Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Barbeques and Coffee Grounds - 2 things to throw out onto the garden

A Licence to Grill
Do you have a barbeque set up in the garden?  Like most of us, the answer is probably ‘yes’. 

There are some fabulous examples on the market from the tiny wok shaped bowl, half barrels, brickwork ones, to the all bells and whistles types that are larger than the fireplace in the front room.  I saw one that was a replica of an old steam train, albeit a tad smaller, which was very impressive and came with its own Casey jones style railway hat.  If I do have a Barbie this year it’ll be one of the disposable types. In our last house we had a large brick one but only used it about once a year so it didn’t really justify taking up the space. There are a lot of us who will be at the DIY shops picking up new shiny ones as the old rusty ones go into a skip.

Like children playing, rumbling lawnmowers at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, blasting radios and dogs barking, barbeques tend to be at their busiest when the sun shines. I really like the smell of cooking sausages and chicken wafting over from the neighbours houses but not everyone feels the same. Maybe next time you light up the coals, ask the neighbours around too and you can all join in the fun. I’ll keep my fluffy burger baps on standby just in case I get an invite.

Coffee grounds
Old teabags and loose tea has always gone into my compost bin. I sometimes just throw out the old bags left in the cups for the dogs. After they have finished attacking and having fun with the left over paper and leaves just rot down into the beds or lawn. I have never really thought the old discarded tea holds any nutrients for plants but the added bulk in the garden couldn’t do any harm. I have occasionally in the past made the odd cup of real coffee for visitors and the coffee grounds left over are also put into the compost bin. 

As I get palpitations from drinking coffee nowadays , I am not one of these people that raves about the hundreds of different permutations available. Caffe' Freddo, Con panna, Macchiato, Mazagran, Lungo are just a few types available that I might have had in the past but not know it. One type does sound quite attractive though called an Affogato. This is a term that means 'drowned'. It is the description of a shot of separately served espresso that is later poured over a the top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I could be tempted. 

Anyway, caffeine addiction to one side, I am noticing that for every coffee shop that opens up in the area, there are ten people asking the staff for their leftover grounds to sprinkle on the garden. Some big multinational franchises now put their leftovers in bags and leave them on the counter for eager gardeners to call in and grab the bags when they become available. It’s a very efficient service which keeps the customers happy and means less waste filling up their bins or clogged drains for the shops as they try to rinse it down the sink.

Coffee grounds will add bulk to the compost bin and you could always spread it neat around plants. I have read that it could be used to balance out the Ph of soil but I think for that purpose you would need to add tonnes of it to the ground to have any effect. Fresh coffee is acidic compared to used which has a neutral Ph of 6.5 so it’s really just bulking up the soil, which could improve drainage and help earthworms, but again you’d need a lot of it to make any difference.

Putting coffee grounds on the garden is better than throwing them away, so I remain positive about its value. Some of the claims about their benefits I think are a bit overstated though I feel. It’s claimed the grounds are good for vermicomposting (which I wouldn’t doubt), can help to keep slugs and snails away, can be used to keep cats from depositing on the soil, supressing weeds, sprinkle around acid-loving plants like azaleas, hydrangea, helping root vegetables, supressing weeds and keeping rabbits away.

There are only a few negatives surrounding the coffee grounds such as tomatoes not liking them and suppressing some fungal pathogens, but apart from that the grounds will surely be better off in your garden than in a wheelie bin. 

Like all drugs, people who use them like to share, in this caffeinated case, it’s with the garden.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cinnamon, Asparagus and 23,000 members

 Old Factory Lampshades being recommissioned.

For the last few weeks I’ve been falling behind on the gardening work. Mainly because I don’t like getting cold and wet, but also a bit of complacency set in. I was feeling that I could leave seed sowing and bed preparations until June, but that’s taking procrastination just a bit too far. 

The seeds I have sown are now outgrowing their containers which has forced me to get a few beds cleared and ready to plant. 

So today, the sunflowers went in and the lettuce and rocket were planted. I’ve also re-commissioned some old industrial, aluminium lampshades, turned them upside down and filled them with composts and strawberry plants. I think they look fabulous, although it might not be to everyone’s taste. 
Most of the summer bedding has been planted into pots and containers so this is sparing them from being root/pot bound for too long. I still have the stocks to put out, and a few more geraniums but they are proving to be very undemanding and still look quite happy in their confined multipacks for now.

It’s actually amazing how much progress we can make in one day after getting stuck into the garden. From that heavy feeling in the morning that there is just so much to do, to this evening where I am sitting relaxed, aching, but with a sense of satisfaction.  I’m feeling that at least for now, the garden is looking like I am on top of things, although I have just picked up the big bag of seed packets and realized I have loads more to plant up and out.  

