Tag Archives: plants

Recession friendly plant supports

In these times of austerity, it is alarming how much a quick trip to the garden centre can cost. All the bits, bobs and gadgets you think you need soon add up.

There are lots of ways to save money:

  • Our local garden centre has a 10% off day every Wednesday. You may only save a couple of pounds but over a whole summer of weekly trips this soon adds up to a substantial saving.
  • Larger chains also have some great deals and 10% off weekends. Keep a note of what you need and wait until you can get a discount.
  • Try growing your own flowers and veg from seed rather than buying plugs or garden ready plants. I calculated I saved over £180 by buying a packet of livingstone daisy seeds for £1.99.
  • Make your own compost.
  • Rather than buying cell trays for plants, save up yoghurt pot and tins, small and large and make some holes in the bottom.
  • Use the inside of a toilet roll for starting long rooted plants such as sweet peas or beans. The cardboard can be planted into the ground without disturbing the roots.
  • Subscribe to gardening magazines to save money on the cover price and benefit from the free packets of seeds they all seem to be giving away with each issue.
  • We have a local “freecycle” website where people advertise anything they want rid of. The purpose is to try to stop items being sent to landfill but quite often people will advertise excess plants or garden equipment they are giving away. It’s worth a look. I got rid of over 100 jerusalem artichoke tubers this way.
  • Look at what you have lying around that would do the same job. Instead of spending £6 on a dibber and dobber use a pencil and a fork!

Anyway, I digress.

This year we promised to make more of an effort to stake up all of our plants that need support. This means supporting plants as they are growing rather than sticking a bit of wire in the ground and wrapping some string around the plant when it is already lying at a jaunty 45 degree angle!

We have a clump of beautiful blue delphiniums and every year they just flower, then it rains and they fall over. They are about 12 inches tall at the moment, so bearing in mind our resolution to do the right thing by our tall plants I started to look at websites and magazines to see what kind of plant supports were available.

Let me tell you there is very little for under £10…and we need quite a few! Mr Mac promptly advised me there was no way he was spending £10 on some bent wire and disappeared off to his shed.

He came back with some lengths of wood (2×2 I am reliably informed), some fence paint, some fence wire, a pair of pliers and 2 screws.

This is how he did it

 

The wood was cut to the required length then painted with fence paint.

Dennis helped

A stake was hammered into the ground either side of the delphiniums. They grow against a wall so no support was needed at the back. The fence wire was bent and each end looped with the pliers to allow the screws to fix the wire to the stake.

The finished article. As the plants grow they will cover the stakes and more wire can be attached to support them when they grow taller.

The plants will grow around the stakes so you will never see them. I was also impressed that Mr Mac has pre-prepared 2 more lengths of wire to attach to the stakes as the plants get higher. This is so he has no excuse for not adding support as the plants grow, defeating the purpose of have a support in the first place.

I asked Mr Mac what he thought his plant support cost. He worked it out and it cost less than £1!

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Mr Mac is growing chips!

One of the first things we did in our garden when we moved here was plant loads and loads of potatoes because they are good for breaking up the soil.  Mr Mac had experience of growing potatoes but when he started talking about seed potatoes, chitting, first earlies, second earlies, maincrop and haunching I realised there was slightly more to growing potatoes than I thought.

It sounded complicated and for a while I buried my head in the sand and just let Mr Mac get on with it. However, this year I decided to “face the fear” and work out what it is all about. After all, everyone else seems to be doing it so it can’t be that hard!

So here is my quick guide to growing potatoes:

  • Seed potatoes are not seeds but commercially cultivated tubers which you buy in bags from garden centres.
  • Potatoes are classified according to the length of time they spend in the ground. “Earlies” are ready for lifting first, then “second earlies” and in late summer, early autumn, “maincrop” varieties.
  • Potatoes will be ready to harvest sooner if the seeds are encouraged to develop shoots or sprouts before they are planted. This is known as “chitting”.
  • As potatoes grow, draw up earth around the stem so only the tip is exposed. This is known as “earthing up” or “haunching”.
  • First and second earlies are ready for harvesting when the plant flowers and the foliage is still green.  For maincrops, once the plant has gone brown and died completely, cut it down to ground level but leave the potatoes in the ground for another week. This allows skins to harden for storage.
  • Maincrop potatoes should be lifted on a dry day and left on the surface for a couple of hours to dry. They should be stored in a cool dark place in a hessian sack which allows moisture to evaporate.
  • Crop rotation is important.  Never plant potatoes in the same place two years running.

What we do

That first year we had so many potatoes we could have put McCain’s out of business! The purpose of growing so many was to break up the soil, which it did, but it also meant we were overrun with potatoes. We have never managed to store them successfully and the other major problem we had was worms. Probably 75% had been eaten by worms. We know worms are good for the soil which is fine as long as that is where they stay!

We had the same issue in year 2, even though we grew them in another part of the garden so Mr Mac decided all potatoes must be grown in a worm free zone. The solution? Compost bags turned inside out, a half whisky barrel and some deep pots.

We roll the compost bags down, put compost and one or two seed potatoes in the bottom and cover them. When the plant starts to grow, cover the stem and as more depth is required, just unroll the bag.

