Entries from March 2010 ↓

Storing and juicing Apples

If you regularly have large crops of apples and you do not know what to do with them, then I may have a solution for you.

Many years ago, I moved into a house which had just one very large and old eating apple tree. They were delicious but there is only so many apples you can eat and store. I used to store them in my very large pantry and they stored well until Christmas when they started to go soft.

We gave them away on the gateway and still had too many! At this stage, I decided to try making cider. This worked very well but I did not have the right equipment and it was hard work.

I recently received a catalogue from Harold and this is what reminded me of this time in my life. I wish I had seen these items then.

The first thing is an Apple rack.

apple rack

It is made of Beech and is very robust. It is made of a planed frame with ten removable shelves. There is room between the shelves to allow airflow making it a very good method of storing apples (or pears come to that, although I have never managed to produce enough pears to store them). It is a very traditional apple storage solution with a modern twist. I wish I had had one of these, I stored my apples wrapped in newspaper and kept in a cardboard box. It worked but was time consuming.

Making cider was an adventure. We made a press from a workmate and tea towels. The Harold catalogue has a Cross-Beam Fruit Press

fruit press

which would do the job so much more efficiently. Not only could you use it to make cider but also to press apples to make juice, jellies, ices or wine.

There are two pieces of equipment, the first is a fruit crusher. It is made of stainless steel  and is a hopper with blades and rollers that rotate with a handle.

The second piece of equiment is the fruit press.This fruit press has a 12 litre capacity. It is a very attractive traditional fruit press with beech straves which have been treated with food-safe varnish, steel hoops and frame. This makes it easy to use. You place the pulp in the press barrel and put the pressure plate in place. Then just turn the pressure bar to lower the pressure plate. The juice then flows into the steel base plate beneath before pouring out of the lip.

You can use this fruit press to treat any fruit. It makes producing real fruit juice easy and quick.

Keeping you pond water clear and bright

Most ponds suffer from minor problems from time to time and over the past year or three, a number of solutions have come on the market.

First, green water. This is due to too much algae in the water. Algae thrives on nitrogen and sunlight, so most ponds get it from time to time. The solution is to put a small amount of barley in your pond. Harold Horticulture now sell Barley Balls

barley balls

These not only do the job but also look neat and tidy when added to the pond. One ball will treat ponds of 1,000 to 10,00 litres capacity (roughly 2.5 – 20 sq m) If you have a pond larger than this, you just use more than one ball. Results are evident within 2-4 weeks of putting the ball into your water, but it is just as well to put a ball in during the early spring and stop the problem from occurring. One application will last the year. Because barley is a natural product, it does no harm to either your fish or plants.

The second problem is getting enough oxygen in the water during hot, sunny weather. This is especially important if you have fish and do not have a fountain. Although, even a fountain will not always solve the problem in particularly hot, sunny weather. Again, a really clever solution has been found. A solar powered pond oxygenator.

pond oxygenator

I think this is clever on a number of levels. It looks just like a stone, so is not unsightly in your pond as pumps sometime are. Although it is powered by the sun and therefore works well when the sun is out (and you need it the most), it also has remote solar panel with battery back up for night time operation. The oxygenator  is suitable for ponds up to 5,00 litres so will be large enough for most ponds. Whats more, the cell battery is included in the price, so you do not have to pay extra for that.

The third problem is sludge at the bottom of your pond. In the past, you lived with this problem for a few years until it became too much and the water started to smell, then you emptied the pond and put it back together again. This was a nasty, time consuming job which upset your plants, fish and wildlife (and didn’t do much for you either!). Now there is a much easier solution. EM Mud Balls.

mud balls

These are a mixture of Bokashi wheat bran, EM microbes and EM ceramic powder which have been fused together. The microbial activity resulting from them actively eats sludge leaving you with a naturally bright and clean pond. Use 1 mud ball  per square metre of surface every six months to maintain your pond. Problem solved!

Supporting Pea Plants

Traditionally, Good Friday is the day when you sow peas in your garden. I don’t know for sure why this is but I imagine it is so that the soil is warm enough for the peas to germinate and the full Moon is an optimum time for sowing seeds. Indeed, many people make a point of sowing all their seeds (and harvesting their crop) according to the Moon. Some even go as far as sowing at nighttime to be under the Moon!

Anyway, back to peas. When you sow your peas, you should also be considering supporting the plants. There are a few varieties which are advertised as self-supporting. These still only work up to a point. They get very messy. So, generally, peas need support.

The way gardeners always supported pea plants was by using ‘pea sticks ‘which were twiggy cuttings, traditionally from hazel, although any wood would do. Nowadays, not all of us have this sort of material available and we have to use more manufactured supports.

