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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Fruit and Vegetables

vegetables

Ask the gardener: Fruit and Vegetables

Gardening advice for all other fruits and vegetables not listed!

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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AUBERGINES

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Barbara Morgan asks...

We successfully grew aubergines in pots last year and enjoyed a lot of aubergines. This year however - despite being planted in pots with fresh compost and sited in the same place - the leaves are turning brown and shrivelled. We've had lots of flowers but some of the fruit is also turning brown. Any ideas what could cause this?  Many thanks

Bill replies...

I am afraid Barbara that the prolonged adverse weather conditions we have had this summer is the main reason why your Aubergines have suffered this year and the very wet weather has caused the fruit to damp and brown and the fluctuating temperatures has caused poor fruit setting.  Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about it.

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COURGETTES

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Sharon Hollingsworth asks...

I am growning green bush courgettes in pots. Do I need to stake them? How high will they grow?

Bill replies...

Your bush courgettes Sharon should not need staking.  They tend to spread outwards rather than upwards.  They will however need regular feeding and plenty of water.

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GRAPES

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Eileen Adams asks...

At bud burst of my established grape vine I spray with Nimrod (not T).  Now I cannot buy it. Have you any other suggestions please?

Bill replies...

Nimrod was an excellent fungicide Eileen but unfortunately has been taken off the market and the one which I would suggest as an alternative and which I use quite frequently is Dithane 945 and this can be used on a wide range of fruit and vegetables and would be ideal for your Grape Vine.  It is a contact fungicide and will not be absorbed into the plant system.

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Sandra Haynes asks...

I have several grape vines growing in pots over my pergola.  The two main grapes are 10 years old and I have added a further 3 which are of varying ages up to 3 years.  The last two summers all the vines have been covered in a grey powdery mildrew underneath the leaves and on the top of the leaf there are reddish blotches.  Last autumn (and this) I have carefully gathered up all the leaves and disposed of them hoping this would help.  But unfortunately, whilst I hope this will help next season, I was not that successful in preventing a further attack this year. I have never actually pruned the vines either (not sure when and how) - is there someway I could bring them back to good health? 

Bill replies...

Grape Vines Sandra are very susceptible to powdery mildew and unfortunately there is not easy solution to the problem.  There are fungicide sprays on the market which you can use but I would alternate using different sprays.  It is however important when dealing with food crops that you use a contact fungicide rather than a systemic one and the one I would recommend is Dithane.  To kill any spores which are harbouring on the stems and around the soil base I would be inclined to spray with a fungicide before your vines come into leaf you will also have to spray at regular intervals throughout the growing season.  With regard to pruning now that you have the main framework structure in place any side shoots from the previous seasons growth  can be pruned back to two buds and this will need to be done during the dormant period.  You will probably aware that vines are 'greedy' plants and you will need to give them an adequate supply of a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season.

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Jon Stagg asks...

I live on Westgate in Morecambe. We've had a grape vine growing outdoors for around ten years now. Last year it produced a couple of small bunches which didn't ripen, but this year there are eight or nine bunches - which have ripened. It's pretty neglected - I lightly pruned it last year to give it some shape, but its not been fed or sprayed in any way. It's growing in a tiny plot of soil between the back wall of the house and the concrete block patio. Now its started fruiting, any tips to keep it doing that in future years?

Bill replies...

Congratulations on your Grape success Jon and your ripe Grapes help to substantiate the old saying "come to sunny Morecambe for your holidays".  If I can now start answering your question by explaining why the majority of people grow grapes in a cold greenhouse - the main reason being to protect the flowers from late spring frost and what you will need to do with your vines if late spring frosts are forecast you will need to cover and protect your plants overnight with white fleece (which can be obtained from Garden Centres and is widely used for protecting plants from late frost). On the question of pruning you can prune the lateral shoots growing from the main frame back to about six inches and this can be done in the winter months when the vine is dormant.  Grapes are a very greedy plant and you will need to feed regular with a balanced organic fertiliser and also keep well watered.

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Chris Eason asks...

I have a grape vine in a cold greenhouse, I would like to put it in a larger pot - what short of compost should I be using? PS - It fruited very well last year - it is a black variety - name unknown given to me as a cutting

Bill replies...

One of the most popular black grapes grown in small greenhouses Chris is the variety Black Hamburg which crops well and is a very vigorous grower.  I would transfer your plant into a larger pot as soon as possible and would use a mixture of a soil based John Innes compost (No 2 or 3) with a multi purpose peat based compost - approximately the ratio of two parts John Innes to one part multi purpose.  As your vine is a vigorous grower it will need regular feeding and watering throughout the growing season.

