Category Archives: Plant focus

Harvest Time!

Young woman peeling back husks from harvested Sweetcorn - © GAP Photos

Young woman peeling back husks from harvested Sweetcorn – © GAP Photos

Sweetcorn is delicious eaten straight from the cob, and the fresher the cob, the sweeter the taste. So, if you have the room, it is a worthwhile candidate in a vegetable garden. Late summer to early autumn is prime harvest time for sweetcorn.

If you have not harvested fresh sweetcorn before, it may be a little confusing at first. With the cobs wrapped up and hidden from view in their papery husks, the tall statuesque plants, with their arching leaves and upright tassels can look a bit spindly and alien. Here are a few tips for harvesting sweetcorn.

1. Know when to harvest

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa - © GAP Photos

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa – © GAP Photos

When a cob is ready to be harvested, the silk at the top of the husks will have dried and turned brown. You should also be able to feel the full bulk of the cob inside the husk.
2. To be extra sure the cob is ripe, pull back the leaves a little way to expose the kernels below.

Testing sweetcorn for ripeness by piercing kernel with fingernail - © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

Testing sweetcorn for ripeness by piercing kernel with fingernail – © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

If you pierce the kernels with a fingernail, is the sap that comes off it milky or watery? If it is milky, the cob is ripe and ready for harvest. If it is watery, the cob needs some more time, so just wrap the cob back up and leave it for a few more days before you harvest.

2. Removing the cob from the plant

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa - GAP Photos

Woman harvesting Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa – GAP Photos

If the cob is ripe and ready, remove it from the plant by pulling the cob down towards the ground and away from the stem. The cob should break off at the base. Try to do this firmly and gently so you don’t damage the stem as you may have other corn cobs still ripening on the same plant.

3. Get cooking!

Peeling back husk of Sweetcorn 'Minipop' F1 Hybrid - Zea mays var. rugosa, revealing rows of kernels - © GAP Photos

Peeling back husk of Sweetcorn ‘Minipop’ F1 Hybrid – Zea mays var. rugosa, revealing rows of kernels – © GAP Photos

The sooner the sweetcorn is eaten after harvesting, the sweeter it will be. If you are growing sweetcorn in your garden rather than an allotment, then harvest them as soon as you are ready to eat them. In fact, if possible, get the water bubbling as you rip away the leaves so they can be popped straight in!

Bon Appétit

Using Lavender in the Home

Freshly picked and bunched garden Lavender arranged on a vintage garden sieve - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Freshly picked and bunched garden Lavender arranged on a vintage garden sieve – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

By this point in the summer, Lavender blooms are in full swing, filling the garden with perfume and attracting all the local pollinators. Why not capture that essence of summer and harvest some of the flowers now? There are so many ways they can used in the home, be it culinary, decorative or medicinal. You can dry them or use them fresh, depending on the individual project. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets - GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Lavender sachets – GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

One of the most traditional ways to use dried lavender is to stuff pouches or envelopes with the scented dried flowers, which are then used to perfume parts of the home, traditionally drawers. This makes a really thoughtful gift and is a very natural way to fragrance an area. The smell of Lavender is also thought to be relaxing, so tucking these scented pouches, envelopes and sachets under pillows is another common habit.

Decorating Gifts

Gift box with a small bouquet of dried Lavandula ( lavender ) - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Gift box with a small bouquet of dried Lavandula ( lavender ) – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

A little botanical snippet of flower, seedpod or foliage adds a really interesting touch to gift-wrapped presents. The best thing about using Lavender is that you can use it all year round as Lavender dries beautifully, giving you a constant supply.

Wreaths

Heart of dried Lavandula (lavender) on balcony railing - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Heart of dried Lavandula (lavender) on balcony railing – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Wreaths aren’t just for Christmas. Wire or gently wrap lavender stems around a wreath frame of your choice for a scented decoration you can hang on the wall. It is best to do this while the flowers are fresh so the stems are still flexible. This arrangement should last for ages as the flowers will naturally dry while in position.

Decorative touches to dining tables

Lavender wreath round glass cutlery holder - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Lavender wreath round glass cutlery holder – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

This is another really fun way to decorative a dining table for a special occasion in the summer, especially in mid-summer, when you are more likely to eat outside. Lavender is really versatile, you can use the whole stem or cut off the flowerheads and individually wire them into decorations. We love the simple ways lavender can be used to decorate place settings and other tableware to make everything a little prettier.

