Happy Christmas From The Diligent Gardener

Merry Christmas everyone from The Diligent Gardener

Delicious Parsnips

Parsnips are one of the best vegetables for winter with a lovey nutty taste and there are so many wonderful ways to prepare them. Heres a few I love.

Parmesan crusted Parsnips.
Cook the parsnips in boiling salted water until tender. Add oil to baking tray and sprinkle grated parmesan, polenta and mustard powder, heat for about five minutes and then add the parsnips, and transfer the tray to the oven cooking for about 30 to 40 minutes turning at least once.

Parsnip Crisps.
Use a swivel blade peeler to peel strips from the parsnips. Coat them in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place them in backing trays in single layers and bake for about 30 minutes until they are crisp  Grind sea salt over them and eat them hot.

Roast parsnips
Cut your parsnips into bite sized chunks and simmer in boiling water for about five minutes. Preheat your oven and a baking tray with oil. Remove the parsnips and add them to the hot tray, ensuring you coat them all in the oil. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes turning at least once. Serve whilst hot.

If you do make the crisps then its worth making a lot at they are very moorish and I find they get eaten very quickly. You can make vegetable crisps from other vegetables for extra variety.

Creative Places To Set Up An Allotment

Securing and setting up an allotment can be a challenge, but there are innovative options for the creative and driven…

Despite the legal obligations of authorities to provide allotments, and even new affordable options for securing allotment insurance, the dream of flexing green thumbs and embracing sustainability doesn’t always play out as smoothly or quickly as imagined.

Aspiring gardeners in central London can certainly find allotment waiting lists long, even after property is designated. Between travel costs, commuting times, and finding a loo in semi-rural allotment locations more and more individuals and families are increasingly turning to more creative allotment and growing strategies.

Prime Central Living with a Vertical Veg Edge
Vertical Veg master Mark Ridsdill Smith who has spoken at Kew Gardens, the London Permaculture Festival, and Manchester International Festival, Ideal Home Show, and on television, tells the Guardian of his move to grow at home and how “the happiness he found completely changed his life.” After discovering the local allotment waiting list would have meant he would have long died of old age before getting to plant his first seedling in the ground Smith began his veg empire from his small London balcony. He has since grown hundreds of pounds worth of produce.

Urbanites are also seeing builders increasingly including more eco-friendly and sustainable elements within their designs which incorporate or achieve some of the same goals. For example; Carlton House in London has integrated solar, rainwater harvesting, living walls and rooftop gardens, while ensuring each apartment unit has its own private balcony.

Growing Higher
Inner city innovators can find rooftops a natural choice. In fact, rooftop gardens can be adopted everywhere. What’s really interesting is just how many rooftops are available as allotments. It’s not just limited to going it alone at home by any means. Facebook’s legendary new campus in California is to sport a rooftop garden, and in New York one farm took over the roof of a bowling alley, and is now selling its produce to high end supermarkets, celebrity chef Mario Batali’s Eataly and in NYC’s highly acclaimed Gramercy Tavern. For many their workplaces could provide allotment space to help fulfill corporate responsibility goals, increase appeal to eco-friendly staff, and build in more community and team loyalty.

Deeper Roots
One London project has launched a 2.5 acre farm 100 feet under the surface. Zero Carbon’s hydroponic system claims to use 70% less water than open farming. The first round of produce was expected to yield broccoli, garlic, mustard, Thai basil and other herbs.

Keeping it Behind Closed Doors
Fortunately, you don’t have to have a nice boss, rooftop, World War II bunker under your home, or even a balcony to have your own ‘allotment’. In Chicago, NYC and Detroit urban farmers have been taking over abandoned property. In Chicago this has resulted in a 90,000 square foot warehouse being turned into an indoor organic farm. In New York new pioneers are combining growing, education and revitalization with aquaponics. A new aquaponics kit from Portable Farms claims a modest 3m x 6m unit will produce 1,100 vegetables and 400 pounds of fish for owners each year.

Get Growing

Evidently, location and available green space aren’t a big of a challenge to those serious about getting their own allotments and growing their own organic and sustainable gardens after all. Individuals and small groups of residents looking to find out more about their entitlements to traditional allotments can discover more from Channel 4’s programme ‘How to Start an Allotment’ and those interested in securing their investment with allotment insurance may check out more details from Shield Total Insurance which works closely with the National Allotment Society.

