Gardening

May. 23rd, 2017 11:43 am
watervole: (Default)
 I glanced out of my front window just now and a passer by pointed to my rockery (which is currently a mass of flowers) and gave me a double thumbs up.

That was a really nice moment.
watervole: (Default)
 Chatting to the lady next door  who has a small pear tree.  It had one pear last  year when it had 12 the year before.  She had no idea why.

After discussion I discovered that she'd transplanted it from her mother's garden last year.  So transplant shock would account for a lot of it.

However, when I suggested adding some garden compost, she was surprised at the idea that it might need feeding....

She's no idea how to prune it either.  Fruit trees only bear fruit on horizontal branches - you have to prune regularly to get a good crop (I don't even have a fruit tree, and I know this, but my mother in law probably told me as she lived in an area with lots of orchards.)

She also didn't know that the flowers were where the fruit would eventually appear.  I was a bit flummoxed by that one.  I thought fertilisation of flowers was school biology level.

So, how much of what I assume to be general knowledge, is actually general knowledge?

How much do you know about where apples and pears come from?


watervole: (Default)
 We dug up some hellibores from Molly's garden last week and they're now in our back garden.  They seem to be settling in, in spite of being transplanted while in flower.

Plants are good things to remember people by.  They need a degree of tlc to do well and the act of looking after them reminds you of the giver.

Molly and I shared a love of gardening - indeed, she helped to increase my own interest in the subject. Even in her eighties and nearly blind, she was still growing most of her own vegetables.  She's one of the reasons I have an allotment.

We've also adopted a little mini-rock garden of sedums in a shallow container.  It was made for her by my husband when he was a boy.  For half her life it reminded her of him, and now it will remind us of her.

She was a wonderfully pragmatic person. (I'm speaking in the past tense, even though she isn't technically dead yet.  I do not believe I will ever speak to her again.)

Entorien (my daughter-in-law) sums it up well in her description of her last meeting with Molly - http://entorien.livejournal.com/518028.html

Molly has no religious beliefs, she doesn't fear death and she wishes the doctors would let her get on with the business of dying.

She did the paperwork several years ago to donate her body to science and we've made sure all the doctors are aware of that.
watervole: (Default)
 We have Allium triquetrum in our garden.

Allium triquetrum01.jpg

It's a very pretty plant and I originally introduced it myself.  It's a wild garlic that's native to southern Europe.  It grows well in dry shady corners and under trees.  However, it is a little bit invasive.  It isn't as bad as some plants, but it's spreading beyond where I really want it.

Having looked it up on Wikipedia, I'm pleased to confirm my guess that the plant is edible (all of it, bulb, leaves, even flowers).  I'm already used to eating 'wet' garlic which we get from Riverford . Wet garlic is the normal kind of garlic, but  much younger and you get the leaves as well as the bulb.

We also eat ransoms., which we get both from Riverford and our own garden.

Ransoms are also pretty and grow in shady corners. They are the native English garlic.

Allium ursinum0.jpg





So, instead of trying to control the Allium triquetrum by weedkiller or anything else, I'm simply going to eat them until they're confined to the area where I want them!

planting

Apr. 17th, 2013 09:14 am
watervole: (Default)
 This is the planting season.  A bit later this year because of all the weather, but Richard has been really busy this last week (I managed to do my back in trying to move the shredder, but I'll be weeding again soon)

Broad beans survived the winter reasonably well, though we lost about a third of them.  A new double row of seeds has been planted now to give a succession when they crop.  I love broad beans - they are one of the veg that really justify growing your own.  I never knew that fresh broad beans had a scent until we had an allotment.

Manure has been spread all round the fruit bushes and almost everywhere except where the brassicas will go.  Cabbages and their relatives do not like freshly manured soil - they prefer things a little more alkaline.

The propagator and our mini-planthouse are working overtime.  The peas are all up and being hardened off prior to planting out.  If you start things off in the warm, then you need to introduce them to the real world gradually - otherwise they're liable to die of shock if you take them straight from a warm greenhouse and plunge them into the cold soil.  Put them outside during the day first to get used to the idea.  It will also make them harden their stems (to resist the wind) and become a little less of an easy target for slugs.

Cabbage, lettuce and purple sprouting broccoli seedlings are emerging.  Our luck with cabbages is usually dreadful as we have clubroot.  We're trying a resistant variety this year.  Fortunately PSB (purple sprouting broccoli) is the one brassica that is immune to clubroot.

Squashes and courgettes are growing on the bedroom windowsill - they won't go outside for a while yet as they are tender plants.
watervole: (Default)
The sun's been shining today, without being too hot, so I've been busy outdoors.

Spent a couple of hours this morning working on the front garden.  Mowed the lawn, weeded the bed by the house and transplanted a small euphorbia that was being swamped by large bleeding heart plant.  The bleeding heart has flowered fantastically this year (the flowers really do live up to the name) so there was no way I was going to cut it back.

This afternoon, I went down the allotment and spent a relaxing three hours trimming paths, weeding around beans, shallots and squashes.  I rescued a few sorry looking chard plants and noted that a few carrots survived the horrible wet weather and the weeds.

