It is Mid February and the milder weather encouraged me to focus on my greenhouse in preparation for the new year. For once I made a list of more than a dozen greenhouse related actions and as I progressed down the list more items were added. Without the list I would drift off to do other jobs with lower priority but higher instant gratification.
I started by read a couple of books on ‘cold greenhouse & conservatory’ and ‘greenhouse gardening’ and picked up some obvious and less obvious tips.
Plants need air, water, a medium to root into and sustenance. For the air part I turned the soil in the bed where I may grow direct into the soil but resolved, henceforth to provide more ventilation. A disaster struck when I left the door open and a pheasant walked in and was too thick to find its way out without my firm handed help. Jumping and flapping its wings it managed to break a pane of glass and I spent ages doing unplanned reglazing and there was no pheasant for supper.
As you may see in the before photo above I had suffered an excess of algae and moss. This was caused by lack on regular ventilation, an excess of nutrients and low levels of winter gardening. Using water from an old water barrel may not have helped. I now plan to feed little and often and to keep the soil aerated.
Planned Uses for my cold Greenhouse
Overwintering and care for delicate plants needing shielding. I had few losses except a couple of chrysanth stools and with care could have contained more items and grown early Daffodils, Vallota, & Fucshias
Just visible is some of the paving I have placed under the staging. I will use this for keeping dry goods, tools and fertilizers together and accessible.
The 4 station tomato growing box with a fertiliser sump is in place for later . I may add some ring cultured plants or, like previous years have tumbler tomatoes in pots on the bench. I had potted up some strawberry plants to try on the staging but am still thinking about that.
I have left a strip between the path and staging where I will grow lettuce and may be the odd sweetpea like the weedy example
Gizzmos for my Greenhouse
On the diagonal struts I have a collection of household pegs that I use for lots of holding purposes during the year. Currently open, half used packets are pegged closed.
As an aluminium greenhouse the frame has grooves to accept support devices to string moveable plant ties. I also wire across the length of the greenhouse at varying heights for more support or for short strings
I may move the bench below to go across the end of the greenhouse to support seed trays when the need for temporary benching arises. So the next job is to sort the items currently overwintering by the fence.
A cloche is used as a protective covering to shield plants, usually vegetables from the undesirable effects of cold, wind, and predator damage.
Cloches may be just smaller poly-tunnels used to protect a small number or individual plants.
Cloches made from plastic are much lighter than glass making them easier to move around. The advantages of glass is that the temperature within a glass cloche will be slightly warmer, they are less likely to be blown around and look better.
A home made cloche can be made from a cut down plastic pop bottle.
There are attractive bell shaped cloches available and various shapes like the one above.
How to Use a Cloche
Put the cloches in place a month before sowing to help warm the soil.
Sow seeds or plant out under the cloche for protection.
Cloches can be used in September to protect late crops of Lettuce.
Consider ventilation and watering when buying a cloche. The roof of this cloche can be lifted off.
I use a cloche to keep mice away from germinating peas and beans.
A Floating Cloche can be made from sheets of polypropylene fleece which are placed over the seed bed – when the seedlings emerge, the polypropylene is light enough to float up as the plants grow. I like this method for Broad beans peas and early potatoes.
A floating cloche is cheap, easy to put in place and protects the seedlings from three or four degrees of frost. Water permeates the fleece.
Poly Tunnels are another alternative.
Poly tunnel’s supporting hoops should be no more than 2½ feet apart. If spaced further apart the plastic sheeting will droop over the crops and may damage them in rainy or snow conditions.
Make sure the height is adequate for the crops you want to protect.
Kenneth Cox at Glendoick Offers some of the best advice on rhododendron identification and recording. …..Using GPS handheld devices would allow reasonably accurate mapping to made by taking positional readings in each area of the garden and recording what is planted there. If you want you can then allow garden visitors to access these records on their own devices. There is no limit to the interactive potential if you are prepared to invest time and money…..
The three best examples of private (as opposed to botanic garden) record keeping I have seen outside the major botanic gardens are Philip de Spoelberch’s collections at Herkenrod in Belgium, Lord Howick’s collection in Northumberland and the late James Russell’s plantings at Ray Wood, Castle Howard, Yorkshire. All of these gardeners believe passionately in the value of accurate and detailed records……
Rhododendron Golden Eagle Label at YSP
To a gardener a label should be easily seen unobtrusive, legible, long lasting and easilt fixed so that it is not broken off by wind or clumsy gardener. To a plant seller the label is designed for one purpose, to relieve you of your cash.