5 Tips on How to Make Your Sun Room the Best Room

The sun room is the ideal room for daytime relaxation; an unspoiled view of your beautiful garden, great natural lighting, and natural warmth only serve to soothe the mind and body. But what can be done to really make the most of a wonderful space such as a sun room? Here are some great tips for cultivating the most comfortable and clear space in your home.
Bring some of your beautiful garden into your sunroom, metaphorically break that barrier between you and the outside world! A few select potted plants and small trees, strategically placed in corners of your sun room towards your garden, will serve to blur the lines between outside and in, and provide a fresh, relaxing feel to the room in the same breath.
The Right Flooring
When considering how to go about decorating your sunroom, the flooring is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. What goes down, and what lays on top, really pulls everything together. Light colours work best, reflecting instead of absorbing sunlight and consequently brightening the room yet more; studies show that lighter, cooler colours like blue and green are the best for projecting calm and harmony into a room. A rough-pile rug would add some texture, and provide a slip-free surface for any coffee tables or central furniture.
A Day Bed
Since much of your weekend relaxation will be taking place in this arena of light and colour, why not invest in a comfortable day-bed to take the weight off your legs? It would allow for stress-free napping, while adding to the room’s décor in whatever stylish design you choose. It would also double as a handy sofa/lounging space for family and guests alike – the perfect multi-use piece of furniture for your sunroom.
Art Features
Rather than seeking to clutter your sunroom with all sorts of furniture, keep storage to a minimum, seating a priority, and tactfully use some house-ward corner space to display some visual art – a sculpture or arrangement goes a long way to promoting relaxation and introspection, provides a talking point for when hosting guests, and in general another beautiful thing to take in as you sit.
A nice set of curtains would serve not only to block the sun out! Purple, being another relaxing colour, would provide an interesting frame to the outside world when undrawn - and implicitly also a beautiful feature for your walls – and when drawn, obscure your belongings from view and ostensibly prevent any opportunistic burglaries. Practical and aesthetically pleasing!

Hanging Basket Challenge

We have been challenged by Plant Me Now to create a hanging basket design for next year. Our normal approach to creating our baskets on the patio is to cram various bedding plants in left over from doing the pots without too much thought. So actually planning the basket has been a fun and different approach.

Our central plant in our basket design is Fuchsia Snowcap an upright variety that produces masses of semi-double red and white flowers all summer long.

This Fuchsia has an RHS award for garden merit and its easy to see why, with fantastic vivid flowers. In Fuchsia circles its a famous variety bred more than a hundred years ago and still very popular.

It is equally happy in cool shade or alternatively in sun so it works well as a basket plant. It can be kept alive for the following year if you over winter in a frost free place such as your greenhouse.

We have selected a number of plants from the Plant Me Now's fine selection of bedding plants.  Around our focal point we will plant petunias (Petunia Fanfare Royal Purple), Verbena (Aztec Burgandy and Estrella Pink Star)

Petunia Fanfare Royal Purple is a trailing Petunia with a naturally compact habit. This variety flowers early and produces masses of large brightly coloured flowers, that last all Summer long. Making it an outstanding patio performer, in baskets and containers. Verbena Estrella Pink Star is a upright/semi-trailing variety of Verbena that performs well in full sun or part shade and flowers from June to August.

To tone down the pink just a little and pick up on the white of the Fuchsia flowers we have also added a double white Calibrachoa - Can Can.

Softening the edge of the basket we have added Lysimachia nummularis Aurea which is a trailing lysimachia.

To care for your basket remember not to hang out side until all risk of frost has passed. Do remember to water every day and dont allow your basket to dry out. There are often many plants in a small space so it is important to give them lots of water. Feed them weekly with a general purpose fertiliser. If you dead-head the flowers after they have finished you will keep the basket looking good for a longer time.

Here is a sketch of our design

So there you have it, what do you think?


Things to Grow in the November Allotment

Although the weather is still reasonably mild, and lots of trees are still hanging on to their leaves, there are plenty of signs that winter is on its way now. The days are getting shorter and after the clock went back last weekend its dark in the evening too. Frosts will soon be 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 varieties being 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 handy guide on how to grow garlic. 

