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Gardening Tips Week Ending 9th April 2015.

Hello Folks
At last Spring is really here, or at least the garden thinks so anyway. The bulbs and the Birds certainly think so as flowers are appearing and the birds have been busy this last week. Early flowering Daffodils are going over already and some people still think they should tie the leaves of Daffodils together as soon as they have finished flowering because it looks tidier, but all the food in those leaves will be wasted if it canít get back into the bulbs to feed them properly. They need a few weeks growing time to build the bulb up for next year anyway before the leaves die! Following on from them the Irises and Tulips will flower and then the Dutch Irises and after that everything else will get going in a haze of colour - hopefully!

Onions should be in and growing by now and so should Potatoes. It is a nice idea to put spare soil from spent potting Compost, or homemade garden compost, in between your rows of Potatoes. This will make ďEarthing,Ē them up easier and will also feed and improve the soil at the same time. Do not use manure for this trick though! ďEarthing up,Ē your Potatoes will also help to protect the young growth as we could still have a late frost.
Quick maturing Radishes, Lettuces and Spring Onions can be sown between some rows of slower growing vegetables as a ďCatch crop.Ē Rows of slow maturing Brassicas are good for this space saving tip. 
Alan has his Allotments all ready for planting with Parsnip seed in the ground and Parsley seed in pots. His Garlic is also growing nicely. The main herbs I use for cooking are Garlic and Parsley from his Allotment, Mint grown in pots on the yard at home and Oregano grown in the Greenhouse.

Runner Bean seeds can be sown straight into the ground now, but I like to start them off in pots to get them going well - before the Slugs can get to them when they are planted out in early May. Bean seeds should be put in on their side with the eyes down and the same goes for seeds of Marrows, Courgettes, Cucumbers and Melons, or else they can rot. If you have a Greenhouse, or Cold Frame, Melons are easier to grow than you might think. You can train them up inside a Greenhouse, or Conservatory so that the Melons hang in nets, but in a Cold Frame, strings, or wires can be strung across the frame under the lid for support.
For best cropping, Melons will need hand Pollinating unlike most Cucumbers, however, it is quite easy to do. Female flowers have a tiny Embryo fruit at the back of the Flower, whereas Males do not. To pollinate them simply snip off the male flower and carefully put it into the Female Flower so that the pollen from the Stamens goes onto the centre of the Female Flower which is called the Stigma. Developing Melons need lots of Sunshine and water to make them grow and as they start to develop, a weak Tomato feed should be given.

Alan has trained an Apricot tree as an Espalier on our south-facing wall under the Kitchen window and it is now quite a large plant. It has been absolutely covered with pretty, pale pink flowers and as it flowered very early in the season we are hoping that the Bees got round and did their business pollinating them. There is another one on an east-facing wall where the flowers always open a week, or two later. Flowering just that little bit later usually means that there are more Bees about when this one flowers and we get more fruit off it, even though it is much smaller.

Well thatís all for now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending April 4rth 2014.

Hello Folks
                  It is lovely and sunny at the time of writing this, but still very windy as it seems to have been throughout the Winter. We have a lovely Callistemon, or Bottle Brush in a very large pot and Alan recently put it on the patio where I can see it, but the wind is so strong it has blown over several times. It was in the greenhouse for the Winter as they are not quite hardy and then put outside in a sheltered corner until the flowers started opening. The flowers on them look like the heads of little, delicate, red brushes. Bottle Brushes come from Australia and are most unusual plants, but can often be seen on sale in the garden centres. There is also a lovely Palm in a big tub on the yard and two Perennial Wallflowers. These will be cut right back when the flowers have finished although they seem to go on flowering forever. There are different coloured leaves in them with one variegated and one plain green. The Daffodils have been lovely again this year adding bright splashes of colour everywhere. It is nice to go down the roads where they have been planted and see them along the hedgerows. Going to Rugeley from Stafford there is a wide grass corner that has hundreds of Daffodils with a flowering Cherry standing over them. It is a lovely sight each year and they are left until the leaves are completely brown before the grass is cut as you should always let the leaves die off naturally to put their energy back in to feed the bulbs. Never tie the leaves up in knots as they canít feed the bulb so well for next years display. The Chaenomelese are also in full flower. These are commonly called Ornamental Quince, although the fruits can be used mixed with Apples in a pie, or for making jelly. The only real difference between the ornamental and edible Quinces is just that one has more flesh and less seeds and the other has more decorative flowers. We have the red and pink flowered ornamental ones as well as a dessert fruiting one.

