Grow the Best Land Cress

The fresh texture and ‘hot’ flavour of land cress make it an appetizing addition to salad, where it contrasts with the coolness of lettuce and cucumbers. For the indoor gardener, this is a practical alternative to watercress.

Land cress is similar in appearance and flavour to watercress, but it is easier to grow and certainly better suited to cultivation in containers. Watercress is an aquatic plant, which should ideally be grown in running water – clearly a difficult prospect for indoor gardening. For comparable rich colour and distinctive sharp flavour in salads, land cress is an excellent substitute which can be grown through a long season under indoor conditions. It can be used in all the same ways as watercress: it makes a well-flavoured soup and can be cooked as a hot vegetable like spinach, and of course is a pleasing garnish for meals and snacks.

Selecting land cress for indoor growing This is not a vegetable with a wide range of varieties, but it may be offered under different names. Land cress is of European origin, but has become naturalized in America, and is also known as American cress and as Belle Isle cress. The plant is low-growing with a rosette formation of spreading, dark green leaves. The colour is maintained through autumn and winter cropping.

Sowing and germination

A rich and moisture-retentive soil is needed for growing land cress. Incorporate some humus – commercially prepared or made by crumb-ling dried leaves – or well-rotted manure in the potting mixture.

Sow the seed in seed trays and cover with soil to a depth of no more than Vim (1cm). The seeds are given a head start if you soak them in water overnight before sowing. Maintain a temperature in the range 50-60°F (10-15°C) during germination. Land cress is not a demanding crop, but in common with other indoor vegetables, requires warmth and gentle moisture during the initial stages. As the seedlings appear, move the containers to a bright, but not sunny, position.

To obtain a continuous supply, make small succession sowings from early spring onwards. Batches sown through late summer and early autumn provide fresh leaves into the winter months.

Growing on

Thin out the seedlings as they develop so that they are not weakened by overcrowding. When they are large enough to handle, pot them on into individual pots, or into troughs or tubs at about 6in (15cm) apart.

Continuous moisture is essential to the success of this crop. The plants should he encouraged to grow quickly – the period from sowing to harvest is only about eight weeks – and moist conditions are conducive to rapid growth. Provided that the growing medium is of good quality and contains adequate nutrients, it should not be necessary to supply a fertilizer.

In hot, dry conditions, the plants may run rapidly to seed and the flavour of the leaves becomes harsh when this happens. Do not expose the land cress to strong sunlight, which causes it to bolt. Keep plants partially shaded or position them at a window which receives good light but no direct sun.

You can start to harvest the leaves as soon as they are of sufficient size and quantity to be useful in the kitchen. Land cress can be treated as a cut-and-come-again crop. Take only a few leaves from each plant at one time, to encourage further growth.

How to Grow the Best Juiciest Melons

These exotic-looking plants may he thought difficult to grow, hut appearances can he deceptive. Following the procedure given here, you will he able to harvest melons five months from the germination of the seed.

Whether you eat melon as a starter, a salad ingredient or a dessert, for the keen indoor gardener, this is an irresistible challenge. Melons belong to the same family of plants as the cucumber, the Cucurbitaceae, and need plenty of warmth and light to grow well and produce fruit. As with the more common of indoor food crops, the element which puts you on the path to success is selection of suitable cultivars for indoor growing. This means choosing the smaller-fruited kinds which can develop fully in limited growing space.

Selecting melons for indoor growing

Canteloupe and ogen melon varieties are well-suited to cultivation in containers. A cultivar known as Ogen 339 gives excellent results, and either of the Fl hybrids Sweetheart and Joy is also a good choice. The latter is said to be highly disease-resistant, although the fungal diseases to which melons are susceptible are most likely to infect a large crop and there is less danger of disease in a small indoor container-grown melon patch. Some melon plants are quite tall-growing; dwarf varieties may be the most suitable for the growing area you can provide.

An American cultivar called Minnesota Midget is early-maturing and, as the name implies, takes up less space than some other varieties. This is a canteloupe, a vigorous little plant producing plenty of small fruits, each about 4in (10cm) across, with sweet orange flesh.

Sowing and germination

Sow the seeds on edge, one per 3in (8cm) pot. They seem to thrive best in ordinary peat-based potting medium. The seed should not be buried too deep – ¾ in (2cm) is just right. Cover the seed very thinly with soil and water with a fine spray. Place the pots in a warm location, cover them with a sheet of newspaper and place a sheet of glass over the top. The time it takes for the seeds to germinate depends upon the degree of warmth; at temperatures of 65°F (18°C) or more, you should see results within several days. If the seeds are sown very early in the spring, they are best kept in a heated propagator at a steady heat, minimum 75°F (24°C): otherwise wait until late spring before sowing. Cool conditions inhibit or prevent germination.