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.

Whatever you choose to grow enjoy it and keep warm!


3 Chances to Win our TD368 Plastic Garden Cupboard worth £59.88 each!

Filplastic shelving unit
In spring 2014 Filplastic introduced a range of plastic shelving & cupboards, perfect for outdoor use. We’re giving away 3 of our most popular plastic cupboards, the TD368.  The model has 4 adjustable shelves, and a compartment to store brushes or garden tools. It is lockable with a padlock (not supplied) and made from 100% recycled material. To see more about this model, plus the full range please visit

The cupboard retails at £39.95, plus delivery and VAT making a total of £59.88 per unit. We will deliver to the competition prize to anywhere on the UK mainland. The competition closing date is 21/11/14, winners will be notified

To be in with a chance simply tell us what you plan to store in your cupboard, should you be one of the 3 lucky winners.             

Extra entries can be made by sharing this competition on facebook via the Diligent Gardener Page.

Extending the season

With winter fast approaching, now is the time to do a little garden prepping. From storing summer furniture in the garage, to transplanting any delicate plants from the garden to pots and moving them indoors, there are a number of factors to consider.

Dealing with the cold frosty weather

Harsh weather, particularly frost, can trigger a freezing process to take place in the water in plant cells. When this happens, plants appear blackened, limp and distorted. Even hardy plants can be damaged by severe spells of cold weather.

In order to prevent this damage, it’s wise to choose plants suited to your local climate. If you have the room, transfer any smaller plants indoors. Asides from plants, harsh winter weather can also have an affect on the home’s exterior.

From loose roofing ties to broken garden fences and cars damaged by debris, storm damage isn’t uncommon today. If you don’t already have home insurance in place, now may be the time to enquire about a More Than home insurance quote.

In the case of accidental storm damage, you can turn to your insurance provider instead of having to deal with any unplanned damage alone.

Growing herbs indoors

Growing herbs indoors allows keen cooks to enjoy the pleasures of freshly picked herbs each and every season. The likes of coriander, basil, mint and wild bergamot will all come in handy when garnishing warming winter soups and creating tasty Christmas dinners.

When moving these plants indoors, it’s important to do so carefully. Begin by digging around the roots to avoid damaging them and place them in a pot that is big enough to allow them to breath.

If you have a conservatory, this is a great place to put herbs, tender perennials and immature annuals whilst the weather is a little on the cold side. Once spring arrives, simply return them back to their rightful place in the garden.

Brightening up the home

As well as growing plants indoors, flowers can add a great deal of warmth to the home’s interior come Christmas time. Opt for floral arrangements in red, orange, yellow and green.

A vase of hot-hued flowers will make a great table centrepiece this festive season.

Are You Replacing Garden Tools Unnecessarily?

Do you recognise this scenario? You’ve done a heavy but satisfying day in the garden of weeding, pruning and digging. The hot bath and the drink with your name on it are calling to you. You know you really should clean your tools before putting them away, but surely that’ll wait until tomorrow? Carrying out simple maintenance directly after using your tools should make them last, but if you do need to replace, never buy ‘cheap and cheerful’. Investing in top quality hand tools that will last, is the smart option.

Ditch That Dirt
Make sure you wash the dirt off thoroughly. Use a hose and if you’ve let the dirt dry, have a stiff brush handy to remove stubborn bits. If your pruning shears have sap on them, you may need a solvent to shift this. It may seem obvious but once the tool is clean, dry it completely. Have a towel handy in the shed or garage for this purpose.

Even if you think your tools are rustproof, it’s still a sensible idea to oil them. This has the added benefit of stopping them seizing up. Ever own a pair of secateurs that gave you an RSI from using them? Keep them greased.

During the winter, it’s a good idea to have some tools sharpened, depending on how much they’ve been used. Spades, trowels, hoes and forks all benefit from sharpening. You could use a grinder or sharpening file and do it yourself, or take it to a garden centre that offers this service. Hedgetrimmers, etc, should probably be left to a professional.

Power Tools
As careful as you might be with corded power tools, it’s worth checking the cables on a regular basis for splits, nasty kinks or frays. If you catch problems early, they can be easily rectified; far better than taking a trip in an ambulance!

