Category Archives: Hints and tips

Strawberry Relocation

One of the first things we planted when we moved to this house was strawberries. We found a quiet patch at the bottom of the garden and planted Elsanta, Cambridge Favourite and Judibell – early, main and late croppers.

However, we soon discovered that the quiet patch is also a very wet, soggy, waterlogged patch and while we had a reasonable crop in the first year, there has not been enough for a pot of jam since!

We decided to move them but as the plants were coming to the end of their producing life (they should be replaced every three to four years) we simply tried to catch as many runners as we could to supplement new plants.

So last weekend we dug up the runners. There were quite a few but none that looked particularly healthy so Mr Mac went off to the shop and bought 18 new plants.

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We had an old cold frame which had been made from our old front door and some lengths of wood. Some of the glass had smashed and it was lying empty so we decided to take the door off and tidy the surrounding area.

The old cold frame which was to become the new strawberry patch.

The old cold frame which was to become the new strawberry patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We filled it with stones for drainage…

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then topped it up with compost…

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and covered it to warm up the soil.

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At the weekend we planted the new plants. All Elsanta variety as we found these to be the best, we will get some straw from Rob the horse next door to sit them on and Mr Mac planned to craft a cover to protect them from birds.

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However, it was too late. Look what happened!

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Something has been getting into the garden, scratching up the grass and eating the tulips. They also have a taste for strawberry plants! It just seems to be the leaves that they have eaten and the centres and roots seem to be ok. We were not sure whether it was deer, squirrels, pheasant or pigeons. But yesterday morning Mr Badger was seen leaving our garden in the early hours.

So Mr Mac has created a protective cover! Fingers crossed they will recover.

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So here are some hints and tips for growing strawberries:

  • Choose a sunny sheltered spot with fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of well-rotted organic matter worked in.
  • Plant them 18 inches apart or in a raised bed with deep, rich soil they can be planted 12-15 inches apart.
  • Apply potash every spring.
  • Once the fruits form spread straw or synthetic strawberry mats between the plants to protect the fruit from dirt, damp and mud splashes.
  • Protect the fruit from birds.
  • Plants crop well for 3-4 years after which they are best replaced with new young plants in a new location.
  • Try raising new plants from runners – the stems produced by the plant to regenerate itself. Peg down the runners into pots of seed compost. Once the runners have rooted snip the “umbilical cord” connecting them to the parent plant and grow them on in a cold frame until they are ready to plant.
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Jobs for March

The more alert among you may have noticed that we are approximately two-thirds of the way through March. However, I have two excuses. The first is that the Central belt of Scotland is at least a fortnight behind the south of England when it comes to all matters of the garden variety and the second is…..IT IS STILL SNOWING!!!!!!

The snowdrops have now “dropped” and the daffodils, tulips, crocus and hellebores are thinking WTF? I did manage to tidy my brassicas and start planting some seeds  but other than wandering aimlessly around the garden, wrapped up like the Michelin man and leaning at a jaunty angle into the wind….not much has been happening.

So here is what should be happening this month…

  • Spread compost thinly over soil as a mulch to give it a kick start. We actually managed to do this, the reason being Mr Mac needed to turn the compost and we had to get rid of the stuff that was ready to use. Needless to say, Mr Mac still has not turned the rest!
  • Sow fast salad leaves. I have also managed to do this in a pot in the greenhouse, although the seeds took 10 days to germinate rather than the two or three days in the summer.
  • Deadhead pansies and primroses. I have a 100% failure rate on this. The pesky sheep that got into the garden ate all the pansies and the primroses I bought as plugs last summer have yet to flower!
  • Start to sow hardy annuals outdoors.…no chance.
  • Move summer flowering shrubs that are in the wrong place and lift and divide border perennials. We would but we can’t find them yet!
  • Start warming the soil for vegetables by covering with a cloche or polythene.
  • Start chitting seed potatoes. Almost. We have been to the garden centre and bought seed potatoes but they are still in the garage.
  • Rake up leaves, spike the lawn, clean troughs and containers, clean greenhouse glass to maximise sunlight, sharpen tools, stock up on compost and tidy, tidy, tidy and weed, weed, weed.
  • Plant onions, shallots, summer cauliflowers and jerusalem artichokes and sow parsnips.
  • Force rhubarb and prune gooseberries and blueberries.

