Tag Archives: gardening tips

Penny’s gardening blog: jobs for January & how to promote biodiversity


At this time of year every thing is pretty dormant in the garden, so it’s a great time to really have a look at the bones of your garden and work on making it a good environment for wildlife, hence promoting biodiversity. This is really important if you are going to garden organically.

I have always bought the Guardian on Saturdays and for years enjoyed Christopher Lloyd’s articles on gardening. I was sad when he died and still miss reading his writings.  Alys Fowler has replaced him and I love her enthusiasm and promotion of permaculture and wildlife. Below I will give you some links to a couple of relevant articles written by her.

part one: how to promote biodiversity in your garden

build a small pondto encourage frogs and toads. This can be as simple as having a bucket or bath. Look at Alys Fowlers article on wildlife ponds for more information. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/14/alys-fowler-wildlife-ponds

encourage birds – create a bird table or hang fat balls full of seeds and nuts to lure birds into your garden. informationhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/alys-fowler-s-gardening-column+environment/wildlife

wild areas – create some wild areas in your garden.  A few of logs left to rot, for instance, will encourage all sorts of insects, small mammals and amphibians.

plant climbers along walls and borders of garden which will provide ideal nesting habitats.

Part two: January jobs in the garden

clear fallen leaves and debris from areas where bulbs are coming up.

cut back last year’s growth on perennials, leaving any with seed heads still intact for birds and insects. Some people cut everything to the ground in the autumn and like everything neat, tidy and manicured. Personally I like to leave the dead growth up for as long as possible. A lot of seed heads are really pretty and are also a perfect habitat and provide shelter for insects during the winter. Some growth looks awful and rots down into a nasty slimy pile like hemerocallis (day lilies) and agapanthus for example. This can go!


dig out perennial weeds such as dock, couch grass, brambles, buttercups and the like.

thin out dead and diseased wood from established trees and shrubs.

prune wisteria by cutting back shoots to 2nd or 3rd buds.

in the veg garden

Don’t be discouraged if you had a terrible year trying to grow vegetables last year. It was awful for everyone, amateurs and professionals alike. We cannot give up, we need to soldier on and adapt to the situation. Who knows what the weather will do this year, but I am ever hopeful for a better season ahead.

plan your rotation for the year – the allium and brassica family are the ones to rotate. Alliums include onions, shallots and leeks and brassicas include cabbage, kale, cauliflowers, rocket and mustards. You should rotate these crops by giving a three year break before planting in the same area. This helps to reduce problems with onion rot in the allium family and club root in the brassica family.

weed beds ready for onions and shallots – choose an area that is well drained and preferably was manured last autumn. Onion sets are now available to buy and can be planted from now on although some people like to wait for a month or so.

sow broad beans for an early crop.

prune apple and pear trees.

order seeds or plants – look at what we are offering in our veg, flower and herb boxes to grow this year.  These kits are a fabulous way to get into gardening and grow your own veg, flowers and herbs. They come with plants, seedlings, seeds, full instructions and plenty of advice on how to grow your own produce.

If you have any further questions or want advice on gardening feel free to comment or email help@www.riverford.co.uk/blog and I’ll be happy to help.


In Penny’s gardening blog – how to make use of those fallen autumn leaves



The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.

But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.


Leaf Mould

My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.

You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.

Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.

Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.

Next gardening blog

I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – identifying plants

This is a very short blog as support to any customers who have received a Veg Box to Grow and are having problems identifying the different plants. These pictures should help.

kohl rabi

kohl rabi



Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard







spring onions

spring onions











Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cucumber plant to photograph and they do look very similar to courgette but… the cucumber was sent out in a pot and the courgettes were a block.

The italian parsley also may get confused with the coriander but easily worked out by giving the leaves a gentle squeeze and having a good sniff. Coriander has a quite distinctive smell that’s quite different to the odour of parsley.

I hope this will be of use to those of you who are having problems and just to reassure you Riverford have taken on board that this is an issue and are working on finding a good solution for future boxes to grow.

