“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

It is fast approaching my favourite time of year. Once the August bank holiday has been and gone I look forward to slowly putting the garden to bed for winter. The mornings have begun to have coolness about them with dew sparkling on lawns. Spiders are beginning to spin their webs where ever I seem to walk in the garden and of course slugs and snails are out in force. The smell of bonfires wafts into the garden and the evenings begin to draw in a little.

Tidying the garden after the summer is a job that transforms my garden from a tired, grown out look to a neat ready for winter look. The spent annuals are composted along with the cut off branches and overgrown herbaceous plants that need a trim. The lawn is cut on a higher blade setting and raked to get a much moss out as possible. (Back breaking but worth it).

Of course this activity produces piles of green garden waste. This is where my composters come into their own. As if by magic, the greenery goes in to them and this time next year I can harvest it as beautiful, sweet smelling compost ready to grow seedlings in the following spring. You may like to look at our extensive range of composters.

Personally I have both wooden beehive style composters that I can add extra capacity to by adding an extra module, and also the traditional, (very effective) Classic Rotol composter. Whichever you choose you too can then experience the thrill of harvesting compost that has been made from discarded garden waste.

Let me know how autumn is tackled in your garden.


Wild Bird Feed – Quality Does Matter

Bird FeedingAs organic techniques go, there can be few more rewarding than encouraging birds into your garden.  Not only do they consume plenty of pests (aphids, slugs, snails and so on), they are also a pleasure to have around.  It’s a sad fact that many of our native species are in serious decline, the main cause almost undoubtedly being habitat loss.  As towns sprawl ever outwards, disused land, green public spaces and even our gardens are snapped-up by developers (if ever a profession was misnamed!).

While the seed heads and fruits of autumn make it a bountiful season for birds, as we move towards winter the natural supply of food becomes more scarce.  This is unfortunate for birds because the falling temperatures require them to expend more energy keeping themselves warm, so it’s pretty obvious that any help from gardeners will be greatly appreciated.

Winter is a good season for watching birds however, as many bushes and trees have shed their leaves.  Hunger also makes some birds bolder – look out for robins, and for thrushes foraging on your lawn.  So what can you do to attract these useful allies?  Water is hugely important, and you should try and maintain a reliable supply of clean water in a shallow container – try putting the lid of your water butt on upside down; if it fits, top it up straight from the butt each day.

Food is also vital, and quality is a very important factor.  I have on occasion bought cheap, end of line feeds thinking ‘every little helps’, but in fact they generated little interest from the birds.  One batch, bought from a major DIY chain, was infested with meal moth grubs which proceeded to break out of the packaging and eat through most of the dry food in my kitchen cupboards!  I now stick to reliable brands, and try to buy little and often from a good supplier so I can be sure the food is fresh.  Have a look at Original Organics’ new range of Kingfisher bird feed for a little inspiration.

Until next time!

All things green: The 3 R’s and Freecycle

There’s a section of society (which, if you’re visiting a website like this one, probably includes you) that has known for many years how important it is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Just lately though, I’m starting to feel like it might actually be taking root in the wider public consciousness.

I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning recently; clearing out a garage, moving the junk left on my allotment by the last tenant, that sort of thing. It used to be the case that you would take the fruits of such a task to the local tip, where it may or may not be recycled. These days however, I’ve discovered most ‘rubbish’ will be collected free of charge and taken to a new home. The Freecycle website is a wonderful tool in this regard – just post details of anything you no longer require (for example, Offered: 30 old copies of National Geographic) and you will probably have a number of people keen to collect. Even broken furniture will be snapped up by someone with a wood burner. What’s more, I have twice left a pile of faulty electrical items and scrap metal in public view (waiting to be loaded into the car) only to have them eagerly removed by enterprising (if slightly scruffy) chaps in a (more than slightly scruffy) white Transit. The value of scrap is clearly making their daily circuits of residential streets worthwhile. Interestingly, they declined my offer of two rather nice wooden chairs. Either they like to stick to their niche or they know that there is more embodied energy (and thus value) in a broken hi-fi than a hand-crafted chair.