Last year for the first time I planted purple sprouting brocolli and I believe it should be ready about now. However, while they have started to grow, they are still only about 15-20cm high. I am not sure what to expect so if anyone can enlighten me it would be greatly appreciated.

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My leeks are doing well. They have taken a growth spurt in the last few weeks and should be on their way to the soup pot very soon!

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Today happens to be the Spring Equinox, the day when day and night are equal and from here on we will be bathed in sunlight. I can’t help but be an optimist and sense that all this late snow means we are in for a long, hot summer…..bring it on!

 

Planting a new hedge – attempt No.2!

At the end of February 2011 we planted copper beech and blackthorn bare root plants (also known as bare root whips) to form a hedge along the boundary between our garden and the neighbouring field. We were told to plant them 18 inches apart (which was far too far apart), heel them in and mulch them with some compost. I recall spending a very unpleasant, back breaking day in driving sleet trying to get the last roots planted as they we already several weeks past when they should have been in the ground.

That first summer there were a few buds and leaves  on some of the plants but last year, nothing. What a waste of time and waste of money – they cost 90 pence per plant. The problem seemed to be that the plants never stood a chance against the grass and weeds creeping through from the field. They were strangled and just could not compete.

Last year we acquired some replacement roots and planted them in beside the fruit bushes to give them a chance to establish themselves and today we dug them up and moved them to their permanent spot.

Garden Blog 2013 046Learning from our previous mistakes we cleared the area of grass and weeds.

Garden Blog 2013 038We then dug a hole for each plant approximately 35cm apart and heeled them in.

Garden Blog 2013 054Then we mulched them with compost and gave them a good water…

Garden Blog 2013 060cut out lots of carpet squares to form collars to suppress the weeds…

Garden Blog 2013 062and then covered them with gravel.

Garden Blog 2013 065Hopefully the compost will help the roots settle in to their new home and the carpet collars will stop any weeds growing around the roots giving them a chance to establish themselves. We thought we had some old carpet but all we could find was the remnants of our new hall carpet and at £58 a square metre we could not bring ourselves to use it. Luckily our neighbours had the end of a roll of carpet which they were more than happy to let us have. It is quite effective and I might use this for some of the vegetables in the summer – it might deter slugs (one can dream!).

Originally we alternated copper beech and blackthorn to get a good mix of copper and green leaves with the added benefit of sloe berries for making sloe gin! The new roots are actually purple beech and although they look copper at the moment, they have the most beautiful deep purple leaves which change to copper in the winter. Apparently it can grow to 18 metres tall….yikes!

Garden Blog 2013 063Finally, I have to thank Mr Mac for all his hard work. He did all the digging and planting while I sat in the sun cutting carpet squares. However, Mr Mac was well rewarded for his hard work……..

Garden Blog 2013 064with a nice cold pint of cider!

Jobs for February

Well I can’t believe it is February already and we have been blessed with another sunny weekend which meant lots of gardening jobs got done. Mostly weeding and tidying but I’m feeling quite smug now! The garden is starting to transform – check out my other blog at http://www.ayearinmygarden2013.com for a weekly photographic record.