I am still seeking the ideal label and hate those little white plastic sticks that become too brittle.
The longest lasting labels are embossed metal labels I have some thin copper labels to scratch the details into but they are hard to see. Glendoick recommend aluminium labels written on with a soft pencil tend to last well
Beware of label death, where a branch or stem is girdled metal, by the failure to loosen a label as the plant grows.
Dymo labels are surprisingly long lasting
Most botanic gardens use expensive engraved labelled on UV stabilised plastic or modified acrylic laminate.
Last autumn I realised I needed a new wheel barrow but thought I would defer the purchase until spring 2020. In February I found a galvanised builders barrow that I coveted and resolved to purchase one. At the first attempt I discovered my wives car wasn’t big enough to take it home. A bit later, low and behold, I’d missed the boat or more accurately caught the over 70’s travel restrictions and subsequent social distancing rules.
So along came the mother of all inventions (or nearly) in the form of a simple mat to cover the rusty hole. It wont last long and can’t hold heavy loads but I am making do by mending.
In addition I made a contraption that isn’t a riddle or sieve but my own sifter shown below. It is made from plastic coated chicken wire and to prevent large particles escaping I doubled it over. It is surprisingly easy to lift the detritus and put it into another compost bin.
‘Oh the old bamboo the old bamboo never-ever bother with the old bamboo’ That song reminds me to weed out the poor and damaged canes I have left over from previous seasons. Away with split canes that snag and frustrate and may carry disease.
In Praise of Canes
A good long one will do better than a good short one – well not always as excess length waves around and looks untidy. Fortunately you can shorten canes with secateurs and the off cuts can be used for shorter plants.
Why should Sweetpeas be forced to spend energy on climbing when I can help them with a good cane arrangement.
Why should runner beans get top heavy and risk being blown sideways.
Good gladioli and chrysanthemums will be better for a bit of practical and moral support
Temporary solutions to problems can often be solved by judicious use of canes.
Now my plants are able to perform with the aid of my new canes, string and net supports.
I like the idea of mixing bamboo canes with more twiggy stems. I also like the idea of putting two canes across the middle of twin rows of canes for extra support and rigidity
This year I resolve to support my plants better than ever before.
None Bamboo Canes
A Large Hazel has already provided a crop of stems to use as further supports. They can be woven in with other supports and look more natural than bamboo.
Willow and hazel can be cross hatched to provide a frame work for shrubby plants to grow through.
Pea sticks are often short slivers of bamboo painted a dark green. Useful for around 12″ of support.
Nylon and other plastic ‘canes’ are obviously not canes but are long lasting and can do a similar job.
New tree and shrub supports are more likely to be stakes and ‘gardeners should be choosers’ when it comes to the right strength of item for the job.
To my surprise Amazon now supply or arrange to supply canes in volume via the web – it makes transporting the 7-8 foot ones in my car a thing of the past.
Vermiculite is a natural mineral ore that has been heat treated to expand into a light, spongy worm like, inert substance. Vermiculite is made from mica whereas perlite, a similar gardeners aid is a type of highly porous volcanic glass. Because vermiculite is permanent, clean, odorless, non-toxic and sterile and very light it has many uses for gardeners.
Gardeners Uses of Vermiculite
Vermiculite greatly improves seed compost by promoting aeration and drainage, important for seeds and cuttings.
Vermiculite improves germination and reduces the risk of damping off when applied as a thin layer on top of your sown seeds.
A 50:50 mix of compost and vermiculite is ideal for the germination of seeds, because it’s aeration properties and water holding capacity make it a suitable medium for direct contact with the seeds.
Vermiculite used alone without compost helps germination but seedlings should be fed with a week fertilizer solution when the first true seeds appear. I have some African Violet seeds being grown this way at the moment.
Large seeds can be mixed with Vermiculite in a small polythene bag closed at the neck, and kept in a warm place until the seeds just start to germinate.
Vermiculite can be mixed into compost for taking cuttings.