I haven’t put in the peas or beans, coriander, spinach, basil or parsley. I’m thinking I’m going to be busy tomorrow as well, the feeling of satisfaction was very short lived.

My asparagus seeds have sprouted really quickly and although their fine stems will take some time to mature, it’s great to see them looking so healthy. Just think, in four years’ time, I’ll be able to have some of the fresh shoots for my tea. I hope it’s worth the wait. As I am on updates, the tadpoles have now got their back legs, are full up on lettuce and minced beef so will soon be crawling out of their small pond in the tunnel and going on slug hunts in the evenings for me. My time spent looking after them will hopefully be rewarded as they keep the pests down in the garden. It can be fun also when they jump out at you when you are weeding.

Not another one
The Raised Vegetable Beds Facebook page has now got over 23,000 members and although not everyone posts, there is a healthy stream of questions and solutions to a lot of gardening problems. Some of them are factual or fun, some of them full of old wives tales and some, well, let’s just say – totally misinformed and sometimes dangerous for both people and the planet.  

As the only moderator of the group, members do have to put up with me being in a grumpy mood sometimes.  Occasionally I will get totally fed up of the same misinformation being posted, especially when it comes to coping with unwanted weeds, insects or animals.  

Just recently I have seen a huge wave of people saying they are putting vinegar, salt, Epsom salts, coffee grounds and flour onto their plots as well as other ‘natural’ chemicals. These are to get rid of anything from a dandelion to a deer.

 I used to post replies with facts about why most of these things are useless in the garden even dangerous, but now I just let people post away. I was told that I was a moderator, not an educator which has kept me in my place and I’m happy to oblige. 

I made an exception this week though when members started posting about how they now add cinnamon to the garden, either as another strange way of keeping rabbits away or to stop seedlings damping off.  The two major types of cinnamon are Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, native to Sri Lanka, is also known as “true cinnamon.” It’s the Cassia that’s often put on the garden because it’s a lot cheaper.
It is said that ingesting a lot of the Cassia cinnamon can be bad for the kidneys but the Ceylon cinnamon possesses more health benefits and less of the blood thinning ‘coumarin’ that’s in Cassia.. 

The debate continues as we speak and maybe one day there will be a lot of gardening products made with cinnamon. 

In the meantime, I’ll stick with fresh air, rainwater and compost, at least for now it’s free and devoid of any FDA health warnings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Herb Gardens
I decided to plant up my rooted sage this week. I have had a stem growing roots in a plantpot on the windowsill for months and thought I’d better pot it up in some soil.  The main stem has rooted and I also have about ten offshoots which I have also planted up.  I’ve got loads of annual herb seeds coming up too such as basil, coriander and rocket.

It’s so easy to start a herb garden and even if it’s just a few post outside the kitchen door, or even inside on the window sill, this will be enough to liven up your cooking or salad. 

Why Grow an Herb Garden?
Growing herbs has been a part of life on every continent for thousands of years. Herbs are prized for their scents, medicinal and aromatherapy properties, but are most popular locally for their use in seasoning in cooking. Planting a small sized kitchen herb garden is easy and satisfying. The flavourful, therapeutic, and fragrant plants are beneficial to the family and the garden. Herbs grow perfectly in the beds and borders, pots and even on the windowsill, so there’s absolutely no excuse not to grow at least one type of herb, even if it’s to keep flies away from the kitchen worktops. (Basil is good for this).

Herbs are easy to grow
Herbs can tolerate all types of tough growing conditions. Most of them were originally wild plants growing in poor soil. Some varieties can be spoilt by the lush conditions of a garden. If they grow too large their flavours and properties become lessened. It's a myth that all herbs like full sun; even good old basil likes partial shade at midday. So when planning your garden, you can divide your plants into two sections. There are those like thyme, sage, rosemary, French tarragon and oregano that like full sun and those that like partial shade, such as rocket, sorrel, lettuce, mustard, parsley and chervil.

Which herbs are best to grow for a beginner?
Coriander, rocket, chives and parsley are easy to grow from seed. Seeds can be sown where you want the plant to grow and don’t need any repotting. Cuttings can be taken of sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and marjoram –or you can buy them in your local garden centre. Mint can be divided from a friend, but best keep it in pots as it is rampant. Basil is a lovely herb for cooking with –especially yummy in tomato and Italian dishes. It needs good sun though, and is usually repotted when grown from seed. It is prone to greenfly. All these herbs are useful for a basic culinary herb garden and they grow well in containers.