Perhaps a less personal indicator of this ‘zeitgeist’ is that most of the supermarkets have taken the long-overdue step of keeping plastic bags under the counter until you ask for them. Just by repeatedly reminding us of the issue they are clearly having an effect on our habits.

Of course before we Recycle, we should be aiming to Reduce and Reuse (in other words, buy less stuff and try not to throw it away!) but there are very few products that cannot be saved by one of those three ‘R’s. The question is, with many decades of reckless consumerism behind us and a potentially lean time ahead, how soon will we stop filling landfill sites and begin to mine them for their wealth?!


All things green: Wild Birds of my Allotment

Wild Birds of my allotmentEvery time I turn up at my allotment with my digging fork, the cheeky robin who’s resident on our plot appears out of nowhere and I can’t help thinking how lucky I am to have a little patch of my own in one of the few green areas left in my town. The robin does a great job of keeping me motivated and he eats as many grubs and ants’ eggs as I can uncover.

I’m happy to report that my site is a true haven for wild birds – so much so that the rustic arbour my neighbour built for his grapevine is riddled with woodpecker holes! In fact, across the UK allotments and back gardens make up most of the remaining safe places for breeding birds. Allotments tend to be more cat-free than back gardens, which is why we so often get the benefit of birdsong as we tend our plots.

There are lots of things we can all do to make life a bit easier for our feathered friends, and this year in particular they need all the help they can get. The late, wet and cold start to spring, preceded by a bitter winter, has led to a real shortage of food. Let’s hope the weather picks up quickly!

There are sound practical reasons for helping birds too. They provide an extremely useful form of pest control; eating slugs, snails, asparagus beetles and aphids to name just a few of the critters I’ve spotted this month. What’s more, the waste that birds produce is not to be sniffed at – I use the deposits beneath my bird feeders to enrich the soil, helping to provide bumper crops.


A new dish – growing your very own potatoes!

Burgon & Ball Patio Potato Planter

Burgon & Ball Patio Potato Planter

It’s that season again.  The days are getting longer and warmer and the garden beckons.  One of my favourite tasks is to begin the sowing of seeds of things to later harvest and eat.  Of these, the ritual of growing potatoes on my patio is one of the most rewarding.

I have chosen the two varieties for this years’ crop, one early, Charlotte and one main crop, King Edwards. They are currently chitting under my bed in readiness for planting.

It is traditional to plant the chitted potatoes on Good Friday. I do not always adhere to this as some years this feels a little too early, but this year may prove a traditional one.

I use containers to grow my potatoes as I only have a small garden.  Patio Potato Planters are just so convenient!

The potatoes are planted in about 8 inches of compost and covered by a further couple of inches of soil, watered and left. I keep an eye on the moisture level as potatoes need moisture to thrive. Once leaves have started to break through the compost add a further couple of inches of compost into the top of the patio planter. This is what my father would call ‘earthing up’. It encourages more and more potatoes to form. Once the top of my potato planter has been reached by earthing up it is then a matter of watering and waiting.

(Tempting though it may be, do not ‘peep’ to see how they are getting on).

The best way to tell that the potatoes are ready is when some of the leaves have started to change from a dark green to yellow. If possible begin harvesting the lowest potatoes first, take what is needed and leave the others to continue growing. Pick and enjoy. If more are harvested than required store in a cool, dark container such as a Potato basket.

Finally two warnings;
1) I always forget just how prolific six seed potatoes of each of the two varieties can be but friends and family always appreciate the excess produce.
2) Potato growing has, for me, become addictive. The ease of successfully growing them, the knowledge of how they were grown and also the education of my children that potatoes do not all come in plastic bags from supermarkets has got to be good enough reason or should that be excuse?

