Archive for the ‘The Seasons’ Category


The soil may be too wet to get onto … but I urge you get out there and start clearing the weeds and sowing a few seeds.
It’s amazing how much better it makes you feel! 

Warm aroma of ripening tomatoes

Time to plant your tomato seeds and you can look forward to these little beauties!

 

I met a friend for coffee in town this week (most enjoyable thanks, Matt) and having first put the world of digital media to rights we got around to the subject of gardening.

You see,  Matt is a keen gardener and we both have much in common on the subject. We both knew we should be in the garden doing something… but what exactly? I’m not sure we gardeners are ever quite sure when is the right time to pull on the wellies and haul out the fork and spade but one thing’s for sure … I can’t wait much longer. I’m already having withdrawal symptoms!

As soon we get January out of the way and the weather starts to improve then my advice is to get out there and make a start. There’s nearly always something that needs doing in the garden.

I usually wait until the middle of February when I can feel a change in the days. The light improves as the days stretch out and there’s every chance you’ll find a bit of sunshine at some point. Last Sunday was one such day.

The veg beds were too wet due to all rain we’ve had this winter in Hampshire,  but I did manage to get on to some parts of the garden and start clearing the weeds ready for this year’s veggies.

It sounds crazy to be weeding in February but as you know the more you do today … the less you’ll have to do tomorrow. 🙂

weeding

It’s clear our climate is changing as the winters get warmer and wetter and the effect is it encourages the flipping weeds to grow at an alarming rate. Is it me or are they starting much earlier this year?

One good thing about the wet weather, (apologies to anyone living with drought) is, it does make pulling the weeds a tad easier. I just take a small fork and turn over the soil and clear the weeds by hand. The chickens of course help … when they’re not pinching the worms that is!

chickens

Seed sowing in February.

It’s about this time of the year I start to sow my small seeds. Celeriac seeds can take an age to germinate so best get them started now indoors and you’ll have decent sized plants by the time the frosts have past.

celeriac-3

I simply sprinkle a few seeds onto a small seed tray of compost and gently press them into the compost. The idea is to push them just below the surface. Then sit the tray in a washing up bowl with a little water in the bottom so the compost can take up the water gradually and the seeds won’t get washed away.

It’s also about this time of year I plant my sweet pea seeds. I soak them in water for 24hrs to soften the shells. I then plant 4 seeds in a small 3″ pot. Best to start them off indoors until they’re about 6″ plants and then transfer the pots to the cold frame.

Tomatoes can also be sown indoors about now. This year I’m growing my favourites ‘Gardeners Delight’ along with a few Alicante and an F1 Hybrid called ‘Mountain Magic’. Not sure how well they’ll do but I like to try something new most years.You’ll have to provide a little heat to keep the worst of the cold off.

tomato-plants

I find with most seed sowing at this time of the year its wise to provide to get them started. As soon as they’re big enough to fend for themselves they can go out into the cold frame or polytunnel if you’re fortunate enough to have one.

Also managed to prune the climbing roses out the front at the weekend. Looks and smells amazing in the summer, but as with all ramblers it does need to be kept in shape. I grab a pair of strong gardening gloves and give it a general prune until I’m happy with the shape.

pruning-roses2

No mystery to pruning climbing roses, simply grab a pair of stout gardening gloves and give it a general prune all over. If a branch is in the wrong place cut it out but leave about 8″ of stem and it will grow back stronger than ever and provide loads of wonderful blooms.

pruning-roses

Next weekend I’ll be preparing the polytunnel ready for all the exotic goodies! This year I’ve decided to bit the bullet and build some purpose made troughs for my strawberries. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and build a few purpose-made troughs for my strawberry plants. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them in but this year we’re hosting a summer garden party and I’d love to serve my own home grown scrumptious delights.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Back soon.

Rural Gardener

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Birds-in-garden

 

Not sure about you .. but I love to see our native wildlife in the garden and in particular, our beautiful native birds. It’s at this time of the year, they need our help more than ever. It’s cold and there isn’t much in the way of seeds around in February.

I know we live in the countryside .. but we have all manner of beautiful birds in the garden which I believe is because we put food and water out on a regular basis.

By putting out a little food and water, the birds are more likely to use what limited energy they have at this time of the year to stop off at your place for a feed. So make it easy for them and your garden will be alive with the sounds and movement of wild birds.

