Archive | Environment & Green Gardening

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

Allotments Replaced by Trees

 

allotments

We used to have allotments in our village until the blight. That was not a gardening blight or a problem growing anything but a planners and local politicians blight.

A large green open space surrounding an old hospital ‘High Royds’ was too good an opportunity for power broking and developers profits so the old hospital and the village allotments all had to go. I blame ‘careless of the community’.

Now the ‘new’ village is built and called Chevin Park (not High Royds because the hospital was a former lunatic asylum. Other name changes such as Windscale to Sellafield also springs to mind.)    Many properties are empty partly due to the property recession but also due to the paltry size of the gardens and lack of allotments that could so easily have been restored.

What has replaced our allotments? As you can see a veritable forest of plastic tubes protecting newly planted trees and the flimsiest stakes you could imagine after 3 foot canes. As I said earlier this week this is an updated post for National Tree Week 2018. The plastic tubes are now litter around some decent young trees.

Tips for Planting Trees

  • Dig a good sized hole and incorporate some slow release fertilizer like bone meal. The tree should be there for a long time.
  • Spread the roots of a bare rooted tree or tweak the edges of a container grown tree to give roots the encouragement to spread. Trim off any broken roots.
  • Plant at the same depth to which the tree has been grown.  There is usually a soil mark on bare trees to help. Do not bury any graft.
  • Drive the stake into the bottom of the planting hole before planting the tree and try to ensure that 2/3rds of the stake is underground when the soil is returned to the hole. Continue Reading →
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Trees for Carbon Capture and Global Warming

Church Lane

I am  unsure about all the fuss over carbon emissions and the impact of humans on the environment. There is a finite amount of carbon in our world and it cycles around in solids, dissolved in water or in gaseous forms. Plants helped convert the primordial carbon gasses and  volcanoes eruptions into solid carbons. Trees capture carbon and hold as wood for long periods and historically many trees fossilised into coal.

Other key examples of carbon capture include the stores of hydrocarbons in the form of tar, oil deposits and shale from which gas is now fracked. Less related to tree carbon capture is the vast quantities of limestone deposited from crustaceans and coral.

Many ecologists and scientist now believe we should invent mechanical ways of storing carbon as there is a perceived imbalance in the carbon cycle caused by human activity. I am amused by the idea of sending carbon dioxide down the mines and oil wells to be retained for some future ill defined purpose.

Personal View on Global Warming

  • The above photograph of the Yorkshire Dales including a tree and dry limestone wall contains a substantial amount of captured carbon as does the peat up on the moor.
  • All Yorkshire can’t compare to the Amazon rainforest or the dissolved carbon in the sea. Since I first wrote about carbon capture major advances with shale gas exploration have highlighted again the plants of eons ago that were converted into captured carbon and are now giving up their bounty to modern man.
  • All the hot air about global warming and political influence isn’t going to change me or my gardening approach.
  • I will garden responsibly but I do not think I will take my gardening to extremes. However, I am going to plant some trees, grow some hard carbon and hope these trees have a long and hard carbon producing life, I just regret I won’t be around to carbon date them.

Amazon Rain Forest

  • This resource is often quoted as a shorthand for the ills of global warming. Is it better to use the land freed up by deforestation for human or animal food production? I don’t think there is a perfect answer but avarice and vested interest is a poor driver of policy.
  • If a tree grows 10% each and every year ( at least until adult maturity) then if follows that small young trees will capture less carbon than stately relatives. There is also a potential amenity benefit from large well managed forests so lets encourage the big and beautiful.
  • In National Tree Week we should be celebrating our British heritage of trees and those organisationst and woodland charities that help manage them.
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Watering Lessons from a Dry Summer

After a wet early spring 2018 the UK had a very dry summer. You are never to old to learn and I picked up some new tips and reinforced some old watering tips.

                        water butt but where is the water?

Dealing with Dry Weather

  • Water the plants not the soil in between them. Pay special attention to new plants as their roots are more vulnerable than established plants. Cut back perennials if they look like they might die, be cruel to be kind.
  • A wet spring will not leave the soil wet through summer. Chalky and sandy soils will dry out fastest.
  • Water the right amount at the right time. A good soaking once a week is better than a light sprinkling every day. Water when it has time to soak down to the roots in an evening or early morning.
  • Protect plants from drying wind with a windbreak.
  • Let lawn grass grow a bit longer during dry spells and do not bother watering your lawn.
  • Don’t bother watering fruit trees once the fruit has started to set and swell.
  • Group vegetables together according to their watering needs. Leafy crops, tomatoes, runner beans and potatoes need most water. Courgettes only when they start to swell and asparagus and root crops are more drought tolerant.
  • Patio plants need attention and care. The bigger the pot the more moisture the compost will hold. If they are drying out add a drop of washing up liquid the the water and or create a sump in a saucer or tray.
  • Don’t let clay soil develop cracks for more evaporation to escape. Add organic compost, mulch and sharp grit.

