Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb produces its tasty pink stems throughout thr spring and early summer. However, you can extend the season by 'forcing' a significantly earlier crop by covering over the crown before it starts to sprout in say January or February with a bucket or an ornamental terracotta rhubarb forcer.

You then need to cover over the bucked with straw to keep the temperature up especially if the weather is cold.

Plants need light to photosynthesise and produce chlorophyll, which in turn makes foliage green. Exclude every last shard of light and plants cannot photosynthesise. Your light-excluded plant will then desperately reach out in search of light, producing smooth, pale stems in the process.

If you want an even earlier crop then you can grow some rhubarb in a greenhouse and force in there, the extra heat and protection as well as the rhubarb forcing pot will bring in on far earlier than in the open allotment.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Garden maintenance tips for the beginner

Gardening nourishes the mind, body and soul when you spend time caring for your plants, helping them to thrive and enjoying the meditative benefits of enjoying nature. If you love to garden but are not always sure how to keep your plants green and healthy, look no further, here are some great tips for newcomers on how to keep your garden thriving:

Keep pruning
By regularly pruning your plants you will prevents them from growing out of control. Just go through and trim the ends off your plants every so often to keep them tidy. What’s more, keeping your plants trimmed helps then to grow more healthily. It’s just like your hair; if you let it grow and grow it will become long and straggly, but when you trim off the dead ends, both your hair and your plants are able to thrive.

It is important to weed regularly in order to prevent them from taking over all the healthy soil. Weeds should be taken care of as soon as possible by pulling them out by the root. If you miss the root, they will only grow back with a vengeance. You might decide to spray the area with a weed killer after you have pulled them out. There are different varieties to choose from, some more natural than others. Using groundcover plants or mulch will help prevent weeds from spreading, because without light they are unable to grow.

Use mulch
When it comes to soil, you have lots of different options for what to use for your plants. Mulch is a rich, healthy type of soil that will give your plants all the nutrients they need to grow strong. Spread mulch over the soil straight after planting your latest purchases to help prevent weeds from growing. Mulch also helps cool down the soil in the summer months and keeps it warm in the winter.

The best way to maintain a healthy lawn is to make sure you keep it mowed regularly. Mow as high as you can, because the lower you mow, the more you leave the grass vulnerable to weeds or other problems. When you are mowing use an even pattern across the lawn, moving up and down until you have covered the entire space. This will ensure that you cut all areas evenly. If you have moved into a new property with a large lawn, do not be intimidated by the area to be cared for. With the proper mowing equipment it will simply be a weekly task to maintain the quality of your lawn. A specialist garden tool supplier such as Pat’s Small Engine is a great place to find all the gardening equipment you will need.

Irrigation system
It is important to maintain a constant supply of water to your garden, no matter what the time of year. In the rainy season, you obviously get a pass here, but during the summer or dry months, you might like to set up an irrigation or sprinkler system to ensure all your plants stay nourished. Clean out your irrigation several times per year to make sure the system does not become blocked.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Your garden as another room

If your garden seems impossible to maintain, tired-looking, or feral you might need to rethink your way of looking at the space. It could very well be time to start imagining your garden as another room in the house and lavishing as much attention upon it as you do the living room, dining room, or kitchen.
By maintaining your garden properly, it can be enjoyed just like any other room and provide an extra area of functional leisure space for you and your family. We vacuum our lounge carpet and dust our shelves regularly, so why is it so hard to imagine keeping the grass clipped and the shrubbery trimmed? A well-kept garden is a brilliant addition to any home: an open air living room, it makes the perfect place to spend summer afternoons with the family, and can be used for everything from picnics to football.

Softening the transition
The transition between the indoor and outdoor space is key to making the garden another room in the home; the first step is to bring a little of the outside into your front room, and a little of the lounge into your garden. An easy way to do this is with French windows, patios, and decking. Push out the living room windows to make terrace doors that open directly onto the patio or terrace, and get yourself some comfortable outdoor furniture perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee on a sunny morning – or relaxing on long, summer evenings.

