Category Archives: Gardening

How to Grow Your Own Herbs

The nutritional rewards and sense of achievement in growing your own herb just cannot be compared. Even if you are short on space and do not even have a garden, it is not impossible. The thrill of harvesting your own herb is incomparable. Of course, it is going to take work and you do need some essential items initially. But it is nowhere near as difficult as you would imagine.

How to Grow Your Own Herbs How to Grow Your Own Herbs

Growing your own herbs provides you not only with delicious ingredients for recipes and tasty surprises for your salads, but also wonderful colors and aromas that you can enjoy all year round. There is no comparison with freshly picked herbs that you have grown for yourself; dried herbs come nowhere near. Most of the herbs love warm, sunny spots, so windowsills and window boxes are ideal. This helps them develop their distinctive aromas and it makes your kitchen smell fresh too.

Ideal Herbs

There is a wonderful variety of herbs that you can grow; the first three in this list are the most hardy and useful. You can either buy them as tiny plants or you can grow them from seed:

Basil: A wonderful, sweet aniseed flavor, great with baked tomatoes or buttered carrots.

Chives: These have a fantastic onion flavor and they have got pretty, lilac pink flowers.

Mint: This will grow and grow, so make sure you do not let it get too big. It is fantastic with potatoes and you can make your own mint sauce. Try freezing it in ice cube trays so you have always got some.

Parsley: Cut off any flowers that form and you can harvest all year round. Each plant should last for at least two years.

Rosemary: This is an evergreen plant that gives you a warm, savoury flavor and is fantastic in stuffings and with lamb.

Sage: An aromatic evergreen bush. It has pretty leaves and you can buy a purple variety. Both types are great with meat.

Thyme: Delicious savoury, aromatic leaves. Can be gathered all year round. Try lemon thyme for a really strong flavor.

Drying and Freezing Your Herbs

Herbs have maximum flavor just before they flower. So cut and dry them, put the shoots in a brown paper bag and store them. Crush them when they are dry and put them in airtight containers. This will retain their flavor. Some herbs lose their flavor when they are dried, but you can freeze these. Put sprigs of mint and parsley into an ice cube tray, or put sprigs of herbs into plastic bags, and freeze them. They will not keep their shape, but they will keep most of their flavor.

How to Grow Your Own Vegetables

Like all plants, vegetables are going to need soil, nutrients, water and sunlight. But they can be grown as easily on a small patio or beside your back door, or even on a windowsill. Some people even grow them completely indoors beside a sunny window. You can grow vegetables all year round using rotation, switching the type of vegetables you are growing to suit the seasons. The added bonus is that you are not only going to be able to eat the vegetables, but the plants themselves are a really attractive addition to your patio whilst they are growing.

How to Grow Your Own Vegetables How to Grow Your Own Vegetables

Choosing the Right Kind of Vegetables

Do not worry if you do not have an enormous amount of space. A window box can supply you with enough salad to last you through the summer. Plenty of vegetables can be grown in pots, and potatoes can be grown in bags or in a stack of tyres or a dustbin. Think organic – you will not need to spend on fertilizers or growth enhancers and you are unlikely to need insecticides. Your choice of vegetables includes:

  • cress
  • tomatoes
  • salad leaves
  • potatoes
  • beans and peas
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • courgettes/zucchini
  • broccoli

Pots

Here are some examples of how you can grow your own fruit and vegetables with very little space, time or effort:

Tomatoes: All they need is a generous pot space. Water them daily and feed them about once a week with a regularly available proprietary tomato food. Nip out the side shoots to encourage them to fruit.

Salad leaves: Lambs lettuce, rocket or quick-growing radishes are all ideal. You can get salad all summer from a handful of plants. Sow them from seed at two-week intervals for a continuous supply.

Strawberries: They could not be easier to grow in a pot or in a window box. They like rich soil and you must not allow them to dry out. Watch the white flowers turn into fruit, but be careful to cover them with some netting so the birds don’t eat them first!

Carrier bags

Potatoes are the ideal candidates for carrier-bag cultivation. Notice how your store-bought potatoes begin to sprout after a week or so? Carefully select the ones with the healthiest looking sprouts and place them in an egg carton on the windowsill. When the sprouts are strong and the chance of a frost has passed, get three store carrier bags and place them one inside another. Fill with compost and plant your sprouting potatoes about 10 cm/4 in deep. Hang them from a hook by the back door but do not forget to water them regularly – without over-watering. When you have strong plants, you should have small potatoes. When the plants flower, your potatoes should be ready to eat. Slice the carrier bags open and harvest.

Freezing Your Crop

Freezing your crop means you need not worry about bumper harvests going to waste. If you have not got a freezer, there are plenty of second-hand ones available. Ninety per cent of freezers are dumped when they are actually still in good working order. They may just not be the latest model.

Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. This means you need to immerse them in boiling water. The blanching destroys enzymes that affect the flavor, color and texture. When you prepare your vegetables for blanching, you need to trim off outer leaves, wash them thoroughly and you can even cut and prepare them as if you were going to cook them straight away. So if you like batons, slices, diced or whole, they will be ready in the freezer when you want to eat them. Once you have blanched your vegetables, let them cool, then put them in freezer bags in portions. If your freezer has a super or fast setting, this is ideal. The quicker the food freezes, the more goodness is retained. Blanching times vary, but here are some guidelines:

  • courgettes – 1 minute
  • beans – 3 minutes
  • squashes – 3 minutes
  • carrots – 2 to 5 minutes

How to Work with an Established Garden

If you have moved into an old house there will probably be an established garden. This may have been beautifully kept or be a jungle, but either way there are bound to be things you wish to change or adapt.

Consider the shape of the garden. If it is very square you may wish to soften it by creating curved borders with flowing planting. Awkward triangular or long narrow plots can also be transformed through design -narrow sites by adding a diagonal feature (be it a flower bed, steps or a path) and triangular by creating a circular shape, for example.

Once your basic framework is in place you will be ready to think of adding the plants which provide structures, colour, perfume, flair and flounce – the more transient stars of the garden.

garden work How to Work with an Established Garden

As soon as you move in, walk around the garden and do a safety check. Remove any obvious hazards, such as poisonous plants, barbed or rusty wire and crumbling walls, and cover ponds until you have time to consider safety measures. Mend or remove loose paving stones and trim back any dangerous branches and shrubs.

Do not be too hasty in removing established shrubs. You may not find a particular plant appealing, but it may provide a useful framework while other plants are becoming established. It is surprising how much better a shrub can look after pruning and with new planting around it. After all, if it does not grow on you, you can always take it out later.

Delay starting major work until you have been in the garden for a full year. You need to see a complete cycle of seasons to appreciate fully just what is in your garden, and how all its elements work together.

A delay will also give you the chance to watch how your children play in the garden. You may be surprised at the features that attract them. For example, an overgrown hedge which you had earmarked to be grubbed up may prove to be the perfect site for a den. You may have planned to buy them a climbing frame, or metal-framed swing, only to discover that they are getting such enormous enjoyment from climbing the trees that a swing from a sturdy branch, rope ladders, commando-style netting and even a tree house would be much more appreciated.

Throughout the year make notes about the elements of the garden that give yon most pleasure and those that annoy you. In practice you may find that the diving area is too far from the house, that the outdoor lighting is insufficient, or that the position of external laps is impractical. On the other hand yon may discover that a flower border which seemed out of place is ideally positioned for maximum/minimum sunlight. Frost risk and perfect drainage. And what a wonderful excuse not to do any work in your first year!

How to Use Compost in Your Yard and Garden

Compost is a dark, rich, sweet-smelling, crumbly substance which improves soil condition by adding water-retaining humus and nitrogen -vital for the wellbeing of plants.

Compost can be bought, but is so easy to make that there is little excuse for not producing your own. There is a two-fold advantage to making compost. First you are creating something for free which will improve the garden immeasurably, second you know you are making good use of your waste and not taking up valuable space in a landfill site. Dig the compost into your soil, or spread it over the surface when the soil is damp, to act as a mulch.

Virtually any organic material can be composted. From the house collect tea bags, vegetable peelings, eggshells, shredded newspaper, even old cotton or woollen rags. And from the garden save waste such as dead flowers and leaves, bolted vegetables and old bedding plants, grass clippings, soft primings, hedge trimmings and weeds (before they have set seed). Even the children can help by collecting their pet’s droppings when they clean out their cages. These will heat things up splendidly, speeding the process of decomposition.

garden compost How to Use Compost in Your Yard and Garden

Do not use meat, any cooked food, or anything greasy as this will attract vermin. Discard and burn any parts of diseased plants, seed-bearing annual weeds, or the roots of perennial weeds, such as ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and couch grass (Agropyron repens). These are so tough that they can survive the composting process and you will end up spreading your problems. Anything too woody will not decompose, so either use a shredder or burn such material.

If space allows, have two heaps or bins. This will ensure a constant supply of compost, as material can be rotting down in one bin while you are still filling the other.

Traditional compost heaps

There are numerous methods of making compost. Compost heaps suit large gardens that produce masses of waste. However, completely open heaps are unsightly and inefficient, so it is better to buy, or make an enclosure. Do-it-yourself containers can be put together from wooden pallets and wire or you can buy kits which, when assembled, form brick and wood bins, or slatted timber enclosures.

With open heaps such as these the material ill the edges, where it is cooler, will not compost at the same rate as that in the middle, so the heap will need to be turned regularly. To ibis end, do not overfill the bin. You could tip it out to mix. Cover it with a sheet of polythene or old carpel to keep off heavy rain, but donˇŻt allow it to dry out in slimmer. To ensure there is enough material to heal up sufficiently, the heap or bin must be a minimum of 90cm square by 1.2m/4ft high.

