Assign a 'primary' menu

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dec 30

Beekeeping 101 Beekeeping made easy for beginners

By chadchaffin | Beekeeping , Small Holding

Beekeeping is taking flight. Honeybees are estimated to pollinate 30 percent of the food we eat, making bees a vital part of the food chain. According to the U.S. Department of agriculture (USDA), the S.S. Boasted 2.62 million colonies producing honey in 2012, up five percent from 2011. Beekeeping—or apiculture—may seem intimidating due to the fear of being stung. But the odds of dying from a lightning strike are greater than those of dying from a bee sting. The benefits of apiculture, which include improving pollination for local agriculture and a number of products from the hive, far outweigh the potential of a bee sting.

To bee or not to be

Getting started in apiculture requires extensive research and exploring resources, which can range from books to local classes. Many states have a beekeeping association with county chapters that offer bee schools. While books offer a great deal of insight into bees and apiculture, hands-on experience provides a confidence boost for first-time beekeepers. “These classes are a great way to get started, as they cover everything from basic honeybee biology to the diseases and pests that plague them,” says Inge Kautzmann, vice president of the Person County Beekeeping Association in North Carolina. Many bee suppliers offer starter kits that include a single hive body, protective gear and tools.

The bees and “supers,” or the hive box that holds honeycomb frames, help complete the setup at an average cost of $300. For new beekeepers, Kautzmann recommends maintaining two hives, which will enable keepers to pull resources such as brood, pollen and honey from one hive to help boost the other should something happen to it.

Anatomy of a hive

Beekeepers have a number of hive architectures to consider. One of the most common designs is the Langstroth hive, which encourages the bees to build honeycombs on removable frames. The frames are designed to prevent bees from attaching honeycombs in between frames or to the walls of the hive. The Langstroth hive contains a bottom board on which the hive rests. This is most commonly made of wood and can either be solid or have a screen that would allow debris to fall through.

The outer cover helps protect the hive from the elements, and with an entrance reducer, beekeepers can partially close the hive entrances to prevent intruders such as mice and other insects from entering the hive. The hive body—or “brood chamber”—is a box that holds the comb frames, normally either eight or 10 frames. This can also be called a “super” or “deep super.” The wooden frames contain a beeswax foundation imprinted with hexagonal shapes that are commonly known as the honeycomb shape. Says Kautzmann, “The foundation provides a starting point for the bees when they build their wax combs.” Some of the frames in the hive are kept exclusively for storing honey, a function that’s enabled by beeswax’s ability to support 20 times its own weight.

Bee Sociology

Honeybee colonies are complex social environments. Bees live in large, well-organized social groups designed to keep the hive buzzing along. Each bee has a defined role that is dictated as soon as it completes metamorphosis into an adult. The honeybee colony consists of a single queen bee, several hundred drones, and thousands of worker bees that must work together and contribute to the success of the hive. The queen bee is the only sexually mature female bee in the hive. As such, she lays nearly 1,500 eggs a day during peak production, which runs from spring to early summer. Over her two- to three-year life-time, she can lay as many as a million eggs.

Queens lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized eggs become male drones, and the fertilized eggs become female worker bees. “Queen bees and worker bees are genetically identical,” says Kautzmann. “What makes a bee become the queen is the diet of royal jelly she’s fed as a larva.” Worker bees are the most abundant in the hive, and as the name implies, they perform a number of tasks within the colony, including cleaning the hive, feeding the brood, building beeswax combs and handling incoming nectar. They also forage for nectar, pollen, water and plant sap (propolis) as they mature. A worker bee’s lifespan is only about six weeks during the peak season and about six months in the late fall and winter.

Drones are normally only present in a hive during the late spring and summer. Their main function is to fertilize the queen bee during her mating flight, enabling her to lay eggs that will eventually become worker bees.

Sweet rewards

Beehives produce a number of products that are beneficial to humans. The most common and well-known output is honey. Honey’s color and flavor vary depending on the vegetation from which the pollen and nectar is collected. Heat and moisture also affect a honey’s quality, as both can lower the grade and shelf life of the end product. “Honey for consumption is available in four basic types: extracted or liquid honey, cut-comb honey, chunk honey and creamed honey,” explains Kaufman. Most beekeepers produce extracted honey, which is the honey commonly found in grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

Bees tend to produce more extracted honey than honey in the comb, and by extracting the honey, beekeepers can reuse the combs multiple times. Extracted honey can be gathered by cutting the combs from the hive and either using gravity or specialized centrifugal equipment to spin the honey from the cells. Cutcomb honey involves cutting the combs out of the frames and letting those sections drain overnight. Producing chunk honey requires cutting the comb to fit a jar or other storage container and letting it drain.

The beekeeper then fills the open spaces in the container with liquid honey. Creamed honey is honey that is finely crystalized until it reaches a consistency similar to that of butter. In addition to sweetening food and drinks, honey has a number of medicinal benefits. “Honey has been used for thousands of years to treat conditions such as insomnia, ulcers and constipation,” explains Kautzmann. “Used externally, it had antiseptic qualities that make it ideal for healing simple cuts, scrapes and burns, as well as diabetic ulcers.”