Picked lots of strawberries - they cropped really well this year - and mangetout and sugarsnap peas.  I love sugarsnap!

We lost a lot of seedlings when the weather was bad, but the beans are all doing really well.  The broad beans are really tasty and there's plenty more of them to come.

A couple of plants were looking a bit pale/yellow, so I've been taking bottles of urine down the plot.  Dilute half a two litre milk bottle into one watering can and pour all round the plant.  Works wonders.  I've already persuaded a few badly slugged bean plants to put out new shoots.
watervole: (Default)
Went to the dentist this morning - he's growing a few veg at the back of the surgery and was asking for tips.

A lot of my friends are also starting to grow things for the first time.

So, here are my handy tips on compost.

1.  Anything organic will rot.  (by organic, I mean 'made of organic material', not 'grown without pesticides')

You can compost: cotton shirts/towels, woollen jumpers, all kitchen waste (if you're worried about rats, then either exclude meat or else put chicken wire underneath your compost bin), all weeds (some people exclude dandelion and bindweed roots, but I find even those usually get killed, though I wouldn't put bindweed roots on a heap in the shade), all grass cuttings (but do mix them up with the other stuff if you have a lot of them), corrugated cardboard, cardboard egg boxes (don't squash them, they provide handy air pockets), used straw bedding from hamsters, rabbits, etc, sawdust, hedge clippings (but only if well chopped up, and do mix with other stuff) and probably other stuff as well.

I'm just editing a book on the history of Loose allotments ('Loose' is a village in Kent and is pronounced 'Looze').  In the last century, there was a butcher who annoyed his neighbouring plot holders by putting all the left-over bits of meat on his plot.  They rotted down just fine, but the smell and the rats weren't popular...

Another plot was found to have lots of small buttons on it.  My mother-in-law (keen gardener and social historian) worked that one out.  The plot must have been fertilised with 'shoddy', which was what cheap clothes were made of - it was made from recycled woollen cloth.  The clothes rotted away and left the buttons behind.

Hop waste was also popular as a mulch in Kent.

2.  Kitchen waste is easy to collect.

Everything from the kitchen: potato peelings (If you really must peel your potatoes and lose all the vitamins...), veg peelings (same comment about vitamins - there are almost no vegetables where you gain anything by peeling them, expect possibly squashes when the rind has hardened), stale bread, food scraps, left over takeaways, past the date foods, apple cores - if it's food of any kind, you can put it in the compost.

Keep a small compost caddy in the kitchen - I line mine with newspaper which makes it easier to empty and to clean - and the newspaper can, of course, be composted as well.  There are lots of compost caddies on the market.  A few examples can be found here, but there's lots more.

A lid is necessary to keep out flies, but smell (in my experience, at least) is not a problem as long as the bin is emptied as soon as it is full.  You have three options with lining.

a.  No lining.  I've done it this way in the past.  You'll find the bottom of the bin can get a bit wet.  I just clean it out with a handful of newspaper and then compost the newspaper.

b.  Biodegradable lining.  I'm not keen on these personally.  They have a high carbon footprint to manufacture and you need to pay real money for them.  (and they don't rot as fast as newspaper)

c.  Newspaper.  Not decorative, but it uses up our free newspapers and helps soak up some of the moisture from the waste.  I use three or four pages at a time to line mine.  I overlap them a  bit and fold them over the edge to keep them in place.  I try and have multiple layers at the bottom of the bin.  The paper will soak up most of the moisture, though you'll probably need another page to clean out after you empty and before you make a new liner.

When your caddy is full, take it out and tip it into your compost bin.


3.  Compost Daleks don't take up much space.

They're called 'daleks' for obvious reasons, though most of them don't look like this:



but more like this:


There are other kinds of compost bin, but 'daleks' tend to be cheap and cheerful and often available at a discount from your local council.  They don't take up a lot of space and are easy to use.  (they can be a bit fiddly to remove the compost at the back, but if the worst comes to the worst, you can just lift the whole thing up, dig out the good compost and stick the rest back again)

At the end of the day, any kind of compost bin/heap will do. 

We have three daleks in our garden to fit into smaller spaces, down the allotment, we have two heaps surrounded by a crude wooden fence.

Tip everything into your dalek (or on your heap) - do NOT compress it (the air spaces are an important part of the process).  If you run out of space in the bin, start another one.

4.  There is a perfect mix, but you don't need to worry about it.

If you start reading up on compost, you'll find all sorts of fancy recipes.  Don't worry if they sound too complicated.

The basic rule is this: use a mixture of different stuff and it will all work out fine.  Don't let one ingredient dominate (apart from weeds, you can have as many of them as you like).  You can speed up the process by mixing up your heap with a fork, but it isn't essential.

If you have all grass clippings and no weeds or woody bits, then approach a neighbour.   They'll be only too glad either to give you an occasional bag of weeds/hedge clippings, or alternatively to take your grass clippings.  I get stuff from three of my neighbours now.


