Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Time to take some Softwood Cuttings

I pulled up the old broccoli plants this week. I was going to give them to some deserving horses after the bees finished with the flowers. Greenfly had other ideas.  I first noticed a small clump of the little green suckers about three weeks ago and thought nothing of it. Over the following days their reproduction rate grew exponentially, so much so that every stem was covered in the offspring. The whole plants seemed to be moving as they sucked the sap out of the plants, you could hear them dehydrating the stems. 

I chopped the plants up on the lawn which in hindsight appears to be a pretty silly idea. I think most of the greenfly jumped ship before I stuffed the stumps and stalks into coal bag to take to the recycling centre. I would normally compost most plants but these take a few years to rot down because they are so ‘woody’. 

The greenfly that didn’t make the car journey to the skip have happily taken refuge on more young stems in the garden. They are mainly going for the new broccoli and kale as well as any other juicy stem from the bedding plants we have. I’ve never really had a problem with these sap suckers but this year I have taken action. My bottle of neem oil which has been hiding in a dark cupboard for three years has come out. It doesn’t seem to work but at least I feel proactive and the greenfly are happy.

My fabulous Deutzia X hybrida 'Mont Rose’ shrub performed well again. At the end of every year I consider pulling the whole shrub up as it’s far too big for its spot, but every spring it rewards us with the most beautiful flowers bursting with nectar for the bees and I let it stay for another year. I was thinking that I might even take a few cuttings now the flowers have gone to pass on the beauty to other people who probably have more room for one. 

After flowering is the optimum time to trim back these types of shrubs so it’s an ideal time to keep a few of the stems from this year’s growth to increase the stock by taking softwood cuttings.

Softwood cuttings.
This techniques ideal for a lot of shrubs from buddleia, lavender, euonymus, pelargoniums and salvia to name just a few.
  • Cut one of the softer stems and make it a bit longer than the finished cutting, just above a leaf on the parent plant.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut just below a leaf joint and remove the leaves
  • Aim to make a cutting not more than 10cm long. Use a sharp knife to cut just below a leaf joint and remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.
  • Reduce leaf area by half to minimise water loss from the cutting.
  • Some people recommend a rooting hormone powder and you might want to dip the stems in that. Willow water works too helping to promote faster roots but personally I don’t bother and most cuttings are successful.
  • Insert cuttings into 7cm pots of moist cuttings compost, keeping lower leaves just above compost level.

For the really tidy ones amongst us, push in thin canes around the pot and cover with a clear polythene bag held in place with an elastic band. Place cuttings in a warm position, out of direct sun, to root. I sometimes edge my bets and push some of the cuttings into the ground as I tend to forget to water pots in hot weather. Finding a shady spot outside or even a large container where weeds are controlled seems to work fine for me.

Elderflower Cordial
My mother in law was knocking on the door this week looking for someone tall to go and give her a   On the menu this year will be the cordial and also she will be making some fritters. Anything deep fried is OK with me, I’ve even tried the deep fried chocolate bar. I did have to clean out the fryer afterwards though so it was far too much bother.
hand collecting elderflowers from the branches.
Elderflower cordial is a delicious summer tonic that you can make yourself.
Her recipe is best made with fresh flowers, which have been picked on a sunny day when they are still creamy in colour and before they fade to white. At this time they have the highest amount of pollen, which contains the yeast. The recipe is water, sugar, lemons, citric acid and of course the elderflower. Like most recipes it’s open to interpretation. Maybe some of us might add a touch of vodka in there too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What to do with Grass Clippings

Strimmers can be so messy

My lawnmower stopped working last year and I am only now missing it. It was one of those plastic Flymo types and did an OK job in the three years it was working.  Yes the cable frayed a couple of times and the blades were so flimsy they buckled on a tuft of couch grass. But it was quiet, light and could get into tight corners.

 My grass cutting this year is by a petrol strimmer and you wouldn’t believe the mess you can make with these things. I don’t think there’s a piece of wall or window where small muddy tufts of grass are clinging to. It’s very reminiscent of cutting a hedge with a power blade. It takes ten minutes to cut and three hours to clean up afterwards. With all of the sweeping and brushing down of pots you can see why I’m only reluctantly using the strimmer about once every three weeks. 

One thing is the same regardless of what machine I use to cut the grass and that’s a huge pile of clippings.  How do we cope with all of the cut grass throughout the year?  If you don’t bag them up and take them to the recycling centre then what are the options?

The simplest way to deal with them is to just leave them on the lawn, or the wall in my case. There is even a phrase known as "grass cycling" to make us feel less lazy when it comes to dealing with the problem. The grass clippings soon rot down and are a natural feed. This saves money buying fertilizer and saves time bagging up. 

