Posts Tagged ‘garden advice’

How to Prepare Your Garden For Winter Frosts

February 5th, 2019 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. It’s got very close to freezing in my garden, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter aren’t far off. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move, to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy. Read on our watch our video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.

warm soil protect from frost

Protect Soil in Winter

Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of organic material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed and protect the soil itself from erosion, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.

Fast Frost Protection

Keep row covers at the ready so they can be used at a moment’s notice. Store them somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground to keep them clear of vermin such as mice. Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.

When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.

Homemade Crop Protection

Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for fitting over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.

Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. Check out our step by step guide to making your own cold frame.

garden-fleece-and-hoops-are-great-for-protecting-crops-during-colder-monthsTemporary Tunnels

Clear plastic may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy hoop house. The one below uses lengths of PVC water pipe, secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.

Protecting Root Crops from Frost

Many root crops such as carrots and beets can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.

Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mold about six inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest enemy of containerized crops such as herbs is the wet. Persistently wet potting soil can turn lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.

Delicate containers can crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble plastic or burlap. Or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.

Insulate Your Greenhouse

Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row cover fabric. Alternatively, section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.

Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly. Or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra protection.

Know Your First Frost Date

Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter. How do you get ready for the frosty weather? You can let us know in the comments section below.

Try some of these techniques to protect your garden from frost! If you have any of your own tips and tricks for for the winter months, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

How to Plan a Low-Cost Vegetable Garden

December 18th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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Seeds, plants, tools, soil amendments, row covers, supports – it all adds up. But if your pockets aren’t bottomless, or you simply don’t fancy forking out fistfuls of cash, there are lots of ways to grow more for less. Read on or watch the video for tricks and tips for planning a low-cost vegetable garden suitable for any budget.

Cheap Seeds and Plants

To grow a garden you need seeds and plants, but the cost of them quickly adds up.

Local seed and plant swaps are a great way to bulk out a new garden on the cheap – or even for free! Choice will be limited so you’ll need to be flexible, and as it’s a swap, you’ll of course have to have something to offer in return.

If you have to buy seeds, which you probably will, look out for special offers on seed supplier websites (like us!) both before the start and towards the end of the growing season. Remember, while most seeds keep for more than one season some will need replacing every year or two, including parsnip, corn and spinach.

Open-pollinated or non-hybrid varieties of vegetables open up the possibility of saving your own seeds. Tomatoes, beans and many leafy salads are very easy to save seeds from, which means you’ll only have to buy once.

Feeding Soil

Nutrient-rich organic materials are the best way to build soil fertility and structure.

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You can make your own compost for free, and you don’t need a special container or compost bin to make it in. Set up a compost heap in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner, sheltered from strong winds, and preferably with some sun to help warm the heap and speed up decomposition. Keep the heap tidy by hemming in the sides with recycled materials such as old pallets, which can usually be acquired for free.

There’s never a shortage of leaves! Gather them up to make your own leaf mould, a great soil amendment. If you can’t get enough leaves, ask friends and neighbours if you can have theirs – most people will be only too pleased to get rid of them!

Farms and stables will often give away manure if you’re happy to collect, but check that the animals haven’t been feeding on plants treated with herbicides or you may unwittingly damage the plants you plan to grow in it. Also make sure it’s well rotted down or composted before using.

Grow Plant Supports

Climbing crops like beans and cucumbers need proper supports.

Bamboo canes aren’t that expensive to buy, but they’re free if you grow your own. In fact, any strong, straight, woody stems make excellent poles for climbers including stems cut from the likes of hazel and buddleia.

Cheap Crop Protection

Many crops need protecting at some point, whether from the cold, sun or pests.

For cold protection, make use of old clear bottles, polythene stretched over homemade hoops or recycled glass doors and windows. Improvise shade cloth with old tulle or net curtains. Newly-sown beds of cool-season crops like lettuce can be shaded with cardboard until the seedlings poke through, or protect recent transplants with upturned pots for a couple of days, until they settle in. You can also make collars against cold wind for earlier on in the season, since the drying effect of the wind is often more damaging than low temperatures.

Natural Pest Control

include-nectar-rich-flowers-like-cosmos-in-your-low-cost-garden-to-attract-pest-predators-in-their-droves

Don’t fork out on costly artificial pesticides, which tend to kill good bugs as well as bad. Leverage the power of nature to help you defeat pests on the cheap.

Include nectar-rich flowers in your plan to attract pest predators in their droves. Flowers such as coreopsis, cosmos, poached egg plant and alyssum will draw in hoverflies, lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps that will make short work of pests like aphids. Equally effective are flowering herbs such as dill, fennel, parsley and coriander, or leave some carrots and onions in the ground to run to flower the next season.

