Allotment, Composting, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Infographics, Jorge, Planting

Crop rotation is essential for any gardener who wishes to grow their own food as it greatly increases one’s vegetable yields. All it involves is rotating what you grow between plots as to maintain nutrient levels. The most common way to do this is by rotating four families of crops that complement each other. By waiting four years before growing vegetables from the same family in a particular plot, one can partly restore the soil’s nitrogen content, and avoid the buildup of disease/pests. The most simple way to do this is to use four equal-sized raised beds and rotate clockwise.

Crop rotation has long been practiced and even features in the Old Testament. After the advent of farming, farmers came to realise that growing the same crops year-on-year would exhaust the soil, so it became common to leave fields to fallow once every two years. By the Middle Ages a three-field system was developed, whereby legumes such as beans, lentils and peas were introduced and grown after nitrogen-hungry cereals.

The introduction was of great importance as the legumes can both thrive in nitrogen-depleted soil and restore the quantity of nitrogen for future use by cereals. Legumes are unique in that they form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, exchanging carbohydrates for nitrogen. The bacteria acts to improve the soil as once it dies the nitrogen eventually becomes mineralised, available for use by bacteria, fungi and plants.

Charles “Turnip” Townshend introduced four field rotation to England.

From the 18th and 19th century, more advanced forms of crop rotation substantially increased agricultural output, partly enabling the growth of cities and the Industrial Revolution. Originating from Holland, came four-field rotation that was introduced to England in the 18th century by Charles Townshend. Townshend divided his fields into four different types with a different type of crop grown in each. The system allowed farmers to keep all the fields in use, and utilised clover, another legume, to improve the soil’s nitrogen content. Also grown was turnips that along with clover was used as a source of fodder. More nutritious than grass, the fodder produced healthier livestock, and richer manure that could be plowed back into the soil. By growing animal feed every year, livestock no longer needed to be slaughtered over winter, increasing their quantity and quality.

The benefits of crop rotation has been confirmed with multiple modern scientific studies. One recent study from the John Innes Centre found that growing peas and oats in soil that previously grew wheat significantly increased the diversity of microbes, which help plants acquire nutrients, regulate growth, and protect from pests and disease. Another from 2012 found that “grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs”. And finally, a study from 2009 found that organic sources of nitrogen (i.e. legumes) remained in the soil for longer than inorganic sources, reducing the pollution of water sources from run-off.

So, what plants should I grow in my beds? Presuming you are to practice four-bed rotation we recommend that of the six main vegetable families: potato (Solanaceae), pea (Fabaceae or legumes), cabbage (Brassicaceae), carrot (Umbelliferae), beet (Chenopodiaceae) and onions (Liliaceae), you grow them all separately with the exception of onions, carrots and beet that can be all grown together. By rotating between different families, you can avoid build up of disease/pests that tend to attack specific plant families, and grow a variety of different crops. In general, it is best that peas (Fabaceae or legumes) follow the nitrogen depleting potatoes (Solanaceae). This will help you maintain healthy soil. Simply plan out what you wish to grow.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Composting, Gardening, Jorge, Plants

mycorrhizal fungi
A mycorrhizal fungus as viewed under the microscope. Picture credit: Dr. David Midgley (2007) licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Mycorrhizal fungi rootgrow has become a common feature of garden centres of late, and has been advertised as a product that can greatly boost your plant’s health. But does it really work? And when should I apply it?  Before delving into such questions, it would be worthwhile to explain what are mycorrhizas.

What are Mycorrhizae?

The etymology of Mycorrhiza comes from the Greek mykos “fungus” and riza “root”. And this is precisely what mycorrhizae is, a symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants. It occurs in nearly all plant life on land and is thus suspected of being one of the key factors that allowed plants to colonise the land.

The relationship is symbiotic as the fungi and plant provide one another with nutrients that each are maladapted to garner independently. It has its origin in the fact each are different types of organisms, with fungi being heterotrophic and plants autotrophic. Heterotrophs, such as humans, absorb their nutrients from organic sources, but can’t produce energy from inorganic sources. Autotrophs, on the other hand, can produce energy from inorganic sources such as sunlight. Plants do this through the process of photosynthesis that produces carbohydrates. As autotrophs, plants also find it difficult to absorb essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

endomycorrhizae
Mycorrhizal fungi located inside a flax root’s cortical cells as viewed under the microscope.

And this is where the fungi come in. The fungi that can easily absorb such nutrients interacts with the plant’s root system, which the plant willingly allows, providing such nutrients in return for the carbohydrates that itself cannot produce.  It does this through expanding its roots’ surface area that can absorb nutrients and water. They also provide the additional benefit of increasing a plant’s resistance to pathogens, preventing root disease.

