Winter jobs in the Garden
Today was a beautiful sunny day here on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.
We are spoiled by having such lovely warm houses, that going outside can seem a little daunting as it is so cold. So I wrapped up warmly – woolly hat and all, and ventured into 2°.
Finally my two little garden gnomes saw light as I pruned the raspberry canes down to about 3 inches high and got rid of any dead ones and unwanted weeds. Maybe tomorrow I will spread some manure around their bases to give them a little warmth and nourishment – The raspberries not the gnomes!
I’m never quite sure how garden gnomes actually find their way into a garden…. they are never invited, they just seem to turn up. Maybe someone brought them here as a birthday surprise one year, sneaked them in and then forgot to say anything. Anyway, it doesn’t seem very fair to get rid of them just because I didn’t choose them myself.
I have decided to plant a beech hedge along our ‘drive to be’, ready for when we can start to use it. I always admire people who can think in advance. So I bought 30 plants from a mail order catalogue. They arrived and this is the perfect time of year to plant them. Hedging and trees like to be planted when they are dormant during the winter months.
Lastly I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that some of the sweet pea and tomato seeds that I had sown less than 2 weeks ago were appearing. Doesn’t time fly.
30th January – Mending the fence and sowing the first of the seeds – Tomatoes, Sweet Peas and Delphiniums.
Well I still haven’t pruned the raspberries. But with the help of my university student son who was anxious to earn a few pennies before returning to university, we mended the fence. He hammered the sledge hammer and I held the post. I was a little too close and received a thump on the collar bone from the hammer, thank goodness I was alright and my son was truly concerned and apologetic.
This morning was beautiful and I managed to sow the tomato seeds, some delphinium seeds and sweet peas. I have a large windowsill in our house so have brought them all inside so that they can germinate. They all need roughly 15-20 degrees. I have often been tempted to sow tomatoes earlier and it never pays off so the end of January is an ideal time to start.
January 10th 2018 – Inspecting the patch again and writing.
The storms have died down for the moment and the sun is creeping out from behind the mist, so I am eager to have a look at my garden and see what jobs I could possibly do while the weather permits.
The fence has been blown down and snapped by the harsh winds on one side of my patch, so that will need rebuilding, and for the moment the wooden entrance is leaning to the south in a rather relaxed looking way.
I haven’t yet pruned the raspberries from late Autumn, I must have forgotten.
The patch generally needs tidying up, but I don’t want to do too much yet as the ground is very wet and I don’t want to make it any muddier than necessary.
Madeleine’s Garden 2018
January 8th 2018 – Inspecting the Patch and buying seeds
I haven’t had a minute to even look at my vegetable patch for at least 6 weeks, Christmas has been time consuming and the weather has been grotty.
I passed a garden centre and had a good rummage through their seed selection, in between the left-over Christmas decorations, choosing which tomatoes to sow this year and finding any new fun seeds to sow. For some reason butternut squash seeds are outrageously expensive £3.99-£4.99 for about 8-12 seeds. I chose some normal courgette seeds as actually having tried so many different varieties I decided that I like the green ones best.
I also saw some onion sets and bought some giant onions and some red onions, wondering when I should plant them. It looks like I shall have to wait until March unless of course I use a Haxnicks poly tunnel………
Whether it’s a balcony, a roof top or a terrace, urban gardeners need to be creative about growing in small spaces. I met a lovely lady in a nice hat at Chelsea Flower show who has this balcony in central London. I think it would look marvelous adorned with pots and planters, but she claimed to be rather too busy!
Over the years, all sorts of gardeners have been kind enough to share their pictures of creative growing in unusual places….
These crazy crops are 30 ft high in a tree house. I am told the benefits of growing so high outweigh the impracticality. Not only are the planters out of reach from the family goat, but slug pellets are not required at such dizzy heights. Even the least sluggish slug would find the climb beyond his capabilities. Watering requires a cleverly devised pulley system that keeps the children fully entertained, mostly due to the soaking of unwary passers-by.
No problem with watering here! This floating herb garden in pots and planters helps to add a little home-grown flavour when cooking up a feast in the galley.