Mixed with compost vermiculite can also store Dahlia and Begonia tubers through winter.
Slower germinating seeds should be covered with grit in preference to vermiculite.
For fine seeds it can be ground down finer that that shown above.
Mix with peat or coir to make a soilless growing medium for the home gardener to promote faster root growth and give quick anchorage to young roots.
Vermiculite is also used as a growing medium for hydroponics.
Heavy sticky soil can be conditioned by the addition of vermiculite.
Available from good garden centres
Vermiculite for Cuttings
Vermiculite 50% sphagnum moss peat 50% compost stimulates root growth, giving quicker anchorage of the plant and uptake of nutrients.
Thoroughly water the vermiculite before inserting cuttings.
Do not compress around the base of the cutting.
Vermiculite gives a very light open compost, holding more water and facilitating re-wetting, thereby lengthening the time between watering.
Vermiculite absorbs excess nutrients and releases them slowly to the plants via the finest root hairs.
Use a lower proportion of vermiculite under mist irrigation in Summer say 25%.
The clue is in the name Seed Tray – this note is about seeds in trays and although they can double up for seedlings the issues are different. Seed sowing probably starts in February and is reaching its height by the middle of April.
Seed Tray Review
Old wooden seed trays with slats and high sides are still in use. They need care when cleaning before new crops are sown.
Plastic seed trays from rigid polypropylene with drainage holes can be used time and again and are easy to store and clean. There is generally a pattern of ridges to improve drainage.
I like to use the thin plastic segmented inserts like those in the photograph inside a normal seed tray .
It adds rigidity and makes for easy movement
They are cheap enough to be disposable but last a couple of seasons with care.
They vary in the number of cells, 3×5, 8×5 or 4×6 for example.
Each cell can be for individual seeds or used for several fine seeds. It makes pricking out and planting far easier.
The cells can also be used for growing on after pricking out. 15 or 24 good plants can be raised in one tray.
Do not put plastic inserts in a tray without drainage holes or the compost may get water logged.
Seed trays can be used to hold individual pots in one place. Up to 15 square 3″ pots can be put in one tray and they are a bit deeper than a standard tray.
Disposable or disinfectable, plastic labour saving devices were not available to our parents and grandparents but take care how you dispose of them.
Alternative Seed Trays
If you can find them old fish boxes can make good seed trays. The polystyrene variety helps to keep an even temperature. Some old fruit boxes can be adapted as seed trays. In both instances make sure there is adequate drainage.
You do not need a tray per se, any container with drainage holes will suffice. I use a lot of old plant pots for starter seedlings.
Rubberised plastic trays usually in black are more rigid and I find them better than the extruded green plastic shown above.
Home made compressed capsules, rolls of paper, even cardboard toilet paper tube can be pressed into service.
Seed Tray Tips
Take care when watering to get all the area damp. Some composts and soils are difficult to get evenly wet
Label your seed sowing with the date and type of seed sown.
Sterilise your used seed trays in Jeys fluid or similar.
To water from the bottom fill a larger container and stand the tray in the water until enough has been taken up by capillary action.
Do not leave seedlings too long before pricking out. Long roots soon become stunted. Seedlings need space to develop roots.
Carefully push out the cell contents from the bottom if using a plastic product. Otherwise a firm tap will generally loosed to compost.
Be careful small cells hold less soil and moisture.
The edges and cells near to the drying sun can be hostile to seedlings.
Exposure to sun and the elements can make some plastic brittle.
Prick out and pot on as soon as possible (when two leaves are showing).
Special Seed Sowing Devices
Matching the seed tray to the plant you are growing may dictate the tray you use.
Sweetpeas need a long root run and trays tend to be too shallow. I use deep pots but you can sow in root trainers or home made paper tubes.
Biodegradable peat pots can be used for plants that do not like their roots to be disturbed.
Individual pots may be best for large or expensive seed.
Secateurs are an indispensable tool for the the tidy minded gardener and even me.
Ergonomic Features to Look For on Secateurs
I like to be able to find the secateurs when I inevitably put them down despite the intentions of keeping them about my person. I good bright colour for the handles helps. I have lime green and red on my two favourite pairs and surprisingly the lime green stands out even amongst leaves and foliage.