It is a busy time now for seed sowing as it is in full swing. If pricking out bedding plants, it is better to grow them in trays of 6ís, and is easier when you come to transplant them, rather than from the large traditional seed trays. Trays of nearly all young plants can be bought like this.
Tomato plants that have very pale leaves, or that are very tall should not be bought, but healthy plants can go in a cold greenhouse now Ė not outside yet though.
Alan is finding that a lot of the bought peat free compost made from recycled material is better if some fine grit, or horticultural sand is mixed in with it like you do with homemade compost. It is very course otherwise and difficult to get the watering correct without it.

Our two Apricot trees that are planted and trained against the South facing house wall have been smothered with pretty pale pink flowers, so we are hoping for a good crop of fruit this year. The Peach tree that is against a South facing fence has also been a picture with its deeper red flowers. We only have a small garden, but have made use of all the house walls and fences where suitable by putting fruit trees against them. Against the walls and fences we also have a Quince, several Apples, a Pear, Plum, 2 different Kiwis, a Goji, Sharron fruit, 2 Grape Vines, a Honey Berry, several Figs, a Loquat and Bay, although admittedly they are not all fruiting yet!

One of Alanís allotments has recently provided us with a very early vegetable called Sea Kale which is totally different from the more cabbage like Black, or Curly Kale. It has to be Forced, or Blanched and the stems when cut look very much like Celery, but after lightly cooking they taste like Asparagus.
Well, good gardening. Thatís all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending April 5th 2013.

Hello folks
I hope we have seen the last of the snow, but I do remember that a long time ago, when we had the garden centre, we did have snow late one year and it killed off all the Runner Bean plants in June in gardens and allotments all over and every one was rushing round trying to buy some more plants, or seeds. Lets look on the bright side though and hope for a good Summer.

My Cosmos and tomato seeds are doing alright, but it is too early to put them outside yet, although they should be alright in a cold greenhouse now. If you only need a few bedding plants of things like Geraniums, Begonias, or Impatiens, it is quite cheap to buy modules of small plants in their own little cells and pot them on into 3 Ĺ inch pots. With some of them this is often easier than trying to sow and germinate tiny seeds and then having to prick out tiny seedlings.

Alan planted Beetroot seeds individually in small modules last year as an experiment and when they were planted out in a bed there was no root disturbance. It was always said that there might be, so for that reason root vegetables should never be transplanted. I donít know whether it would work with Carrots, or Parsnips, but some of the garden centres seem to think so because we have seen Carrots for sale in little trays ready to transplant. It is fine with all the other vegetables like Onions, Leeks and of course Cauliflowers, Cabbages, etc, but it does save a lot of seed sowing and thinning out and it might even work out cheaper for you in some cases. By the way Onion sets can be put in now as well as Spring Onion seed and Runner Bean seed can be put either in trays, or directly in a Bean trench that you should have prepared earlier, but donít put ready grown Bean plants outside yet.

There are numerous offers on bags of compost about now, but watch the sizes as different makes vary a lot on the bag sizes and you will also get some containing better mixes of compost that have water retaining crystals in them. These are ideal for hanging baskets and tubs and they really do hold on to water better in a dry Summer. I have used the water crystals since they first came into use and were sold for commercial use only in about the 1980ís. Now they are sold in small packs everywhere, so that you can mix your own compost if you prefer.

There was a lot of trouble with Potatoes last year and Potato Blight because of all the wet, so it is best not to grow them in the same place as the spores will remain in the soil for many years. If you have to grow Potatoes in the same spot you must choose a Blight Resistant variety. Some of the ďEarlies,Ē that werenít resistant grew alright last year though, as they matured before the Blight took hold. Alan grew Pink Fir Apple and they were fine, although the tops did get infected just as the Potatoes were ready to dig. They look very odd as a potato and are a bit knobbly, but the taste is good.

Well thatís all for now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips For Week Ending April 1st 2011

  Hello folks

                    At last the weather is improving and the gardens have started to come alive with lovely Spring bulbs. We have two lovely clumps of Dwarf Tulips that came out before the Daffodils next to them, which have only just, suddenly started opening. I think they must have overslept!

