Tag Archives: boxes to grow

penny’s gardening blog: why it’s good to grow your own cut flowers & herbs

penny

Growing your own is fun, gets you outside and is good exercise. Herbs and flowers encourage bees and butterflies into your garden. Our Riverford Box to Grow flower kit provides you with an instant cut flower garden and within weeks you’ll be picking flowers for several months to bring into your home and give to friends. Our herb kits will bring you handfuls of fresh aromatic culinary flavours to add to your meals and mix in with your cut flowers.

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So if you like a project, there are just a few days left to order our Riverford Flower Box to Grow & Herb Box to Grow. Shop bought flowers are expensive and often the choice is pretty dull. The majority of flowers sold in this country are air freighted from Africa and Columbia. Whilst you think you may be supporting the people in these poor third world countries,  the risk is that they are mostly women and children, poorly paid and the workers suffer from the chemicals used.  Plus you don’t have the pleasure of watching your seeds and plants growing steadily in pots, on window sills or in your garden.

Any of you that tried them last year may have had mixed results due to the bad weather we all experienced, however weather conditions this year are already more favourable. We have also got some new additions to what’s in the box this year – the seedlings are bigger and stronger and we have worked on the packaging so that when the plants are in transit they are more stable. We’ve got some new varieties so now you get some Dahlias and Ammi’s in the mix. All round a much better mix with plenty of bee- and butterfly-friendly varieties.

Environmental impact

I read an article by Pat Thomas, called Behind the Label, in the Ecologist back in 2009, which I feel sums up the problem with imported flowers. Although conditions have improved greatly since the article was written, I still feel that it illustrates why growing your own for a bit of fun is better than buying imported flowers from further afield – when the floriculture industry first moved in to Kenya, to Lake Naivasha (where the majority of Kenyan flowers are grown), the lake shrunk to half its original size and the water levels dropped three metres. Due to irrigation of the flowers grown on its shores, its native hippos were threatened by the pollution in the lake and fish catches are dwindling (putting local fishermen out of business).

Since the article was written there have been improvements to conditions in the area, however I still feel strongly that it is best to grow your own locally rather than fly them in from all over the world. To see more on improvements since 2009 click here.

planting, fishing & awards

Over half of you grow some of your own veg. Unfortunately, given our climatic limitations, you tend to grow the same crops as us. A few of you have even credited us with inspiring you to get the spade out. As a result, our deliveries can drop off in the summer and autumn before the gardeners return around November. There is no point in fighting the tide, so for the last three years we have been putting our experience of growing to use to supply plants and seeds as Boxes to Grow, helping you grow your own. There are a number of options, whether you have just a window box, a few containers or a full blown veg garden to plant in. There are herb, veg and cutting flower boxes which you can order now for delivery in April and May. The kits come with a planting guide to get you started and are suitable whether you’re a complete novice or you know what you’re doing. Plus, Penny Hemming, our resident gardener, is on hand to provide tips and assistance: see her blog here

Another addition we have considered for our range is fish. Every time we investigate, I am put off by the controversy over what constitutes a sustainably caught fish and also concerns about being able to deliver it in the right condition. Unbelievably, a lot of fish sold as fresh has been dead for ten days or more and it is hard to know who to trust in an industry that routinely ravages the sea bottom with beam trawlers and scallop dredgers, while discarding vast quantities of the catch. A truly sustainable policy would define not just the species, but the method of catching and would ensure a market for the whole catch. I hope we will be able to offer fish before too long, but in the meantime I urge you to sign Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s petition calling for more marine reserves. 

Finally, The Observer is calling for nominations in its annual Ethical Awards. If you like what we do, please vote for us in the Retailer of the Year category by Friday 22nd March. 

Thank you.

Guy Watson

Penny’s gardening blog: signs of Spring & our boxes to grow

Snow drops are flowering; daffs are starting to push up through the sodden earth. Signs of spring are here and it’s really not long before we can start to get busy in our gardens. If only it would stop raining! Just as we think the ground is finally starting to dry out we get another shower or downpour.

Growing your own is not just about producing food/flowers etc. It gets you outside. You are learning new skills. Breathing in fresh air and getting some exercise. You can educate your children about growing and also about the insects, birds and small mammals that live in our gardens and are very much part of the whole picture. Growing your own is a brilliant way to connect with the earth that we live on. Communing with nature! That may sound a bit hippy but it really is true!

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Riverford’s Boxes to grow are now available to order and come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t even need a garden to grow them in. The small veg box to grow and the herb boxes to grow are ideal for people with a patio or balcony and it is amazing what you can produce in pots, tubs, old buckets, boxes. Even old veg boxes make a great container! We have put together large and small veg kits, two sizes of herb kits and an amazing flower box to grow too – the idea is that when your box arrives, you follow the preparation guidelines on the website and dig/weed your plot, spread well rotted manure etc and await the arrival of your kit with excitement!
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What’s in the boxes?
The veg and flower kits consist of plants, seedlings, seeds and full instructions and guidance on what to do and how to do it. The contents of the veg and herb boxes to grow are carefully selected by our knowledgeable team here at Riverford, putting into a box our years of experience of growing fantastic tasting vegetables. We pick varieties that are full of flavour and disease resistant that more often than not, we ourselves use here on the farm.

The plants and seeds for the flower box to grow are all selected by me. I have been growing cut flowers for a long time and have plenty of experience in this area. The varieties I have selected are easy to grow and a good range of colours and will provide you with traditional country flowers to cut for your house and enough to give to friends too, for several months.

The herb boxes to grow consist of a selection of useful culinary herbs which will grow on and give you herbs for your kitchen for years, with the exception of one or two that are bi-annual or annual. These will happily grow in pots/tubs etc and are ideal for planting in our cupboards for veg boxes. We use a nursery that has been raising seedlings for us for many years, they are experts in their field and always send us top quality organic seedlings and plants.

Our boxes really are a great way to get started and are designed for beginners and the more savvy gardener alike. When your kit arrives you simply go out and get busy planting and sowing. In one fail swoop you’ll have a fully packed kitchen garden!

Challenges – the main problems that you could be faced with are the weather and predators such as slugs, snails, pigeons etc, and weeds. It can be a challenge but is usually hugely rewarding. There is nothing quite like going out to your garden to pick your supper, a few herbs and a bunch of flowers for the table. Think back to The Good Life!

I am here to support and give advice to anyone who needs it. I will be writing regular blogs on all areas of gardening over the year so please make use of me and send me questions or comments.

Penny

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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.

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
    OR
  • 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 preparationIdeal 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.