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J Berry asks...

I want to plant a black hamburgh grape in one of my greenhouses. Could you please help me with the soil preparation?

Bill replies...

Black Hamburg is one of the most popular varieties of grapes grown in small greenhouses and once established will produce a prolific crop of grapes.  Black Hamburg is a vigorous grape and you will need to ensure that your soil contains plenty of organic matter such as well rotted manure and I would also work into the soil a general base fertiliser such as GrowMore or Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  Throughout the growing season you will need to keep your plant well watered and feed regularly.

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David Drake asks...

Can grapes grown from seeds produce fruit?

Bill replies...

I have never grown grapes from seeds David but I would assume that in time they will produce fruit and, if you intend to sow grape seeds I would use a general seed and potting compost and sow a few seeds in a three and a half to four inch pot - keeping them at a temperature of approximately 20 degrees and when the seeds have germinated prick the seedlings out into individual three inch pots.  I do however feel that it is going to be many years before your grape seedlings produce fruit.

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Naomi asks...

I have recently started to grow herbs on my kitchen window sill indoors.  I have green chillis and bell peppers too.  I have noticed that they have terrible green fly, they seem to be really affecting the growth and health of the pepper and starting to do the same with the chillis which were growing really well.  What can I use for this that is safe? I plan to use the chillis and peppers to cook. 

Bill replies...

Quite often Naomi Peppers become infected with Greenfly and with your Pepper being a food crop I am always reluctant to recommend insecticide sprays.  But, there are in the market safe insecticide sprays for use with food crops and one which is quite often used is Savona which, is a fatty soapy liquid, and when your spray it onto your Peppers the aphids become enclosed in the soapy liquid and suffocate.  You could also use a soapy liquid mixed with water and just wash this onto your plants and this will help to keep the aphids under control.  It is important however to give both your Peppers and Chillies a thorough washing before using. Please do remember to read all the instructions of any product you decide to use.

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HERBS

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Cash asks...

Will I be able to grow my own herbs and spices like paprika, cumin, thyme, and mustard powder?

Bill replies...

There are numerous herbs which you can grow in you garden and use for cooking Cash.  They can be grown from seed or small plants can be purchased from Garden Centres and Nurseries and I find it is far easier to grow herbs in containers and window boxes providing that you keep them well watered and feed regularly.  You ask about growing herbs such as Paprika, Cumin and Thyme.  Thyme is readily available in Garden Centres and there is quite a range of varieties available.  Cumin seed is available in the Chilterns Seed Catalogue and the Seed Catalogue also lists the special Curry Mixture of Herbs which include Cumin, Coriander, Thai Basil, Dill Herkules, Chilli Pepper, Ajmud, Ajwain and Fenugreek.  The seeds are packed separately and are ideal for spicy cooking.  More information on their wide range of Herbs can be obtained from the Chilterns Web Site www.chilternseeds.co.uk

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KIWIS

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Dana asks...

I have 2 kiwi plants, one male one female, they've grown like mad since I planted them about 2-3 years ago, but no fruit! Can I prune them back and how much? They've spread more than the blackberries!

Bill replies...

The Kiwi plant is a very vigorous climber Dana and can quickly reach twenty feet plus and therefore needs to be kept pruned and once you have established the framework of your Kiwi plant all the laterals coming off the main branches can be cut back to one/two buds during November/December time.  The pruning is very similar to the pruning techniques for grapes.  Regarding your question of no fruit - when the flowers appear you may need to hand pollinate and approximately one male flower will pollinate three/four females.  In the spring time you will need to feed with a balanced general base fertiliser and regarding fruiting with Kiwis it could take five/six years before they fruit regularly.

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MUSHROOMS

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Stan Milner asks...

I have bought a mushroom kit. When is the best time to start it and would it be ok in the greenhouse? Will I be all right starting putting down seeds in the second week in April?

Bill replies...

To start your mushrooms off Stan you will need a temperature of approximately 10-13c and under your greenhouse bench would be an ideal spot.  You could however, also use a garage - garden shed - or a cellar providing the building is well ventilated with dim lighting.

On the question of sowing seeds starting in the middle of April is ideal - use a seed and potting compost and avoid sowing too thickly.  If you enjoy growing geraniums or impatians I would recommend you use the young plug or starter plants rather than sowing seed which can be difficult to germinate.

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PEAS & BEANS

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David Ince asks...

