Archive | Environment & Green Gardening

Tips for ecologically friendly gardeners and gardens that green and protect the environment.

Minimum Cultivation- No Dig

What is ‘No Dig’

  • ‘No Dig’ gardening or not turning over your soil is  growing in popularity with organic farmers and some gardeners. It is a term used for clearing the ground and establishing a minimum cultivation area without digging.
  • The substitute for digging is mulching.  The garden may be covered with paper or cardboard and topped with a deep layer of compost. Worms will help drag the organic matter down into the soil.
  • Plastic sheeting is a poor substitute as it brings nothing to the party but stifles weeds.
  • Alternate layers of manure and straw can help build up the quality of ‘no dig’ soil.
  • Water well avoid walking on the plot and plan to plant through the mulches with minimum disturbance.

Benefits of Minimum Cultivation

  • This form of gardening is less labour intensive compared to dig a spit deep or heaven forbid, double digging.
  • Using a good layer of straw or compost improves soil structure and builds up over the years.
  • The soil remains in good heart and there should be less soil erosion and runoff
  •  Beneficial invertebrates, fungi and earthworms will enjoy the lack of disturbance and repay the no dig gardener with increase fertility.
  • Minimum cultivation reduces the loss of nitrates and reduces leaching.
  • Less wear and tear on the gardeners back.
  • The texture of the soil will become darker and crumbly with a good tilth.
  • Digging can bring up perennial weed seeds that are best left deeper in the soil where light can’t set them into germination.

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Compost Corner Experiences

                                                   Compost bins

This is a view of a corner in my Yorkshire garden that shows some recycling activity. I have tried various compost bin methods over the years. Initially I started with an open pile which was untidy and slow. At about this time I acquired a shredder which chopped up brown twiggy waste but only  squelched leaves.

I graduated to a wooden frame compost bin  structure the remnants of which are showing next to the dustbin. This was fine particularly when I used ‘garrotta’ as a speed enhancer but as the volume of compostables grew the space needs also grew. (The more compost I had the more the plants grew and thus the more compost I got until Les Barker made a song out of it).

Thermo Plastic Bins

  • Now the latest incarnation is the thermo plastic green bins. One is always in current use and the other is rotting down older compost. The volume reduction continues for about six months.
  • This has been a good investment in terms of conversion speed, heat generation in the pile and crumbly results.
  • I leave the lid open occasionally to increase the dampness.
  • Despite using hard standing the big bins twist as they fill and the double split lids do not work very well.
  • The bottom half is separately hinged so in theory you can extract compost from the bottom as it rots. I find it is too solid and prefer to empty the bin in total. Coarse bits can start off the new bin.

Other Compost Corner Items

  • The black plastic bin is used for leaves and slow to compost items that will take a couple of years to rot down. I sacrifice pure leaf mold for composting coarser items.
  • The burner dustbin with air holes and chimney was used for burning far more before the plastic bins came into use. Now I tend to put bits of trash, old labels, broken pots etc in this bin as I work near the compost bins.
  • The blue lid in the fore front is a local authority recycling bin that is the 4th they have supplied and is now superfluous to my needs. Now I recollect there were also two other bins one now buried to make a second pond and one converted into a potato barrel.
  • The bird feeders and brush speak for themselves.
  • The wheelbarrow is full of recycled seed and potting compost mixed with perlite. This will be used up on some pot plants after adding some granular fertiliser.
  • There is a tub of grit and gravel which I plan to use but never get around to doing so.

                                    An Old Bin System

Tips based on Looking Back

  • Heat is key to quick compost. It is increased by air so fork or turn the pile.
  • In days gone by I creosoted the fence see above. Keep chemically treated matter away from an organic compost heap.
  • There is a sense of achievement by creating and using good compost. It is worth the effort and beats taking everything to a landfill tip.
  • Hedges grow and in my case have created a rain shadow and trimming problem.
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Help Plants Through a Wet Winter

Plants can drown when roots are left in wet soil for protracted periods. Short immersion whilst dormant is seldom fatal but saturated soil drives away the oxygen needed by plants to help them transpire.
Also in winter some plants are prone to root rot Phytophthora or rot off at soil level.

waterlogged garden

Not Waving but Drowning

Selecting Appropriate Plants for Wet Winters

  • Avoid silver leaved or grey perennials.
  • Mediterranean hot arid loving plants and many alpines do not like our cold, wet winters.
  • Pot plants that suffer quite easily and can die include Orchids, African Violets and other fleshy rooted plants.
  • Bog lovers, Hydrangeas, Cornus, Dogwoods and Hosta are just some of the plants that may thrive through a wet winter.

Improving Survival Chances

  • Wet soil is created by compaction or because of a high water table and poor drainage.
  • Incorporating grit or pea gravel as a surface mulch will help keep the base of the plant drier.
  • Plant on top of a slight mound
  • Improve drainage by spiking, trenches and with soak-aways or land drains.
  • Avoid compacting the soil by walking on the ground when it is wet.
  • Work your soil and dig in organic matter during the other seasons.
  • Spring flooding is especially dangerous when plants and roots start to respire. Divert excess water and be prepared

Pot Grown Plants

  • Lift pots off the ground with pot feet or onto bricks.
  • Lay pots on their side to avoid excessive rain settling on the center of the plants.
  • Improve drainage by incorporating perlite and coarse grit in the compost.
  • Move pots under cover or into a rain shadow.
  • Put a slanted pane of glass or cloches over special plants. Allow air to circulate.
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Is Green a Colour?