Ready-made compost bins

If you do not want to make a compost enclosure yourself, there are numerous ready-made plastic and metal bins on the market. These are usually fully enclosed, which means that the composted material will heal up evenly and rot down quickly, eliminating the tedious job of turning the compost. The bins are also designed for ease of access to the composted material at the bottom.

Wormeries

These differ from ready-made compost bins in that they rely on a colony of worms (tiger or brandling worms) to produce the compost. The worms are put in specially-designed worm bins on a layer of material which has already rotted down. They are then given fresh supplies of finely chopped household scraps every few days. The bins have a tray to collect liquid, which can be drained off, diluted with water then used for plant food. The resulting compost is wonderfully rich. There are disadvantages to this system however. Wormeries are not easy to get going, the worms need regular supplies and they must be sieved out when the bin is full and it is time to start a new one – not a pleasant task.

Leaf mould

The fallen leaves of deciduous trees, especially oak, beech and elm, make wonderful compost. Pile large amounts in a corner or leaf bin. This is basically a wire cage, and is very simple to make from a roll of chicken wire and four wooden posts. Put smaller amounts in black plastic sacks, seal them and punch some holes in the sides. The leaves will take about a year to compost down although you can speed up the process by shredding them and using a leaf compost activator.

Making compost

- Start with a thick base of rough, bulky material, such as straw or shredded prunings, then sprinkle with either sulphate of ammonia (a dessertspoon per square metre/yard), or a bought compost activator or fresh animal manure, to speed up decomposition.
- Continue building up the heap in 15cm/6in layers, adding a little time to alternate layers if you wish. Avoid adding too much of any one thing at a time, for example too many grass clippings will result in a smelly, black slime rather then the sweet, crumbling consistency formed by successful composting.

Green compost

An attractive alternative to traditional compost is green compost. This process uses living plants, which are grown solely to be dug back into the soil to condition it. Green compost works well for light sandy, or heavy clay soils and has the bonus of demanding less effort than collecting, turning and spreading home-made compost. Sow the crop to be composted in late summer, cut it just as it flowers in early spring, and allow it to lie for a few days. Then dig it in and leave for a couple of months before planting something else-Excellent plants for fixing nitrogen in the soil are alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum) and lupins (Lupinus), but borage (Borago officinalis), mustard (Brassica rapa or B, nigra) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) also make excellent green manures.

One obvious disadvantage of this method is that the soil cannot be used for any other plants while the cover crop is growing. However if you choose a pretty enough green manure this need not be a problem.

How to Prevent Dangers in a Garden

There are many dangers in a garden, but there are precautions you can take:

- Firstly be disciplined when you garden. Lock away all tools and chemicals. Accidents with gardening tools, both manual and electrical, account for 100.000 injuries to children every year in the IK. Garden chemicals can be very dangerous and include weedkillers, pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, disinfectants and petrol.

- DonˇŻt store chemicals anywhere that gets very hot. such as a greenhouse, as they may give oil poisonous fumes or even catch lire. Keep oil and petrol in metal containers and if possible bin chemicals that have had a billeting agent added. This makes them unpalatable it a child does manage to get hold of them. Don’t store chemicals in old soft drinks bottles.

- Keep children away from any area which has been treated recently with weedkiller, pesticide or fertilizer – even if the packet says it is child friendly.

garden dangers How to Prevent Dangers in a Garden

- Watch out for uneven surfaces which could trip up children or elderly people. Maintain all paths and steps, replacing broken paving slabs, steps and loose stones.

- Prevent paths, steps and patios becoming slippery by removing any overhanging branches. These encourage moss and algae to grow in their shade. Scrub off the algae and moss with hot soapy water or spray it with a high-pressure water jet attached to your hose pipes. This is preferable to using chemical cleaners that may damage the hard surface in time. Sprinkling sharp sand over problem areas helps to provide grip and rub oil algae. Wooden steps become very slippery once wet, so fit chicken wire. Occasional use of a stiff brush also prevents green slime coating timber surfaces such as old railway sleepers.

- Look out for protruding stems or branches beside paths which may scratch or cause eve injuries. Bin rubber cane tops for all cane plant supports.

- Your garden design should never include unprotected sharp drops. Those from a patio are especially dangerous, as running or cycling children can go over the edge. Site greenhouses carefully where children are safe from the danger of broken glass and the greenhouse is sale from living foot-balls.

- Never site play equipment near a greenhouse, railings, cold frame or washing line.

- All gales should be filled with childproof locks and it s best to avoid fences with horizontal rails because children can climb them. Be as prompt as possible in mending holes in hedges and fences as children can squeeze through the smallest gaps.

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