Have a go and good luck!  Do let us know how you get on.


All things green: Meat and the environment

Part of my time over the past weekend was spent, as is only right, in the local pub with my chums. After a pint or two, I found myself involved in a discussion about the most effective things you could do to ‘be green’ – a rather high-brow subject for the Kings Arms crowd.

A few daft suggestions were discounted (killing yourself, killing the heads of the oil companies, killing the heads of the oil companies and then yourself, etc) and a further set were ruled out for being too hard to sell (not having children, returning to prehistoric life). The sensible suggestions included not flying, not owning a car and someone (well, me actually) mentioned the touchy subject of not eating meat.

The fact is, the meat and dairy industry is the world’s single biggest producer of greenhouse gas, apart from nature’s own well-balanced systems. This is down to a number of contributing factors; the gas produced by the animals themselves, the energy-intensive way in which they are raised, the food that has to be grown and transported to feed them, the transport of the animals themselves (live or as meat) and so on. What’s more, modern farming methods are morally very dubious if you look into them, and I’m sure all visitors to this kind of website will be concerned about that.

While I’m all for vegetarianism, I appreciate this might not be easy for everyone. However if we all chose to eat less meat, perhaps being veggie for one or two days a week, then we’d shave a huge chunk off our carbon footprint. What’s more, with meat being one of the most expensive items in our shopping trolleys, the money we’d save could mean we might splash out on better-quality, ethically-produced meat when we did buy it. Better for us, better for the Earth and better for the animals.

I’d love to hear from any readers who have other ideas about how best to be green, and anyone with any thoughts on how our diet affects the environment. Could you cut meat out of your diet?


All things green: ‘Not enough space’ is not an excuse!

My Patio Growing Plot!

As my writing depends on it, I am fortunate in that I have three allotments, all shared with my girlfriend Jeannine.  Thanks to the local council’s policy of splitting plots in half (to please twice the number of gardeners) the reality is that we have three half plots – which strikes me as half a plot less than we are entitled to!  Nonetheless, allotment waiting lists in most parts of the country now seem so long that you have to sign your grandchildren up, let alone yourself, so I count myself blessed!

We aren’t all lucky enough to have allotments or a large garden, but provided you’re not set on attaining complete self-sufficiency there is plenty you can do to grow your own in even a small space – perhaps a typical terraced-house garden, or even a patio or balcony.

Last summer I tested this theory by setting up an ultra-compact patio garden outside my kitchen door (you can see it above).  The area measures something like two metres by 80cm, and I carefully arranged planters, pots and old packing boxes to make use of the space.  These were filled with good quality compost, both home-made and shop-bought, because one trick to growing in small spaces is to make sure your plants are well fed.  The quantity and diversity of the food I managed to produce really surprised me, although of course such an intensive little plot needs some looking after.  Key to my success was the use of height – low-growing crops were interplanted with taller ones, and canes and support frames allowed climbing plants to double my ‘productive volume’.  I even had some tomatoes growing in hanging baskets – although the watering regime was at times inconvenient.

Apart from growing veg, you can also include other aspects of a well-rounded garden in a smaller plot.  Beneficial plants like marigolds and nasturtiums can be squeezed in, as can a rainwater harvesting system if you look out for a compact water butt (there are many such now available).  And at the end of the garden cycle (or is it the beginning?) don’t forget a composter.  Wormeries take up the minimum amount of room and will process your kitchen and some of your garden waste faster than any other design.

Perhaps the smallest possible growing area is a kitchen windowsill and, while no doubt limited, there are quite a few possibilities here.  Herbs should be your first option, as they are so expensive to buy fresh in shops but take up relatively little room – just one pot each of rosemary, mint, coriander and basil will transform countless dishes.  Another small-space star is a trough of cut-and-come-again salad, including some fast-growing Chinese leaves and rocket.  These will re-grow several times provided you don’t harvest them too hard.

Let me know how you get on.