I don’t think this is very practical for me with the strimmer grass though as it’s too long, maybe it’s be good for weekly cut grass and a mulching mower. I like the idea of not having a lawn at all; just a small meadow with wild flowers and growing cover plants but nothing seems as robust and up to the job of putting up with two frisky dogs playing.  

Compost Them
Grass clippings are approximately 85 percent water and 4 percent nitrogen, which means if composted correctly they will rapidly reduce to one tenth of their volume. A bag of grass clippings would reduce to handful or two of compost and I think they can be classed as both a wet and dry compost material depending on how much water they contain.  A compost heap usually includes other wet waste such as vegetable peelings and fruit. To balance this out, dry matter or carbon material could be added. This will help to keep the air circulating and stop it from smelling. Other dry matter includes paper, wood chips, leaves and broken sticks.
Add equal amounts of wet and dry matter to keep the fruit flies at bay and stop the smells. Another way to let the oxygen circulate in your pile is to aerate it. This means turning the grass clippings and other materials to loosen up the piles. 

Let them bake
Put grass clippings in the sun for up to a day before adding them to the compost pile. I tend to strim my grass then go and do other jobs for a few hours, the grass that spreads and flies all over the concrete path is soon dry in the sun. This reduces the volume considerably.

If you have recently applied pesticides or herbicides to your lawn, do not add the grass clippings to your compost piles until the rain has wash off these chemicals completely. 

Under the hedge
Grass clippings can be used for weed control at the base of your hedges. This helps to retain moisture and adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil. For best results spread about an inch or two of weed free clippings at the base of the hedge avoiding its main stems. Add more clippings when the previous batch has broken down.

Over the hedge
A pile of grass clippings is very attractive to hungry horses, ponies, donkeys, cows and sheep. I have a pile of broccoli plants to give to some local horses soon when the flowers die back to mix their diet up a bit

Buying New
I’m on the lookout for another lawnmower. I quite fancy one of those push types. It’ll keep the grass down long enough for me to come up with a “grassless lawn” made from wild flowers and my growing number of chamomile plants.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Longan Fruit

 Longan and Lychee

We’ve finally got around to planting out the summer bedding and small cells of vegetables this week. 
Sweet peas, sunflowers, pansies, geraniums and fuchsias have all gone into pots for a bit of summer colour and the broccoli, courgettes and kale have gone into their growing positions. We still have a few places to plant up but the old broccoli plants from last year are still both producing tiny florets and the yellow flowers are a magnet for the local bee population. I’ve promised the spent plants to a horse owner in a couple of weeks when the flowers have died down which will save me having to chop them up to fit into the compost bin.  

It was a great idea to plant out the peas, beans, coriander, lettuce and chives straight into the garden as they are all thriving and haven’t been kept in check or neglected by being in small potting cells.  We might have lost one or two seeds to the mice and plants to the slugs and snails but you would never notice unless you were counting stems.

Longan Fruit
Hands up who has heard of a fruit called ‘Longans’?  Up until this week my hand would be flailing in the air too.  

A pack of them caught my attention in the local supermarket and although they have travelled all the way from Vietnam and not grown locally, I thought I would buy a pack to see what they were like. You can put your hands down now.

The longan tree is actually one of the better-known tropical members of the soapberry family (Sapindaceae), to which the lychee also belongs which has been a popular dessert for years in restaurants. 

Longan fruits are similar in structure to lychee but more aromatic in taste. It is native to Southern Asia. The translation from Cantonese literally means "dragon eye" which is so named because it resembles an eyeball when its fruit is shelled (the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris). I tried not to let the fact it feels like you would expect an eyball to feel put me off trying them. Dried longan fruit are often used in Chinese cuisine and Chinese sweet dessert soups. In Chinese food therapy and herbal medicine, it is believed to have an effect on relaxation.

They go back a long time, its earliest record of existence draws back to the Han Dynasty in 200 BC and are now grown all over the world but I doubt they will do well in Ireland because of both the weather and labour needed to pick the fruit.  During harvest, pickers must climb ladders to carefully remove branches of fruit. It has been found that longan fruit remain fresher when still attached to the branch, so efforts are made to prevent the fruit from detaching too early. Mechanical picking would damage the delicate skin so the preferred method is to harvest by hand. Knives and scissors are the most commonly used tools.

Apart from being eaten fresh and raw, longan fruit is also often used in Asian soups, snacks, desserts, and sweet-and-sour foods, either fresh or dried, and sometimes preserved and canned in syrup. 

