EU Bans Bee Killing Pesticides

The EU has banned the various pesticides linked to dwindling number of bees, despite a split among EU states on the issue. There has been concern among  scientists and environmentalists across Europe about the dramatic reductions in bee numbers.

Neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides are thought to harm the bees and the European Commission has now announced that they should be restricted to crops not attractive to bees and other pollinators.

However, and sadly some farmers and crop experts argue that there is insufficient data, which may well be true, however this is of such a serious concern that we must stop the risk now and investigate further, to do it the other way round is just not worth the risk

Fifteen of the EU member countries voted in favour of a ban which is not enough to form a qualified majority. According to EU rules the Commission will now have the option to impose a two-year restriction on neonicotinoids. The UK did not support a ban the government un-surprisingly backs big business rather than the environmentalists and scientists and claims that the science behind the proposal is inconclusive, however there are enough pointers to show a strong link.

However, fortunately the UK can not opt out. Hopefully this will help bee numbers increase

Sweat Peas

As well as the various veggies I am also growing Sweet Peas from Seed this year. I havent grown these before but they really are nice and simple to grow. You can start them off in  small pots of compost in autumn and overwinter the sweet pea seedlings in your cold frame or a cool greenhouse.

Alternatively you can do what we did and wait until spring arrives, and then sow them in pots or directly into the ground. You should soak the dry seeds in tepid water to rehydrate them before sowing.  This will help your seeds germinate more quickly but it isn’t essential as you can still get them to germinate in moist compost.

If you do decide to soak them overnight you will notice that they swell up and turn a lovely chestnut colour.

As with all seeds using a good quality seed compost will reap rewards, and sow several seeds to a pot. Sow the sweet pea seeds about half an inch 1cm deep and then cover them over with a fine compost and water them in well. You can cheat and buy plugs as well if you want. Make sure you keep your seedlings away from slugs or use a good quality slug pellet/ organic control as you prefer.


Allotment Crops this year

With the lovely weather we were able to spend some time on the allotment checking on the seeds that have already germinated, potting some on and removing excess seedlings, as well as sowing some additional seeds.

I got rather carried away earlier this year with our order from Suttons, who have a large range of really interesting, unusual and heritage seeds in their grow your own section.

Here are some of what we will be eating later this year:

We are growing 3 different tomatoes this year, the first of which is Guiletta

This is a large Italian style plum tomato, which is a good cropper and is pretty resistant to disease. I started most of my seedlings off in March, but there is still just about time to start some off. All my tomatoes will be in the greenhouse, which this one requires.

The next tomato we are growing this year is the golden pearl:

Again this will in the greenhouse but this one can also be grown outside, Golden Pearl is a sweet tasting cherry type tomato with  lovely golden yellow colour. This is going to look lovely in salads later in the year.

The final tomato we are growing is Fantasio:

This is another that will do well outside but again it will be in the greenhouse, this is another good cropper and is also pretty resistant to disease. We grew this last year and its a very tasty tomato!

As well as the tomatoes the courgette seeds are now up, this is the first time we have grown courgettes, so im looking forward to seeing how they do, and then seeing how they taste.

We selected "Atena" to try this year.

Atena has a lovely colour and will reach about 8" in size. Hopefully these will do well for us!

My French beans are also doing well, i probably started these a little bit too early as they really do need to be planted out asap, but we still have the risk of frosts so I'm going to wait a little bit longer on these. I selected Masterpiece from Suttons, which is a good cropper and is ready for harvesting relatively early. I will sow more seeds over the rest of spring to ensure we have a good supply of beans though out the summer.

We also are growing onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes and no doubt plenty of things \I have forgotten like all the salad crops. Plus the herb garden should do really well this year.

If you haven't started then there is still just about time to get many of your seeds started off, and rather conveniently Suttons have a 3 for 2 offer on vegetable seeds for April :)


Percy Thrower Statue at RHS Malvern

RHS Spring Show Malvern’s sculptor in residence, Caro Sweet, will be creating “Saint Percy – Patron Saint Of TV Gardeners” live at the Show from 9th – 12th May. Percy Thrower, the first presenter of the iconic TV gardening show ‘Gardener’s World’ who died in 1988, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year.
Visitors to the show will be able to watch the sculpture develop as Caro uses metal rods, pipes, wire, polystyrene and gardening implements for the internal 'skeleton'.  She will then build onto it with a unique wax clay to bring her tribute to life. Caro’s approach means people can expect a little theatre too – she has no qualms wielding an angle grinder whilst wearing high heels as she works.
Commenting on her Spring Show project, Caro said:
“Malvern’s Spring Show is the first big RHS show of the year. Percy Thrower holds a special place in every gardener’s heart and was the first TV gardener to bring gardening alive for a wider audience so he’s the perfect subject for this year’s project”.
Caro will be located in the Show Garden’s Arena.