After my sweet peas died down this year I sowed some of the seeds inside and now three weeks later they are about an inch and a half tall. When will I be able to plant them outside?

Bill replies...

You need to place your Sweet Peas outside David to harden them off and if they are straggly I would also nip the growing tip out.  Over the winter months your Peas need to be kept in an outside sheltered spot and will not need planting in their permanent position until early spring time.

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Jo Wollington asks...

I recently grew peas in a container but they become covered in a very fine, grey powder.  I have now harvested the whole crop and pulled the plants out to take to the garden waste tip.  Could you tell me what was wrong with the plants?  Also how do I use the harvested peas to produce seedlings for next year?  Many thanks.

Bill replies...

Your peas have been infected with powdery mildew Jo which is an airborne fungal disease.  It covers all the plant with a fine grey powder and can decimate a crop very quickly.  The weather conditions this year have been ideal for the spread of the disease and with it being a food crop it is very difficult to control using fungicides and not many can control the disease.  The disease is very dominant during the summer months and  it may be worthwhile to try and grow a more early crop of peas next year.  On the question of keeping peas for seedlings next year I would be slightly wary - taking into account the problems with the powdery mildew

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Jane Bolland asks...

Why aren't my sweet peas flowering? Loads of green and only a few flowers?

Bill replies...

It has been an awful year for flowering plants Jane and quite a number of bedding plants such as Petunias and Geraniums along with Sweet Peas have suffered from the prolonged periods of heavy rain but I am sure that if we do have sun during August and September your Sweet Peas will produce an abundance of flowers.  What I would be inclined to do is feed your Peas with a high potash fertiliser which will encourage flowering but, I am afraid in the end it is all down to weather conditions.

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Sue asks...

I want to grow runner beans in containers, do I mix john innes no 3 with a multipurpose compost?

Bill replies...

If you are going to sow Runner Beans straight into containers Sue John Innes No 3 compost will be far too strong and you are going to have to use John Innes No 1 - which has far less fertiliser.  You mention mixing multipurpose compost with John Innes and I personally tend to do this quite frequently due to the fact that the quality of the John Innes compost can vary immensely and, for your Runner Beans I would mix three parts John Innes No 1 with one part multipurpose compost.  If you are going to plant young plants into the containers you will be able to use John Innes No 2 compost which has double the amount of fertiliser.  There will be enough nutrients in the compost to keep your beans 'happy' for approximately four weeks then, you will have to top dress with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitax Q4.

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Jack Marshall asks...

My broad beans have grown well, but most of the young pods have shrivelled and only half a dozen pods out of 40 plants have survived. I've watered them as well as I could. This is the first time this has happened in many years, any ideas?

Bill replies...

I have spoken to the vegetable expert Margaret Robinson about your beans Jack and she is also having the same problem which has been caused by the intense heat during July Even if you have been keeping beans well watered it has been the high temperature which has caused your pods to shrivel.  Margaret suggests sowing your beans earlier Jack to avoid high temperatures in future summer months.

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PEACHES

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Bernard Bedworth asks...

Is it possible to grow a peach tree from a seed if so how do I go about it?

Bill replies...

Peach Trees can be grown from seed Bernard but they do require a cold period before germination can take place and the usual procedure is to sow the seed/s in a five/ten inch plant pot in a mixture of grit sand and peat or vermiculite and peat - fifty/fifty mixture and then placed outside to receive cold treatment over the winter period.  An alternative to the above is to place the seed/s in a small plastic container in moist peat or moist vermiculite and placed in a domestic fridge - this will ensure that the seed/s receive the cold treatment.  After approximately two months the seed/s can be taken from the container, placed individually in five inch pots in a multi purpose compost and kept at a temperature of fifteen to twenty degrees centigrade. An ideal place would be the kitchen window sill.  It is important that when the seedlings begin to grow that they are placed in a very light position to avoid the plants becoming etiolated.  From seed it will take approximately four to five years for your Peach Tree to produce fruit. 

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Francis asks...

I moved house and consequently dug up my peach and plum tree and have brought them with me. I am about to replant them in my garden. They are both around 10 feet tall and mature, around 5 years old. How do I go about doing this? Also, a 6 inch section of the bark on the plum tree has been stripped by rabbits. How do I go about protecting it from further damage?

Bill replies...

It is very important that your both your Peach and Plum trees Francis are planted in a well drained soil neither species like damp heavy soil and with both coming into flower early springtime it is important to avoid frost pockets. When planting ensure that the holes are large enough to encase the roots easily and with your trees being ten feet tall they may need staking until the roots become fully established.  It is also important that you do protect the bark on the trees from rabbits and you can do this by incorporating a one inch wire galvanised mesh around the trees.