When the new growth shows above the soil, remove the glass and paper coverings and place the containers in a warm, bright place. Keep the developing seedlings in a moist atmosphere by spraying around them. Do not overwater the soil, but do not allow it to dry out; it should be kept evenly moist.

Growing on

When the seedlings have produced four true leaves, following the appearance of the seed leaves, they should be potted on into larger pots. Melons do not like to be potted on continually, so at this stage you should move them to the pots in which they can develop and mature. The size of pot depends upon the cultivar which you have selected, but I have had good results using 7in (18cm) pots.

Site the plants in the sunniest position available – a window which receives sun all day is ideal – and keep the plants well watered. The moist atmosphere must also be maintained – humidity is essential to healthy growth. Spray the plants lightly on a regular basis; in hot, dry conditions, spraying should be a daily task.

Training maturing plants

As the plants grow, train the main stem against a cane, tying it in firmly. When the plant has reached the maximum height, in the case of dwarf cultivars, or up to 6ft (1.8m) if you are growing a regular variety, pinch out the growing point. This will have the effect of making the plant produce side shoots (laterals), the fruit-bearing sub-stems.

The laterals are most productive if trained horizontally to the growing axis. However limited your growing area, try to provide a structure of horizontal wires secured to vertical canes set in the pots at the outer ends of your row of plants. This will produce the hest fruit crop.

When the laterals have reached about 18in (45cm) in length, pinch out their growing points. This discourages them from producing further leafy growth and concentrates their energy into developing sturdy growth for fruit-bearing. By the time the plants have reached this stage, the flowers should be budding.

Fruiting and harvest

As the flowers open, you should attend to pollinating the plants if necessary. All-female hybrids are self-fertile and need no pollination. Other varieties need to be pollinated by hand, using a soft brush to transfer the pollen from the male to the female flower. Carry out pollination in full sun, in the middle o{ the day, when the blooms are fully open. Do not spray the plants immediately beforehand — the pollen should not be moist. It is a good idea to repeat hand-pollination on two or three days in succession, pollinating four female flowers on each plant at the same time. This method encourages the fruits to swell and ripen evenly.

As the fruits start to swell visibly, pinch out the tips of the growing shoots at a point leaving one leaf beyond the fruit. At this stage, feed the plants with a suitable liquid fertilizer, diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Water in a liquid feed every ten days; keep up the watering of the potting medium and continue spraying to provide a humid atmosphere. On days when the sun is particularly intense, shade the plants with a sheet of newspaper placed inside the window to prevent the sun from ‘cooking’ the fruits.

When the fruits have swelled to tennis-ball size, they should be supported with nets. Various types of fine netting are available at garden supply centres; alternatively, you can save the net bags in which vegetable produce is sometimes sold in markets and stores. Thread a length of string through the mesh at the top of the bag to form a drawstring (if using a piece of garden netting, do the same at the bottom edge and secure it to form a bag). Place the net bag around the fruit and tie the string firmly. Secure it above the plant so that the fruit is supported. If there is no suitable framework to which the strings can be tied, you will need to fix a wooden batten fitted with a row of hooks above the plants. The netting supports are important, as the increasing weight of the fruit can cause stems to snap, when the fruit will fall and become bruised or split.

Reduce the humidity while the fruits are ripening; stop spraying the air around the plants and provide water to the soil in the pots only. Make sure there is adequate ventilation allowing free circulation of air around the plants.

You will know when the melons are fully ripe and ready to eat – they will fill the room with a strong, sweet fragrance.

Best Advice for Growing Your Own Peppers

Peppers, especially the hot chilli varieties, are bursting at the seams with vitamins and minerals. They are attractively ornamental plants and easy to grow indoors.

Peppers are of two kinds, the large sweet peppers which can be sliced into salads, cooked as a stuffed vegetable or included in a variety of hot dishes, and the small, hot chilli peppers which are used as seasoning and to add bite to spiced and curried foods. The red, green and yellow peppers which you have seen on sale are not different varieties; they are three stages in the ripening process of the same fruit. Green is the first stage, turning to a brilliant yellow before finally becoming red. The peppers continue to ripen after picking, and harvesting them early increases the productivity of the plant. If you pick peppers at the green stage, these will develop yellow and red colouring while new green peppers are forming on the plant. This gives you the variety of colour so attractive in salads while encouraging the plants to produce the most plentiful crop.

