Tuesday, March 10, 2020
There have been a few roof leaks appearing over the last few weeks.
I’ve known about the one in the tunnel for a while, these were caused by pesky birds standing outside on top of the plastic and pecking at the insects inside with their sharp, pointy beaks.
The shed roof probably needs recovering. The flat roof in the kitchen and water stains on the living room ceiling will need to be addressed at some point too. These can’t really be fixed in a rush in between rain showers, so we’ll have to put up with the plopping noise water drops make in the buckets as the roof drips.
Thankfully, most of my garden has survived waterlogging or flooding. Others aren't so lucky.
The worst-case scenarios are gardens that get washed away by flash floods when rivers burst their banks.
The majority of flooding and waterlogging in our gardens is less damaging and dramatic and comes from something called “surface water flooding”.
Surface Water Flooding
Surface water flooding happens when water is unable to drain away from the surfaces it has fallen, or sitting in.
It can appear as large puddles, water sitting on paved surfaces outside the house, flowing water and sometimes hidden just under the surface of the lawn.
In cold, winter soils, roots and soil microorganisms need less oxygen, so waterlogging is much less damaging than during warm seasons. This isn’t to say that the plants aren’t affected, it might just take a while longer for the leaves to turn yellow.
Heavy, consistent rainfall is the main culprit although melting ice and snow can contribute.
Normally, if rain falls onto a hard surface, like roof tiles or concrete, it will roll away and find the nearest drain. If it falls onto grassy surfaces, planted areas or bare earth it will be absorbed until the land is saturated. Surface water flooding happens when water that has fallen onto a hard surface cannot roll away or find a drain. It also happens when water falls onto a vegetated or soft surface that is already saturated so it can’t soak up any more water.
When surface water flooding occurs, it can damage plants and also create hazards on paved areas and encourage slippery moss to grow. If it’s particularly persistent the water can cause structural problems for paved surfaces, fences, sheds and outdoor buildings.
There are a few preventative things we can do to help the water along it’s slow meander to the sea.
Clearing Gutters and Outside Drains
Gutters play a key role in channelling excess water away from your home. Regularly check that they’re in good repair and replace any parts that have deteriorated or broken.
Keeping an eye on your roof is an important part of protecting your home from heavy rain and snowfall. Rainwater will rely on a smooth, sloped surface to find its way into the gutters and downpipes. Tiled roofs can be checked for loose tiles at least once a year as well as after extreme weather. Pay close attention to any flat or felted roofs as they don’t fare well in Ireland. They are more at home in drier climates.
It’s a great idea to make good use of it by installing water butts at the base of your downpipes. They’re ideal for capturing water for outdoor use but can only collect a small amount in the grand scale of things.
Driveways and parking spaces can be one of the trickiest spaces when it comes to surface water. Whilst it makes an ideal surface for your car, paving these areas with concrete, asphalt or block paving can make it hard for water to soak away.
Choose surfaces that allow water to permeate through or run easily off them when garden planning. In addition, take into account that the surface will need a slight fall, or slope, to allow water to drain away from your house and any outdoor buildings.
It’s not just gutters that need to be kept clear to keep water flowing. Have a look at uncovered drains in the spring and autumn and after big storms.
If all else fails and you find that you have a more serious water logging drainage problem in the garden, you could have a ‘French drain’ installed. This system is essentially an extra underground drainpipe.
A healthy lawn does a great job of allowing rainwater to flow through the water table. Plants and trees also play an important role throughout your garden as they will absorb groundwater through their roots.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Legionnaires’ disease spores identified in some potting compost
I have always fancied the idea of living in an off-grid caravan in the middle of a field, a professional hermit if you like. The idea of living a solitary lifestyle tending to the garden without interruption and the trappings of modern living also seemed so appealing.
I had what I like to call “A bit of a turn” just before Christmas and the thought of being anywhere but in a warm and dry home or even a hospital would have been a nightmare.
I don’t really like talking about ailments but in this case and haven’t done sense I had my tonsils out when I was 7. I’ll make an exception here, so just pretend you’re in the supermarket queue and asked me how I am getting on.
Initially I didn’t feel very well with a few cold symptoms so took myself to bed for a while. Which turned into ten days. After that time, I wasn’t feeling any better and I lost the ability to walk out of the bedroom unaided, so I had a feeling it was something more than a cold. One ambulance journey to the hospital later it turned out I had pneumonia. I’d have never guessed I was in the vulnerable category but as I’m getting close to 60 maybe I am.
I had a week in my own quarantined room in the hospital as they did tests to see which strain of pneumonia I had, there are contagious and non-contagious types. It didn’t take me long to get institutionalised and I soon got used to the regular meals and around the clock attention from the wonderful staff.
It turned out I had the non-contagious type (which didn’t surprise me as I don’t really come into contact with many people) so the facemasks came off and the doors were opened. This got me thinking, how did I get it if it wasn’t from someone breathing on me?
