Gardening, Guest Posts, Water Features

Many people who own a bit of land would love to build a pond on it. What could be more soothing than the sight of a body of water stocked with koi or other animal life or the sound of a pond with a little waterfall or fountain? What’s more beautiful than a pond ringed with or floating beautiful flowers? Then, when the person builds a pond the water is turbid, the fish die, the plants die. Essentially, they end up with a hole full of mud. What went wrong?

pond building mistakes

Poor Location

There are places on every property where a pond simply can’t be built because it either, interferes with the sewer drain or utility lines, or it’s not shaded properly. The pond should also not be built in a low spot because it will collect pollutants, flood during rainstorms and be hard to clean. Not only this, the location needs to have the right soil. It should not be sandy or gravelly because that sort of soil drains too quickly. Clay soil is ideal for a pond because it holds on to water.

Lack of Ledges

Ledges are needed for semi-aquatic plants whose roots need be submerged while the rest of them are above water. Ledges can even be resting places for frogs and basking places for turtles. Also, the gravel in a pond that’s dug without ledges will simply slide to the deepest part of the pond, and boulders will crowd the space.

Too Shallow

The water in a pond that’s too shallow will either become too hot, or evaporate out during the summer. In the winter, the water needs to be deep enough so the fish won’t freeze to death. If you have fish, a shallow pond can leave them more susceptible to predators.

Too Deep

A pond that’s too deep is hard to take care of, but it is better to have a pond that is deeper than the owner is comfortable with than one that is too shallow. If you are stocking your pond with fish, a pond that is too deep can hurt the population due to lack of oxygen.

pond lilies

The Wrong Stones/Lining

A natural looking pond should support rocks of several sizes. In the end, the pond owner should have a few tons of different sized rocks, from gravel to boulders. The pond liner has to be large enough to easily cover the area. Pond liners are expensive, but the owner’s best bet is to buy a bit more than they think they need.

Improper Filtration

Though there are some people who have ponds that do not need artificial filters, these ponds are a bit tricky to install and maintain. Chances are they are natural bodies of water anyway. Improper filtration leaves water dirty and unable to sustain the sort of life that the pond owner wants. It may only be able to sustain life such as algae and mosquitoes.

Underestimating the Labour

Anyone who has even planted a sapling in their landscape knows that it can be a job of work, especially if the soil is heavy. Excavating a pond is most likely not a job for one person if they wish to finish it in a reasonable amount of time. Renting a professional with a backhoe is always an option.

Building a pond may be a lot of work, but the end result is more than worth it. Especially if you can do it the right way, by planning ahead and being aware of potential oversights before they can occur. You will certainly enjoy your new water feature a lot more if aren’t worrying about mistakes you made during the build.

Drew BishopDrew Bishop is a contributing writer for Trophy Pond. In his spare time he enjoys camping and spending time on the lake.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

apple tree buying guide

With a bewildering array of options, deciding on your first tree can be a drawn out process. First there is a decision about which variety to choose. Varieties differ in their uses, taste, date of ripening, disease-resistance and fertility. Then, there is the decision about how you want your tree to be supplied. Trees can be supplied as bare root or containerised, and varieties can be grafted onto different rootstocks, which will affect a tree’s size and vigorousness.

Uses

Cultivars can be divided into dessert, cooking and cider apples. Dessert apples are sweeter and cooking apples larger and more acidic. Dessert apples are great for eating fresh of the tree – a typical example being the Cox, which is both aromatic, crisp and juicy. Cooking differ in that they’re firm and maintain their structure when cooked, the best of which remains Bramley’s Seedling. Sour straight off the tree, cooking apples’ flavour improves in storage as the acidity falls over time. Likewise, cider apples often taste awful straight off the tree due to the high levels of astringency and bitterness. However, it is these features that add color, body and mouthfeel to a pint, producing a well proportioned flavour. Not all varieties belong exclusively to one category, for example the versatile Granny Smith is great both fresh and cooked.

