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Gardening Tips Week Ending January 10th 2015.

Hello Everyone Ė A Happy New Year To You All.
While some of you are browsing through the TV papers to see if there is anything worth watching, us gardeners can be reading the backs of our seed packets and making a note of when it is the best time to sow them. If you really want to, you could mark the calendar with what to sow and when, then when it is time, if you havenít got a greenhouse you can stand trays, or pots of seeds on the window ledges away from direct sunlight. Ideally they should have a clear plastic top, or cover over them to keep the moisture in. Then bring them into strong light when the seeds are through to stop them getting leggy.

I have done well this Christmas as one of my sons found some late flowering, English grown, Chrysanthemums and I always like to have a few vases of flowers around the house. My sons know that I will not buy imported flowers while our own nurseries are struggling. The first thing that Alan said when he saw them is, ďThatís a nice coloured flower. I wonder if we could get some cuttings off it?Ē Alan also knows I like plastic flowers even less than imported real ones, but he has managed to find some artificial ones made from linen and a mixture of materials, which do, look very realistic, unlike, the old and simple plastic ones.

While the ground was so wet earlier in the month, Alan was restricted with what he could do up at the allotments and as he will be too busy in the new-year, we have been getting the Spring Cleaning done at home. I am afraid he does most of it as I canít do a lot now. I can iron the curtains and still do all the washing up, but I am not so good on my feet these days and my poor eyesight doesnít help either. I know December is very early for Spring Cleaning, but he will be too busy on his Allotments soon trying to catch up. He keeps going up to do what he can though, trying to keep the weeds down that are still growing and to bring some vegetables back. He still has Kale, Cabbage, Ruby Chard, Parsnips, Baby Turnips, Jerusalem Artichokes and Sprouts, although the Sprouts have nearly all gone at the time of writing this and it is not quite Christmas Day yet! We also have Beetroot stored in crates of dry soil in the garage along with Onions and Butternut Squash in other crates and in the freezer we have French Beans and Broad Beans, as well as dozens of tubs of frozen fruit and tubs of dried Harricot Beans in the Kitchen cupboards.
One thing we havenít got is Potatoes, but if you have, when you look through your sacks of Potatoes - if you find any that are sprouting and you have any empty compost bags, or strong black bags, why not put some soil in them and plant the potatoes. Keep them frost-free and you will get some nice little new potatoes early on in the season, but make sure there are drainage holes in the bags otherwise they will get water logged.

If you grow your Onions from seed they need to go in at once if they are not already growing and Shallots, for pickling, should already be settled and growing now as well. Old time gardeners used to start their growing season by planting them on Boxing Day.

Well thatís all for now.
Frances Hartley
P.S. If you grow more vegetables, or plants than you want, someone else might be glad of them, so donít just throw the surplus away.

Gardening Tips Week Ending 12 January 2014.

Hello Folks
Well its another new year and a fresh start again. I hope it will be a happy and prosperous one for you. Thinking back to some of those Christmas gifts though, if you had Streptocarpus plants given to you, the ones sold nowadays are improved on the old ones as they have smaller leaves which donít take up so much room on a table or desk etc, but they still need the same care. You must not get water on the leaves and must water them from the bottom in a saucer and they want light, but not direct sunlight.

The Garden Centres all seem to be clearing out their Christmas displays early and quickly this year and they are getting ready for the Spring sales of seeds and Summer flowering bulbs. Talking of the Spring, I donít know whether they think we are going to have an early Spring this year, with all this preparation, but in any case it is as well to check your stock of seeds to see if you have got all that you need. The first plantings that you will make will be Onion Sets and First Early Potatoes and if you put Garlic in before Christmas it should be growing well by now. If you missed setting some get it in quickly and it should be all right. Why not try growing a few herbs either from seed or from young plants. Most are available as seed these days and although they will take a bit longer to establish, they will work out much cheaper than buying young plants that are already growing. They not only smell nice in the garden as you brush past them, but are easy to grow and are better for you in your cooking than salt that is bad for blood pressure. We like Oregano in mixed vegetables, Mint in Potatoes, Rosemary with Lamb, things like Basil and Bay Leaves in a Bouquet Garnet for stews or the like, of course Parsley with fish and Garlic goes well with Pasta or Mince. One or two of the common herbs will require a sheltered spot like the Bay Trees because they can get damaged badly by sever frosts and Oregano really needs to be grown in the greenhouse over winter. If you want to be able to cut fresh Parsley through the Winter you might like to take some inside the greenhouse and keep it in a pot. Of course alternatively, you could harvest your herbs in the Summer months and carefully dry them so that they will keep for use in the following Winter months.

