Archive for the ‘Ask an Expert’ Category

October truly is the month of the apple and this year growers have reported bumper crops with fruit that is tastier than ever due to the favourable weather. If you wish to taste some new or old varieties, many of which do not appear in our supermarkets, have a look out for an Apple Day near where you live. There are many organised events throughout the country where you can eat apples, make apple juice, walk round orchards, ask the experts about growing, pruning and training apple trees, bring in your own apples to be identified or to simply buy apples or even a tree.

You cannot beat a Bramley Apple for that lovely tangy taste and fluffy texture, they are very versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes – delicious! They are at their best at the moment and widely available, but of course if you grow your own they are even better!

This week is Bramley Apple Pie Week when we celebrate this wonderful apple, here is a delicious recipe for those of you with a sweet tooth, it would be perfect for a Halloween or Bonfire Night Party.

Toffee Apple Pie

Your ingredients

The pastry

  • 250g Plain Flour
  • 125g Butter/Margarine
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons cold water

The filling

  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 50g Dark Muscavado Sugar
  • 50g Butter
  • 25ml water
  • 700g Bramley Apples
  • Juice and zest 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon Cinnamon
  • Caster Sugar for sprinkling

25cm pie dish

What you need to do

Sift the flour and salt in a bowl, rub in the butter/margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs, add the cold water and mix with a knife until it comes together, gather up and knead to form a ball. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for ½ hour.

Peel, core and slice the apples, sprinkle over the cinnamon, the grated lemon zest and the juice, and stir.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the water and the caster and dark muscavado sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, add the apple mixture stir and cook for a further few minutes until the apples start to soften then leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Roll out 2/3rd of the pastry and line the bottom of the pie dish, fill with the cooled apple mixture.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid, brush a little water around the edges of the pastry bottom  so that the lid will stick, press/crimp the edges to seal the pie and trim off any excess pastry, make 2 or 3 slits in the middle of the lid. If you wish to decorate the top, roll out the leftover pastry and cut out leaf or apple shapes, wet them underneath with water to help them stick.

Sprinkle with the caster sugar and bake for 30mins until golden brown.

Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

You know what they say an apple a day…


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We have had an ‘Ask an Expert Enquiry’ this week from Janice Ketley who has asked

‘When I take out my tomatoes, what can I plant for the winter that is low growing and easy harvesting’.

I am presuming that Janice has her tomatoes in a greenhouse, at present I haven’t got any spare room in mine with lots of green tomatoes still to ripen as well as a cucumber plant, two aubergines, 10 chilli and sweet pepper plants and onions drying out.

It is a good idea to plan ahead now for the winter months, a greenhouse, polytunnel or even a cold frame can provide a crop throughout the year and should be utilised as much as possible. Here are my suggestions what Janice could grow.

 Lid support

Plant some potatoes

It is possible to harvest your own new potatoes at Christmas or in the New Year, these are called second cropping potatoes and one of the best varieties is Carlingford. To ensure a harvest for Christmas they need to be planted by the end of August but you could still try planting some in the next few weeks for a later crop. Your seed potatoes need to be planted in large pots or growing bags in good compost, water them in and place somewhere warm and sunny, watering again when dry. When the weather turns cold bring the bags/containers inside to protect from frost and harvest once the foliage dies back.

There are many kinds of salad leaves and lettuces with varieties especially suited for winter cropping.

  • Spinach (Baby Salad Leaf varieties): Sow September, harvest leaves when small from October-April.
  • Lettuce (Winter varieties): Sow September, harvest October-April.
  • Lamb’s Lettuce: Sow September, harvest November to January.
  • Endive (Broad leaved varieties): Sow July-September, harvest September-November.
  • Pak Choi: Sow September for late Autumn winter harvest perfect in stir fries or steamed.
  • Rocket and Mixed Salad Leaves (Winter Blend): Sow September and pick leaves when young.
  • Cutting Parsley: Harvest the young stems and leaves.

Spring Onions: One of the best to grow is White Lisbon (Winter Hardy) a quick cropping hardy variety, sow seeds September/October for a spring harvest.

Radish: Sow September in rows.

Herbs can be potted up and brought indoors to extend their crop.

The BIG Red Paraffin Greenhouse Heater

Winter crops can be slow to germinate and grow due to low light levels and low temperatures, protect crops with a fleece or invest in a heater to regulate temperatures and keep the greenhouse frost free. During warm days leave the door open slightly and open the vents to keep the air moving and prevent fungal diseases, water you crops sparing.

Greenhouses/Polytunnels are perfect for drying out onions for winter storage and ripening squashes and pumpkins for use during the winter months.


I hope I have given you some suggestions

Happy sowing and growing


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We have had an ‘Ask the expert enquiry’ from an allotment holder in Yorkshire which I thought I would share with you he asks:

‘ Morning guys, I’ve an 8ft x 8ft bed empty and I’m gaining space as I take out my spuds any advice as to what I should be planting now? I’m thinking Kale and Swiss Chard ‘

There are in fact quite a lot of things that you can sow and grow in July to replace your potatoes or to fill any empty space:

Salad Crops:

Sow Salad Leaves, Lettuce, Rocket, Radish, Spring Onions


Sow Basil, Parsley, Coriander, Dill



Sow Turnips, Carrots, Beetroot

Sow Kale, Swiss Chard, Endive, Kohl Rabi, Pak Choi, Fennel, Perpetual Spinach 

Sow the last of your French Beans, Runner Beans and Peas

Sow Spring Cabbage for transplanting later on

Rhubarb can be divided now – make a new bed

Plant out:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Winter Cabbages, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflowers, Kale and Leeks for a winter harvest

For a wonderful spring display next year:

Sow Biennial seeds in rows e.g. Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Sweet William, Wallflowers for transplanting in the Autumn.