Products from the hive

But honey isn’t the only beneficial byproduct of apiculture. Honeybees also produce beeswax, which is used in a number of products including soap, lotions and candles. The cosmetic industry is the number one consumer of beeswax, followed by candle-making. Bees must consume 18.5 pounds of honey to create 2.2 pounds of beeswax. is also a vital ingredient for beekeepers to create the wax foundations for their beehives. Lesser-known products from beehives include the “brood.” Brood is the collective term for all stages of honeybee development from egg to pupae. “While not popular in the U.S., brood is a high-protein food source in other countries, particularly Asia and Africa,” says Kautzmann. “In fact, honeybee pupae are 18.2 percent protein, compare to beef at 17.9 per-cent.” Royal jelly, the primary food source for queen bees, is well-known throughout the world to treat skin conditions. The substance helps decrease free radicals, making it an ideal anti-aging product according to some experts. For the queen bee, royal jelly helps accelerate maturation and ensure a longer lifecycle. Propolis, a resinous mixture collected from tree buds, sap flows and other botanical sources, is among the byproducts of beekeeping. Honey-bees use propolis to seal and protect the hive, as well as prevent the spread of bacteria and fungi in the hive.

The antibacterial and antifungal properties are also good for humans, and the substance has been proven to effectively treat wounds, gingivitis, sore throats and acne among other ailments. Propolis is also used in wood varnish. Surprisingly, bee venom is a beneficial byproduct of beekeeping. Bees use venom as a means of defense and a way to communicate, particularly when the hive is threatened. Medically, bee venom therapy has been used to treat joint pain associated with arthritis, as well as Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Fight pesticides

With a number of pesticides targeting other insects endangering honeybee populations, engaging in apiculture can help ensure that bees and their beneficial byproducts continue to sweeten our lives.

Dec 28

How to grow garlic from bulb

By chadchaffin | Gardening , Herbs and Flowers

A member of the allium family of onions and shallots, though sometimes referred to as a herb, garlic is not difficult to grow and quite easy to maintain. It can be grown directly into the  ground or in containers, so is quite a  versatile plant which can be accommodated in whatever space you have available.


Garlic for planting is bought as a bulb, usually two or three to a pack. The bulbs need to be split into cloves first and planted with the flat bottom part of the clove downwards. Garlic likes a fertile, well-drained soil, so apply plenty of well-rotted manure and organic matter in autumn for spring planting, and in early summer for autumn planting.
If you have recently harvested a crop on the same patch which was well manured, garlic could be used as a follow on. If your soil is acidic, add lime to increase the alkalinity of the soil (up to about 6.5 pH).
Cloves should be planted 5cm (2in) deep, 7.5cm-10cm (3in-4in) apart and 20cm (8in) between rows. Alternatively, you can grow them in 40cm (16in) pots. Some growers prefer to start their garlic cloves off in modular cells to get them off to a good start and then plant them out a few weeks later or even overwinter them for planting out in spring.

Looking after your plants

Garlic requires very little maintenance other than watering if the weather turns dry and regular weeding. Even though cold is good where garlic is concerned, if the weather turns very cold, say below -5°C (23°F), a little mulching around the plants will help protect them, or cover with fleece or a cloche until the weather warms up a little.


Garlic is ready for lifting when the leaves begin to turn yellow and start to bend over. Leave the bulbs in too long and the cloves will start to split, though if you lift them too early they will have had insufficient time in the ground to dry out and will not store so well so monitor closely come harvest time.

Use a fork to loosen the soil around the roots before lifting and then spread the bulbs out on trays to dry for a few days, or under cover if it’s wet. If you keep the stalks on you can plait or string them and then hang them up to dry in a cool, frost-free shed.

Varieties to try

Hardneck types produce large cloves that don’t store as well as softneck types which produce more cloves too. Hardneck varieties often produce scapes (flower stalks) which should be cut off – though they are edible and can be used to flavour savoury dishes. Elephant garlic, which belongs to the leek family and is therefore not a true garlic, produces mild-flavoured, very large, whole bulbs which don’t divide into cloves.

  • Elephant garlic‘: This aptly named variety of the leek family produces whole bulbs that dwarf garlic bulbs. Suitable for both spring and autumn planting.
  • Germidour’: A purple-streaked softneck variety with a mild flavour. Suitable for spring and autumn planting.


  • Provence wight‘: This softneck variety produces large bulbs. Suitable for autumn planting.


  • Red duke‘: A hardneck variety which produces purple-tinged bulbs with a strong flavour. Good for autumn planting.


Watch out for

Garlic tends to be relatively problem free but can experience the same problems that also affect other members of the onion family.

  • Allium Leaf Miner: This is a relative newcomer, first appearing in the early years of the 21st century in the southern half of the UK, but spreading fast. The fly lays eggs on the plant and
    the maggots burrow into all parts of the plant. The resulting pupae are brown. Covering with fleece or fine insect netting will keep the flies out.
  • Leek Moth: The caterpillars of this moth feed on the leaves, causing serious damage to the plant and consequent rotting. Covering with fleece or fine insect netting will keep the moths out. Clear the debris away from around the plant too as adult moths are likely to overwinter there.
  • Onion White Rot: This can devastate a crop and is more likely in hot, dry summers with the leaves turning yellow and the base of the bulbs showing fluffy white fungus. Nothing much to be done here other than avoiding growing any of the onion family on the same patch for five years or more as this is a soil-borne disease.
  • Rust: This is an unsightly fungal disease which shows itself as orange-red-brown pustules on leaves (below). Unless seriously affected, the bulbs themselves tend to be unaffected.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2015 print issue of Kitchen Garden.
Dec 23

7 easiest tea herbs to grow in your garden (#3 is my favorite)

By chadchaffin | Gardening , Herbs and Flowers

Succumbing to the promise of bagged herb tea often leaves me disappointed as the flavour never quite lives up to the scent – or, for that matter, to the blurb on the back of the pack. Homemade herb teas, on the other hand, are a different story. The flavour delivered by freshly picked leaves and flowers is richer and tastier than anything you can buy in the shops, while taste options range from chocolate mint to lemon and full-on liquorice, with many others in between.

