Planting for 2015

by Value hunter  

After giving the garden a relative year off, it's been all systems go this week, now the sun is with us.

Apart from a few tomato plants and trying to grow parsnips last year, we didn't really do much.

Strawberries were moved to a different patch after 3 years in the same place, some drain guttering left over from the house extention was fixed to the fence, growing strawberries out of them has been difficult but we try again.
I've seen some old wellies being used on fences so I may try that for something different.

I've also spotted something useful with old pallets, filling them in between the lats, with soil and growing veg inbetween. I have a few old pallets knocking around.
The canopy/fruit growing idea is still there, I doubt funds will be available to get the wood for the posts but you never know, some housebuild might have some useful wood to chuck away that I can reuse. I think it will look good with fruit growing on the roof of a shelter.

I had to fix the shed roof first, much wind and rain around here lately caused water to sit on the old boards, these have been left in place and two new almost fully covering sheets of 2-ply have been fixed, with tarpaulin added over the top and screwed down all around, this should do the trick until I come across any more house extentions that are using 3-ply boards instead of glass for windows.
Free wood used to be plentiful, but I guess times are hard for many so not as much of it about lately.

This year I've gone for a different planting style, which was an idea of the 5 year old sprog2.
Instead of one crop per growing area, I've doubled/trebled them up for some variety.
At the back of one area I've put in two rows of corn on the cob, with a row of onions in front and a row of spring onions in front of them.
This is something similar to an old native american trick, of growing 3 differing types of crop together. The idea is that one crop prevents pests for the other and so on.

In area 2, I've planted a row of leeks, with two rows of chives in front of them. Area 3 will have peapods again this year, it's only small and the netting is still there from last year so should do the trick as long as I get them in early enough. (Shamefully it was June before I got them in last year, in part as I was being lazy, in part as my market greengrocer kept selling out of them!)
* I tend to grow what I can salvage seeds from rather than buy the seeds in a packet - this way I grow what we like to eat rather than grow for the sake of it. Peapods need to be opened and dried, before soaking and replanting.

I've got the seeds ready for the tomatoes to go in the recycled greenhouse, as well as a huge pot for the lemon trees!
For a test, I got some pips out of lemons last year while trying my hand at making cheesecake with real lemons, from the market.
Everywhere I read that it takes around three years for them to even sprout, to my surprise, the three pots I planted them out in, two of them have grown to a couple of inches tall, so I will move them into a big pot in the greenhouse and see how we get on.
I will keep them fed with comfry water while they take. (or IF they take?)

I've got some peppers to go in as well, will also use some of the left over seeds from the chives for the greenhouse.
I did pick up some lettuce seeds, love fresh lettuce on butties with cucumber, but for the life of me I cannot find them in the madhouse.
The grapevine is just starting to bud again, this is year 4 since I planted them, so the grapes should be a bit bigger and sweeter this year.
I am determined to get it growing across from the removed greenhouse window across the wall this year, I had a little progress last year but nothing to write home about.

Once that little lot is done, it's just a case of keeping them watered, then it's on to the front garden and weeding and planting the night scent flowers etc.

One final thought on veg, etc. is mint. Do not plant it out in a growing area or border, keep it in a tub.
Digging over today, hardly any leaves on it, but hell fire the roots of it were everywhere and it's only been in a year!

As always gang... happy digging!

I rescued a bird today...

by Value hunter  

Walked out to the van today to throw some junk in the back, when I noticed a neighbour's cat pawing at something on the pavement. Desperate chirps, flapping wings, perfect stillness until the cats paw lifted before more flailing wings and high pitched squawks. I had to act fast.
I do not like interfering in mother nature, cats will hunt birds, but this seemed different.
First of all, the cat wasn't putting the bird out of it's misery, it was toying with it.
Secondly, other, much larger cats were on the scene, as if they smell a prize.

On closer inspection, it looked like a young starling, plump and fiesty, but completely outgunned.
After shouting and hissing at the cat, it took no notice, I threw my keys at it, by now under the wheels of the van, it backed off, still watching.
As the bird tried to get away from me, desperately trying to bite my hand, bounding off towards the road in sheer panic, the cat made another attempt to grab it, my keys stopped it and it scuttled off to watch from a safe distance.

The bird was breathing heavily, out on it's feet, yet still had the presence to bound along, away from where ever I went to try and pick it up.
Through two front gardens until it finally tried again to fly, got a few inches off the ground then collapsed in a heap behind a neighbour's large garden tub.
I slid out the tub and tried to pick it up in my gloved hands, still it struggled, but it was no good, I closed its wings in my grip and gently took it back into my house, so that sprog2 could see a real live bird from a distance, then out into the greenhouse, where it may have a chance of some respite.

