Thursday, April 30, 2015

Growing in Tea Bags

 Growing pelargoniums in a large tea bag

This week has seen me busy taking the tops off tea bags with a pair of scissors. I’m not using my best quality Namosa bags though so haven’t completely lost the plot. I have some cheap floor dusting ones that have been lying around for years. 

The reason?  Well, I have been buying some annual bedding plants from a local DIY shop and this year they have been grown in what can only be described as big square tea bags.  They come in either packs of six or ten and fit nicely next to one another ready to be pulled out and planted into the garden.  The advantages of these seem to be that the roots don’t curl around inside a pot, neither do they intertwine with another plants roots making them difficulty to part. It’s a simple “why didn’t I think of that” idea.

Unlike my teabag experiment, these individual plant bags are made rectangular so they sit upright. Inside the grower has planted a plug, in the ones I bought we have trailing petunias, geraniums, verbena and some upright fuchsias. All of them were just right for planting with the fresh roots just starting to pop out of the fibrous tea bag paper. The single plants were so easy to plant out, all that was needed was to take out the solid paper square and gently place it into a hole. It was so tidy and effortless and I can guarantee that no roots were damaged in the process.  The plants won’t be checked back by root shock and in next to no time the roots will be moving from the bag and looking for the fresh nutritious compost. It’s really a great system as the paper will soon biodegrade leaving no root restriction at all.

My experiment is a little more haphazard as the bags themselves don’t stand upright on their own, so I am grouping them together in a larger dish, pressing them closely so they support the next bag. I’m putting in some chamomile for a starter to see how it goes. I’m sure it’ll work and if I can get some square bags to play with, all the better. I have seen on Ebay you can get a thousand empty heat sealed tea bags for just over two euro so I could get some of those for a starter as the season for growing seedlings is certainly upon us.  

Crawling out of the Tunnel
After last weeks glorious summer, I mean week, everything in the tunnel has shot up. All of the vegetable seeds are up, the sunflowers, lupins and sweet peas are practically crawling out of the door to be planted up. I even had so put shading on the seedlings to protect them from the glare. All of that glorious sunshine and I still see people going to the tanning salons. 

I have quite a lot of flowering plants around the garden this year.  The old favourite nasturtiums are going to be everywhere as I am finding seedlings in all corners and haven’t the heart to pull any up. We have Klauses perennial nasturtiums coming up too and I can see why he was giving them away for free last year with a seed order. The small tubers seem to have multiplied at an exponential level and they too, like their annual counterparts seem to be in every corner of the garden. It’s going to look lovely and I have the added bonus of being able to eat them if needed.

Make do and Plant
I was rummaging around an old skip the other day and found some “really nice” aluminium lampshades.  They are large at around 50cm across and for a very brief amount of time they were actually on the ceiling in the hallway. Popular demand has relegated them to the garden though and I must say they do make delightful planters. I’ve put in a few of the tea bag petunias and an old conifer that was leftover from a Christmas display along with some ivy, still covered in glitter, again, left over from the Christmas basket. The reflective aluminium along with the glitter makes for a visually startling planter; you could probably see the sun reflected on them in space.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Veggies For Shade

I’ve been making the most of the dry weather by sowing some seeds outside. I had planted all of the seeds with an early sowing date but it’s now time for all of the “sow April/May” seeds to go out.  I found new spaces for the peas and beans, which I usually put into modules undercover first. I’m putting them straight out this year and if a mouse gets a seed or two, so be it.
My decision for locating the trellis for the plants to go on is been based on a very loose crop rotation system I have, which is mainly guesswork and a memory of where types of plants were growing the previous year. I am aware though that certain vegetables do better, not only with different types of soil, but also with varying light levels. It’s certainly something to take into consideration when planting as not all veggies like full sun; some actually prefer being kept in partial shade. Here’s a list of daily requirements for different varieties.
If you are limited for space like me sometimes you don’t get a choice where to plant, so it’s only meant as a rough guide.

