Take a browse through James Wong’s mind with his answers to numerous customer questions through a 3 hour Facebook Q&A
Q. Hi james, how thuggish exactly is New Zealand spinach? I have horsetail weed in bit of garden and was thinking of planting the spinach to maybe crowd it out? Thanks
A. Oh no, not THAT thuggish. Nothing is apart from, well, horsetail. But it is still one of the most fast growing of the leafy veg.
Q. Is it easy to grow passion fruit?
A. If you are looking to grow the edible passion fruit species you see in the shops, in the UK you will need a large (preferably heated) greenhouse. You will also need two or more plants to ensure good pollination. Because of the space needed, I would say they were not the easiest plants to grow (at least in the UK)
Q. I’ve got very heavy wet clay soil, I’ve added manure and sand to break it down, what veg will tolerate these growing conditions, I’m in Leeds! Thanks
A. Despite what many people think, heavy clay soil is a great medium for growing veg. I am on heavy London clay and find its ability to hold moisture and nutrients is brilliant, compared to light, blow-away sandy soils. Saves me loads of work and gives great results! You have done exactly the right thing by incorporating plenty of organic matter to open up its structure. I would add an additional 10cm mulch of compost each spring to help top this up & get planting! The only veg that have been tricky on such sites for me have been root veg like carrots & parsnips, which can be stunted and fork in rich, heavy soils. Also fiddly root veg like Chinese artichokes and skirret can be a pain to wash if grown in heavy clay as the tiny soil particles fill every crevice. Fortunately these veg are easy to grow in containers of potting compost, so that has always been my way around it. Hope that helps!
Q. Have you tried red mulch in your trial plot? And if so what do you think about it? Thanks.
A. Yes, I have tried and tested all the techniques I advise. I found it produced measurably larger plants and higher yields of more aromatic fruit (which echoes the studies at Clemson University, which first alerted me to its use). Using mulch also cut down my need to water and weed, potentially also reducing slug populations.
Q. Sown Samphire for the first time this year. Only 2 germinated so far. Tiny weeny plants……………..what do I need to so to ensure better germination in the future and also to keep them alive now?
A. Samphire seed is notoriously erratic. Stick with it, as many more may pop up as the season progresses. They need a sunny sight (this is crucial) and watering with salt water, or to be honest just a sprinkle with salt every other time you water.
Q. I’m working with growing on a very shady patio. It is in the corner of two buildings, so open to the sky, but most of it never gets any direct sunlight. Any suggestions for edibles that might work in containers in a space like this?
A. Sounds like a good place for mint, raspberries, sour cherries, leafy salad crops like lettuce. Good Luck!
Q. I bought a goji berry bush a couple of years ago and planted it in the garden. In the first year the snails and slugs got at it and ate the leaves. I replanted it into a pot over winter and now the leaves have started to grow and its doing well. Do you think it will fruit this year and what is the best way to care for it?
A. Goji berries need loads of sun, sharp drainage and poor soils. Treat them mean to keep them keen. Fingers crossed!
Q. As it’s been raining non-stop for a few days is it still too wet to put in any potatoes or onions please?
A. I’d leave it for a few days of the ground is sodden.
Q. Hi someone has donated some gooseberry bushes to our community garden in Croydon. I’ve never grown them any tips esp as they were dug up yesterday and won’t be in til Saturday? Should we expect fruit this year?
A. Gooseberries are tough old things. Whether they are old enough to fruit this year depends on their size, but it might be an idea to prune off any flowers this year anyways to allow them a chance to recuperate. The longer you leave them to ripen and the more sun they are under, the sweeter they will be.
Q. Hi James I’ve just moved into a new house with a very small North facing garden. There’s one small section that’s sunny for the afternoon. I’d love to grow some soft fruit perhaps raspberries or blackberries or something if this is possible? Any suggestions? The grounds dire are there varieties I could grow in pots? Thank you!
A. Sounds like the perfect spot for raspberries and sour cherries like ‘Morello’. Provided the pots are sizeable, both can be successfully grown that way. When choosing cherries trees though, always look for ones grafted onto dwarfing roots like Gisela 5 or Colt.
Q. James, any tips for growing Physalis. We are in Scotland, my daughter loves them so would love to surprise her.
A. In Scotland it might be worth growing them in a greenhouse (if you have one). My general tips are to treat them just like tomatoes, but ignore the pruning and fertilising. They will perform best in a sheltered site in full sun on well-drained soil.