Purple Carrots

I'm sure many people have heard that carrots used to be purple, prior to the 17th century, pretty much all carrots grown and eaten were purple in colour rather than the modern orange carrot we are used to seeing in shops or even grown on our own allotments.

It wasn’t until the Dutch growers in the late 16th century took mutant strains of the purple carrot, including yellow and white carrots to gradually develop them into the sweet, orange variety we know today. Prior to this early selective breading all the carrots were purple with only a handful of mutated ones having other colours such as yellow and white. These mutants were rarely cultivated and lacked the purple pigment anthocyanin.

It is believed that the modern orange carrot we know and love was created though crossing the  yellow and white carrots with varieties of wild carrots. It is sometimes stated that the orange became popular in Holland as this was a national colour although it may also be due to the orange ones being plump and sweet. Whatever the reason we now have orange ones.

However the purple did not disappear and plenty of purple carrots can be grown today.

Sun Lounger for My Mother-In-Law

After blogging the other day about our planned makeover for the patio, my Mother-in-Law (to be) read the post and reminded me that she was planning to replace their sun-loungers on their terrace. They had a garden designer in last year to give their large terrace area a facelift, with new stone flags, low walls and a bubble pool water feature added.

They were not sure as to what furniture would look good and so decided to wait a while and used the garden last year with their old furniture. A new table, chairs and sun parasol were purchased last autumn in the sales but their old sun loungers had been retained.

With my post on our patio jogging MIL's interest I was asked to help her choose new loungers. An easy task you would think but with so many options available I needed to help narrow down the styles she liked best.

So with a day off yesterday we spent the afternoon drinking tea, eating cake and surfing the web to narrow down the choices.

The old loungers were traditional hardwood ones, and to be honest are quite a classic. But MIL wanted a change so these were donated to her neighbour and hardwood was excluded from the search.

There are some fabulous plastic designs available, I suggested the Tic Lounge Chair, although this was discounted as being too modern (and although it comes in other colours they are all rather bright!)

We explored a number of other plastic designs but despite me loving many of them MIL decided they were not for her.

We stumbled onto the Wovenhill Website which specialises in rattan style furniture, and I quickly discovered I was onto a winner (wahay!!). They had several rattan style loungers, which are modern enough for my taste but stylish and traditional enough for hers.

I think we eventually found a winner in the Black Cuba design. And as luck would have it these are on special offer at the moment with £50 off, free delivery and the cushions and pads included in the price - even better. So not only did I help navigate the various options we found what she wanted in the sale! How good is that!

Hedgehog Awareness Week

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society are running the Hedgehog Awareness Week from 5th to the 11th May 2013 and hedgehoggy events are being organised all around the country! The Awareness Week is  takes place every year and highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how gardeners and allotment holders can help them.

This year efforts are particularly focussed on gardeners as there is so much that gardeners can do to help the hedgehog, the BHPS suggest a number of very simple things you can do for example:

  • Ensuring there is access into the garden (all that is needed is 5” square gap).
  • Checking areas before strimming or mowing.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping or reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.

BHPS Chief Executive, Fay Vass, Said “There is so much the gardener can do to help hedgehogs, and with hedgehog numbers in decline it is more important now than ever.  We have produced a poster highlighting dangers hedgehogs face in our gardens to mark this Hedgehog Awareness Week.”  

For a free copy of the poster and more information see the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website.

Greenspaces Improve Wellbeing

To many of the regular visitors to the parks and public green spaces in the UK the results of a recent study will not be much of a surprise as researchers from the University of Exeter say that parks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there.

The research used data collected from over 5,000 British households over the past seventeen years, which confirmed that living in a greener area with more open space had a significant positive effect, compared to those living in more densely built up areas with limited green space.