Tubs, Pots and Baskets

Remember, just about anything that holds potting soil can be used as a container for plants.

Whatever you do use, make sure you punch holes into the bottom for proper drainage. For seedlings you can’t beat old yoghurt pots, soft fruit trays and mushroom trays, or make your own from toilet tissue tubes or newspaper. Toilet tissue tubes are especially suited to deeper-rooting seedlings such as corn or beans, encouraging a more extensive root system which will help plants to establish quicker once they’re planted.

Paths and Boundaries

Paths can be as permanent or ephemeral as you choose.

Make low-tech, cheap paths by simply covering the ground in bark chippings, you can add a double layer of cardboard beforehand to help smother any weeds beneath. You’ll need to top up the woodchips from time to time, or opt for something more substantial made from salvaged slabs, bricks or cobbles. You can make purchased hard landscaping go further by in-filling with cheaper materials like gravel.

A living boundary can also be a cheap one if you buy the plants bare-rooted in winter. You’ll need to be patient while it grows, but a hedge is always going to look better than a fence! And don’t forget, you can also make it productive by planting trained fruit trees or fruiting hedgerow species like blackthorn.

Don’t let anyone tell you you need lots of money to start a new garden – it’s perfectly possible to create a beautiful garden for next to nothing. If you have any tips or tricks for planning a low-cost garden, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Using Wood Ash in Your Vegetable Garden

December 5th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

If you’ve had a bonfire recently, or you like to warm yourself in front of the fireplace or wood burner, then you’ll probably have lots of ash. Getting rid of it can be a bit of a nuisance, but it’s also a valuable source of nutrients which makes it a great resource for the garden.

Read on or watch the video to find out when and where to use ash in your garden.

What’s in Wood Ash?

Wood ash is naturally high in potassium, which encourages flowering and fruiting. It also contains phosphorus as well as a catalogue of micronutrients including manganese, iron, zinc and calcium.

Younger wood, such as twiggy prunings, produces ash with a higher concentration of nutrients than older wood. Similarly, ashes from hardwood like oak, maple and beech contain more nutrients than ashes of softwoods.

Ash from lumpwood charcoal is also good, but avoid using the ash from coal or treated timber, which could harm your soil and plants.

Wood Ash in Compost

Wood ash is alkaline, so applying it to compost heaps helps to balance the tendency of compost to be more acidic. It also creates better conditions for composting worms, which will speed up decomposition.

Compost that’s less acidic is perfect for mulching around vegetables. Add wood ash little and often in thin layers – a few handfuls or one shovelful every 6in (15cm) of material is fine.

Wood Ash on Soil

Wood ash can play a useful role in correcting overly acidic soil. Most vegetables need a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, so if your soil’s below 6.5 sprinkle wood ash over the surface then rake or fork it in. Test your soil if you don’t know its pH.

Wood ash is especially useful if you use lots of cattle manure in your garden, as this type of manure is very acidic.

Wood ash is approximately half as effective as lime in neutralising acid. As a general rule, apply about 2 ounces of ash to every square yard (50-70g per square metre). Do this on a still day in winter, and wear gloves to protect your hands.

Wood Ash around Plantsmix-wood-ash-into-any-soil-used-to-grow-fruiting-vegetables

Use the alkalinity of wood ash to improve soil for brassicas such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. This is a great way to prevent club root – a common disease when the soil’s too acidic.

Apply it the winter before planting, or as a side dressing around actively growing plants. Its high potash content means wood ash is ideal to use around most fruit bushes including currants and gooseberries, where it also helps wood to ripen, thereby improving hardiness, disease resistance and productivity. In fact, mix it into any soil used to grow fruiting vegetables, especially tomatoes.

Where Not to Use Ash

Due to its alkalinity, wood ash shouldn’t be used around acid-loving plants such as blueberries and, to a lesser extent, raspberries. Avoid it coming into contact with seedlings too, and don’t apply it to areas used to grow potatoes as alkaline soil encourages potato scab.

You’d need to add lots of wood ash to make your soil too alkaline for most crops, but for peace of mind retest your soil’s pH every couple of years to check it doesn’t go above 7.5.

How to Store Wood Ash

Because the nutrients wood ash contains are soluble, you’ll need to keep it out of the rain so they don’t wash out. Containers with close fitting lids are perfect for keeping ash dry until you’re ready to use it.