After yet more panic, it finally settled on the bottom shelf of my potting frame. Comfy enough in a medium sized plant pot holder, in one of the six sections.
My thinking was at least in the greenhouse, it would get a chance to rest.
I placed a lid of water at the side of it, then dug around in the soil for a fresh worm.
I left the worm wriggling on the side of the pot holder, right next to the bird, nothing!
Perfectly still and watching me, the bird would not even blink!

I figured that it must be terrified, totally exhausted, best thing I could do was to leave it in peace for a while, let it get it's bearings.
It could still flaps it's wings but hardly got off the ground. The greenhouse is not that safe, one of the top triangle panes of glass is missing, with a grapevine growing out of it, but it would be difficult for cats to get in there, as once in, almost impossible for them to get back out again.
I went back through the house to carry on putting the junk in the van.
About an hour went by, I nipped out to the greenhouse to check on our little friend, as two cats were circling around the greenhouse very interested on what was inside.
No bird was there, hope it hasn't fallen down the back of the potting shelves and pots and got stuck, I'd never get it out as the shelves are cast iron!
I took off some empty pots and turned to put them behind me, there, sat large as life on the edge of my plastic tool box was the sparrow, watching me in silence.

It wasn't the slightest bit interested in me at all. I approached it slowly and off it shot, into mild panic trying to get away, not a chance, far too weak to get to the top pane of glass and freedom.
I used a big plant pot to coax it back into the holder it was sat in before, it walked in and let me put it back!
I dug another worm up and again wasn't looked at, as soon as I turned my back the worm was gone. Eating is a good sign, but how many worms make a meal for a chubby young starling?
I guessed two was enough.
This time the bird was a bit calmer and it afforded me the odd blink, so I knew it was still with us.
I chased off two very interested strange cats (ours could not catch a cold!) and went back to my jobs.

Two hours later, going dark, I went back to see how we were getting on, again all was calm, but as I approached, it again tried to fly, more than a couple of feet off the ground was the best attempt. I guided it into the large plant pot again, opened the greenhouse door and tilted the pot for it to fly out, it tried but struggled, then just hopped a few feet and stood by the fence, completely out in the open. A couple of minutes went by, it made no attempt to move. Just sat there watching me.
I took a thin garden cane and gently stroked its back, still no movement.
I stroked it again with the cane and it's little eyes started closing... surely it wasn't nodding off?
It was! It was going to sleep!
As it was going dark and there are lots of cats pass through our garden, I knew I couldn't leave it in the open for the night, poor thing wouldn't stand a chance.
I used the cane to guide the bird back into the big plant pot, which it obliged and then put it back into the plant pot holder in the greenhouse. I thought it best to raise it up a shelf as the floor is draughty.
I nipped back into the house stripping up some old newspaper and took it to the greenhouse, where the bird has now not only climbed into the pot holder, but now had it's head tucked backwards, aka sleep mode.
I actually woke it up when a put some newspaper shreds around it in a nest shape.

My idea with the newspaper was that newspaper is insulating, keeps cold things cold and hot things hot?
With that I closed the door and went in.

Whether I've done the right thing and it survives the night, only time will tell. I may have left it in a trap for a very agile cat might manage to get in through the top missing pane of glass, but there are plenty of pots for the bird to stand behind and be out of reach of any cat, so it should have a chance.

The bird's wings are both working fine, just cannot get much height at the moment. The bird is eating ok, ala carte worms went down in no time. It has water to drink/wash right at the side of it.
I'm hoping a good sleep will give it some strength back and a bit of breathing space, ready for the challenge of finding its nest again tomorrow?
The ideal scenario is that it will wake up early doors tomorrow, fully refreshed and ready to go, it will fly up to the top of the greenhouse and away to freedom out of the missing pane.
It could be a chubby baby starling, the marking are not distinct, or it could be a chubby mother ready to lay eggs? It has adult sized claws, so who knows, who cares!

As long as it gets a fighting chance, that'll do for me.

UPDATE:
Got up early today and went down to see what was happening, feeding the bird more worms if needed.
Searched all around the greenhouse in case the bird has tried flying then landed anywhere, moved all the pots, etc, no sign of it.
Touch wood it has flown out and off!
Picked a bad day for it though, it's blowing a gale and raining here.

