Entries Tagged 'Gardening Techniques' ↓

Raised Bed Kits for a very competitive price

Many allotment gardeners (and, indeed, those raising vegetables in their gardens) have found that keeping beds contained is a perennial problem. Most methods of containing beds with railway sleepers or other timber is too expensive and too much work, taking time you would rather devote to raising your plants.

Allotment Timber Raised Bed

Harrod Horticulture have come up with an answer. They call it their ‘Allotment Timer Design for Raised Beds‘. It is in fact suitable for any raised beds. Made from 6 inch (15cm) thick FSC Scandinavian timber planks and planed all round they are quality wood with 5 year structural guarantee.

The planks are treated with a safe timer preservative to ensure that they have the best possible resistance to fungal decay and wood boring insects. Harrod Horticulture consult withe Garden Organic to select the best possible preservative to do this job so it should work!

The kits come in a variety of square and rectangular designs with 3 height options and for narrow areas there are 2 ft wide mini-beds or triangular corner shapes.

The kits come complete with internal wooden fixing posts and zinc pplated scrrews. Even the planks are pre-drilled and full instructions are included so that minimum time and wood working ability is needed.

If you want a more elegant look, or have a side on which you can sit to work on your beds (really useful when planting), then you can also buy capping which has been desined to fit perfectly.

These raised bed kits are really good value and will last many years with the minimum of maintenance giving you beds which will never move or lose soil. They are excellant for raised beds (partcularly useful if you garden organically) but will be useful whatever your method of gardening.

Making Raised Beds for Easy Gardening

deep bed

One of the most important features in my vegetable patch is that it has raised beds. I try to garden organically (in the main I achieve this, although if there is a particularly virulent attack of one insect I have been known to resort to chemicals) and raised beds fit with this like a hand and glove.

Perhaps I should explain the thinking behind raised beds and what they are. Raised beds are exactly what they say. They are beds which have been raised above the level of the rest of the garden. You can do this by just adding soil or compost in a certain area. It works but tends to get untidy and the soil creeps away. It is better to edge your bed with wood (or other materials). One of things you do is make them so that you can reach of them without stepping on them. This means the soil never gets compacted so it does not need digging.If you are going to be able to walk all around them, this means no wider than 4 ft. (a normal persons reach is about 2 ft.)

Once you have built your bed, you double dig it, then add compost or soil enricher and gently fork it in. In the future, all you will need to do is add compost and gently fork it in. Easy!

The benefits of Raised beds have now been recognised by some of the garden supply companies and you can now buy kits to make them.  Check some examples here. This makes life much easier – no measuring and cutting, preserving and sanding. There are even Raised Bed kits which include caps on them. This is actually a good idea, as it makes a comfortable place to sit and rest for a few minutes – or even sit whilst you are planting.

I have talked of Raised beds in the vegetble patch, but there is no reason why you can’t use them in your ornamental garden. Just make sure that the soil is not to lose to hold your plants. (Brussel Sprouts often do not do to well in raised beds as they topple). Why not try making a Thyme seat in one.

Creating plant food from worms

I try to recycle as much of my rubbish as possible. However, I have always had problems with cooked food. You should not put cooked food onto compost heaps because, although it will compost very well, it will also attract rats and mice – visitors you do not want to your garden. That is where the wormery comes in.


Put simply, a wormery is a sealed container holding a special species of worm which will digest your spare food and convert it into usable plant food. However, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Yes, you can use an old dustbin but in very short order it will smell and become water logged.

The advice from professional worm farmers is that a large surface area will help worms process organic waste quicker and leads to even greater worm cast harvests, so when first making or buying your wormery, you should take this into account.

The other thing is that you want your wormery to be close to your kitchen door, so that disposing of your organic waste is easy – even in bad weather.