Growing tips for herbs in containers
  • Herbs grown in containers can be the perfect solution if you are limited for space.
  • They are a convenient way to have your herbs handy so you have quick access when preparing a meal.
  • When growing herbs in containers, use a soil-based compost, something like John Innes potting compost. This is because there are very few herbs that grow in peat, and a soil-based compost retains moisture, which is a must to stop containers drying out.
  • Water the containers in the morning rather than the evening because this gives the plants a chance if the temperatures are hot during the day, especially for containers grown in full sun.
  • Feed container plants weekly from March until September. This keeps the plants healthy, helps them produce tasty leaves, especially on cut and come again salads
  • As we are on the coast, a seaweed-based feed is ideal or you could make your own comfrey or nettle juice now. These are not too strong and both will keep the plants healthy.
  • Try not to plant invasive herbs such as mint and lemon balm in a container with other herbs. They will swamp the other plants and take over. It’s better to grow them in separate pots instead.
  • Harvest herbs by pinching off the tips of the plant for use in the kitchen. This will encourage new plant growth, and help keep the plant more compact.
Herbs for an effective deterrent against greenfly.
Try planting some of these around susceptible plants.  Catnip, Chives, Coriander, Dried and Crushed Chrysanthemum, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Feverfew (attracts aphids away from Roses), Garlic, Larkspur, Marigold, Mint, Mustard, Nasturtium, Onion, Oregano, Petunia, Sunflower. They might not work but you will have the most colourful garden in town!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nettles,Tadpoles,Daddy Long Legs,Earwigs... It's All Go in the Garden

 Making Nettle Soup

I’ve been making nettle soup this week. It’s that time of the year when the young nettle plants are bursting with nutrition so I thought it was time to adorn the think rubber gloves and venture off the paths in my local park. I say thick rubber gloves as I have used the regular type and nettles manage to sting you through the protection. I have industrial ones and they do the job well.  In next to no time I had a large bagful and was at home adding them to a pan of pre caramelized onions and a bit of broccoli stock.  There are probably hundreds of recipes out there for nettle soup, but mine is just throw everything in and then after boiling it for a bit, liquidize it and what you don’t eat on the day put in the freezer. I can’t see that a recipe book is something I’ll be doing any time soon but if I do it’ll be called “Just Bung it into the Pan”

There has been a bit of a dry spell recently so our small puddles that house tadpoles in the park are quickly drying up. They are more like tractor tracks that hold water than small ponds and every year it amazes me that there are any surviving frogs coming out of there to come back and breed. They do, but this year the puddles were drying up too fast with no chance of rain for a week. All I could see was a mound of glistening mud moving around frantically as the tadpoles clung onto life. I had to do something so I got my glass jam jar with a jute string handle (a plastic yogurt pot really but I think I’m Huckleberry Finn) and moved most of the taddies to a larger pond in the park, then a second batch I bought home to put into a pre made bucket pond I have built in the tunnel. I couldn’t get them all but that’s nature I suppose and I have meddled enough for one year.

The tadpoles have settled into their new home well and are veracious eaters, making their way through a slice of bacon. With the food and heat from the tunnel I am probably creating a breed of super frogs. If they start taking over the world I’ll let you know.

Daddy long legs
Crane fly’s or daddy long legs are making quite a crunchy treat for the tadpoles to. These are everywhere at the moment and very early because of the early heat we have. These don’t do any damage themselves but they do lay eggs in the grass where the resulting larvae, commonly known as leatherjackets, develop underground over 8-10 months where they feed on grass and plant roots. The larvae are greyish-brown, have tubular bodies and grow up to 3cm in length. When fully grown, they pupate just below the ground and then emerge as adults in late summer to early autumn.

If you have a neat lawn, commercially available nematodes can be used as a precautionary treatment where crane fly may occur. These microscopic worms are watered into the lawn or flower beds where they search for crane fly larvae, enter inside them and cause a bacterial infection within which kills them. Or you coulkd be like me with my patchy plot and enjoy watching the starlings poke about in the ground digging them up. Crane fly larvae are a good food source for birds such as crows, magpies and starlings. Regularly mowing an infested lawn will enable these birds to find the larvae more easily.

I’ve also found a lot of earwigs in my pots. I’m getting a few ready for potting on the seedlings whci are shooting up. They are pretty useful in the garden as they are predators of other pests but I must confess they are my most disliked insect in the garden, it’s the way they jump out at you with their pincers flailing about that I don’t like. I suppose I just have to be thankful we don’t have anything poisonous to contend with, earwigs just have a shock value.  Occasionally earwigs will cause damage to soft and stone fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, nectarine and apricot. They particularly like dahlias, which isn’t an issue in our garden as I don’t have any.

As well as jumping out of plant pots the earwigs do tend to hide in plant stems and curled up leaves as well as damp dark corners. You can set traps for them if you like but if you are anything like me you’ll just put whatever it is you have found them under and walking away to leave them in peace, scratching your legs and pretending you never saw them.

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