As a group, the tea herbs are an easy-going bunch with a preference for a reasonable soil in a well-drained, sunny spot. They are pretty plants, too, pleasing to our eyes and to all manner of beneficial insects, making a tea garden a busy place, buzzing with life. There are dozens of plants to choose from and if you grow a selection of different flavours you can ring the changes, depending on your mood.

Leaves and flowers should be picked early on a fine day when the warmth of the sun has excited the essential oils that give the plants their characteristic scent and flavour. They are usually best enjoyed fresh from the plant; however it is worth drying some, quickly and out of direct sunlight, to keep for winter use.

Seeds can be harvested by cutting the mature flower spike, popping the flowerhead into a paper bag and hanging it upside down until it releases its cargo. Of course, what you grow depends on the flavours you prefer, but don’t be afraid to try something different. Who knows, you may discover a new favourite – and the really good news is, many of these plants look as good as they taste.

  1. Anise (Pimpinella anisum) and dill (Apium graveolens) are 2ft tall annuals with lacy umbels held aloft above ferny foliage. Both dill (yellow flowers) and anise (white  flowers) are grown for their seeds and leaves. Anise has a strong liquorice flavour while dill is fresh and bright.
  2. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, A. rugosa ‘Golden Jubilee’) is simply beautiful: a 4ft tall perennial with a good neat shape that adds a big splash of purple to the tea garden. Worth growing for the flowers alone, it  is for the leaves and stems that the plant is really prized.
  3. Mint (Mentha) is hard to beat for flavour. Apple mint (M. suaveolens) and pineapple mint (M. rotundifolia) add fruity overtones to summer cups, while chocolate mint (M. x piperata ‘Chocolate’) tastes like minty hot chocolate. It can be untidy, but the dark green leaves are pretty and the scent heavenly. Used to flavour sweets and cakes, peppermint (M. x piperata) is lovely alone or added to fruit teas. Like all mints, grow it in bottomless buckets to keep it contained.
  4. Bergamot and lemon bergamot (Monarda didyma, M. citriodora) are my favourite tea plants. At 3ft tall with a long flowering season, they are the stars of the border. Blooms come in shades of red, pink, white and purple, and the spicy leaves have been prized by Native Americans for millennia. They dry beautifully for use in winter cups.
  5. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) makes a deliciously scented, soothing bedtime drink. The plant grows to a rather straggly 2ft, and While it isn’t as pretty as the catmints that have been bred for the border, the scent and flavour are far superior. Pick individual leaves or cut whole stems to use fresh or dry.
  6. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows to 2ft and is the archetypal herb tea, with a delicate grassy flavour that goes well with fruity hints. Pick the flowers for drying when the petals have turned back to expose the central cone.
  7. Violets (Viola odorata) have a scent and flavour reminiscent of parma violets. Use the leaves and flowers to make a springtime tonic, or combine with fruity flavours for a refreshing summer tea.
  8. Wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) have tiny fruit that taste like strawberries and toffee. Use the leaves and fruit for a delicate strawberry-flavoured tea.

Others to try

To give height, grow climbers such as roses, blackberries or raspberries (a classic tea herb prized for its leaves). Or add some Eastern spice with a summer jasmine (Jasminum officinale). Also worth including in your mini tea plantation are varieties of lavender and pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) with their bright and spicy petals. Tiny lemon thyme and 2ft tall lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) taste like lemon sherbet, while borage combines well with mint and fruity flavours. And don’t forget liquorice-flavoured fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), an obvious back-of-the-border choice at 6ft tall.

Credited Elizabeth McCorquodale from Amateur Gardening

Dec 22

Vegetables that grow in winter: Sure-Fire Tips for Survival

By chadchaffin | Gardening

Cold weather is not the only thing just around the corner. You never know when disaster will strike… from a devastating natural disaster to civil unrest and chaos.

So, just because cold weather is around the corner doesn’t mean you need to put away your rake, soil and seeds. For most gardeners, the late fall brings the last harvest of the season, but if you prepare your vegetable patch properly, you can continue to produce quality food for your stockpile through the frost and beyond. Here are some tips to help you reap the rewards of your survival garden this winter.

  1. Grow your crops inside

    If you don’t have the right type of outdoor soil for gardening or you simply don’t have the space, you can grow certain types of vegetables inside during the winter. In many cases, if you have the right amount of sunlight in your home, you can grow all of the winter crops in a container, including lettuce, herbs, peas, carrots and radishes. If you’re short on sunlight, you can invest in a halide lamp, which will offer your plants more light.

  2. How stratification impacts your garden

    If you’ve ever planted seeds for winter friendly items and yet you get no results, it could be that you ignored your seed’s stratification requirements. “Many plants that were originally grown in cold weather have evolved to develop a natural understanding to survive by requiring a six-month cold period before they will sprout,” says Tony Avent. “A stratification period is normally three or six months, depending on the plant.


    You’ll sow the seed, and then it will require that many months of cold weather, typically below 40 degrees, before it will come up.” The stratification period varies from plant to plant, so you’ll want to investigate how many chilling hours your particular plant requires by investing in a good seed book that will delineate the stratification period of each seed, Avent advises.

  3. Late autumn, early winter


    The late autumn yield from your garden should still be rich with tomatoes, peppers and peas, especially if you picked the first round in late summer and quickly repaired and replanted in your beds. These canning and stockpile essentials can be kept hardy even through a light frost with a portable greenhouse or homemade covering.

    Many nurseries and hardware stores, in addition to online seed companies, offer several inexpensive covers for winter seed and frost gardening cultivation. Make sure you scoop out the seeds from these fruits and vegetables, allowing them to dry for up to two weeks before storing. Your family table should be topped with squash, pumpkin and cucumber delights from your earlier harvest right now. It’s essential that you collect the seeds while preparing or dividing these vegetables and gourds for your pantry.
    Occasionally, gourd and squash seeds do not produce the same quality season after season, so it’s always a good idea to purchase new seeds just in case. Pumpkin seeds are also a wonderful cold day snack when toasted over a fire and sprinkled with salt; thus, they do the double duty of being both a future crop and treat.

