Happy Christmas from The Diligent Gardener

Happy Christmas to all our readers, we hope you have a great day! Don't eat too much turkey :)

Get your Winter Onions in

Following on from our post earlier this month about how to grow onions its worth reminding ourselves that there are actually quite a number of different varieties of onions from sets that can planted in your vegetable plot or allotment now. Sets are the simplest way to grow onions yourself much easier than from seed. They have the bonus that they can be harvested earlier on in the year as well.

Electric is a good red set, Radar a good yellow and Shakespeare is a highly reliable white.

You can also sow some spring onions now: White Lisbon Winter Hardy is a good one that we like to use. Check your local garden centre as quite a lot of them will have shallots available now for plantin. Jermor is already available in my local garden centre. These are good to be planted about now or though until just into the New Year.

How to make Winter Vegetable Soup

With the temperatures dropping and there still being plenty of winter vegetables in the ground or in storage a great way to keep warm and eat them up is by making a winter vegetable soup. This simple and handy recipe is easy to make and very filling.


  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1.5 litres / 2½ pints Chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or use stock cubes) 
  • 100g / 3½ oz Pearl barley 
  • 1 medium/large onion chopped
  • 2 leeks, trimmed top and bottom
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots chopped
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into smallish pieces
  • 5 tablespoons white wine 
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2 stalks of thyme choped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
  • Salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg
  • Bread - your choice!

1. Make the chicken (or vegetable) stock either using stock cubes (follow packet instructions for how many cubes to make 2.5 pints) or your own prepared stock. Use a medium sized-pan. Add the pearl barley and simmer the mixture whilst continuing on with the steps below.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and leeks and cook, stirring, over a medium heat, for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add the wine now along with the parsnips, celery, carrots and potato and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

3. Pour your stock into the saucepan with the vegetables and bring to the boil, adding the tomato puree and bay leaves to complete the soup. then simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

4. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then stir in the parsley an thyme.

5. Transfer to warmed bowls. Serve with your bread.

6. Eat and enjoy!

Free Entry to Kew Gardens this Christmas

Kew Gardens are offering free tickets by signing up for them on their website (see here), The tickets are available from 22 December through to the 4 January 2013.

A Beginner's Guide to Growing Raspberries

To ensure you can enjoy delicious raspberries it's essential you prepare well beforehand. Choosing the best area to grow raspberries will ensure good growth; they thrive in sheltered yet sunny conditions although they can still bear fruit when partly shaded. Once you've found the prime position remove any weeds and add plenty of well rotted manure into the soil. Raspberry plants benefit from slightly acidic soil - a pH testing kit will allow you to determine whether you need to add ammonium sulphate to your soil to increase its acidity.

Now that you've found the perfect spot and made sure the soil is in an ideal condition you can turn your attention towards actually planting the raspberries. They can be planted anytime during the dormant season (November-March) provided the soil isn't frozen or waterlogged.

Types of raspberry

There are two types of raspberries - autumn fruiting and summer fruiting. Summer fruiting varieties grow raspberry canes once a year and bear fruit the next (you still harvest fruit every year - just from different canes), while autumn fruiting raspberries grow and fruit every year.

Supporting growth

For raspberries to grow to their full potential you need to provide them with the right support. Plants should be planted 2ft apart - if growing multiple rows, these should be 6ft apart. Hammer two 8ft stakes about 2ft deep into the ground, 10ft apart. Three layers of 12 gauge galvanised wires should be stretched between these posts at 30, 42, and 66 inches above ground level, held firmly in place with straining bolts.

Raspberry maintenance

Summer fruiting raspberries should have their fruit bearing canes cut to ground level during the autumn - take care to make sure you don't prune the growing canes. The eight strongest pruned canes can be tied to the wire supports, leaving a gap of 3-4 inches, while the remaining canes can be removed completely.
Autumn fruiting raspberries on the other hand should have all their canes cut to ground level in February, although the canes can be trimmed in summer if overcrowding is hampering growth.

Container planted raspberries

If you can't grow your raspberries directly into the ground don't despair - raspberries can also be grown in containers. A single plant can successfully grow in a 15 inch diameter container filled with an 80:20 mix of multipurpose compost and loam-based potting compost, which is fed during the growing season with a general purpose liquid fertiliser. Canes can be trained up bamboo cane in a similar way to single plants grown into the ground.


As long as you remember to keep raspberry plants well watered and give them plenty to feed on (mulch general purpose granular fertiliser with rotted farmyard manure in spring) you can look forward to a bountiful yield. Whether eaten with pavlova, turned into a delicious jam or eaten alone, you can delight your taste buds with the fresh, fruity taste that just isn't available from the shops.

Author Bio: YouGarden is an online gardening center run by three horticulturalist who have over 50 years combined experience. They have one simple ethos “Gardening for Everyone” and sell everything from soft fruit plants and bushes to flowers and fruit trees

How to Cook Perfect Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts are often ready for harvesting now, but to many people they bring back memories of childhood, being forced to stay at the table until you have eaten (or hidden) the last brussels on your dinner plate. Heres several options to make the perfect Brussel Sprouts

Brussels with Bacon and Chestnuts
First fry your bacon in a hot pan without any oil for about 10 minutes until it is crisp. Then add chestnuts and fry until they are beginning to colour and coated in the bacon fat. Drain off the excess fat, then place the fried bacon  with the chestnuts into a bowl and allow them to cool. Beat some butter with a spatula to soften, then mix in the bacon and chestnuts. Season the mix with black pepper, and store in fridge. This will keep fresh for about 3 days in the fridge or could be frozen.