5.  If your compost bin has a lid, water it occasionally.

Heaps don't have lids -they get water from the rain.  They rot down fine.

Daleks have lids (which can help the heat build inside them on a sunny day and kill weed seeds).  Take the lid off now and then and if it looks really dry, chuck in a bucket of water.  This is not a fine art, and it won't be the end of the world if you forget.


6.  Real Compost is lumpy and has twigs in it.

Packets of compost from garden centres are full of fine-grained black stuff (and cost a lot of money).  That's because they have a lot of peat in them.  This fine if you want to grow seeds in trays or acid-loving plants, but for everything else, your home-made stuff will be better.  Peat is very low on nutrients.

How do you know when your compost is ready?  When you can't recognise the original ingredients any more.  (Don't worry about egg shells, just smash them and leave them in - they're good calcium).  The exception is twigs.  You have two options with twigs.  You either leave them in the mix  you're going to spread on your garden (which is what I do with the small ones), or chuck them back in the compost to go around a second time (which is what I do with the bigger ones).  Stuff bigger than twigs should not go into the compost in the first place.  (twigs, if you really want to know, add carbon and help create air space and structure in your compost bin and are a useful part of the process even if they don't rot completely the first time around)

7.  You can use compost almost anywhere.

When you have your compost, lumps, twigs and all, you can either dig it into the soil, if you're preparing a new area, or simply put a layer an inch or two thick on the surface around your plants.  Don't put it right up against the stems - plants know where they think the surface should be and you shouldn't argue with them.  You can spread it under trees, around fruit bushes, between rows of plants, inbetween perennials, anywhere where you think your plants are hungry.

Over the next year, your layer of compost will mysteriously vanish - ready for you to add some more the next year.  And your plants will be bigger, healthier, and crop better.






watervole: (Default)
Been pottering a mixture of things the last few days.

Mowed the front lawn, raked it and mowed it again.  I had to take occasional breaks.  The great tits are nesting in the box above our front door, the chicks are quite noisy now and the parents tend to be nervous about visiting the box when I'm using the mower, so I gave them some chances to get in and feed the young.

There are blackbirds nesting in the ivy in the back garden.  Their main concern is a long-hair tortoiseshell cat.  I've got very good at recognising blackbird alarm calls, so if I'm in the kitchen/lounge and I hear them calling, then I come out and chase the cat away.  They're not afraid of me if I'm working quietly in the garden, which is rather nice.

I'm working my way through the house, gradually clearing piles of stuff from here and there.  The only problem is that some of the older piles are a bit dusty and the dust sets off my allergy and makes my hands really itchy.  Occasionally I wear disposable gloves, but they do make your hands rather sweaty, so I prefer not to use them if I can help it.

The sock is making progress.  I'm past the heel and about half way down the foot now.

Thanks to those who recommended Ravelry to me - the people there have already helped me solve one knitting problem.

The allotment is making progress.  I've been watering because it has been so dry of recent, but the recent showers (while not really enough to soak into the ground) will at least have stopped the soil blowing away every time I hoe it. 

The peas are several inches tall, spinach and beetroot seedlings are emerging.  Rocket is growing in the way that rocket does.  Rhubarb is being harvested (cook it with ginger for best effect).  Sorrel has been split and replanted and survived. (dead easy to grow native perennial.  Leaves taste of lemon and are nice in mixed salads).  Ramsons (wild garlic) are flowing in the garden.  They look beautiful, grow in awkward dark corners under trees and have leaves that are delicious in cheese sandwiches as well as in cooking.



I was going to be learning some Cotswold morris tunes from a friend today, but he's got to go and have a blood test, so I'll probably do some more work on the garden and the allotment.

Richard and Henry are massively busy today with an important work deadline.

I've got a jumper of Henry's to repair.  (Got it in a charity shop originally, nice chenille knit that I thought he'd like).  The sleeve caught on something yesterday, but I think I can fix it okay.

We've had steady income for over a year now, but the habits of eight years of little/erratic/no income die hard (and I'm not sure that I'd want the habits to die).  I still buy nearly all my clothes in charity shops.  I still scrutinise every annual renewal of insurance, gas, etc. and nearly always save at least 5% by either changing supplier or by simply phoning and asking for a reduction.  If the premium goes up by more than inflation and I haven't made a claim, then I always ask for a reduction.

Many habits remain because they have environmental gains as well as monetary ones.  I still don't use my tumble dryer (I may Freecycle it at some point).  Hanging the washing to dry on the line is free, as well as reducing CO2 emissions.



watervole: (allotment)
Anyone thinking of growing veg for the first time and looking for something easy to try could do a lot worse than grow rocket.



The first rule of growing veg is to grow something you like to eat.

I'm not a massive fan of rocket, but Richard really loves it and will eat it in preference to lettuce every time.  Rocket has a mild peppery flavour.  You can eat it as a salad vegetable or cook it like spinach or use it in pizza recipes.


The second rule is to grow something easy.