Taste

Each variety has a fascinating history of its own and came into being for a variety of reasons. Some are simply found by chance, like the Christmas Pippin, found growing at the side of the M4. Others are historical varieties and have been known for hundreds of years such as Ashmead’s Kernel, originating from the 18th century. Historical cultivars are produced in abundance with the most popular dessert and cooking apple in the UK (Cox and Bramley), originating from the 19th century. Others, produced through various breeding programmes, are selected for certain characteristics. These modern varieties are often recipient of RHS Award of Garden Merit and are superior in many respects to their predecessors.

Before deciding on a dessert apple, it can be worthwhile trying what’s on offer in a supermarket, but not all varieties will be available to purchase as a tree. Cripps Pink (better known by its brand name Pink Lady) is not available to purchase in the UK due to fears from the brand owner the UK’s climate will not do the apple justice.

If you want a recommendation, look no further than Cox’s Orange Pippin – aromatic, crisp and juicy – it’s nuanced taste is far better than imported cultivars such as Braeburn and it’s descendents. A similar modern variety, Red Windsor, itself a descendent of the Cox, has the same robust flavour and aromatic qualities, although is a tad sharper. For something different, try russet and Worcester Pearmain apples. Russets are distinctive for their rough, brownish skin with a taste oft described as sweet and nutty, similar to pineapples. Worcester Pearmain, on the other hand, is distinctive for its strawberry flavour, a trait which has contributed to its popularity with breeders.

For both cooking and cider making, two varieties are often combined to produce the best depth of flavour. For apple pie for example, it is common to combine a sweet and tart apple. For cider varieties, apples vary in their acidity, tannins and sugars, producing four flavours: bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp and sweet. The most popular cooking apple and probably the best, is Bramley’s Seedling. Rare for a historical variety, this cultivar is recipient of RHS’ Award of Garden Merit, which means it’s the best of its kind.

Date of Ripening

Apples can be divided into early, mid and late picking season varieties with apples ripening from early summer to late autumn. The picking date varies significantly on location, but a mid season variety will always ripen later than an early season variety. If you are to buy more than one tree, it is recommended you buy trees with different picking seasons to ensure you have fresh apples throughout harvest period, rather than endure a glut.

Different picking season apples exhibit different storage qualities. Early varieties are best eaten straight off the tree and do not keep. They tend to be brightly coloured and are often sweet and juicy with a natural waxiness. Mid-season varieties do not keep well either, but their freshness can be extended with refrigeration. They tend to be firm fleshed and harder skinned. Late season apples can be kept for several weeks or months with some varieties’ flavour improving after a period of storage. Generally, they are very rich in flavour, drier in texture and russetted.

Disease Resistance

Apple trees suffer from a range of diseases, most of which are easily treatable through containment and fungicides. Many affect the fruit itself, noticeable by retarded growth, discoloration and abscesses. Others cause damage to the leaves, stem and roots, reducing a tree’s productivity. Common problems include canker, scab and powdery mildew and it is resistance to these diseases one should watch out for.

Varieties with good disease resistance have long been selected for breeding programmes, producing cultivars with excellent disease resistance such as Red Windsor. It is modern cultivars such as these that are best selected if you are an organic gardener unwilling to use fungicides.

Fertility

crabapple trees pollinate apple
Crabapple trees are known for their blossom and ornamental apples, which can also be used in cooking.

Like most fruiting species, apple trees can be self-fertile or self-sterile. Self-sterile varieties, deprived of the pollen from another cultivar, will not produce fruit. However, it is probable that you already live within range of another apple tree, especially if you are in an urban area. Crabapples will also pollinate apple trees and can be commonly found in commercial orchards. So, overall it is likely, you do not need to purchase two trees unless you live in an isolated location.

If you are in an isolated location, it is worth noting triploid trees will not pollinate other cultivars, so it is important to buy it with either: a self-fertile variety or two self-sterile varieties. It is also worth noting that all apples trees, including self-fertile varieties, benefit from a pollination partner, so for bigger crops partner up.