Simple Checks
Check those handles. Imagine what damage a pick axe could do if the handle was loose. Wooden handles are prone to drying out and splitting, so you may need to replace some.

If your garden tools are all piled in a corner or shoved in a shed, isn’t it more difficult to find what you need? Having a peg board for smaller items and wall hooks for larger tools can make life much easier. It also keeps them off the ground, where the damp can reach them.  

If you love gardening, then you should also love your tools. The amount of time invested in maintaining them will pay dividends.

How to Create an Exotic Garden Pond

Garden ponds add a great point of interest to your garden and they can also help to improve the environment by creating a safe and diverse habitat for many different species. From frogs and newts to harmless leeches and freshwater mussels, a variety of different fish to the Great Pond Snail, a pond can be a great home and resting place for a whole host of wildlife. Garden ponds also provide fresh drinking water for birds and mammals, and it also gives them a safe area to cool off in the hot summer season. So keeping your pond thriving all year round is very important and beneficial to the environment.

If you want to create an exotic garden pond, full of interesting wildlife and plantlife, read on to find out how.

Agave on edge of Koi Pond

Choose Interesting Plants
There are many ways of making your garden pond look exotic; whether you want to choose an Eastern landscaping theme or you just want to bring together an eclectic and colourful mix of flora and fauna, an exotic pond can be engineered from your choice of plantlife. When digging your pond, be sure to dig different levels in the ground to create plant shelves. Plant shelves at all levels are essential if you want to create diversity and variety; different plants will need to be planted at different heights to the water level.

In the UK, we are not blessed with tropical weather but it isn’t completely impossible to create a tropical-inspired garden. If you want something different to a traditional English garden, take a look at the tropical garden design on for inspiration.
 Exotic planting approaching the new Koi Pond

Add a Stylish Water Feature
Water features are one of the easiest and quickest ways of adding another dimension to your pond design. Does your garden pond currently look a bit lacklustre and boring? Add a water feature such as a beautiful fountain or a tumbling waterfall and you can really turn your pond into a focal point on your garden.

Installing a water feature will not only make your garden look pretty but the sound of trickling water or the soft surge of a waterfall is extremely relaxing. For pond landscaping supplies, visit All Pond Solutions for a wide range of products including fountain and waterfall pumps and pond liners.  

Exotic Fish
If you’re a keen fish keeper or breeder, there are some very beautiful and exotic species you could keep in your outdoor pond, including the very desirable and sought after koi carp. The information on this website tells you how to build the perfect outdoor pond for keeping koi and also advices on how to feed them.
 Koi Pond

Other interesting fish species you can keep in a cold outdoor garden pond include the beautifully pattern shubunkins, sarasa comets, golden orfe, and tench. 

The Best Ways to Decorate your Garden

Hilliers Risk Garden At Chelsea Flower Show 2013Even the most attentive gardeners can still occasionally be guilty of letting their little piece of land become a bit ordinary and dull. Yes, you may keep the lawn nice and tidy, but it might be that you’re at a bit of a loss as to what you can do to decorate your garden, and turn into something paradisiacal that you are proud to show off, or content to simply sit in and relax.

Whatever your horticultural prowess, you’ll be pleased to know there are things you can adorn your garden with, both natural and man-made, that can bring your personal plot to life. Here is a selection of these effective approaches:

The Natural Way
Much like your lush, emerald grass, Mother Nature has provided you with a wealth of natural resources you can use to improve your garden:

·         Colourful Plant Selections: You can easily source pre-potted plants or seeds (if you fancy being more green-fingered) and by simply adding a few rows of brightly coloured plants that are specific to that growing season, you can really improve its appearance.

Hilliers Risk Garden At Chelsea Flower Show 2013
      Herbs and Scents: It’s not all about what you can see; you can grow some fragrant herbs or other plants like tarragon and jasmine, that can provide other sensory stimulation through their sweet perfumes and scents.

·         Creeping Ivy: As the name suggests, this plant can give a wonderful natural look as it grows around archways and entrances. Some even have it growing on their house walls, literally linking their home to their garden.

