air Layering?
WHAT IS FASCIATION?
What is Homeostasis?
What is Poison Oak?

ARE JELLYFISH FISH?





I have to honest and say that I am surprised that this question is even being asked. While it is true that the compound word 'Jellyfish' is a common name that has arisen from a rudimentary description of the organism, and that it is also true that it does indeed contain the word 'jelly' and 'fish', the jelly fish is not a fish and it is definitely not made from jelly. Furthermore, I implore you not to test this statement by chewing on one.

The English popular name jellyfish has been in use since 1796, however other scientists prefer to use the more all-encompassing term gelatinous zooplankton! Obviously, jellyfish is far easier to say.

What are Jellyfish?

Fish made of Jelly - not a Jellyfish

Jellyfish are an invertebrate (an animal species that do not develop a vertebral column) species of sea dwelling animal that are so named due to their gooey gelatin-like bodies.

They belong to the Cnidaria phylum, which includes other simple-bodied marine invertebrates such as sea anemones and corals.

The jellyfish is considered simple-bodied because, like its Cnidarian cousins, it has no head, brain, heart, eyes, or ears. Thus it is also lacking in the sensory systems that correspond to these organs.

Jellyfish are pretty simple creatures. They are composed of three layers: an outer layer, called the epidermis; a middle layer made of a thick, elastic, jelly-like substance called mesoglea; and an inner layer, called the gastrodermis.

Anatomy of a Jellyfish  - no fish, no jelly
They have an elementary nervous system, or nerve net, which allows jellyfish to smell, detect light, and respond to other stimuli.

The simple digestive cavity of a jellyfish acts as both its stomach and intestine, with one opening for both the mouth and the anus.

There are over 2,000 species of jellyfish, or jellies as they are sometimes called. Fossil evidence of these creatures dates back to over 650 million years ago, during the late Proterozoic Era.

With so many species of cnidarians floating about, there is a certain amount of variety in the appearance of their body parts. While the typical body is composed of a bell,  oral or feeding arm and the tentacles, there are some species that do not have tentacles.


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AMAZING TREE FACTS





Trees can be so plentiful and commonplace that they may seem ordinary and boring, but the world of trees is surprisingly bizarre and amazing. Environmentalists and naturalists are often called “Tree Huggers,” but there’s plenty of good reason for us all to hug a tree from time to time. With Earth Day coming up, the folks at Monster Tree Service, based in Philadelphia and franchising across the U.S., put together some cool facts to prove it!

More than that, with a little support from you, the world can have a few more trees in it - with almost no work from you! How? 

So get to it!

Amaze-balls tree facts

1. A tree in the Sequoia National Forest named “General Sherman” is over 275 feet tall and 102 feet around, making the California Redwood the most massive living single organism on Earth. 

2. A Coastal Redwood named “The Mendocino Tree” is estimated to be 1000 years old, and at more than 367 feet tall is the tallest organism.  

3. A California Redwood named “Eternal God” is estimated to be between 7000 and 12000 years old, making it the oldest living thing on earth. 

4. About one third of the United States of America is covered by forests and it is estimated that there are 247 billion trees over 1” in diameter. 


5. The world’s largest forests are in Northern Russia, however, and cover more than 3 billion acres.

6. A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means just two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.

7. One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles. Over the course of its life, a single tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide.

8. Studying a tree’s rings can do more than provide a tree’s age.  Tree rings provide precise information about environmental events, including volcanic eruptions.

9. Oak trees don’t produce acorns until they are over 20, and some trees may not produce acorns until they are 50. 

10. Birch trees mature quickly and can produce over a million seeds per year.

11. A fully grown Ada Tree in Australia can develop a root system that spreads out more than an acre. 

12. A wild fig tree in South Africa has roots that measure 400 feet deep.

13. Trees grow from the top, not from the bottom as is commonly believed.

14. A branch's location on a tree will only move up the trunk a few inches in 1000 years.

15. Trees on residential properties lower energy costs, block the wind, provide shade and increase property value. 

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THE NAKED MOLE RAT




The north African Sahara desert is home to one of the worlds strangest animals. Below ground, and in stark contrast to the extremes of temperature outside, conditions are stable and tolerable - welcome to the home of the naked mole rat.