To serve, place your sprouts in a microwaveable bowl, and pour in approximately 100ml of water, cover with cling film and pierce a few holes in the top. Microwave your sprouts on High (850W) for about 16 to18 minutes, stirring at least twice during cooking, or alternatively cook in a pan of boiling water for 5 mins. Drain  off the water and place into a warm serving dish, then add the butter over to melt.

Brussels with pancetta
Blanch the Brussels sprouts in a pan of boiling salted water for 3 mins. Drain the water away and place into a bowl of iced water to quickly cool them. Drain off any water again and set aside until nearly ready to serve. Sauté the pancetta in hot goose fat until crisp, add in the sprouts and stir-fry everything for a further 2 to 3 minutes, before placing in a bowl to serve.

Brussels with hazelnuts
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the sprouts and cook them for about 5 minutes until just done. Drain well and place the sprouts into a warmed serving dish. Meanwhile, melt some butter in a small frying pan and add your hazelnuts. Cook the hazelnuts until they just start to brown, and the butter is turning a lovely deep golden brown. It should smell delightful, a lovely nutty smell. Tip this mixture over your sprouts, and add pepper to your taste.

Hopefully there will be no more hiding the sprouts round the back of the plates or feeding to the dog!

The December Allotment

Just because its December and we have had some snow doesn't mean the Allotment goes quiet at this time of year. There is plenty to be getting on with.

Assuming you had a good year so far there will be plenty to harvest:

Winter cabbages, cauliflowers and the Brussels sprouts can be harvested now. Remember Brussels are not just for Christmas :)

Leeks should also be just about ready, just take what you need and leave the rest to stand until required. Leeks are much better harvested from the garden as they are required but in severe weather this can be difficult, so you can lift a few and heel them in on well dug ground, this will not freeze solid.

Carrots can be lifted now for storage if you haven't done this already, they can be stored either in peat or sand or even a traditional clamp.

Jerusalem artichokes should be ready for harvesting now and you can also start on salsify and scorzonera. Salsify is known as the 'vegetable oyster' and is a wonderful vegetable when it has been cooked properly.

Lift celery, parsnips turnips and swedes although parsnips and swedes are very hardy and may be left if the ground is you are not yet ready to eat them. You can always cover them with fleece or straw to help stop the ground freezing them in.

Finally you should check the vegetables you already have in storage and remove anything that has started to rot before the rot spreads and ruins the entire crop. Potatoes in particular should be checked regularly and watch out for slugs that have emerged from a potato to go and damage another one.

Other jobs to think about, Cleaning the greenhouse or coldframe if its empty over winter, check and repair any broken fences, sheds etc. December is also the ideal time to prune apples and pears as well ass gooseberries and currants.Clean, oil and repair your tools, its amazing how much they get used over the year so will appreciate some TLC in December.

But whatever you do remember to stay warm, and be careful on frozen ground.

How to Make French Onion Soup

Following on from our post the other day about how to grow onions, we thought it would be a good time to think about what to do with some of them! Onion based soups have been popular at least as far back as Roman times. They were then usually seen as food for poor people, as onions were plentiful and easy to grow. The modern version of this soup originates in France in the 18th century, made from beef broth, and caramelized onions. It is often finished by being placed under a grill in a ramekin traditionally with croutons and gruyère melted on top. The croutons on top is reminiscent of ancient soups

  • 6 large red or yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups of beef stock
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dry thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 slices of toasted French bread
  • 1 1/2 cups of grated Swiss Gruyere with a little grated Parmesan cheese
1 Cut each onion in half lengthwise, then slice into half-moons. Slice these half-moons in half again. Place them into a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes (or longer). You can let them cook even longer — an hour and a half will give you deeply caramelized onions! Just let them cook, stirring at times, as you see dark colour emerge. After 45 minutes they will look pale mahogany in colour. You can let them get even darker if you like — just don't let them burn or get black. Adjust the heat as necessary.

2 Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help them to carmelise. The rich flavour of the base is not due just to the broth, but to the caramelized onions (typically, the pot is full of sliced onions, which will shrink down to less than half the volume on cooking).

3 Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock,  wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover partially and simmer until the flavours are well blended, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf.

4 To serve you can either use individual oven-proof soup bowls or one large casserole dish. Ladle the soup into the bowls or casserole dish. Cover with the toast and sprinkle with cheese. Put into the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Christmas Presents for Gardeners

I  don't know about you but I would rather have something for the garden as a Christmas present rather than another novelty pair of socks, but with so many possible things to ask for whats do you go for?

There's several different items on my list for friends and family this year (hint hint), all of which are useful and desirable. The following are from a delightfully co-ordinated range available online.

How about a thermometer for the garden, with weather conditions  being very variable and different in various parts of the garden, let alone the country it is handy to have at least one outdoor thermometer in the garden. Ideally you should have several in different places, I always have one in the greenhouse as well.

This small tube thermometer is wall mounted and comes in a range of different colours, (shutter blue - illustrated, clay and also in slate) and can be easily wall mounted, very elegant design that would work well in a contemporary garden or classic country cottage garden.