With the barrel and pots, the same applies. Start shallow and allow enough depth to keep adding compost until the potatoes are ready to harvest.

You can harvest one bag at a time by simply turning it out and collecting potatoes. There is no risk of stabbing the potatoes with a fork and they can be left in a quiet corner of the garden or kept inside and moved out once the risk of frost has passed. Easy!

Our favourites

This year we have planted a first early variety called “Foremost”. It will be ideal for new potatoes and salads. The other two varieties we love are both maincrops. Maris Pipers are good all-rounders and perfect for chips.  Pink Fir Apples have a pink knobbly skin, a waxy texture and nutty flavour, perfect with just some salt and butter mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Foremost first earlies being grown in a deep pot

The Foremost are well on the way.

The Maris Pipers and Pink Fir Apples are happily chitting in the greenhouse.

Maincrops chitting away

And finally…….

Mr Mac has an acquaintance who told him about an ingenious method he had devised.  He did not have any growing space in his garden so he used old car tyres and just kept piling them up and filling them with compost as the plants got taller. Apparently his mother was moaning about the tyres making the garden look untidy and had told him they had to go. His reply was, “They can’t go. I’m growing my chips in them”!

Unidentified Growing Objects!

Last year I planted some dahlia tubers in a flower bed under the livingroom window. Seven out of the eight that I planted grew, but they were a bit late flowering (my fault for planting them late!) and then got obliterated by the strong autumn winds.

Once the leaves had turned black, after the first frosts, I cut them down leaving just a tiny bit of the stem above the soil. They were then covered in a really deep layer of topsoil to protect them from frost.

They looked so lovely I decided to buy some more and create a flower border just full of dahlias. They are all semi-cactus variety and the flowers are huge. The foliage varies from a green-black to lime green so even before the flowers open there is some variety of colour.

Dahlias or pineapples?

It is recommended that dahlia tubers are planted in the ground about 6 weeks before the last frost is expected. This is round about now where I live. I was having a look at the border when I noticed a pineapple shape sticking up out of the ground. As the week has gone on more and more have started to appear. Now if I was a betting woman I would put money on them being dahlias. However, they are not anywhere near where they were last year.

According to Mr Mac the tubers spread and what has popped up are new tubers. This explains why they are in a different place. It is unlikely last year’s tubers will flower which means I will need to wait to see where they are all going to pop up before I can plant the new ones.

It also means that they will have to be protected from the risk of frost so I will be tuned to the weather forecast each night and if it looks like it may be frosty I have some protective fleece to throw over them. It would be a shame to lose them now after they have survived the winter.

Another odd thing that has happened this week is the Morning Glory seedlings I potted on last week look like they have started to burn round the edges! They were growing really well but now most of them look as if they are going to die. I wondered if it was just too hot for them in the greenhouse so I have been taking them outside each morning and putting them back in at night. I have planted some more seeds just in case. I will need them for my blue wall.

Finally, you may remember a few blogs back I had lost my Muscari. Well I found it! It was at the front door.

 

Mr Mac’s cunning plan

Well what an amazing day. I have been in the garden all day with a t-shirt and sunnies on and actually felt the need to put sun cream on my face! At midday it was 17 degrees outside the greenhouse and 25 degrees inside – and it’s only 22 March. It was just me, woody woodpecker, two ladybirds and the pheasant who has set up home in the field next door while he looks for a girlfriend! Heaven.

The trellis and flower bed where I plan to grow a wall of blue flowers.

I have weeded the flower bed in front of the trellis, potted on the cosmos, osteospermums (all 2 of them!), the gazanias and the dahlia pom poms. I also planted some ladybird poppy seeds in pots. It is something I did last year and it was really effective.

The First Tulips

The best part of the day was seeing the first of the tulips open.

Until this year, all we had in the garden in the spring were snowdrops then daffodils. This year we introduced some crocus. A bag of 20 bulbs was purchased and planted but the 2 small circles of purple crocus was merely a drop in the ocean and hardly made an impact at all. I think we probably need 2,000 bulbs!

We also bought loads of tulip bulbs but never got round to planting them in the ground in time. So we decided to plant them all in pots and once they have flowered and died back, we’ll stick them in the ground for next spring.

An  issue we have had in the past is our pots always crack and break with the frost. We did not want to risk it this winter, especially as most of them had tulip bulbs inside them.

Mr Mac came up with a cunning plan! The reason the pots crack is because the soil gets waterlogged and then expands when it freezes and this cracks the pot. His theory was that if he could create a layer between the pot and the soil inside it that would allow expansion then the pots would not crack.

Can you guess what Mr Mac’s solution was? BUBBLE WRAP!

Bubble wrap between the pot and the soil

Yes, we lined each pot with a layer of bubble wrap then filled it up with soil and planted the bulbs.

This did the trick and all the tulip pots survived the winter intact.

The only pot that did crack is the one that I keep my blueberry bush in. It sits in a large saucer which retains water. Yes, you guessed it – the saucer filled with water, the water froze and cracked the pot! Typical.

Anyway, the bubble wrap design is patent pending and you can look forward to seeing Mr Mac on the next series of Dragon’s Den!