I’ve been reading up on what gardeners should be doing in February and here are the main jobs:

  • Prepare soil for summer bedding by forking in compost.
  • Suppress weeds with mulch – well rotted manure or bark chips.
  • dead head winter bedding.
  • Start sowing summer bedding and greenhouse vegetable seeds if you have somewhere warm to do this.
  • Wash the greenhouse glass and ventilate on sunny days.
  • Start collecting toilet roll tubes and egg boxes for starting off sweet peas and beans and chitting potatoes.
  • Tidy up strawberry plants.
  • Chit early new potatoes.
  • Add potash around the base of fruit canes, bushes and trees – Mr Mac sprinkles the ash from the wood burner.
  • Warm soil by placing a cloche, polythene or carpet over it.
  • Tidy up herbs.
  • Check seeds from previous years to make sure they are still worth sowing. Try the germination test – put 20 seeds on moist kitchen paper and put somewhere warm for seven days. If the germination rate is less than 50% then chuck them out and buy new ones!
  • Clean out water butts.
  • Turn compost heap.
  • Sow peas inside for an early crop. I did this last year and it was a great success.

I still have not done January’s job of sorting out my seeds, seeing what I need to order and make a plan for the garden for this year but it is too early for me anyway. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made last year by sowing tomato and flower seeds in mid-February and then losing them all to frost in April. That set me back 7 weeks but everything caught up in the end.

I have done lots of weeding, mulching and dead-heading so don’t feel too bad and the garlic was planted last weekend.

Having researched what type of garlic to buy I decided hardneck types would be better for the Scottish climate. They are more hardy than their softneck cousins and thrive in the UK, especially in northern areas. The only down side is they do not store as well – not an issue in our house as we eat it all the time.

However, when I went to the garden centre the packaging gave no indication of whether the variety was hardneck or softneck so we opted for Solent Wight which is produced in the UK and Arno, a French variety.

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We split up the bulbs and planted each clove of the Solent Wight in individual pots so it can be planted outside later in the spring. As Arno is used to the French climate we opted to grow that in one of the beds inside the greenhouse.

Garden Blog 2013 032It is the first time we have tried growing garlic so fingers crossed!

 

The Garlic Minefield

Two things that you can do this month is plant garlic and rhubarb crowns. I was listening to Terry Walton on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 programme last week and Terry was planting garlic inside his greenhouse, each clove in its own polystyrene coffee cup.

Simply put a couple of holes in the bottom of the cup, fill it with compost, separate the garlic cloves from the bulb and plant each clove in a cup. When they are big enough and the weather is better they can be planted outside in their final growing position.

I thought, “I can manage that,” and so having paid attention to the part about making sure you use a hardy variety suitable for the British climate I decided to do a bit of research before heading off to the garden centre.

However, my research shed a whole new light on the innocent little garlic bulb. I did not realise I was entering into one of the most lucrative EU  smuggling commodities of all time!

Sweden has issued international arrest warrants for two Britons suspected of illegally importing 10m euros (£8m) worth of garlic into the EU via Norway. But why would criminals do that?

According to the BBC, Swedish state prosecutors claim to have cracked one of Europe’s most unusual but lucrative smuggling rings. Two British men are believed to have made millions of euros smuggling Chinese garlic from Norway into Sweden.

The EU imposes a 9.6% duty on imported foreign garlic.

The supplies are said to have been shipped to Norway – a non-EU state where no garlic import tax is applied – and then smuggled into neighbouring Sweden and the rest of the EU by lorry, and so avoiding EU import duties.

It’s not the first time garlic smuggling has made the headlines. In December 2012, a man from west London was sentenced to six years in jail for smuggling garlic from China into the UK. He told officials it was fresh ginger which is untaxed.

In March 2012, the head of Ireland’s largest fruit and vegetable producer was jailed for six years over a 1.6m euros (£1.3m) scam involving the importation of garlic. He avoided paying customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having the shipment labelled as apples.

So when did garlic start attracting criminals?

The real financial implications for the EU started in 2001, when a 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic was introduced.

It was meant to prevent garlic growers in EU member states being driven out of business by Chinese farmers, who produce crops at knock down prices.

China produced 18,560,000 tonnes of garlic in 2010, accounting for about 80% of the world’s output. Millions of Euros have been lost over the years and most of the EU has been affected.

Well who would have know the humble garlic clove was so interesting?

