Archive | Gardening

General gardening tips and hints

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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Tree Stump Removal

Are you stumped about how best to remove the stump and roots of  a tree after you have taken down the trunk and branches? This is the stump of an over grown Eucalyptus that was removed in spring. The slit was intended to hold weed killer but as the side shoots show it hasn’t worked. (Thank you EU for no help at all see below.) The scale of the stump and thus the size of my digging out problem is shown by my spectacles. I guess I should have known Eucalyptus are successful at regenerating.

Reasons to Remove Old Stumps

  • Stumps left in the ground after felling can cause replanting issues. Roots may get in the way, nutrients may be missing and the stump may look unsightly.
  • When simply felled the old tree can produce new shoots and suckers.
  • Roots can play host to various fungus and disease’
  • Roots may continue to cause uneven surface problems.

Removal Methods

  • Grubbing out by hand, spade and mini digger are the first port of call.
  • Winching out using the old trunk as a lever can be done with the right machinery and is often seen in operation on forestry land.
  • The root can be ground out and turned into coarse saw dust with a grinder or chipper often owned by a tree surgeon.
  • Applying brushwood or weed killer containing commercial strength  glyphosate or ammonium sulphamate. Drill holes in the stump around the circumference and fill with the weedkiller. Roots should die within a couple of months but the stum will take years to rot away depending on the species.
  • Root Out was a popular,  RHS recommended, product that encourage rotting. Crazily it has had its approval for use as a  herbicide, weed, tree and bramble killer withdrawn by EU and  it is now only sold as a Compost Accelerator. It was used, amongst other purposes to help prevent the spread of Honey Fungus Armilleria
  • Nature will eventually rot down your stump slightly quicker if you cover it in garden compost so the micro organisms can get to work. In the meantime it can be ‘tarted up’ for other purposes such as part of a stumpery or support for a decorative pot.
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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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Grandchildren and Gardening

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Gardeners are keen on offspring in the garden when they come from their own propagation. That may not always be the case with grandchildren except in controlled circumstance.
Grandma saw a youngster eating a slug and rather than be critical asked ‘what does that taste like?’ After a pause the kid replied ‘worms’.

Safety of Children in the Garden

  • You can be too prescriptive about musts and don’ts. Commonsense is crucial and grandparents can help teach that to the kids.
  • Garden tools can be very sharp and need to be used correctly, carefully and kept under your supervision.
  • I am prone to leaving items in the garden to trip over and rakes can jump up and hit the unsuspecting. Now grandkids are visiting I am tidying up before after and during the visits.
  • Learning by experience will cover stinging nettles, irritating sap, prickly roses and some other plants to avoid. A warning or two (hundred that is) will still fall on deaf ears – I still get stung and pricked!
  • Not everything belongs in a child’s mouth but  most plant matter will not cause too much harm. However look out for poisonous seeds, Laburnum, Monkshood and anything you grow that you know to avoid eating.
  • Water is seductive and ponds dangerous. I know you will put up protection near open water and remember water and electric tools don’t mix

Keeping Grandchildren Amused

  • If you get rostered into child minding on a regular basis it is worth setting up regular garden related tasks the kids can get involved with.
  • Get them kitted out with waterproof clothes.
  • Don’t push too hard it may put off the next generation of Throwers and Titchmarshes. We may find routine gardening fun but kids may need a bit extra and activity changes every 20 minutes or so.
  • Gardening has lessons for all of us and the kids have a lot to learn from you and your garden or open air classroom.
  • There are lots of lists of easy to grow plants from large easy to handle seeds like sunflowers, Peas and beans but they take ages (eons in kid time) to show life much less crop. The old standby mustard and cress are more reliable.
  • Plant pots, containers, baskets and boxes are all small areas where kids can have there own ‘patch’ so to speak.

 

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Laid-back Lawns

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What Use is a Lawn

  • A patch of grass is an Englishman’s lawn just as his home is his castle.
  • A lawn can be used as a sanctuary to be cut and cossetted whilst escaping from life’s toils and troubles.
  • Aesthetically it may be the central feature of a modern garden design or a natural backdrop to a more avant garde garden
  • Lawns are for recreation including croquet,  children’s football, french cricket and golf with a plastic ball containing more holes than Hostas after a slug fest.
  • Lawns can become a valuable habitat for wildlife so go easy on the chemical treatments.
  • A place to stand admiring the rest of the garden or talking to the neighbors

Avoiding Lawn Labours

  • Not everyone wants to work of months on end to maintain a pristine lawn. It will take ages to get a billiard table lawn and then the weather will change.
  • Decide what sort of lawn and effort you are prepared to accept.
  • Lawns respond to TLC and if you can’t or don’t want to lavish your time on one then you can subcontract the work to a Green Finger expert .
  • If you pay a gardener make sure they trim the edges regularly, nothing sets off a lawn better than a short back and sides.
  • Left to grow a lawn will not become a floral meadow, more likely a weed infested jungle.
  • Greying your garden with concrete, paving or decking is a recent activity but think of all the uses you will have to forgo.
  • Ignore the roller above Grandads used one but you don’t need to risk a hernia unless you are a professional  groundsman.
  • Turf can provide an ‘instant lawn’  a bit expensive but less so than astroturf.
  • If you enjoy lawn maintenance set yourself up in business to help others!