Wood ash can be a truly useful addition to the garden. If you have experience with using wood ash and have any handy tips or tricks, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Gooseberries from Planting to Harvest

November 29th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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People often ask “What’s the best fruit bush for beginners?” Well, one stands head and shoulders above the rest – the gorgeous gooseberry!

Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils, they’re very easy to prune, are self-pollinating which means you can get away with growing just one, and generous gooseberries give up their sumptuous fruits in hearty profusion. In short, you really need to grow one! Read on or watch the video to find out how.

Types of Gooseberry

Choose from either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked with sugar to temper their naturally sour taste. They’re perfect in jams, pies, puddings and a gooseberry fool.

Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush – a treat you’re unlikely to experience unless you grow your own. You can also pick some of the berries before they’ve ripened to use in the same way as culinary gooseberries.

The berries themselves are typically pale green, but look out for eye-catching red or yellow varieties too. Most plants are very thorny, but some varieties are easier on the hands with considerably fewer thorns.

Where to Grow Gooseberries

Gooseberries will thrive in most gardens, but to get the most from them grow them in a bright position in rich, well-drained soil.

Gooseberries naturally grow into bushes but may also be trained – as standards on a long single trunk, or against a fence as fans or single-stemmed cordons. Take heart if you really don’t have much space to spare or you only have a patio, because this hardy fruit can successfully be grown in containers too.

(Please note: in a few areas of the United States growing gooseberries is prohibited because they can serve as a host to white pine blister rust, a disease devastating to the lumber industry. Check for local restrictions before sourcing plants.)

How to Plant a Gooseberry Bush

Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberries from late autumn to early spring – you’ll probably need to wait until spring if the ground freezes solid over winter where you garden.

Dig a generous planting hole then add some well-rotted compost or manure to the excavated soil. Place the gooseberry into the hole so that the previous soil level is flush with the new soil level. Feed back the enriched soil around the roots or rootball, taking plenty of time to firm in the soil as you fill to anchor the roots. Water copiously to settle the soil further, then finish off with a mulch of organic material to help suppress weeds and feed your new plant.

If you’re planting more than one gooseberry, space bushes at least 4ft (120cm) apart. Cordons can be planted much closer – just 45cm (18in) apart – but tie the stem to a supporting bamboo cane that’s in turn secured to horizontal wire supports.

Caring for Gooseberries

In moisture-retentive soils established bushes need very little additional watering, but regular watering in hot, dry weather is a must for young plants and essential for container-grown gooseberries.

Apply an organic, balanced fertiliser at the end of each winter to give plants a good start ahead of the new growing season. Then remove any weeds around the root area before topping up mulches to at least an inch (3cm) deep. Use organic materials like garden compost or bark chippings for this.

Pruning Gooseberry Bushes

Prune established gooseberry bushes to encourage an open, evenly spaced branch structure. This will let in plenty of light while allowing for good air circulation to discourage disease and pests such as sawflies.

Pruning is completed in winter when the bush is dormant. To start, cut out all dead or diseased wood, any shoots growing close to the ground, plus tangled or overcrowded branches. Now prune the branches that are left by cutting back the previous season’s growth by a half. Sideshoots coming off the main branches should be cut back to between one and three buds from the base of the shoot. Make all cuts just above an outward facing bud to encourage that all-important open habit. Finally, dig up any suckers – that’s stems growing from the ground away from the main stem.

Harvesting Gooseberries

Birds can sometimes pilfer fruits before you’ve had a chance to pick them. Stop them in their tracks! Cover plants with netting or grow bushes inside a purpose-made fruit cage.

Gooseberries are ready to pick from early summer onwards. Harvesting dessert or dual-purpose varieties in stages gives early, under-ripe fruits for cooking, then later fruits to enjoy sweet and fresh. The berries that remain after the first pickings will also be able to grow larger.

Handle the soft, plump fruits gently and wear thick gloves if the thorns become too painful to bear!

Gooseberries are at their sumptuous best immediately after picking, but they’ll stay fresh enough in polythene bags kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or freeze gluts for a well-deserved taste of summer later on in the year.

There are many ways to enjoy the glorious gooseberry! In jams, pureed with elderflower cordial for drying into fruit leathers, or boiled with other fruits to make a tangy, sweet compote to dollop onto ice cream or yoghurt. Give gooseberries a go! They’re reliable, hard-working fruits that deserve to be more widely grown.

If you have any gooseberry growings tips, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

8 Ways to Garden in Harmony with Nature

November 9th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Gardens are special places where, as gardeners, we’re privileged to get up close to the natural world. But working with nature also makes you realise how precious it is. Our impact on the planet is well documented and it’s up to us to adopt more environmentally conscious ways of living. Growing your own food is a great start, but how you grow it makes all the difference.