  4. Planting with frost in mind

    Most greens used both in salads and for cooking will flourish in a cold climate, and they can be counted on in bleak times to bring a bounty of healthy food to your table and pantry. “Turnips, lettuce and collard greens will grow very well in winter,” says Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina.
    If you haven’t already, now is a good time to sow your leafy greens seeds. To ensure plentiful results, plant a variety of cold-loving greens. It’s a good idea to cover the soil with a light mulch to keep the dirt around the seeds warmer from frost. The greens will thrive in a colder climate, but a covering might prove helpful to increase the produce yield. With a watchful eye and careful touch, your survival garden will be full of lettuces all winter long.

  5. Overwintering your garden

    After you have harvested your fall crops, you can begin “overwintering” your garden. Overwintering means planting and preparing your beds for your early spring vegetables. After you adapt the recently harvested soil, root and bulb vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, onions, garlic and rutabagas are all excellent products to sow in your space for overwintering. They will need to be in the growing process before you cover the soil with a layer of mulch and may look lackluster and dreary for a while. Broccoli and cauliflower as well as leafy greens like spinach, kale and chard can also be planted now.

  6. Produce: winter, spring

    When the days begin to get longer and winter is waning, your survival garden will begin to emerge again with many tasty veggies. As the temperatures begin to rise and only a light frost comes at night, it’s time to brush away the heavy dirt and let your plants grow. Your winter garden will produce an early spring harvest and a bounty for your disaster pantry. Because you never know what is just around the corner.

  7. Expect the unexpected

    You’ve planted your tomatoes and harvested the delicious results all summer, only to assume that you would have to rely on your canning and jarring to get you through the winter—but then you discover a fresh tomato on the vine—in November! Many gardeners experience this anomaly, often the result of a warm autumn or placing the tomatoes in a well-lit area. These harvests are safe to eat, although they may not taste as delicious as the summer crop.

Dec 21

How to Plant and Grow Strawberries in Containers and Pots

By chadchaffin | Gardening

Most of the strawberries we cultivate are summer-fruiting, though there are also perpetual or ‘everbearing’ strawberries which tend to be smaller than summer varieties and bear fruit from early summer right into early autumn.

Strawberries are started off as young plants (runners) and transplanted directly into the soil or into a container from March to mid July (or October for autumn planting). Cold stored runners (young plants which have been stored under carefully controlled cool conditions) will often flower in as little as 60 days from planting. However, for cropping in the same season, early planting is recommended.

Plating in soil

Though strawberry plants will tolerate most soils as long as they are well-draining, in autumn it’s a good idea to add well-rotted organic matter as this will help to create a humus-rich soil. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, though avoid planting in soil where strawberries have been growing in the previous three years.
Plants should be spaced at a distance of 38cm (15in) between each one and 76cm (30in) between rows. Take care not to bury the crown under the soil or let it protrude too much – just slightly above the surface of the soil is perfect. Water plants regularly, especially during dry spells, though avoid getting the crowns wet as this can cause them to rot.
About every 10 days or so give the plants a high potash liquid feed, such as that you give tomato plants, as this will provide the nutrients that help the fruit to develop.However, it is important to prevent the fruit having direct contact with the soil as this will cause it to rot. Consequently, it is usual to mulch between rows and in and around the plants. This will also maintain moisture in the soil and help to suppress weeds.
Straw is traditionally used, but there are other options too, including planting through black polythene, weed suppressant fabric or specifically designed mats that can be placed around the neck of each plant. Strawberry plants develop ‘runners’ (stolons) during the summer.
These are shoots that develop plantlets and it is these, once separated from the parent plant, that become new plants in their own right. Cut off any runners during the flowering and fruiting period to avoid an overcrowded strawberry patch (unless you intend to propagate some new plants to replace the old) and also to focus all the nutrition on the fruit rather than new plants.

Planting in containers

If you don’t have a lot of space, strawberries can be grown very well in pots, tubs, and recycled ontainers of various kinds. Strawberries have a natural habit of hanging down so growing in containers is a perfect match. Work on the principle of four plants to a 25cm (10in) pot. Use multipurpose compost and mix in some slow release fertiliser.

Avoid high nitrogen feeds as these will tend to produce lots of leafy growth at the expense of fruit. You will need to make sure these plants are watered more regularly than those that are planted directly into the ground and they will need feeding with liquid potash feed (tomato plant feed) about once a week once they are flowering and fruiting.
The advantage of containers is that it’s easier to check for slugs and, as the strawberries themselves naturally hang from the sides of the container, they can be picked more easily.

Growing under cover

Strawberries can be ‘forced’ or made to fruit a little earlier by growing them under a cloche, in a polytunnel or a greenhouse where the extra warmth will be conducive to faster growth (by about 10 days). One thing to remember, however, is that once the flowers appear, they will need pollinating.

One option if they are being grown in containers is to take them outside and let the bees do their work. Alternatively, you will need to hand pollinate by using an artist’s brush so that the pollen on the stamens on the outer rim of the inner flower is transferred to the stigma in the centre of the flower.


Strawberries are ready to harvest when they have turned red (except for white varieties of course) and are picked by squeezing gently and pulling, taking the green hull (or calyx) with it as this prolongs its storage life. After you have harvested all your lovely strawberries, lift any straw and add it to the compost heap, remove netting to allow the birds to get to the insects and cut off and destroy any dead or damaged leaves.