Finding the right style
Just like any other part of the house, the garden should reflect your own personal style while at the same time being an extension of the decorative trends present in other parts of the house. Are you going for a more contemporary urban look, or a rustic country feel? Most individuals associate gardens with country living, but a city garden can be even more effective – your own personal oasis away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Features – or points of interest – help give a garden focus. Just as a dining room is not a blank, empty space but rather is dominated by the dining table and chairs, so can a garden gain a sense of purpose with the addition of a gazebo, or a patio, deck, or terrace equipped for outdoor dining. Invest in a barbecue or gas grill and you can even cook out there.

Water features have grown in popularity in recent years – at least in part because they are such a talking point – and have the added dimension of sound; the sound of flowing water is incredibly soothing, and even a small water feature such as a fountain can bring plant and animal life into your garden, even in the heart of the city.

Window shutters

When considering the garden, don't forget about the windows that will face out onto it. Well-made shutters produced from all natural materials can add to the look of both the facade of the house and your garden. Fitted wooden shutters can transform a home into a romantic, warm setting no matter where it is placed geographically.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What do do on the Allotment in April

Hopefully this cold weather wont stay too much longer and we will get into a more normal spring. With that in mind its a good time to remind ourselves what to be doing in April.

Tomatoes are an essential crop on my allotment, and whether you have a big space or just a few pots on a balcony it's one you should not be without. There are fortunately many types that can be grown outside in the UK in summer so you don't even have to have a greenhouse. However in saying that the earliest crop of fruit will come from plants grown in a greenhouse. Tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed, so start sowing now to raise indoor varieties, they are a great plant to get children interested in as the fresh young fruit you pick will be very sweet - ideal introduction to grow (and eat) your own for younger gardeners.

You can also be planning to plant your Strawberries out now. Don't forget that it is better to remove any  flowers that form in the first year so that the strength goes into growth rather than fruit production so that you will and get bigger crops in future years. Choose several different varieties to spread the harvest season from June until late summer. Rooted runners, sometimes called crowns, are best obtained from specialist fruit nurseries. If you cover your strawberries with a cloche this will encourage earlier flowering, but you'll need to open the cloches during the day to allow insects in to pollinate the flowers.

Set out your seed potatoes in trays and stand in a cool, bright position for shoots to form (known as chitting). You could have planted the early varieties in March but with the cold weather many gardeners have not done that this year. The main-crop potatoes are planted out later in April. Potatoes can be planted in deep drills or in individual planting holes, with a couple of inches of soil mounded over the top of them. If you are expecting a frost cover over with fleece or straw to protect the ground from freezing.

Plant shallot sets in March or early April, spacing them about 15cm (6in) apart separating the rows by about a foot (30cm). Normally when the conditions have warmed up in late March, the onion sets can be planted out into a firm seedbed, but this year the temperatures are delaying things. Hopefully we will get a good summer and autumn so we don't get too many delays in the allotment.

Fruit trees
Container grown trees can be planted out at any time of year. Bare root trees should have been planted by now so don't be tempted to save money on them now. Protect any fruit trees that are about to blossom from the frost using fleece as the frost could kill off your crop for the year.  But when in blossom take off the fleece during the day to allow insects to reach the flowwers. Hand-pollinate the flowers of peaches and nectarines with a soft brush. Outdoor trees will also benefit from a fortnightly spray against peach-leaf curl.

Cover emerging rhubarb shoots with forcing jars or old buckets to exclude light and encourage long tender stalks.

Sow seed in pots in the greenhouse during late March and April to raise plants that you can plant out from May to June.

Enjoy the allotment!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Hedgehog Garden for Hampton Court