Q. I have another question about bamboo. My mother’s garden has been taken over by it. I will be cutting it away and I want to use it as mulch on the allotment after putting it through a chipper. I’ve heard that bamboo isn’t good as a mulch. Does it have a high cyanide content and maybe this is why it’s not good to use? I don’t know. But the bamboo is definitely the highest garden waste product from mothers garden. Will it negatively affect my veg is the short question.
A. No, bamboo is really just a big grass. I would use it (as long as your chipper can handle it safely, bamboo shards can be very sharp!).
Q. I’ve got a 2 year old citrus tree I grew from seed (either kumquat or lemon, I lost my label early on). Last year some of the lower leaves yellowed from the edges and blackened along the veins. One or two fell off, but there are some of these leaves still, and they haven’t worsened. The upper leaves were fine for a few months, but now some of the new leaves are yellowing. I’ve got it planted in citrus compost and have been watering with rain water. What might be going on with it?
A. It sounds like it might be a nutrient deficiency. Try giving it a liquid feed such as specialist citrus feed (in the houseplant section) or regular ericaceous feed.
Q. We used to grow potatoes but they started getting blight. We tried varieties that are less prone to blight and tried Bordeaux mix. No joy. This year we haven’t grown any. Hints for next year please? We have tried everything and applied the Bordeaux mix every two weeks etc. thank you
A. I don’t grow potatoes for exactly that reason. How about trying a super blight resistant tomato variety like ‘Crimson Crush’ instead? This is a new one that I am trying this year, that was actually bred originally for flavour with its blight proof superpowers only picked up on by chance in the field when researchers noticed it was the only one to survive a particularly devastating attack.
Q. Hi James. I have bought a raised bed as your new book was so inspiring. Think I have the bug. Do I need to lift the grass before topping up with soil and what soil would be best for raspberries and salad crops. Thanks again.
A. Thanks Gillian! Technically you should probably lift the grass first (or at least cover it in a double layer of cardboard) and fill the raised bed frame with a mix of top soil and compost. However I am notoriously lazy and in the last raised bed I made (the modular zinc ones Suttons sells) I just dumped in loads of soil and compost on top of the grass. The beds are about 40cm high, so even the most vigorous grasses weren’t able to push through. Worked a treat for me!
Q. I bought a cocktail kiwi plant, but now realise that I don’t really have a good space in the ground for it. I have put it in a huge pot against a south facing wall – do you think it will be ok?
A. That’s how I grow all mine. Sounds like a perfect location to me.
Q. Also, I’m growing watercress in a large water tub with a gravel bed. I can’t get out of my mind Liver Flukes. Am I being paranoid? Any tips for watercress and making it as nutrient dense as possible? I live in a vegan house and I want the best. I already have an aerator to move the water.
A. If you are growing it in a water tub that is not frequented by livestock the chance of liver fluke is infinitesimally small. However you might want to try Land Cress (also sold by Suttons) which looks and tastes almost identical but grows in normal garden soil. The more sun and the older the leaves, the more nutrient dense they are likely to be (but also more fiery and fibrous). Sprinkling Epsom salts on your soil can up the phytonutrient content of land cress too by the way James Wong
Q. This year I’m trying to grow crops that slugs n snails don’t eat, or at least they’d prefer my neighbours plot. I cannot bare slug pellets. I’m growing the usual spuds, beans, gourds. What nutritious salad crops, if any, attract the least or deter the horrid molluscs? In and out of a poly tunnel. Clay soil. Thanks
A. Now THAT is a tall order. How about Samphire, which is in my Suttons new range? I recommend planting this in a container and watering it will salt water. Sound pretty unappealing to slugs to me!
Q. Hi James. The popcorn seeds fiesta we planted a couple of weeks ago have germinated with long shoots and also long roots have appeared out of the bottom. This seems very rapid! Is it too early to plant out now (we live in the south)??
A. Yes, corn grows REALLY fast! I would normally sow these in mid-April to early May, with the goal of planting them out in mid-May. I think it would be too early to plant these out even in the south (especially with the very late spring this year), but putting them in a cool, but bright place may slow their growth down enough to buy you some time. An unheated greenhouse or cool conservatory might work. If not, you still have plenty of time to try again.
Q. I planted peas in guttering and put them in my greenhouse. Only 2 peas germinated. Have you any idea why? Thanks
A. Could they have been eaten by mice? Is may also be a little cold for them still? Finally, if they were waterlogged, they may have rotted?