I hope that I have given you a few ideas to get the most from your vegetable garden.

Click here for lots more things to do in the garden in July, one of the most important jobs at the moment is watering, for more ideas on watering and water conservation in the garden click here.

Enjoy the sun


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I have had an ‘Ask the expert enquiry ‘from Ceri Sawyer in Cumbria and one of the questions that she has asked is

What time of the year should you plant a seed potato?

I thought that I would share my reply with you –

There are three types of seed potatoes

First Earlies

Plant in late March to early April – you can expect to harvest these approx. 10 weeks after planting.

Second Earlies

Plant early to mid April – you can expect to harvest these approx. 13 weeks after planting.  


Plant in mid to late April – you can expect to harvest these approx. 15-20 weeks after planting.

These planting dates are a guide, if you live in the south you may be able to plant a week or two earlier or if you live in the north a couple of weeks later it also depends on our unpredictable weather which at the moment is predictably very cold, even if the ground is not frozen it is still very cold and crops simply will not grow.

Seed potatoes can be planted now in potato growing bags filled with vegetable compost and placed in a greenhouse or polytunnel where they will be protected from the weather otherwise cover your vegetable beds with black plastic or cloches to warm the soil up until there is an improvement in the weather.

When you get your ‘seed’ potatoes put them into egg boxes/seed trays with the ‘rose’ end upwards this is where you might see tiny shoots or the ‘belly button’ end facing downwards and place them in a cool, frost-free and light (not sunny) position. This is called chitting and helps the potato to produce strong buds which speeds up growing once they are planted, all seed potatoes especially first and second earlies benefit from chitting. When the shoots are about 2-3cm they are ready to plant, don’t leave it too late to buy your seed potatoes, once the weather warms up the demand will be high and your choice may be limited.

Chitting potatoes

My seed potatoes are sat patiently in their egg boxes.


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I had an ‘Ask the Expert’ enquiry this week from Natalie who wanted some advice on which seeds to buy from our website that she could grow at her son’s nursery garden. She wanted to grow things that the children could eat at their snack time but the only draw back was that they had to be able to pick them between now and the end of June before they break up, here was my advice:

As you are limited for time (approx. 9 weeks before the end of June) the quickest things to sow/grow/harvest would be vegetables/herbs that are grown for their leaves rather than their fruit (tomatoes) or roots (carrots, beetroot).

Mustard and Cress

Mustard and Cress are perhaps the easiest and quickest to grow and can be eaten in approx. a week, these can be sown little and often, sow indoors not too thickly on a thin layer of moist compost or moist tissues, cover with a piece of paper until they are 1”(25cm) and then cut when they are about 2”(50cm).

Salad Leaves (Red & Green mixed) are very quick to mature and their different coloured leaves look attractive.


Herbs fit nicely into this category and our Herb Variety Pack contains:

Coriander, Basil, Dill, Rocket


available to buy separately is Parsley (this can sometimes be slow to germinate)

Essential Propagator


To get them all off to a good start I would sow them in Pots/Trays in a Propagator or on a warm sunny windowsill. When they are big enough to handle re-pot them into Larger Pots/Trays with more space to grow, again returning them to the windowsill until they are large enough to plant outside when the weather if favourable.


They can be planted into Containers, Hanging Baskets, Wall Baskets, Window Boxes or Grow Bags. They are ideal for planting into Raised Beds, Salad and Herb Beds, Corner Raised Beds or Mangers.

It is advisable to protect them with Fleece if any frost is forecast until they are well established.

Salubrious Salad and Herb Bed

For best results they should be in a warm, sheltered and sunny position.

I hope that Natalie and all the children enjoy sowing and growing their seeds and they enjoy eating the lovely fresh leaves too.

Happy Growing


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Once again, our resident gardening expert, Linda, has answered a question posed by one of our children’s nursery customers. Linda’s advice is always so useful and practical that we love to include them on our blog so that we can share this wonderful information with you!

Q. I was wondering if you could possibly help me out, I am writing our gardening info sheet and wanted to talk to them about their hanging baskets, planters, veggies, herbs and fruit! Could you possibly tell me what is in season for the is time of year and what is hard watering and will last in the hand of our little ones! Your help will be most appreciated.

Everyone needs a watering can!

Everyone needs a watering can!

A. Nothing is truly hard wearing from inquisitive children; I have found that spiky plans command respect! (To be avoided at all costs). Larger plants seem to withstand probing fingers and being sat on. In the border, Bamboo has worked well on one of my sites as has Phormium tenax. The children use it as part of a mini jungle weaving in and out. This time of year is a little bit like clothes buying, we might still want to buy for summer but most places only have autumn/ winter stock in. The summer bedding season is over with perhaps a few offerings left in some outlets and the autumn/ winter bedding is just about poking through.

Suggestions for this time of year ….. Hanging baskets- available in mini form are perennials, grasses, some spring bulbs and evergreens. Planters- bulbs for spring, textural evergreen plants such as stachys byzantina are always enjoyed, lavender. Herbs- mint, chives, sage, oregano. Veggies- rocket, broad beans, onion setts, spinach, peas. Fruit- top fruits such as apple trees, pear trees and plum trees are the best bet though you can still be harvesting autumn raspberries and later fruiting strawberries. This list is by no means exhaustive and choice will be subject to what is available. If you plan ahead for next year you may have fun growing your own and enjoy a more extensive and specific variety of plant material. Please get in touch again should you wish to go down this route and I can be more specific. Enjoy the journey!

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