Rocket is on of these crops where you put in the seeds, stand back and wait for the plant to hit you.  Okay, maybe not quite that fast, but it is called rocket for a reason..  It germinates quickly, grows quickly, and you can do lots of small sowings for a succession of plants throughout the summer and autumn.  You could also grow it on your windowsill.


How to grow it.

1.  Get seeds (between £1.15 and £2 per pack.  This should be an easy plant to save seed from if you don't want to get new packets every year)

2.  Look at this page (I was going to give instructions, but they'd said almost exactly what I was going to and they have pictures to boot).

3.  Start picking leaves as soon as the plant gets more than six inches tall.  It'll be up to a foot in height before you can blink.  (Sow your second row once the first row has clearly visible tiny plants)
watervole: (Default)
Having just escaped from a long argument in another LJ with the kind of person who valued opinion over fact (and refused even to state her opinion half the time - for reasons that were dead easy to spot - she was the kind of person who called the UK out for not treating babies born so premature that the had no real chance of survival, but was naturally opposed to spending state money to save poor American babies), it has been a real relief to start reading a book by Jeff Gillman, an excellent American writer

"The Truth about Organic Gardening" is a book that deals in facts. Gillman isn't partisan - if an organic practice is good, he'll say so. If a non-organic practice is good, he'll say so. He's a solid background in teaching and researching horticulture and if he says something, it means he's checked it out and isn't just saying it because he wants it to be true. For instance, when looking at herbicides and pesticides, he considers them on their individual merits. He points out that some synthetic pesticides are very dangerous and some are very safe; likewise organic pesticides vary in their safety (he considers rotenone to be very dangerous).

'Natural' does not mean 'safe to humans'.

Gillman also discusses other methods of pest control - his favourite approach of standing back and doing nothing has a lot going for it. He points out that if plants are well watered and fertilised, then they can afford to lose about a third of their leaf area without suffering great harm and that their natural resistance is higher when they're well looked after.

He's got a good sense of humour. When he talks about controlling Japanese beetles (an American pest, so not directly relevant to the UK, but still interesting to read about), he talks about pheromone traps. He rates them as ineffective - because there are so many of the beetles, even though the trap kills a lot of them it also attracts more into the neighbourhood. He suggests giving a trap to someone you dislike and watch as their garden fills up with beetles!

The book looks at many areas of organic practice (and Gillman is fair to point out that some of these techniques are used by non-organic gardeners as well) from green manures to bird control.

For each practice/technique, Gillman spends a page or so discussing it, then neatly sums up the pros and cons in bullet points at the end. It's a very good format for dipping and browsing and easy to read/extract information on.

He also understands statistics. (You wouldn't believe how rare this is) When discussing the results of a study, he'll point out how much confidence can be placed in the result. (eg. if 4 out of 500 people get cancer during a study of a weedkiller, what is the likelihood this could have happened by chance? Low numbers are subject to wide fluctuations. ie. 4/500 is a lot less reliable data than 16/2000)(and indeed, a later study with 54,000 people did not show any increase in cancer at all for that particular weedkiller). He's also concerned that studies are often not carried out on organic pesticides/weedkillers because they are assumed to be safer. But rotenone (which is natural) kills just as many fish and frogs as glyphosphate (which is synthetic).

I'd recommend this as an interesting book for anyone who wants to know the pros and cons of different gardening techniques and likes to have some data to support the opinions of the writer. This is NOT a 'how to do organic gardening' book, but it is a good unbiased study of what works and what is safe.



Where do I stand on the organic front?

I garden organically to a large extent. I do this to minimise the harm to wildlife and also to maximise my crops. I won't use slug pellets of any kind becasue they kill thrushes. I don't use pesticides because I'm wary of spraying anything that I might breathe. I quite enjoy weeding (It's relaxing) but I use glyphosphate on bindweed because there's no other way to kill it and glyphosphate is inactivated when it hits the soil. I add compost and manure in large quantities to my soil (You should see this year's leeks! They got the compost heap added to the patch not long before we planted them.)

In short, I'm an organic gardener, but not to the point of fanaticism.  There are some 'organic' products containing copper that I'm not very keen on, but there are some organic practices - like watering with dilute urine - that I've had really good results with (excellent onions this year) and I'm positively evangelical about.
watervole: (allotment)
When you first start growing veg, the odds are that your soil will be pretty crap.  Don't worry, all soil can be improved - it takes a couple of years, but you can start with bad soil and know that your crop will get better as the soil improves.

How to improve it?

COMPOST

1.  Get a compost bin (or compost heap if you prefer). Some councils sell cheap compost bins made from recycled plastic - it's worth asking.  If they have them, they'll often be cheaper than from a garden centre.

2.  Into your compost bin chuck all kitchen waste.  Add grass clippings, weeds (except roots of bindweed), egg boxes (cardboard rots and the air pockets are very handy). You can add moderate amounts of newspaper as long as you tear it up and mix well in. If you add it in layers, it won't rot down.  You can add bits of small woody stuff (ie.  Cut up your brambles, hedge prunings etc)  The basic rule of thumb is that anything that was once alive will compost.