Read on or watch the video as we share eight great ideas to help you garden more sustainably, in step with nature.

1. Use Human Power

Let’s start by replacing electric or gasoline-powered equipment such as lawnmowers, tillers and leaf-blowers with more sustainable human-powered alternatives whenever we can. It’ll save natural resources, and by breaking big jobs down into regular smaller blocks, it’s a great way to stay active and keep fit.

2. Work with Nature

Artificial fertilisers and pesticides are energy intensive to manufacture and carry many undesirable side effects, from polluting rivers to harming beneficial insects and soil life.

A natural approach – adding organic materials to the soil to build long-term soil fertility, and planting flowers to attract pest predators – avoids these negative impacts while creating a livelier, healthier garden.

3. Plant Trees

Trees lock up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Let’s plant more of them! Trees range from tiny to massive to suit every space, and can be planted into otherwise wasted or underused parts of the garden. Most are easy to grow and many trees are productive too – just think of a handsome apple tree, for example.

Trees offer birds somewhere to nest, feed and shelter. In return they will keep many plant pests in check while contributing their melodious song.

4. The Best Plant Food

Much of our waste can be composted. Composting is a natural process and a far more environmentally friendly alternative to burying it in landfill. Garden-made compost is often richer in valuable nutrients than bought-in sources of compost.

Make your own and enjoy a free source of natural fertiliser to feed your soil and the plants growing in it. Setting up a simple compost bin or heap doesn’t take long. It’s easy to add to and, don’t worry, it won’t smell!

5. Reconsider Your Lawn

Lawns demand a lot of effort and watering to stay green, especially in hotter climates. How much lawn do you really need? Can any of it be repurposed? For example, a native wildflower meadow only needs cutting once or twice a year.

Make the lawn that remains more sustainable by simply leaving the grass to grow a little longer between cuts. Then leave the clippings where they fall at least once a month to return their nutrients to the soil.

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6. Upcycle and Reuse

Don’t be in a haste to throw away old pots and seed containers. Reuse them as often as you can by washing them after each season so they’re ready and clean for the next. Look after your tools by storing them somewhere dry so they last longer. Keep moving parts oiled, and sharpen blades regularly so they work like new.

Opt for lower energy, natural materials in the garden – from biodegradable pots made of coir, cardboard or even old newspaper, to

a greenhouse built from sustainable wood in place of aluminium.

Many gardeners are only too happy to repurpose old items into new ones for the garden. And there’s all sorts of fun to be had in getting creative!

7. Free Resources, Naturally

Nature gives us lots for free. Set up barrels to collect rainfall and cut your consumption of treated water – and your water bill! Rake up fallen leaves to make leaf mould – the perfect material for improving soil structure or creating your own, packaging-free potting mix.

Create more spaces for wildlife. Flowers rich in nectar feed pollinators, as well as drawing in other insects to feed on the bugs you don’t want. Include a pond for frogs and toads – the ultimate slug controllers!

Extra room for wildlife doesn’t mean sacrificing valuable ground space. For example, install a green roof on your shed or put together a simple bug hotel. Projects like this are great fun for adults and kids alike. Many projects are easily completed in a weekend to bring benefits lasting long into the future.

8. Grow What Thrives

Growing plants that naturally thrive in your location means you’ll enjoy more success and less heartache. Pick the right plant for the right place: for example, vegetables like tomatoes and beans for sunny areas or leafy salads in the shade.

Not sure? Then use the fully searchable GrowVeg Garden Plans Gallery to see what others are growing in your area and seek some inspiration. Or step in and explore the GrowVeg Garden Planner for yourself. It’s easy to narrow down the selection of plants to, for example, those that will happily grow in partial shade or are frost tolerant. And because the software knows your location, you can even filter the list to show only those plants suitable for sowing, planting or harvesting during a specific month in your location. Simple!

Don’t be in too much of a hurry at the start of the growing season. Work back from the last frost date so tender crops like squashes aren’t sown too early and are ready to plant when the time’s right. This will also minimise the need for costly heating. The Garden Planner includes a handy Plant List to help with this too!

Of course, growing any fruits, vegetables or herbs is a big step towards a more Earth-friendly lifestyle, so grow as much as you can: plan ahead, re-sow throughout the growing season and set aside some of your homegrown bounty for the leaner times of the year. You’ll be doing yourself and the planet a world of good.

If you have any tips of tricks for gardening more naturally, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.