Archive | Garden Equipment Tips

Canes for Support in Gardens

‘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.

 

 

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Vermiculite for Gardeners

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Seed Tray Review and Tips

Plastic seed trays

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.
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Secateurs and Why I Choose Them

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.

Selected Secateurs

 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!

Gardeners secateurs tips

 

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Mowing Techniques & Tips

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.

Technical Approach

  • 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.

Mowing Problems

  • 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.

Book Cover

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New for Ponds or Renovated Ponds

I may be behind the times but here are some new, or new to me, ideas to enhance your garden pond this summer.

New Pond Design

‘Islandscapes’ and Floating Planters

‘The Next Big Wave In Ponds’ (Oh please) ‘enhance the beauty and biological health of ponds, providing innovative filtration and a lush growing environment for terrestrial plants. lslandscapes offer food and fun for fish, frogs and other wildlife’ according to the blurb on Freedomponds.com
Velda do several floating planters made in covered styrofoam.


Ecopond Tadpole Food

I have to admit to never thinking of feeding tadpoles but if I did here is the answer. Ecopond Tadpole Food provides the nutrition that tadpoles need up to the point where they develop back legs (4-6 weeks after free swimming begins). See also frogspawn tips on Gardeners Tips

Preformed Ponds

Pond

Rubberised or rigid plastic ponds are one of the easiest methods of creating a new pond. I bought one in a kidney shape with 3 different depths created by shelves. It saved a lot of hard work once I had dug an appropriate hole!
In one garden I saw such a preformed pond raised up rather than buried and think that is a creative idea if you can support the weight of water.

Pond Liners

Now you can cover black PVC liners with a stone coating. This makes the black edge of a pond look natural with a pebble or stone finish. Sold in various widths it could be used to finish off a butyl lined pond or as a run off into your garden proper. The brand I have seen is Oase Stone Liner.

All these products are available from the links above or a specialist like Bradshaws of York. Amazon supply the preformed ponds.

Pond Renovation

  1. As winter approaches all ponds need a bit of tlc to see them through the winter.
  2. If removing dead leaves and waste from the bottom of the pond leave the sludge on the edge so any small creatures can crawl back into the water.
  3. Repair leaks to prevent having to regularly top up the water. Evaporation is unavoidable so you may want to think of easy top-up methods.
  4. Create ways of stopping leaves dropping into the pond. Nets are unsightly unless semi submerged. Barrier hedges of box to stop prevailing winds may help.
  5. Make edges safe and secure. Reinforce and renew if necessary any childproof measures.

Read more on Preformed Pond Shapes including installation tips.

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Orchid Compost a Treat for Orchids

If you want to make your Orchids feel at home then use good Orchid compost and mimic natural conditions as best you can.
There are many proprietary brands available but you could do a lot worse than talk to an expert at a local Orchid show.

Orchids love humidity but hate wet feet so a free draining compost is preferred.
Some orchids are epiphytes that grow on other plants and trees and need to retain enough moisture when the opportunity arises.
All roots need air in greater or lesser proportions and some orchids have roots that grow out of pots into open air. That gives a clue as to what good Orchid compost will be like.
Orchids do not get any real food value from the free draining compost so need dilute feed in with the watering.
Orchids

Content of Orchid Compost

  • Bark chippings which come in differing sizes. For plants with thick roots choose a larger chips, if they are small and thin then choose small chippings.
  • Sphagnum moss, bark and  styrofoam mixed is good  for seedlings or very thinly rooted plants. It tends tol dry out quickly so watch the  watering.
  • Rock wool  mixed with a little perlite can seem dry on the surface   when very wet underneath and over time breaks down into a hard mass.
  • Lump peat and styrofoam is good for Phalaenopsis and those plants requiring a little more moisture retention.

Orchid Compost Tips

  • You can buy a proprietary Orchid compost at most garden centres
  • Compost breaks down and Orchids need repotting into fresh compost but only every couple of years.
  • Put some large crocks of foam at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage and retain air pockets
  • Repot just after flowering not whilst in flower.
  • Let bark compost soak in water overnight before repotting.
  • Thompson & Morgan Chempak orchid growth feed. It is a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser containing plant foods, magnesium and six trace elements to promote growth

Orchid compost is available from Amazon

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Garden Bonfires for Gardeners

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.

Burning Tips

  • 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.
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Tips to Increase Greenhouse Capacity

Grow with the flow and in early spring that flow is in the greenhouse

Greenhouse

Acclimatised to Global Warming?
Easter snow flurries and April frosts have hampered planting so far this year, but gardeners will be hoping that the May bank holiday weekend offers some respite from the unseasonable cold and rain. Gardens will catch up from the colder than average start to spring. In fact we have been getting ahead of ourselves in recent years with earlier and earlier starts to the year and warmer than average spells in May and June.

To coin or corrupt an old phrase ‘Ne’re plant out till May is out’. Or if in doubt protect young seedlings from cold and frosty weather. I am referring to the month of May not May blossom the flower of the Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna) which is often used to celebrate May Day.

Temporary Greenhouse Capacity

Greenhouses will be full to bursting before it is safe to plant out so consider other temporary protection. First though make sure you use staging and shelves to optimise your main greenhouse. Don’t forget to water plants left under staging. You can hang some plants from the roof of many greenhouses.

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Materials for a Compost Heap

Lots of materials are suitable for a compost heap. Pile in a mix of green and brown organic materials to help them heat up, when biological activity will then be at the highest.
Organic material includes plants and most items that have been growing. Avoid droppings from carnivores such as dogs but other manures are fine.
Type of Material

Ashes from untreated wood potash – use small amounts, it can make the pile too alkaline
Bird & Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen, beware seeds.
Cardboard and manila envelopes tear or shred and dampen
Bio-activator applied as a liquid or activator like Garrotta
Coffee grounds tea bags and filters
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