On a similar ‘ability to find theme’ I like the pair with a small loop at the end of one handle with a hole drilled in. This allows a string or wire to be fed through to facilitate hanging them in a suitable location.
The grips should be moulded for fingers so a good purchase and transfer of power can be distributed. On my right handed secateurs the blade section has 4 finger grooves and the other handle is curved for the thumb and palm without a groove.
The grips are often some form of rubberised or hard plastic which I find preferable to bare metal that strikes cold.
Most secateurs have a thumb operated locking facility to keep them closed and safe when not in use. The idea is sound but you need to be able to operate this with the thumb of the same hand. A fiddly or unsafe device can be very frustrating.
Functional Features to Look For on Secateurs
There are two basic options for the blades to bypass one another in a scissor type motion or for the blade to cut then hit an anvil like a chopping board. I like the bypass or parrot nosed version for the majority of soft wood and stem cutting. I find that leaves the plant wound less prone to damage. The anvil approach is good for twigs and dryer material.
The blade and access to keep it sharp are key features. When buying new secateurs look for the best you can afford but focus on the blade.
At the base of the blade at the junction of the other arm there is normally a notch that can be used to cut tough items like wire.
The return (compression) spring to open the secateurs after every cut is generally held in place by two holes or protuberances near the top of each handle. They are key to the functionality and fun of using your secateurs and if they spring loose you can spend ages looking for them. Keep them oiled and clean and if necessary stretch them to make a tighter fit.
Blade replacements are faffy and I find it hard to locate supplies. Why don’t manufacturers supply spares with new secateurs.
A Falco branded pair have a finger side handle that twists a quarter turn as you operate. I like this but am not sure it stops repetitive strain injury as I assume was the intention. I wont know unless I buy a new pair as this feature disabled itself and no longer works.
I have not used ratchet or geared secateurs that cut in a number of stages but find that useful on my loppers.
Well used anvil secateurs
My Experience Using Secateurs
There is a tendency to want to twist when cutting tough stems. This sprains the scissor action out of alignment and can cause irreparable damage. I have done this with many cheap pairs before I knew better.
As you can see I have numerous pairs that are not all that clean. I do oil them and try to remember to wipe excess sap off the blades.
I have a sharpening stone that I use frequently. I once sharpened the inner bit of the blade and then you could see light through where gap should be. Sharpen the external edge.
For cutting thicker stems use a lopper or more robust shears.
I have a good pair that occasionally nip the skin as I close them. As well as painful and frustrating I am also put out by having forgotten the makers name!
When one man went to mow it was to mow a meadow. Do you want to let your lawn get into that state? If not here are some tips but probably not enough to get you a stately home lawn.
Little and often is usually a good plan. One a week in spring, during dry spells and autumn but more frequently in summer.
Aim to cut about one third of the height with each mowing
An occasional cut during mild weather in winter with the blades set high.
Start the year with the blades set high, upto one and a half inches for coarse grass down to a quarter of an inch for a bowling green standard fine lawn.
The best cuts are made by cylinder mowers with a large number of blades. I now use a lithium battery model.
Rotary mowers, strimmers and hover mowers are best for long tougher grasses.
Remove clippings otherwise you may encourage worm casts, weeds, aeration problems and disease.
Some recommend leaving clippings in hot dry weather to reduce evaporation but I find it unsightly and ineffective.
Avoid scalping off the top surface by taking turns too quickly of dropping of the edge of the lawn.
Setting to low can scalp the grass.
Keep blades sharp and correctly set to avoid tearing the grass rather than cutting it.
Alternate cutting horizontally and vertically to get the football pitch chequered effect.
Mowing in Special Situations
Inspect the area for hazards such as sticks, stones and animal droppings.
On a slope always mow side-to-side, not up and down the hill.
Choose the right mower, ride-ons are not good for steep slopes. Electrict mowers can be dangerous in wet conditions.
On wet grass raise the mowing height and keep the speed down to reduce the load on the motor.
The stripes you see on a lawn or playing field is simply light reflecting off the grass blades that have been mowed in one direction then the reverse. A mower with a roller helps accentuate the effect.
Treat weedy or moss infested lawns with proprietary weed and feed 3 days before cutting and leave for 3 days after dressing.