Sun to Shade

Full Sun Vegetables
“Full sun” means a minimum of six hours (usually at least 8) of sunlight per day. For at least six hours, the sun should be directly shining onto the plants nearly every day of the season. Obviously inclement weather and overcast days are not counted. No artificial shade (trees, buildings) are blocking sunlight from full-sun veggies.
One of the easiest to grow, they have very broad leaves, a common trait in many full-sun plants.
Like cucumbers, squash plants have very broad leaves and beg for sunlight. Growing them on a trellis or stand can maximize sun exposure.
Assuming plenty of water is available, tomatoes will always take as much sun as they can get.
Partial Sun Vegetables.
Partial Sun are vegetables that require at least four hours of sunlight per day, but often thrive with less than six hours of direct sunlight. These are usually listed as “partial sun” or “partial shade” veggies on seed packets. Partial sun usually means that the plant could still do well with more sun, and partial shade often means that the plant would do better with four to six hours as a maximum.
When in a bush variety, these do well with more sun (closer to 6 hours) than in vine varieties, which can do more with less if they’re on a trellis.
Keep beets partially shaded and they’ll thrive, even in relatively dry conditions.
Full sun on broccoli will lead to rapid flowering (which ruins the taste) while partial sun encourages tighter heads and slower flowering.
Although cabbage is broad-leafed, too much sun will dry it out and encourage smaller heads and bigger open leaves.
Too much sun and the carrot plant grows more foliage than root, so limiting sunlight means larger carrots.
Like broccoli, limiting sunlight to under 6 hours daily means tighter heads of cauliflower.
A popular spice, limiting sunlight will help keep the plants smaller and larger-leafed, which means more harvest and better taste.
Leeks thrive in cooler, more moist environments compared to regular root onions.
Root onions, like most root-based edibles, need less sun in order to encourage below-ground growth.
Like beans, peas will grow more plant than edible seeds if too much sun is given.
Again, with root plants like radishes, it’s all about encouraging root growth.
Similar to carrots, turnips tend to grow downwards when less sun is available to them.
Light Shade Vegetables
Vegetables that do well in less sunlight (2 to 4 hours) are often called “light shade” or “shaded” plants. Some “partial shade” plants are also light shade, such as cauliflower and many spices.
Brussels sprouts.
This is also a cold-tolerant plant and like most cold-happy plants, Brussels sprouts do well with limited sunlight.
Like its cousins in cabbages, kale loves cold weather and less light.
Leaf lettuce.
Most lettuce plants prefer less sun.
Like lettuce, spinach needs cooler temperatures and less sun.
Swiss chard.
Another delicate leafy plant, swiss chard doesn’t enjoy a lot of sunlight.
Even the most open of garden areas provides shade. Be creative with plant placement and you’ll find that you can create your own shaded areas to maximize conditions for each plant’s preference. Tall plants can provide partial shade for smaller radishes and peas, while heavy-leafed squash plants might provide near-permanent shade for smaller carrots or turnips.

Plastic Colours

I now have an amazing seven thousand people on the Raised Vegetable Facebook page. I actually thought it would stop at 5 thousand but the requests to join just keep coming. Everyone that joins are either in America or Canada which makes it a bit awkward as some people are harvesting their salads whist others are still shovelling snow off their paths. 

As fun as this page is I don’t think it will last long unless I get another moderator to keep things going while I sleep.  I’m finding the job of moderator a bit time consuming. People are being very good though, it’s my own issues I have to address.
I have quite a few people asking questions, which is why the page is there I suppose. There are some questions that can be answered by just Googling the keywords. For example someone asked a question about tomatoes. I sent them a great little website called “Let me Google that for you (” which does exactly that, without you having to type on the page (Google it for a better description)
I thought it was funny and would give them a giggle. How wrong I was!  I had a torrent of abuse and had to look up some of the words they were calling me.  I duly deleted the comments and banned the user permanently.  

It was all too easy to delete the person and I must confess the power went to my head. I started banning anyone that wavered from the topic of raised beds. The problem was that the topics they were posting were proving to be very popular (even pictures of cats were getting likes). 
My lad walked past me and sorted the situation out immediately with two suggestions. Firstly for me to stop being a power crazy control freak Facebooker and secondly to sit back and let the members decide what’s acceptable or not.  I soon know if someone is trying to sell sunglasses on the page as people report the posts for me to delete. So I now let the readers and contributors decide and I sit back and take deep breaths. 

One issue that came up this week was about the use of mulch. Natural soil coverings are well documented here but a lot of gardeners are moving to plastic coverings. I don’t like the idea of putting something on the garden that isn’t totally biodegradable but it looks like some of our friends over the water don’t feel the same and are opting for this type of ground cover.
Plastic covering differ by their opacity (how much light will pass through the plastic) this will govern both the amount of radiation which will heat the soil and the growth of weeds under the film. The colour - black, white, silver, red, blue, brown, IRT (infrared thermal), green IRT and yellow all produce specific temperature (both soil and ambient) and light modifications within the soil and air.

Over the last 10 years Penn State Centre for Plasticulture has conducted extensive testing of the effect of mulch colour and various vegetable crops. 