Q. Hi James, not eaten – maybe too cold or maybe I watered them too much. Do you recommend soaking peas before you plant them?
A. I don’t bother soaking pea seeds, as most trials demonstrate there is really very little difference
Q. Quinoa it just won’t germinate James. What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried every approach I can think of. Any advice would be fab! Xxx
A. It’s still pretty early to be sowing it. Maybe it’s just too cold still? I normally sow quinoa direct by scattering it over a well prepared bed of soil in a sunny site in mid-April. It tends to germinate very quickly, as soon as the weather warms up Hope that helps!
Q. Hi James, I’ve just moved from a small half plot to a full sized allotment which is in pretty good condition apart from a bit of weeding. Is it ok to put weeds like dandelions and nettles on an aerobic compost heap for a year or so for them to rot down?
A. Absolutely! In fact both are good sources of minerals.
Q. Hi James, the white strawberry’s you spoke about the other day… Apart from taste testing, how do you know when they are ripe enough to eat?
A. Ah, they are green and hard when not ripe. As they ripen they will slowly go pale white with red seeds and have a slight give when touched. They have the most incredible fragrance too!
Q. I was going to ask the same as Jimbo Roadshow, I have loads of bindweed and the old guard of the allotment advised putting a bamboo cane up so that it climbs that and then brush Glyphosate on the leaves. They said if I make sure I only get it on the bindweed itself and not on the other plants then it’s safe … But I was still a bit nervous of it.
A. That is certainly a recognised way to do it & probably very effective. Being an organic grower though, I prefer to just cut bindweed straight to ground level. Yes, you will have to do this several times in the summer, but it’s cheaper and probably still quicker than going out to buy glyphosate
Q. Hi James, I am transplanting strawberries tomorrow from containers into soil on my new- to-me allotment. Advice about adding aspirin or fertiliser at time of transplanting?
A. I probably wouldn’t add aspirin or fertiliser at the time of transplanting, but I might as a sprinkle of sugar to the planting hole before watering in well. On bare roots fruit trees, for example, there is some evidence to suggest that irrigation in a dilute sugar solution can help boost root vigour and tree establishment. Worth a try!
Q. I’ve discovered a lot of stinging nettles and buttercup on my allotment. I’ve started digging them up. Do you ever think weed killer is ok/safe to use on an allotment?
A. I grow organically, and in my small garden never find there is a reason to ever use weed killer. Even the worse weeds can’t handle being hacked back 4 or 5 times in one summer. This eventually start to weaken and die away. However, used according to manufacturer’s instructions there is very little evidence to suggest that commercially available weed killers are unsafe to use on an allotment. It’s up to your personal choice. Best, James Wong
Q. My green and red zebra seeds arrived today, what’s the best way to sow them I’ve tried peat pellets, 3in pots and seed trays and tried multi-purpose compost and John Innes no1 thanks
A. I find those all give good results for tomatoes. They are super easy to germinate.
Q. Hello James Wong. Will courgettes thrive in planters with vermicompost?
A. Yes. Courgettes are well suited to container culture. As with all crops they will require less frequent water and fertiliser if planted in the ground though. James Wong
Q. Trying to grow Cucamelons this year. Any tips please would be welcome. Thanks
A. I would always plant cucamelons outdoors rather than in greenhouses, spacing the little plants about 10cm apart around a wigwam of canes. The most important thing to know about them is when to harvest. They need to be bright green and very firm, as just like cucumbers they become bitter and soft if left to go overripe. It is easy to tell though. Just gently press one between your thumb and forefinger, if it is firm like a cucumber with bright green stripes you are good to go. Larger fruit will be soft and squidgy with their stripes paling to dull khaki and yellow, no nice eating!
Q. Hi James, 2 questions – 1: if we don’t have greenhouse what can do to get hotter chillies? 2: do we use neat jasmine hydrosol or dilute it even further to spray on plants? Thanks
A. Hi there Jenni, There are a number of ways to improve the spiciness of your chilies. The first, and frankly by far the most important, is to pick one of the spiciest varieties (Suttons sell loads of these, with rankings of spice level attached). The second is to grow your chili plant in the warmest loction you have. I do not have a greenhouse either, so grow mine as houseplants in large pots by a sunny, south-facing window. The third it is water them very little, allowing the plants to dry out to the point of just beginning to wilt between waterings . Also using a low nitrogen fertiliser is likely to stoke their spice. I even have instructions on how to use dilute salt water to create drought stress in chilies plants to further up their heat in my book. Hydrosol. Yes if it is natural, food grade hydrosol you will not need to dilute it further. Simply spray it on the plants as the small, green fruit begin to form.