Bamboo canes work very well, either on every group of plants or at the end of rows with netting hang between them so that the pea plants grow up the netting. However, for a really desorative look which is also very practical, Harold Horticulture produce Pea and Bean Hoops and Cross Supports.

These are the sturdiest supports you can buy. They are made of heavy duty galvanised steel and will last for many seasons, so although the investment may seem heavy initially, over the years you will actually save money by not having to replace your supoports.

You will still need to use pea and bean netting with your supports and this is also available through Harold Horticulture although you can buy netting at almost any garden shop. The frame stands 1 m (3 ft) high and there is 30 cm between the legs of each hoop, so it is just right for two rows of peas. You can get it in three lengths, so you buy the one to suit you.

Usually, I plant my pea plants over Easter, but with the weather being as cold as it has been, my seeds were planted late, so they are not even germinated yet, let alone ready to go out. However, to follow tradition, I shall sow a row of peas outside on Good Friday (assuming the weather is clement!).

Forcing Rhubarb

What a difference a couple of days sunshine and warmer nights makes. My rhubarb has now poked its head out of the ground and it is time to force it.

Forcing rhubarb is a very old way of making it grow faster so that you get an earlier crop. It means the sticks are thinner and more tender. You can use almost anything to cover the rhubarb crowns as long as it excludes the light, a bucket does very well. However, I feel that if you are doing this, you may as well make it attractive.

To this end, I would recommend rhubarb forcers which look like those the Victorians used.

traditional rhubarb forcer

They are bell shaped and traditionally made of terrcotta. However, you can now get some made of plastic.

rhubarb forcer

The plastic rhubarb forcers are much lighter and therefore easier to move around but it also means that they are more prone to be blown about should you have heavy winds.

People often think that rhubarb is a very limited fruit. Well, actually it is a vegetable. This is because you eat the stem, not the fruit. It is easy to grow and can be harvested and although it is most useful as a dessert, It can be used as an accompaniment to a number of meat dishes. I like mine coked with a little ginger, this seems to take some of the sharpness away and you need to add less sugar. However you eat it, its delicious and a very good provider of fibre as well as vitamins.

Most seeds have germinated

I thought it would be useful to update you on the seeds which have and have not germinated.



First the peas,if you remember this was seed which was over 5 years old. Well, one seed has so far germinated. This is more than I expected so is a bonus. It is still possible for the rest to germinate but I think the conclusion I would draw from this is that 5 years is too long to store pea seed. I have sown more, current seeds.

seed trays1

The French Lavender has germinated. I am quite pleased with this. The packet stated that it could take up to five months to germinate so I thought I was in for the long haul.

Next Cauliflower All Year Round. Again this was old seed and about half of them have germinated. Not particularly good but it is almost free seed. I think the overall conclusion must be that it is always worth trying old seed, but do not rely upon it. The one seed which is not even worth trying is parsnip. This really does not germinate unless it is fresh and then it is fussy.

There is still no sign of my potatoes or carrots but it is early days. It is not helping that my cats have decided my potato plot is a good toilet. I suppose it is good compost but the movement of the earth is a bit disconcerting.

Of the rest of the seeds sown in the greenhouse, they have germinated and are looking very healthy. It is time to start to prick them out. In a month’s time I will be busy planting them outside.

Building a Bog garden

If you have a pond in your garden, then a bog garden by it’s side adds another new and very useful dimension to the plants which you can grow.

A bog garden, once built, takes very little maintenance as most weeds will not grow well in the wet conditions. You do, however, need to be careful of the plants which you choose to grow as many are quite rampant and will take over the area very quickly, choking out other, more tender plants.

Building a bog garden is not difficult. It does not need a pond next to it as they do not share water, a pond as a neighbour just looks more natural and provides somewhere for any excess water.

Having decided on the size, shape and placing of your bog garden, the first thing to do is to dig a hole. This needs to be at least a foot deep. Then you line it with a plastic sheet. Make a few drainage holes in the plastic. You want the area to be very damp but not swampy. Then back fill it with soil. Any soil will do, although heavier soil such as the clay mixes are better. However I had a bog garden with rich loam in it and it worked well enough. If you are building your bog garden adjoining your pond, make sure the bog is higher than the water level to the pond. Again you want damp, not swamp.

The choice of plants for your bog garden is a very personal one. There are a great number of bog plants available, you will find the choice is greater in a shop which specialises in pond plants. Make sure that you are getting bog plants and not pond marginals. Pond marginal plants like their roots in shallow water whilst bog plants want their roots in wet soil.

Once you have built and planted your bog garden, there is very little else to do except sit back and enjoy. You may, from time to time want to cut back any plants which become to rampant and tidy any dead plant material. Also, if the weather is particularly dry, you may need to add water to keep the soil boggy. Then just enjoy, not just the plants but also the wild life which will also enjoy your bog garden.