3.  Over six months to a year, the compost will rot down.  If you're really keen, you can accelerate the process by mixing it all up at intervals.  You need a good mixture of stuff.  If you have nothing but grass clippings, it won't rot.  Add cardboard to grass clippings and it will rot.  (and vice versa).  Kitchen waste rots fastest.

4.  When it's rotted down, take out any big woody bits and chuck them on the top of your new compost pile.  (You need two bins/piles so that one can be filling up while the other is rotting down - but you can wait until the first is full before getting a second)

5.  Do NOT squash down your compost.  The air spaces are important - that's why the woody bits and egg boxes/toilet roll middles are handy, they help give the pile structure.

When you finally have your compost, you can either dig it in, or apply it as a surface layer.  Both work.

MANURE

1.  If you have a riding stable anywhere near you, contact them and ask if they'd like you to remove some of their manure.  Most places will be delighted to see you take it away.

2.  Take as much as you possibly can.  There may be a thing such as too much manure, but I've yet to encounter it.  You can use a two inch layer all over your soil and do no harm at all.  A year or two after you've added this sort of amount, the soil texture dramatically improves.

3.  It does need to be ROTTED manure. Fresh manure would be bad for the plants.

4.  Ideally, dig the stuff in in the autumn so it's incorporated by spring.  Having said that, there's a number of plants (like fruit bushes) that are happy for you to apply a surface layer in spring.  And manure any time is better than no manure for improving soil.

5.  Do NOT use manure where you're going to plant seeds (the lumps will be too big).  That's where you need to have manured the year before.

6.  Brassicas (cabbages, brocolli, etc) do not like manure.  Everything else does.


DIGGING

1. When you first start off a bed, you'll need to dig it.  The soil will probably be compacted and will need the air.  Find instructions for double digging and follow them (because I can't do a diagram here).  Ideally, incorporate manure/compost into the lower spit.

2.  Get the weeds out.  Especially couch grass and bindweed.  (If you have a bindweed problem, use glyphosphate)

3.  Once you've got it properly dug, try and avoid walking on it (this compacts the soil, reduces the amount of air and impairs it's water-holding ability).  If you have an old plank, put that on the soil and walk along the plank when you need to reach things.

4. If you're applying compost or manure and aren't planting anything from seed at the time, then you can often apply them as a surface layer and let the worms do the hard work. Don't dig unless you have to:  a. Life is too short.  b.  Digging is not good for soil structure  c.  digging speeds up the loss of organic matter.

FERTILISER

1.  A layer of grass clippings is a surprisingly effective way of keeping down weeds and adding nitrogen and organic matter. Sprinkle a layer at least two inches thick around established plants (leaving a couple of inches of space around the stem).

2.  Dilute urine is fantastic and free.  Pee into a plastic milk bottle (or whatever else takes your fancy).  Fill a normal watering can a bit over 3/4 full, add 1 litre of urine and that should bring it to full.  Pour over anything that you want to fertilise/water.  Repeat as often as you fill up bottles.  My onions are looking great!  This treatment can be applied every 3 or 4 days and seems to have almost magical effects on plant growth and resistance to disease.  It also helps the plants fight off slugs (and going by my gooseberry bush it also seems to help the plant fight aphids).  Urine is sterile when it leaves the body, so don't worry on that score.
watervole: (allotment)
Having just planted out the lettuce seedlings which are growing amazingly well and are so far untroubled by slugs, and managed (so far at least) to greatly reduce the aphid problems on the gooseberry (last year we had mega-problems with aphids), and the garden and allotment generally looking pretty good (we'll certainly have some disasters, just don't know what they'll be yet...), I wondered if anyone would like any gardening tips?

Is there some kind of fruit or veg that you'd like to grow and don't have a clue where to start?

Is there something you're already growing that simply goes wrong? (fails to thrive, gets eaten by nasties, etc)

Have you got a lawn that you're contemplating turning into a veg patch, but don't know where to begin?

Ask me, and I'll see what I can do to help.
watervole: (allotment)
If you have any raspberries or blackcurrants, then this is the best time of year (just as the new leaf growth is starting) to feed them. About three inches of manure or compost all round them (go out at as far as the bush goes and maybe a little bit more). Don't let the compost/manure touch the stems - give a couple of inches space.

If you have gooseberries or redcurrants, they should already have had a couple of inches (goseberries come into growth a little earlier), but better late than never.

Remember, if you like soft fruit, you need to feed them. They can't give you the fruit unless you give them the nutrients to grow the fruit.

(strawberries are different - being very low growing, it isn't practical to use manure/compost, so you prepare a very nice bed indeed and create a new one every three years)

In the winter, when all the leaves have died, cut out at ground level (or an inch or two above if you can't reach easily) all canes that have borne fruit that year.  (in the case of autumn fruiting raspberries, that will usually be all of them.  In the case of summer fruiting raspberries, it will be around half of them)

Grass clippings make a good mulch for raspberries (and lots of other things too) and are a very effective way of suppressing weeds while adding organic matter and nitrogen to your soil. Cut your grass, and sprinkle the fresh clippings (and inch thick is fine) around your fruit bushes.
watervole: (Default)
Today, (and yesterday, and several days last week), Richard and I have been working on [livejournal.com profile] micavity  and [livejournal.com profile] entorien 's back garden.