The Small Tube Thermometer is available for £15 from Garden Trading.
As regular readers will know we love growing herbs in pots (remember our post from October?). And of course one of the important things when growing herbs in pots are the pots themselves. These pots would be ideal for a windowsill for growing  smaller herbs such as sage, parsley etc, have them to hand for when you are cooking and need to grab a few.

Perfectly colour co-ordinated with the thermometer above this trio of charming pots are perfect to create a miniature herb garden and again comes in (shutter blue, clay and slate). At just £18 for set of three they are good value too.

Available from

Another one to add to the list is this string and seeds box gift set.

I am always losing packets of seeds, leaving them in drawers, old coats, even in the cats basket (although I blame him, not me!). But if like me you are less than organised with your seeds this gift set of seed box and string caddy is a perfect and very stylish solution.

As with the other items in the range the boxes are available in the same complimentary colours and this little set wont break the bank at just £12.  

The final item on my list (for now!) is the lovely bug box, with winter well on its way now (or in my case well and truly arrived) do spare a thought to all the little pollinators that you will need in the garden and allotment for next year. They need a place to be snug and safe over winter and this bug box is a perfect solution to help them on their way.

With plenty of holes, gaps and tunnels this can be home to various bug-allies such as ladybirds, and lacewings.

Do remember that the novelty sock shops will be grabbing your families attention any day now so get your alternative suggestions off to Santa soon!

How to Grow Onions

As I mentioned the other day there is still just about time to plant your onions, so with that in mind its the perfect time to talk onion.

The onion,(allium cepa)almost certainly comes from the central Asian region. However as it has been in cultivation for so many years the exact origin is now unclear, in fact there are five possible wild plants it could have evolved from. It was the Romans who named and introduced the onion to Europe, the Latin name was ‘unio’ for large pearl, changed to ‘oignon’ by the French. The popularity eating onions rose significantly after French Onion Soup was popularised by Stanislaus I, the former King of Poland. It is recorded that during the Middle Ages people would pay their rent with onions and even give them as gifts as onions were such an important food. However moving on to the allotment, how do you plant onions?

Onions come in several coloured varieties such as yellow, red, or white,. However the vast majority of onions grown are of the yellow varieties. This is because yellows are good all round onions and also keep better over winter when stored correctly. In addition the yellows have tougher skin and are more disease resistant being less susceptible to insects. Red onions are the sweetest but typically the worst to keep over winter. White onions are usually grown for salad or spring onions and are harvested as green onions before their bulbs fully form.

Onions should be given a sunny aspect in a rich but also a light soil, however they will usually do pretty well in most soils. However in common with many other plants do not plant in freshly manured soil.

Onions can be planted as sets (small, immature onions) in the spring or late summer, through to Autumn. Sets come in a variety of sizes and each forms one full sized bulb when ready to harvest. Growing onions from sets is usually much easier and will also be more reliable than from growing onions from seed. Not only are they more reliable but in cooler and damper areas then sets will give a better harvest of larger bulbs than if you just grow them from seed. However with sets there are fewer varieties available to select from and the cost will be higher than if you grow your onions from seed. To plant your sets space them about 4inches apart with 8 inches between the rows, with the pointed end upward sand with the tip just below soil level.

A good method that I was taught on my grandfathers allotment is to plant your seed in the autumn in drills about half an inch deep with rows about 16inches apart. Leave until spring, when the seedlings should be thinned to 2inches apart. If leaving late in the season try planting in a greenhouse in trays & transplanting 2inches apart when hardened off.

Although Onions are an easy crop to grow, there can be some problems, do watch out for these.

The onions grow a central stalk that if left unchecked would develop the seed head. It is usually caused by weather conditions, typically if there is a cold spring followed by a hot summer that seems to encourage it. If the bulbs are not in firm ground then this can also cause bolting. To prevent it being a problem then cut the stalk off an inch or so above the bulb but remember to eat these onions first since they do not usually store as well.

Grey mould
If you get a grey mould on the onions you have in store or general rotting then this is usually caused by the onions not having dried out enough prior to storing or even damp storage conditions. You should check regularly and remove any onions showing signs of rot before it spreads to the others.

Mould or rust
This can occur during prolonged rainy periods. Any bulbs showing signs of mould or rust must to be thrown away or ideally burnt. To reduce the risk then give your plants some protection with a cloche in wet periods, but allow ventilation.

Onion white rot
This causes the foliage of your onions to go yellow and to wilt. Look out for fluffy white growths to confirm that it is onion white rot. Any plants showing signs should be thrown away (do not compost) and then you must not grow garlic or onions in the same area for at least 8 years as the fungal spores can remain in the ground.

Downy Mildew
Mildew will give the leaves an appearance of having slightly lighter patches in the early stages that will gradually turn to brown as the disease gets worse. To avoid this you should use crop rotation and ensure you have good drainage.

Onion Fly
These flies will lay their eggs by the base of the onion which when hatched turn into maggots that will eat the base of the onion as well as its roots. The only prevention is to prevent access using fleece as sadly there is not a cure once affected.

Rate of Destruction of the Amazon Falling

Whilst the destruction continues there is some good news in that the rate of destruction has been falling. The BBC reported the Brazilian Government as saying that the destruction of Amazon rainforest has reached its lowest level since monitoring began 24 years ago.

Environment minister Izabella Teixeira said "It is the lowest deforestation rate since Brazil began its monitoring, I believe that it is the only good piece of environmental news."