Q. Is it a good idea to plant Millefleur tomatoes in a hanging basket?
A. I would recommend growing all tomatoes in the ground rather than in pots, and in particular hanging baskets, as they will have better flavour, plus need far less water and feed if grown this way. Hope that helps.
Q. Hi James, is it okay to add pH-altering products to my allotment’s alkaline soil so that my blueberries will be happy growing in it, and what should I use if so? Planning on planting out with a good deal of ericaceous compost but presumably over time the surrounding soil will steadily raise the pH.
A. I would imagine that the pH of your soil would slowly creep back up to being alkaline, especially as chalk and limestone are soluble in water and will quickly leach into your beds from the surrounding soil. Planting blueberries in pots or ericaceous compost however is a great way to grow acid loving plants even if your garden soil is alkaline. I do exactly that in my own garden and find it very easy.
Q. Hi James, I’ve planted a Chilean guava on my plot, it’s in with the blueberries, is it happiest in acidic soil? I’ve had mixed answers!
A. You’ve done exactly the right thing Steph. Chilean guavas are South American relatives of the blueberry and occupy very similar habitats. Although they are much more tolerant of neutral and alkaline soils than blueberries, they are definitely happiest on acid. Also unlike blueberries, they will even take quite a degree of shade and still produce good crops.
Q. How do you use dandelions in the garden is there a way of extracting it’s nutrient value like comfrey tea I spose will it retain in nutrient value in doing that?
A. Dandelions are a popular vegetable on the Continent, a staple of some supermarket France and Italy. I recently even saw an item called ‘Wild Tarassaco Greens’ on a fancy menu & ordered it to find that they were just dandelions (Tarassaco is Italian for ‘dandelion’). They are eaten normally in salads just like their close relative Radicchio and have a pleasant bitter flavour much like Radicchio. James Wong
Q. How come I get loads of foliage on my saffron but never any flowers? They have been in 2 years. Is the compost too rich? Thanks
A. Can I ask how deep you planted them Sean? The good news is it looks like you have lovely healthy plants. Suttons also only sell corms of fruiting age, so that is the first two important prerequisites out the way. The only two remaining factors that could determine flowering are a sunny site (looks like you have that) and planting depth. Commercial growers plant corms as deep as 20-25cm, as the weight of the soil above can trigger flower formation. This may be worth a try once the foliage dies down in May. The best results will be achieved on the sunniest sites in well drained soil. James Wong
Q. They are about 3 inches deep so I my need to bury them deeper. Also poss mix a bit more grit with them
A. Great. A good dose of potash rich liquid feed (like tomato fertiliser) about now would help form the new flower buds for later in the year too.
Q. Hi James! Last year I transformed our urban front garden into a small kitchen garden. Is there a herb that you can recommend that’s a bit different?
A. Have you heard of electric daisies, Agnes? They are little yellow flower buds that create a tingly sensation when bitten into, a bit like licking a 9 volt battery (or like Szechuan pepper). They are a favourite of fancy chefs and cocktail makers to add ‘zip’ to a whole range of dishes from sushi to Margaritas. They look good too.
Q. I seem to have the worst luck with cabbages and cauliflowers out of everyone on my allotment! Any tips on how to grow perfect ones?? They’re either plagued by pests or don’t grow much more than the size of a grapefruit 😕! Thanks in advance…..Sarah.
A. Haha you and me both Sarah! I find both those veg incredibly tricky, to the point where I now concentrate on easier to grow, but much higher value crops like tomatoes, blueberries and raspberries. This year I am getting particularly excited about ‘Green Zebra’ & ‘Rosella’ tomatoes that I tasted at Suttons Seeds trial ground last year. Trust me, one taste of them and you will wonder why you worried about cabbages James Wong
Q. Hello James. My question is the following. Does a Chilean guava need a second plant around for cross-pollination, or are they self-pollinating? Cheers
A. Good question! They are self pollinating, but will yield significantly more fruit when teamed up with a pollination partner, so it makes sense to plant 2-3 plants. Hope that helps!