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.
Insects play a key role in pollination and plants reward them with pollen and nectar in a symbiotic process.
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.
Some flowers are pollinated by beetles rather than bees and flies.
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
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.
Grow a good variety of plants including, shrubs and hedges for nesting, nectar plants and caterpillar food such as nettles.
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.
Put up home made birds nesting boxes, bee nests with hollow tubes, and make areas safe from predators.
Provide appropriate food and water for birds and hedgehogs. Birds and hedgehogs can be great eaters of slugs!
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.
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.
Try growing your own herbs and vegetables without chemicals but using complementary planting.e.g. Tomatoes and French marigolds, Brassicas with Onions and Leeks
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.
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.
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).
‘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
‘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
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.
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.
This summer has been damp and the plants have grown lush. In some way this has contributed to a dramatic cut in the number of greenfly on my roses and other plants (perhaps they found other feeding grounds or did not mate as prolifically).
By contrast there have been lots of Bees and Flies and last week the Wasps came for my plums and apples. On the bright side it has been easier to get some photographs that would other wise not been practical. The fly wings show up well against the Cystus that if flowering for the second time this year.
Like many gardeners I regard Ladybirds as posative helpers in the garden. It is therefore a concern to be confronted with the aggressive Harlequin Ladybird that is invading and threatening our 45 native species. Originally from Japan it was introduced to North America 20 years ago as an aphid control and it now out numbers all American species. Log any UK sightings here.
Crab apples can be used as food, for ornamental effect, to help pollination, or for the wood. The wild crab apple found individually in woods has green fruit turning golden in Autumn. Cultivated crab apples vary in habit and grow upto 10 feet. Fruiting this year looks like a bumper harvest after the wet weather earlier in the year.
Crab Apples make attractive ornamental trees with their pink or white blossom, followed by colourful autumn fruits that make delicious preserves. Varieties John Downie, Golden Hornet, Laura and Red Sentinel are all self fertile. Crab apples planted near fruiting apple trees make excellent pollinators and will help pollinating bees to increase your crops.
Crab apples are used to make jelly, pickles or can be roasted and served with meat or added to winter ale or cider. Any unpicked fruits will soften after a few frosts and will create a sumptuous food source for wild birds from late January until March. For a jelly recipe with a chillie kick try Cottage Smallholder
The timber of the crab apple is uniform in texture and if dried slowly, is excellent for woodworking. At one time it was used for making set-squares and other drawing instruments. Failing that apple wood burns in your chimenea of fire grate with a nice aroma.
Order now for winter delivery Crab Apples at Thompson & Morgan
Once a regular weekend event, Garden Bonfires are now fewer and further between since recycling, reusing and composting got to the top of the green agenda.
There are still occasions when a fire is the right way to go and I use one of these dustbin burners. The holes at the bottom provide air flow and the chimney restricts the amount of flying debris.
I collect the none compostable (often diseased) wood and brash in the bin until I have a load then set fire to it. After 4-5 years the bin bottom burns through and I need a new bin.
For large chunks of wood I used to have a November 5th fire but now with chimineas and Council recycling they have gone the way of Guy Fawkes.
Avoid excessive smoke by burning dry material not soggy wet compostable stuff.
Do not burn plastic, foam, paint, rubber or household rubbish.
Be safe by not using oil, methylated spirits, or petrol to light or encourage a fire.
Avoid lighting fires in unsuitable weather conditions such as damp, still days or when the wind will blow smoke over roads or into neighbours gardens
Try to avoid bonfires when people want to enjoy their gardens such as weekends or Bank Holidays.
Wood ash contains potassium and is good for root crops bulbs etc.
Victorian gardeners seem to have coped very well with the winter conditions and were able to get seeds off to an early start. The climate was not too different 150 years ago to that which we endure today so how did Victorians cope. Seed was often sown earlier than we do now and the varieties of seed were no different except for some of our softer hybrids. ‘The answer lies in the soil’ and copious amounts of compost.
Great quantities of manure, ashes, soot and household waste were added to the soil. This made the soil blacker and prone to absorb what heat there was making it warmer.
Ground was deep dug in a methodical and extensive manner and potentially this broke down the frozen soil quicker than on our compacted soils.
Bell cloches walled areas and other protective measures were taken. We could make more use of the cheap cloches now available to us, using lights and cold frames is more in tune with Victorian methods..
Some beds were dressed with straw that heats as it rots away making a fermenting hot bed to get seeds started.
The sweat of the gardeners brow also contributes to a warm garden, the more effort the more you are likely to succeed.
Building a hotbed structure to protect delicate plants involves a lot of fresh manure, details of one method are found on Gardeners Calender