Deforestation rates in the Amazon have been declining since 2004 but critics say recent changes to Brazil's forest protection code could reverse that trend. The latest data from the National Institute of Space Research relates to a period before a change in the code which environmentalists say eases the protection designed to prevent deforestation - a claim that the Brazilian government has disputed.

Satellite imagery showed that 1,798 square miles (4,656 square kilometers) of the Amazon were deforested between August 2011 and July 2012, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said a news conference. That's 27 percent less than the 2,478 square miles (6,418 square kilometers) deforested a year earlier. The margin of error is 10 percentage points.

George Pinto a director of Ibama, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, explained to reporters that there had been better enforcement of Brazil's environmental laws as well as improved surveillance technology which had led to the fall in deforestation levels.

Pinto said that in the 12-month period a total of 2,000 square meters of illegally felled timber were seized by government agents. The impounded lumber is sold in auctions and the money obtained is invested in environmental preservation programs. Environment Minister Teixeira said that starting next year Brazil will start using satellite monitoring technology to detect illegal logging and slash-and-burn activity and issue fines.

Adalberto Verissimo, a senior researcher at Imazon, an environmental watchdog agency stated that "Over the past several years Brazil has made a huge effort to contain deforestation and the latest figures testify to its success, the deforestation figures are extremely positive, for they point to a consistent downward trend. The numbers disprove the argument that deforestation is necessary for the country's economy to grow. Deforestation has been dropping steadily for the past four years while the economy has grown."

"But the war is far from over. We still have a lot of battles to fight and win." Greenpeace cordinator for  the Amazon , said "the lower figures show that reducing deforestation is perfectly possible, but the numbers are still too high for a country that does not have to destroy one single hectare in order to develop."

Contemporary Garden Design

All too often, outdoor areas are the last to receive any attention in a home makeover or design effort.  However, that shouldn’t be the case.  The surrounding area of a home is just as important as what’s on the inside, maybe even more important if the house happens to be on the market. 

Flemings Australian Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012
In contemporary garden design, the focus is on simplicity and nature.  This is primarily due to the fact that many modern homes have relatively small areas of land as their gardens.  There has also been a cultural shift toward contemporary design, in which clean lines and hard landscaping materials such as hardwood garden table and chairs, stone, and rendered walls have become very popular.

In any contemporary garden the planting style will be bold yet simple, with repetition of just a few varieties of plants throughout the space.  Today, grasses are very popular as they are visually appealing, simple, and easy to care for. 

Lighting also plays a role in contemporary garden design, as subtle effects can be achieved with low voltage lights strategically placed throughout the garden, usually along the walls, beside paths and to highlight garden features such as statuary.

Contemporary gardens aren’t without classic, iconic design elements.  Form, shape, and other iconic design elements have stood the test of time and will always be part of any garden’s design.  The individual touches come from how modern gardeners choose to incorporate classic features such as sculpture, containers, and other elements into their gardens.

The Essential Indulgence (Silver Gilt) - another contemporary garden at Hampton Court 2012 that I liked
The hard areas

Any garden – classic or contemporary – will have some sort of path or paving incorporated into the design. Choose from natural stone or the cheaper reconstituted products that can be extremely attractive.  Old railway sleepers have also become very popular over the last few years; as a result they have risen in price quite considerably.  Don’t forget shingle – very practical and still quite cheap. 

Live Outdoors Garden (Silver Gilt) - built on a budget of £13,000
While concrete features add a modern element to a contemporary garden design they do not suit all gardens. More natural features, such as rounded, smooth river stones are an excellent alternative to the manmade, industrial materials featured so prominently in some modern gardens.  Cobbles may be used on paths as well as in accent areas throughout the space.

Metal, metal everywhere

Traditional gardens often featured wrought iron garden furniture, which can be ornate and heavy.  Although metal is still used in contemporary garden design, it is used a little differently these days.  Some modern gardens incorporate industrial metal grids combined with wooden planks for vines and ivy, for a fresh yet rugged look.  Galvanized sheet metal is also popular in modern garden design for weatherproofing and screening solutions.  Stainless steel and chrome furniture are also contemporary and affordable choices.

Metal work used as part of the pathways in this garden we saw at Hampton Court this year - Contemporary Contemplation (Gold medal) - a stunning garden and one of my favorites! I love it for the restrained planting palette and the use of contemporary hard lansdcaping. Top marks from me too!

Modern gardens, with their clean lines and industrial elements, may seem uninviting if certain iconic elements are not incorporated into the overall design.  Lighting, furniture, and textures are all essential in making the contemporary garden a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere.  The secret is to keep the theme simple and clean; the garden will do the rest of the work.

Win A Christmas Hamper

This month we have another fantastic food competition, where you can win a fabulous Christmas hamper courtesy of Garner’s Pickled Onions.

Garner’s Pickled Onions are the perfect store cupboard essential for Christmas entertaining. Synonymous with the festive period, 67% of the public crunch pickled onions at Christmas and 64% enjoy a pickle at parties. And now YOU have the chance to win one of these sumptuous Christmas hampers worth £50, packed full of Garner’s products plus other Christmas entertaining essentials such as wine and speciality biscuits!  