Penny’s gardening blog – box to grow

In My Gardening Blog This Week
A cold snap has arrived down here in Devon and we’ve had some frosts in the last few days and now thankfully a little rain and hail.  On my way home I noticed even a light dusting of snow on the edge of Dartmoor. What with the untimely hot weather of last week where summer thoughts and searches for shorts were both on the cards in my life and now this!  What trickery Jack Frost!! Slow down and beware. Spring is just here, trees still bear of leaves and cold weather is still on the cards.

The first Boxes to Grow have been dispatched from Wash and will be being delivered over the next two weeks to customers up and down the country. Today I will give you some extra advice and tips on planting out and caring for your seedlings.

Box To Grow Welcome
I want to thank our growers first who have really come up trumps this year with the most fantastic quality seedlings and plants for our veg and herb boxes to grow. I am proud to say we have developed a really good growing kit.
When your box arrives you will find inside full instructions on how to care for your seedlings right from the start and how to then get on with the task of planting them out and growing them on. Below I am going to list the most important things to bear in mind. Please feel free to use me as support and leave comments and questions on my gardening blog.

Frost Protection.
In the veg and herb  boxes to grow there are tomatoes , courgettes and cucumber and coriander seedlings that are all quite tender so need extra care for the next few weeks or more. Basically these plants need to be protected from frost, wind and cold temperatures generally. If you have no option but to plant them out it would be wise to cover with a cloche or make a little greenhouse recycling a large plastic water bottle, or at the very least cover with  horticultural fleece. In the past I have put individual cardboard boxes over such plants at night. Do not forget to uncover first thing in the morning though!  I would tend to plant into a pot with some compost and grow them on a bit on a window sill if I didn’t have a greenhouse.

If you live in one of the areas that have been hit with snow then it will be impossible to plant out your seedlings until it is has thawed. Make sure to take the seedlings out of the box and stand upright in a seed tray or cut the box down so that the plants don’t get leggy searching for light. Place the seedlings in a polytunnel, greenhouse, conservatory or window sill. Basically they need light and protection from freezing weather for the moment and ideally shouldn’t be put anywhere too warm either. The plants shouldn’t need watering but if look at all wilted or dry then do water gently with a watering can.

Follow the instructions provided with the kits.
The Cabbages, beetroot, rainbow chard and the kohl rabi in the veg kits can be planted quite deeply however make sure  the other seedlings and lettuce particularly are planted level with the ground and not at all below the surface.

Watering and fleece
Be sure to gently water in your plants after planting them in the ground and check for slugs and snails before ideally covering with horticultural fleece. Fleece will help protect against frosts and cold temperatures and give your plants a head start generally. Remove the fleece carefully every few days for watering as required. Once the weather has warmed up the fleece can be removed. Keep an eye on the weather and check your plants regularly.

Keeping your plot, planters or pots free of weeds is important for the success of your vegetable growing. Use a hoe if appropriate to your situation and hand weed around the seedlings themselves.

Your seedlings will take a few days to adjust and recover from their hike over dales, down and up hills and so on. Look after them tenderly and give them the best chance of success. Speak to them nicely and before you know it they will start doubling in size over and over so do pay attention to the suggested planting distances to. Good luck!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 5

Gosh, its three weeks since I posted my last blog already. How time flies! Being a gardener and grower this time of year is pretty full on. I have lots of clients I work for on a weekly basis as well as preparing my field where I grow flowers and am also busy propagating plants to go in it. So life is hectic and I am slightly overwhelmed by the impending season. But it is also a very exciting time of year in the garden with the first signs of growth and plenty of plants in flower. In this blog I am going to give you all a reminder and do a final push on our boxes to grow. I will suggest some general gardening tasks and wax lyrical about spring flowering plants.