We have a male pheasant stop by most mornings to pick up any corn that we’ve dropped on the way to feeding the chickens. He visits most days and I feel privileged he’s chosen our garden to stop off. Mind you he is a little nervous .. and as soon we try to approach him he takes off … straight up and over the hedge into the farmers fields!

Another charming bird is the Robin red breast. If you want him in the garden simply turn over your compost heap from time to time, and I promise you within 15 minutes he’ll be in there with you!

Of course the most important thing you can do is build a simple bird table and put out some regular old wild bird mix. You can pick it pretty much anywhere, but watch out as it can be expensive.

JAN7TH
The cheapest way is to buy a large bag and decant a cup full every other day … never let it go stale.  If you don’t have  a Bird Table they’re simple to make.
A couple of years ago I posted what has become the most popular post on the site which explains how to make a simple bird table.
Using feeders is another good idea as it keeps the food away from the squirrels and stops it from spilling onto the floor which attracts rats.
goldfinch

Our native Goldfinch – A welcome visitor to the garden.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own fat balls. Really easy to make … and cheap! (I’ve included a recipe at the foot of this post)

I know for a fact the birds will be grateful for anything you can put out  and who doesn’t like to see our beautiful native birds in the garden?

Back soon.

Best wishes
John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

 

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March in the Garden

March is here … which means April is just around the corner!

March is just the best month in the garden. It really feels like the darkness of winter is finally behind us! The sun starts to feel warm although don’t be fooled, the weather can bite back when you least expect it in March!

Today was a fairly typical March day. We had couple of hours of warm sunshine this morning and by this afternoon we had torrential rain.  I did however manage to move a few forsythia lynwood gold plants this morning. I find early March the best time to move and/or divide plants as they are still dormant and won’t be shocked by a move. Also planted a few herbs I raised in the nursery last year to outside the new workshop. Idea is to soften the hard edges of the concrete foundations and have a few herbs on hand when we bbq in the summer.

That’s the great thing about March … it really does feel like it’s time to start some serious gardening again. I don’t know why but there is some significance to the first day of March. It  gives me a sense of real sense of hope. Just today I see the frogs returned to the pond and seem to be making loads of frog spawn. Naughty froggies! Also the birds have started to sing again which is another sure sign Spring is on it’s way.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of 5 short posts detailing some of the jobs that I get up to in my gardening in the month of March. Here’s what I’m planning.

  1. Preparing for what’s e for the year ahead.
  2. Getting ready for the Spring Plant Sale.
  3. Kick start the vegetable garden.
  4. Spring treatment for the lawn.
  5. General tidy up for the wildlife pond.

In this the first of my posts my gardening years starts in earnest with lots of prep!

Preparing for what’s ahead.

Of course we all want to get out there and start digging and planting but it’s pretty likely (in the UK at least) that the ground is still too wet and too cold to grow anything … at least not from seed anyway. But how can you tell if it’s warm enough or dry enough?

That’s and easy one… just pick up a handful of soil and feel it. Does it feel cold? Try scrunching it up tight in your hand and you’ll soon know because it will feel wet and compacted. Ideally it will feel like soil should feel, friable and warm to the touch. If it isn’t then leave it well alone or you’ll just get soil everywhere … and I do mean everywhere!

Certainly don’t think about sowing seeds or you’ll be wasting your time.  I’ve tried early sowing in the past and I found it doesn’t really get me ahead. I’d rather wait until early April when the conditions will be better.  A good barometer is to look out for the weeds. When they start growing it’s a sure sign the soil conditions are about right for sowing. I’m going to wait until April when the soil will be in much better condition to be worked.

I’m fortunate to have a polytunnel so can kick start a few of the more hardy veg but even then I’ll usually wait until the third week of March at least before starting. Onion sets are about the only thing and a few brassica that I have growing at the moment.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

One job I always do this time of the year is to turn the compost heap. The good stuffs often at the bottom of the pile so I like to get it to the top ready to scatter onto the vegetable garden when the weather allows. You can of course go for all the double digging stuff but I rarely double dig. As we garden on chalky soil any double digging would simply turn the chalk to the top.

If you’ve never made your own garden compost then I urge you to have a try. It’s easier than you think.

fence

Treat the fences to a paint job.