The Human Touch
You don’t have to solely rely on what the earth can offer though, as a race we are quite inventive and there are a huge number of man-made products that can equally provide fantastic decorations:
·         Ornaments: This can range from more traditional ceramic pots, to alabaster statues, or even rusted iron masonry. This really is down to you, but by dotting a few ornaments around your garden or amongst your plants, you can give it a truly unique edge.

·         Outdoor Lighting: By mounting lights on walls or hanging them around your garden, you can create a variety of different moods and atmospheres. You need to ensure you source durable and reliable makes though from a trusted retailer like Scotlight Commercial Lighting Ltd to ensure they are safe and stand up to the weather.
Hilliers Risk Garden At Chelsea Flower Show 2013

·         Furniture: A simple feature is to have garden furniture, this creates somewhere to gather and socialise and can give a complete and homely feel to your land.

So if you think your garden could do with a bit of a facelift, don’t continue to leave it languishing in mediocrity, get decorating now and turn it back into your own little Eden.

Winter Storage: Caring for your Garden Tools

Those glorious (well mostly, glorious) summer months are coming to a close for another year and unfortunately that means goodbye sunshine and BBQs and hello autumn. It’s getting pretty chilly around here and all too quickly for my liking, and all of this cold weather has got me thinking about starting to plan for those long winter months.

As you can no doubt tell, we adore our garden and everything that goes in it, from our beloved Koi to our countless tropical of plants, but don’t be fooled, it’s not just your plants that require round the calendar maintenance. Before those rainy months are upon us it is important to consider storage for all of those items you won’t be using for some time. Here are some helpful tips for storing those important garden items and keeping safe for next year.

Cleaning Process
Before I even consider putting my tools away it’s time to do a thorough clean. My tools are important to me and so it’s important to make sure you look after them properly. Ensure you get rid of any soil and ground in dirt from the blades, I always find that a sponge and a large tub of warm soapy water makes this task a whole lot easier – and don’t forget to clean those handles too. Next I leave the tools to dry out properly and then oil them, especially if they are becoming a little tough to use.

One particularly important tool to me is our lawnmower. I’ll be honest, I barely use the lawnmower over the winter months as the weather very rarely allows it and so it’s often in storage until the weather warms up a little. I take extra care and attention when getting this ready for storage. Whether you use petrol or oil in your lawnmower it’s important to drain any liquid from the tank. I then clean and wipe down the whole lawnmower body, including those hard to reach places, which is something I also do with our garden strimmer too. 

Whether you have a large or a small garden, there’s one thing that we all seem to lack – space. I don’t know about you, but there just never seems to be enough room to store all of my garden tool, but if you want to keep them in good working condition then it’s vital you keep them undercover and out of the way of adverse weather conditions. Adding shelving and hooks to your shed walls is an incredible space saving idea, especially when you’re lacking in space like us!

We use our shed to store just about every garden related item you could ever need, as it means our house is not cluttered up for months on end. Garden storage such as sheds and plastic shelving units are fantastic as they keep the bad weather at bay and protect those all important tools from rusting or weather related damage. Even if you have the smallest of gardens it’s worth shopping around for garden shed. I find that companies such as
Garden Store Direct are a fantastic place to look for garden sheds and cabinets (amongst other furniture) of all sizes.

I hope this post helps you to make the most of your garden storage space this winter and helps you to take care of those tools too!

Organising Your Garden in Time for Winter

Sadly, after a long and at times boiling hot summer, the winter months are coming and that means that the nights are drawing in, the days are becoming shorter, and that we’re more susceptible to rain. All in all, this means that the time we spend out in the garden is becoming incredibly limited. The bad (even worse news) is that once the autumn is over, we’re really struggling for time, and that’s why you have to ensure that you get your garden ready for the winter months now. Here’s how you can do just that:   

Tidy the Borders:
Autumn is the best time of year to dig up and remove poorly placed plants because the soil is still warm… it can also help you tidy those overcrowded areas! Cut back any faded perennials to around 5cm before adding a thick layer of compost, bark chips or manure. Because of the time of year, the worms will even do the digging in for you. This will leave you with fresh, tidy borders that will last the winter.

