Tag Archives: compost

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!

 

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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!

Tippety top tomatoes

I think if I could only ever grow one thing, without a doubt it would have to be tomatoes. One of my earliest memories is helping my grandad in his greenhouse and even now, the smell of a greenhouse full of tomatoes on a sunny day takes me back to when I was three years old.

Since then I have always associated gardening with growing tomatoes before anything else…plus I love them!

In the past I have tried growing different varieties with mixed success. Central Scotland doesn’t have the same climate as Naples so the San Marzanos that you see dripping off Italian balconies did not quite live up to expectations. So this year I decided not to be clever and stick with what I know works and tastes good – Sungold, Red Cherry and Moneymaker (my grandad’s favourite).

Having started early, sowing my seeds in February, I then lost all my plants to frost in April. I started again, gutted at having lost my 7 week head start and finally, last week, my boys were all ready to be planted in their final growing spot.

My boys are raring to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year Mr Mac made me some troughs which I used for growing tomatoes, melons and squashes. The mistake I made was putting weed membrane along the bottom to stop the compost falling through. I did not put in any drainage either and I don’t think my plants were very happy.

This year, I learned from my mistake and filled the troughs full of stones first for drainage then added a layer of our own compost and topped the troughs up with growbag compost.

The troughs were filled with stones and gravel for drainage

They were then filled with a layer of our own compost and topped up with growbag compost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I had to call on Mr Mac to do his special string trick! He thinks he saw Alan Titchmarsh doing this on tv but is not sure. It definitely works though. He runs wire along the roof of the greenhouse. Then he measures a length of string long enough to reach from the wire, down and underneath the rootball of the tomato plant, then back up to the wire. He then plants the tomato with the string underneath the roots and then ties both lengths of string to the wire. It should not be too tight but the tension can always be adjusted by untying the string on the wire and loosening or tightening as required.

The string is under the roots of the tomato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This means as the tomato grows you can wrap it round the string and this provides all the support it will need.

All happy in their new home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I planted some French marigolds and basil in between the tomatoes to deter whitefly!

And then I had a little surprise when I went to plant some basil…

A little tomato plant is growing in the basil!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I checked my book and last year I planted the tomatoes on 25 April. This year it was 8 June! Now all we need is some sunshine although a friend told me that lining the greenhouse with foil or mirrors can increase the light to help them grow….I would prefer sunshine though so fingers crossed.

ABC Potatoes

Our main crop potatoes (Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apples) should really have been planted at the end of April. However, it was so cold here that we never got round to doing it.

Last week’s heat wave saw an initial flurry of activity. Lots of blue Scottish people rushed out into the sunshine for a freckle top-up and within 30 minutes were rushing back inside to lie down in a cool room because it was “too hot”. We’re never happy.

Over the week Mr Mac and I managed to get two large jobs done, one of which was getting the maincrop potatoes planted. The easiest way we have discovered to grow them is in bags. In the ground the worms eat them. Bags can be emptied whenever you need potatoes, they can be moved around the garden and they can more or less be forgotten about.

Even though we were late planting them they had been sitting in the greenhouse happily chitting away. For the uninitiated (like I was 3 years ago!) chitting involves sitting the tubers in a box, such as an old egg box, with the growing end facing upwards – recognisable by the cluster of tiny buds (“eyes”) on it. When the shoots are about an inch long they are ready for planting. This gives them a head start, although many people say you don’t need to chit maincrop potatoes because they have a longer growing season!

Here is what we did:

Maris Pipers, chitted and ready for action!

We saved empty compost bags which are the ideal size. They were all washed in a big bucket filled with water, bleach and washing up liquid to kill the bugs. Then they were left in the sun to dry.

Turn the compost bags inside out and then roll down the outside. This way, when you need to add more soil the bag can be unrolled to accommodate it. Add some compost to the bottom of the bag.

Place two seed potatoes in each bag and then cover with more compost.

Work out where to put them all!