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Andy Hendry asks...

My daughter bought me a Peach tree for my 50th birthday. Having a very small garden and very heavy clay soil, can you tell me if its pssible for me to grow it in a large container.

Bill replies...

If the Peach Tree that your daughter bought you is a bush tree which has been grafted onto a St Julien A Root Stock the tree will grow to approximately 12 to 15 feet in height and spread and a fan trained tree on the same root stock will grow to a height of approximately 12 feet.  If your Peach Tree has been grafted onto a dwarf root stock such as Pixie it will grow to a height of approximately six feet and there is a variety called Bonanza which, again, is a dwarf tree and is ideal for containers.  Regarding planting your tree in a container if has been grafted onto the dwarf root stock I cannot envisage a problem but, you are going to need a very large container if your tree has been grafted onto the St Julien Root Stock and when planting in a container I would use a John Innes soil base compost No 3.

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Paul & Helen ask...

We moved into our property 7 years ago and discovered we had a fantastic peach tree standing approx 15-18 foot high.  Even though it regularly suffers from peach leaf curl we have had some excellent yields.  Last year we noticed there was a distinct lack of foliage on the tree.  The only places where leaves were present were at the very tips of the branches.  As the tree had not been pruned for quite some time we pruned it last September, but are concerned we have pruned it too hard and killed it as there is no sign of new growth anywhere.  We have cut a slice of the end of a branch and it is still green and wet,  Please can you give us any advice?, are we able to tell if it is dead? 

Bill replies...

There is not very much you can do with your Peach Tree at the present time Paul/Helen but, if the shoots and stems are still green there is still plenty of time for new shoots to appear.  Quite often you will find when fruit trees have been heavily pruned that it does take quite a while - even late summer - before new shoots appear.

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Pam Wilson asks...

On an exposed hilly, windy, site (but facing south) I have a peach tree that was originally in an old greenhouse which has now been demolished, partly by the wind and the rest intentionally. I have been here for 10 years and it was a large tree when I took it over, so I reckon it must be 17 years or so old. It is a magnificent tree but far too big for me to care for. It gets lots of fruit setting but rarely any survive in the open (used to get bucketfuls when it was in the greenhouse.) After all that, my question is; can I cut it down quite low so I can reach to protect it against the winds? The blossom is just beginning to open. Hope you can help, it's a lovely tree and I really would like some fruit.

Bill replies...

The tine to prune your Peach Tree Pam is during June/July as pruning at this time of year cuts down the risk of infection from Silver Leaf Fungal Disease.  Peach Trees do not like heavy pruning but taking into account the exposed conditions in which your tree is growing I feel that you do not have much option.

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John Bryceland asks...

I've just discovered gardening and somewhat ambitiously bought a "Peregrine" Peach Tree (on a seedling peach rootstock) from a local garden centre.  It's approximately 6ft tall and has around a dozen or so branches coming from the main stem, I don't know how old it is. I've planted into a nice large container, however there was no accompanying advice on pruning.  I read your earlier comments on fan training but don't have a small garden and not enough room on the south facing wall to train it as a fan.  How and when do I prune this as a normal tree but also keeping its height in check?  I'd really appreciate your wisdom on this subject and any advice or suggestions you may have.

Bill replies...

Peach Trees like Cherry Trees John produce fruit on young wood formed from the previous season and your Peach Tree you will need to prune back some of the larger branches to encourage new shoots for the following year but, it is also important to ensure that you keep the shape of the tree.  The time to prune your Peach Tree is early summertime as this cuts down the risk of Silver Leaf Disease and it usually takes five to six years for a seedling Peach Tree to produce fruit.

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POTATOES

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Jean Richardson asks...

Can I grow potatoes in an old plastic dustbin if I put holes in the bottom of it? I don't have much garden to grow them in the ground.

Bill replies...

The problem with growing potatoes in a dustbin is the actual depth of the bin, which will restrict the amount of light available to the leaves of your potatoes.  You can however, overcome this problem by filling your bin half full of compost or cutting the bin down to approximately 18 inches to two feet.

When planting your seed potatoes - cover with two to three inches of soil and when the potatoes shoots appear you will have to keep applying compost to your bin.

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Christine Pate asks...

I have an allotment and there are some tiny potatoes that did not get harvested last year.  When they grow again (and they usually do) if I don't use any weedkiller in that plot will they be edible this year?