At the end of August, cut the runners off from the parent plant and pot up – aiming for four or five from one plant. Leave your strawberry plants outside throughout the autumn and winter as they need a cold spell to stimulate flowering later on. When you have used the same plants for three years, dig them up and discard and bring in new plants to replace them.


Strawberries can suffer from various fungal diseases such as grey mould, powdery mildew and leaf spot. If you notice any infected leaves, remove them immediately and destroy them. Strawberries can also be at the mercy of seed beetles, red spider mites and vine weevils, but slugs and snails usually represent a bigger problem so you will need to use your preferred slug prevention methods.
Of course, just as much as we like strawberries, so do birds, so once your plants start to bear fruit you will need to cover your strawberries with bird netting, otherwise your precious soft fruit will soon be gobbled up by winged trespassers.

For this, you can either buy a purpose-built frame, which you can buy online or from your local garden centre, or construct your own from bamboo canes and bird netting. Containing mice and squirrels is more of a challenge, so make it a point of practice to always pick as soon as you can, don’t leave the fruit hanging!

Dec 20

Biological pest control by natural predators and parasites

By chadchaffin | Gardening

Biological pest control has, of course, been around for millions of years, so the concept is not new. Ladybirds have always fed on aphids, frogs have always eaten slugs and birds have always devoured juicy caterpillars – the list goes on. Sadly the proliferation of chemicals used in farms and gardens in the 20th century often upset the natural balance of the ecosystem, removing micro-organisms from the soil and disrupting the food chain.

Pesticides caused collateral damage to the friendly creatures as well as the ones targeted, which also adapted to become more resistant to everything that man could throw at them, clearly an unsustainable course. When discussing biological pest control we need to consider it in two ways. Firstly, what can we do to harness the natural predators in the garden to work for our benefit, and secondly, what can we introduce to control specific pests?

It starts with the soil

It all starts with the soil. Feeding your soil with compost and organic matter will encourage the development of a healthy population of micro-organisms and bacteria, processing nutrients for plants and forming the first link of the food chain. Strong, properly nourished plants are also more likely to recover from and survive pest attacks. Providing wild patches, a pond, habitats and nesting sites for predators will all help to sustain a balanced ecosystem, with nature keeping things in check. Ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, beetles, frogs and toads, hedgehogs and birds are all examples of creatures that will help police our precious plants. Some slugs will eat other slugs. 

A modern solution

Biological pest controls for gardeners have  developed over the last 25 or so years as research and technological advances have enabled the controlled breeding of predatory or parasitic organisms that are specific to control various pests. The great thing about these is that the solution never becomes the problem; they will do their job but won’t persist in the garden or become an infestation in their own right.


Nematodes are the most commonly used biological control these days to control a wide range of pests. They are threadlike microscopic worms that live in the moisture surrounding soil particles. When they come into contact with their target pest they will multiply inside it, causing it to stop feeding and die. They have a finite life of a few weeks, either because they have exhausted the supply of host pests or because they themselves have become prey for native species that exist in the soil.
Nematodes arrive in a pack containing several million, which is added to water and applied using a watering can or sprayer, when the soil temperature is warm enough and when the pest is active. They are virtually invisible to the naked eye, safe on food crops and will not harm pets, children, wildlife or bees.

  1. Nematodes for slugs

    Proven and most effective against immature slugs under the soil surface, preventing them from reaching maturity to reproduce, their presence has also been shown to deter larger slugs. Each application is active for around six weeks, after which another may be needed depending on what you are growing. Usage should be able to be reduced over time as the slug population comes down to manageable levels.
  2. Nematodes for vine weevils

    This was the first nematode to be available for garden use and was a true breakthrough in controlling the very destructive larvae of this difficult pest that lives mainly in pots and containers. It can be applied in spring or autumn, stopping the larvae from eating away whole root systems and killing them before they develop into adults. Nematodes can also combat carrot root fly, cabbage root fly, leatherjackets, cutworms, onion fly, ants, sciarid fly, caterpillars, gooseberry sawfly, thrips and codling moth.

    This cocktail of various nematode species, sold as Nemasys Natural Fruit and Veg Protection, is designed to target pests when they are active, particularly useful early in the season when plants are most vulnerable. Used as a programme of two-weekly treatments after planting out, the gardener does not have to worry about application times or thorough investigations as to what the pests actually are. Alternatively, use to treat at specific times for particular pests. Caterpillars on leaves need to be directly contacted by spray for control.
  3. Nematodes to deter ants

    If ants are a problem then this nematode species will repel them from the treated area. It does not kill them but will encourage them to seek an alternative nest site.