In the absence of a Greenhouse this disused telephone box is a great place to grow tomatoes. Not only is it a warm shelter, but the perfect width to support the plant as the stems become heavily laden with fruit. It’s the perfect colour too!
More colour matching here. This car may have reached the end of its useful life on the road, but makes a perfect greenhouse now. It’s cosy for germination in the early Spring and the windows can be wound down for ventilation on warmer days. When crops are ready they can be popped on the top out of reach of cats, dogs, goats and slugs. Carrots à la car!
After potatoes, courgettes (or zucchini if you’re across the pond), are one of the easiest and most satisfying vegetables to grow. Fast emerging seeds rapidly turn into triffid sized monsters with tropical looking flowers. Before you know it, you have a continuous supply of shiny green (or yellow) veg that can be included in every conceivable recipe from stews to salads, stir-fries to cakes. Pick a handful, turn your back and more will emerge in just a few days, and there are always the ones that get away. Those carefully camouflaged courgettes that lurk under the shady green canopy catch me out every year and before I know it I have a monster marrow to wrestle with.
If you think you don’t have space to grow courgettes, then think again. If you think you don’t have enough space to grow courgettes in pots or bags, then think again. If you think what you buy in a supermarket tastes the same as a home-grown courgette, then think again. Or just stop thinking and grow some! It is remarkable that what I consider to be one of the hungriest, thirstiest vegetables to grow can be sustained in a very small growing space with the right care and attention. So, even if your only outside space is a balcony or a front doorstep you can still have a summer-long crop of deliciously nutty home-grown courgettes.
You can plant up to 3 courgette plants in just one of our Haxnicks veg planters. It seems like a lot, considering how huge they will grow. The key to success is a good multipurpose compost, lots of water and nutrition. I use liquid Growmore to feed my courgettes, but any good liquid fertiliser will do the trick. A weekly dose seems to be sustaining them well. These particular plants are already dishing out a steady crop. Courgettes require lots of water, their huge leaves quickly droop if you haven’t given them enough, so keep on top of watering.
I grew my tropical looking giants from seed in Rootrainers on a warm windowsill back in February.
I transplanted them into pots briefly until they had 2 pairs of leaves and a good strong stem meaning that they were strong enough to go out in the greenhouse and cope with the chilly nights. It was a little bit risky putting them out so early, but as I was growing some in time for Chelsea Flower show they had to be coaxed to magnificence in good time!
The Chelsea Flower show is fast approaching and plant preparations have been under way for quite some time now. If only the show was in July, my job would be made a lot easier. Forcing summer-grown fruit and vegetables to be at their best in mid May can be a little bit touch and go, but despite the chilly temperatures over the last couple of weeks my container-grown plants are looking good.
There was one particularly warm day when I decided that the potato patio planters should venture out of the Sunbubble as I was worried that they might be growing too fast. I then forgot to put them back under cover on the very evening that one of those cheeky late Spring frosts decided to descend. It was extremely lucky that I woke up at midnight, realised the peril the potatoes were in, and rushed out in my pyjamas to put them to bed. There was a little bit of frost damage to some of the leaves, and I got cold, wet feet, but both quickly recovered.
The container-grown strawberries are in flower and some small green fruits are appearing. I am very much hoping for some warmer weather to ripen them to a rosy hue in time for the show.
The Vigoroot grown plants are looking fabulously green and healthy and ready to grace the stage on our Haxnicks stand at Chelsea.
Other seeds for success were sown this time last year. Those were the seeds of an idea to develop a new product that would combine the magic of our hugely successful Vigoroot™ fabric with a simple self-watering system. From this idea grew The Vigoroot Easy Table Garden. This exciting new product is a raised table garden, greenhouse and irrigation system all rolled into one. The RHS are excited about it too as it has been nominated for the Chelsea New product of the Year finals…watch this space!!
The Easter Bunny is no myth. Every year, just as carefully nurtured seedlings are beginning to flourish, the Easter bunny appears. Sponsored by Cadbury’s he is duty-bound to hide chocolate eggs in your garden. However, he and his accomplices seem to think that in return for this uninvited favour it is perfectly acceptable to help themselves to whatever delicacies lie in their path. So, be ready this Easter and protect your emerging crops against these greedy nibblers!
