Entries Tagged 'General Gardening' ↓

Superior Timber Design Raised Bed Kits

Harrod’s Superior Riased Bed Kits look good and are pretty adaptable. They are made of FSC Scandinavion timer planks which are 8 inches (20cm) high and 1.4 inches thick. This makes them pretty robust. As well as the planking they sell  4 inch (10cm) corner posts and also capping seperately. The planks come in various lengths from 2 ft to 8 ft as does the capping.

Superior Timber Raised Beds

Harrod also sell what they call ‘Starter Kits’ which include all you need to make raised beds: the planks, corner posts, long lasting aluminium joining brackets and even zinc plated screws – with full instructions on how to assemble them. These kits come in various width and length sizes from 2 ft square and raising by 2 ft increments (seperately by width and length i.e. you could have 4 ft by 6 ft) to 8 ft square. There is also 4 height options. The capping is not included in the kit but can be bought seperately. On top of the rectangular kits, there is also a triangular kit available.

The wood has been high pressure treated with safe timberpreservative which was selected in consultation with ‘Garden Organic’ to ensure the best possible protection from attack from fungal attack and attack from wood boring insects. It has been planed to give you the best possible look.It is structually guaranteed for 8 years.

There are god reasons for putting capping on the top of your raised bed sides. Apart from loking really attractive, they are excellant for sitting on whilst hand weeding or planting in your beds.

These beds really are stylish and would make a god addition to any garden.

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.

Choosing a Water Butt for your Garden

As gardeners, we have a duty to conserve our natural resources and thereby protect our environment. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to collect rainwater in water butts and use it for watering the garden. In fact, I use rainwater to water my greenhouse as well. It really is very easy and doesn’t need a huge investment or to look ugly.

Rainwater butts (or barrels) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.Which one you choose depends upon your taste and how large your roof and garden are. Fitting them couldn’t be easier.

First the types of butts and positioning of them. Harcostar are one of the most reliable and well known of the makers of Rainwater Butts. They guarantee their butts for five years so should anything go wrong (and that is highly unlikely) you know you are covered.

As I have already said, the type of butt depends upon your taste. They sell ex-distillery oak barrels complete with brass verdigris tap.

Oak Barrel Water Butt

It holds 50 gallons of water which is enough for many needs. However should you need a greater capacity, you could always link into another barrel.  They also sell three different taps to go with the barrel,a traditional looking tap, one with a snail as a handle and one with a frog as a handle. This could give your barrel a funky look if you so desire.

Less expensive, but mimicking the oak distery barrel look is a heavy duty polythene oak effect barrel.

Imitation Oak Water Butt

It comes complete with child safety lid and cut out section for inlet pipe. This one hold 52 gallons of water.

If you like the traditional green barrels, there is plenty of choice, depending upon the place you want to put it and the shape you want. Harcostar make a Giant tank and rainwater trap which holds 150 gallons of rainwater.

Giant Rainwater Tank

For a tank this size it is remarkably unobtrusive. Unlike most of the barrels, this one is rectangular in shape and has two positions for the tap, at ground level and above ground.

In fact I have two rainwater butts. I have a traditional green barrel by my back door which collects water from one roof. It is very useful as it has a flat top which I can use to put parcels on whilst opening the dor. My cats also sit on it waiting to be let in.  I also have a much larger water butt by the side of the house which I use to water my greenhouse. This is done by having a pump in it fitted to a hose which is then fed into the greenhouse. This can then be connected to your greenhouse watering system or like mine, just used with a spray on the end. Although, I do use it with a drip system when I go away on holiday. How useful is that!

Collecting rainwater to use on your garden is useful in a number of ways. You get pure water without the added chemicals mixed into tap water. It’s free, and with most houses now on water meters, this is always useful and you can feel good that you are doing your bit towards saving the environment but not using treated water.

Preventing overwintering pests and diseases in the greenhouse.

Saturday turned out to be a nice day weatherwise here. The sun shone brightly and the greenhouse suddenly warmed up, so, looking forward to spring, I decided to get rid of any pests and diseases which  may have overwintered in the greenhouse, by burning a sulpher candle.

This is not very organic, but I don’t profess to garden totally chemical free. I just try to use as few chemicals as possible and look for alternatives if possible. I always look carefully before smoking the greenhouse to see if there are any beneficial insects which I do not want to kill. Plants which have been stored in the greenhouse do not seem to suffer from the treatment.

There are a number of pests and diseases which can populate your greenhouse without you being aware of them until they become a problem in spring and summer. Some overwinter in the greenhouse, so it is worth treating the greenhouse to rid yourself of the worst of them before you start a new year. Remember though, this treatment is indiscriminate and will kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones.