Incredibly, without the protection of the burrow these saber-toothed sausages wouldn't last a day in the open desert.

Their underground tunnels make them difficult to study, but research has discovered that they are well adapted to subterranean life.

Naked mole rats dig these tunnels almost continuously in the search for gigantic underground tubers upon which they feed.

These tubers are swollen, specialised roots developed by some desert plants as a way of storing energy and water. The trouble is that the mole rats have no idea where these tubers are and so all they can do is dig away and hope that they will eventually bump into one.

Digging in this hard ground requires teamwork. Some workers at the front end of a tunnel will gnaw into the baked earth. A mole rats lips close behind the long, curved front teeth so that it doesn't get any of the earth into its mouth. Other members of the team behind these 'front runners' kick back the soil until it reaches one of the surface exits

They can run equally well in both directions, so tight spaces are easy to cope with.  It is unbearably hot in these tunnels which is why they have lost their fur, but most bizarrely they live in social colonies much like termites or ants.

Not all mole rats dig, a few which are a little bigger that the tunnellers are in fact soldiers!  Soldiers can be male or female and spend most of the day lazying about in a large central chamber, saving their energy for an emergency such as the appearance of a snake in one of the tunnels.

After time spent digging the workers come together to relax, but one of the naked mole rats is very different to all the rest - their Queen!

Twice as heavy as her subjects, the queen is not afraid to throw her weight around. She is the mother of every worker in the colony and exists in a near continuous state of pregnancy.

At any given moment she can have up to two dozen babies pulsing within her swollen belly and can produce a new litter every thirteen weeks.The Queen is the only female which can produce young as none of the other females will become sexually mature while she lives. Why? Well, the mole rats have a communal latrine used by all the mole rats including the queen.

When the workers visit the latrine They deliberately cover themselves with some of the 'contents' of the latrine so that they can carry the sent of the colony. This enables each individual to be recognised and accepted by all the other members of the colony. But in doing so, they are committing themselves to a life of sterility because the queens urine contains a substance that suppresses the development of ovaries in others.

 Just occasionally, one of her brood is raised differently - a daughter which will become a future princess. In the beginning, the princess enjoys a privileged, and lazy life, but it doesn't last as she has a destiny to fulfil.

The surface is a place where no naked mole rat can survive for long, but a princess will risk everything in search of a partner. Leaving the burrow in the cool of the night the princess will search for a males distinctive scent which she can follow to the safety of its burrow.

For now, the burrow contains just this single pair, but in a couple of months the princess would have become a queen in her own right and a new colony begins.

Naked mole rat facts

1. Naked mole rats can live for over 20 years, an age unprecedented in small rodents.

2. Unlike European moles, naked mole rats dig with their teeth and not with their claws.

3. Unlike most other mammals, naked mole rats can't maintain steady body temperature - they are essentially cold-blooded.

4. While is it true that naked mole rats do not have any fur, they are not completely hairless as their nose is covered in thick sensory whiskers.

5. Naked mole rats feed primarily on very large edible roots which can weigh as much as a thousand times the body weight of a typical mole rat. They also eat their own faeces!

6. The eyes of a naked mole rat are virtually useless and so the sensory whiskers on the nose and tail help them navigate dark underground tunnels. 

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HOW TO GROW CUCUMBERS


The cucumber has become a mainstay of the British salad, and in fact what could be more English or refined than a freshly cut cucumber sandwich? Of course, should you require a cucumber you can easily pop down to your local supermarket and purchase an extremely straight looking, poorly flavoured, and watery specimen. But if you want something that has a decent meaty texture and 'God forbid' some flavour them you cannot do better than grow your own.