Some of our established shrubs havenít started shooting yet, but we are leaving them a bit longer to see if they are going to come back to life.

We are making good use of the plastic milk containers by washing them and putting one or two holes in the bottom before sinking them into the ground, next to the trench, where the Runner Beans are to be grown. Then when we water we will pour the water into the milk bottles so that it will go straight down to the roots instead of all over the ground and compacting it. Watering deeply like this should also help to keep the slugs from coming to eat the tops of the Beans off as the soil wonít be constantly wet on the surface. You donít have to use milk bottles as any large plastic pop, or squash bottles can be used the same way.

In another couple of weeks Sweet Peas can be planted out, but watch out for slugs as they love them as well as beans.

Most flowers seeds should be in by now and germinating. Hardy annuals can be sown thinly inside in modules, or some can be sown thinly in situation if the soil is fine and weed free.

Onions can go in now and they should be firmed in so that birds canít pull them out, but do not completely cover them. If their old brown tops are long they should be trimmed back so that the birds arenít tempted to pull them! Towards the end of the month Tomatoes can go out into a cold greenhouse. When you plant them though, do not be tempted to use the same grow-bags, compost, or soil that last years plants grew in, in case there is any infection.

When sowing flat seeds such as Cucumbers, Squash, Courgettes and Marrow they shouldnít be put flat in the compost as they are prone to rot. Instead they should be placed on edge in the compost. None of the different types of Bean seeds are so bad, but even these will often do better on edge.

When sowing seeds I like to sprinkle Pearlite instead of fine compost over the seeds, because if your eyesight is poor like mine, the young seedlings show up better against the white when they emerge and make it a bit easier to see them. Be careful though when opening a new bag of Pearlite as it is very dusty.

If you lined your greenhouse with bubble polythene last year for the Winter, it should be removed now to allow plenty of light in which is needed for the rapidly growing young plants.

Both trailing and upright Begonias should be sprouting quite well and ready for planting into baskets and tubs, but donít put them outside without protection too early in case of late frosts.

By for now
Frances Hartley


Gardening tips week ending April 2nd 2010

Hello Folks

                    Things are looking better now after a late start. Bulbs are coming into flower everywhere and the birds are busy singing, nest building and feeding themselves up. A lady came to cut my hair this week and I put my hair clippings out on the grass, but they were gone very quickly, so some little birds have fur lined nests to keep them warm. Waste not want not!

Cornus or Dog Woods should be cut back very hard as it is the new stems and new growth that colour up, not the old and Summer flowering Clematis should also be cut down low as well. Summer flowering bulbs can be planted now and if you had Hyacinths in pots and they have finished flowering they can be planted in the garden, but do remember to leave the foliage on to go on feeding the bulbs to make next years flowers.

If, you havenít already tidied up last years border plants such as the big showy red Seedums, they can be cut back now, along with all the other Herbaceous plants, to let the new shoots see the light.  Trim and tidy Alpines and Winter flowering Heathers as well.

Now is the time to think about putting in many of your vegetable plants as packs of young seedlings are available in garden centres. Do remember though that some are tender. However, we did see some Tomato plants for sale in a covered walkway, but the sides were open and the plants could have got frosted unless they were covered with fleece at night. If the leaves of any Tomato plants are very dark or look nearly black then donít buy them. Indeed if the leaves of any plant donít look in the best of health then donít buy them.

Now the ground has started to warm up it is time to plant Onions sets and shallots and sow many more vegetable seeds. Some seeds, like Beetroot and Carrots, are best sown directly in prepared ground, but ďCarrot root flyĒ can attack the young Carrot plants as they develop. Covering the ground with a strip of polythene pegged down round the Carrots will keep Carrot root fly out, or you may prefer to put alternately a row of Onions, then Carrots, then Onions, etc. Both will benefit as the Carrots are said to deter Onion Fly and the Onions deter Carrot Root Fly.

Gooseberry Saw Fly is another pest that can easily be deterred. The year before last they stripped my bush of leavers almost overnight, so last year I put some of the tough, black ground cover membrane down, cut a slit in it so that I could spread it tightly round the stem and then weighed the membrane down with stones. Of course there is a spray you can use instead if it is easier for you.