Pests and diseases in the greenhouse can build up rapidly because of the warmth and humidity. It is always best to keep a careful watch for them and try to prevent them building up. Always maintain scrupulous cleanliness and remove any damaged parts of the plant as soon as you spot a problem. Do not compost that plant material – burn it.

There are a number of fungal diseases which affect your greenhouse plants and one of the worse, in my opinion , is damping off. This shows as a blackened area at the base of the stem and in very short order the affected plant will topple over and die. There’s nothing worse than sowing and nurturing a plant only for it to suddenly die. There are a number of things you can do to prevent it (there is no cure). First, sow your seeds more thinly, water less and increase the temperature in the greenhouse. Sometimes, the disease is carried in the soil and if this is the case you will need to sterilize it by heating it to kill it. Watering other plants with copper fungicide will help prevent itspreading.

Red Spider mite are almost invisible to the naked eye and you don’t see them until there are loads of them. They are green as well as red and they cover the plants with webs and cause fine mottling on the leaves. They are only a problem in a dry atmosphere so increase the humidity to safeguard. There is a parasitic mite which will control it, but if you have a small infestation you can spray with derris

Whiteflies are another serious and persistent greenhouse pest. They are small white flies (as the name suggests) which weaken the plants by sucking sap. They are often found on the undersides of leaves. They can be controlled by a parasitic wasp. Alternately hang a grease coated yellow card in the greenhouse. For some reason, many insects are attracted to yellow and they stick to it. If all else fails, spray with derris three times at five day intervals. Do not spray if you have already introduced biological control.

Rock Gardens and Rockeries

Purists will tell you that there is a difference between rockeries and rock gardens. They will even look down their noses at rockeries. Ignore them!

The difference between rockeries and rock gardens is mainly scale and the emphasis of rock or plants. In rock gardens, the rocks are very large and that is the main thrust of the installation. Plants are usually quite small and widely spread, put there to stress the size and shape of the rocks.

Rockeries, however, are often small parts of normal size gatrdens, often built next to, or around small ponds and their space is shared with specially chosen plants.

When building a rockery, chose your rocks with care. Place them so that they look as if they were meant to be in the ground there. They need the bottoms covered with soil, so that they, as well as your plants, have grown there. Leave room between your rocks for your plants to expand but not too much room. You don’t really want bare soil between the rocks.

Plants for rockeries are great. You can get so many shapes and colours in a small space. There is a huge selection to choose from, some are only suitable for a position in the rockery whilst others can be used in other parts of the garden.There are even rock versions of much larger plants. Often rock plants are ones which will spread rapidly and rampantly, so the positioning of them is important so that they are contained.

Salix Apoda is a small plant, only 6 inches (15cm) high with a spread of 12-24 inches (30 -6-cm). It is, in effect, a miniture willow. It is a slow growing a deciduous shrub. In early spring male forms bear fat, silky silver catkins with orange to pale yellow stamens and bracts. The leaves are oval and leathery. When they are young they are hairy and become dark green later.

Sedums and  Saxifraga are large families  of plants which are recognisably related and they have varieties which provide interest throughout the year. You could build a rockery using only those plants and it would still be attractive. Check out saxifraga burseriana which have large white open cup flowers in the early spring. It is evergreen, so will look good throughout the winter. Saxifrage ‘hindhead seedling’  is another evergreen but has a hard dome of small spiny blue-green leaves. It has open upward facing pale yellow flowers in spring, whilst saxifrage sancia has tufts of bright green leaves all year with short racemes of upward facing bright yellow flowers in spring.

In summer, the sedums take over, with sedum acre being the most common. ‘Aureum’ is a variety which is evergreen, dense and mat-forming with spreading shots, yellow tipped in the spring and early summer and clothed in tiny fleshy, yellow leaves. It bears flat heads of tiny bright yellow flowers in summer, hence its name. Less well known,but equally showy is seduym lydium. This has reddish stems and narrow, flesht often red-flushed leaves and bears flat topped terminal clusters of tiny white flowers in summer.

There are so many different plants you can choose from for rock garden, it bogales the mind. Check out the Gentians, the campanulas, geraniums and the dianthus families. The thyme family also provides great miniature plants.

The great thing about having a rockery in your garden is that in a quite small space you can have a rich variety of plants which you wouldn’t have room for if you grew varieties in any other positi0n. So ignore the rock garden snobs, go for it and enjoy!