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Blanching & Earthing Up

Blanching & Earthing Up Gardeners

  • Blanching seeks to make pale or white by excluding light.
  • Several vegetables need blanching to be made them tender and remove the green parts that cause bitterness.
  • Celery and leeks are blanched using the process of earthing up.
  • Seakale and rhubarb is blanched by excluding light by an upturned pot usually covered in leaf litter.
  • Endives can be blanched by covering with a slate or tile to exclude light for a few days.
  • Chicory and lettuce may blanch if the leaves are tied together.
  • Exclude light from potatoes by ‘earthing up’ or drawing mounds of soil  around the haulms (stems) to prevent tubers from growing near the surface and turning green.

Blanching Food Treatment

  • Blanch vegetable or fruit by scalding in boiling water and finally plunge into icy or very cold water.
  • Skin and outer shells are easier to remove on tomatoes and many nuts after quick blanching.
  • Fruit and vegetables are treated  to minimize the bacterial content often as a precursor to freezing.
  • Blanching helps to retain a green color with asparagus, greens, peas and beans. Par boiling is similar to blanching but without the last step of a quick chill in cold water.
  • Blanching food is now a recognised industrial process about which several learned views have been published.

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Bolting and Running to Seed

Early Flowing Rheum Rhubarb

Bolting;

said of plants that are making seed prematurely. A plants purpose in life is to produce offspring usually by seed. When stressed they will trigger the reproduction button and set seed.

  • Lettuce and salad crops are prone to bolt and ‘run to seed’. The heart of the lettuce is then useless and the plant only fit for the compost heap.
  • Rhubarb and rheums also throw seed stalks taking energy from the good parts of the rhubarb. You can and should brake-off the offending stalk as soon as it is seen. Water the plant and hope the rest of the crop is unaffected.
  • Other vegetables such as members of the onion family are affected in dry and stressful conditions. This is due to the plants keenness to reproduce before it succumbs.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower whose flowers open early are not truly bolting but the cause and effect is the same.
  • Flowers that turn quickly to seed will inhibit more flower production. That is why sweet peas and annuals, amongst others, should be deadheaded to prolong flower production.

‘……….there exist very little literature on the possibility of manipulating flowering for seed production’ but this book from amazon is an exception

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Stratification is putting your seeds in a moist material outside over the winter to allow the variations in temperature to act on them, so that they will germinate when conditions are warmer. Seed used to be put in layers (strata) of damp sand,

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Seed Dispersal

How do Plants Spread their Seeds

To maintain the species plants have developed many strategies for dispersing their seed. They make flowers and fruit attractive so gardeners buy them in seed packets or propogate them to eat. More importantly they have evolved specific techniques:

Major Seed Dispersal Methods

  • Wind is an obvious method from weeds like dandelions and their seed clocks and willowherb to trees such as Sycamore with the helicopter twirly ‘double samaras’ which spin to the ground.
  • Cyclamen have an ingenious method to get the fresh seed away from the parent plant. In addition to the pod on a long twisting stem the seeds are coated in a  sticky substance that is attractive to ants. The ants then unwittingly move the seed  to the new location.
  • The gravity ‘dead drop’ of seed is fine for annuals and seeds that are happy to germinate near the old (now dead) parent.
  • Seeds that want to move a bit away from the parent such as Alliums and Aquilegia have a seed pod that progressively tightens around the maturing seed. The pod then spritzes or squeezes the seed as a cherry stone would when squashed between your finger and thumb. Pea pods pop open when ripe.
  • Bird Cherry is named for the creatures that eat the flesh and excrete the stone. There are other seeds that are spread after animals and birds have eaten the fruit but not digested the seed.
  • Animals also disperse thistles, teasels and burdocks via their fur after the seeds hooks or spines attach themselves.
  • Squirrels and some animals also bury or hide nuts and fruit and if forgotten they may germinate. Humans may throw an apple core away spreading the seed.
  • Plants growing by water such as Willow and Flag Iris can have the seed transported by the water.
  • A combination of dispersal methods may be used eg a seed blown by wind may be transported by water to somewhere else.

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