Early March is the time of year I service the various fences around the garden. Most of the fencing around our plot is post and rail which need some form of preservative treatment if they are to last. All to often we spend money on expensive wooden fences or perhaps an art studio at the bottom of the garden, but we forget that wood will rot over time if it’s not treated. It’s not the most exciting job in the world but I get a great sense of satisfaction when the job is done.

You don’t have to stick to the usual green or black, there are loads of colours out there to choose from. Just make sure you use a bucket and a decent size brush to do the job or you’ll be there forever.

Time for a good tidy up.

I find early March is when I feel the need to have a general tidy up in the garden. The winter can take it’s toll and I usually end up retrieving plant pots and all sorts of stuff from my neighbours plot.  Time spent sorting through your pots and tidying up the canes and hazel sticks pays dividends later in the year when if you’re like me you’d rather be working with the plants.

So if you do nothing else in the garden this week try to have a general sort round and look forward to a few stress free months in the summer.

In my next post we’ll look at giving the polytunnel a service and set about the next phase of my plant nursery in readiness for my Spring plant sales.

As always any questions or comments please feel free to leave below.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

 

 

 

 

 PS: If you’re interested in running your own plant sale to make a little extra money perhaps for your family or a favourite charity then you might find this post helpful. Also if you’d like to join our mailing list then you’ll receive a copy of my guide to frugal gardening which has loads of tips on how to start your own plant nursery in your back garden.

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recycle2

I don’t know about you but it’s about his time of the year I start thinking about cutting the hedges. I was brought up in the country and I remember my dad used to take a lot of advice from a farmer friend when it came to hedge cutting. “When you see the farmer out with his tractor and hedge cutter then its time to cut the hedges” he used to say.

Well last weekend the farmer in the back field was out bright and early trimming the hedgerows  so I thought I’d get the step ladder out and start tidying up our mixed hedge. It’s about 60 meters of mixed hedge in total and has pretty much everything in it from lleylandi to hazel with the odd walnut sapling thrown in for good measure.

The hedge was here when we moved in and as each year goes with careful management it just gets better. Although it isn’t perhaps the most beautiful hedge you’ll find but it does host a variety of native birds and flora so it’s always best to wait until the birds have stopped breeding before cutting.

Every year I have the challenge of finding something to do with the waste material. Well this year a friend of mine gave us a small electric shredder. It doesn’t actually shred the waste, more like grinds the branches into submission!

recycle5

Having said that it is a great little machine and I’m immensely grateful for it, not least as it enables us to create a by-product from the hedge trimmings which serves several purposes.mulchFirstly it makes a great surface for around the entrance to the nursery which is soft under foot and when its had a chance to break down it turns into the most amazing springy compost material.

The great thing is its cheap to produce and lasts for several seasons and you can throw it onto the compost heap or simply lay it on top of the beds and wait for nature to do its stuff.

Last year we started to scatter the trimmings on the paths in the kitchen garden to create a more natural feel.  One year on and its turned into the most amazing mulch which is soft under foot and can be used for mulching the flower beds.  I simply spade it onto the beds and work it into the soil and worms do the rest!

If you’re thinking of buying a shredder then the bigger you can afford the better is my advice. I love my little shredder but do sometimes wish I had a little extra power.

Here are my tips for trouble free shredding!

  • Read and follow the instructions that come with your shredder.
  • Be patient and avoid stuffing too much green material in at once especially Leylandii as it has a tendency to clog the machine.
  • Resist stuffing large branches in or you’ll likely burn out the motor. My little shredder will comfortably take branches up to an inch in diameter. Anything larger gets stripped of its branches and either used for poles in the garden or for winter firewood.

Like most of the green waste in the garden hedge trimmings can be a pain to get rid of  but if you’re able to invest in a modest little shredder I’d say go for it as the by-product is can easily be recycled.

I didn’t manage to finish the job this weekend so will be shredding some more next weekend.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 

Still living the dream …

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Kohl Rabi Plants

I think of April as the ’emerald month’ because it’s the time of the year where everything is bursting into growth in anticipation of delivering the most amazing display in the coming months. It’s the sheer number of different shades of green from the deep green of the evergreen clematis Armandii to the lime green of the Acer’s.

It’s at this time of the year we’re preparing for the busy period ahead which basically revolves around striking this years softwood cuttings from mid May through to the end of June.

mist-plants

Last years softwood cuttings under mist

If you want success with cuttings then there are two things to remember.