As a side-note, the mycorrhizas were once divided into broad groupings, the ecto (outside) and endo (inside) varieties, with the former (usually) coating the root cells and the latter intermeshing into the plant root cells; although today they have been divided into new sub-categories or superseded with new typings. The endo varieties are difficult to spot, while the ecto varieties presence may be hinted at with the appearance of toadstools, or coated, oddly-branched roots.

The Leccinum aurantiacum – an ecto variety of mycorrhizal fungus. Picture Credit: Tomas Čekanavičius (2006)  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Do I Need to use Mycorrhizal Rootgrow?

It is suspected that neither fungi nor plants could survive in many situations without such a relationship. Mycorrhizas is fairly ubiquitous throughout the soil, and can infect a wide range of plants, so it is highly probable that suitable plants will become infected in their lifetime. There may be some exceptions to this, such as heavily cultivated soil and isolated rocky outcrops, but more on this later.

Scientifically, there is little evidence supporting the use of mycorrhiza rootgrow. The British Standards Institution, which produce technical standards on an array of products, does not recommend using the rootgrow for planting trees as a matter of routine. At Texas A & M University, a team grew plants in soils with and without mycorrhizas and found that the infected plants grew slightly better at the planting-out stage, although any advantage disappeared completely after two seasons in the ground. This was because all the plants ended up infected with mycorrhizas anyway. Finally, a test by Which? Magazine found that the potting compost brand that contained mycorrhizas performed poorly, although such an outcome may be down to other factors.

So are mycorrhizas products any good at all? In all probability mycorrhizas products will be unlikely to confer any long term benefits to your plants, unless you have good reason to suspect that your soil is deficient in mycorrhizas. (It is important to check that your plant can benefit from mycorrhizas in the first place.)

Heavy use of phosphorus in agriculture reduces the incidence of mycorrhiza in the soil. The element is also used to ignite matches.

As already stated, heavily cultivated ground may reduce the occurrence of mycorrhizas. This is because fungicide is naturally destructive to fungi, although, interestingly, it is phosphorus-rich soil that is especially detrimental to mycorrhizas. Mycorrhizas usually function to gather this rare resource for plants, but an abundance of it, usually created by fertiliser, actually suppresses it. Why this is the case is unclear, although it can be in a sense expected, as messing with the ecosystem can have untold effects. Sadly, in this case using mycorrhizas rootgrow is unlikely to have any effect, as if the soil is not conducive to mycorrhizas, the best option will be to stop using phosphorus rich fertilizers, and wait for the mycorrhizas to return naturally.

There may be reason to use mycorrhizas in some cases, perhaps for isolated plants, and plants that are indoors (although such cases are unlikely to be common).

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Composting, Garden Tools, Gardening, How To, Plants, Weeding, Zoe

There are mixed opinions about whether you should bother to sterilise your compost. Some gardeners choose not to, which is fine, but we believe there are many benefits to this very simple process:

  1. It kills off harmful bacteriaSome may argue that in turn you will be killing useful bacteria but this is not the case. The only way you will kill of beneficial bacteria is by baking your soil at a temperature that is too high; we talk about this in more detail later. Professional nurseries sterilise their compost, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t either.
  2. It’s proven to keep away pests such as thrips that are particularly annoying when using compost in your home and sterilisation can prevent such unwanted house guests.
  3. Prevention is the solution. Prevent disease in your compost before the problems arise, rather than skipping past the sterilisation stage and then making the situation a lot worse later on.
  4. Sterilised soil ensures that your plant will be happy and healthy, and this means the best optimal growth.
  5. Better safe than sorry. The methods outlined in this blog are super easy to do, and will make sure your compost is definitely safe for your plants. So why wouldn’t you want to give it a go?

    Making Compost

    Outlined here are three easy methods to sterilise your compost from your home:

     

    Oven

    Using your oven at home you can sterilise your compost easily; be warned that baking compost can create a smelly odour, so you may wish to open your windows whilst doing this.

    • Firstly, you need to use moist soil, do not over water the soil however you only want a slight dampness.
    • Use an oven safe tray and fill it with your soil until it is around 10 cm (4 inches) deep.
    • Cover the tray loosely with foil.
    • Put your tray in the middle of a pre-heated oven that’s around 80° For a more accurate result use a thermometer in the centre of the tray and bake between 80-90°c
    • Do not exceed the temperatures stated above, at temperatures above 90°c is when the good bacteria is killed and toxins are produced.
    • Bake for 30 minutes before taking out, make sure to take the foil off and leave it to cool for a while before handling the soil.