Bill replies...

The answer to your question Christine is yes, you will be able to eat your potatoes but, because you have not used seed potatoes which have been certified against disease there is far more chance of your potatoes being infected by diseases such as potato blight.  Because of the risk of disease it is far better to use certified seed potatoes.

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PUMPKINS

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Lorraine asks...

I have some pumpkin seeds taken from a Halloween pumpkin, Can I plant them and if so when should I plant them and how long will they take to grow into a full size pumpkin?

Bill replies...

If you want to get a reasonable sized pumpkin by the end of the summer Lorraine you will need to sow your Pumpkin seeds indoors in a temperature of 15-20 degrees C at the end of March.  The seeds can be sown in a general seed and potting compost and single seeds can be sown in a 9-12 cm/3 inch plastic pot.  As soon as the seeds have germinated they will require maximum light intensity to stop etiolation of the leaves (a kitchen window sill would be ideal) Your Pumpkin can be planted outside - depending on weather conditions - towards the end of May in a well drained organic soil.  Pumpkins are greedy plants and will require plenty of watering and feeding throughout the summer months.

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Susan asks...

My pumpkins are flowering and after a while drop off but there is no fruit taking shape where the flower was. Do I need to do something to help it to fruit?

Bill replies...

I am sure Susan that the problem with your Pumpkin flowers dropping off is due the recent weather conditions and I am sure that if we do have some sunshine over the next few months your flowers will set and you should have some Pumpkins ready for the Autumn time.  What a lot of people have done this year is to protect their Pumpkins with a polythene cloche or white fleece. 

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GENERAL QUESTIONS

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Roy Hodgkinson asks...

Could you advise me of a good top soil provider? I have made a raised bed for growing vegetables.

Bill replies...

Good quality top soil Roy is on the whole quite difficult to find and also can be very expensive.  What I suggest you do is to have a look in your local newspaper and you will find adverts from local top soil suppliers who you can contact.  I would also take a look around your local Garden Centres and Nurseries as, again, quite a number of these outlets will deliver loose top soil.  You will also find advertised 'screened' top soil and this is quite fine and will compact very easily.  With this type of soil you will need to mix at least fifty per cent well rotted manure to give the soil more body and structure.  It would also be worthwhile to take the pH of the soil to see if it is acid or alkaline as this will determine what plants you will be able to grow.

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Bill Yates asks...

I am a beginner at growing seeds (mainly vegetables) starting them off in modular peat trays in seed compost. When potting them up into 3 inch peat pots I've used John Innes No. 3. Is this a mistake?

Bill replies...

When you visit a Garden Centre Bill you are confronted with three types of John Innes compost and the difference between the composts is the amount of base fertiliser added. There is double the amount of fertiliser in No 2 compared to No 1 and there is treble the amount of fertiliser in No 3 compared to No 1.  For small seedlings you will need to use either John Innes No 1 or No 2, the reason being the amount of fertiliser added.  There is too much fertiliser in No 3 for seedlings and this amount of fertiliser can quite often kill off small seedlings.  A similarity is that you would not give a young child a full strength aspirin.  John Innes No 3 compost can be used for larger species such as Trees and Shrubs and for final potting in containers of Tomatoes, Cucumbers and also larger barssica plants.

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Madhuri asks...

Can I grow vegetables to be eaten in my garden where some cats litter regularly, even though we dispose of their litter?

Bill replies...

I would be inclined to grow crops which produce fruit above soil surface - such as peas, runner beans and sprouts.  You will also be ok to grow cabbage and cauliflowers but, in my opinion the problem crops could be the lettuce, radish, onions etc which are vulnerable to cat litter.

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Sharon Gray asks...

I have a cold greenhouse and intend to grow the usual tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in pots in there. (Paving slabs on the floor) I'd like to plant salad veg in growbags for the summer, lettuce, scallions, pickling onions, snap peas, corn on the cob and herbs. Will I be successful completely under glass, I live on a windy hill and don't have room for beds, so it's the greenhouse or nowt for me :(

Bill replies...

You will be successful in growing the crops mentioned under glass Sharon but the biggest problem is going to be space in your greenhouse.  I can see a problem with growing Corn on the Cob under glass as the size of the plants will shade your other vegetables and it is important that the plants that you intend growing receive maximum light intensity.  Growing crops in pots means that you will have to keep an eye on the watering and feed regularly.  You will be able to grow all the year round lettuce over the winter months and also it would be worthwhile to grow a few potatoes in October which will be ready for lifting during the Christmas period.  You can also grow catch crops such as Radish.