Alan grew a couple of different types of beans this Summer that we de-podded and dried. One was a large Bean that looked about the same size as a Broad Bean and one was smaller and classed as a Kidney Bean. This one actually had vivid black and white colour bands across the bean making them look very pretty when they had been cleaned and dried. They might not be fresh vegetables now, but drying them does mean that we can still have meals using our own vegetables from the allotment that were harvested back in the Autumn instead of buying so vegetables many from the shops. The beans took a bit of drying, spread out on trays in the warmth of the living room, but seem to keep all right in old drinking chocolate tubs, the ones with the screw up lids. When we want to use some of the beans we soak them overnight in a little bowl water and then put them in stews to add a bit of body and home grown goodness!

Well thatís all for now.
Cheerio Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips For The Week Ending 8th January 2012.

Hello Folks
             All the best wishes for the New Year to everyone.
Donít forget that these days most of the garden centres have a collection point for Christmas trees when they are finished with, as do many councils. They are, I believe, put through a big shredder and the resulting chippings are then used as a mulch in the council parks and gardens, giving back to the land what has been taken out. We have a small shredder and any dead branches, or any other prunings of small shrubs or trees, are shredded and used on our borders and also on our allotments between the fruit bushes as a weed suppressant. I know you shouldnít walk on the soil, but a carpet of chippings between bushes is also better to walk on, than bare soil, and it lets you get up close to the bushes. Just a word of warning though, you probably shouldnít shred your own Christmas tree because the pine needles are very acidic and may poison the soil for many types of plants unless they are well mixed in with other chippings.

We are still eating our own Curly Kale, Artichokes, Pink Fir Apple Potatoes, Kohl Rabbi and Turnips. You may not know, but Kale is supposed to be very good for the eyesight and is being recommended by opticians. Artichokes are said to be good for the kidneys, although I donít know whether they would do much for us  90 + years old, but it might be worth younger people eating them. It is Jerusalem Artichokes that grow in the ground like potatoes not the Globe which look like Thistle flower heads. They are easy to prepare with no scraping or peeling, just a bit of rub and then put them in boiling water for about 20 minutes; or you can roast them after a short boil, like potatoes. The very small Artichokes and Pink Fir Apple Potatoes that are too small to bother with will be saved and potted to grow on and be planted out for next years crop. Kohl rabbi we prefer to eat raw, but peeled and grated, in a salad, like you might Carrot. I like some in cheese sandwiches and find it a little moister and crisper than Carrot, but not so chewy. Everyone has their own likes and ideas though.

Alan has just bought some young Hazel trees that were being sold as ideal plants for hedging. There were about a dozen in one pot which worked out at just over £1 each plant and he has potted them all up individually to grow on outside for planting later. At the same time we saw some old fashioned Blackthorn, or Prunus Spinosa that you get Sloes from. We wonít use them to make ďSloe Gin,Ē but we did like the idea of some Rosa Rugosa that we also saw as you can use the berries, or Rose Hips, to make Rose Hip Syrup which was very popular during the war.

In the Winter, flowers are in short supply from our own garden, so instead of buying expensive imported flowers I have started using my own dried instead. Back in the Autumn we cut and hung up to dry, some Honesty, Teasels, Allium seed heads and even some herb seed heads. Oh yes, and dead aspidistra leaves lightly sprayed with a bit of Christmas spray paint look very nice and fill a few empty vases.
Well thatís all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley.