Garner’s Pickled Onions are made to an original recipe using traditional pickling techniques and are renowned for their unique taste and trademark crunch. Every onion is hand peeled and inspected to make sure it passes the Garner’s test before being pickled in the finest malt vinegar. The much-loved pickled onion is a great party food ingredient. Garner’s has created a collection of fantastic Christmas recipes from the retro Cucumber Snake to the tempting Grilled Goat’s Cheese Croutes with Pickled Shallot, which can all be found on

This new website from Garner’s is also home to the Pickle Lovers Community, an online forum for foodie chat, debate and sharing tips and ideas. Garner’s range of products are a must have for Christmas entertaining. It’s Original Pickled Onions, Sweet Baby Pickled Onions and Pickled Shallots as well as pickled eggs all make for great nibbles for impromptu guests and its cabbage and delicious chutneys are the perfect addition to any festive dining table.

To be in with a chance simply answer the following question:

Which of the following is not a variety of Onion?

A) Babieto di Chioggia
B) Walla Walla Sweet
C) White Lisbon

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 16 December 2012. 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.

A Simple Guide Planting Fruit Trees in Winter

If you've never experienced the sheer unbounded joy of casually picking some apples or plums from your own fruit tree and then sharing them with friends and family then you’re missing out on an unique experience.
Apple trees, dwarf lemon trees and Victoria plum trees are all ideal fruit trees to plant in your garden. Not only will they enhance its natural beauty but they will also provide you with the most organic and natural fruit money can’t buy. The fruit is delicious in itself and can also be used to make delicious ciders, wines, moonshine, chutneys, preserves and jams. But it’s important to note that to ensure a healthy tree and productive harvest, it’s always best to plant certain fruit trees in Winter.

What Type of Fruit Trees are Suitable for Planting in Winter? 
Deciduous fruit trees such as apple, crab apple ornamental trees, pear trees and Victoria plum tree should always be planted in Winter, as opposed to evergreen fruit trees such as Olive and Loquat which are hardy but best planted in the spring or dwarf lemon trees which should be overwintered in a cool conservatory. Deciduous fruit trees have evolved in a temperate climate and require exposure to the cold of Winter in order to produce fruit and flowers. This is known as the minimum chill requirement. The growth buds of these particular trees do not blossom properly until they experience a full winter.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree in Winter 
Fruit trees are in their dormant stage in late Autumn and early winters, so this is the best time for planting. Always soak the roots thoroughly and avoid placing in the ground if there’s a frost because the soil needs to be moist. Place your fruit tree in a position in you garden which benefits from both sun and shelter. When it comes to digging a hole ensure it is a third wider than the tree’s roots and the same depth. Insert a stake to support the tree and fill the hole with soil. Water the ground well, but only well enough to keep it moist. You do not want to drown the tree’s roots.

Things to be Weary of When planting fruit trees in winter 
To maximise the amount of fruit they yield almost all deciduous fruit trees require careful and regular pruning. It’s also a good idea to apply a grease band to the trunk of your tree at least 18 inches above soil level to protect it from moths and other insects who will eat its leaves and fruit. The application of fertilizer, organic or chemical, is a personal preference but it can give the fruit tree just the boost it needs to start bearing the sort of fruit that will make you the talk of the town.

Author Bio: YouGarden is an online gardening center run by three horticulturalist who have over 50 years combined experience. They have one simple ethos “Gardening for Everyone” and sell everything for from easy to grow veg and flowers to fruit trees including ‘mini orchard’ patio trees.

How to Double Dig your Plot

As well as getting ready with some of your winter sowing, this time of the year is a good soil preparation time, and one of the best ways to get the plot ready for next year is to double dig. Digging over the soil is essential for good plant growth. If you have a poor soil then organic matter can be added at the same time as digging.

The ideal time to double dig your plot is from October through December (i.e. now!), this is because the soil is free of frost and so can be left to overwinter, winter frosts will help break the soil down further. However if you leave it too late then the ground may be too wet or frozen and so will be be much more difficult to work with. You should avoid digging over heavy soil when it's wet as this can damage the soil structure and lead to poor aeration and poor drainage.

So how to double Dig?

Step 1 Begin at one end of the bed and dig a spade-head depth (approx. 12" deep or 30cm) trench across the entire bed's width, placing the excavated dirt in a wheelbarrow.

Step 2 Fork over the bottom of the trench. This is where the name 'double digging' comes from, as you dig twice the depth as usual, single digging. Add organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to the base and lightly fork in

Step 3 Dig a second, trench of a similar size to the first trench directly next to the first. Place the excavated soil into the first trench you dug. Loosen the soil at the bottom of this second trench with the garden fork as well.

Step 4 Dig a third trench next to the second trench. Backfill the second trench, loosen the bottom of the third trench, and continue this process until you have tilled the whole bed.

Step 5 Fill the final trench with the soil excavated from the first. (The soil from the wheelbarrow)

Step 6 Take a well earned rest and have a cup of tea!


Choosing Garden Furniture

Whilst many peoples thoughts at this time of year are focused on Christmas and winter, it is a good time to give some consideration to choices of furniture for the garden for next year. With the dark wintery weather you may think i'm suggesting something strange but far from it.

There are often sales on in garden centres or DIY sheds to clear surplus stock in the run up to Christmas, if they have the design you like then it may be possible to obtain a good discount or get something extra included, and who doesn't like that!

But the benefit of sales aside, its also a good time to plan. Summer and Autumn have only recently finished, and one can think back to how they used the garden, patio and seating areas this last year. By doing this you can think about what you would actually use and get the most benefit from, without too much time having elapsed. The garden is also clear from summer distractions, bedding plants and deciduous plants have gone over meaning you can see the bones of the garden far more clearly.