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Michelle asks...

I have recently moved house and appear to have severe problems with Bindweed and ground elder. In the short term, for this year in the vegetable patch can I grow vegetables and the rhubarb that is already there through weed control fabric?  Will this kill bind weed and ground elder from these parts, or do I really have to try to dig it up/ treat it?  There is so much of it I fear it will be a losing battle.

Bill replies...

On a short term basis Michelle using a weed control fabric will surpress troublesome weeds such as Bindweed and Ground Elder but, I am afraid that long term this will not solve your problem.  You will always find that Bindweed will appear through the holes where you have planted your vegetables and rhubarb and will strangle your crops.  Once you have removed your crops you will need to spray the Bindweed/Ground Elder with a systemic weedkiller and the ones which I would recommend are RoundUp and Tumble Weed both of which contain the chemical glyphosate.  You may have to spray more than once to control the weeds and, it is also important that you do not spray any crops which are present.  The weedkillers are biodegradable and will not harm your soil.

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Joanne asks...

I have bought my first ever greenhouse and am successfully growing veg and plants at the moment, is there any types of veg I can grow in there over the winter, it is an unheated greenhouse.

Bill replies...

I discussed your question with Margaret Robinson the well known vegetable grower from Lancaster and Margaret has suggested planting early Autumn time potatoes in containers (which will be ready for Christmas) and the varieties she has suggested are Carlingford and Charlotte.  Other vegetables she has recommended are Beetroot (variety Red Ace) the catch crop Radish and also the lettuce which can be grown all the year round. 

For further information on vegetable varieties you can log onto Robinson's web site www.mammothonion.co.uk.

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Darren asks...

I'm interested in starting my own fruit and veg patch at our new house. As I am a novice can you recommend what fruit and veg are fairly easy to grow including greenhouse crops. Thank you

Bill replies...

For the greenhouse Darren the traditional crops grown are tomatoes/cucumbers but I would also try some peppers and listed below are some varieties which are ideal for a cool greenhouse:

Tomatoes:    Varieties Shirely, Gardeners Delight and Money Maker

Cucumbers: Varieties Pepinex, Kalunga and King George

Peppers (Chilli):  Varieties Aurora, Tabasco (very hot) and Red Cayenne (hot)

Sweet Peppers:  Varieties Ringo and Marconi

With reference to vegetables it will all depend on what type of vegetables you particularly like but carrots, peas, french and broad beans, onions and lettuce and catch crops such as radish are easy to grow.

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Tony Iveson asks...

Is it safe to plant vegetables after using a systemic weedkiller? We have a large plot (300 sq metres) that is covered mainly in couch grass and dandelions which we want to clear and plant asap.

Bill replies...

The most popular systemic weedkillers are those which contain the chemical Glyphosate - these include the brand products Round Up and Tumble Weed.  These types of systemic weedkillers are transferred through the leaves weeds and into the roots and will not affect the soil.  It will take approximately two weeks for the weeds to die and it will then be quite safe for you to plant your vegetables.

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Carolyne asks...

I have a large vegetable garden which is thoroughly organic, apart from the occasional use of a mild slug pellet (!) However, this year I am at my wits end because between the newly planted french beans, lettuces, tomatoes, courgettes and herbs is an absolute carpet of weeds, just 1 cm high right now but what is to come!?  I have never had it this bad! I have hoed the whole area but cannot believe this is really going to help. Why is it that the weeds come back year after year despite such hard work to clear them? What can I do? Please help!

Bill replies...

Weeds fall into two main categories - the perennial and annual weeds.  The perennial weeds such as Docks and Dandelions not only produce seed but also have a large tap root which they use as a food reserve and, even when you have hoed these weeds off new shoots will appear quite quickly from the submerged tap root and, with perennial weeds you will need to try and fork/dig out the large tap roots to control the growth.  The annual weeds do not have tap roots but they do produce masses of seed and if you allow these seeds to settle on the soil they will start to germinate over a sustained period of time ie: some will germinate immediately - others over the next six to twelve months and, some of the seeds can lay dormant for a number of years before germinating.  Hence the old saying 'if you allow annual weeds to set seed they will produce weed seeds for the next seven years' and, it is vitally important that you hoe these weeds off before they have chance to flower and seed.  On the question of controlling the weeds once you have hoed the weeds off it would be worthwhile to mulch around your plants will some well rotted manure or any organic material to suppress the weed growth.

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Ginette Poole asks...

