Friday, 18 November 2011

Packaging Plants for Mailing/Posting

Having posted out many plants over the years, and having my fair share of packing failures due to over enthusiastic postal workers, I came up with my own method of packing.

The basis of it is saving weight, to keep costs down, and ensuring the plant arrives in good condition. I want to keep the roots moist and the plant in good shape. Watch the video for a demo of my technique.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Low Maintenance, High Expectations

There were quite a few important requirements in purchasing my first house. One of them being that the garden should be small. I had no interest in gardening then, you see.

As long as there was abit of lawn and room for a patio, I would be happy. This ideal couldn't have been more different when looking for my second home. The house had to be bigger, but the garden had to be huge. My passion for gardening had now taken over me. It was completely clouding my judgement and the decision would come to bite me in the backside a couple of years later. This dream garden has high demands you see. Its both financially draining and time consuming. The financial burden makes the time consuming issue to be two-fold however. It means working more hours to earn more money, meaning less time to create the dream garden. Finding an answer has taken all year, but with clever low maintenance ideas, I think I may have worked out a way to achieve the dream.

I now have various short lists of planting possibilities. The list uses a plants merits from a care perspective, against its outlay cost. The lower the maintenance requirement, the higher up the list the plant gets. But, the less appealing the plant material is compared to others in the list, the more it is dropped back down the list. By Christmas I hope to have the list finalised as I need to use the 'bare-root financial loophole' that the winter period allows. The twenty five tonnes of topsoil have gone some way into setting out half of the garden. Now, I need the plants!!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Dahlia Lifting (video)

I lifted a couple of Dahlias this morning. Most advice is to lift when they have been frosted but I lift some before they have gone black. There are two reasons I do this.
Firstly, I think the blacked foliage initiates rot. I've no proof either way, its just a gut feeling, and I waited for frost once only to find the first freeze came with a foot of snow! I was forced to leave them in for too long and lost some stock. Secondly, I have little spare time and need to get some of my Narcissus in. But the Dahlias are in the way!

Techniques vary I imagine, but this is how I do it.
I chop the top growth to eight to ten inches above ground. Chopping to above a node is not required at this stage as the tuber will be trimmed again before storage. Then lift the tuber with a spade (I find forks damage the tuber sometimes). Once the tuber is free from the ground, use the remaining stem to lift it up (don't be scared, they are usually tough). I then grip the stem with one hand and whack the top with a rubber mallet or block of wood to loosen the soil from around the tuber. Make sure you wire on a label at this point too. Line a tray with newspaper and just lay it in angled with the stem down, not to densely though as airflow around the tuber is vital. I then put the tray indoors to 'dry' the tubers for a week or so (I use the utility room)
For storage I just leave in a very open basket or tray, indoors over winter (utility room cupboard actually).

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Penstemons are top of next years plant list!

I have overlooked them for too long. Plants that flower for so long deserve space in every plantsmans garden. I put a couple in as gap fillers last year. These two became six all on their own and have divided with ease again this year, making twenty or so.

Most penstemons are herbaceous perennials. They are very easy to propagate now with semi ripe cuttings. Most of mine have an abundance of cutting material right now. In fact, most have air layered, with early stems having roots on the bottom few inches of stem.

I'm going to look for some interesting varieties for next year to go with my Sour Grapes (pictured) and Etna.

Love gardening.........making the most of that room outside. My favourite room in the house!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Garden skills undervalued

I have seen so much demise in gardens this year. All by homeowners that think having a gardener is lavish and costly. They know how to do it themselves you see. Or think they do!

However their lawns and hedges are nearly dead now. All due to the fact they failed to spot the warning signs. Easy signs to spot, especially by the knowledgeable gardener. Lovely lawns ravaged by chafers. Beautiful conifer hedges sucked dry by aphids. Clipped Laurels riddled with shot hole disease. All for the sake of saving money on a professional. Years of self manicure erased in one season of thrift.