A choice of furniture shouldn't be decided based on the colours in the garden just this year, you may have a different planting scheme next year. Or you may want to fit the scheme to the furniture. If you grow your own plants from seed then choosing furniture now gives you plenty of time to then grow plants that will fit your planned scheme with new furniture. You also have plenty of time to research the options and investigate different designs, styles and colours from the comfort of your own home using the internet.

So what are the main options?

Wooden furniture
Hard wood furniture has gained in popularity in recent years, with a wide range of styles, designs and prices to meet most peoples budgets. Wooden furniture should be regularly treated, either with a specialist wood oil  or varnish from time to time to keep it at its best.

Traditional wooden garden set
Maintaining a wooden table
Keeping wooden furniture maintained helps keep the colours as well as prevent damage from weather.

Rattan and Rattan style
Rattan and rattan style furniture has seem something of a makeover, the old fashioned image of 1970s conservatory furniture has been confined to history, and modern rattan styles, often plastic based for increased weather protection is both attractive and long lasting.

The modern imitation rattan will weather well and need almost no maintenance other than an occasional wash down. As Rattan is so adaptable a wide range of styles exists, from traditional colonial styles to modern chairs with hard lines and comfortable padding,

Modern and stylish Rattan
Personally im a fan of the modern Rattan, low maintenance, hard wearing and coming in a range of colours it will suit most styles of gardens from ultra modern to traditional english gardens as well as exotic or jungle styles, and to be honest almost everything in between!

Plastic furniture has had quite a makeover not just pub garden style chairs but a wide range of funky molded furniture also exists. Like modern rattan it needs almost no maintenance so if perfect for a modern and low maintenance garden.
Stylish Plastic furniture
Whatever you choose enjoy the selection process!

The November Allotment

Winter is on its way the days are getting shorter, frost is a regular visitor... so it is easy to relax and imagine that there is little to grow at this time of year. Think again! There's actually lots of preparation and plants to get started in November. So what vegetables can be grown in November in the UK?

Of course it is possible to start your garlic in the the Spring with some varieies beinf perfectly happy being planted in early spring, November is by far the best time. Garlic really does need a good dose of frost as this cold will encourage the bulbs to split into cloves. And whilst planting them you can think back to the sunnier times in June and July when you were harvesting them.
For a guide to growing garlic, check out our post from last week.

Onions & shallots
By now we are just about as late as we can go for planting onions or shallot sets in before Winter really gets going. Personally my favourites are the Japanese Sensyhu onions as these are nice and hardy as well as being pretty easy to raise (a perfect combination).

Broad Beans
Usually the advice is to sow your broad beans late Winter to Spring between February and May, so why would we be advising growing them in November? The reason is to extend the growing and therefore the cropping season. If one just relies on your Spring sowings then you would expect to be harvesting your produce between July and August. However by having an Autumn sowing as well you'll then be able to have an additional crop in June as well.

Exactly the same idea as with your broad beans, start some early and crop earlier as well potentially up to 6 weeks earlier.

Mixed Seed Packets Coming to an end?

Earlier this year the EU, announced a ban on the sale of packets of mixed varieties of vegetable seeds. Until recently, the legislation did not allow mixing of varieties, explained Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) plant varieties and seeds policy team leader Andrew Mitchell.

An EC concession now allows mixtures of the same species, such as radish, brassicas, bean, onion or lettuce varieties. However, it will not allow mixing seeds such as lettuce, lamb's lettuce, spinach, chard, parsley or chervil that mirror bags of mixed salad leaves in supermarkets e.g. brassicas, bean, onion and lettuce varieties. If a mix of species is wanted, each must be in a separate packet within the outer packet which will naturally result in more expensive seeds. This is particularly relevant for salad mixes, where many of us like to grow mixed leaves for a tasty summer salad.

Seed companies are allowed to sell off existing mixed packets, but don't expect many to be available next year. Vegetable Seed Marketing Directives (2011/180/EU) is a significant relaxation of the legislation. But for the UK it means more enforcement. "In the UK we have taken a pragmatic approach to enforcing legislation," said Mitchell. But after the new ruling, FERA issued a guide on seed companies' legal position. Seed firms understood there was a deadline of July to comply, but Mitchell said there was no set date and companies can sell seeds that have already been packed.

Christmas Tree Fungus

Not only are we suffering with Ash Dieback but now a mystery fungus is attacking the humble Christmas Tree. A recent report in the Telegragh explains:
"The mysterious disease, called current season double needle necrosis (CSNN), turns needles brown during the summer before they drop off.

It is thought the disease was imported from the Caucasus in the seeds of Nordmann firs, the species that accounts for four in five Christmas trees sold in Britain.

While relatively few trees have been hit this year, there has been a reported surge in cases since 2009 with no fungicide yet found to halt it.

More than 150 growers across the country have been affected with the majority reporting damage to up to three per cent of their stock.

But some have reported more than 15 per cent of their crops have been damaged, with one farmer experiencing a third of his crop being killed. Many have lost tens of thousands of pounds in lost trees."
Lets hope that this doesn't take hold in the same way or cause the same devastating impact, with over 7 million Christmas trees being sold in the UK each year 2 million of which are home grown. There are fears that this problem could lead to increased prices. Whilst this fungus has been noticed in other parts of the world for at least 20 years its only been reported in the UK for the past three.

A spokeswoman for Defra, the environment ministry, which oversees plant imports, said: "Our risk assessments mean we can quickly put in place measures to prevent diseases and stop their spread as early as possible." Lets hope they are not too late in dealing with this problem.