So far, we've cleared and shredded a large quantity of brambles (and dug out the roots), removed large quantities of weeds from around the pyracantha, deduced one of the pyracantha to be  a trailing variety which isn't going to work in what is supposed to be a hedge (they were given it as a gift, so not really their fault).  Today, I've been clearing around the pond, digging brambles and matted grass from around the edging stones.  Richard has been working on rubble clearing.

When we've removed all the brambles, willow, buddlia, etc, and the remaining rubble (there's an old path and the remains of some kind of sand pit), then we'll level everything off and work out where the new lawn should go.

Do you have a garden that needs major work doing on it?

Do you need to get a garden in good shape in order to sell a house?

Do you need to sort out the garden in a house you've just moved into?

Do you have a garden that went wild while you were ill/depressed/overworked?

Would you like a wildlife friendly garden?

Would you like to be able to grow fruit/veg, but need someone to get it all started for you?

Would you like your garden organised by someone who can tell a pyracantha from a pansy?

If the answer to any of the above is 'yes', then drop me a line and we can discuss costs.  (If you don't live near me, but are willing to provide a spare bed, then I'll happily come and stay for a week.)




watervole: (Default)
There are two species of plant with the common name Jersey Lily.  Amaryllis belldonna and Nerine bowdenii.  neither, it turns out are native to Jersey...  They both come from South Africa.

Trying to collect British native plants for the garden can be very difficult on occasion!

Robins

May. 18th, 2008 05:31 pm
watervole: (water vole)
Robins are truly gardener's bird.  There's one in our back garden at present who is remarkably tame.   He'll come within a foot of me if I don't move too abruptly.  He's been having a field day today - I've been digging out some old hellibores to makes space for another gooseberry bush this autumn and this, of course, results in lots of freshly dug soil with the resulting crop of tasty insects for him.

I've been watching him when he cleans his feathers.  He really is just a fluff ball of (mostly white when you get to the underneath ones) of feathers, balanced on fuse wire legs.  Lots of personality - robins always seem to be great characters.  He watches me with that bright little black eye of his and I always get the feeling that he knows what I'm thinking.

I feel I should introduce you to Judith's theory of robins.  You will have noticed, if you are a gardener, that robins always act as though they know you.  Well, of course, they do.  All robins are actually the same robin.  It is a basic fact of robins that you never see more than one.  Thus, it follows that the robin that acts so familiar down our allotment does so because he is in fact the same robin that lives in my garden.  When you go for a country walk, it is clear that every time you think you encounter a new robin, it is in fact the same one just following you along.  Every gardener/walker has their own person quantum robin.

This explains everything, including why it is impossible to tell male and female robins apart.  There is actually only one bird per nest, reproducing by some unique variation of parthenogenisis.  And if you wonder how the robin manages to impregnate itself, well, the males have always been nicknamed 'cock robin'!
watervole: (water vole)
Taken a brief break from gardening as the baby great tits were getting very noisy.  I don't think the parents like approaching the nest when we're working.  So, the babies get a food break and we get a tea break.  (The parents were there with a beak full within seconds of us going indoors)

How do you get birds to nest in your garden?

1.  Nest boxes. Particularly loved by blue tits and great tits.  They work especially well for blue tits if there is an oak tree within a hundred metres.  Also, having a shrub somewhere close to the nest box may be an advantage - the parents often like somewhere to perch where they can take a quick look around to be sure it's safe to approach the nest.

2.  Ivy.  Thick ivy growing against a fence or wall.  We definitely have a pair of robins, and possibly a pair of dunnocks as well, nesting in our ivy this year.

3.  Hedges.  Prickly is best.  We have a pair of blackbirds nesting in the hedge this year.

4.  Pond.  A reliable supply of water for drinking, a shallow area for bathing, and lots of plants to support things like dragonfly larvae that make such a tasty snack for young birds when they emerge.

5.  Plants of every kind and no insecticides.  Baby birds need soft food - they can't eat seeds, nuts, etc until they are several days old.  They need insects, and that means plants.  British native plants are probably best from an overall wildlife perspective, but all plants are beneficial to some extent.

6.  Undergrowth and leaf litter.  Our dunnocks and blackbirds just love rummaging through old leaves and bits of compost that I've spread around the raspberries and under the hedge.  Yet more insect food for them (and excellent mulch for the plants)

You don't need a big garden (ours is fairly small), you just need to have lots of living things in it.  Hedges beat fences hollow - and they don't blow down in storms either.  Life attracts more life.
watervole: (gardening)
Spent an hour or so this morning down the allotment clearing weeds from where we'll be planing the maincrop potatoes.  Had lunch, then worked on the raspberries in the back garden, tying them to their supports and removing suckers from the path.