Runner Beans can be started off in the Green house, or cold frame now, with the seeds planted eye side down. The seed of Courgettes and Squash are best sown on edge if you want to grow them because otherwise they have a tendency to rot.

Besides vegetable plants, there are plenty of young bedding plants about now as well, but most of them must be kept inside for a while yet. If you want to make an early start, hanging baskets can be planted up, but must not be put outside for some weeks. When planting mine I like to add, a few water retaining crystals as they do help and I also add some slow release fertiliser.

All the garden centres are full of Pansies, Primroses and Bellis that look very nice and cheerful and make a splash of colour for a while, but do remember that Bellis, which belong to the Daisy family, are not perennials.

Well thatís all for now.

Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips Week Ending April 4th 2009

Hello folks

There seem to be a lot of discounted Summer flowering bulbs about at the moment. The Dwarf Tulips in the garden have been very good, but taller ones are better planted between shrubs to give them a little protection from the wind. Early flowering Forsythias are making lovely splashes of bright yellow along with the red Flowering Currants and we have a white Flowering Currant that is flowering although it was a small one only put in last year, as well as a smaller yellow one.

Garden centres are really full of young bedding and vegetable plants now. Tomatoes should be all right in a cold greenhouse, but if a very hard frost is forecast and you have no heater to put on, put an old fine meshed net curtain, or a sheet of newspaper, over them. If Geraniums, Sorry, Zonal Pelargoniums, are growing strongly you can take a few cuttings off them. The cuttings should be 2-3 inches long and have any bottom or large leaves taken off, but do not use rooting powder. I usually put Silver Sand on top of the compost and as the cuttings are pushed in they take some sand with them in to the holes.

It is almost time to plant up your hanging baskets, but if you do, donít hang them outside yet because we are still having some cold nights. Traditionally Sphagnum moss was used to line hanging baskets and looked very natural with plants pushed in half way up, which isnít easy to do with many liners. Migrant workers used to collect the moss mainly off the Welsh mountains, but they started grumbling saying they werenít being paid enough. This is going back about 25 years now, so alternatives had to be found. One year, when we had the garden centre, there was no moss at all, but my husband managed to get some off cuts of carpet felt and cut we 60 or 70 pieces, which had to be done with heavy scissors, to line the baskets that customers had ordered. That was hard work, but gradually more different types of liners started to become more available and more popular.

Back to plants; Courgette, Cucumber, outdoor Tomato, Aubergine and most other seeds can be sown in the next few weeks, and a trench if not already done, can be made ready for planting Runner Beans. I usually put a fairly thin layer of newspaper, then a layer of compost, some slow release fertiliser and water retaining crystals and then top up with compost. After all of this it is ready for the young Runner Bean plants to go in at the end of May.

Well Thatís All For Now.

Frances Hartley.

Gardening Hints April 1st 2006

Hello folks

                    Another month has gone by and it is nice to have daylight a bit longer, but I have noticed the trees are not leafing up yet, not even the Hawthorn which was starting to flower in April last year. Bulbs are coming through though and I have a pot of Scillas on the patio that have little blue flowers, a bit like a Blue Bell, but the flowers edge is slightly frilled. The pretty red Dwarf Tulips are also coming into flower. Most of the Hebes in the garden look alright, but if any have got burnt with the frost and cold wind, give them another week or two and then cut back to green wood.

In early April Sweet Pea plants can be stood out in a sheltered spot, against the house wall is a good place. They will harden off, then be ready for planting out about the third week in April. Tomatoes should be all right in a cold green house then as well. If a hard frost is forecast just drop, either a piece of horticultural fleece, an old net curtain, or a sheet of newspaper over your tomatoes, but not polythene.

A lot of very pretty Primroses are now on sale with some beautiful colours amongst them, but harden them off before planting out as they have had some form of shelter to keep the flowers and leaves clean and to bring them on.

Buds on the bushes in the garden are starting to break but spring is a little late this year. A sign that it is now coming can be seen with the birds getting very active building their nests. It is lovely to hear them singing as they sound so cheerful.

                                       Well all for now, Cheerio

                                                          Frances Hartley.

Gardening Tips Week Ending April 5th.