The results may be used to assist urban planners in which case they may well have an impact on society at large. The study, which has been published in the journal Psychological Science examined data from a national survey that followed more than 5,000 households containing over 10,000 adults from 1991 to 2008 as they moved house around the country. The participants were asked to comment on their own psychological health over the period to allow researchers to assess the "green space effect".

Hopefully this research really will be used by planners and developers to include more green space and bigger gardens on new housing estates, perhaps we may start to see an end to rabbit hutch estates with limited space. Perhaps... but unless the powers that be in whitehall take note and insist on changes then maybe change will not be so forthcoming. However lets remain optimistic!


Patio Planning

As regular readers will be aware I am planning something of a major overhaul to our patio area this year. We have been in our home for about 3 years or so now and have concentrated on the house, the rest of the garden and the allotment, but the turn has come for the patio.

I had mentioned about a pond, and sorting out the fencing, but another key element to the design will be the patio furniture itself. Our tired old plastic furniture just isn't up to the job any more, it wasn't particularly expensive and is past its best. But it won't be discarded I am going to take it down to the allotment as I think a flask of tea and a packed lunch will go down a treat on it!

So thinking about what to have next. Our neighbours have a fantastic swing seat (similar to this one at the Internet Gardener) on their patio, but as space is limited and I want to include a small pond, then I don't think I can fit one in.

I was having a bit of  look into what is available, and its is incredible just how many options there are, hardwood, plastic (some is very stylish and modern), rattan etc. Iam currently thinking of trying to get something of a lounge feel to the garden so am leaning towards rattan

One set I found I particularly like was this rattan garden sofa set from The Internet Gardener, complete with armchair and coffee table.The modern rattan garden sets are not actually made from the traditional rattan palm, but from a woven and usually reinforced plastic. This means they wont rot or get damaged as easily as rattan would when exposed to the weather. Many sets also feature all weather cushions, that are plastic coated rather than fabric so they wont absorb water and can be left out all summer long, it is still better to take them in over winter but you don't have to if space is limited.

I can just imagine us relaxing here on this after work or an evening on the allotment with a glass of wine and something nice to eat.

I still have so much more to think about, like lighting and the paving for instance, but for now I think I am pretty much sold on going for dark rattan.

Whilst I think I have made up my mind as to which one to go for there is still plenty of time to choose, we haven't started the hard landscaping work yet which means I need to choose the paving fairly soon!

Regardless its good fun to look at all the options!


Tulip Tree is A Living Fossil

A recent study has found that the genetic composition of the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is largely unchanged since the times of the dinosaurs a new study suggests. Changes to the Tulip Trees genomic change is about 2,000 times slower than in humans which make is a fascinating living fossil the team in the US have explained. This has helped changed sciences understanding of the evolution of the angiosperms (flowering plants), as many of the genes lost over the last 200 million years by other angiosperms have been retained by the Tulip Tree.

The study gives us some important information as to how mitochondrial DNA looked like as early flowering plants evolved, which is important in assisting researchers understand the make up of important food crops.

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.

Planning The Patio Makeover

Spring finally seems to have arrived and with it this year have come high winds, which can be incredibly frustrating, leading to quite a messy garden and causing some chaos on the allotment - frost fleece protecting early germinating crops was blow all over the place!

We have to replace a couple of fence panels by the patio as a result, although to be honest they needed doing last year and had been putting this job off. But the wind has brought that job forward!

I had mentioned a little while ago about upgrading the patio by giving it a makeover, so with new fence panels going up on one side I can concentrate on planning the rest of the changes.

At the moment the patio area really does need some new flooring, the old concrete flags are not that stylish, but whether we go for decking, stone or a nicer concrete finish, I have not really planned just yet what we will have.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago I am really keen on putting in a garden water feature. This has given me more to think about that I had originally planned, I want to keep fish - not koi but just typical goldfish. However I want to take my responsibilities to my new pets seriously, after all they will be pets  in the garden and so I would prefer them to be well looked after and also healthy and safe.

There are a lot of websites online dedicated to fish keeping, if you look into the set ups needed to keep koi to a good standard then this can be extremely expensive, but for a small goldfish pond the costs are far more reasonable. I have been looking at the Hozelock pond pumps (such as this one illustrated from the Sam Turner website), which can provide a feed to the filter that will be hidden next to the pond. Hozelock as a company are well known to me, and presumably many other gardeners, having an excellent reputation for hosepipes and other garden irrigation. But not only, I have discovered, do they produce irrigation they also make a number of pond products. Based on the quality of the equipment I have used previously I have no doubt that these will also be of a good quality.