Boxes to grow

Veg, Herb and cut flower gardening kits

April is nearly here and deliveries of our vegetable and herb boxes to grow will be going out imminently, cut flower kits a bit later.  It’s not too late to order one as we have a few left. I don’t want to bang on too much about it but these kits are great value and a fabulous way to  kick start  your gardens in one fail swoop. No decisions on what to grow or where to get it all from. We have used our experts to select good tried and tested varieties to give you the best chance of success and comprehensive advice on how to plant and grow these are also included in the boxes. I will also be supporting you with my gardening blogs and here to answer your queries.

If you have already ordered one remember to do the recommended site preparation we have on our website.

gardening blogMarch in the garden

I have taken some photos of some plants I love that are flowering now. Its good practice to keep your eyes open  when out and about and observe good companion plantings around you and maybe think of incorporating these into your garden spaces to improve what you already have. In the foreground a red Camelia, clematis armandii climbing through a tree and in the background a magnolia tree.

gardening blog

A close up of Clematis armandii. You can grow this evergreen climber up a wall,trellis,fence or through a tree. It has lovely glossy foliage its quite happy planted in more shady positions.

Hellebores are an absolute favorite of mine.


Once big enough they can be split after flowering and replanted to increase your stock. I have done this in this little woodland area over the years and it really looks a picture at this time of year with the under planted periwinkle and primroses in flower too.

white double Hellebore

This white double Hellebore is particularly pretty and looks great with Euphorbia as a backdrop

Jobs in the garden


WEEDING This is the time of year to have a jolly good ‘spring clean’ in your gardens. Perennial plants are just beginning to grow again. Before things get too tall its an ideal time to really get in there and give your beds a jolly good weed. I have problems in a fair few gardens with perennial weed such as bind weed, couch grass and ground elder.  Gardening organically I would not use weed killers as they are detrimental to the wildlife in our gardens and leave nasty deposits in the soil too. Keeping these nasty weeds at bay is the answer. If you’re feeling thorough, this might mean digging up a perennial clump and teasing the roots of the said weed out and replanting the clump. Remember…DO NOT put these weeds in your compost heaps.

DIVIDING up over crowded perennial clumps can be done now. Dig out the clump and put a sharp spade blade through the centre of the clump to cut it in half or more if necessary.

COMPOST  I have a rather tired body, being rather ancient doesn’t help and nor does the kind of work I have been doing the last few weeks emptying a fair few compost heaps in various gardens in the area. It is quite satisfying though to see what you have produced from simply garden waste.

gardening blog

This is great stuff to spread on to your beds, around the plants and lightly fork in. It will improve the soil and act as a mulch helping the soil to retain moisture. As a lot of us are already being threatened with hose pipe bans this is pretty essential.

In My Next Gardening Blog

As my seedlings are not ready for transplanting yet I will leave this till next time possibly with a video clip…heres hoping!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 2

gardening in small spaces - Penny's Gardening BlogIn my gardening blog today

I am looking at the different ways we can grow plants in our outdoor spaces. Not all of us have a garden with open ground, some have only a patio covered in paving slabs, some maybe only a few window sills or a passage or back yard.

gardening containers - Penny's Gardening BlogI grow a lot on my patio in a mixture of wooden boxes, ceramic pots, old galvanized tanks and dustbins I have picked up at the recycling centre or down the dump. They look really great with plants trailing over the edges and climbers growing skyward up trellises I have set up behind them.  I have got the local farm shop to save me some olive cans that come in bright green and red. I make holes on the bottom using a hammer and screw driver to allow for drainage, add some broken crocks or some small stones before adding a growing medium and a plant.  I am gardening blog - Penny's Gardening Blogalways on the look out for containers with a difference. Recently I bought some old ammunition boxes for next to nothing, £3 each which I have planted up with tulips for a show in spring. These are fairly shallow but great for lettuces in the summer. The main thing to consider is the depth of the container and whether it is possible to make drainage holes in the bottom. Plants grown in pots and containers get full of roots pretty quickly so the deeper the better.