Gardening Tips Week Ending 9th January 2011

Hello Folks
                  I would like to give my best wishes to everyone for the new-year. Hope we donít get any more snow as I think we have had enough already this Winter, but the bulbs will soon be cheering things up with the Snowdrops being the first. I know it may seem strange, but now is the best time to buy them and plant them, while they are in flower, or ďIn the greenĒ as they say. Unlike most other bulbs that are alright to plant dry from packets, Snowdrop bulbs will often not shoot. If Anemones are your favourites, the dry bulbs should be soaked in water for an hour or two before planting. If you have been given a pot of Hyacinths for Xmas, they can be planted in the garden for next year, when they have finished flowering.

Even if we have a nice spell in January, donít be in too much of a hurry to pull out plants that look dead, as they may shoot again. Shrubs that have got burnt by the frost will most likely shoot again from dormant buds and should not be cut back too early in case we have another cold spell that may do more damage. It is normal to prune most fruit trees about now, but be careful with these as well, because if you cut back too much healthy wood you may lose a lot of fruit buds if there is any die back with the exceptional cold. Donít be too eager to cut back your roses either as they can be left until well into March.

Some garden centres will be selling any remaining bulbs that they have, cheaply now. They will still flower this year, but will be later and they will still get established for next year.

If Garlic and Shallots were not planted in the Autumn they need to go in as soon as possible, but Onions sets should be put in later. It is too early to sow most vegetables yet, but early potatoes can be started off in boxes to ďChitĒ them. Jerusalem Artichokes can also be started off in boxes. Rhubarb forcing pots can be dug out of the shed and placed round the plants as the buds will soon start to shoot. If you have any stoned fruit trees such as Peaches, Apricots, Plums, Cherries, etc, it is a good time to scatter a little garden lime around them. This will help the stones in the fruit to develop and stop the fruit from dropping. Do not lime round Potatoes though as this can cause scab!

Check on any wintering Dahlia tubers and Chrysanthemums stools as mould and rot can set in if they are too damp and there is not enough air circulation.

Most garden centres now have a collection point for Christmas trees that will go for re-cycling. They will be chipped and then go back on the land, either as a mulch, or they may be composted.

Well thatís all for now
Frances Hartley

Gardening article For week Ending January 9th 2010

Hello again and a happy new year to everybody.

Around about now you may well be thinking of how to dispose of your Christmas tree. There are a lot of places that will take real, cut, Christmas trees, for re-cycling. Collection points can be found at many places that sold them before Christmas including most Garden Centres and Cannock Chase Sales Centre. On the Chase they will be ďChippedĒ and spread amongst other growing conifers as a mulch, but most re-cycling depots will chip them and then blend the chippings with other green waste to produce a compost. If you try and do this at home the resulting compost will be highly poisonous to other plants as it will be very acidic. Donít even put the fallen needles onto your compost heap. If you want to re-cycle your Christmas tree at home you can make use of it in other ways. Carefully cut off all the side shoots, (stripped of their needles) and then use them to support young climbing plants such as Sweet peas and beans, or herbaceous flowers in your borders, next year. If stout enough, the remaining trunk of the tree might be used as a tree stake or post.

There are many other green re-cycling schemes that are more adventurous including one seaside council who are experimenting with using the dead trees to hold back and even reclaim sand dunes by partially burying them in the sand so that the branches trap the blowing sand. One nature reserve stacks dead Christmas trees lengthways along boundary areas to make a rough barrier that climbing plants can naturally colonise and green up to make a growing hedge.

It is not easy to keep live Christmas trees in pots from one year to the next, so if you donít want to plant yours in the garden, there are some sites that will take unwanted live trees in some areas for replanting in the wild. Some re-planted trees donít survive, but many do and grow on to develop into full-grown fir trees and make new woodland.

I think most leaves will be long gone from the trees by now, but some trees and bushes such as Jasmines and Passion Flowers have been holding on to them. If you have still got leaves on the garden, or even on the lawn if you havenít cut it, either the worms will drag them into the ground if they are not in thick layers, or when the lawn mower comes out again, it will chop them up to make good compost if mixed in with the grass cuttings. Compost can include shredded paper and as the banks are always advising people to shred statements for security, my son and I bought a small paper shredder to shred all our bank statements and letters with our name and address on. The paper then goes on the compost heap and mixes in with all the vegetable and fruit peelings, including banana skins and egg-shells that should be roughly broken up. In about 6 months you will have some lovely compost ready.