We were all ready to place them around the garden when this happened…

Rain stopped play! At least we did not have to water anything.

We put the bags under two trees where the only things growing were the weeds.

Finally, pierce some holes in the bottom of each bag for drainage and wait for the potatoes to grow!

Life is like compost!

For those of you reading this hoping for further enlightenment on all things gardening, sorry, but not today I’m afraid.

I feel as if the gardening pause button has been pressed and now we’ve lost the remote control. It has been so wet it is impossible to do anything outside, although Mr Mac did manage to start another path during a dry half hour on Wednesday evening. As if the rain is not bad enough, the temperature is so far below what it should be at this time of year, nothing in the greenhouse is growing.

My tomato seedlings are still inside the house and I actually contemplated sitting them in front of the fire for a wee while to see if the heat might make them grow!

Anyway, although I am short of pearls of gardening wisdom, I did hear the most fantastic garden analogy on the radio this week and I thought I must share it with you.

It went something like this……

Most of us consider compost as a soggy, smelly, festering heap. But it is incredible how the chemical cycle of composting works. What we see as useless waste or stinky rubbish can change into something that can actually transform the soil when used properly, letting something good, useful and beautiful or delicious grow.

When things in life go wrong or things don’t work out the way you hoped it is easy to get down about it and see everything as a useless waste. If this is where our thinking gets stuck then we end up feeling rubbish.

However, if we learn from the tough times and use those lessons to make things better or different then something good and useful and possibly beautiful is sure to grow.

I think the point of the story is that if life is bad, things will get better. Either that or if you are having a bad time of it, add some grass clippings, tea bags and cardboard, sprinkle with a little water and you’ll win the lottery!

Speedy compost and decoys

Well what a week it has been. I spent most of the time doing the greenhouse hokey kokey…in, out, in, out, have a cup of tea…trying to dodge the showers.

The good news…

It was time to turn the compost for the first time since creating the new bays. I timed Mr Mac and it took just over 30 minutes. A huge improvement on 2 years! He just used a fork and lifted the compost over into the empty bay. I ripped up some cardboard and threw it in too to add some carbon. I have also learned that adding cardboard can also stop the compost heap smelling! We shall see….

The middle bay was full and ready to be turned into the bay on the right.

30 minutes later..all done

All of the new waste is now on the bottom and lots of air has been introduced to help it break down quicker.

And the not so good news…

The pigeons got the blame for eating the chard and the tulips. However, we then noticed the rasberry canes had all been stripped of shoots and leaves up to a height of about 3 feet. There is no way pigeons could have done that. Perplexed, we spent the day building frames to support nets over the raspberries and at 5am the following morning, Mr Mac got up before any of the birds, set a trap and sat at the back door Elmer Fudd style…waiting.

Mr Mac

Do you know what it was?

It was the pheasant! He has been wandering around for a few weeks now but we had never seen him in the garden. He makes a very loud “caw, caw” noise, followed by flapping his wings so you can hear him, even if you can’t see him.

One morning he woke us up and I even joked that he was so loud it sounded as if he was at the bottom of the bed! That was probably the same morning he ate all the tulips!

Fear not! He is still alive and well but we are following his movements closely and if he comes anywhere near the garden he gets chased away.

We are still not convinced the pigeons are entirely without blame for all the damage. I watched a programme recently about the London Underground. They have so much bother from pigeons at depots and stations that they employ a hawk which scares away the pigeons.

I half joked to Mr Mac that perhaps we should get a hawk to scare away the pigeons. He told me I was a genius and went next door to see Wallace. His real name is John but I call him Wallace because he was the inspiration for Wallace and Gromit. He is always designing gadgets from bits and pieces lying around.

Anyway, this is what they came up with…

Our decoy hawk - terrifying!

He is made from plywood and is attached to a bendy bit of metal so he “wobbles” in the wind.  Wallace is currently designing some form of swivel mechanism.

Apparently, a second decoy was also produced but he looks more like tweety pie!