Plant Your Evergreens Early
To complement your tidy borders, you’ll want plants that keep your garden interesting. If not, it can look rather like a desolate landscape and can leave you feeling like you shouldn’t have bothered all summer at all.
The more evergreens you plant now, the better your garden will look in the winter, so fill the gaps in your borders with evergreens sooner rather than later. The choice of evergreen is up to you, and from Sarcococca to Fatsia, there are a number of great options available.

Prepare Your Equipment As Well As Your Garden
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our gardens and the way that they look that we forget about the tools that make it all possible. Ensure that all of your tools are stored carefully and securely for the winter, but don’t forget to give them some TLC first. Ensure all shears are sharpened, all spades are washed and all other tools are oiled to prevent rust.

Once you’ve washed and prepared them, treat them properly. Invest in a quality shed from ilikesheds and be safe in the knowledge that after the winter months, your tools will be in the exact pristine state that you left them in. Most places now even offer 48 hour delivery, so you can order now and have one by next weekend.

So, there we have it, three ways that you can make your garden (and the equipment in it) ready for winter. 

Saving Water in The Garden

With the latest water bill landing on the door mat recently, that covered our use over the summer period and complaints from my other half that the bill has gone up again, I thought it would be worthwhile to explore some of the many ways of saving water in the garden in particular. As well as the garden there are lots of ways to save water in the home as well, Happier Homes have some great ideas for saving water.

Water butts
One way to reduce the amount of tap water you use in watering is to collect rain water. Water butts added to the guttering on your greenhouse, shed or ever the drainpipes on your house will soon fill up and give you a renewable source of water for a one off cost at the start. Almost any container can be used to collect water, and old IBC containers can be bought for a similar price to a water butt, however they can hold 1,000 liters which is a huge amount of water to save.

Choosing the right pots and containers
Terracotta pots dry out much quicker than plastic ones. Most people however prefer the look of terracotta, so line the pot with plastic, to get the nicer look, but the water saving properties, Also make sure you mulch the top of the soil with gravel to reduce water loss. This will also cut down weeds and may well look better too.

Selecting the best plants
By choosing plants that prefer dryer conditions your water needs will be less. Choosing Mediterranean plants such as lavender, rosemary and plants with silvery leaves, all have lower water needs and so can tolerate less frequent watering.

Reusing water
Watering the garden with so called Gray water- if water that has had a use already means less goes to water. If you select washing liquids and powders that are ecological and safe for a septic tank then your garden plants will have no problem in being watered with this water. Using a washing up bowl and then putting the waste water on the garden will keep the plants healthy and slash your water use and costs.

Mulching the borders
As well as pots mentioned above you can mulch the borders with bark chippings that will reduce weeds, keep the moisture in and also look good. The bark gradually breaks down improving the soil, and will need to be topped up from time to time. By reducing weeds your plants will have less competition for water and nutrients so should perform better.

I'm looking forward to seeing the impact next year and hopefully a lower bill this time next year, for more water saving tips check out Happier Homes.

5 Essential Ways to Prepare Your Chickens for Winter

Chickens are surprisingly good at keeping themselves warm, with around 8,500 feathers; a chicken will fluff them up, trap air under her down and keep warm and cosy for hours. However, extremely cold weather and damp will leave your chickens feeling chilly and uncomfortable so it’s important to prepare your chickens and their coop for the winter months.

This post, written by coop specialists Eggshell Online, will talk you through the best ways to keep your chickens happy throughout the winter:

Protecting Your Coop from Drafts

Contrary to common belief, your chickens don’t need insulated houses to keep warm in winter; keeping your coop closed up can make the air unhealthy and can lead to nasty respiratory diseases in your birds. What’s important is keeping your coops ventilated whilst still protecting your chickens from cold winds and drafts, so block up any large gaps and place vents up high, near the roof.

 Heating – It’s Your Call

Most chickens, particularly the hardy breeds will not need heat lamps. If you do decide to heat your coops you must do it correctly – by heating the whole coop. The problem with using just one heat lamp or only heating a section of the hen house is that the birds will only be warm when their under the lamp. Once they move to reach the food or water they can become very cold, very quickly as they won’t have their feathers fluffed up – it’s not good for them to go from one extreme temperature to another. The alternative is that you leave your coop completely unheated, birds will huddle together to keep themselves warm.

