Thursday, 29 March 2012

Make your own ladybird house

This is a great little project for yourself or to do with children.

You will need:
An empty and clean 2l bottle
Scissors
Bamboo
Sticks
Leaves

Cut your drinks bottle in half. Cut your bamboo and sticks to the length of the half you are using. Pack it tight with sticks, bamboo and leaves, creating a nice dark hiding space for ladybirds and other insects.
Place it in your garden hidden in foliage, preferably near a plant that attracts lots of insects. Quietly observe during the summer to find lots of insects to identify.

-- Gemma Dray

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Drought Forecast - Take Action Now!


It’s all doom and gloom in the news just now, with the imminent arrival of a hosepipe ban, especially in my area of the UK, East Anglia when a ban will be imposed on 5th April 2012. So I have been thinking about my vegetable plot this year and making plans to scale down production for the coming season.

In some ways I should be expanding my plot this year as there are stories in the media which indicate that the price of vegetables, particularly potatoes, are set to rise as crops in this area may fail or be greatly reduced, but to be honest, the thought of planting lots of seeds, growing them on and planting out, only to have them die because I can’t give them sufficient water is a bit soul destroying, so I have decided to manage just one of my raised beds and plant a little of several things.

Packing the plants in tightly will help a little, as water evaporates from bare soil quicker than in a bed where the plants cover the ground and the one I will be using is near the greenhouse and therefore has access to a water butt, so this should also be of help in the coming months.

I will also choose varieties carefully and not include some of my family favourites - runner beans for example (or in fact any bean), which are hugely popular in my house, need a lot of water to yield a good crop so may not be a good choice for this year.

However, vegetables from the beet family and kale family, such as swiss chard and several herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender are all good choices as they need less water than fleshy types. Tomatoes don’t need a huge amount of water, although they must be watered regularly - little and often - otherwise they will not thrive. Other tips to ensure a healthy crop include adding compost to the soil, a mulch to stop evaporation and to water your crops at night rather than in the morning and certainly not in full sun.

It’s going to be a challenging season this year, so keep following to find out how I get on! And however you decide to deal with the drought, happy gardening!

-- Jane Dubinski

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Round the Garden in Spring


Spring is finally here, shrubs and trees are in bud and all my bulbs are starting to bloom. This month I have cleared up herbaceous rubbish, burnt woody cuttings and put the resultant (cooled!) ashes around my fruit trees and roses. Last month I planted bare root plants and a couple of trees, so had to make sure all were well watered, firmed in and staked against the roaring March weather. My children have planted sunflower, salad and herb seeds in pots (these sprout quite quickly so are good for the kids) and whilst occupied, enabled me to have a last good prune, aerating shrubs. Evergreen plants are entering their dormant phase so its ok to prune them now. If the morning frosts are over, risk planting out perennials and other herbaceous plants. Fill out your gaps with medium height plants, leaving room for them to stretch and flourish and loll over walls and pathways.

If you’ve got the space, why not start making your own compost bin / heap? Put in peelings, newspapers, cuttings and cover with an old curtain / polythene sheet. You can buy compost bins or wormery from Garden Centres, Hardware Shops and many DIY stores or build a rectangular box, split down the middle out of slatted timber. Try not to put too much woody stuff as this won’t compost (decompose) down. Do not put anything cooked or egg shells into your compost, unless you want to help increase the rat population.

A good tip this time of year is to look at all the bulbs varieties around in flower and make a note of the names of ones you like so you know what to order in the Autumn.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Playing catch-up: lawn advice for the armchair gardener


Hurry and you’ll miss it my young ants. Winter is almost at an end and the garden is starting to grow once again! The fruit trees and wisteria have been pruned, the pots, tools and garden shed should be spick and span. Early seeding like Lobelia, Lathyrus and Pelargonium should have been done long ago, and the beds should be in prime condition. You should also have thought perhaps, of what vegetables are to be grown this year and what perennials need to be divided imminently.

But in the reality of an armchair gardener - that oh so rare beast who never steps into the garden from October to Easter - what does the end of winter actually mean?

Well, it means from now on, you are playing catch up. All those small little winter jobs that needed to be done will have to wait until next winter.

The grass needs to be fed, first and foremost. Personally, I hate the chemical treatments which so readily burn lawns. A sprinkling of blood fish and bone, should instead be applied. Blood for the instant nitrogen kick, the fish for a longer lasting green and the bone for feeding the roots.

If you have moss, apply lawn sand now according to the instructions and no later than April 1st - but be aware you may be adding to the acidity of the soil. This can be addressed at a later date by adding a dressing of lime water or crushed chalk sprinkled in healthy amounts (brushed in). Do not scarify. At this time of year the grass needs a root system to grow healthily. If you scratch the soil now, you do nothing but make the grass grow roots instead of leaves, starve the plant of food and water and weaken an already struggling plant that is just waking up.

Give the lawn its first cut on a high setting once the feed has had a couple of days to settle in. The lawn could also do with a little de-compaction therapy. Get a sharp fork and walk over the areas most prone to walking damage; sinking the prongs into the areas and wiggling lightly to add air and drainage. Don’t worry if the lawn is left with noticeable holes. Brush in some compost. If it is a big lawn, buy a walk behind lawn aerator or a tow behind tool for the tractor. Please also note as we are in a drought and good honest drinking water is scarce, a lawn does not need to be watered constantly. I know we all like a nice green lawn all year round, but it can survive quite happily without water for about eight months. In fact I would go as far to say, if it is watered you will not encourage it to dig deep to find sustenance, making your lawn more prone to disease.

Also remember for the year ahead, if you cut a lawn too short, it does not stop it growing or mean you have to cut it less often. It merely makes the grass weaker, encourages weeds and moss and causes more headaches in the long run. If you'd like to spend hard earned money paying a gardener like me to re-turf or reseed, go ahead.

In short, a lawn has a complicated life and must be viewed with the eyes of a concerned naturalist. It is not simply a patch of green that takes the rough cutting treatment, but a group of individual plants all crammed together and all competing for the same food and water. Think on, Wise Grasshopper.

-- Guy Deakins

Friday, 2 March 2012

Re-use your toilet roll tubes!

Instead of purchasing bio degradable pots for this growing season, start saving your cardboard toilet roll tubes!



They are a great substitute for seedling plant pots and work especially well with long rooted plants, like runner beans or sweet peas.

Treat it like a normal pot and sow your seeds. When the plant is ready to be transferred outside, simply plant it straight into the ground. It’s as easy as that! The best part is the tube will naturally disintegrate into the soil.

-- Gemma Dray