  1.  Use a free draining medium like sharp sand or a combination of sharp sand and compost.
  2. Keep the cuttings moist under some form of mist system.

One of our readers wrote the other day and said “don’t you have to have lots of money to start your own plant business?

My answer is absolutely not! We’re starting small to limit the financial risk and we’re only prepared to invest what we’re prepared to lose which is as little as possible!

Honestly you really don’t need to spend lots of money to get started and in the coming weeks and months we’re going to show you how you can get started with very little investment.

Talking of clematis Armandii ours has just finished flowering.

clematis_armandii

 

Of all the flowering clematis I think Armandii has the most intoxicating scent and it’s an evergreen so will give you a glossy green backdrop in the winter.  Throw in to the mix a plant that’s really easy to propagate and you have almost the perfect plant!

This cutting was taken in June 2012 and two years on has grown into a wonderful plant. armundii

At the moment we’re busy potting up last years rooted cuttings which have gone through the winter pretty much unscathed and produced some serious roots.

It’s our third year and we’ll be potting our two year old plants up ready for selling in the summer.

We’ve learnt loads over the last 3 years about raising and selling plants, but most of all we’ve realised customers buy with their eyes. By that I mean they want plants with flowers and preferably with a scent. There are of course the old stand by’s like evergreens,  box hedging, the conifers etc … but in the main people want colour and as much of it as you can give them!

Tip for anyone starting out growing plants for profit … Seek out one or two unusual varieties of a plant species and make your customers aware you stock the plants, or if you don’t now you will in the future. Most important of all make sure the plants you raise and sell are not protected by Plant Breeders Rights.

Other stuff we’ve been up to in April.

We’ve changed the layout of the bottom plot this year to make way for the new outbuilding which has meant we’ve had to shift the cutting bed and the compost heaps. Also created a dedicated work area adjacent to the polytunnel as it felt more central to nursery.

I’ve also been top dressing my borders and beds with a good mulch of compost. My neighbour swears by it and every year she buys eight bags of conditioner and adds it to the surface of the soil. She doesn’t dig it in but instead let’s the worms drag it down over the course of the year.  You’d never believe her garden was on chalk as the soil has turned into this gorgeous friable soil AND growing very nice rhododendrons. On chalk yes!

The Acer’s are waking up and putting on some good growth now.

acers

I bought these as small 10 inch plants on EBay in early 2013  for £6 each and just a year they are starting to look like great little plants.

Just as soon as any sign of frost has passed they can moved from the polytunnel to sheltered position outside.

Also spotted our old friend the Goldfinch on the feeders this week.

A welcome visitor to the garden.

A welcome visitor to the garden.

Really busy time now for us with all that’s going on in the garden but will try and post again soon.

As always please feel free to drop us a comment with any questions.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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I hope you don’t mind but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite pictures from last year which certainly restore my faith in this wonderful English climate.

Click the picture for a large version.

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

Best Wishes,

rural-gardeners

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Easter in the 2013 gardening calendar is going to be exciting one for us in so many ways and if the weather is kind it’s certainly going to be a busy one!.

They’re predicting cold in most parts of the UK over the weekend so if you’re planning to head into the garden like me it looks like we’re going to need those extra layers.

Here are five jobs we’ll be doing in the garden this Easter weekend.

Job 1. Winter Prune The Grape vine, (Phoenix Vitis vinifera)

I’ve had a grape vine (Phoenix, Vitis vinifera) for 3 years and it always seems to do well, which I think is down to our thin chalky soil.

winter-prune-grape-vine

When it comes to looking after a grape vine I’ve learned over the years to treat em mean and keep em keen.  In other words don’t be afraid to prune your grape vine, unless you have a rambling vine in which case just let it do it’s own thing and thin out the growth later in the year. In my experience the harder you prune a grape vine the more it seems to want to respond.

I train mine as a cordon (I think it’s called the Guyot system) keeping the vine down to 2 main laterals which I run left and right on wires. I keep these laterals to around 10-12 buds max and keep them tied into wires using soft garden string.

winter-prune-grape-vine3

As the buds break and grow away I train them up to the wires until there are around 4 nodes or buds per stem.  I then trim the subsequent growth to a minimum of 4 bunches per stem, which ensures all the energy goes into making loads of delicious grapes and not into growing more vine.