Selecting sweet peppers

Both all-female hybrids and non-hybrid types of sweet peppers can be recommended for indoor growing. The variety producing the largest fruits, ideal for stuffed pepper recipes, is Big Bertha Fl hybrid. The peppers from this variety can grow to lOin (25cm) long and 4in (10cm) across. It is an early-cropping hybrid, needing plenty of sun for satisfactory results. For fruits of a smaller size, but more of them on the plant, choose Canape, another Fl hybrid. This one has been bred to be cold-resistant, which does not mean that it will thrive, or even survive, in normally unfavourable conditions. It still needs a high germination temperature, but will do better than some other cultivars if there is a low quota of sunshine during the growing season, or at times when even the indoor temperature is none too warm.

The American variety Twiggy has been promoted with the slogan ‘You can eat it like an apple, it’s so sweet’. Should it not be to your taste to do so, Twiggy still is recommended as a tasty and succulent pepper, an early cropper with the fruits all forming at the top of the plant, making for a quick and easy harvest. Another very sweet, luscious and thick-skinned variety is Gold Star, which has been so bred that it stays yellow as it finally ripens. This is an excellent and colourful choice for use in salads.

It may be useful to start with a seed pack of mixed Fl varieties, such as Summer Salad Mixed, to introduce you to the various types. This includes thick- and thin-walled varieties, some early croppers and others bred to develop through the normal growing season. These different ripening times are another way of enabling you to have peppers of different colours all at the same time, an enlivening touch for both raw and cooked vegetable dishes.

Selecting chilli peppers

These much smaller peppers are used only for flavouring, specifically in the hot and spicy foods of Asian cookery. Using fresh chillies is vastly preferable to using them dried, but the flavour is much more intense, so halve the quantity in a recipe where dried chillies are given in the ingredients list. Handle them carefully and use them sparingly in your cooking until you have become accustomed to their strength, and do not be tempted to taste the raw chilli pepper while you are preparing food. Ripened red chillies are even stronger than those at the green stage. Nutritionally, chillies are a useful addition to your diet; tests have shown that they are rich in iron, potassium, B vitamins and vitamin C. Big Jim, which is not an Fl hybrid, is a good choice for pot cultivation. Three or four plants will produce a huge crop, some of which can be dried for use later when the harvest is over. This plant can, and often does, grow to 4ft (1.2m) tall, and must be supported accordingly. The Fl hybrid El Cid crops more prolifically than Big Jim, but produces smaller fruits – about 1 Vim (4cm) long, with a hotter flavour.

Sowing and germination

Sweet peppers and chillies are grown in the same way. The seeds need a minimum temperature of 75°F (24°C) to germinate, and the growing plants require plenty of sun and warmth if they are to flower, set seed and produce fruits.

If you can maintain the high temperature for germination, you can start seeds as early as late winter or early spring; if temperatures are variable, wait until mid spring. Sow in 3in (8cm) pots, using a good-quality potting medium containing some peat. Two or three seeds can be sown in a pot of this size. Germination may take 14 days or longer even with the ideal degree of warmth, so do not expect instant results.

As the seedlings appear, place them in the lightest and warmest position you can provide. When the seedlings have produced two pairs of true leaves, pot them on into separate pots. A 7in (17cm) pot is adequate space for a single plant. Keep the growing medium moist, but not wet.

Growing on

The high temperature needed for germination does not have to be maintained throughout the growing period. The warmer the situation, the better the progress of the plants, and they should not be exposed to temperatures lower than 55°F (13°C), even at night. Aim for a daytime average of 70°F (21°C) and make sure the pots are sited where the plants can enjoy all the available sunshine during the day. Water moderately but frequently; it is important never to let the potting mixture dry out, the warm atmosphere since has a drying effect.

As the plants’ growth increases, provide each one with a cane as support and tie in the stems firmly. Peppers have an upright habit of growth, but the tall, heavy-cropping varieties must have this support. Smaller-growing types may not need this precaution throughout their development, but it may be advisable in the final stages as the weight of the fruit develops.

Fruiting and harvest

When the flower buds start to form, spray the plants with a fine hand-spray and provide a liquid feed every 10 days. If you are growing Fl hybrids, no pollination is required. For other varieties, spray lightly two or three days in succession as the flowers open to spread the pollen, or hand-pollinate the plants with a soft brush. Peppers seem remarkably free of pests and diseases, so there should be no problems on that score.

You can start to harvest the green fruits when they are of reasonable size, for immediate use or for ripening away from the plant, or you can allow them to change colour on the plant, but do not leave them so long that they lose their sweet succulence.

02. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Gardens, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Grow the Best Land Cress

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