Harrod Horticulture sell some very nice looking (and very practical) timber wormeries. They are flat pack and come with step by step assembly instructions so that there is a real sense of accomplishment even before you harvest your first plant food. They are made from stout FSC timber which has been pressure treated and is guaranteed for five years. They are also (in my view) really good looking.  The only other thing you need apart from the Wormery is the worms themselves and some bedding culture so that the worms can start to work (and reproduce)  as soon as you introduce them to their new home.

Wormeries do not replace the compost bin but they do make fantastic companions to it. Compost bins produce large amount of general soil improver whilst wormeries produce worm casts which is the highest quality organic fertiliser there is. It is rich in minerals and micro-organisms which are essential to the healthy growth of plants.

Worms also produce liquid which when drained from the wormery which can be poured onto your compost heap to accelerate the rotting down process or it can be diluted to spray onto lawns or plants as a rich feed.

Watering Plants with Sprinklers or Watering Cans

All plants require adequate amounts of water and there will be occasions when it is necessary to water artificially. However, watering your plants is not just a case of pouring water onto them.  In fact this can do more harm than good. There are a few rules you should bear in mind when applying water.

First, never add water in small amounts. It is essential to give enough water to get right down to the roots of the plant where they need it. Applying little water often, will make the plant roots come to the surface of the soil to search for water, making them even more vulnerable to the heat and lack of moisture.

Second, although large quantities of water are required, you must apply it carefully. Water applied in the form of large droplets or with great force will make the soil ‘crumbs’  break down and form a hard crust on the surface. This will prevent further water from entering the soil and also it will inhibit the free interchange of air and gases. On a seed bed, this crust will actually stop the young seedlings pushing through to the surface. To prevent this happening always apply water through a sprinkler with a fine head. When watering seed trays use a watering can fitted with a fine rose. Start pouring the water to one side of the tray or pot, then pass the watering can over the seedlings keeping the angle of the rose constant throughout. When you have finished, do not raise the can until you it is clear of the seed tray or pot.

The size of the droplets of water is not so important when you are watering grass, so lawn sprinklers are not generally made with much attention to the optimum droplet size. However, if you are going to be using your sprinkler on other parts of your garden, besides the lawn, then make sure you have a fine head to put on it. If you can only afford one head, chose a fine one.

It is not necessary to keep the soil moist all the time. Only water when the soil is dry but before the plants begin to suffer. Remember the surface of your soil may dry out long before the rest of it does. Provided you use a fine spray, you can water at any time of day. However, timing is important. Watering when fruits and vegetables are swelling will increase the overall weight. Once fruits, in particular, begin to colour you should not over-water. It could invite a fungal attack, particularly botrytis.

It is very easy to over-water especially plants in pots. Try to strike a balance between an aerated soil or compost and one with moisture. A cold, wet, airless soil will not do anything to encourage plant growth. If you are watering in the vegetable or flower garden, leave the sprinkler one for at least an hour each time.

When you have just planted a plant, water it immediately after planting, then leave it to its own devices for a while, almost allowing the soil to dry out before watering the plant again. This will encourage the plant to search for water, thus increasing its root system.

Watering is a bit of an art. Remember, in the garden water copiously, less often. Err on the side of dryness rather than giving to much water. Pot plants want to be damp but do not want to drown.

Digging your garden

Hand digging is the main method of cultivating the soil and although many gardeners dislike it, is is a necessary evil. It breaks up compacted soil and introduces air, allowing the water to drain away and roots to penetrate more easily. You can also add organic matter to the lower layers increasing the depth of the topsoil.Whilst cultivators are useful, they are no replacement for hand digging.

Different soils require different times for digging. If you have heavy soil then you should dig in the autumn before the winter rains make it too wet and sticky to dig. If necessary, cover your soil with polythene for a week or so before you dig to prevent it becoming too wet. Leaving the soil roughly dug over winter allows the frosts and rain to kill pests and weeds as well as leaving them open to the birds. In the spring the weather will have broken the surface down to a fine tilth and all you will need to do is rake it.