Garlic facts

  • Garlic originated in Central Asia where it was probably used as far back as Neolithic times as a food flavouring and seasoning
  • It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Chinese writings
  • As a culinary and medicinal plant, it spread in ancient times to the Mediterranean and beyond, and used in Egypt by 3000BC
  • Also known by ancient civilisations of the Indus Valley – in what is now Pakistan and western India – from where it spread to China
  • Spanish, Portuguese and French introduced it to the New World
  • EU imposes 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic
  • China produces about 80% of the world’s garlic, cheaply
  • Criminals can make millions of euros smuggling it!

Garlic

Happy new gardening year!

Happy new year everyone. I’m looking forward to another year of gardening, implementing lessons learned last year and starting with a nice blank canvas….at least that is what it looks like at the moment!

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Believe it or not it was so mild and dry yesterday that I found myself in the garden tidying up the brassicas, chopping down the verbena that was still flowering well into December and emptying dead plants into the compost bins. Not what I would have expected to be doing in the first weekend in January!

So what are we supposed to be doing in January?

  • Start drawing up plans for the coming year, crop rotation and what is going to go where, order seeds and plants.
  • Tidy, tidy, tidy…cut back perennials, clear away plant debris, continue weeding, sort out the shed / greenhouse, clean pots and labels, check and maintain tools and garden furniture
  • Clay soils can be dug over and left. Apparently the frost helps to break up the soil so when it is time to plant, the soil should just need raked over. Light, sandy soils should be left to the spring.
  • Add compost and well-rotted manure to the vegetable beds.
  • Established apple and pear trees should be pruned. Young trees and trees that are cropping well should be left alone. Gooseberry and currant bushes should also be pruned if they have not already been.
  • Check cages, stakes, nets and ties and replace where necessary.
  • Harvest any crops such as parsnips, brassicas and leeks.
  • Warm up seedbeds by covering them with cardboard, carpet or polythene.
  • Vegetable seeds that can be sown indoors include broad beans, early summer cauliflower, leeks, onions, peas, radish, salad leaves and spinach.
  • Plant new sets or divide and re-plant old crowns of rhubarb. It likes the cold but not to be waterlogged.

So what am I going to do? Put the kettle on…….now where did I put that seed catalogue?

 

Beat that Captain Birdseye!

I have had a bumper year for peas. I decided to stick to petit pois and went for a variety called Calibra. I was promised disease resistant high yields and I was not disappointed.

I experimented by starting early and growing a crop in a large pot inside the greenhouse. I planted the seeds on 19 February and we started eating the first peas on 23 June.

By comparison I planted seeds outside on 27 April and have been eating them from early August. Doing it this way has meant a continuous supply of little green gems right through summer.

I would have had even more but I planted some mange tout beside the peas and got carried away when the first pods appeared. After forcing Mr Mac to eat very stringy “mange tout”, I realised one day while weeding that we had been eating the pea pods NOT the mange tout…..oops! One day I will practice what I preach and label things!

Over the two batches I  also managed to freeze some. When shelling them, I was reminded of the old Birds Eye frozen pea advert from my childhood, with the slogan “one hour to frozen”. Apparently this slogan was subtly dropped as the real time had crept up to 2 and a half hours!

I managed from bottom of the garden to freezer bag in less than 12 minutes – beat that Captain Birdseye!

Batman had The Joker, Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty, I have………slugs!

Yes my gardening nemesis of 2012 is the humble old slug. Until this year, a slug was a mild inconvenience to be kept away from brussel sprouts and hostas but our soggy summer has provided sluggy nirvana leaving my garden looking like the set from a horticultural horror film.

Caught red-handed eating the potatoes!

Followers may recall back in May (when we still thought the wet spring was just a blip) I blogged about home-made methods of deterring slugs…crushed eggshells, coffee grinds, beer traps, bran, human hair, citrus peel, sharp sand, copper tape….the list is endless. Looking back, I laugh at my naivity ha ha ha ha ha.

All that is left of the potato shaw!