Watering and feeding

Anything grown in a container is a commitment you have to feel able to take on as the ongoing maintenance is essential to your growing success. They will need watering everyday in hot weather and every other day once they have taken a hold.  Your containers will also need feeding after a month or so of planting out and every two or three weeks after that.

keyhole garden - Penny's Gardening Blog Keyhole gardening and grow bags

For a long time now Riverford have been supporting a charity called Send a cow who ‘provide livestock, seeds, training and on going support to help families in Africa to leave poverty behind for good’  Guy is a huge fan of this charity and has been out to Uganda several times…… to see what’s happening first hand.  Some of their growing techniques are ingenious such as the keyhole garden and grow bag - Penny's Gardening Blogthe grow sacks. We have built our own keyhole garden using posts and chicken wire rather than stones. The idea is you have a central shoot into which you chuck all composting materials and water. This in turn feeds the surrounding beds that are planted up with veg seedlings.  It really does work and also is a boon for anyone with back problems as there’s little or no bending down. The grow sacks are great to and can be planted with up to 50 seedlings in each. These are great for that redundant corner somewhere in your outdoor space.

In my next gardening blog

I will cover preparing the ground and tools and kit you will need as unfortunately run out of space here. So look out for people selling sacks of well rotted manure and take a look at your compost heaps too.

Get growing

organic gardening with penny - Penny's Gardening BlogIntroducing myself …
Happy New Year to you all. I am Penny Hemming and will be writing a regular blog for Riverford, aiming to bridge the gap between Riverford’s experience from years of growing commercially and customers growing veg and flowers at home.

The first week of the new year we had absolutely foul weather here in Devon (and countrywide I think); raining cats and dogs with high winds to boot. Gardening is the last thing one would be doing in such a deluge (spare a thought for the teams out pulling leeks in the fields), but it’s a great time for garden planning. Any keen horticulturist will be pouring over seed and plant catalogues, getting excited at the prospect of how they can improve their gardens , thinking back on past failures and maybe contemplating some different crops for the coming year. Last year was a difficult year for all of us with a severe lack of rain (would you believe it today?) and exceptionally cold temperatures too. We’re hoping for better conditions in 2012.

Boxes to grow – making it all a bit easier
Two years ago Riverford introduced the boxes-to-grow for our customers to try. These are gardening kits for both beginners and established gardeners. The boxes come with organic seedlings grown in peat blocks (very high quality, from Delfland, who grow Riverford’s seedlings), some packets of seeds and comprehensive instructions and advice on how best to prepare the ground and grow them on successfully. Customers report having a lot of fun with these in the past, and we hope to tempt more of you to try them this year.

Make use of me!
In my blog I will be suggesting what you should be doing to get the best out of your gardening, whether this is a full scale allotment, or just a grow bag or a window box. I’ll be here to answer your questions and queries and to improve the range of products we can provide for our gardening customers (I look forward to your suggestions).

I will also be running tours at Riverford for customers coming to see firsthand what we grow here and how we do it, usually followed by a fantastic seasonal meal in our award winning restaurant, the Riverford Field Kitchen.

Organic gardening - Penny's Gardening BlogThis week’s suggestions
Have a look at what we are offering this year in our boxes- to-grow. Think about your garden and outside spaces and how you could maximize what you produce from it. You can grow an enormous amount in pots and planters so even if you only have a patio or a window sill the possibilities are endless.

How much space and time do you have? Do you want to concentrate on veg, herbs, salad, or cut flowers? If you have limited space, a herb garden is a fantastic way to boost your veg box, being able to go out and pick some thyme or coriander for that risotto. Home-grown cut flower around the house give me a constant boost in summer, and also make a more impressive present than a bottle of wine!

Next post, I will be making suggestions of the different types of containers that can be used to grow in, other than the ground (if you have limited space), how to prepare and what kit you may need, to be ready for the arrival of your box to grow.

Looking after your plants in the cold months

growing veg in the cold weatherThroughout December, we’re posting tips, ideas, downloads and recipes on our Facebook page  (our version of an advent calendar). Today’s tips come from John, Farm Manager on our farm in Devon. He has put together some tips on looking after plants in your garden over the winter months.

