Nutrient deficiency information & photo guide

January 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

Here is a really useful guide I use when identifying nutrient deficiencies in vegetable crops.

I have copied it from our business website, where you can find more of my waffle on growing veg.

This data for nutrient deficiencies are from a paper by Wade Berry at the University of California. The images come courtesy of Dr H Bloom and Dr A Epstein from their 2004 paper entitled Mineral Nutrition of Plants: Principles and Perspectives. Dr Berry’s article can be read at:

This article is part of a huge plant physiology database:




Boron deficiencies are most likely to manifest in large heading brassica. Leaves may appear distorted and cauliflower heads stunted, small and bitter with brown patches on them. Borax and organic matter (rich compost) contain boron.




Calcium is used by plants to make cell walls, for root growth, for nutrient uptake and for pollen formation. Deficiency symptoms include browning leaf tips and margins and always occur on new growth. Leaves may curl downwards. Fruit and flower growth may be stunted and leaves may appear twisted. Cabbages, cauliflowers, peppers, tomatoes and celery are most susceptible to calcium deficiency. Liming prior to planting is advised for all of these crops as lime increases calcium levels in soils and raises pH- a low pH can cause calcium to become locked into soils and unavailable to the plant.



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Starting seeds indoors part 1: Artificial plant lighting

January 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

The first in a series of three posts discussing starting vegetable seed in winter indoors:

  • Starting seeds indoors part 1: Artificial plant lighting
  • Starting seeds indoors part 2: Setting up a simple set of lights
  • Starting seeds indoors part 3: Vegetable varieties to start early and how best to plant them

Plant lights are used by gardeners- both amateur and professional- to start certain varieties growing before outdoor conditions are warm/bright enough, and also to provide optimal light levels during fruiting (e.g. commercial tomato crops) to maximise yields.

Artificial plant lights used to supplement existing light levels in a polytunnel or greenhouse allow the grower to manipulate day length and light intensity.

Let me explain some fundamentals about artificial plant lighting:

Plant lights are very similar to domestic lighting but the spectrum and the intensity is tailored to meet the needs of plants.

Fluorescent lighting is used largely for its ‘cool’ spectrum outputs, operating in the blue end of the spectrum. These lights are used for seedlings and for plants like lettuce which prefer shorter days with less intense light. Fluorsecent plant lights can be strip light or compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s), the latter look like large domestic energy saving bulbs.

Bulbs which emit from the ‘warm’ part of the spectrum- reds and yellows- mimic summer daylight and induce flowering. Tomatoes and peppers are good examples of plants which need a lot of red and orange light to produce fruit. This light is often supplied by sodium-type bulbs (pretty much the same as streetlights), which emit higher intensity light than fluorescent light.

Cool weather crops bolt in response to a variety of stimuli including day length, light intensity, intensity of red and yellow light, air temperature and soil temperature.

We use plant lights at our nursery to start chillies and sweet peppers in December. These plants have compact growing habits and after reaching a certain height their growth then shifts to concentrate on bushing out and strengthening stems.

As the UK has a less than ideal growing climate for chillies and sweet peppers (and aubergines, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, figs, olives, etc, etc) these early sown plants have a head start on seed sown in spring. They are that bit bigger when planted in the ground (or potted on in readiness for good planting conditions) and tend to ‘pop’ into growth and rapid flowering. The harvest period is extended and therefore there is more to eat.

Pepper and aubergine seeds are notoriously poor germinators when soil is too cold, so controlling conditions extends to supplying bottom heat. This is an important point as you have to remember to recreate other environmental factors, not just the sun, when starting seed indoors- consider ventilation, soil/air temperature, drainage.

See also:

  • Starting seeds indoors part 2: Setting up a simple set of lights
  • Starting seeds indoors part 3: Vegetable varieties to start early and how best to plant them

PS If anyone out there has SAD grow seeds in winter! Its like St tropez in my polytunnel 🙂 I am gardening in sunglasses

My smallest vegetable garden ever

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

The smallest vegetable garden I ever owned was in Shoreditch, east London, on the Geffrye Estate.