Other biological controls

  • Ladybirds to control aphids
    Both larvae and adult ladybirds can be introduced into the garden and will get straight to work feeding on greenfly, blackfly and whitefly. If there is enough food they will stick around, but you can further encourage them by providing a ladybird shelter to give them a place to rest and multiply, and a ladybird feeder to see them through any lean times. An established colony will continue to be of benefit for many years.
  • Encarsia for controlling greenhouse whitefly
    A tiny parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in young whitefly scales, destroying them in the process. It should be introduced on low-medium infestations, and will give protection over a long period. Supplied as pupae from which the wasps will hatch when hung in the greenhouse. The best coverage is achieved using a programme of three applications 14 days apart.
  • Phytoseiulus for controlling red spider mite
    A tiny predatory mite which feeds on the red spider mite, used mainly in greenhouses. It breeds faster than the pest, so will outnumber it relatively quickly depending on the level of infestation. When there are no red spider mites left to eat, the predators will also die out.
  • Aphidius for control of aphids under cover
    A slender black insect about 2mm long that lays single eggs into immature aphids killing them as the young aphidius develops. One female can lay 100 eggs in her lifetime, so population numbers will grow rapidly until full control is achieved
  • Predatory mites
    This phoretic mite (sold as Mighty Mite) has a voracious appetite and a rapid reproduction rate at temperatures above 10ºC (50ºF). Primarily a soil-dwelling predator, it feeds on the larvae of dipteran flies, fungus gnats, sciarid flies, eggs and young maggots of the housefly, blowfly, stable fly and flesh flies. It also feeds on vine weevil larvae, cutworms, woodlice and springtails. It can be applied to pots and containers or direct onto the soil and is also effective added to mature compost heaps. When the compost is used, it will contain a population of mites ready to go to work against soil dwelling pests. 1000 mites will treat up to 4sq m.
  • Hypoaspis for control of sciarid flies (fungus flies)
    Sciarid flies are 3-4mm long black flies that jump or hover over the soil surface in the greenhouse and around houseplants where compost is warm and moist. The small white larvae live in the top few millimetres of compost, attacking rooted cuttings and seedlings. Both adults and larvae of hypoaspis feed on these larvae. One treatment remains active for four to five months.
  • Cryptolaemus for control of mealybugs
    These ladybird beetles love eating mealybugs on ornamentals. With a life cycle of several months one treatment is sufficient for an average greenhouse or conservatory although severe infestations may need more.

From Kitchen Garden Mag

Dec 19

Growing Gooseberries: A few notes for starter

By chadchaffin | Gardening

Gooseberries are often overshadowed by their more colourful soft fruit compatriots, such as raspberries, blueberries and blackcurrants. But their distinctive flavour is something not to be missed whether cooked or eaten fresh.

The gooseberry, Ribes uvacrispa, has its origins in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, and has been cultivated in Britain from at least the late 13th century. In the 19th century gooseberries even developed into something of a craze with over 170 gooseberry clubs and fiercely contested gooseberry competitions. Today, gooseberries may not be the first fruit we think of growing, but they can certainly bring something distinctive to the kitchen table. Eaten raw they can have a tart taste but become sweeter the riper they are.

In the kitchen they are as versatile as any other soft fruit. Bare root bushes should be planted between early autumn and late winter, and prefer a moist, loamy soil and a sunny but sheltered site. Make sure you fork in some well-rotted organic matter and some general fertiliser pellets to the planting hole, spread the roots out and then cover with soil, heeling in to make sure the bush is secure. Water in and then spread a thick mulch (such as compost or bark) around the bush to help retain moisture in the soil. Because of their spreading habit, bushes should be planted approximately 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart. If you wish to grow them as cordons (one main stem) then plant 30-38cm (12-15in) apart with accompanying bamboo canes 1.7m (5 1 ⁄ 2 ft) high connected by horizontal wires.


As with other soft fruit, birds love gooseberries so you will need to give your fruit some protection in the form of netting or a fruit cage. And not just in the summer – bullfinches are particularly partial to the young buds as they emerge in early spring. Gooseberry bushes need to be pruned in the winter, cutting back on old wood (four to five years old), as this will not produce any more fruit, and branches that cross or are low level as these can make the bush more susceptible to mildew.

It is also important to prune the centre of the bush if necessary, but don’t overdo it. This allows air to circulate in and around the plant and thereby make an attack of fungal disease less likely. Prune back young growth in June on bushes and cordons to five leaves; this helps to remove any mildewed growth and pests and encourages fruiting on the main stem. Gooseberries also make good container plants but these will need more watering than those planted in the soil.


You can harvest gooseberries at two points in the year. One is in late May-to early June when the under-ripe fruit can be picked, removing every other berry, for cooking purposes. Then by July the remaining berries will be much bigger and sweeter and can be picked for eating raw or for cooking.

Dec 17

How to Grow Lettuce: A very simple guide

By chadchaffin | Gardening

This familiar crop has been the main ingredient of salads for centuries. But over the years the humble lettuce has changed, offering gardeners a wider choice of colours and textures, creating the perfect salad accompaniment to any meal.

When to sow

Early sowings can be made from February to April for summer lettuce; these are sown into pots and pricked out into trays and grown on under glass until large enough for transplanting out on the plot after being hardened off in a cold frame. From April to August sowings can be made either direct into the plot or sown in pots and then transplanted to the plot. From early September through to mid October winter lettuces can be sown direct under cloches or raised in modules and transplanted out.
These will grow outside all winter and will mature from March-May the following year depending on the harshness of the winter. Gardeners with a cold greenhouse or polytunnel can grow lettuces throughout the winter.These are sown from September to November and will mature from January-April depending on how cool the greenhouse gets. When growing this type of lettuce try to keep the temperature under glass just above freezing for the best results. It is also important to give the greenhouse some ventilation on warmer dry days of winter to help avoid any grey mould problems.

Sowing the seed

Many gardeners sow their lettuces direct into the vegetable plot in shallow drills approximately 1cm (½in) deep.Then once they have germinated and the seedlings are large enough to handle they are thinned out or even transplanted into other rows. I find this method okay for early spring sowings, but as soon as the weather gets warmer the results can often be quite poor. Over the past 20 years I have rarely sown any lettuce direct outdoors, changing instead to sowing little and often all through the year in pots, often only growing 12 plants per variety. Sow a few seeds every two weeks under glass into flowerpots filled with moist seed-sowing compost, and then lightly cover the seeds with vermiculite.

Lettuces germinate better when sown cooler, so there is no need for a heated propagator, the pots can be stood on the greenhouse staging where the temperature will be between 10-15ºC (50-59ºF) and they will start germinating after seven to 10 days. When sowing lettuce during the summer and with the days getting hotter, gardeners often find it difficult to get lettuces to germinate, especially if there are several days where the temperature exceeds 21ºC (70ºF), as high temperatures will inhibit germination. To overcome this problem place the seed packets in the fridge the night before they are to be sown. This overnight pre-chilling seems to be enough to help the seeds cool down and then, once sown, they will germinate very well during these hot spells.