Now some money will be thrown at turf because the lawn is dead. They will lay it themselves, badly, and spend endless Sundays fixing it up. I've seen it all too often. Easter weekend will commence with supermarket sweep at the 'DIY stores' garden bit. Plant slaughter initiated......

Rant over........

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Potato Planting Rambling

The February question has shown its face again! Every February I can guarantee someone will ask me if they really do have to chit their potatoes? I was always told by my allotment peers to just chit my first earlies. This I did, and always had good crops. So why gamble, it works so I'll stick with it, I thought. But you always think you know better!

A couple of years ago I took it upon myself to chit not only first, but also second and main-crop. After all, if you buy them all together, by main-crop planting time you might find they chitted themselves in the bag anyway. I also started my earlies off in 4inch pots of compost. Why not get a head start by planting a potato that has already started growing in the greenhouse or good coldframe? I half filled the pot and pushed the potato into the compost. After a couple of weeks the potato roots well into the pot just as any plant would and starts to grow typical potato top growth. At this point I top up the 4inch pot, up to the top with compost. After another week you can then plant out as usual, knowing you are a month ahead of the game.

I always grow my first earlies in large 60litre plastic plant pots. I do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, earlies are always at the risk of frost damage. Secondly, it allows me to maximise my growing space. I can grow potatoes on concrete this way!

The fact they are in a pot means I can bring them into the greenhouse when the weather is looking frosty. With just 6inches of compost in the bottom I can plant in my pre-started potato plants. As the growth increases I add more growing media, to just below the leaf tops, until the pot is full.

Now, when it comes to topping up, I must confess this is where I am inconsistent. I usually mix a bit of home compost with some weed-free garden soil, or some finely crumbled old horse manure and soil mixed. I've just always done it. No science involved! Just my way.

For planting second earlies and main-crop, I plant in the usual rows. I do have my own tried and tested way though! The entire potato plot is dug over in late winter/early spring, incorporating growmore and chicken manure pellets at the recommended rate. When it comes to planting the seed potato, I dig a small planting hole, 6inches round by 10 inches deep. Then I put a good handful of compost or manure in the bottom and place the potato on it and cover with soil. Job done, until earthing up is required.

See, there's more than one way to grow a spud!

Just wanted to mention varieties. Because of good results year on year, and good storing properties, I always grow Rocket(1st early), Charlotte(2nd early), Picasso(Main) and Rooster(RedMain). I would like to suggest you grow some Charlotte for mains too, they grow large enough for roasting/baking if you leave them in! This year I have traded with a friend to get some Swift and Cara to try also. (Coloured pots in photo denotes the different varieties. Again, just my way!)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Lighter nights and seedlings

Now that the evenings are staying lighter for an extra hour or so, I have become more enthusiastic in my garden plans. My enthusiasm has inspired my little 2yr old who has beaten me to the first emerging seedling of the year (beaten at my own game godammit!). I have planned my sowing better this year too. Sweet peas are now well on their way, ready for pinching out at about 3 inches for bushier growth. Planted in my usual loo roll tubes, I can plant tube into ground, so as not to disturb roots. This is a method I have used for years now for all my peas, beans and sweetcorn. Broad beans, loo roll tube planted, are being hardened off now ready for planting out.

My normal sweet pea planting, up a few canes somewhere, will also be moved to the bean row this year. This will encourage some more bumble bee activity, thus getting some extra set on my runner beans too. My onion and shallot sets (usual Setton, Red Baron and Golden Gourmet) are shooting well in the coldframe. I start them into 20 &12 cells to get a head start. This method also stops the birds pulling up the sets, as the root-ball holds them in the ground stronger. Brassicas and Leeks are all at pricking out point too. It has been a busy few weeks at Blackgates! Ground is all dug ready for the off, manure added where required.

I have also sown some Parsnip into 20cells. This is part of a trial I decided to do, to overcome irregular germination in ground sown Parsnips. By doing them into cells, I can put them into the propagator to germinate. Hopefully they will transplant to final growing place ok. Time will tell!