Some generalities that can be made regarding colour are:
  • Silver repels aphids.
  • Blue attracts thrips - has been very effective in greenhouse tomato production.
  • Yellow attracts insects. (You’ll know that if you ever wear yellow in summer!)
There also appears to be some reduction in disease pressure with crops grown on specific colours.
Tomato - appears to respond more to red mulch compared to black with an average 12% increase in marketable fruit yield over a 3 year period. There appears to be a reduction in the incidence of early blight in plants grown on red mulch compared to plants grown on black mulch.
Pepper – appears to respond more to silver mulch compared to black with an average 20% increase in marketable fruit yield and fruit size over a 3 year period.
Cucumber - appears to respond more to dark blue mulch compared to black with an average 30% increase in marketable fruit yield over a 3 year period
Summer Squash - appears to respond more to dark blue mulch compared to black with an average 20% increase in marketable fruit yield over a 2 year period
Onion -appears to respond more to several different mulch colours including red, metalized silver and black compared to no plastic mulch with an average 24% increase in marketable bulb yield over 8 varieties.
Potato - appears to respond more to several different mulch colours including red, metalized silver and black compared to no plastic mulch with an average 24% increase in marketable tuber yield.
It’ll be interesting to see if coloured bark chips will give the same results. I for one know I will not be spending 10 years doing the study. I’m too busy moderating the Facebook page.

Lust for Rust

Lust for Rust
I’m checking the prices of scrap metal on a daily basis. I like to know that all of the rusty metal containers I have collected to put plants in are increasing in value.
They are not.
The price of recycling metal is actually more than it costs to mine the bare materials from the ground and make new. For that reason at least I am stuck with a lot of rusty old tat that I think would look great planted up with geraniums (they do!) For the foreseeable future I can see old metal items such as fridges, washing machines and cars to be sat at the side of country roads for a while until the prices of metal go up and it begins to be worthwhile someone going to collect them and sell the scrap.

My garden resembles a scrap yard as I have accumulated quite a lot of items over the last few weeks. My favourites which I have mentioned are the stained glass windows, but I now have a rather large Victorian Hip bath, a set of cast iron scales, old pub signs, industrial steel extractor fans and masses of galvanized wire mesh shelving which can either house potted plants or loaded with soil and planted up. The options are many, I have tried to get the shelving into the house and use in the bathroom but for some reason the rest of the family keep saying that the rusty edges are a tetanus risk. So for now they stay outside.

So you fancy collecting Junk to grow plants in?
I felt compelled then this week to come up with a list of 5 ideas (and reasons) for why having old rusty features in the garden are great.
1) Look for finishes with character
If you find an item is already rusty and the paint is chipped, you don’t have to worry about protecting it from the elements. Also, if the finish is too polished, just leave it outside.  A couple of seasons in the weather will give it the look you’d like. The older and more worn the better
2) Safety First
Beware of sharp-edged and rusty metal pieces. Wear gloves when handling rusty containers and old glass windows and doors. Seal old painted surfaces on any pieces you think might contain lead with clear varnish or remove the old paint completely. Maybe this type of item isn’t the best if you have youngsters.
3) See the Neighbours
Tell your friends and understanding neighbours that you  have a passion for garden junk. It’s amazing what will show up on your doorstep. (Not the friends and neighbours in my case as they tend to keep away now…)
4) Provide year-round focal points and vignettes
Create an outdoor scene for when the weather turns cold, rainy and even snowy. Set a colourful table outside a window and lay a centerpiece that’s weather proof and cheery. I used old golf hole markers and rusty pressure dials from oil tanks.
Experiment with putting different objects and flower pots together. Change things around until you find a little scene, or vignette, that you love!  Galvanised metal containers look good, the older the better. If you have an old bucket with a hole in then that’s ideal for drainage.
5) Go for Colour
Use your favourite colour combination in the garden displays, everything doesn’t have to be rusty brown. I have some great metal car parts that still have some of the original bright blue paint on and it contrasts really well with the rust. 
Pick items in eye-catching colours and interesting shapes that will create visual interest in the garden long after plants have withered. Primary colours work well and natural plant pot colours combined with the existing colours in the garden.
Find fun, inspiration colours of your own, by deciding what in your house or garden you absolutely love colour wise. There’s no reason why you should have to throw anything out into the rubbish bin again. I’m going to use any electrical item that packs in from now on. The kettle can house some cacti, the microwave can be turned sideways with the door open and use as a propagator. I might even try and get a rusty old car or two around the back and put some chickens in there. I’m not sure many of you will be convinced but until the price of metal increases we will be seeing more old metal laying around so might as well plant it up!

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