Before we decide on the patio flooring we will add an electricity supply to the area, or rather we will get an electrician in to set this up for us.

Once that is in I can begin preparing the pond and landscaping before finally laying the new patio itself. I'm really looking forward to this all coming together and spending a lovely summer (hopefully!!!) enjoying spending time on the new patio (when I'm not chasing after fleece on the allotment!).

Beetroot Lowers Blood Pressure

Researchers have discovered that drinking a just one cup of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure.

Scientists from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, explain in the Hypertension Journal that nitrate in beetroot widens blood vessels which allows blood to flow more easily. They explain that the key is the high nitrate levels the vegetable contains.
Dr Amrita Ahluwalia explained "We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect.Our hope is that increasing one's intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ to improve cardiovascular health."
There is one amusing side effect of drinking beetroot as it can turn your urine pink.

Remember to discuss any planned changes to your diet with your doctor before implementing a new dietary regime.

UK Leads The World In Eco Burials

The UK leads the world when it comes to natural burial, thanks to this country’s unregulated funeral industry.

Although natural burial is increasing in popularity with over 270 sites having been created in the UK since 1993 (the majority of these in the last 10 years alone), people remain unaware of their freedom of choice when it comes to funeral arrangements. A recent MORI poll found that 70% of people would choose natural burial if they better understood it – the same percentage as those who currently opt for cremation. Funeral order of service always prefer to follow the tradition in which you get satisfaction whether it is natural eco burial or old cremation.

Landscape architect, Ann Sharrock, is hoping her show garden at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Gardening Show will help to raise awareness. Based on a natural burial site she created for the Felix Dennis Estate in Warwickshire, the garden is the antithesis of manicured cemeteries and contains few hard landscaping features to respect its rural location. Many such sites are designed to return to their natural state over the course of 50 years.

The rise in popularity of natural burial is wrongly attributed to environmental issues, as Rosie Inman-Cook of the Natural Death Centre explains:

Most people decide on a natural burial having attended such a service. They love the freedom and slow pace – you don’t have to have a hearse, for example. Some people have chosen to use a VW Camper van and one family even turned up with their grandmother’s coffin in her beloved Renault Clio.
The experience is time rich – there’s no sense of urgency and people can stay as long as they like at the graveside. I’ve visited sites with people who are terminally ill and it’s given them a great sense of relief to see their final resting place whether or not they have religious beliefs”.

Furthermore, natural burial is both ‘green’ and cost effective. Cremation uses fossil fuels and creates toxic fumes whilst traditional burial, because of the depth of a grave, can cause issues with methane. Likewise, the materials used to build a coffin are often non-biodegradable. Coffins used in natural burial are usually made from wicker or cardboard and can cost as little as £120.

Whatever type of burial we select, it is clear that there is a shortage of burial space. Within the UK Green Infrastructure typography, cemeteries and graveyards are seen as assets and Ann Sharrock believes urban areas, as well as rural areas, may well reap the advantages. A natural burial site provides a unique, bio-diverse environment helping to counteract air pollution and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the local community.

Both Ann Sharrock and Rosie Inman-Cook will be at the RHS Spring Show, being held from 9th – 12th May at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern. The Natural Burial Site Garden is Show Garden OS909.

For more information and to book tickets to the Malvern Show see here.

Monsanto Attempts to Patent Food

Industrial Biotech Giants, Monsanto and Co are at it again. These huge biotech companies have found a way to exclusively ‘own’ something that freely belongs to us all, our food!

They’re trying to patent away our everyday vegetables and fruits like cucumber, broccoli and melons, forcing growers to pay them and risk being sued if they don’t. But we can stop them from buying up Mother Earth. Companies like Monsanto have found loopholes in European law to get away with this, so we just need to close them shut before they set a dangerous global precedent.

And to do that, we need key countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands, where opposition is already growing, to call for a vote to stop Monsanto’s plans. The Avaaz community has shifted governments before, and we can do it again. Many farmers and politicians are already against this, we just need to bring in people power to pressure these countries to keep Monsanto’s hands off our food.