Folk medicine
Longan is commonly found in traditional Eastern folk medicine as opposed to modern Western medicine. In ancient Vietnamese medicine, the "eye" of the longan seed is pressed against snakebites to absorb the venom; this method was ineffective but it is still commonly used today.
Saving the Seeds

I decided to plant up the large seeds along with a few lychee seeds I have. It’ll be interesting to see if they germinate and grow under protection in the tunnel. I thought well drained, sandy soil would be ideal to replicate their natural conditions. I don’t think there’s much else to do to get them growing other than keeping the post watered. 

Carn Show 2017
The 105th Inishowen Agricultural Show in Carndonagh is all set for the 15th of July. The last date for all entrants is this Saturday 17th June so if you haven’t filled in the entry forms for your category it’s time to get the pen out.  It’s a few years ago since our dog won the “Best Large Dog” category but we still have the rosette.  There are loads of categories to enter ranging from Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Donkeys, Dogs, Butter, Eggs, Honey, Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers, Pot Plants, Cake Making and Scones. Homes Industries Exhibition, Photography, Amateur Painting, Carriage Driving and many more. Something for everyone!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Thinking House - Monitoring your Garden Habits. Also a Cute Dolphin Succulent

Did you know there are approximately 1.3 million regular gardeners in Ireland?  We have an average age of 49 years and of which 63% are women. 
How do I know this? I hear you ask.  It’s because we are being watched, monitored and assessed by Bord Bia’s Insight Centre with the catchy title of “The Thinking House” 

Their latest state-of-the-art Consumer Research Centre was set up a while ago to find out just what we like and how much money we have in our pockets to spend on the garden in the kitchen and on other “lifestyle” products.  

Gardening in Ireland
The gardening aspect of it has been specifically set up to help garden centres and companies in the business to know their market and react accordingly, which stretches to exports too.
 'The Thinking House'  in their consumer research titled The “Gardening in  Ireland” summary report revealed the most popular types of gardeners have mature families or are in (as they affectionately say) the ‘twilight’ stage of their life, accounting for 44% of all gardeners. The report also broke down the gardeners by their activities:

  • 83% Plant flowers and shrubs
  • 74% Carry out lawn maintenance
  • 66% Design & Place hanging baskets / window boxes
  • 60% Sow or plant herbs
  • 57% Carry out hardscaping, paving, and maintenance
  • 52% Sow or plant vegetables / fruit
  • 52% Plant hedging or trees

Planting flower and shrubs is the most regular activity of the Irish gardener. Designing and placing hanging and window boxes came in second with lawn care, and sowing or planting seed tied for third.

Gardener of the Future
The gardener of the future will be eco-aware and see anything that will maintain a “good looking” and “productive” garden with less effort as more appealing, said the report.

The gardener of the future will also have a compact style, but that is up to the trade world to provide them with the means to garden in compact spaces. A third of all pre-family life stages have “limited or no” gardening space to grow and 59% say that 59% say that if they could garden in a small space it would encourage them to garden more.

The gardener of the future will be connected and utilise online forums and support to curate ideas and develop solutions for their garden. The online retailing sector is still in its infancy according to the report but as technology usage amongst gardeners grows this market is set to expand.
57% of adults see their garden as another room for entertaining and 80% of adults with children see their garden as a playground, according to the report.

Bord Bia’s report provides retailers and trade professionals with a key insight into the current gardening industry and the future of the everyday gardener. With the online marketplace for gardeners expected to expand as connected gardeners do, the trade industry feel they are in a great position to capitalise on the findings. 

One thing that the report doesn’t seem to highlight though is most people now shop at pound shops or “Bargain” stores for their gardening products and plants. Garden centres, manufacturers and growers will need to be very competitive if they want some of our hard earned money which won’t be an easy task as the “Buy Cheap, Buy Twice” motto seems to be getting more common.

Cute Plants
We humanize animals and now plants are becoming anthropomorphised. There are a couple of succulents doing the rounds that have the cute factor. These quirky little plants have gone down a storm in Japan, a country where cuteness (or “kawaii”) is a prominent aspect of popular culture. One is called Monilaria obconica and looks like small bunny rabbit ears popping out of a tube when the leaves are young. 

Another cutie is called the Senecio peregrinus, this plant has a bunch of tiny leaves that look like little dolphins jumping in the air. Of course when I saw this plant I thought it could be another one of my “get rich quick” schemes and sell them on EBay but try as I might I couldn’t get a hold of any to propagate. 

It was only today when I was in the polytunnel that I realised I have had a couple of poor, neglected specimens of the plant for the last four years! Indeed, they do look like dolphins if you use your imagination at a particular angle, but it’s too little too late for selling as it’s take at least six months to produce offsets and by that time the fad will have passed. They are the Fidget Spinners of the gardening world.

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