  • Lots of winter veg can handle the frost, but it’s better to pull it out of the ground once it’s thawed, so rather than doing it on a frosty morning, wait until the afternoon.
  • If you have root veg growing in your garden over winter, you can put straw around the crown of the plant to add some insulation.
  • If you are growing celeriac, it’s best to harvest it before Christmas.
  • When growing root veg, keep checking the leaves, as once they start to drop off, the veg is less likely to handle hard frost. You can harvest a batch and make a clamp by putting the veg in a small mound and covering with straw and then soil. When you want to eat the vegetables, pull them out and wash them.
  • It’s a good idea to use garden fleece on your plants. Cover plants as early as you can to protect them from cold weather.

order garden fleece from Riverford Organic

Vegetable Box to Grow – soil preparation

This is the last week you can order our Vegetable Box to Grow. Orders have to be in by the 30th March. We’re trialling it for customers from our Devon farm (Wash) this year.

Here is a guide to preparing your soil before you receive your box:

Boxes to grow – early preparation
Our boxes to grow come with an instruction folder giving you information on each plant and how to care for it but it helps to have covered off a couple of things before your plants arrive. Your site needs to be as sheltered and as light as possible – the best position will be south facing and near to the house for convenience. Whether you are growing in containers, raised beds, an allotment or digging up a new patch these are two fundamentals that need to be considered. Two good ways of deciding if you have enough light are:

  • See if your growing area is in at least 6 hours of daylight a day
  • Kneel down to plant height and look up – if you can see 60% of sky then this should be ok.

Drainage, soil quality and shade also need to be considered. The site should be free draining but not so much so that is does not retain moisture. Shade is also something that needs to be examined over a day, to see if certain trees, plants or buildings do not cast a shadow over the growing area. Remember this can not only change throughout the day but also the seasons – higher and lower sun paths for the summer and winter. For convenience the site should be near a water supply and close enough so that it can be visited frequently to keep an eye on pest and diseases and general plant health.

Soil preparation – Ideal soil is fertile, moisture retentive and free draining. It will be rich dark brown in colour and easy to dig. Don’t worry if yours isn’t like this – not many soils are! (Feel smug if yours is) You can improve yours by digging in a soil conditioner (compost or manure). This should have been done in the autumn to give time for the organic matter to decompose. However if as usual things are left to the last minute then you can add in compost or manure any time now. Make sure that this is done when the soil is not too wet, working the soil in wet conditions will increase compaction and damage the soil structure. A seed bed will need to be prepared before immediate planting but this can be done just before/or when the seedlings arrive – more information on this in the growing guide delivered with the product.

You can grow these vegetables in anything from containers to converting an area of lawn into a new patch. If you are growing in containers then remember that drainage is important here too, make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container and add some rocks or even left over polystyrene packaging chips. Add a mixture of compost and manure, this will provide the balance of nutrients and structure needed.

Raised beds are easy to work and will create less digging – there is a huge range of information on the internet on how to build your own beds or there are simple kits available too.

If you are planning on converting an area of land, then you will need to remove the top layer of turf. A good thing to do with this turf is to create a turf stack. This is creating squares of the turf and layering them on top of each other. This will eventually rot down and create a good compost for future growing seasons. The ground will then need to be double dug or cultivated mechanically, adding in organic matter and removing stones and weeds. Double digging is where you dig to two spades depth and incorporate organic matter at the same time, please check books for further information on this if needed. Mechanical cultivation can be done with a rotavator.

If you have the time and want to put a little bit more effort into the garden then you can test the pH of the soil and adapt it accordingly. A pH test kit can be brought from a garden centre, nurseries or hardware stores, or most garden centres will be able to test a sample for you. Neutral soil is pH 7, if it is lower than pH 7 it is acidic, if it is greater than pH7 it is alkali. You can make your soil less acidic by adding lime. You can make your soil less alkali by adding sulphur, this should be thoroughly mixed into the soil before planting. Things like sawdust, composted leaves, wood chips, leaf mould and peat moss, will also lower the soil pH. Warning – please follow manufacturer instructions and safety advice when using chemicals.