Sign now and share with everyone to help build the biggest food defence call ever.

Sign the Petition

Win a Fabulous Veg Box

Riverford delivers award-winning organic vegboxes and food fresh from the farm straight 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 10 May 2013. 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.

Water Features

I mentioned yesterday about adding irrigation to our patio, which got me thinking about giving it more of a makeover this year. I always think a garden is not complete without a pond. The patio area is not large but a reasonable sized pond with some goldfish and perhaps a small fountain would finish it off nicely.

The sound of water always adds another dimension to the garden, with a gentle trickle or small fountain obscuring the background noise - we are close to the main road so there is usually a hum of traffic which would be nice to disguise.

So we can get a good view of the fish I want to build a raised pond so that when you sit next to it you are pretty much at the same level as they are.

This is the sort of thing I am thinking of, built from railway sleepers rather than brick, so that its simple to put together and is not permanent if we change our mind and want to change the patio area or move it somewhere else. This will be able to sit on the patio slabs itself without having to dig down and disturb everything.

I want to use new sleepers rather than reclaimed ones. You can get them at most garden centers or builders merchants, and unlike reclaimed ones you dont get that smell or tar or the risk of tar on your clothes. Plus I can stain them to match the fences and tie everything together. By building it from sleepers the walls will be wide enough to sit on so it can double up as extra seating when we have visitors or just to allow me to sit on it with a glass of wine in an evening and feed the goldfish.

So that I can keep the fish healthy we will add a pond filter such as these from Bradshaws, which will be connected to a submersible pond pump. We already have a power supply onto the patio so this can simply be plugged in. Just in case you are thinking of doing the same make sure any power to the garden is protected by an RCD. As the pond itself won't be too big we don't need a huge filter, which is great so it can be easily hidden behind some of my summer pot displays.

Of course if you have the space you could have a much bigger pond and keep koi, but you will need a bigger filter. Goldfish are fairly easy to keep, and to be honest would probably do ok without a filter. But by adding a filter you avoid getting green water and keep the fish much healthier - they will probably grow bigger and better too.

Now all I need to do is plan the exact location and get started!


Watering Made Simple

This year one project we want to undertake on our patio is to introduce a drip irrigation system to take care of the pots, tubs and hanging baskets we intend to grow this year.

We are planning a very colourful display this year and in this recent post I shared some of our plans in relation to the bedding flowers we intend to grow. But as most gardeners will know a display using a lot of bedding plants will need to be fed and watered regularly especially when grown in pots as the plants will use up the nutrients quickly and pots tend to dry out quickly in warm weather.

With this in mind the obvious solution is to fit an irrigation system. There are plenty of kits and systems available, but I really fancy having an automatic system to ensure I dont forget to turn it on.

Hozelock are one of the market leaders when it comes to irrigation, like many gardeners I have a number of Hozelock products already, hosepipes, and spray guns for example. There are also plenty of timers available, but this computer controlled water timer has really caught my eye (Hozelock Aqua Control Pro 2701). It includes a rain sensor so you can save water when you don't need to water your plants. It is also very simple to use, with various pre-set watering settings and also the option to be fully programmable to your own needs. I wouldn't want mine to be watering in the middle of the day or even in the early evening - although a good time to water I would rather not get dripped on under the baskets when it comes on

There are several other computer controlled water timers available, you can spend over £100 on some timers, but for me the Hozelock has the features I want and is reasonably priced at about £54.

As well as the timer you will also need to fit a supply hose to supply the water to the pots. It is a good idea to plan this before placing your pots as it will be a lot harder to retro fit the pipe when all your pots and plants are in place. Doing it before allows you to hide the pipe. I don't really want to be able to see the black pipe at all, so will run it round the edge of the patio and hide it completely by the pots. In a couple of places where it will have to run along a wall I will probably paint it to match the white wall behind so it doesnt stand out.

The trick with the supply pipe is to have a bowl of warm water to hand when you fit it. If you have a tight bend to get round then place the pipe in the hot water to help soften it, you can then bend it into position without causing it to kink. Kinks would constrict the water flow/pressure and may mean that any pots near the end of the pipe run don't get enough water. For very tight bends you can buy rigid plastic angles connectors to get round the bend where it would be impossible not to kink the pipe.

