Advice for a newbie

This was written in response to an email from a new gardener with limited room, but I’ve posted it here as other new gardeners might find it useful.


I’m seeking some advice about what to purchase from your website. I am just beginning to turn my garden into a space where I can grow a few crops. After reading some of the advice from the ‘no dig organic home and garden’ book (which recommends your website) I have decided to source some local cow manure as a mulch, cover it in polythene, cut a few holes and grow some vegetables. Hopefully this will remove most of the weeds that are currently present. At the moment the planting bed will only be a area of approx 4m by 1.5m in a spot that gets plenty of sun. I think I’d like to grow at least two species of plants, that will provide a good yield plus be comparably resistant to slugs (though I will use methods to remove any I see on a daily basis).

I’m also thinking of planting a few woody shrubs that could provide berries (though it’s a mid light level area). And any edible plants that you would recommend that would be able to tolerate an area behind the house that is east facing and can get very wet.

Advice appreciated, thanks,


Dear Gary,

The first rule of edible gardening is only grow things you really enjoy eating.

Be careful about the cow manure – there are some herbicides which can pass through a cow’s digestive system and still damage plants.  If the cows are not organic, I would test the manure by mixing it with some soil or growing media and then growing a few beans or tomato seedlings – more info here.

Here are some suggestions for your three growing areas:

No-dig planting bed area of approx 4m by 1.5m in a spot that gets plenty of sun

If you want to harvest brassicas in Winter/Spring, you need to plant them in July.  I would go with ‘cut & come again’ types – either Black Kale or Westland Winter.  They need to be planted 60cm X 60cm, so one pack (5 plants) occupies 1.8 m2  out of your total of 6 m2.

If you like salads, I would also plant cut & come again lettuces – a Mini Pack (2 each of 5 different lettuce varieties plus wild rocket) would take up about 2.6 m2.

You also have a room for a row of 20 leeks (0.9 m2).

The lettuce should last for about 3 months if you use the cut & come again method:  2 -4 weeks after planting, start to harvest by removing the lowest leaves, but always leave at least four leaves in the centre.

You can grow quick crops of radish and true spinach from seed in between rows as they can be harvested before the kales and leeks take up too much space.

In September you could replant with our Winter Salad Mini Pack, or if you like spicy leaves, with our Mini Spicy Salad Pack.

You could also squeeze in a pack of chard (if you like it).

Soft fruit

We only sell strawberry plants – they need full sun.  For bush fruits see Welsh Fruit Stocks – ask them if they can recommend anything for partial shade.

East facing and wet

You need to do everything you can do improve the drainage – is it wet because it is receiving run off from roofs or hard landscaping?  If so, you might be able to intercept, harvest or divert the rainwater.

If it’s wet because of clay soil and/or poor soil structure then it’s more difficult – maybe try no-dig here too.

Vegetables that will tolerate damp (but not waterlogged) conditions include: celeriac, celery, chicory, Chinese cabbage, corn salad, fennel, land cress, leeks and mizuna.

I hope this is helpful – please come back to me with any further questions. You can sign up to my monthly newsletter on the website.  I’m also on:

Twitter @organicplantsuk
Instagram @delflandorganic

Happy Gardening,


Bio-control naturally from Delfland

Here at Delfland we have been using biological control for 37 years. We are now offering natural pest control from our own supplier, with new stock being delivered every week. We have products for controlling whitefly, aphids, spider mites, thrips and slugs as well as glue traps for pest monitoring.

Order natural pest control.

We have filmed some videos on how to recognize different kinds of pest damage in greenhouse crops and how to use the products.  More are currently being edited and will be posted shortly.

Controlling Whitefly using the parasitic wasp Encarsia

Controlling Aphids and Greenfly using VerdaProtect


What does determinate and indeterminate mean?

Tomato varieties can be divided into three groups according to their growth habit: ‘indeterminate’, ‘semi-determinate’ and ‘determinate’.

Indeterminates (also known as cordon varieties) provide a continuous harvest from about mid-June (cherries) or early July (others) until first frost. This type produces side-shoots, which must be removed, and needs to be ‘stopped’ (have the growing point pinched out) in the first week of September for cherry tomatoes or early August for other varieties. In a commercial greenhouse, each tomato plant produces over 30 trusses and grows for up to 50 weeks (including propagation). The stems grow up to 15m long. All of our varieties apart from Lizzano and Tumbler are indeterminate.

Semi-determinates are in between and do not need side-shooting or stopping; Lizzano is a semi-determinate variety suitable for growing in patio containers or hanging baskets; it may need staking if grown in open ground.

Determinates are short and bushy (they are also known as bush varieties). They grow to about 90cm (3ft) tall and usually don’t require support. Determinates provide lots of ripe tomatoes at once and are suitable for growing in containers. They do not require ‘stopping’. Tumbler is a determinate variety.

Nutritional disorders of tomatoes

Iron deficiency

Symptoms are yellowing of the very youngest leaves at the top of the plant, with even the smallest veins remaining green; usually caused by over-watering and/or poor soil aeration. It can be treated by spraying with a proprietary iron foliar feed, but you also need to fix the underlying cause.