The raspberries cropped wonderfully in their first year and very poorly in their second.  We eventually worked out that this was due to three factors: iron deficience, alkaline soil, not enough organic matter.  We'd fed them to start with - hence the good initial crop - but had neglected to add more to the soil as the fruit took it out.

Last summer, I added iron sulphate and used conifer clippings to increase the acidity.  Over winter, we added a surface dressing of rotted manure.  Today, the soil is beautifully brown and crumbly and all the young autumn fruiting raspberries are a healthy green colour instead of yellow.  I'm hoping for a good crop again this year - if there's one thing I love, it's going outdoors to pick a handful of fresh raspberries to add to my breakfast cereal.

Another thing struck me while I was weeding.

When did gardening cease to be a chore and become  a pleasure?

It used to be that I did the gardening because it had to be done.  In the last couple of years, I've come to look forward to it.  It's stress-free, wonderfully relaxing, full of birdsong and sunshine (mind you, I can still enjoy it when the sun isn't shining), and you come to know and love the plants you're working with.  It's physical work and that's a good source of relaxation, but it's also good in that it focuses you away from problems and you know you're doing something worthwhile (especially if you're growing food that you will enjoy later in the year).

People ask my mother-in-law why she doesn't move to a smaller house or flat where she wouldn't have to bother with her enormous garden.  Her reply is always that the garden (and gardening) is what gives her pleasure in life.  Lose the garden and she would lose the things that make her life worthwhile.  I know exactly what she means.
watervole: (allotment)
I've been wondering about this for many years, ever since visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales where they had collection bottles in the gent's loos.

I've just found a report of a study done in Finland that says it works every bit as well as conventional fertilizers and that urine is virtually sterile and thus there is no health risk.

This link also makes interesting reading (it appears to be about growing canabis, but the comments would apply to any plants).  It basically says that you can use urine directly to water plants, but it is best to dilute it by a factor of 10 or 20 to avoid scorching the roots.

I may well try this on the allotment.

And a post of mine from just over a year ago which refers to the fact that vegans who eat plants fertilised with human faeces do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency (gut bacteria produce it too far down the gut for us to absorb it when it's in the body).  I'm not sure I'll try that one right now, but maybe someday.

Nettles

Feb. 9th, 2008 09:49 pm
watervole: (you dig)
If anyone ever tells you that grasping a nettle firmly will prevent the sting from hurting you, do not believe them.

I tried this.  My fingers are still sore and tingling half a day later.  I can see a small red blister on one of them.  Next time, I'll wear a glove.

Compost

Nov. 12th, 2007 03:59 pm
watervole: (Default)
Spent a happy hour or so down the allotment this morning spreading compost around the spinach and beetroot.  The spinach was planted by the previous allotment holder, but it's been cropping pretty steadily all year and is still going strong even now.  So, I figured it was time I started actually feeding it!

The compost heap we started back in March has matured nicely now.  I'm spreading it all over the place - I'm removing the bigger twigs and tossing them into the new heap, but otherwise it's lovely and crumbly.  Mildly amusing to find a long piece of chain stitch thread.  Earlier in the year, I put an old cotton towel onto the heap - obviously the thread was nylon as that is all that is left now.  My old silk shirt and a cotton t-shirt have vanished without trace.

Any fabric will compost as long as it is made of natural fibres.  Don't put it on as a screwed up lump, spread it out like a blanket and pile the usual kitchen/garden waste on top of it.  We're also composting a fair quantity of cardboard.  Packaging material, egg boxes, toilet roll centres, cereal packets, etc.

Next time I go down, I must remember to take a load of newspaper.  Newspaper, preferably with grass clippings or compost on top to hold it down, makes an excellent mulch and I need to put a good layer around my blackcurrant bushes to keep the weeds down.
watervole: (gardening)
Been meaning to get a new compost bin for a while.  Followed up one on Freecycle a few weeks ago, but it had already gone.  Put in a request, but no others available.

Bought bin half an hour ago off council web site (they're about a quarter of the price they are in garden centres and made from 75% recycled plastic)

Ten minutes ago, up comes a compost bin on Freecycle - in my own village!

Aaargh!

Still, at least the council one only cost me £7.
watervole: (gardening)
According to my library book, (and I'm just trying this myself) it's useful to compost grass clippings and newspaper together is.  Grass clippings are very heavy in nitrogen content, where as newspapers are mostly carbon.  Good compost requires a mixture of nitrogen and carbon, as will as some water.  The trick is to shred the newspaper and then pour water on it (damp, not sodden).  Cardboard is good too.  I've just started composting corrugated cardboard and egg boxes.

So, if you want to compost your grass clippings but find that they just turn into a slimy mess, try mixing them with shredded newspaper.  (and you really do need to mix it all up for decent results)

Let me know how it goes.  My compost is racing away; it may be the newspaper or it may be occasional feed of urine (which is also high in nitrogen)

Tea bags and coffee grounds compost well (one lady on the allotments swears by tea bags)

Here's a handy link on what will compost well from the kitchen and garden.
watervole: (gardening)
Got a phone call this morning to say that I'd got the allotment. I'm going to be officially introduced to it on Tuesday.