Job 2. Put Up Support For The Rasberrys

A couple of weeks ago I transplanted my raspberry  canes into a redundant part of the veg patch in the garden. I usually plant fruit canes in January, but given the cold weather the canes are still dormant, so they should survive the move.

If you don’t want your raspberry canes falling all over the place you’ll need to provide adequate support.  Don’t skimp in this area is my advice if you want an easy life later in the summer. I’ve learnt the hard way and used all sorts of methods from a piece of string tied between bamboo canes, too individually staking each cane (yes I really did stake every single cane).

The best solution I find is to take two or three 8 foot 4 x 4 inch square posts and cement them in a hole at least 18″ deep. Not cheap I know, but it will last much longer.  Then head to the local hardware shop and buy a few screw in wire connectors and some reasonable heavy gauge wire.

raspberry-ties

Fix the connectors to the inside of each post approximately 2 feet apart and run a length of the wire through the connectors and twist the ends to make a fixing. The secret is to make sure they are nice and tight.

If you’re planning to plant a few canes (or any soft fruit bushes) then my advice is prepare a trench in advice of planting if possible.  I usually dig a trench about a spades width across and a spades depth deep. You don’t need a massive trench as raspberries take up moisture through the fibrous roots that sit just below the surface, so avoid planting them too deep. Also the roots need oxygen so bury them too deep and they are less likely to survive. Bit like us really!

Into the trench goes a barrow load of compost which I fork into the soil.  I then plant the canes until the roots are completely covered. Throw in a sprinkle of fish blood and bone around the roots and heal them in nice and firm. Finally give them a good drink and they’ll do you proud.

Job 3. Pot On Last Years Softwood Cuttings.

For the last 3 years I’ve been learning how to raise plants from cuttings with varying degrees of success. Last year was my best year yet and I’m pleased to say 99% of the cuttings I managed to root have survived (so far) through a cold winter. Always amazes me just how resilient plants really are.

It’s really easy to raise plants from cuttings and anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis will know it’s become a bit of passion of mine. Last year I even managed to sell a few plants which brought in a little extra cash into the household budget.

Softwood Cutings

These are just a few of the plants I raised in 2012 just before they were going to the customer.

You can grow plants like these from softwood cuttings

You can grow plants like these from softwood cuttings

This weekend I’ll be potting up last years cuttings into larger pots so they can grow into great little plants, just as soon as the weather warms up that is!

Job 4. Spring Clean The Wildlife Pond.

If you want your wildlife pond to look like this …

wildlife-pond-algae2

and not like this …

Spring Clean The Wildlife Pond

… then it’s going to need a Spring clean.

I’ve noticed we already have frog spawn in the pond, so probably best to collect it all up in a bucket first and return it when you’re finished.

Basically all I do in the Spring is thin out the oxygenating plants (elodium) and remove as many of the fallen leaves and decaying plants as I can.  It’s important to remove leaves from a pond or they will eventually decompose and give off noxious gasses which will discourage the wildlife from coming to the pond.

I find the best tool for the job is a Spring rake just as long as you take care not to puncture the liner! Alternatively it’s on with the wellies or waders and be prepared to get wet! 🙂

Job 5. Tidy Up The Herbaceous Borders.

One of the most satisfying jobs in the garden at this time of the year in my view is clearing and preparing the herbaceous borders ready for the summer ahead. Nothing too strenuous of course, just a little light pruning on the roses and removing the dead or decaying growth from last years gems. The Lupins have already started which is a sign of great things to come.

Lupins

One task I have to perform every year (and for most of the season come to that) is to remove as many of the large stones and flints that rise to surface each year. The borders seem to suffer the most as we are on chalk, on top of which is a layer of large flints and stone in this part of Hampshire. Great for trout rivers they tell me, but pain in the bum in the garden.

After I’ve cleared the beds of all debris I mulch with a good layer of well rotted garden compost. Always amazes me where it all goes, but sure enough by the end of the season it will all be consumed by the worms and other insect life and put back in to the soil. Nature is a truly wonderful thing.

Well that’s my weekend in the garden sorted.

I wonder what jobs you’re planning in the garden this Easter weekend?

Have a lovely Easter,

Best wishes,

Tania.

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