When Poinsettias have finished cut them down and grow them on as any other house plant until about September before restricting their light by putting them in the dark for a few weeks. When you bring them out they should colour up again with luck.

During a warmer spell, when the soil is workable, it is a good idea to start and prepare for the Runner Beans by sorting canes and digging a trench where they are to be planted out in the Spring. Line the bottom with a layer of newspaper, then any rough compost or vacuum cleaner fluff, fill it in and leave to settle until the spring.

There is not much else to do now except sort and clean seed trays and pots. If you have any plastic labels with writing on, you can clean it off with wire wool, or an old Brillo pad and a bit of elbow grease. There is no need to keep throwing them away.

Well thatís all for now.
Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips week Ending 13/1/07

Hi Fellow Listeners

                             I hope you had a good Christmas and I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year.

It is time to think about Spring in spite of the dull wet and windy weather. Now is a good time to make a note of dull patches in the garden and if you canít see much, get a friend or relation to help point them out. There are a lot of variegated foliage plants about in Garden Centres and also shrubs with berries on that will give some Winter colour. I know the birds will go for the berries, but they are not keen on all of them. They will leave some of the Cotoneasters and hips on the roses 'till they are desperate for food. If you have a large space, a variegated Holly looks nice. There are some about with very few, if any prickles as well as Gold and Silver variegated varieties and of course on female bushes you will get the berries.

Whilst on the subject of foliage plants, there are quite a variety of Euonymous plants available, some gold and some silver edged. They will usually go greener in the spring and then back to colour later on. There are also various coloured Sages, some of which will stay small and some that will spread. I have a Golden Sage about 18 inches to 2 foot across and 1 foot high. It is in a North facing bed among shrubs and gives a lovely light patch. More grey leaved shrubs include Senecio Greyii, Helichrysum and Phlomis. Other plants of interest in the Winter are Cornus that are grown for their coloured stems. There are green, yellow and red stemmed varieties, but be warned they can grow very large. It is the new stems that show the best colour so they should be cut down hard each year to encourage new growth.

Another cheap and cheerful vigorous plant is the garden Euphorbia. The foliage is nothing very special but it does have bright yellow flowers early on in the year. The sap is mildly poisonous and is supposed to deter moles from your garden.

My vegetable patch is rather small but at the back of it I grow a few fruit bushes, Raspberry, Gooseberry, Red Current, etc, which come in very handy for a fresh fruit salad throughout the Summer. Some of the Garden Centres have quite a good selection now and if they are root wrapped, as some are, they will come cheaper than potted ones. If the ground is not too soggy it is the ideal time for planting any type of shrub or tree in the garden.

                    Well all for now

                                       Frances Hartley.


House Plant Tips.     4/1/06

Hi folks, a happy new Year to all.

If you had planted bowls for Christmas they probably contained Cyclamen. It is best to take the Cyclamen out and pot them up separately, in fact it is always better to pot all plants in a bowl separately. The pots can be hidden and stood in a larger container all together so they can be taken out for different watering needs.

Now a change of topic, if like me, you grow sweet peas and donít start them off in the late Autumn, now is the time to sow them. Gardening books say chip the seed first, but it is not a good idea to try it if you have poor eyesight. I find if you soak the seed in hot water for a few hours it works just as well. If you canít, or donít wish, to get the deep sweet pea pots, save your toilet roll inners and plant in these. You can stand them in a plastic container that has had fruit or tomatoís in it with about 1 inch of compost in the bottom. The roots will grow into it and then plants can be lifted out easily. When planted out the pots, or toilet roll inners, will rot down in the soil.

If you want Snowdrops in the garden, it is best to buy them in pots already growing, in ďThe GreenĒ as it is called, because they are rather temperamental from bulbs, specially if the bulbs have become a little dry. I think we should be seeing them for sale like this soon.

Keep Christmas cacti slightly damp but donít over water. When the summer comes and all danger of frost is over they can be stood outside and watering should be virtually stopped then. Alternatively they can be stood in a greenhouse and allowed to bake in the sun. This apparent neglect should be continued all Summer and they will reward you with a burst of flowers next Christmas when you can start watering them regularly again.

Thatís All For Now,           Frances Hartley.