How to Divide Rhubarb

If you grow rhubarb in your garden or allotment you should be thinking about dividing it over the next few weeks if you haven't done it for a while. Rhubarb plants should be divided every five years or so giving you additional plants but also healthier ones too.

How to divide Rhubarb
Dig up the crowns and roots taking extra care not to damage the crown. Divide the roots into 4 to 8 pieces depending on the size of the plant you are lifting. It is best to divide the dormant crowns between two large buds called eyes so that at least a 5cm or so section of storage root is left attached to each bud. Remember to take care not to break off the delicate buds as these can easily be broken, but other that that the roots are actually pretty tough and can tolerate quite a lot of rough treatment. Small buds will give you small plants for the first few years after planting until the newly divided plant bulks up again, while four to ten new roots can usually be obtained from crowns that have been grown a few years.

Take care not to allow the divisions to dry out or to freeze if you are not to going to be planting the straight away. Remember that when you are dividing crowns for re-planting, it is a good idea to identify the most vigorous plants the previous summer and use these as planting stock in the Autumn. The depth of planting should be so that the top of the plant is at, or only just below the soil surface. Gently firm the surrounding soil and water the new plants in well. The space between plants should be approximately 75cm (30in) for smaller varieties, and up to 120cm (48in) for larger varieties. It is a good idea to identify where the newly divided crowns have been planted with a cane until new shoots appear above the soil surface in February or March.

It should be obvious but crowns from diseased plants should not be divided from.

Soil Preparation
All Rhubarb varieties develop a deep root system and will grow best in a fertile, partially shaded, free-draining soil. It is a good idea to prepare the ground in advance, start digging over your soil four weeks before planting and remove any stones you find and adding as much organic matter as possible.

Heres a useful video:

How to Grow Garlic

Fresh Garlic Bulbs

Now is perfect time to get your garlic planted. Garlic actually needs a cold period to get it to do well so as we enter the middle of November get the bulbs planted.

Garlic is a member of the onion (allium) family. It is extremely simple grow, however don't just plant garlic cloves you get from the supermarket as more often than not they will be from a warmer climate than ours and not do too well.

Growing Garlic

Garlic needs an extended growing season and should really be started off about now in November. However, if you are not ready right now then there are several varieties that have been bred to grow from an early spring sowing. Garlic  prefers a bright and sunny spot in well prepared ground, if shouldnt really be grown in ground that has recently had a manure dressing applied. Prepare the ground a week or so before planting, by giving the area a general purpose fertiliser such as growmore or as slow release like fish blood and bone. Create holes about 20 cm apart and 8 cm down, break up the bulb into individual cloves and place one into each hole, remember to place the flat end down, and fill up the hole.

Ensure they dont dry out, so water if we get dry spells, and keep the weeds away. Sometimes garlic will try to flower so remove the flower spike so the energy from the plant is not diverted into the production of a flower.

Once the leaves turn yellow in mid-summer the garlic bulbs will be ready to harvest. Lift them carefully with a fork.

Dry off the harvested bulbs for about a week to ten days before storing. You can use the garlic straight away if you want to. The best place to store garlic is in a dry and warmish environment. Hanging in your kitchen is fine but remember never put garlic in the fridge as this will encourage it to sprout.

Watch out for birds as sometimes they can pull the garlic out of the ground when the first growth appears, if your local birds learn this trick cover over with a net. The leaves can develop rust if they are planted too closely or are in too much shade.

Does Privet Spread Ash Dieback

There are now warning signs that the humble garden hedge may spread Chalara fraxinea - ash dieback. Dr Stephen Woodward from Aberdeen University stated that privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) could be a carrier of Chalara fraxinea, the deadly disease killing our native ash trees.

Dr Woodward has encouraged homeowners to look out for indications of the fungal disease such as black spots on leaves and then to bury or burn dead leaves to stop the disease spreading. Do not place them on your compost heap.

He explained, “Ash is a member of the olive family of trees and we need to find out if other species in the family are susceptible to the disease. They may be carrying the fungus without being harmed, but when their leaves fall off they produce spores which could be affecting and spreading to ash trees.”

He continued “I don’t want people to fear that their garden plants are going to die but we must find out if these plants are harbouring the fungus.”

‘It may not cause disease in these plants, but they could be a vector for further infections in ash trees and help spread the disease. We need people to watch out for the unusual."

With privet often dropping a lot of leaves at this time of the year please be careful to get rid of the leaves responsibly.

See here for more.

Win Rod and Bens Hamper

Its competition time again and this time we have a hamper from Rod and Ben's to give away.

Rod and Ben’s, an award-winning organic food producer in Devon, produces vegetable boxes, a range of sumptuous seasonal soups and wholesome new organic food pots, all of which will be included in the hamper along with other local Devon goodies. Rod Hall runs his farm with the knowledge that the best-tasting, most nutritious and honest food is picked and eaten in season without endangering the environment.

The veggies from the farm either land in boxes or find themselves in Rod & Ben’s soup kitchen within a matter of hours, where they are blended together using simple recipes so the ingredient’s integrity – colour, flavour and texture – is preserved.

To be in with a chance simply answer the following question:

What is Rod and Bens soup of the month for November?

A) Beetroot and Cumin
B) Broccoli and Stilton
C) Cream of Watercress

This competition is now Closed.

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 23 November 2012. 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.