It’s pure speculation of course but I narrowed it down to two things that I did prior to having the “Turn” I was cleaning up old lamps with really fine wire wool the day before without a facemask and I was thinking some of the steel dust could have latched onto my lungs and caused an infection. The second theory- because that’s what this is, a theory- was that I opened an old bag of potting compost in the tunnel a few days before and maybe breathed in some of the fungal spores from the bag.
There have been a few cases of people getting Legionnaires’ disease(L. longbeachae)a specific form of pneumonia which can be carried in water, especially water that’s warm such as in air conditioning, hot tubs, in soil, old potted plants and also in damp bags of unopened compost.
The move away from peat based compost has given rise to a lot more varied products being used to bulk up the bags. The fungus is commonly found growing on dead leaves, compost piles and decaying vegetation and are all now being used in potting compost. It’s generally harmless but can cause serious problems if too many spores get into the lungs. The spores could lead to allergic reactions, asthma attacks and hayfever-like symptoms
New Zealand and Australia have both a large gardening community and have historically used wood-based potting mix. In more recent years the UK and Ireland has moved away from peat-based mixes to wood-based ones to save peat lands. Along with this change, came an increase of disease from potting mixes. In North America, the commercial bags of potting media are still predominantly peat-based and research has seen fewer cases of the disease. The research doesn’t take products such as coir compost into consideration though as a peat substitute.
A British study found that 4 of 22 brands of potting soil contained L. longbeachae. Some individuals who have suffered, either directly or indirectly are calling for warning labels to be put on products that could potentially cause the disease.
Australia and New Zealand have had labelling regulations in place since 2003 and 2005 respectively. Labelling has not resulted in a decline of the disease and like me, most customers completely ignore the labels anyway.
There have been a few cases linking L. longbeachae to gardeners, so backed up with fact and some scaremongering it’s unclear which is which. It’s probably in our interest to take a few precautions with the bags of compost when opening. I’ll have a facemask handy now when I slice the bag open and then dampen it down with some water before mixing. I’ll also damp down the wire wool.
Apart from that, it’s business as usual and no more thoughts of a caravan in the wilderness.
Monday, February 24, 2020
Camellias are in flower. Yay!
For me there’s no better flower to signify the coming of spring, well apart from snowdrops, crocus, daffodils and pussy willows. We’ll have the Hawthorne hedgerows with us in no time. Maybe I am getting a bit ahead of myself there but there are so many plants that are producing colour at this early time of year if we take a bit of time to look around. For now though it’s the camellia attracting my attention as there’s one I walk past every day.
In temperate regions like ours, gardeners have embraced the camellia as a favourite hardy evergreen shrub. If space permits, they can be grown to full size but will also be happy in a small garden or even a container.
The camellia is a long-lived shrub, so could be something that you choose to put in the ground for your grandchildren as you might plant a cedar or an oak. However, even as young plants camellias have huge appeal and will produce ravishing blooms on the smallest specimens. My mother in law had one that was just a twig in the ground but still had a bouquet of flowers on it.
Camellias suit today’s much smaller gardens. Their elegant glossy, evergreen leaves look good throughout the year. They are happy and will still bloom in shade: often a challenge in small gardens. In fact, early morning shade is important to prevent the sun’s rays from destroying frozen flowerbuds.
If you have acid soil and semi-shade they could grow in the open ground. No special treatment is required, just keep an eye on the watering so they don’t dry out in summer. Like most ericaceous subjects, camellias are light feeders and require only a light annual application of a lime free ericaceous fertiliser to keep them in peak condition.
Camellia Growing Tips
There are a few types to choose from. Camellia sasanqua flower during late autumn, through winter. Camellia japonica and Camellia × willamsii flower from early spring.
Grow in pots
If you don’t have suitable soil, try growing the plant in a large pot.
Pruning and training
Camellias don’t need to be pruned regularly but, if they outgrow the allotted space you can trim them into shape after flowering. Hard pruning is best carried out in March, but it will be a couple of years or more before they flower well again.
Deadhead your camellias when the flowers begin to fade. This keeps the plant looking fresh as spent flowers will turn brown and can look unsightly. However, it doesn't significantly improve the flowering for the next spring, so it's something you can do if you have time.
If you are growing Camellia sasanqua in a container this will need some winter protection in most parts of the peninsula. Likewise, if you are growing Camellia japonica and Camellia × willamsii cultivars they may need protection. Move the container nearer to the house or to a sheltered corner. Wrap camellias with horticultural fleece. Alternatively, move potted camellias into cold a greenhouse or cool conservatories in spells of freezing weather. The ones near me never get any protection and they have survived years, but they are planted into the ground and not a pot which will make all of the difference.
You can propagate camellias from semi-ripe cuttings, hardwood cuttings, layering and grafting.
Take semi-ripe cuttings from mid to late summer; they often root better if slightly wounded by taking a 1.5cm (⅝in) strip of bark off the base of the cutting.
Take hardwood cuttings in the same way as semi-ripe cuttings, but between autumn and late winter. They can root in just three months.