If you have light, sandy or chalky soil, then you should dig in the spring. The problem with light soils is that they drain very easily, leaching out nutrients. Also, the soil can be eroded by the winds. To avoid this happening, keep the ground covered during the winter by sowing a green crop manure in autumn and digging it in just before your spring sowing.

Whenever you dig, pick out any perrenial weed roots and put them to one side to burn them. Annual weeds can be dug back in but make sure they are at the bottom of your trench so that they add to the organic matter you are digging in and so that they will not regrow.

If not done correctly, digging can cause severe back strain. However, provided you use your common sense, it can also be a healthy, invigorating and enjoyable excercise. It is very rewarding to look at a patch of your garden which you have just dug and see it looking pristine and ready for sowing.

There are a few common sense rules which you should follow when digging. The first is the time for your digging. Never dig if your soil is wet enough to stick to your boots. It will spoil the structure of the soil.

Always use a fork and spade which are the right size for you. Using tools which are too large may seem like a good idea – you can move more soil at one time – but they will tire you quickly and you will consequently work slower. Never take spadefuls which are too heavy to comfortably lift. By taking smaller amounts you will not strain yourself and you will be able to work for longer.

Always take your time. Do not try to do too much to start with. By adopting a rhythmic and methodical approach to digging, being aware not to cause strain all the time you will find it much easier. As soon as you start to feel you have had enough or you start to find it difficult to stand up – stop! This is the stage when you start to hurt yourself. Take the time to do your digging in stages. It is better to take two or three days to dig over your patch than attempt to do it in one day and end up with three weeks of back-ache.

Last but not least, keep your tools in good, clean condition. Keep a scraper on hand when digging and use it regularly to clean your tools. When you finish, clean your tools thoroughly and rub them over with an oily cloth to prevent rust. Then stand back and admire your work.

Improve seed propagation with a soil warming cable

A soil warming cable is a cable which goes in the soil , or more often nowadays, under the soil in order to warm it.  We used to buy these warming tools as cables and spread them within the soil in a zigzag pattern. Now they are usually bought in the form of a mat, either made of alluminium or, as in the case of the one sold by Thompson and Morgan, as a net.

Warming the soil makes it much easier to germinate seeds even when the weather is not reliably warm as well as help cuttings to root.

The alternative to a soil warming cable is an electric propogator, this will give you a much smaller area of warmed soil.

propagation mat

The advantage of the T & M soil warming cable (they call it a heated propogation mat) is that it covers an area of 16 ins by 48 ins. This is generally the full length and width of one side of your greenhouse staging. This gives you great flexibility in the type and number of pots and trays you use both for seeds and cuttings.

Heated Propagator

If you want to sow seeds early before the weather has warmed up enough to allow them to germinate naturally, or even if you want to be sure that seed which is temperature sensitive germinates, then you need a method of warming the soil or compost into which you are sowing the seed.

If you are lucky enough (and wealthy enough) to have a heated greenhouse, then you do not have this problem. The rest of us have to devise ways of warming our sowing medium without breaking the bank.

The easiest way of doing this is a heated propagator.  At it’s simplest,this is a plastic box which has a heating element put into it and into which you put seed trays. It has a clear top to keep the heat in and stop the water evaporating. Usually, the element has a thermostat control so that it does not get too hot (or cold) and is propected in some way so that it does not short out when your seed trays are watered.

There are many diferent versions of heated propagators on the market and most garden centres, seed merchants and almost any store selling garden sundries sell them. They are easily found on the internet.

Thompson and Morgan sell a number of them, designed for different purposes and to hold different size pots. For those without greenhouses, there is an electric windowsill propagator.

Windowsill Propagator

This is the right size to fit windowsills and is supplied complete with 7 mini seed trays so you do not have to go out and buy extra pots. Just fill them with compost and sow your seed. With a 15 watt heater, this gives a gentle heat creating a compost heat of 19 degrees, just right for good germination. Because it has such a small element, it is very inexpensive to run.

