Archives for category: Grow My Own

Baby Sting bugs on Victoria Plum leaf, coming out from eggs
I was dreaming of eating appreciating the young fruits on my Victoria Plum tree when I noticed some strange lumps on some of the branches (2 photos down). When I poked them, they fell off and left a white powdery substance on the branches. To my horror, they were actually scale insects!

According to Royal Horticultural Society, scale insects are sap-feeding pests with shell-like coverings which are attached to the bark. They like choosing young branches as their bark is thinner.

Victoria Plum
I have been growing this Victoria Plum tree for 6 years. It was about 2-3 years old when I planted it. It has only given me a handful of fruits. But this year, after my neighbour chopped down her nearby 15m tall tree, the Victoria Plum has been maturing fast! I have never seen so many fruits on the tree before and I am not going to let these scale insects weaken my chances of having yummy and juicy plums!
Continue reading about how to get rid of scale insects and stink bugs >>

Plants growing towards the light in a propagator
Spring has arrived! Have you decided what food you are going to grow this coming year yet?

I started sowing the seeds using my propagator 3 weeks ago. There are many propagators in the market, ranging from £3 to £70. The one I use is self-watering and only cost around £7 from Homebase. This means that I do not need to water everyday- more time for myself! The most expensive range is usually self-heating. I do not see much point splashing out on one though as I found the seeds germinate just happily if I keep the propagator somewhere warm. Here is what the propagator looks like:

Self-watering propagator

(diagram by Homebase)

The propagator is very easy to use. I started by putting water in the hole so that the mat is touching the water properly. Continue reading >>

My garden is frequently visited by my neighbour’s cats. (I like cats. My sister has 4 cats and my cousins like putting hers in cute fancy dresses!) Last year, one of them started to poo in my garden. I embarked on a battle to stop him from doing so. I have tried many techniques; some based on the principles of sound, smell, novelty and contact and failed most of the time. It was a bit like the movie Catch Me If You Can, except that I was no Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank). I was more like ‘Carl’, the FBI bank fraud agent (Tom Hanks), who kept trying to catch Frank, the Conman, but was always a step behind. Every morning, the first thing I did was to roll up the blind and check if the set up has worked. Sometimes, I was amused by how clever the little cat was! A year on, I am happy to declare that I have won the battle! Here is how I found the ultimate solution against cats fouling in my garden.

My neighbour's cat
General notes:
1. Always remove the cat faeces from the soil. It is not a good fertiliser.
2. Cats like going back to the same spot to make a poo. Clean the area with soapy water helps reducing the smell they are familiar with and makes it less ‘inviting’.

The concept of this is to generate sound Continue reading about the tested methods to stop cats from fouling in your garden >>

When I first started planting in small pots, I used dining table spoon and fork as my tools- Normal size gardening tools in the shops are all too big for the delicate tasks. My dad had the same problem too as he does small scale planting on his balcony.

It is ok to use the usual spoons and forks as they do the job. Or you can get patio tool sets from the shop but they are not that cheap (at least £20). I decided to find a cheaper alternative- children gardening tool set. It only cost a fraction of the price!

The trick is to pick the ones that are made of stainless steel, not pastic. They work just as well. Ok, you have to bear the colourful bag but the tools are just as good. The photo shows the set by SoGifted. It only costs £8.50.

It is good practice to line the bottom of the pot with gravels or broken ceremics before planting to aid drainage. By doing so, it minimises the chances of the hole at the bottom of the pot to be blocked by the actions of roots and soil.

I could be clumsy at times but it is unlikely that I break enough ceremics accidentally by the time I need to do the planting. Packing peanuts are perfect for the task!  I just put them aside in a bag each time I receive a parcel. I feel less guilty too as I am not sending them directly to the landfill sites. Bonus! Continue reading >>

If you are like me, ie. a little clumsy, it is likely that you will come across this problem at some point. I dropped my baby yellow courgette while moving it around, pretty much right after I felt proud of myself for managing to get so many flower bulbs on a little plant. (!) The main stem nearly snapped in half, with only 5% intact at the bottom, near to the root. I thought I had decapitated and killed it! Since I could not make it any worse, I decided to try to save it.

I first tried wrapping the ‘injured area’ with toilet paper, then wetting it to form a ‘cast’. Unfortunately, it failed as the damage was too close to the root. The ‘cast’ could not ‘set’ fast enough before the plant started to moved.

First aid- bandage and splint

I then replaced the toilet paper with masking tape. I had to be careful not to break the remaining stem. As the masking tape is naturally sticky, I managed to keep the plant in the profile it was supposed to be in. I imagined that by doing so, the plant could still use its remaining 5% of tissue to send signals to the rest of the plant to grow back. I chose masking tape over sticky tape as its paper content allows the plant to ‘breathe’  and grow more easily in theory, I thought.