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) are pleased to announce that their joint submission for a hedgehog-friendly garden has been selected as one of this year’s summer gardens at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.  The charities’ summer garden, called Hedgehog Street, aims to raise awareness of the plight of threatened hedgehogs and show how gardeners can help the species in their very own back yard.
Created by award-winning garden designer Tracy Foster, the garden will feature various elements that are beneficial to our native hedgehogs.  Hedgehog populations in the UK have plummeted by over a third in the last ten years, and one of the factors contributing to this decline is tidy, fenced-in gardens.
Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS explains: “The decline of hedgehogs can be attributed to a number of environmental factors, including neat and tidy gardens that are isolated from one another by fences or walls, preventing hedgehogs from finding shelter, food and mates.  The average range for a hedgehog in an urban area covers about 500 gardens, so we need people to help these iconic creatures by joining up their gardens.”
One of the simplest steps gardeners can take to help hedgehogs is to link gardens in their neighbourhood by teaming up with their neighbours to make a small hole in shared boundaries so that the creatures can roam freely.  A hole that is 13cm2 in size at ground level will be big enough for a hedgehog to pass through. 
Jill Nelson, Chief Executive of PTES said: “The hedgehog is known as the ‘gardener’s friend’ and by creating a summer garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show we hope to prove to professional and amateur gardeners-alike that it is easy and inexpensive to create a hedgehog-friendly space, no matter what type of garden you have, whether modern and contemporary or wild and rustic.”

Spring Greens Soup

With Spring officially here, even if the weather is suggesting we are back in winter at the moment its a good time to think about what to do with all those Spring greens from the allotment. Spring Greens Soup is delicious and simple.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 spring onions chopped finely
3 sticks celery, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g courgettes, cut intochunks
300g potato, cut into cubes
1 lemon, juice and zest only
1.5 litres good quality vegetable stock
1 Little Gem lettuce, sliced
100g broad beans
handful baby spinach
2 free-range eggs

Heat the oil in a large pan and then add the onion and also the celery and fry them until the veggies have softened but not started to brown. Next add the chopped courgettes, potatoes and the lemon zest and fry everything for roughly 2 to 3 minutes.

Now slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. As always it is worth using a good stock. Then add the lettuce and broad beans and simmer for another 25 minutes,  until the potatoes are completely cooked. Don't let it boil as this can spoil the flavours.

Add the baby spinach leaves and cook for one minute. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and lemon juice together, then add to the simmering soup, stirring constantly.

Cook for one minute, then ladle the soup into a bowl. Garnish to your choice and add salt and pepper to taste. Eat and Enjoy!


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Win a Fantastic Healthy Veg Box

Riverford delivers delicious and award-winning organic vegboxes and other food fresh straight  from the farm to your door and for this months competition we have one of their delicious hampers to give away.

Riverford offers a range of weekly organic essentials like vegetables as well eggs, milk, meat, juices and cereals, they can even deliver wine and chocolate when you need a treat and their amazing Organic vegboxes start from just £10.45. The Riverford box scheme began when Guy Watson started delivering vegetables locally to 30 friends in Devon. They now deliver around 40,000 boxes a week to homes around the UK from their regional farms. Ordering is easy and flexible, delivery is free and you don’t even need to be at home.

The prize is a large vegbox with meet that will be enough organic meat and veg to feed 4+ people for around a week. Typically 12 veg varieties with potatoes, carrots and onions most weeks. You’ll also get 3 RSPCA award-winning meat items that will always include a joint and mince, plus a different cut such as diced chicken.

To be in with a chance simply tell us what you would like to cook with your prize.

Extra entries can be made by sharing this competition on Twitter (include #DiligentGardener) or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook.

An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 30 April 2014. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the valid entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

How to Grow French Beans

It is just about the right time to start sowing, your French Beans indoors. I always start mine indoors by sowing each seed into a small pot of a good quality multipurpose compost After sowing water them and allow the pots to drain. Place them on a warm windowsill until the beans germinate. 

Alternatively if you want to waiting a bit longer then  you can sow them outdoors in May. I sow two seeds together straight into the ground in rows, spaced about a two feet apart with the beans planted about 20-30cm apart. But dont rush if its still too cold and wet, allow the soil to warm up a bit first.

Your will need to provide support for your beans to grow up using bamboo canes and a bean netting (or whatever else you may have to hand for a similar effect. Seedlings started indoors will  be ready to plant out after about three or four weeks, but only after the last frosts. You will need to harden them off before planting out by placing them outside during the day and bringing them back inside over night for at least a week before planting out. Plant them to the same spacing as for ground sown plants above planting two pots together.

You should be able to start harvesting from July :)
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