Making your own Garden Tools

Homemade garden tools are easy to make, cost very little – if  anything – and are hugely satisfying to use. In fact ‘re-cycling’ is a word which seems to be made specifically for this activity. All the tools decribed can, of course be purchased either on the internet or through garden centres or even D.I.Y. shops.

The first suggested tool is a sieve. A 1.5mm mesh is really useful for sprinkling a fine layer of compost on top of seeds. It is very easy and inexpensive to make. You just nail a piece of mesh on a square or circular frame. You can make the frame by nailing 4 pieces  of wood together.

Next is a garden line. This is so useful, I’m sure most gardeners use it whenever they sow seeds in the vegetable patch. It consists of two sticks (or pegs) with a thick piece of string between them. It is useful to make it to fit your patch and to keep it rolled up for use when you have finished using it. Always have two garden lines – it will save you a lot of walking round the bed.

A dibber is a useful tool when transplanting seedlings or planting cuttings. You can, of course, use your finger but a dibber saves finger nails! Make a large one by using the top of a broken wooden spade or fork handle. Cut it to 12 ins (30cm) and shave the end to a point. Simple.

Make a tool cleaner by cutting a piece of wood into the shape of a spade. Use it to clean your spade or fork when digging. Clean tools make digging much easier. Also use it to clean all your tools when you have finished with them, before oiling them and putting them away. Tools will last much longer that way.

A planting board is invaluable for accurate spacing of plants. It is make from 1in x 1in wood (3cm x 3 cm). Make it as long as you want but no longer than 10 ft (3 m). It become difficult to place if it is longer than that. Make a sawcut every 3 ins (8cm) and mark every 12 ins (30cm) with the appropriate number of nails.  This stops the guessing from the spacing of plants and the frustration of using a tape measure.

Green Manure Crops

Green Manure crops are crops which are sown and grown on land which is laying fallow with the express purpose of digging them in so that they will improve your soil. There are two very different types of green manure – those which fix nitrogen inthe the soil and those which do not do so. The one you choose will depend mainly on the nature of your soil and the length of time you are going to leave it to grow.

Green manure plants that act as nitrogen fixers include: Alfalfa (Lucerne); Broad or fava beans; Red clover; Lupin and winter tare. Green Manures which do not fix nitrogen include: Buckwheat; Rye; Phacelia; Mustard and Italian Ryegrass.

Italian Ryegrass is a particularly useful plamt as you can sow it early in the spring and it will quickly germinate even in cold soil. It is fast-growing and bulky. So you can sow it very early and dig it in before the ground has warmed up sufficiently to plant out tender vegetables. Be careful though, you must ensure you use the annual strain called “Westerwolds” and not the biennial or perennial ryegrass. You must also be sure to dig it in before it produces seed.If you sow the wrong type of rye grass, you will never get rid of it.It will keep regrowing no matter how many times you dig it out. The latin name for Italian ryegrass is Lolium multiflorum.

Phacelia (Latins name:Phacelia tanacetifolia) is one of the best green manure crops in spite of the fact that it does not fix nitrogen. It does not rob the soil of nutrogen either. It does not withstand cold, so sow it after the threat of frost has passed and dig in after about eight weeks.

Buckwheat  is useful only where you have space available for the whole of the summer (most of us haven’t) Sow when it is warm in the spring or early summer and dig it in in autumn. Buckwheat is tall and has a very extensive rot system. It makes loads of organic matter but does not fix nitrogen. To add to its advantage: it attracts hoverflies which eat greenfly by the thousand.

Mustard is very useful since it is very quick growing and is a good weed supressor. It is shallow roted so is easy to dig in. Sow in spring or summer and dig in autumn before it flowers. The snag with mustard is that it is a member of the cabbage family so it could harbour club root.

Broad or fava beans is a really super green manure crop. It will stand the winter weather almost everywhere. It produces loads of organic matter and fixes nitrogen. Sow in autumn or early summer, harvest the beans then dig the rest of the plant in.

Lupin is a deep rooted legume which adds nitrogen and large amounts of phospherous to the soil. Sow in spring and cut down and dig in in summer.

Red clover has an extensive rot system that will supply plenty of organic matter. It is low growing and a good nitrogen fixer, It is best to sow it in spring or early summer but always before autumn. Dig in when the land is needed.

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.

Useful Weeds

Most gardeners ruthlessly remove all weeds as soon as they see them. They are often unsightly, compete with our  cultivated plants for nutrients and water and can harbour pests and diseases. However, some weeds are beneficial, and perhaps you could find a small part of the garden to allow them to grow.