I then tied a bamboo skewer (the kind which I use to make kebab or satay) to the plant so that it could act as a splint. This is essential as the plant was weak at the bottom and after such a fall, it could no longer support its own weight. In addition, I piled the soil around the stem up slightly so that it further supported the stem.

The next few days were crucial as if the plant did not like the bandage and splint support, it would just dry out and die. I watered the plant lightly each day and watched.

How did it turn out?

The bottom two leaves did dry out but the plant soon got use to the idea of the support.  The plant grew healthily thereafter and gave me lots of health and yummy yellow courgettes!

Different plants need different nutrients. It is important to use the right fertilisers for the right plants so that they can grow healthily and produce good crops in return.

If you are growing different crops in small quantities, it can be quite costly and troublesome to buy special fertilisers for each crop. If you only want to invest in one good all round fertiliser, I recommend the natural seaweed extract. It is rich in nutrients and can build up a plants’ resistant to stress, pests, diseases and adverse weather conditions. Personally, I use it alternately with other specialised fertilisers but sometimes I just use it on its own when I do not have time.

Seaweed extract generally comes in 2 different forms: liquid and powder. They are used pretty much in the same way, ie. with added water. You add a certain portion of extract to a certain portion of water according to the instructions before pouring into the soil or spraying it onto the plant. Personally I prefer the powder version because it is neater to use.  Continue reading >>

There is no such thing as a free lunch in this world, except when I have wild strawberries growing in my garden!

Ok, I am showing off a bit. But I really could not believe my luck when I first discovered these little beauties in my garden. Even though they are only about the size of a pearl, they are a little bomb of flavour in my mouth. I usually wait for the fruits to ripen on the plant and pick them when they turn deep red (like the photo above). They are far tastier than any big farmed strawberries I have ever had.

I had no idea how they got to that special corner of my garden. I suspect my little friends, the Robins, brought them along when they hunt for worms and did a poo? I allowed the runners to grow across the planter. 2 years on, they have already covered quite a decent sized area. These days, I do admit that I ‘cultivate’ them a bit- I put seaweed fertiliser on them whenever I feed my other vegetables.

If you happen to see some in your garden, congratulations! My advice is: Eat the fruits and keep the plants. You will get more the next year!

‘No’ was the answer I was given by others when I first started gardening.

‘Yes’ is the answer I tell you now. I have tried it and I have proven them wrong!

I fell in love with Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference piccolo tomatoes . They are beautiful on the vine, with vibrant red skin and dark green vine. They are tiny but burst with flavour. I struggled to source the seeds but did not want to buy little plants. Against everyone’s advice, I decided to extract seeds from the supermarket tomatoes directly.

I had never extracted any seeds before. Common sense told me that I should choose a pack of good and healthy looking tomatoes so that I could take their good genes. So I did.

I used a small spoon to remove the seeds from the best looking fruit from the pack. There was some sac around each seed. I was not sure whether I should remove it as it may carry special nutrients for the seed. I decided to carry out a control experiment to find out the answer. I kept one batch with the sac and washed it off in another batch. They were then germinated in similar conditions, ie. in a self-watering propagator.
Answer? It did not matter whether the sac was there or not! 

Not sure whether I would get anything from the seeds of supermarket tomatoes, I germinated some tomatoes seeds of other species which I ordered online. Afterall, it would be a bit depressing to have no crop in my first year!

How did it go?

To my surprise, the piccolo tomatoes were the best crop! It tasted even better than the supermarket ones as mine was fresher and ripened on the vine (not by gas!). I particularly loved the lemony aroma when I picked them from the vine.

My first Piccolo tomato harvest 

I love it when it rains as it saves me from watering my plants. Though one annoying thing that comes with the rain is slugs and snails- they eat my crops!!!

If I see a slug, I usually use salt to kill it. But it is not an effective way to protect my crops as I have to stand in the garden and wait for the slugs and snails to show up.

The traditional way to kill slugs and snails is to put beer in a jar and use it as a trap. Though I had a friend who mistakenly poured beer into the soil and drew all the slugs and snails to her plot instead. (!)

For a more effective approach, I use Growing Success’s Advanced Slug killer. According to the manufacturer, it is certified for organic use and is safe for using around edible plants, children, animals and wildlife.

I usually scatter the pellets around the crop during late evenings or early mornings when slugs and snails are most active.

The pellets contain ferrous phosphate (iron phosphate – which is an organic compound) and a bait, thus making them attractive to slugs and snails. The slugs and snails are attracted to the bait, ingest the pellets and then crawl away to die, leaving no dead slugs or snails around and no unsightly slime. I like the fact that the uneaten pallets break down rapidly to iron and phosphate which are nutrients to the soil.

The pallets are light blue in colour. If they end up getting onto your crops, you should be able to recognise them easily.

I usually get my pallets from Captial Gardens. £5.21 for 750 gram (treats up to 155 sqm). It is a bargain!