Wrapped around candles

Glass decorated with Lavandula ( Lavender ), blue ball candle, white tablet - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Glass decorated with Lavandula ( Lavender ), blue ball candle, white tablet – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Either fresh or dry, lavender can be used to add a little something extra to your candles. Wrapped in mini posies to adorn a t-light holder, or used in a very contemporary way to fill tall glass vases. And think of the perfume that will be released as the candles gently warm the lavender.

Turn it into Art

Pressed flowers on paper - © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Pressed flowers on paper – © GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss

Create a textual and abstract piece of art with dried rosemary and petals from other summer flowers. This could be a really fun project to do with kids too.

Flavouring sugar

Glass jars containing Lavender Sugar made from Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' flowers - ©  GAP Photos

Glass jars containing Lavender Sugar made from Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ flowers – © GAP Photos

Lavender is actually a herb and can be used in cooking. Gently perfume some sugar by mixing the individual dried flowers into it before storing in an airtight container. Don’t forget to label it in case you forget what you have used. This is a lovely idea for a gift too.

Homemade cosmetics

Still life with Lavandula - Lavender, oils, soap, dried flowers - © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

Still life with Lavandula – Lavender, oils, soap, dried flowers – © GAP Photos/Sarah Cuttle

If you are clever enough to make soap or other cosmetics, Lavender is a classic ingredient due to its perfume and other herbal properties. Start harvesting and drying it now so that you have ample supply through the year.

5 Easy Steps to Grow Runner Beans

Woman using a hat to collect Runner Bean 'Wisley Magic' - © GAP Photos

Woman using a hat to collect Runner Bean ‘Wisley Magic’ – © GAP Photos

Phaseolus coccineus, or Runner Beans, as they are more commonly known, are a regular feature of many vegetable gardens. Here are five steps to grow these high yielding and easy to grow climbing beans.

1. Sowing the seeds

Planting runner bean seeds - © GAP Photos/FhF Greenmedia

Planting runner bean seeds – © GAP Photos/FhF Greenmedia

As the plants are tender, it is best to wait for late spring or early summer if you are sowing directly in the ground. If you are keen to get started, sow in large pots, deep seed-module trays or root trainers in mid spring, and keep in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill until it is time to plant them out.

2. Create the support

Securing final wall canes to roof section with twine - © GAP Photos

Securing final wall canes to roof section with twine – © GAP Photos

The sight of climbing beans twirling themselves around bamboo canes is a lovely sight in summer. You can either make a simple bamboo cane wigwam, which also looks very ornamental. Or you can be a bit more adventurous and create a more elaborate framework. When you plant your beans out, do loosely tie the beans to the supports to give them a helping hand, and give each plant its own cane.

3. Water and feed

Adding Blood, Fish and Bone feed to beans - © GAP Photos

Adding Blood, Fish and Bone feed to beans – © GAP Photos

Make sure to keep your young plants well-watered, especially during hot weather. It is often advisable to water in the evening so that the moisture does not evaporate from the soil surface during the day before it can reach the plant’s roots. Use organic feeds such as blood, fish and bone to promote strong growth.

4. Watch out for pests


Like most plants, runner beans do attract pests which can do damage to your plants. You can deter birds by hanging cds up in the framework. The reflective surface and movement spook them so they keep away. Be sure to protect young plants from slug damage. Runner beans are also vulnerable to infestation from pests such as blackfly. You can either squash the pests with your fingers when you see them, or attract their natural enemies such as ladybirds to come and feed on them. You can also buy various sprays to keep bugs in check, but make sure they are organic and safe to use with vegetables.

5. Attract pollinators to ensure good pollination and higher harvests

Flowers and vegetables in raised beds including, Marigolds, Lettuce, Sweet peas and Runner Beans - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Flowers and vegetables in raised beds including, Marigolds, Lettuce, Sweet peas and Runner Beans – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Runner beans rely on pollinating insects such as bees. Without their presence, flowers are not pollinated and pod formation is unlikely to occur. Therefore, why not plant lots of beneficial plants which naturally attract pollinators around your runner bean plant supports in a sunny location for a mutually advantageous pairing.