Dandelions are rich in minerals. The young leaves are good to eat in salads and the roots can be used to make a cafeine free coffee. Of course pet rabbits (and wild ones!) and hamsters love the flavour of dandelion leaves as well. They also attract butterflies and bullfinches. Many years ago, Blue Peter cultivated a lawn of Dandeli0ns and whilst I would not adbvocate going that far, a few somewhere in the garden might be useful.

Some weeds can be very attractive, Herb Robert, Poppy and Red Campion come under this catogary. Herb Robert seeds and colonizes very quickly even in poor soils so it gives cover to pest predators and after it dies down (it is an annual) it will provide organic matter, so improving your soil.Be warned, though, you need to keep it under control or it will be everywhere. Red Campion attracts bees which pollinate flowers and butterflies and moths – drawn by the perfume released by the plant at night Butterflies and moths (and their caterpillers) in turn will attract birds. Red Campion is a Lychnis and when cultivated the size of the flowers will increase. Everybody knows the wild red poppy. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the flowers and birds are drawn to the seeds.

Nettles are not all bad. They are an important food source for butterflies. The young leaves can be boiled and eaten as a spinach substutute. Don’t leave them in the ground too long though, their roots get very thick and become very difficult to remove. They spread through their roots, so need to be kept severely under control.

Teasels are an outstanding biennial weed which are often cultivated in the ornamental garden for their striking seed heads. Birds are attracted to the seeds in autumn and the seed heads make great Christmas decorations.

These are only a few of the useful weeds in our gardens. There are a number of others. So before you eradicate all the weeds, think about how much harm they are doing and whether you could benefit from leaving them, or growing them elsewhere in your garden (under hedges are often a good place, since they are less noticable and will be less rampant there.

Perennials, Bi-Annuals and Annuals.

Like most things, gardening has its own language and once you know that language, you can better understand how to garden well. A knowledge of Latin is useful, since many of the plant names have their origins in Latin. Even new varieties are using Latin in their names. However, this is not necessary since you don’t really need to know the meaning of the names to decide whether they are suitable for your garden and whether you like them. Some words, however are peculiar to gardening aand you need to know what they mean. Perennials, Bi=annuals and Annuals are three such words. Bi-Annuals are also often called Biennials.

Perennials are simply plants which will grow year after year. They generally refer to ornamental plants. When it come to flowers, there are perennials which die down to the ground every winter and shoot from the ground again in spring. These are known as ‘herbacious perennials’. You can cut these down as soon as they die back, if you wish. This makes your garden look tidier. Hoever, some seed heads (such as Poppies) look very attractive in winter when the frost settles on them. and some will feed birds. So you need to think about what you want to cut down and what you want to keep. A few years back, the general advice was to cut them all back since they can harbour pests and diseases. This is true. They can harbour pests and diseases and if the plant looks unwell, cut the dead foliage off. However, we now know that not all bugs are harmful so some  hiding places are good for your garden. I generally leave dead foliage for the worst of the winter. It protects young shots from frost and snow, then I cut it back when the worst of the winter is over.

Some of the most useful of the perennials are those which are either green over winter or even flower. I have had Polyanthus flowering all winter, even in the snow. It lifts my heart to see them. Pansies have also been bred to flower during the winter and these also provide colour when we most need it. Some plants naturally flower in the winter, such as Hellebore. You will find that generally, plants which flower in winter have very little or no scent as they are not trying to attract pollinating insects by scent.

Bi-annuals are plants which only flower in their second year and then die. However, some plants which we know as bi-annuals are really short-lived perennials and will flower a second, third and even a fourth time if we treat then right. Antirhinums are one of these plants, as are sweet william. After they have finished flowering, cut them back to three or four inches. They will flower then the following year. The problem is that they will become poorer in flower quality and will also become very woody, eventually  becoming unatractive plants. Some plants such as foxgloves have been bred so that they are true perennials rather than bi-annuals, although the original wild foxglove is, of course, still a bi-annual. Although bi-annuals , traditionally, grow the first year and flower the second, if you sow them early enough, you can persuade them to flower in their first year (and then they die).

Annuals are plants which grow, flower  and die all in one year. This group of plants include some of the most showy of our garden flowers, those plants we call ‘bedding plants’ and plants we call Half-hardy. This means that they will not live through frosts, so we need to sow the seed in a frost free place and wait until the frosts are over before planting them out. Some of the annuals (known as hardy annuals) can be sown where they are going to flower. Indeed, some plants need to be sown where they flower. These include many of the Poppies. This is because they do not like their roots being disturbed.

As you can see, different types of plants need different treatment, so you need to know what type of plants you are dealing with and treat them acordingly. That way you will get the best results from your seeds and plants.