The answer to the question is ‘of course green is a colour.’ Green is a mixture, a hybrid in gardening terms, as it is made from yellow and blue combined in varying quantities. But the emphasis is on the ‘made from’ of this answer.  The leaves above contain a higher proportion of blue whilst those below are more yellow in content.

Green is fixed in our minds when we are taught the colours of the rainbow. Mnemonics and acronyms includeed Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain, ROYGBIV,   Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo and Violet, Roy G. Biv,  and the song ‘Red and orange and yellow and green, blue and indigo violet too………….I can sing a rainbow’

Red is the complementary colour to green. They are opposite each other on the colour wheel.   A splash of red brings out the many contrasting green shades in this photograph.

 

 

There are many shades of green counted in the Irish  song ‘The 40 Shades of Green’. It is surprising how many of these shades use plants as a reference to the type of green colour such as; lime, pea, sage, olive, fern, juniper, shamrock, mint, moss, pine, seaweed and forest green (below with Lime) which all spring to mind.

Forgive this word play as here we have ‘Bowling Green’.

Frosted green has a blue hue as would most gardeners working in the cold.

The last Green picture is one of my favourite Hart’s Tongue Fern.

This post has been an excuse to use some of the many pictures of plant life that all rely on photosynthesis and chlorophyll to produce the greens we see.

 

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No Chemical Pest Control

No Chemical Pest Control

The world is made up of chemicals and they are not all bad. Where would we be without oxygen for example. However chemical control to kill ‘pests’ is often harmful to the environment and other wildlife. Many persecuted pests are not actually harmful to gardens or can be effectively controlled using other measures:-

  • Encourage natural predators of  specific pests.  Ladybirds and lacewings love to eat aphids. Frogs and hedgehogs go for slugs and if you want birds they have to eat something.
  • Biological controls introduce one killer insect to predate another; Whitefly can be targeted by a parasitic wasps.
  • Hand picking problems like the red lily beetle may be time consuming and intensive but is therapeutic for the Lily and the gardener. Removing and squashing caterpillars from brassicas is an old remedy .
  • Water spraying with  a light soap solution has been used for some time to remove aphids. Add plant oils and other organic based substances like garlic to the water for an environment friendly solution solution!
  • For my Tomatoes I companion plan French marigolds to distract predatory insects from the tomatoes.
  • Barriers from rabbit & deer fences to slug traps are chemical free. Slugs do not like copper  or the sharp edges of eggshells.
  • Think on about appropriate garden practice and methods like raised beds, crop rotation and good soil conditioning.

Leave Well Alone

  • You do not need to remove the pest completely but are aiming to protect your plants and crops from serious damage. Many creatures we think of as pests are seen by some desirable creatures as food.
  • Encouraging more diversity within the garden will prove beneficial.
  • Ants are unsettling but benign and do not do much damage to flowers and crops.If possible leave the ants to carry on.
  • Consider the whole food chain and be cautious before using any chemical. Remember the song Ilkley Moor Baht’at, after we’ve buried thee, worms will eat thee up, then ducks will eat up worms, we will eat up ducks and then we shall all have etten thee!
  • Piles of rotting wood, nettle beds and nature zones are better than obsessive cleaning up.
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Garden Sky and Colour Effects

What colour is the sky? A strange question too a gardener perhaps but there are good gardening reasons for asking.

  • The standard answer from a young child would probably blue and that is what we want in summer as a sign of good weather. In winter it may indicate a spell of sharp frosty days. The sky takes on a deeper blue hue that saturates colours from mid morning to late afternoon.
  • Harsh mid day light produces high contrast between light and shadow. This depend on weather condition, because on a cloudy day the light is diffused.
  • An overcast sky is a result of no direct sunlight moisture in the atmosphere or air pollution that causes haze and the sky to appears to be pale blue or even milky white.
  • In the early morning or at sunset your sky can be red, orange, purple and/or yellow  but where I live, too often it seems  to be grey. These colour  arise from the absorption or not of various parts of the  spectrum. This also has a profound effect on how you see the colour of flowers.
  • Blue and white colours are called cool temperatures that tend to recede in a picture. The warm colours of yellow through to red come forward to the viewer.
  • Clouds are seldom if ever white, have a very close look and you will see lots of shades. Grey may predominate but the variety of shades will be multitudinous.
  • Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins

Other Sky and Plant Pictures Continue Reading →

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Pollination of Crocus by Insects

Pollination crocus
Insects play a key role in pollination and plants reward them with pollen and nectar in a symbiotic process.