However, I take some delight….sorry, comfort… in reading about many professional and celebrity gardeners who are also suffering at the hands of our slimy sluggy pals. The only people rubbing their hands with glee are the garden centre owners who have experienced a 74% increase in sales of slug pellets. Even a landscape gardener friend bemoaned the fact that this is the first year in 30 years of gardening he has had to use slug pellets.

Estimates indicate the slug population of the UK has increased three-fold and, if that was not bad enough, apparently now we are being invaded by a voracious, aggressive Spanish super slug which is breeding with our native slugs to create a powerful, highly fertile breed that will overrun the country…aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

This pot originally had 5 cosmos flowers in it. ironically I was worried they would be too crowded in one pot!

For me though, slug pellets are just not an option. We have cats, the neighbour’s two dogs (who frequently run through our garden when they escape!), numerous varieties of birds plus deer, foxes, squirrels etc.

I walked around the garden one evening. Now picture this analogy…a pod of hundreds of dolphins breaking the waves as far as the eye can see…now for the waves substitute my front lawn and for the dolphins substitute slugs. That is what it looked like.

This is all that is left of one of my dahlias. Originally I had 13, now I have 3!

I put my gloves on, got a 9″ pot and wandered round the garden picking up every slug I could find. Then I dropped them into a bucket of water thinking they would drown. I was sad but it was them or my veggies and I’m not giving up cauliflower cheese for anything! The next night I did the same but when it came to “bath time” I found 15 slugs that should have drowned the night before, climbing out of the bucket! They are indestructable!

In my desperation I turned to the font of all knowledge…Google. I came across this blog:

http://www.mysuburbanhomestead.com/how-to-get-rid-of-slugs/

This guy actually took the time to try all of the methods and prove (with photographic evidence) that none of them work. The only sure way to get rid of slugs is to slice them in half. Coincidentally, the next day I heard Terry Walton, BBC Radio 2’s allotment gardener, on the radio saying he goes out at night with his knife and cuts them in half. Brutally, if they are dead, they are not eating your plants!

So every evening, just as the lights fades, I dig deep (pardon the pun) and bring out my Freddie Kruger alter ego…Fifi the slasher princess…and I either jump on them with my wellie boots on and squash them or cut them in half with the scissors. It was horrible at first but I console myself with this comforting fact, gleened from a man who has dedicated his life to finding the best way to eradicate slugs…….slugs are high in protein and all that “green” that they eat is high in nitrogen. Better to reuse their resources and recycle the nutrients back into the garden.

I reckon by next year I will have the most fertile garden in the country!

Old wives’ tales and homemade pest control

I would not class myself as a fully fledged tree-hugger. I will use chemicals in the garden but usually only as a last resort.

So I am always intrigued to hear about old wives’ tales that relate to the garden. Some of them work, some of them don’t but you shouldn’t knock them before you’ve tried them.

Here are some I read about this week.

Aphid garlic spray

Add three chopped garlic cloves to two cups of water. Add a few drops of washing up liquid, shake and allow to stand for 24 hours. Sieve the mix and add the water to a spray bottle.

Spray infected plants once in the morning and once again in the evening, once a week. Hose the plants down the following day to wash away the dead aphids (apart from those of you who still have a hosepipe ban!).

Now Mr Mac is always going on about horticultural soap but I think the stuff he is thinking about has now been banned by some European legislation. It probably interfered with a greenfly’s right to life or some such nonsense. We can never find it at the garden centre and we are too scared to ask in case they think we are eco-terrorists.

However, I think the principle of using soap is so the aphids can’t get a grip and slide off the plant. We have tried this with fairy liquid but with limited success. I will now try it with the added garlic as we always have an issue with whitefly on the fruit bushes. This method was also endorsed on last week’s episode of The Beechgrove Garden. So if it’s good enough for Jim McColl, it’s good enough for me!

Club root control

Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous oxalic acid which is said to kill off club root fungus, the scourge of the brassica crop. It was the active ingredient in now withdrawn club root chemical controls (Europe again?).