Growing your veg in pots and planters means that juicy crops may be harder to reach for the rabbits, but those of you with a ground level vegetable patch have a harder task. Rabbit-proof fencing needs to be at least 120cm high with 30cm dug below the ground and a 15cm ‘skirt’ bent outwards to stop them digging their way in. When you factor in the fence posts this all adds up to beyond the annual defence budget of most gardeners.
So, instead of protecting the entire garden you could just protect the most vulnerable plants. A Micromesh Pest and Wind Barrier is a cheap and easy way to surround a raised bed and due to the tiny gauge mesh will also give protection against insect invasion such as carrot fly.
A crop cover such as a net or poly tunnel can quickly be rolled out over a row to deter the rabbits. Just remember to pull the drawstring tight at the ends!
For smaller, individual plants Bell Cloche will, amongst many other things, help to keep the bunnies at bay.
Finally, if all else fails you could take a Mr McGregor style approach and chase the bob-tailed bandits with a rake. However, this may involve endless night-shifts as rabbits normally emerge to feed between dusk and dawn. No wonder Mr McGregor was so grumpy!
I don’t have a lot in common with slugs and snails, but if I was looking for common ground then I might choose our shared love of strawberries. Those sweet, red, juicy berries are simply irresistible to me, so I don’t blame the marauding molluscs for wanting a munch too. However, I would rather not share my strawberries with anyone, let alone slugs and snails. One simple solution is to grow them in containers, raising the plants and their fruits above the path of destruction.
Haxnicks Strawberry and herb patio planter
There are all sorts of weird and wonderful shaped strawberry containers available from dinky hanging baskets to sky-scraping towers. Strawberry patio planters come with 8 planting pockets so that the strawberries can be sown both in the top and sides of the planter, allowing you to sow 12 plants in a very compact space. The added advantage of using this type of lightweight planter is that you can plant it up earlier in the season, keeping it undercover in a greenhouse or conservatory and then moving it outside when the risk of frost has passed. This could mean that you can harvest your first strawberries well before Wimbledon!
Strawberries sown from seed can take up to a month to germinate and usually won’t crop until the following year. That’s a long wait (even for a snail). So, I buy my strawberry plants as bare rooted runners. Elsanta are a reliable type for spring planting. They look a little like a dying alien life-form when they arrive in the post and may make you wonder what you have paid for. Don’t worry, just follow your first instinct to soak the roots in water and get them planted as soon as possible.
In no time at all the rather miserable looking plants will spring into life and start looking healthy. Keep them well watered and feed fortnightly during the growing season. For extra fabulous fruiting you can give them a feed of high-potash liquid fertiliser during flowering. Come June you should have some crops of large, fat, juicy strawberries growing nicely out of reach from large, fat juicy slugs and snails.
I am not a huge fan of cut flowers unless they have come straight from my garden. However, at this time of the year, with Mother’s day looming and little to pick in the garden, then shop-bought flowers may be your only option. I have often been asked about the many old wives’ tales about keeping your cut flowers looking fresh. Well here is some old man’s wisdom instead!
As soon as a flower is cut it’s access to food and water via a root system is cut too, but it can continue to draw water and nutrients up through the cut stem. On first cutting, air can enter the stem and cause a sort of embolism that prevents further absorption. Re-cutting the stems when you first get the flowers home can remove any trapped air and help the flowers to re-hydrate.
Put some lukewarm water in the sink. Using sharp scissors, cut 1-2 inches off the stems underwater at a sharp angle. Then remove any foliage that will sit below the water line in the vase.
Often flowers are provided with a small sachet of ”flower food” to add to the water. This is most likely to contain some sugar, some acid and some bleach…sounds harsh! The sugar is a feed, the acid is to kill off bacterial growth and the bleach to maintain a ph balance in the water. All this is designed to keep your flowers in tip-top condition. If you don’t get that little sachet then a drop of apple cider vinegar and a small teaspoon of sugar will do a good job too. Make sure that you change the flower water every 3 days and you can also re-cut the stems if you don’t mind rearranging the flowers. Another good tip to prolong their life is to put the flowers somewhere cool overnight such as the garage or porch.