     

    Microwave

    The easiest and quickest way to sterilise your compost is with your microwave. We suggest using an old microwave in your garden shed or greenhouse to prevent bringing compost into your home, and this way you can get on with other gardening jobs whilst it’s baking.

    • As before you will need moist soil, but not too wet that it is slushy.
    • Find a microwave safe container and fill this with your soil.
    • Do not use foil in the microwave, instead cover with cling film with holes for the steam to escape or a plastic lid with air holes.
    • For every two pounds of soil will need 90 seconds in the microwave.
    • After it’s pinged, leave the soil to cool before handling.

     

Alternative method:

  • Place two pounds of moist soil in a polypropylene bag
  • Leave the bag slightly open for ventilation
  • Zap in the microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes on full power before removing and cooling

 

Pressure Cooker

  • Start by pouring a few cups of water into the cooker
  • Next add your pans of soil, be careful not to add more than 4 inches, and pop it on the top rack.
  • Make sure to cover these with foil to help insulate the soil.
  • Close the lid for your cooker but make sure you leave the steam valve

For every ten pounds of soil, leave it to steam for 15-20 minutes.

Voila! You now have sterilised soil that will be sure to sprout stunning plants in no time! If you prefer shop bought compost, read our Primrose Guide to Compost for further advice and information.

Sterilised Compost

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

Composting, Gardening, How To, Laura Bennett, Weeding

The constant gardening struggle: weeds. Weeds are a problem that casual and advanced gardeners have struggled with. You are not alone with this problem. The good news is, you no longer have to be in a constant battle with weeds in your garden.

how to win war against weeds

So, how are you supposed to stop them from growing and taking over your garden? Can I really get rid of weeds without using harmful chemicals? Yes, you really can!

Weeds cause your plants to become overcrowded. They deplete the soil of nutrients that the plants you are trying to grow need. They also compete with your plants for the much-needed water and sunlight your garden receives.

What You Will Need:

• Landscape Fabric
• Landscape Fabric Pins
Organic Mulch or Soil
• Boiling Water
• Natural Weed Killer
• Decorative Rocks
• Plants of Your Choice
• A Shovel

De-weed Your Garden

The first step in keeping your garden free from weeds is to remove them from the area you want to work with. Use a shovel to get rid of perennial weeds with their roots to prevent regrowth. If you do not remove the roots along with the weed, the weed will just regrow.

de-weed your garden

Lay Down the Landscape Fabric

The next step is to lay down and prepare your landscape fabric. Make sure the fuzzy part of the fabric is face down. This helps the fabric stick to the ground and not move. Use the landscape fabric pins to hold the landscape fabric in place.

You can use more than one sheet of landscape fabric for a larger area. Make sure the pieces of fabric overlap here and that the edges are secure and leave no spaces for weeds to grow through.

Pro-Tip: A common mistake is not using enough fabric pins. Make sure to use them frequently. There is no such thing as too many here.

landscape fabric

Mulching

After the landscape fabric is in place it’s time to place down your mulch. Make sure you use a layer of mulch that is between 1-2 inches. The mulch prevents sunlight getting to the dirt below. This also helps to stop weeds from growing.

Pro-Tip: Some mulch may accidentally contain weed seeds, so make sure your mulch is coming from a nursery you trust to be weed free.

mulching

Pour Boiling Water

The next step is to pour the boiling water on top of your mulch. This will help kill any weeds that might be in your mulch that you are unaware of. This is also a good time to use your natural weed killer.

boiling water
Using Natural Weed Killer

Most weed killers only require you use them at the beginning of the planting season (Spring) and again at the end (mid-Summer) if you plan to grow in fall as well. If not, there is no need to reapply your weed killer until the next time you plan to plant. You are now ready to start planting.

natural weed killer

More Tips and Tricks

• Pick one day a week for de-weeding if you find the occasional weed still growing from your mulch.
• You can make a mixture of vinegar and water (in equal amounts) to use on weeds. Be careful not to get this on your other plants though.
• Plant close together to not allow weeds any room to grow.
• You can suffocate weeds and decorate your garden by placing decorative rocks on top of them.
• Drip irrigation systems can be used to provide only your plants with water and eliminate the concern of the water evaporating.

Conclusion

The prevention of weeds is the best method of treating them. Anyone can have a beautiful garden free of weeds. It does take some time and effort but is worth it. There are a lot of ways to help keep your garden free of weeds, which can motivate you to garden even more. With nicer weather on the horizon, it is a perfect time to get ready and give gardening a try.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please share your thoughts about the article in the comments, and share it with your friends if you enjoyed this.

Laura BennettLaura is a graduate of Horticulture and loves nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. She has been a blogger for some years now at Humid Garden.

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