Into the supply pipe you need to connect the micro pipe, which feeds the drippers and sprinklers. As I am watering pots and baskets I will just user drippers but if you were watering garden beds then sprinklers may be more suitable.

When it comes to the drippers there are a wide range available, see the huge selection listed on the Easy Watering website. I havent yet decided which to use, but will probably stick to the same type for the patio, perhaps adjusting the variety for the baskets.

With any luck I can enjoy the garden in the evenings after work without having to spend any time watering. Although knowing me I will find something else to do.


MPs call for Pesticides linked to Bumblebee deaths to be Banned

Members of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee have suggested that the government should suspend the use of a number of pesticides linked to the deaths of bees. The committe are calling for a moratorium on the use of sprays containing neonicotinoids.

Britain has so far refused to back an EU ban on these particular chemicals saying their impact on bees is unclear. But MPs say this is an "extraordinarily complacent" approach. Wild species such as honey bees are said by researchers to be responsible for pollinating around one-third of the world's crop production.

The report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee was published today, acknowledges that no-one knows the exact reason why two-thirds of the insects that pollinate plants are disappearing. Possible causes may also include climate change, or disease as well as the loss of habitat. However increasing amounts of research now suggests that the pesticides are to blame. The findings somewhat unsurprisingly are disputed by the very chemical firms who make the poisons. They have engaged their own scientists who have produced their own findings, but they will not allow independent scientists to review their work. In other words the chemical firms are fudging the issue as they want to make money at the bumblebees expense.


Getting the Most from your Greenhouse in April

With Spring hopefully just around the corner and some (slightly) warmer temperatures on the horizon its a good time to plan your April sowing in the greenhouse.

Gabriel Ash Wooden Lean-To Greenhouse
As it has been a cold start to spring this year many of the seeds that would normally be started in March have been better off delayed until April. It is warming slightly with the negative temperatures almost behind us. I have several packets of vegetable seeds to sow in the greenhouse this weekend for the allotment.
  • Tomatoes, the greenhouse favourite. Easy to grow and great to get children involved. 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 

  • Peppers, these do need a long season to do well, and are best grown in a hot greenhouse for the best results. 

  • Aubergines, again now is roughly the right time to get started, grow them on and then plant out after the frosts have gone. 

  • Celery/celeriac will need some heat to germinate. As there has been a bit more sun about - my greenhouse got up to 19C yesterday it should now be safe to start off your celery. Check our guide from last year.

  • Courgettes, can be started from late March so should now be ok.

  • Squashes, I start several seeds off each week in March and April

  • Cucumbers, I love home grown cucumbers, they have a much better taste than in the supermarket.

  • Melons, it may still be a little early as they can grow quickly and may get too large before the danger of frosts have passed. However I will start some off this weekend and some more over the next couple of weeks.
Tomato seedlings
As well as the vegetables mentioned above Early April is also a good time to sow a number of flowers for the garden. By starting them in your greenhouse now they will be big enough to harden off in May and planted out towards the end of May when all danger of frost is hopefully behind us (although knowing the weather this year this may be wishful thinking!!)

Young marigold seedlings
  • Sunflowers can be sown now in pots in the greenhouse or towards the end of the month in situ in the garden.

  • Nasturtiums can be sown in pots and seed trays now. But keep them undercover as frosts will kill off the young plants. When hardening them off in May bring them back into the greenhouse at night. Even under glass if the temperatures fall and you don't heat then it is worth covering over with horticultural fleece at night

  • Petunia seeds should be sown in by the first week of April so that your plants can achieve a  decent size in time for a good summer display.

  • Scabiosa make great cut flowers and will attract bees and butterflies into the garden

  • It is not too late to sow your marigolds now in the greenhouse to include in your summer pots and baskets. But again remember to cover over with fleece on colder nights and when hardening off bring them back into teh greenhouse at night.

  • There are many other summer bedding plants such as Salvia, Ageratum and Zinnia that can be started this month to ensure a bright and colourful display this summer.
Beautiful wooden greenhouse from Gabriel Ash
If you are like me and buy plenty of seeds the previous year, often in the end of season sales, it is worth searching out where you have tucked them away (in that safe place!!) as there will be plenty that you can sow in April. Although many need to get sown early in the month for a quality summer display.


Vegetable Growing for 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!
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