Make Watering Easy and Effective

  • Watering around the base of a plant means some water evaporates before it reaches the roots.Dig a channel between rows and fill with water from a can or use a length of guttering with holes in the sides to channel water where you want it.
  • Sink pots into the ground near plants so roots do not need to come to the surface to get a drink. Larger pots for established plants can have an old dish cloth in the bottom to deter slugs and slow down the seepage.
  • A mulch of grass clippings or Strulch will slow down evaporation .
  • Many contraptions can be created to drip feed or target water to the roots. A half buried plastic pop bottle with holes in the side or try a piece of hose with a funnel.
  • Soaker hoses need to be in the right place but are a simple solution to efficient watering.
  • Turn off your fountains and moving water when practical.

A Word About Recycled Water

  • Adjust water features to minimise splashing and spray drift.
  • Use a pond liner near the water feature to capture excess water and channel it back into the sump or reservoir.
  • Clean household water can be used in water features as any soap or detergent is not aimed at your plants.
  • Rain water is a valuable commodity for watering some plants as it is soft and gently acidic.
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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose in the Garden

reuse

Now part of this garden is down to crazy paving the Qualcast grass box is needed less and can be put to a different use.  It looks like a ‘unibarrow’  has got in on the act to make a feature planter for these pansies.

Being green is second nature to Gardeners because we are so near to nature so reuse, reduce and recycle is part of our DNA.

Tips to help you reuse old tools

  • Sharpen blades, even on old spades, with a whet stone – angle the blade at 5-10° and push and pull across the stone – 5 times should be enough
  • Bind the handles of old tools with bright insulating tape so you can find them easily.
  • Look at car boots and secondhand sales for special tools that you will only use occasionally. I got an Onion hoe this way.
  • Put on a new handle or repurpose a tool so it can do an easier task. An old hand fork can be given a long handle for light digging without bending.
  • Go to a hire shop and reuse their tools
  • Old tools are often very well made and it is worth the effort of having them repaired professionally. If they have lasted a long time it is a sign they are fit for purpose.
  • Remember the 70 year old spade that had 10 new handles and 3 new blades.

Other Re-Tips

  • I get most of my many gardening books from charity shops and I recycle them there too.
  • I reuse garden center pots for seedlings and growing-on but would prefer more compostable materials to be used by suppliers.
  • Good gardeners recycle old plants via cuttings, seed collecting and splitting of clumps.
  • Buy locally grown plants as they will suit the local conditions and don’t come with exotic airmiles

What to Reduce in the Garden

  • Make low maintenance areas and reduce the labour you need.
  • With the right plant selection you will also reduce the amount of chemicals required.
  • Reduce the need for water by clever garden design
  • Reduce your carbon footprint. Grow dense hedges and trees to capture carbon.

Recycled greenhouse

Credit
Recycled greenhouse by scrappy annie CC BY-NC 2.0 ‘A greenhouse spotted in Stropkov, Slovakia a few years ago.
It was made from recycled plastic bottles, strung on to wires. A brilliant idea….’

Book Cover

Cooking Green: The Essential Guide to Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen by Kate Heyhoe

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Meterology for Gardeners

In theory Meterology should help our ability to predict weather conditions including snow, rains and floods based on seasonal cycles using observation, measurement and atmospheric conditions.

Red Sky at Night …………………

Old wives or gardeners tales and sayings such as rain before seven fine by eleven, wet on St Swithens day rain for 40 days, wet seaweed, cones opening in wet weather etc are based on observation and experience. However hightech is taking over with models used to predict the long term climate around the Earth.

Meteorological Equipment & Instruments

  • Gardeners rely on the thermometer for soil and air temperature. A max min thermometer will help measure/control night time temperatures.
  • Commercial growers will have sophisticated humidity meters to assist controlling growing conditions.
  • Anometers are used for measuring wind speed but I am happy enough with a simple wind vane in the garden.
  • There is now a plethora of digital weather stations for home and garden use

Flood Warning

Professional weather forecasts and warnings are important as they forewarn gardeners of potential problems. I usually react to them just too late not just in time.

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Food Plants for Birds

Selecting plants that produce seeds and berries at different times of the year can provide food of birds through the seasons.

Berries

Ivy fruits in November and can last for 6 months so it is a winter staple. The early fruiting plants include Wild Cherry & Raspberries with Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Holly, Elder, Yew, Rowan and Guelder-Rose providing berries from August.

I have a large Berberis Darwinii whose plentiful berries are devoured by Blackbirds every year. They also like sloes, rosehips and haws. The Mahonia looses its berries to some birds but I can’t see who eats them from my window and it is often too cold to sit watching.

Soft fruit and crab apples seem to appeal to a range of birds as my strawberries get pecked over as do most similar varieties if left unnetted. Cottoneaster is pecked over but Pyracatha seems to last on the shrub until spring.

Gooseberries sometimes succumb to pigeons at the flowering stage and I put this just down to badness of the pesky overfed birds.

Seeds

In the garden the most popular seeds seem to be the expensive shop bought variety put out in even more expensive feeders.

Growing the right plants can provide the seeds and nuts birds crave. Teasel and thistles would be high on any avian menu. Beech, Hazel and Silver Birch or Hornbeam would be a main course. Centaurea, Sunflower and Scabious would suit Chaffinches while Coal Tits and Siskins like conifer seed.

All that food for thought but I still put out peanuts (crushed in spring), dried meal worms for the Robin and Niger seed hoping to get Greenfinches. In winter and early spring it is fat balls that I hope to tempt the taste buds with.

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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.

Book Cover

 

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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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