Plants for your garden pond

The plants which you grow in and around your garden pond really rely upon your personal taste. That said, there are a few things you should know about water plants.

There are four types of pond plants, those which live on the surface (floating plants), deep-water plants, marginal plants and submerged oxygenators.

First, ponds need oxygen, particularly if you are keeping fish. So you need to have oxygenating plants. These are available from almost any retail outlet selling plants. They are not particularly decorative and live in the bottom of your pond, but they are necessary for a healthy pond. Do not buy too many, they will grow quite readily.

Deep water aquatic plants are those which root at the bottom of the pond but have leaves which float on the top. Water Lilies come into this category. These plants are not just highly decorative but they also are very useful in reducing the growth of algae which is what turns the water green in your pond. Algae live on mineral salts and sunlight so the more cover you have on the surface of the pond, the better. There are other plants which perform this function equally well, Water xcrowsfoot (Rununculus) looks attractive as well.

Floating plants also reduce the amount of sunlight which reaches the surface of the water. Some of these are not totally frost hardy, so you need to be aware of what you are getting. The most notable plants in this group are water hyacinth and water chestnut, though there are others.

The last group of plants, marginals, are the largest. These are plants which like their roots in shallow-ish water and their stems, leaves and flowers above water. This also covers those which like to grow in marshy soil (mud). There are so many that the mind boggles. You just choose the ones that appeal to you most.

One other thing, when you put water plants in pots,  you should not use ordinary garden soil or compost. This is too rich in minerals and will encourage the algae to grow. You can get special compost which has been depleted of minerals to do the job. You also need to use baskets rather than pots to plant in, so that the water can easily get to the roots of your plants.

Having buried your plant in its pot, put a layer of gravel on the top, this will help to stop the soil from washing away and protect the roots from foraging fish.

Edging your new garden pond

So now you have dug and lined your garden pond and the next thing to do is to put an edging in it. There is only on thing that you need to know about this and that is that the pond liner should be protected from direct sunlight.

If plastic or butyl liners are exposed to sun light, they will crack and no longer serve their purpose. It will shorten their life quite considerably, so when putting an edge on your pond, you should ensure that the liner is protected.

There are a number of ways you can edge a pond. You could do what is known as ‘hard landscaping’. You could put paving slabs along the edge. If you go for this route, you should overhang the paving slabs a few inches. This will cast shadow on your liner and therefore protect it. There are a lot of things going for paving slabs on the edge of your pond. It means you protect your shoes whilst walking on it. It needs no maintenance (except perhaps the occasional sweep – although even that will be taken care of by the wind eventually) and it can make a hard base for a seat.

There are other, more wild life friendly alternatives. You could have grass right up to the edge. You lift the grass and spread your excess liner under it, then lay the grass, on top. It will soon grow so that the edge is in the water and then it will grow rapidly, needing a cutting quite frequently to keep it looking anywhere near tidy. It provides a great habitat for all sorts of pond life and gives the pond a very natural look.

Another alternative is to plant flowers right up to the pond. If you want a naturakl look for your pond with a minimum of maintenance, these could be native, wild flowers. This will provide food and cover for loads of butterflies and dragonflies. You could plant your normal choice of decorative plants in a flower bed next to your pond. Or you could make a bog garden  allowing you to grow yet a different assortment of plants. I will talk about bog gardens another time. They are fairly simple to build and need very little maintence.

One other thing you could do is to make a small waterfall on one side of your pond. This will give you moving water, a lovely sound in the garden particularly on a hot summer’s day. A waterfall also helps to add extra oxygen into your pond, necessary if you are keeping fish in it and the weather gets hot and sunny. Again, I will talk about waterfalls at a later date.

There is one other thing, I should have mentioned earlier and that it that the sides of your pond should be level. The water level will show very clearly if it slopes and, unless you want it to look lop-sided, then you should ensure that the edge of the pond is level. This is not always easy but necessary. You will find it endlessly annoying if you have six inches of liner showing above the level of water at one end and the water is overflowing at the other end (Unless, of course, you have planned it that way.).

A Pond in your garden

Water in your garden adds a whole new dimension to the pleasure you derive from it. You can grow a number of plants which you would not otherwise be able to cultivate and the wildlife it attracts is endlessly fascinating. If you have moving water, the sound and look is very soothing.

If you do not have a stream in your garden (and most of us don’t), then the alternative it to build your own water feature. This could be a man-made stream or rill or a pond with, perhaps a water fall.

It is not difficult to make a pond. It is simply a hole which is made waterproof and filled up with water. Making one which fits your taste, is useful and safe to wildlife, and is able to sustain plants takes a bit more care and planning.