I spent most of Sunday undoing the poor landscaping that had been done on the garden. The previous owner had a unhealthy desire for Conifers, Heathers, trellis and gravel (as in picture). Low maintenance they called it, no maintenance more like. Jungle look and no lawn! All along side a tarmac drive for a couple of caravans and a lorry! Not enough controlled horticulture for my liking.

We are planning a 'micro orchard' as I like to call it, with chickens running about beneath the tree canopy. Some vegetable garden has to be sacrificed to enable this, but it just means I will have to plan my crop successions better.

Off now to ponder Greenhouse catalogues.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Good for mind, body and wallet.

I’ve been banging on for years at how great gardening is. My friends groan at me sometimes. A few people listen, most don’t I guess. It’s the plus points that people miss that saddens me. Ok, so we get pretty flowers and provide habitat for wildlife in a concrete suburbia. We grow our own fruit and vegetables and have a great outdoor entertainment area. But what else you ask?

We all seem to either love or hate gardening. But the bonus plus points to it are missed, even by the ones that love it.

All winter, echoes of “I’m so cold” and “I need to get to the gym” ring alongside “I’m skint” and ”gas bills gone up again”. Well, gardening answers some of it! Ten minutes digging a vegetable patch, in even the coldest of temperatures, will have you peeling off those layers of clothing due to the unbearable heat your body is generating. Then, when you get back into the house, the last thing you will want is the heating on! You will be glowing like a beacon and happy to sit and cool off.

So here we have my big missed plus to gardening. You just prepared some ground ready for growing vegetables, with just pence invested in seed. The pounds you will save in grocery shopping eh? You have less demand on your central heating as you get used to ‘real cold’ and are happy to have the house a few degrees lower. Gym membership becomes something your friends waste their money on trying to get ‘abs’, and your digging generated leaner physique.

So there we have it. Gardening can bless us with lower grocery bills, a healthier lifestyle, and a much fatter wallet. Not to mention the eco benefit of the ‘lower carbon footprint’ thingy due to saving food miles and gas energy.

I have had this on my mind for weeks now. It’s not my imagination running away with me. It’s a fact that I just wanted to put across to make a point. So many people miss understand the ways gardening can have a positive effect on life. Not to mention the pride it gives. Gardening, good for mind, body and wallet!!!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Still here. Been busy. Still busy!!

Shame on me. It has been twelve months since my last blog post. My initial idea of a post each week failed on a grand scale. Therefore, I am left with the need to update a whole years progress. I must dedicate one night a week to blog!

First failure was getting a lawn down! I ended up so busy at work my spare time required me to concentrate on growing things. Food and flowers dominated my year. My love hate relationship with bedding plants turned into a love love one! The garden was transformed with ease (I’m thinking here I should learn to input a photo onto blog). Zinnias, Cosmos, Petunia, Marigold, Verbena, Lobelia in all colours and sizes transformed the drab extremities of the garden, as well as the rockery I created.

A full complement of typical allotment veg managed to bless the vegetable patch too. I filled my allotment at the old house with potatoes saving the new veg patch at Blackgates for the brassicas, beans, onions, squashes, sweetcorn, pea, celery, lettuce, leeks and greenhouses with tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. The soft fruit harvest was bountiful too. Black, red and white currants. Strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries to name most. The apple trees were generous; the pear had great blossom but failed to be pollinated (more pear bought this year).

The garden is to get 12 new fruit trees planted this year, plum, apple and pear. I need to lose some vegetable garden to do this so will keep the allotment on as well. Not the intention but my little boy loves picking and eating fruit so have to plant more trees! I intend to fence off the orchard area and let some chickens roam underneath the trees.

Off to try and figure out my seed sowing plan now. Nearly seventy packets to wade through! Seed compost mixed, pots cleaned and ready to go. Dahlias started and on their way. So all in all, off to a good start.
Take care, and make the most of that room outside.
P.s. The compost tumbler was not as good as I had hoped. Will stick to traditional method.