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Notes from the Garden Shed

March Notes

February has certainly lived up to its traditional title, ‘February Fill-dyke’ and has left our stream and ditches flowing well. March winds are now blowing strongly, but they are not drying the ground adequately to allow progress to be made in the vegetable garden. With a bit of luck things will improve before Easter. When the days lengthen and the temperature rises, it will be worth starting off the new growing season in the vegetable plot. Onion sets and shallots are usually the first subjects to plant out. These should be ready for harvesting by late summer.

Seed potatoes should be sprouting well by now in their‘ chitting trays’ in a frost free place and be ready for planting out soon. Traditionally, early potatoes were planted on Good Friday every year. Harvesting would then commence 12 ~ 14 weeks later in an average season.

Smaller seeds can be sown when the soil warms up a bit more; early carrots, beetroot, broad beans, spring onions etc. may be sown outdoors. The greenhouse is really useful at this time of the year. Apart from being a‘bolthole’ for the gardener, the protection provided allows the sowing of more tender vegetables such as tomatoes, French beans and, of course, all the salad crops. With the annual ‘Garden Competition’ being held again this year, why not raise some of your own plants from seed this year to enhance your front garden display of summer bedding. Try some dwarf African type marigolds. These are easy to grow and give a dazzling display with large yellow/orange blooms above neat foliage, giving more impact than the smaller French marigold family. Cosmos are also easy to grow and are a very showy plant that will give a bit more height to a bed or container. ‘Sonata’ is probably the best strain to choose as they do not get too tall, therefore they do not suffer too much wind damage. If you wait a few weeks for the warmer weather, you will find a wide range of annual bedding plants available from your local garden shop or nursery. Plants chosen should not be in full flower when you buy them. Far better to buy them while they are still in bud as they will establish themselves more quickly and ultimately make better plants. Feeding your annual display is vital if you want them to last all season.

If you are planting in a multi-purpose compost, it is simple to add some ‘slow release’ fertiliser prior to planting or mix in some ‘fish blood and bone fertiliser if you do not like chemical fertilisers.

Water newly planted plants thoroughly and of course, keep them watered through the season. The lawn has probably had a tough time during the winter with heavy rain washing away some of the nutrients which will encourage the growth of moss. A good scarifying or raking with a spring rake will help to remove some moss and the build up of old grasses that form a ‘thatch’. This will enable the grass to ‘breathe. Apply a lawn fertiliser to encourage grass growth, which in theory helps to stifle moss growth as moss hates nitrogen fertiliser.

Mowing too closely is not a good idea early in the season, it is far better to gradually mow closer in stages. Spiking or hollow thinning the lawn will help drainage which will also help to discourage moss, but in our local climate it is difficult to combat the moss problem due to the high level of rainfall and humidity.

When you have completed all those tasks, and think that you have finished work for the spring, I am sorry to say that is when the weeding job starts, along with dozens of other tasks, so I am afraid you will have to wait a little longer before you can relax with that refreshing drink!

Happy gardening.

Old Gumboot

December Notes

The season to remember Guy Fawkes and his band of plotters is now gone, this of course means fireworks and bonfires , these bonfires need fuel, which could mean prunings from the garden, which may be tree or shrub prunings and hedge trimmings which need to be disposed of.

This could be a good time to look at pruning tools that can be used in the garden. For serious pruning of larger branches etc., there are various small chain saws available, including small petrol or electric saws on extendable handles which can reach up to about 3 metres. It is important to be careful when cutting off branches above your head, that they do not fall on you, please wear goggles and helmet when carrying out this work.

A hand saw is an essential piece of kit, there are many types available in the form of bow saws and specially designed pruning saws. Carpenters saws have finer teeth making them unsuitable for cutting green wood. I find ‘pull saws’ are the best for tree and shrub pruning, as these little saws are designed to be pulled towards you on the cutting stroke, rather than pushed away from the body as you would with most saws. I find the brand ‘ Silky Fox’ are really excellent for amateur and professional users (available from MGM Carmarthen, and also online )

You will need some good loppers for cutting thick stems, again there are several types available, some have a ratchet mechanism, this means less effort is needed to cut through thicker stems than would be attempted with non ratchet pruners. A pair of secateurs are invaluable for general pruning work in the garden. In my opinion it is false economy to buy really cheap secateurs, as they do not last and sometimes break when put to hard work. The old Anvil type of secateurs tend to crush soft stems if not kept really sharp, this can damage plants and let diseases into damaged stems. I think that the type now more readily available, which have blades that cross each other ,leave a cleaner cut, but also need to be kept sharp. If you can persuade someone to give you a good pair for Christmas , I would recommend one of the ‘Felco’ range, they are easily serviced and all parts are replaceable, not the cheapest but they will last a lifetime if looked after.

You may need to reach up a bit higher for pruning taller shrubs and fruit trees, ‘long arm’ pruners are available for this job, these useful gadgets will add another 2-3 metres to the length of your arms , and some have the facility to remove the pruning head in favour of a saw blade for thick branches etc.

With the pruning finished, let the prunings dry a bit before building your bonfire, but make sure you check for hibernating hedgehogs before setting bonfire alight. Did you try putting some large potatoes in the hot embers to cook, Baked potatoes taste good when freshly raked out of the fire.

Hopefully, you gave old Guy Fawkes a thought while you were tending the bonfire, and ponder on what might have happened if he had been successful in blowing up Parliament !

Enjoy your Gardening

Old Gumboot