First, the size and shape of your pond. This is a matter of taste, how much room you have, and how much you can afford in the way of pond liners. Remember though, if you want to keep any fish – even goldfish- then it needs to be at least 2.5 feet deep. This is so that it does not freeze too much in the winter and get too hot in the summer. One other thing about siting your pond. Try not to put it under trees. The leaves will fall into the water and rot. This will make your pond smell nasty, it will also make the water toxic to plants and wildlife. If you want to grow ‘marginal’ plants in your pond, you will also need to build in a shelf 9 inches from the top. This can be around as much of the pond as you wish, but it is nice to leave a gently sloping area into the pond to allow any wildlife to come and drink from your pond without falling in. It will also allow any creatures which do fall in  to get out. If you cannot build in a slope, then add a stick or branch which they can climb on to get out. There are a number of fatalities among hedgehogs particularly because they fall into garden ponds and exhaust themselves trying to get out, eventually dying.

After you have decided on the size and shape of your pond, mark it out with string and leave it for a week so that you can make sure that is exactly what you want. Then just dig it. Make the sides slope slightly outwards from the centre, it will make it more stable. Next comes the lining.

In order to have a pond you need to keep water in it. This means a waterproof lining of some kind. You could put in six inches of fullers earth. This makes it very natural. It also makes it very hard work and very expensive, and not necessarily permanent. You could concrete the bottom and sides. Again, it’s hard work and you need to ensure that the chemicals in the concrete do not leach into the pond and upset the balance of the water. The other, much easier, much less expensive way is to you a plastic liner.

Basically, there are two types of plastic liner you can buy. The first is made of butyl, it is quite thick and therefore is hard wearing. It is usually guaranteed for up to 20 years. The less expensive alternative is a plastic liner. These work very well. However, they only last about five years and will then need to be removed and replaced. A nuisance if you have a lovely looking, settled pond.

Working out how much liner you will need is quite easy.  First you measure the depth. Make a note of this size , you will need it. Next measure the longest part of your pond, add the twice the depth of your pond. This is the length of liner you need. The width is much the same, measure the widest part of your proposed pond and add twice the depth. It works like this: If your pond is going tobe 3 feet long, 1 fot wide and 2 feet deep, then the liner will need to be at least 3 ft plus 1 ft plus 1 ft long and 2 ft plus 1 fot plus 1 fot wide. Furthermore, you could really use a litte overhang, so that it can be anchored at the edges by waterever you are edging your pond with. I will talk about this at a later time.

If you have a stony soil, you should put a thick lining to protect the plastic from being cut by the stones (even if you don.t have a particularly stony soil, it is still as well to do this). You can do this by either laying two inches or so of sand and then laying your liner on it, or line it with something else which is thick and will resist stones. Old carpet it ideal. Then lay your liner, making sure there are no folds or wrinkles in it. Anchor the sides, the liner will move inwards as it fills up with water, but allow some movement as you don’t want it hanging above the ground at the bottom. Fill it with water and voila, you have a pond ready for plants, fish or whatever else you want to do with it.

Ride on Mowers

Among his other ‘boy toys’ my husband has a ride on mower. Actually, it is a very useful bit of kit. We have quite a lot of grass so a ride on mower saves an awful lot of time.

There are a number of different types of ride of mowers, the one we have is one which cuts the grass very fine and throws it out the back to spread as a mulch. The good thing about this is that you do not have to keep stopping to empty a collecting box at the back. You also do not have to be careful about piling grass cuttings on your compost heap. If you put too much grass on the compost heap it just makes a nasty, slimy, smelly pile and does not compost easily, so any grass cuttings need to be spread thinly among other components of the compost heap. If you have a large area of grass, this is not always easy. The bad thing is that you if you do not rake the grass occasi0nally, you can end up with a great deal of thatch which ultimately will choke the grass and encourage growth of moss. A small amount of grass cuttings will be carried down into the soil by worms and other creatures and will enrich your soil. However, beware, too many worms will encourage moles. There is a happy medium which is not always easy to achieve.

Before we had this ride-on grass mower, we had a Westwood Mower which was one with a collecting box. I have explained the pros and cons of this in the previous paragraph. Having said that, the Westwood Mower was very sturdy indeed and coped with a lot of work. This is the mower that many Golf Courses and other sports stadiums choose.It produces a very good cut, giving your grass a professional look with very little trouble.

The third type of mower is, in effect, a mini tractor which pulls a row of cutters. You only need one of these if you have a very large patch of grass. They are not easily maneuverable and take some getting used to in order to produce a good result. If you are talking about an acre or so of grass though, this is probably the type of mower you want as it covers a lot more ground in one pass than the others do.

Ride-on Mowers make cutting a large patch a grass a great deal easier – not least since most men will undertake it since it is a fun thing to do.