Blooming Blogs

We love reading other blogs, and with a new website just being set up to help bloggers connect we think this is a great idea. Do have a look at Blooming Blogs!

Vertical Herb Gardens

Following on from this post about growing herbs with limited space it is possible to take this one step further and create vertical herb gardens.

Using either a custom kit (widely available) or if you are good at DIY creating your own the key is to use good quality compost and water regularly. Also by harvesting your herbs you will keep it all in check.

Ash Killer here to Stay?

 The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson has admitted that the department believes that ash dieback, the disease that threatens the UK's ash trees, will not be eradicated.

The government has announced its action plan to deal with the problem, which involves an import ban, destruction of young infected trees, but no plans to destroy mature infected specimens.

They intent to try and find resistant plants and attempt to rebuild. However considering that this problem has been known about in Europe since 1992 (20 years!), it is all a case of locking the stable after the horse has well and truly bolted.

Mr Paterson stated that "The scientific advice is that it won't be possible to eradicate this disease now that we have discovered it in mature trees in Great Britain, however, that does not necessarily mean the end of the British ash. If we can slow its spread and minimise its impact, we will gain time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient."

DEFRA stated that they were optimistic in finding resistant tree by next year.

Growing Lemons

Sometimes the simplest things can be pretty amazing. Nature not only provides us with beauty but the practicalities of food. Some of the things we consume, however, have powers beyond the norm of filling the belly - they have, some might say, magical powers. One such item that can be lifted out of the innocuous is the humble lemon.

The glistening yellow fruit is one of the world's greatest foodstuffs. We don't eat it in its natural form as it is too sour, but it features in the cuisine of every country across the world. Whether it is to add zip to a salad dressing or zest up some fish, the lemon earns its position as an ingredient we can't do without.

The qualities of this tart fruit full of juice however, go way beyond its ability to lift a dish and add zing. It is not often considered nutritious, yet it is packed with vitamins and powerful anti-oxidants. Here are some very good reasons why you can benefit from placing a lemon tree in your garden.

Of course remember to grow citrus in pots and move into a conservatory or greenhouse for winter.


Thanks to the citric acid in lemons, they contain less natural sugar than other citrus fruit and so, are less calorific - just 29 calories in 100g. Lemons are also free from cholesterol and fat. Their real value comes from the high concentration of vitamin C. A single lemon can provide 88% of your RDV (Recommended Daily Value) of this essential vitamin. Vitamin C is beneficial in fighting the symptoms of and reducing the risk of the common cold (not a cure), and is also widely accepted as aiding immunity, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and pre-natal health problems, and also eye disease and reducing skin wrinkles. Interestingly, a single lemon can also provide you with 7% of your fiber RDV. Lemons also contain various complexes of vitamin B as well as essential trace elements iron, calcium, potassium and copper.


Over the last couple of decades, our understanding of anti-oxidants has greatly increased. Although the research world continues to study their seemingly magical properties, it is united in the view that anti-oxidants play a huge role in our general health and in particular, the ageing process. A number of foods have been designated as 'superfoods, ' as in being a great deal more beneficial than others, usually due to the high concentration of anti-oxidants. Lemons haven't yet earned this tag, but they contain a good level of flavonoids such as naringen and hesperin, anti-inflammatories known to boost the immune system, and protect cell DNA.

Around the house

If you have a lemon tree in the garden, you can find a great deal of uses for it other than culinary. The citric acid in lemon is a natural preservative, but it also makes a great cleaning product. Have you ever noticed that so many proprietary cleaning products have a lemon fragrance? Lemon is one of nature's greatest and most powerful smells. Not only does it smell good in itself, but it overpowers other odors. Got a smelly microwave? Put some fresh lemon juice in a bowl of water and turn it on for a few minutes – the odor will go. Put half a lemon in an odorous fridge, the smell will go. Lemon has properties for beauty too. It's the best natural hair lightener and a great conditioner too. Some also say lemon acts as a bleach, reducing freckles and age spots.

Preparing the Greenhouse for Winter

If you have a greenhouse or even a coldframe, lean-to or conservatory, then you should be thinking about preparing it for use over winter or for the growing season next year. A greenhouse is ideal for storing plants over the winter, but they need a bit of preparation first. .

Cleaning: Before starting it is important to clean the greenhouse, removing algae build up, grime and any left over debris from the summer.

Insulating: to protect plants over winter add insulation, big bubble bubble wrap is ideal. Of course insulation on its own will not keep out the coldest temperatures so its worth adding a small heater. Either electric if you have a safe supply or a paraffin heater.

Soil care: if you have beds in the greenhouse then remove weeds and consider enriching the soil for next year.

Pest and diseases: As part of the cleaning regime ensure pests and disease are dealt with, fungal problems can be solved by the use of anti-fungal treatments. If you have pest problems then treat these, either organically or via a pesticide.

Plant care: tidy the plants you plan to store, cut back any dead or damaged sections and remove dead leaves. Keep removing any leaves that fall over winter to reduce teh risk of rot or fungal problems.

Grow Your Own..

Deep in the rainforests of the Indian state of Meghalaya, bridges are not built, they’re grown. For more than 500 years locals have guided roots and vines from the native Ficus Elastica (rubber tree) across rivers, using hollowed out trees to create root guidance systems. This tree produces a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves. When the roots and vines reach the opposite bank they are allowed to take root. Some of the bridges are over 100 feet long and can support the weight of 50 people.

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