Please can you offer me some advice on growing vegetables?

Bill replies...

I feel it is important Ginette when you are starting your own vegetable plot to divide your plot into sections and grow crops such as lettuce, spring onions and radish in one section, your peas and beans in another section and your brassica crops ie cabbage, cauliflower in another section.

Your first task will be to dig over your plot and if possible to incorporate some well rotted manure this will certainly be beneficial.  If this is not possible you will need to work into the soil a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal Growmore or a John Innes based fertiliser.

I would commence planting your plot with plants that are easy to grow such as lettuce, spring onions, radish and peas.  You can either grow these from seed or you can obtain plug plants for your lettuce, cabbages and onions.  These can be obtained from a good Garden Centre or Nursery.

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Jade asks...

I have brought some apple and pear plants in containers, which were advertised as being suitable for the patio.  Can I always keep them in containers as I have a very small garden.  Also will these relatively small plants (aprox 30cm tall) bear much fruit and how should I care for them?

Bill replies...

The fruit trees which have been advertised as suitable for containers Jade will have been grafted on to a dwarf root stock or they will be the minarette fruit tree series.  The secret of growing fruit trees in containers is to ensure that during the growing season that the trees are kept well watered and receive an adequate supply of balanced fertiliser and there is a special balanced fertiliser which has been specially formulated for fruit trees and which is obtainable in both Garden Centres and DIY Stores.

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Anthony asks...

We have recently moved into a house with a large garden and are wanting to put some fruit trees in.  The area where we would ideally like to put them has plenty of sunlight and good soil, but is currently (November) waterlogged after recent heavy rain.  It was also waterlogged for several weeks after we moved in in March.  The advantage is that it never dried out all winter!

So, the question is, how tolerant are fruit trees (Bramley apple, Victoria plum in particular) to periods of water logged soil?  The water level is such that there is standing water in some low beds.  The area is Aughton, Ormskirk.

If they really won't like it we could build up the soil level around the tree.  How much extra height would I need?  Ie. how deep do the roots tend to go?  I'm guessing 1 foot would do, and a 6ft diameter circle.

Bill replies...

It is going to be very difficult for any fruit trees to survive under the conditions you have described Anthony and if you are going to build up the soil level it will need to be several feet to stand any chance of success.  What happens when trees roots are constantly submerged under water for months at a time is that the adventicious/feeding roots rot off which, causes die back of the shoots and eventually the trees die.  If at all possible I would try and drain your garden before even considering planting fruit trees.  The other alternative is to build a retaining wall partly down your garden and building up the level with top soil.

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Lucy Topp asks...

We bought some top soil for planting veg next year how do we make it safe for growing our own veg?

Bill replies...

If you are using the top soil for growing vegetables Lucy you will need to check if your soil is acid or alkaline and you can do this by purchasing a simple ph indicator kit or ph litmus papers from a garden centre.  It is important to carry out this test as a wide range of brassica crops require a neutral soil.  If your top soil is very finely textured it would be well worth incorporating some well rotted manure with the soil.  Otherwise nothing else is required except that during the growing season you will need to give your vegetables an added boost by applying a general base fertiliser.

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Margaret Wherton asks...

How do I grow bigger vegetables please?

Bill replies...

All that is big is not often beautiful Margaret and quite often the smaller vegetables are far tastier but, if you are intent on growing the larger species you will need to look through the vegetable seed catalogues which will stipulate the larger varieties which you will be able to grow.  You will also need to ensure that your soil is fertile and contains plenty of well rotted manure and during the summer months you will need to apply an ample supply of balanced fertiliser - depending on what crops are being grown.  It is also worthwhile having a look around your local allotments sites where the allotment holders I am sure will be only too pleased to give you on the spot advice.

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Helen Djemal asks...

I am intending to grow fig trees - could I ask please what pests/diseases would affect them and how could I eradicate them? Many thanks

Bill replies...