For gardeners who want something a bit larger, T & M also sell their Electric propagator Top10

Electric Propagator Top 10

This has a 50 watt heated, which is thermostatically controlled, designed to give a temperature of 19 degrees. Instead of the usual method of covering the whole propagator, this has seperate lids to each pot (as the title suggests 10 in all), which means that no cross contamination can take place and each set of seeds can be given exactly the amount of water it needs.

An even larger version is their Jumbo propagator

This takes 8 full size seed trays.Once again the heater is thermostatically controlled . Apart from it’s size, the other advantage of this propagator is that it has three seperate compartments and each compartment can be unzipped to allow ventilation.

Whether you are just starting out sowing seeds or are experienced but feel you need a more reliable way of ensuring germination, electric heated propagators are a very good answer to the problem.

Pruning Shrubs

All shrubs can be pruned to some degree, to shape them or to keep them smaller than they would naturally grow. However, some shrubs are pruned annually to produce flowering stems.

Some shrubs, like Buddleia Daviddii (The Butterfly Bush) flower in late summer on wood made during the same season. They make growths from buds that have been resting over winter, so you need to be careful when pruning that you do not damage these buds. These shrubs are cut back in early spring when the heavy frosts are over. You start by cutting out any wood damaged by frosts, then to increase the size of the flowers, all shoots are pruned back hard.

Shrubs such a Ribes (Flowering Current) and Forsythia, should be cut back immediately after flowering. This encourages the shrub to produce long shoots. The longer the shoots, the more flowers you get.

Others like heathers (Erica) and Lavenders (Lavendula) are pruned immediately after flowering by cutting the flowering heads off with a pair of shears. This is to stop them producing seed. It also keeps them tidy.

Shrubs like Rhododendrum do not really need pruning. They grow naturally in a good shape. These need dead-heading. This is simply removing the dead flower heads.This increases the flower yield the following year.

There’s no magic to pruning, don’t be afraid to do it. If you cut too much off one year, it will grow back the following year. If you prune at the wrong time, trhe shrub may not flower so well (or not at all) the following year but the year after that, it will be fine.

Seeds to sow in February.

If, like me, you can’t wait to get back to gardening, or if you want an early crop of vegetables, then there are a number of vegetable seeds which can be sown in February.

Some of these can be sown straight in the ground, such as Broad Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Calabrese, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Leeks, Radish, Beetroot and Lettuce. Some need gentle heat – Greenhouse Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers (Capsicums) Aubergine, Cucumber and sprouting seeds among them.

When you are buying your seeds to sow at this time of year(Or any time, come to that) look carefully at the variety and make sure that it is suited to the purpose. For example, there is no use sowing an Autumn Cauliflower at this time of year, it simply won’t germinate.

The seeds which need heat can be germinated on the kitchen window sill if you want. Just make sure you are going to be able to plant them out before they get too ‘leggy’. All plants grow towards the light and if you sow seeds indoors, they will reach for the sky. If they are left indoors for too long, they will get tall and weak – this is called ‘leggy’.

I sow most of my vegetables (except root vegetables) in pots in my greenhouse. This is because I live in open country and know I have a number of pests in my garden which would love me to sow them a ready meal. It also means I can check that cauliflowers are not ‘blind’ before planting them out.

If you are germinating your seeds on a window sill, even if it is warm during the day, the night temperature will drop at this time of year. To ensure good germination and growth, the best thing to do is to use an electric propogator. Propogators are basically plastic boxes with electric heaters in the base. T & M sell a propogator especially designed to go on your windowsill. It has a 15 watt element, so is quite inexpensive to run and has 7 seperate mini trays with lids, so you can raise more than one types of seed in it.