Hello folks another monthís gone by and everything seems to be flowering early. I have a white flowering currant that is out now and looks nice by the side of an evergreen Viburnum Tinus. I found it on one plant hunting trip along with a yellow one which are different from the usual red ones. If you want a change from bedding plants there is a wide choice of Summer flowering bulbs which can be grown in tubs or planted in the garden. If you have heavy clay soil and want lilies of which there are some lovely ones about, when planting them it is wise to put a handful of grit under each one for drainage, but most other bulbs will be alright.

I do grow a lot of Geraniums each year and fill a nicely raised round bed which I cut out of the lawn about 4 years ago. I usually start my Geraniums in the house by buying the plugs and just potting them on, but this year I am growing some from seed. The seed is quite easy to handle with the aid of a magnifier and needs starting in early December. I have now put the Geraniums in a cold greenhouse, but I have covered them with Horticultural Fleece. The Fleece may seem expensive to start with, but it will last for 3 or 4 years with care and if it gets a bit dirty you can hand wash it carefully as it will soon drip dry. Whatever you do donít cover plants with Polythene as if it is left on all day it will sweat and cause Mildew on your plants.

My son and I have taken some prickly shrubs, (Pyracantha, Berberris and Eleagnus) out of the garden this year as I canít see the prickly bits when I am tidying up and I have to keep getting him to dig thorns out of my fingers. We are experimenting with small growing fruit trees in place of the prickles in view of the success of the Brown Turkey Fig last year that produced about 40 good sized juicy fruit. Some of the fruit trees are on dwarfing root stock that is ideal for a fairly small garden, such as the little Miniature Apple. We have planted an Apricot and a Peach against a South facing fence along with a Kiwi and a small Olive tree in the hope of a good Summer, but have also planted a fully hardy Mulberry and Medlar, which are both old fashioned fruit trees that have gone out of favour. Along with Gooseberries, Red and White Currants, a Thornless Blackberry, Red Raspberries, we have planted a yellow Raspberry, Blueberry, Bay Trees and also put a Cranberry in the fishpond. We are trying other weird fruits including a Josta Berry, Persimum and the supposedly hardy Chinese import, a Goji Berry.

Anyway back to the usual now as there is plenty of potting up to do, Tomato seedlings should be ready to be potted into 3 Ĺ inch pots now and onions about the second week of April. Hereís hoping the weather will be settled by then.

Well that's all for now.

Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips week ending April 30th

Hello folks

                    It has been lovely Spring weather, but very dry. When we do have some rain it is an idea to put a good layer of mulch, such as bark chippings or coco chips round shrubs and herbaceous plants. It is best to give the mulch a watering as well because this will keep the ground moist and then the plants shouldnít need watering for a long time.

When any flowering shrubs such as Forsythia and Flowering Current have finished cut them back and tidy them up.

Onions should be growing now, as should Garlic, Fennel and many more early vegetables. Spring Onions, Radishes and early Lettuce can be sown directly outside now as well. It is too early for Runner Beans yet although I have seen them for sale. Tomatoes can be set out in a cold greenhouse but it is still a bit early to put them outside yet. If your greenhouse has been lined with bubble polythene for the winter it should be taken down now to let plenty of light in.

I donít use insect sprays in the greenhouse as there are other alternatives. Some people grow Marrigolds in their greenhouse to prevent aphids, but I prefer to hang up the sticky yellow cards that catch aphids and flies. The cards do not trap our friendly Lady birds though.

Start to harden off bedding plants by standing them against the house wall, but if a frost is forecast drop some horticultural fleece, or old net curtains over them if you can, and if you only have a few, pop them back in the greenhouse for the night.

As it has been so dry lately I gave my Daffodils and early flowering bulbs a liquid foliar feed instead of the normal dry, slow release, fertilizer this year because it might have been sitting there for weeks until it rained and got washed in else. Liquid Organic Seaweed is one such, ďeasy to mix and use,Ē fertilizer.

Donít waste water by watering the lawn as it doesnít need it, because even if it goes brown, it will soon recover when it rains properly. Watering only encourages surface roots instead of making them go down to look for water. This means that when it is dry it will suffer more than it would otherwise if you had not watered it. Donít forget to put water in a clean dish out for the birds though and possibly a small bowl for them to bath in.

Well thatís all for now.

Frances Hartley