It is Helen going to be difficult to give you an A to Z cultivation of Fig Trees but, they are a vigorous plant and you will need to restrict the root growth of your tree.  You can do this by growing your Figs in large containers or, if you intend growing them fan shaped against a wall, you can construct a planting pit using two foot by two foot concrete paving flags.  The soil can be dug out and the paving flags then inserted two by two ensuring that at the bottom of your planting pit there is at least six inches of coarse gravel.  Fig trees are tender species and the small fruit which will be present over the winter months will need protection from frost and, this can be done with a covering of white fleece.  You question mainly relates to pests and diseases which affect Fig Trees and the main pest problem are Scale Insects which can cause sooty mould to appear on the leaves and I am afraid that there is no active cure for this pest and the easiest method to keep them under control is to wash the leaves with a soapy liquid.  If you intend growing your Figs inside a greenhouse you may encounter problems with Red Spider Mite and I find that the easiest method of control is by using the biological control Predatory Mite (Phytoseiulus Persimilis).  These can be purchased from Garden Centres and monthly Gardening Magazines.  The disease which can be troublesome is Coral Spot which lives on dead twigs, and the airborne spores can be transmitted through rain splashes into cuts in the wood and also dead shoots.  The symptoms of Coral Spot are small pink and orange raised postules which appear on dead branches and stems.  Again, I am afraid that there is no cure for this disease but any dead twigs must be cut out and infected branches removed.

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John Barron asks...

I have a sloping garden which I intend to terrace to grow veg, the top of garden is in partial shade, what veg will grow in this shaded area?

Bill replies...

Chard and Spinach would be fine in partial shade John and also catch crops such as Radish, also miniature lettuces such as Tom Thumb, spicy salad leaves and other quick growing lettuce varieties.   I would also recommend that you try miniature Beetroot, Spring Onions and Kale.  I do feel that it is going to be a question of trial and error and that a lot will depend on how shady your garden is.

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Mick asks...

Last Autumn I purchased 2 dwarf / patio fruit trees 1 cherry and 1 peach. Both are now showing a great deal of life and the peach is in pink flower. Do I need to net either of these to prevent birds eating the fruits as they form?

Bill replies...

You can actually purchase small fruit cages for your Peach and Cherry Trees and these are obtainable from fruit tree specialists and the one in your area is Ken Muir Limited.  Birds do love Cherries and Peaches and you are far better protecting your trees with a cover and your trees need to be covered when your Cherries and Peaches are beginning to ripen.

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Charlotte Ellis asks...

I have recently built a small vegetable patch in my garden, using railway sleepers that I think might be coated in creosote and tar oil. I have subsequently discovered that this could easily soak into the soil and contaminate my veggies. How stupid of me not to think of this before spending a small fortune on these sleepers. I am wondering if I could still use the sleepers if I stapled some kind of industrial plastic to line the inside of the veggie patch so the soil and plants do not come into contact with the sleepers. Any advice you could give me would be most appreciated.

Bill replies...

If you staple industrial plastic to the inside of your sleepers this will stop contact with the soil and I am sure that your vegetables will be fine.

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David asks...

I have purchased 20 plug plants of cabbage by mail order, but do not want them to grow to maturity at the same time. Is it possible to store some of the plants prior to planting and if so for how long?

Bill replies...

It is going to be difficult to hold your Cabbage plug plants back but, what I would suggest you do is repot some of the plug plants into three inch pots and hold the remainder of the plants back in a cool but sheltered position in your garden. Although you will not be able to hold them back for a long period of time you, you could leave it a week and then repot some of these on into three inch pots and the following week the remainder.

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Glenys Blackledge asks...

I left my banana plant out through the winter, it has been caught by the frost, is there any way I can save it?

Bill replies...

I am afraid Glenys that at the present time there is not much you can do but hopefully if the frost has not been too hard you may find one or two new shoots appearing.  I am aware of people from the south of the country who do keep their Banana Plants outside in a sheltered position but these are generally planted directly in the soil or the pots are plunged into the soil and, through the winter months the shoots are protected during frosty periods with dry straw.  The other alternative with Banana Plants is to keep them in a cool porch or conservatory during the winter period.

Lovely to hear from another Blackledge!

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Emma Ingham asks...

I have a small garden but would like to buy a dwarf fruit tree to possibly grow in a large pot, could you advise on which would be the best to go for and how would I care for it, many thanks.

Bill replies...

Popular fruit trees to grow are the Minarette Series Emma which are slender columnar fruit trees which bear their fruits on short spurs along the length of a vertical stem rather than producing long spreading branches which make them ideal for small gardens and also for growing in tubs on Patios and Balconies and, can be grown two to three feet apart.  In this Minarette Series there are Apples, Pears, Cherries and also Plums.  If you however prefer a branching tree again you can grow these in large containers but they will have been grafted onto a dwarf root stock.  If however you just require one tree you will need to choose a variety which is self fertile and for more information on the choice of fruit trees it is well worth logging on to Ken Muir's Fruit Tree Web Site www.kenmuir.co.uk

last updated: 14/05/2008 at 11:22
created: 20/10/2006

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