Pollination
Children can learn from watching bees buzz around the open flowers on a warm spring day.
The sun encourages the crocus flowers to open. This releases a scent that attracts the bees. The bees drink the nectar and get pollen on their legs and backs. When they fly off to the next flower they transfer some pollen from the first flower to the second flower and this causes pollination.

Pollen on Bee

Some flowers are pollinated by beetles rather than bees and flies.

Book Cover
How Pollination Works and Why Insects are So Important The First Flowers A book explaining how pollination works as a light and funny children’s story available from Amazon at £9.99

At the other end of the educational spectrum is Pollination and Floral Ecology by Pat Willmer costing around £61.75

Book Cover

Read Pollinators for Green Gardening

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10 Green Gardening Habits

 

Green Green it\'s Green they Say

Get into Green Habits

  1. Work with nature. Grow native plants which will thrive in your local conditions. If you live in an arid area choose plants which are tolerant of draught. Labouring in a garden is healthy, satisfying, cheap and can be fine tuned to your own vision of your environment.
  2. Grow a good variety of plants including, shrubs and hedges for nesting, nectar plants and caterpillar food such as nettles.
  3. Do not be too tidy under hedges, keep a rough area to encourage wild life, keep a pile of logs or branches to rot down and an uncut grass area with a few weeds.
  4. Put up home made birds nesting boxes, bee nests with hollow tubes, and make areas safe from predators.
  5. Provide appropriate food and water for birds and hedgehogs. Birds and hedgehogs can be great eaters of slugs!
  6. Reuse, recycle, repurpose and retry if you fail, because that is what gardeners do. Don’t worry if your garden is not perfection – it is not a finished painting, but, an evolving organism.
  7. Have a fast compost bin for soft waste and a slow one for twigs and harder matter plus a wire frame for leaf mould. Compost provides one of the best organic soil improvers.
  8. Try growing your own herbs and vegetables without chemicals but using complementary planting.e.g. Tomatoes and French marigolds, Brassicas with Onions and Leeks
  9. Keep your greenhouse unheated but insulate tender plants with straw. You will be less encouraged to buy imported plants from exotic regions and will save fuel.
  10. Maintain your green sense of humour and green fingers but don’t become green with envy when your neighbours buy the latest Chinese electronic gardening gizmo.
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Hedgerows Worth Watching

Hedgerow flowers

January started the year quite well with a few early snowdrops and the remnants of primulas. February will be even better snow permitting. Leap forward to June which is a spectacular month for flowering hedgerows and particularly in the under-storey.

Identifying plants whilst out walking as a child, was my first introduction to the environment and natural gardening. There is still a buzz seeing a plant growing in the wild that some careful gardeners has subsequently developed for the garden or nursery trade.

Why not under-plant your garden hedges with native species of hedgerow flowers. The trick is to leave them undisturbed, unfed and untreated with chemicals. I would bank up the soil to start your hedge’s lower storey.

Hedgerows by County

  • I nominate Somerset as my favourite hedgerow county but I would like to know what other UK counties can lay claim to be hedgerow county 2010.
  • Cornish hedgerows have a soil banking (so that helps the smaller plants) with a rocky top and shrubs.
  • Devon hedges are similar to Cornwall but with turf on and at the top of the banking.
  • The Yorkshire Dales tends to have dry stone walls rather than hedges but the understorey plants can still be attractive.
  • In Perth, near Blairgowrie, is the tallest and longest hedge on earth. Meikleour Beech Hedge, planted in 1745, is 98 ft in height and nearly half a mile long. (I wouldn’t want to trim it).

Book Cover

‘Hedgerows, moors, meadows and woods – these hold a veritable feast for the forager.’ and all is laid bear in the River Cottage Handbook. Book link

The English Hedgerow Trust provided this apposite quote from Shakespeare.

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite canopied over with luscious woodbine
With sweet muskroses and with eglantine.


For a bit of fun read Copper Beech Hedges
Green Garden Habitats

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Gardeners Year for Organic Fruit and Veg

Book Cover

‘Organic Fruit and Vegetable Gardeners Year, The A Seasonal Guide to Growing What You Eat’ by Graham Clarke

Yesterdays Gardeners Question Time on radio 4 featured many questions on this subject. The main advice that appealed to me was to concentrate on growing more fruit. (We all more likely to take the advice we want to hear.)

Gardeners Tips on Organic Fruit Growing

Organic Principles
Organics should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animals and humans as one.
Organic growing is based on ecological systems and cycles that are worked with and sustained.
Organic gardening should be done in a precautionary manner to protect the health and well being of current and future generations.
Organics promotes the concept of fairness with regard to common environment and life opportunities.

Soil Fertility

Chemical fertility is the availability in the soil of all the elements, nutrients, ions,   traces and inorganic chemicals that plants need to grow.
Biological fertility includes micro organisms that help nutrient recycling’ including fungi, bacteria and protozoa that clean up bacteria. It also covers macro organisms such as arthropods that break down organic matter in the early stages of decomposition, worms that help drainage and aeration and nematodes that help in various ways but   occasionally act as pests.
Physical fertility is the mix of sand, silt and clay that makes up the soil and determines texture, ability to hold water and sustain life.

Weed Management Continue Reading →

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