Saturday, February 21, 2015

Collecting Junk and Saved by the Dog....

I’ve been adding to my “Items of Interest” in the garden this week. Some might call it a collection of old rubbish, but not me. 

It all started a couple of years ago when I impulsively bought some old Irish galvanized red fire buckets at auction and it’s carried on from there. I now have old stoneware jugs, rusty metal containers, brass buckets, aluminium fixings and pipes, metal fan blades, old pressure gauges (brass and rust), canvas bags, glass bottles with taps and more.

All of these delights are sitting around happily with the terracotta pots and hypertufa containers I made last year. Although you might think (and many do) that I have just given you the stock list of an old scrapyard, they all have a purpose. Firstly they mostly have the ability to hold plants in them although I do have to watch the drainage in some of them as they fill up with water, secondly I think most of them stand up on their own as works of art that. To me embellish the look and interest of the garden as much as plants, trees and shrubs. They also require less maintenance and as I am presently laid up with a sore back, that’s a good thing.

Now to my latest acquisition. I came across four beautiful Victorian cast iron window frames complete with most of the glass. Some of it coloured along the edges.  They reflect the light beautifully and to me they were a “Must Have” as soon I saw them. They needed to be collected immediately so I managed to get them all into the car in one go and soon got them home and into place in the garden. The problem was that they weigh in at well over 50kg each and because I am not the best delegator or person that asks for help very often I decided to do everything myself. All seemed well until the following day when I was doing my usual routine of picking up the dog poo from the garden. I went over on my hands and knees as my back gave way and was stuck there unable to move.

Lassie Come Home
After a couple of minutes Bo, my faithful dog came up to me and slowly slid underneath my arched body. He licked my face and for a moment I got the feeling I was taking part in a Lassie film. “Good dog” I said. “Now go and tell momma that Timmy has fallen down the well”
My impression was short lived as I released pretty soon that his actions we not to save me but to get an old tennis ball that my arched body was covering.  He grabbed it in his mouth and enthusiastically put it down in front of me again and again on the floor for a good half an hour before Julie came home and spotted me “Just contemplating the day” laying on the path.

If anyone asks how I did my back say that Lassie and I were wrestling a bear in the woods. It sounds better than picking up dog poo in the garden.

Although I was stuck in one place for a while, I was thankfully facing the beautiful stained glass windows and in between the dogs slobbery ball being put in my way the time did give me some great ideas on what to do with them.

Two of the frames are arched and gothic looking which makes me think they could all have come either from a church or church hall. These would look lovely back in place in a building but they could also have the glass removed and turned into a mirror. This type of window would really be a great focal point for a smaller garden as the reflection would draw the eyes away from the boundary. They would look just as good inside the house too with the mirror and could be used as a piece of functional art. The rectangular windows are just as impressive but for now I think they can just be lovely features near the garage and wheelie bins. If I do nothing with them apart from appreciate their beauty for the next ten years then they will have served a great purpose.
Just as long as I don’t have to move them for a while.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Raised Vegetable Beds on Facebook

I take them for two walks a day, have them in the best seats in the house and feed them (what I think) is good food. So why do the dogs repay me in the garden by chewing anything that is within range of their mouth?  Maybe it’s the same principal as a cat bringing home a dead mouse and plonking it on the worktops as a gift. I doubt it though as I’m sure cats don’t look guilty when you ask them “who did this” which is what I have to say to both my dogs every day. They both always look guilty though but I do know that it’s Chips (the spaniel) that does most of the damage.
This week she’s eaten the plastic pots from my chamomile plants and worked her way through the Christmas rose plants that I put outside to harden off. Most of the time it’s just the post she eats leaving the roots of the plants open to the elements. I suppose she has to do something as most of the ground is too wet to dig holes in at the moment, which is something else I can look forward to in the spring.

Raised vegetable beds
I have had an interest in raised vegetable beds for a few years now and built them in the last three gardens I have had. I even wrote an ebook about them. I think it’s still for sale on Amazon, but not sure. When I put it on a while ago there were only two other raised vegetable beds information books on there. Now you have to set aside half an hour to scroll down them all. I’m sure mine is there somewhere but I haven’t sold a copy for over a year, so the time has come to give it away for free I think. As soon as I find it on my computer I’ll let you know.

I did set up a Facebook page called “Raised Vegetable Beds” and for ages it sat there with only one or two contributors, I only looked at the page once or twice a month to make sure it was still there. Over that last few weeks though there has been a renewed interest on the page and everyday there are at least 20 people joining. I know that isn’t nearly the same amount that looks at Ruairi McSorleys “Frostbit” video but it’s good for a start.  For some reason the good folk in America have taken over the site as word seems to spread. Most of the information coming on the page is relating to the US but raised beds as we are finding out are not governed by location. It’s fun to read and I only very occasionally get someone trying to sell counterfeit Ray Ban sunglasses or clickbaiting onto their own sites. Up to writing this there are over 2000 people signed up. Here is just one topic raised this week.