Magnesium deficiency

Symptoms are yellowing of the older leaves with the main veins staying green. This can be due to a number of causes:

  • Low soil magnesium levels (especially if potassium level is high)
  • Root problems caused by waterlogging, disease, over-application of soluble fertilizers
  • Stress due to heavy fruit load

Removing the underlying cause should alleviate symptoms. Use a liquid feed which contains magnesium as well as potassium. Have your soil analysed and apply magnesium fertilizer before the next crop (if required). If it’s really bad you can spray with 1 litre per 10 sq m of a 2% solution of Epsom’s salts, with a little washing-up liquid as a wetter. Be careful, as this can scorch the leaves if done in sunny conditions.

Blotchy ripening & leaf curling

Blotchy ripening

Uneven ripening and fruit that tastes ‘flabby’ (low acidity) is usually due insufficient potassium. Feed every watering with a high potash tomato feed. Have your soil analysed and apply high potash fertilizer before the next crop (if required).

Leaf curling

Early in the season, there can be large differences in temperature between the warm, sunny days and cold nights. These wide diurnal fluctuations can cause the leaves to roll up or curl. This is due to large amounts of carbohydrates accumulating in the leaves because the nights are too cold for the plants to assimilate them. It is usually a temporary problem that cures itself as the nights get warmer.

Diseases of tomatoes

Late (potato) blight

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) affects both tomatoes and potatoes. The disease survives over winter on volunteer potatoes (plants growing from tubers left in the ground). Spores can also blow in from nearby infected crops. In warm, wet seasons the disease spreads rapidly – it’s less of a problem in fine weather. Commercial potato growers use ‘Smith periods’ to predict when their crops are at risk (two successive days with temperatures above 10°C and relative humidity above 90% for more than 11 hours each day). You can see when these are forecast here: Blightwatch. The only materials available to gardeners for the control of blight contain copper and are ‘protectants’ which means they have to be applied before the plants are infected, with coverage of all surfaces. Copper is toxic to aquatic organisms and it accumulates in the soil so we don’t use it in our garden.

If you are in a high-risk area, choose some blight-tolerant varieties; we have selected six of the best for our Blight-tolerant Outdoor Tomato Collection.

Other leaf diseases

Many modern F1 varieties e.g. Shirley F1 are resistant to the most common leaf diseases such as Leaf Mould (Cladosporium) and Tomato Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Gardener’s Delight is NOT resistant to TMV). Powdery mildew can also be a problem in some years.

Root diseases

If you have a small greenhouse and always grow your tomatoes in the same place, then there can be a build up of soil-borne diseases such as Fusarium (wilt; crown and root rot), Verticillium wilt and Corky root rot. You can get round this either by not growing in the soil or by using grafted plants.

Pests, diseases and disorders of tomatoes

Pests, diseases and disorders of tomatoes
If you can’t find the answer to your problem here, tweet your veg gardening woes to me and I’ll advise/sympathise @AgonyPlant, or if you’re not on twitter, email

Pests, diseases and disorders

If you can’t find the answer to your problem here, tweet your veg gardening woes to me and I’ll advise/sympathise @AgonyPlant, or if you’re not on twitter, email

There are 3 key areas:

Tomato Variety Choice

Firstly, decide what sort of tomato you want to grow. Cherry varieties get ready before larger types and have a more concentrated flavour. Large varieties such as plum and beefsteak are trickier for beginners. I recommend:

Shirley F1 AGM: very early, short-jointed variety suitable for heated or cold glass/polytunnels; heavy yields of top class fruits; resistant to TMV, Cladosporium and Fusarium.

Sungold F1 AGM: golden-orange cherry – good yield of attractive round fruit; good flavour

Sweet Million F1 AGM: red cherry – long trusses of sweet fruit; good yield

Tumbler F1: early bush variety for baskets & tubs; red cherry-sized fruits with excellent flavour

I have grown all of the above varieties outdoors in East Anglia.

Blossom-end rot

Disorders of tomatoes – page discussing disorders – Blossom-end rot

Blossom-end rot

Blossom-end rot (BER) is due to a lack of calcium in the distal end of the fruit (the end where the flower dropped off) opposite the calyx (where it is joined to the plant). Sometimes there is an internal black rot with little or no external signs. It is seldom due to an actual deficiency of calcium in the growing medium or soil. Calcium is taken up passively and carried in the ‘transpiration stream’. It can only be absorbed by actively growing root tips. All this means that there can be several underlying causes:

  • erratic watering, especially in peat bags
  • sudden transition to low humidity after a period of dull weather
  • root damage
  • surge in vegetative growth due to high Nitrogen liquid feed or fertilizer, particularly if there is a high proportion of ammonium rather than nitrate-N
  • excessive fertilizer or feeding

Take off all the affected fruit (it tastes bitter). Try to maintain an even amount of moisture in the soil or growing medium. Feed with a high potash feed once the fruit start to swell, according to the instructions on the packet. If the plants are growing in a greenhouse, don’t keep the vents closed during humid weather, leave slightly open. Plum and beefsteak tomatoes are much more prone to this disorder than cherry varieties.