Help needed for stopping cat muck!

by Value hunter  

There can be nothing more soul destroying, than scooping up a full bin liner of cat muck, preparing your garden for new plants, digging out all the weeds, etc, only to wake up next morning to find your plants/seeds have been dug up, covered in cat wee then dumped on!

I am literally at the end of my tether with the cats on our street.

I have two house cats, who have trays and only come out in the summer months. The neighbourhood cats are destroying my hard work every time I try to plant anything nice or put veg in.
So far I have tried the following;

  • Bottles of water, half filled so the movement scares the cats away
  • Old CDs tied to string
  • Netting and/or mesh over the whole of the soil area
  • Catnip plants
  • Weed matting over the whole plot
  • Pepper and garlic
  • Orange peel
  • Garden lights

If anyone can suggest ANYTHING, I'll be willing to try it.... I love animals, but the neighbourhood cats are doing my head in!

Free seeds for next year

by Value hunter  

Seeds gathered for next year
Gathering and drying out, next years seeds.

For next years fruit and veg, late summer/early autumn is ideal for getting your seeds, cheap and often for FREE!

Peapods - The white powdery covered pods that have only half grown or been caught by the colder nights, etc, are ideal seed material. Simply pick them off, pop them open, into a dish and shake the dish every day for a couple of days (to stop fungus growning on them).
Once they have dried out, place the now dried peas into a brown paper bag (I use the bags I keep from the fruit and veg markets every week) pop them into a drawer and hey presto, next years peapod seeds are all ready and waiting to be planted out again next year.
SAVING - At £2.50 a pack, that's £5 frugally saved, plus the time to go and buy them and driving out to the garden centre etc.

Sweetcorn - I started my sweetcorn too late this year, as I did last year, but when the time came to plant them outside of the greenhouse, the colder nights had already set in. Last year they didn't survive, the same thing will happen if I plant them out this time.
Anyhow, of course they will produce no seeds, the reason they were late planting this year is because there were simply no sweetcorn seeds for sale for over a month.
At £3 a pack, which contained 20 seeds, they are not cheap.
However, at my local market, I can pick up three fresh corn on the cobs, for just £1.
They alone will supply enough seeds for my entire street!
Again, let them dry out on the cobs, pick them off and place them in a dish to dry out. After a couple of days, brown paper bag them up and store them away, ready for next April.

Don't pay over the odds for your seeds next year, use waste fruit and veg that you won't eat this time around, save the seeds, dry them and store them, then put them away.
The more frugal amongst us, spot when fruit and veg is coming to the end of it's season and pick them up cheaply (sometimes for free) at local markets, then dry the seeds ready for next year.

Why does tap water prevent plant growth?

by Value hunter  

Tap water preventing plant growth
Why is tap water no longer any good for healthy plants?

Last year, my tomato plants reached the dizzy heights of 5-6 foot tall and gave me fruit right up until late October.
They were grown in the greenhouse and watered with water from an outdoor storage container, ie, rain water.

This year, I have only been able to water them using tap water.
They took an age to start growing, when I finally got some seeds coming through, I split them all up into large pots.
I had one seedling left over, so I planted that in my border, on the off chance that I might be able to grow a tomato plants outside (I have never been able to before).

The hot weather vanished as soon as the hosepipe ban came into force and along came the heavy and persistant rain.
I continued to water the plants in the green house using tap water.
The greenhouse tomato plants are scrawny, weak and yellow leaved at between 1-2 foot tall, there are a few flowers and a couple of little tomatoes starting to grow but nothing on the scale we had last year.
In contrast, the one seedling I planted out by my peapods as a test, has shot upwards and outwards. This has been left to the rain to keep watered.
Not only has "Sydney" got more than 30 flowers on him, a quick look underneath the main leaves reveals already fruit is growing.
His stalk is almost an inch thick, compared with the greenhouse plants of less than a centimetre, big deep green leaves with not a yellow leaf in sight.

I also planted out in borders this May, lettuce, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and some sprouts. (May and June were hot dry months here, so these were watered regularly with tap water).
I have had not one single lettuce, carrot, beetroot or sprout come up!
Not until a week of heavy rain in early July did the potatoes start to show, after three weeks of more rain they have filled my grow box.

I ran a test last week, planting some lettuce and sweetcorn seeds in the greenhouse.
I watered one half with tap water and the other half with rain water out of a standing container.
It took just three days for shoots to come through, when watered with rain water - those watered using tap water haven't had a single one come through in six days.

So what exactly is going into our tap water? If it prohibits plant growth, what is it doing to animals and humans?

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