Electric Propogatoes are very useful in a cold greenhouse at this time of year, both for seed germination and for raising cuttings. A propogators will ensure the soil stays at an even temperature which promotes growth. Alternately, Thompson and Morgan sell a heated propgation mat which you lay oin your staging. It has a thermostat sensor so will never get to hot, or cold and is inexpensive to run.

If want to raise very early crops inside your cold greenhouse, you may want to consider heating it for the three months from January to March. You should begin by double lining your greenhouse walls with pplastic, to give better insulation. If you have a large greenhouse, you may want to do this with part of it, to save heating bills. THen you put a heater in. YOu can use any type of heater you like, although gas heaters are not recommended because they are ubnsafe and also because they give off a great deal of water vapour. Thompson and Morgan sell an Electric Fan Heaterwhich is 1.2KW. This is particularly useful since you can use it in summer to keep the air circulating in your greenhouse and keep it cool. It also has a ‘frost watch’ setting so that it only works during the winter to keep your greenhouse frost free. This is useful if you are extending the season during late autumn and early winter.

Parsnips can be quite tricky to germinate. They will only germinate from fresh seed – no good trying to sow last years excess seed. They also need heat and damp. You can germinate them at this time of year by putting them on damp blotting paper (or kitchen roll). Put them in a plastic bag and then put them in the airing cupboard. Don’t forget them, though – they will go mouldy. When they have germinated, sow them normally.

It’s no good sowing any seed into ground that is frozen. This year has been unreasonably cold and at the moment, my ground is frozen solid However, you can expect a thaw anytime soon and when it comes – go for it. If you are concerned, sow half your seed and keep half back for a later sowing, that way should you have trouble with germination, you can always try again.

Sowing under cover will also help your germination. When you have sown your seed, cover the ground with horticultural fleece. This will help keep the warmth in, keep the predators (such as birds) off and allow the rain through.

How to make Compost

Ideally, really good compost is supposedly brown and crumbly with the sweetest of smells, like woods in the autumn. In fact, it very rarely is. If you have a very big compost heap with only the very best organic material to build it with, then you can achieve this in spring and summer. Most of us, however build our compost heaps with whatever organic material available and the compost is very variable with a lot of semi-rotted fibrous matterial. That doesn’t matter. It will still improve the soil and will certainly do no harm, it will just take longer for it to become  “humus”.

Getting good quality compost takes care. Each material needs different treatment. There are some materials which are especially useful.Straw is one of them, whilst others, such as grass clippings need to be mixed with other materials to achieve good results. If you make a heap of grass cuttings alone, it will just become slimy and smelly. Mix grass with larger weeds, shredded paper or straw. However, straw and paper is very dry and should be soaked in water before adding to the compost heap. Never use glossy paper in compost – it does not rot well and contains too much lead. Always shred paper, never put wads of it in your compost heap – it takes too long to rot.

There are some things you should be careful of putting on your heap. Some root systems will survive being put onto the compost heap and will grow again once spread over your garden. Never put roots from bindweed, stinging nettles or dandelions on your heap. Burn them, then you can either add the ash to your compost heap or spread it on your garden.

The ideal compost is made thus: start off with a 6 in layer of course material such as horse manure, straw or large weeds. This will give you a free flow of air. Then add materials such as grass cuttings, leaves and weeds from the garden until you have another 6 ins. Sprinkle some compost activator or nitrogen fertilizer 0ver this layer or add horse manure at this point (the nitrogen in it will act as a compost activator). Next add another 6 in layer of garden materal. Add a dusting of lime. Next add leaves and grass cuttings, then lime. When you have finished building your compost heap, cover it with carpet. This will keep the heat in and keep it dry. The compost heap will rot down and shrink in the first week, so you can add an extra layer at this time should you want to. The amount of compost you can make depends upon the amount of material you have, the way you build your heap and the weather. In a hot year, you should get two good binfuls in the summer, one in the autumn and if you are lucky, one in the spring.