I went to take a look this morning. If I've found the correct plot, then it's in pretty good condition. The last owner just wanted to harvest his winter greens before passing it on.

It looks pretty empty apart from a few sad looking raspberry canes and some rhubarb, but there's little in the way of serious weeds (which I'm sure won't be the case for long!).

This has come at both a good time and a bad time.

I'm struggling under masses of convention work, but the physical break will probably help me cope with the stress.

It's a good time of year to take over a plot, there's still time to get things in the ground.

Once I've had a day or two to do some thinking, I may well take up various people on offers of seeds and the like.

Meanwhile, what jobs would you do late March/early April? And what would you do to the part of the plot that will have to stay fallow while I'm working on the first section?
watervole: (gardening)
According to my library book, not only is composting newspaper easy to do, it also improves the overall mix of your compost and provides a good balance to things like grass clippings and weeds. (paper has more carbon, grass cuttings are higher in nitrogen) It should all rot down a little bit faster and better.

So, I'm giving it a go. I just fed the compost heaps their first newspaper today.

Still pondering the book's other suggestion... The best source of nitrogen is urine. Makes an excellent compost accelerator and comes with other free nutrients as well. (and reduces your sewage - it always did seem a bit daft to dump all that lovely fertiliser out at sea)

Should I go and find an old chamber pot?...

Gardening

Oct. 1st, 2006 04:34 pm
watervole: (you dig)
Manged to fend off the toothache long enough to do some work in the back garden. Read more... )
watervole: (you dig)
No toothache today! No idea why, but I'm not complaining.

Took advantage of feeling normal to cycle down to the local garden centre and buy various perennials and some bulbs. (Iris, lavender, crocuses, lamb's ears, aubretia and campanula)

Planted them all up and then the rain watered them in for me. Looks good and I'll have some more to add in a day or two when plants I mail-ordered arrive. I'm putting in a fair number of British native plants like Jacob's Ladder, Monkshood and flax. And bluebells, of course. English, NOT Spanish.

Feeling happy!
watervole: (Default)
I love my neighbours!

Not only are they paying me to mow, weed and trim their garden, but they've just given me a plant-buying budget to play with. There's a general request for blues/lilacs/soft colours and a natural look to it. Beyond that, they trust me to pick something that will work.

This is so exciting! My mind is playing with ideas. I'd already thought that some silvery foliage might work well and that would fit in very well with blues as there's several plants with a silvery tint to the leaves that have blue flowers.

I'm toying with a globe thistle http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/7607.shtml as a centrepiece. Catmint, lavender, bluebells, iris, what else would people suggest?

Anyone fancy making a fork and trowel icon for me?

Gardening

Jul. 30th, 2006 05:10 pm
watervole: (Default)
It has finally got cool enough to be able to do some decent work in the garden without collapsing from heat stroke. And, oh boy, is there lots to be done. Fortunately, I like gardening - I find it relaxing (and I've been pretty stressed this last week, so relaxation is good).

I've been lawnmowing and weed pulling and trimming stuff here and there and pulling out more weeds. I'm just giving my back a quick rest before I return to cutting the grass away from the flagstones in the back lawn.

It's lovely to see the blackbirds visiting their nest in the wisteria. They're so habituated to my presence that they'll visit the nest even when I'm pottering around in the garden. We've also got a juvenile robin (spotty brown breast instead of the adult red) who is remarkably bold and comes to watch when I'm cutting out the old raspberry canes.

The summer fruiting raspberries (the new growth at least) recovered to a decent green colour with a multi-mineral feed and lots of water. However, the same treatment has had no impact on the autumn fruiting raspberries, which look as sad and yellow as they did before.

Relaxing

Oct. 4th, 2005 01:49 pm
watervole: (Dragonfly)
Cut back the hedge a little bit more (It didn't get trimmed enough last year, so it's got a bit too big and needs cutting back much harder this year). If I didn't have roses growing through it, I could just tackle it with a hedge trimmer. I'm doing it with secateurs, which is slow, but I'm in no great hurry and why complain when it's a sunny day and there's an emperor dragonfly over the pond, a robin is singing in the laurel and my hawkmoth caterpiller has moved to a much safer spot on an evening primrose.

I've transplanted a bit of orange hawkweed that Molly gave me into the front garden. It's been growing quite well round the back and it has pretty flowers. Let's see if it will grow in a less sunny spot near the front door. Apparantly orange hawkweed is a noxious weed in America - one of the many bad deeds to go over the Atlantic. It's quite well behaved over here, but then evening primrose is a native of America and is a noxious weed in my garden (seeds like wildfire and roots everywhere).

I only wish my hawkmoth caterpillar was actually eating the plant, but I think he's just resting there. Plants without their natural predators are a pain.

(e-mail backlog down to 50. I'm still gaining ground. The further I get, the harder the remaining ones are to reply to as they're the ones that have been put off because they require more work...)

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Judith Proctor

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