And there you will have a choice. You can grow traditional cucumber crops in a greenhouse or - and this is true for those growing in a northern European climate - you can produce some hardy, stubby cucumber varieties outside.

Cucumber history

Believe it or not, cucumbers have been in cultivation for at least 3000 years. Originating in India, this refreshing crop is believed to have been introduced to Europe by the Romans. In fact, according to 'The Natural History of Pliny' - by Pliny the Elder, the Roman Emperor Tiberius had the cucumber on his table daily during summer and winter. Surprisingly, the Romans reportedly used artificial methods  - similar to a greenhouse system of growing - so as to have it available for his table every day of the year. To quote Pliny:
'...indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone...'
So, how do you grow a cucumber from seed?
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To begin an early crop – particularly in a northern European climate – it is best to start off your cucumber seeds either indoors or in a heated greenhouse. Of course, cucumber seeds can be sown directly in the garden once the danger of late frosts has passed, but this will result in a later crop.
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You can begin sowing cucumber seeds any time from the end of March. Using either 2/3 inch pots or a modular plug tray, fill with a good quality seed compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’.

Using a dibber, or the rounded end of a pencil, make two holes near the centre of the pot/module. Place one cucumber seed into each hole, then back fill with compost and water in thoroughly. The tray/pots are now ready to be moved to a warm windowsill, heated propagator or heated greenhouse. Should you wish, you can cover the pots/trays with a sheet of glass, perspex or cling-film in order to maintain humidity.

Cucumber seed will germinate quite quickly - usually not much more that a week – and as soon as the new seedling begin to emerge any coverings should be removed. Once the seedlings have reached an inch or two, the weaker of the two seedlings can be removed.

Keep well watered – but not waterlogged – and feed with a half strength liquid fertiliser once a week.

Once they have between 2 and four true leaves the seedlings can be planted outside into their final positions once the threat of late frosts are over, but they will need to be hardened off for a couple of weeks before hand.

If a cool period of weather is due it is sometime worth waiting a few days. This can be done by bringing them back undercover overnight or protecting them with a cloche or small poly-tunnel.

Plant them approximately 18 inches apart in rows that are spaced every 5 feet.

Cucumber care

When growing cucumbers it is essential to keep them well watered to help your plants establish and to increase crop yields. Feed your cucumber plants with a high potash feed every two weeks once the fruits begin to develop.

Greenhouse Cucumbers

1. Keep the greenhouse warm and humid by regularly spraying or damping down of pathways. You will probably need to apply some greenhouse shading to protect the plants from scorching.

2. Trailing types will produce higher yields if made to climb. Train the main shoots onto 1.8m (6ft) canes or strings until they reach the top of their support and then pinch out the growing point at the top of the plant. Once the fruit begins to develop, pinch out the end of each side shoot, leaving two leaves after each fruit. This helps to encourage more side-shoots which will produce bigger crops of cucumbers.

3. Always remove the male flowers from greenhouse cucumbers. Female cucumber flowers can be identified by a swollen bulge between the bottom of the flower and the flower stem that looks like a tiny cucumber. Male flowers just have a plain stalk so you can easily tell them apart.

Outdoor cucumbers

1.  Cucumbers growing outdoors will not need training onto canes - just let them sprawl across the ground.

2.  Ridge cucumbers can be pinched out at the main stem after 7 leaves have formed to encourage fruiting side shoots to develop.

3. Outdoor ridge types require pollination by an insect which needs both male and female flowers to be present - do not remove the male flowers from these varieties.

Harvesting cucumbers

You can normally begin to harvest cucumbers around 12 weeks from sowing. Harvesting cucumbers is best done early in the morning when temperatures remain cool. Cut the fruits from the plant using secateurs or a sharp knife. It’s best to harvest cucumbers while they are young and tender, before they show signs of producing seeds, as older fruits can become bitter.

Regular harvesting will encourage long continuous production - outdoor types can continue to fruit until September, while greenhouse types can fruit into October if temperatures are warm enough.