Growing on

Once the seedlings have germinated in the pots, prick them out (transplant) into cell trays (modules) and grow them on until they are ready for planting out. Before planting out, however, early sowings should be moved into a cold frame for a couple of weeks to gradually harden off. Lettuces will grow in any good soil that has been winter dug and enriched with organic matter. Before sowing or planting, give the soil a dressing of growmore fertiliser added at a rate of 60g per sqare metre (2oz per square yard), lightly raked into the surface of the soil. Seedlings sown direct should be thinned before the plants become too large to 15-30cm (6-12in) apart, depending on the size of the variety being grown.
The best time to thin out and transplant seedlings is in the evening when the temperature is cooler. After thinning, plants should be watered along the row straight away to help settle them back into their positions and recover overnight.

If using the thinnings as transplants to get another slightly later maturing row, this is best done straight away, removing a few plants at a time, planting before they wilt and thoroughly watering them afterwards so the roots are cool and wet. This will help them to recover quickly. Over the next week, water these transplants as necessary each evening to keep them turgid. Plants raised under glass and transplanted from modules get away a lot quicker with no root disturbance and producing a far superior lettuce.
Plant out each lettuce with a trowel at the required distance, water them in straightaway and you will see them grow away almost immediately.Throughout the growing season, fill up vacant spaces with later sown modular raised plants to keep the plot full and productive.

Early in the year, if the weather is changeable or very wet, windy and there is a risk of hail, cover the plants with a cloche made from Enviromesh or fleece for added protection. As plants grow, keep the weeds down by hoeing at regular intervals.
Two weeks after transplanting the plants are usually well established and watering can be stopped unless the weather is very hot and they begin to wilt; watering larger plants too much can encourage botrytis (grey mould) and mildew diseases.

Pests and Diseases

Occasionally, young seedlings or freshly planted out modules can be attacked by birds pecking the leaves; these can easily be deterred by covering the rows with some netting. Lettuces also make a tasty meal for slugs and snails, so it is best to protect these with whichever slug control you prefer to use to help combat this troublesome pest.
Lettuce root aphid and leaf aphid (greenfly) can be controlled by using a suitable insecticide, but always check the label before spraying to see how long after treatment you can safely harvest the crop.

Alternatively, grow one of the lettuce aphid resistant varieties. Occasionally, downy mildew disease can be a problem, but these days this is less so since the introduction of mildew resistant varieties. Grey mould is normally only a problem during very cool, damp weather conditions or on lettuces that are grown under glass through the winter with insufficient air circulation. If this is seen, plants should be destroyed to avoid the disease spreading to other plants.


Always try to cut lettuces one to two hours before you need them, wash immediately and place the leaves in the fridge to crisp up for that perfect salad. When preparing, either tear away the leaves
from the stem or cut using a plastic knife to help stop the leaves browning at the base while in the fridge for a few days.
When choosing a lettuce that produces a firm heart, always feel along the row and cut the one that feels the fullest; this way you will always be using the most mature lettuce first and helping to avoid wastage and stopping older lettuces running to seed. When selecting a loose leaf variety, this is easier because you can either cut the whole lettuce or pick the required amount of leaves from the plant needed to garnish your meal.

Pictures: Andrew Tokely and Kings Seeds

Credit: Kitchen Garden Magazine

Dec 14

Grow and Preserve Your Own Food With These 6 Tips

By chadchaffin | Homemade

Being self-reliant in the wake of a disaster—whether it’s natural or manmade—doesn’t just mean you have to find shelter. You’ll need sustenance to keep your mental and physical strength, and
you probably can’t rely on any grocery store to provide it for you. Consider these six essentials when preparing your survival pantry.

  1. Ready your soil in advance

    If your contingency plan is to grab a cucumber from the refrigerator after a disaster and plant the seeds in your yard, you’ll be hungry for quite a while, experts say. Instead, know what type of soil you have, and prepare it for a garden well in advance of a disaster. “A family should first begin with the richest quality soil possible by developing it,” advises Lisa Bedford, author of “The Survival Mom” and editor of the blog at “This is an enormous factor in successful gardening. Begin a compost bucket, or if space allows, a larger compost area outdoors.”

  2. Determine what to plant

    Do you love avocados? Don’t start planting the pits right away. Instead, visit farmer’s markets to find out what grows best in your area, rather than trusting the home improvement store nurseries or seed catalogs, Bedford advises. “Get to know your growing season and region,” she says. “Your county extension office can provide a wealth of information for your area.” You should also track what produce you already buy and use most. “Don’t plant celery, for example, if you rarely use it and no one likes to eat it,” she says. If they grow well in your region, you should consider planting ingredients commonly used in soup and stew recipes, such as onions, carrots, tomatoes and green beans, because those can go far for large groups.

  3. Start a small garden

    Once you’ve developed rich soil, you should plant a few seeds to see whether they’re successful. But don’t fall into the common trap of sowing thousands of seeds right off the bat, because you could end up wasting precious time and money if they don’t sprout. “Start with a small 4×4 plot or raised bed, or even just a pot or two,” Bedford says.

  4. Keep a garden journal

    You should maintain a written record of what you plant and where, Bedford advises. “Trust me, you’ll forget which varieties of tomatoes died off and which thrived,” she says. “As the growing season progresses, take note of successes and failures as well as your own actions, such as watering schedules. You’ll likely figure out why some plants didn’t thrive while others went on to be productive.”