It measured about 4 x 4m but was amazingly productive. I planned the spacings carefully and planted mostly from plug (not the carrots of course), as seeds may not have been able to compete with adjacent plants.

From front to back:

Interplanted rows of carrots and chervil

A Zapallo Plomo pumpkin

Interplanted row of leefs and tarragon

Sweetcorn with flat leaf parsley at the base (left hand side)

Beetroot and peas/sweet peas (right hand side)


And on the other side of the garden more sweetcorn, lettuce, tomatoes and runner beans:


When you live in central London this is an oasis 🙂


Here are a few harvest pics .. anyone else have a habit of eating all the veg before it gets chance to be photographed??

Poppies as ground cover

August 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

We grew some stunning poppies this year, and noticed that whilst they only flower for short periods of time, the foliage which preceeds flowering makes excellent weed suppressing ground cover.

We planted them between rows of corn (or rather, put rows of corn seed between young poppy plants as the poppies were sown in early spring) and come July the poppy flowers looked delightful beneath the vigorous corn.

This year we grew Real Seed Catalogue’s Double Standard, Lark and Kite sweetcorn and the poppies were Flemish Antique and White Cloud.

Innovative container planting …i.e utilising junk when you’ve run out of pots

July 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Plenty of options in my backyard, where junk seemingly propogates itself.

Some potatoes being grown in a laundry basket:

This worked well as the holes in the sides kept soil aerated. It was really easy to earth up the plants as they grew, and it was also easy to check when the potatoes were ready for harvest.

We planted three Pentland Javelin tubers and harvested about 3.5kg.

For anyone wanting to grow potatoes in a container two key tip are:

  • Do not let soil dry out as this may inhibit tuber formation;
  • Begin chitted spuds in 6-10″ of soil and then ‘earth up’ regularly- bi-weekly if you can get round to it- which will encourage lots of side shooting tubers, thereby maximising yields!

Companion planting for beautiful weed free borders

July 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Companion planting means planting compatible species in close proximity. This can give even better yields overall due to the many symbiotic relationships in the plant kingdom.

Interplanting means putting plants in the spaces between your main crops.  Interplanting may play a companion role but the method is more focused on maximising yields via best use of space.

A major benefit of interplanting is that your main crops get the spacing they need. Other benefits of intercropping and companion planting include: suppression of weeds/provision of shelter for biological controls, nitrogen fixation from a green manure and the potential to control shade and wind protection.

Here are examples of interplanted beds.

Cauliflowers at the back, cabbages and calabrese at the front, interplanted with bulbing fennel, dill.

Note the drying flower heads of the lovely endive ‘Bianca Riccia da Taglio‘ (centre right in pic above, close up below). These were planted out as plug plants in March 2010 and were harvested bar one (the biggest one), which was left for seed. The flowers were very pretty- a bright mauve purple- and attracted pollinators/beneficial insects.

Similarly the last few fennel bulbs were left to seed, the big umbelliferous flowers attracting lots of beneficials.


Nasturtiums loop the front of the bed (below) to catch aphids.

In this bed nasturtiums (this cultivar is the variegated African Queen) divide the bush tomatoes (Royal Chico and Patio Orange) from soft herbs like alliums and basils.

Indeterminate vs. determinate tomatoes

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

The tomatoes on a determinate (bush) variety will be ready to crop at the same time- give or take a few weeks. Their habit is compact (up to 5ft tall and 3ft wide), often bush like and they are well-suited to container planting. They are good for beginners as they need little pruning or staking:


Indeterminate (or vine, cordon) varieties usually have a vigorous vining habit and can be trained up a trellis or wires to a height of at least 6ft. They have a single central stem with leaves branching at regular, widely spaced intervals. They bear fruit sequentially over many months:


Semi-determinate varieties have a growth habit somewhere between determinate and indeterminate.

The picure below is of my tiny tomato patch. At the back leaning against the wall is a robust, thick stemmed indeterminate cultivar called Anna Russian. At the front Aand centre are three bush tomatoes.

They were planted just as the soil began to warm properly, and a mulch of well rotted manure/straw was laid down prior to planting which would have aided soil heating. The plugs really popped into growth as soon as they hit the ground, giving them plenty of time to leaf up and bear me big harvests.

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