Keeping Floors Clean and Dry

It’s vital that cleanliness is still a priority in your chicken coop throughout winter, it must be kept as dry as possible; their droppings can create a lot of moisture so regularly shovelling out in your coop is essential. Make sure you have a good supply of shavings to lay on the floor to keep it nice and dry.

The ground where your chickens can roam around outside needs to be well maintained too, the cold weather won’t bother them too much but they don’t like walking in snow! Try to create a snow free space for them outside by clearing some of it away, if this isn’t possible then lay some logs down and they will use those to avoid the cold ground. Adding a layer of hay over the snow can also help cheer your birds up.

Lighting Your Coop

Chickens love sunlight and during the cold months it’s not unusual for you to see a significant drop in egg production, you can try to counter this by using light bulbs. Chickens needs fourteen hours of sunlight per day for optimal egg laying conditions so many people choose to use a light on a timer. This should be turned on in the early morning but it shouldn’t be used through the night, make sure it’s turned off before nightfall, this gives your chickens chance to naturally acclimatise to the evening light and settle into their roosts before dark. 

Food and Water Needs

Your chickens, just like any other animal, need a constant supply of fresh water at their disposal, this means you need to find a way of combatting freezing water in your coop. You can do this by placing your water containers directly on top of a base heater or you could invest in a heated water dish.

Your chickens will use extra calories keeping warm in the colder months so upping their food intake slightly will help keep them at a healthy weight. It can get a little boring for your birds with less room to roam so hide treats or hang veggies such as cabbages from the coop for them to peck at.

Although your chickens do need to be protected during the winter months it’s still important to give them their freedom, they’re tougher than people think - let them out regularly to roam around, if they don’t want to be outside they’ll soon head back into the coop on their own accord.

Win a Delicious Healthy Veg Box

Riverford delivers healthy delicious and award-winning organic vegboxes and other food fresh straight  from the farm to your door and for this months competition we have one of their fantastic well packed 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 £10.35 for the small classic vegebox. 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 meat 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 and who you would love to cook the meal for.

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

Garden Storage Options for Your Tools and Bikes this Winter

Those cold winter months are just around the corner and that means that if you’ve not already started, then it is time to start making preparations for your garden. It may be hard to believe, but a garden is not all about your luscious lawn and well-tended shrubs and beautiful flower beds. From your BBQ to your bike to that abundance of garden tools you’ve collected over the years, there are just so many items that require protection from the harsh weather conditions. With those chilly, autumnal days are fast approaching and so there really is no better time to consider your winter storage options.

“Spring” Clean

It’s important to keep your garden tools out of the wind and rain and the more you look after your tools, the longer they’ll last. Ensure you clean them properly before storing them, or else they could rust or become stiff before spring arrives. A warm bucket of soapy water and a household sponge are the easiest way in which to do so, but be sure to clean those hard to reach places too.

If you’ve decided to put your bike into storage for the winter months or even just for a few days, then you’ll most likely want to consider giving it a clean and a quick check up before you do. You may already carry out a yearly service on your bike to make sure that is in safe, working order but it’s vital that your bike is cleaned and oiled regularly too. Especially if it’s going to go untouched for a few months, or else you run the risk of it rusting or tainting. 

Storage Facilities

Garden storage is a must for any garden and no matter how big or small your garden may be, there are plenty of options available to you. The garden shed is nothing new, having been a firm fixture in back gardens for many, many years and are the obvious solution to storing a whole host of items. Whether you opt for a metal, plastic or wooden frame, making room for a garden shed can help you to keep your garden tidy and your tools safe and secure.

It’s so important that you utilise the space inside your shed as best you can, especially if your shed isn’t the largest.
Clever space saving ideas such as mounting your tools to the wall of your shed, or turning old plant pots into storage containers.

Cycling seems to have become somewhat of a staple hobby for a huge amount of people this summer thanks to the Tour de France arriving in the UK. If you’d rather not store your expensive bikes with your lawnmower, then fear not, as there is an easy solution. Companies such as
Sheds and Things offer a range of bike storage options and whether you want to store one bike or four, they come in a range of sizes to suit you (and your garden).

Winter aside, keeping your tools, your bike and other garden items stored correctly is extremely important, not just in terms of maintenance, but in terms of security too.

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