Can I?
“Can I put tea bags in my compost bin?”
“Yup and coffee grounds, egg shells, banana peels”
“Yes!! I have composted for years and I do not have a rodent or pest problem. I just create "black gold!" Your entire kitchen scraps such as potato peels, strawberry hulls, banana peels, coffee grounds AND filter, complete tea bag with string, egg shells, squash skin and seeds, citrus peels and much, much more are compostable. And then, when you start gardening all of your garden scraps should be added. (I exclude evasive weeds and any diseases plants that I have removed from my garden. I have these into a separate pile which I burn.) I have 3 separate compost piles going at all times which are all at different stages ….you can never have too much compost. It is your most valuable contribution to your garden.”

“I don't put potato peels or onion peels in my compost, they spread disease and it irritates the worms.”

“Yes you can. Just make sure they don't have the string and tag if it's herbal tea.”

“Tea bags will go great in the compost bin..... But before that there is another use for them. They can help to reduce sweaty palms. If your hands start to drip when you are nervous then hold the wet tea bag in your hands for 10-15 minutes. The tannin in the tea (regular, not herbal) is an astringent, which has the ability to shrink the pores. If you are shaking hands with someone important, do it a few times over a week or so before the event. There could be a side effect though; your hands might get a bit stained. (Old tea bags have been used to create fake tans!)”

Top tips indeed!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postcrete No-No....

I had this great idea to make some more pots this week. I wasn’t going to bother with the hypertufa pots, they just disintegrate when you pick them up. This time I was going to make them to last. I went to the local DIY place and found something called Postcrete, which is a ready mixed bag of material that you would normally put into a hole around a wooden post. It says on the bag that it sets within minutes. Just the job I thought.

I got a bucket and mixed the contents of the bag with water. All seemed to go well as I put the mix into the first pot mould. Then disaster struck, the mix was hardening faster than I could pour it so I panicked, added more water and then mixed it with my hands, so vigorously that the gloves I was wearing tore. I was only filling the remaining moulds for a few minutes but this was enough for the mix to take off several layers of skin and fingerprints from my hands. I should imagine the reason for this to go solid so quickly is that it has a really high lime content, so high in fact that it shouldn’t be touched, just poured directly into a hole. I’ve spent the last few days wearing rubber gloves full of cream to try and grow the skin back. I should have read the label. My lad was unsympathetic as I ran into the house screaming in pain. 
 “This is what happens when you mess around with chemicals” he dryly told me. It’s back to hypertufa for me in future, or shop bought cardboard pots.

Barrack Hill Carndonagh Community Gardens

Barrack Hill Community Gardens
I was chatting to Stephen McGirr from Carndonagh this week and he has been telling me of the new Barrack Hill Community Gardens that have been set up in the town. It’s a bit of a well-kept secret at the moment, but that won’t be for long. As spring sets in there should be a lot of interest as the movement to grow your own continues to get more popular.  Stephen already has tunnels in place with raised beds and a growing number of keep gardeners helping to get everything ready for the growing season. 

It’s an impressive collaboration of four councils along with the North West Region Cross Border Group (NWRCBG) that have set up the NW Healthy Living, Community Garden and Allotments Programme. The Programme has been part funded under the European Union's INTERREG IVA Cross-border programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body to the value of £1,552,411.
The Project will develop a targeted response to local health, social and economic needs through the development of allotments/community gardens in Strabane,Magilligan, Maghera town and Barrack Hill in Carndonagh, where Stephen is.

The allotments and gardens will be used:
·         To create a sustainable source of food;
·         As a resource for health through physical activity;
·         As a resource to practically impact on 'food poverty';
·         As a community resource which brings people together;
·         As an educational tool; and
·         As a source of creating open space and encouraging biodiversity.

The need for the project has been proven by the research completed by the Institute of Public Health funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) on behalf of the North West's INTERREG IVA funding application. The health impact assessment provided a mechanism to inform the planning for the development of the four demonstration community garden/allotment sites and ensured that improvement of health was at the core of the programme. 

Research has identified that local community garden/allotment projects appear to be quite exceptional in their ability to address a range of health and liveability issues for all ages. They provide people with an opportunity to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

There will be training courses setting up for budding gardeners and there are also other ideas such as the “Healthy Eating Lifestyle Programme (HELP)” With Ian Corr our local celebrity chef already doing classes.
For information about the whole of the North West initiatives go to the website.

More information
If you would like to have a look around the Barrack Hill Community gardens or would like to participate in this fantastic idea then Stephen will be very happy to hear from you.  Check out the Facebook page : Barrack-Hill-Park-Community-Gardens-Carndonagh or phone Stephen McGirr on 0862745886.

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