Tear a leaf into small pieces and add one to the bottom of each planting hole before planting brassicas.

I have not suffered from club root (so far) but we have some rhubarb at the bottom of the garden so I might give this a try.

Add nitrogen

By peeing on a new compost heap, the added nitrogen is said to kick-start the rotting process and turn garden waste into usable mulch that bit quicker. This is a job for the man of the house though as male urine is less acidic than female urine.

I’ll need to speak nicely to Mr Mac about that one!

Slug remedies

Slugs are definitely my gardening nemesis. They are everywhere, they eat everything and they are a big problem in my garden. They are UK’s no.1 pest so I am not alone.

I have tried coffee grinds, sharp sand, egg shells, hair, cat fur, orange peel, beer traps, all of which are supposed to keep slugs away. I always thought it was the texture of coffee grinds that the slugs did not like but apparently the coffee grinds react with the slug’s slime producing mechanism and they dry out and can’t move.

Whatever these remedies are supposed to do, they don’t keep slugs off my plants I’m afraid. Not only that but I also read that more slugs actually live in the soil than on the surface and do their damage below ground. This means that surrounding your plants with coffee grinds etc is useless!

Even the Royal Horticultural Society agrees that when it comes to slugs, a chemical killer is the best option. So it’s off to the garden centre to see what they’ve got. We might even ask about horticultural soap while we’re there!

 

Round and round we go – crop rotation made easy!

I have been desperate to start planting seeds outside but it has been so cold and wet I was not able to. However, this morning saw the sun shine for the first time in ages so it was boots on and outside.

we won’t be planting any veg in this patch this year!

Now I have a conundrum. We had 3 areas for growing veg but due to Mr Mac’s path and wall building project, one of the areas has a mountain of earth piled on top of it. It will eventually become a lovely raised bed enclosed with a stone wall but for the time being it will be sprayed with weed killer, covered in black plastic and left until next year.

This leaves me with 2 areas and one has already been earmarked for brassicas. We have “acquired” an old gazebo frame which will support a net to cover them and protect them from cabbage white butterflies and the resulting caterpillars.

Over the last three years we have planted potatoes in each patch to break up the soil and have followed a crop rotation system, making sure the same vegetables were not grown in the same place 2 years in a row.

One veggie plot ready for action.

So my conundrum this morning was to work out what I had planted in my 2 remaining veggie patches last year and try to work out what can go where this year. This hurt my brain! So now that I have worked it out, to save you the bother, I will gladly share my new found knowledge.

Depending on what book you consult and how much space you have, crops can be rotated over 3 years or 4. I will go with 4 but if you only have room for 3, alliums and roots should be put together.

The idea is to avoid planting the same crop in the same bit of ground more than one year in four.

Crops fall into 4 categories:

  1. Legumes – peas and beans
  2. Alliums – onions, shallots, leeks and garlic
  3. Roots – peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, celery, celeriac, beetroot, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips and potatoes
  4. Brassicas – cauliflowers, cabbages, brussels sprouts, broccoli, pak choi, swedes, turnips and radishes

Plot 1

Year 1 Legumes

Year 2 Brassicas

Year 3 Roots

Year 4 Alliums

Plot 2

Year 1 Roots

Year 2 Alliums

Year 3 Legumes

Year 4 Brassica

Plot 3

Year 1 Alliums

Year 2 Legumes

Year 3 Brassicas

Year 4 Roots

Plot 4

Year 1 Brassicas

Year 2 Roots

Year 3 Alliums

Year 4 Legumes

Advantages of crop rotation:

  • This is a natural way of preventing root diseases.
  • Some crops like potatoes blanket the soil, smothering weeds, so it is useful to follow them with crops that are difficult to weed like onions.
  • Root crops also break up the ground keeping the soil structure open and full of air.
  • Legumes put nitrogen into the soil making it ideal for nitrogen-hungry crops, like brassicas, to follow.