  5. Food preservation methods

    Once you’ve grown a thriving garden, you’ll want to preserve your surplus in case you’ll have to subsist on it for long periods. Contrary to popular belief, preserved foods aren’t limited solely to jerky and pickles. “Just about every food can be preserved at home,” Bedford says. “For example, spaghetti sauce and cooked risotto can both be dehydrated. Meat and chicken can be safely home-canned, as can homemade soups and stews.” The easiest way to preserve food is to buy a food dehydrator (or build one using online instructions). You can dehydrate your own garden’s bounty or prepare for the future by buying vegetables now.
    “When you come across bags of frozen produce on sale, buy multiple bags,” Bedford advises. “The produce can be placed on the dehydrator trays without being thawed. It has already been washed and cut into small pieces, so it’s ready to go!” Likewise, fresh produce gleaned in bulk from farmer’s markets can be dehydrated, as can canned fruit. If you’d like to can your own fruit and vegetables, keep in mind that the process requires more supplies and takes a bit of training.
    “However, having wholesome food without any unwanted additives makes it worthwhile,” Bedford says. “The key is to

  6. Comfort foods

    Once you’ve got your fruit and vegetable plan underway, consider stocking some of your favorite menu items. “Any time a family must rely on their stored food will be a time of stress, so familiar comfort foods should be included,” Bedford says. “Make a list of several breakfast, lunch and dinner meals your family enjoys, and begin looking for ways to store those ingredients.” If young kids are still at home, be sure to store some foods that will be essential to their health, such as instant milk, peanut butter, fruits, vegetables and various grains.
    “Food storage companies, such as Shelf Reliance, now offer enormous varieties of products that include organic foods, gluten-free products and non-GMO produce. Food storage doesn’t have to be limited to buckets of wheat, rice and beans!” Bedford adds.

By Torrey Kim

Dec 13

How to Make Homemade Soaps with Herbs and Plants

By chadchaffin | Homemade

Making soap from scratch is a complicated process. However, if you start with a natural 100% pure soap base and add herbal ingredients it becomes fun and easy. By including healing herbs, you’ll increase the soaps’ soothing, moisturising and cleansing properties.

What to make homemade soaps with herbs and plants

You can make a range of soaps from solid soap bars to exfoliating scrubs for cleaning hands and greasy stovetops. To make a solid bar, no water is added to the melted soap. For a scrub, water is used to make a softer consistency. Both solid bars and softer scrubs can have a variety of ingredients added to enhance them, including ground-up pumice stone, herbs and herb-infused and essential oils.

What you’ll need to make homemade soaps with herbs and plants

  • Soap base. I use Farmhouse soap, from The Soap Barn, made from coconut oil and clay. One hundred percent natural, it’s easy to melt and infuse with herbal oils to make a variety of soaps from facial scrubs to shampoo bars (ideal for travelling). Glycerine soap is clear and good for making hand soaps.
  • Double boiler or a glass bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water.
  • Herb-infused or essential oils. Olive or coconut oil are good choices.
  • Fresh herbs or other ingredients, optional.
  • Plastic soap moulds, silicone sweet moulds or you can use
    oiled bread tins and cut your soap into squares afterwards.
  • Notebook to keep track of recipes and ingredients.

How to do it

  1. Cut the soap into chunks and place in the top of the double boiler then set it over gently simmering water to melt.
  2. Add herb-infused oil, essential oils and any other ingredients, stir through to mix and remove from heat.
  3. For solid soaps: Pour into the moulds, tapping gently to remove bubbles. Leave to set. To remove, run a sharp knife around the edges, turn over and give a sharp tap.
    For a scrub: Add water, stirring while you add, until it reaches the desired consistency. (It will solidify further as it cools.) Decant into wide-mouthed containers and seal.
    To make herb-infused oil: Place one part fresh or dried herbs and one part oil in a double boiler over gently simmering water for three hours. Strain. Use 1 teaspoon oil per 200g of soap.

What plants can be used to make soap?

  1. Lavender

    Its Latin name is derived from lavare which means to wash. The flowers have antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
    Growing tips: A hardy perennial, it likes full sun and is drought tolerant. Plant it in well-drained soil with good air circulation. It dislikes damp, wet conditions. Prune in early spring. Cut flowers regularly to keep it producing.

  2. Calendula

    The petals have soothing and healing qualities ideal for face soap.
    Growing tips: Grow from seed in full sun in well-drained soil. It flowers from late autumn, throughout winter into early summer. Deadhead flowers to encourage further flowering.

  3. Soapwort

    This soothing and anti-inflammatory plant is good for dry skins. Its leaves contain high levels of saponins, which foam when mixed with water.
    Growing tips: It’s a perennial that prefers full sun but will grow in semi-shade. Plant in well-drained, poor soil, as it can become invasive in rich soil. Don’t grow near a fishpond as the saponins can harm fish.

  4. Rosemary

    An antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, rosemary is good for skin blemishes and ideal for facial soaps. It also encourages hair growth and leaves hair shiny.
    Growing tips: Its preferred climate is hot and dry, but it does well in more temperate areas. Choose its spot carefully as it’s a large perennial that can live up to 20 years. Cut it back in late spring. In frost areas, don’t cut it back in autumn.

  5. Peppermint

    An aromatic herb, it’s a refreshing antiseptic and toner.
    Growing tips: Peppermint spreads quickly and is best contained in pots. It likes full sun and plenty of water. If it dies back in winter, it will pop up again in spring.

  6. Tea Tree

    A graceful tree with peeling white paper bark that grows up to 7m tall. The leaves of this powerful all-purpose healing plant make a good addition to soap for problem skins.
    Growing tips: Although it prefers moist soil, it will grow in most well-drained soils. It’s hardy and likes sun. Keep well watered throughout summer. Trim it to keep it smaller.