Supplied

Trees can be supplied bare root or containerised, which each have their own advantages and disadvantages, although none of these differences will affect a tree’s long term health. However, there are two important distinctions worth considering.

Firstly, most apple trees produce fruit in their 3rd and 4th year. As bare root trees are young, in their 1st or 2nd year, you’ll have to wait a few years until they fruit. Potted trees are older due to the fact bare root trees are transferred into containers upon reaching a certain age. (Although, this does not mean all potted trees were once grown in the ground as some nurseries grow trees exclusively in containers.) Overall, if you buy a potted tree, you can expect fruit in the current year, although don’t expect a large crop.

Secondly, if you wish to train your tree into a fan, espalier or cordon it is important to buy a bare root tree that is easier to train.

fan trained apple tree
Training your tree against a south facing wall will improve yields.

Rootstocks

Rootstocks influence the size of tree and the date it bears fruit. Dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks produce smaller trees but take less time to bear fruit. Vigorous rootstocks produce larger trees, but take longer to fruit. The variety you choose can also affect time to fruiting with some varieties fruiting at a younger age. Many of these are commercial varieties such as Braeburn and Granny Smith, which makes sense considering growers want a return on investment asap.

FAQ

Does it matter when I buy/plant my tree?

Trees are best planted in the autumn, allowing time to establish a root system before the summer. It is not recommended to buy a bare root tree in the winter when the ground is frozen as it is impossible to plant. Nor is it recommended to plant in the peak of summer as trees without an established root system can wilt.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, How To, Planting

seeding plants indoors

Gardeners dream of lush green plants bearing wonderfully coloured and textured fruits and vegetables. But the reality is different. Some plants need more sun, while others require some shade. Plants have varied needs in soil nutrients, the amount of water required, as well as maturation rate.

The best way to get the perfect garden started is to learn how to start seeding your plants indoors. Gardeners may begin different types of plants, instead of being limited to the basic squash, tomatoes, and peppers. Seeding plants indoors brings earlier and more bountiful harvests.

It is understandable gardeners want to seed many varieties of plants. The best advice is to keep it simple. Seed only a few varieties of fruits and vegetables. Ensure they are labeled clearly for later planting.

How to Start Seeding Your Plants Indoors

Begin the seed adventure with light. Gardeners will need a south-facing window or bank of windows with strong light. For gardeners without south-facing windows, investing in a grow light and a timer works. Plants without strong light for a set amount of time don’t grow strong in addition to their produce being weak.

TIP: The grow light should be three to four inches above the plants. Fluorescent lights work best, because they shed light but remain cool. Regular bulbs will burn the plants. Hang light fixtures where they can be adjusted as the plants grow.

seeds in grow light

Next, gardeners will need containers. Anything will do, as long as the container has drainage holes. Many people remember their children coming home from school with plants begun in paper cups, cut off plastic Coca-Cola bottles, cardboard milk cartons, or yogurt containers. Whatever the gardener chooses should have drainage holes and be about two to three inches deep.

TIP: Many seed starting kits offer containers that can be planted, so they grow into the soil. They also offer trays and clear tops for humidity.

The next and probably most important item in how to start seeding your plants indoors is the planting medium. Seeds don’t need regular soil until they’ve been truly and strongly begun. Peat mix is sold in most department stores as well as in gardening centers beginning in the early spring.

Peat is light and spongy. The thread-like plant roots easily push through and around the peat. Peat also holds just the right amount of water. The seeds have the capability for growth, so they won’t need fertiliser in the seeding stage.

TIP: Before planting the seeds, put the peat mix into a bucket. Wet it down until it crumbles. It shouldn’t be sopping wet, just moist.

Timing is the next thing a gardener needs to know. Check on the seed packet for planting times. For hints on how to start seeding your plants indoors, the packets will advise gardeners to start seeding six to eight weeks before the last frost. Keep an eye on the almanac for the last frost, usually in early to mid May.

TIP: Plants such as beans and some flowers grow too quickly to be begun indoors. Check the seed packet for the words “direct sow.” This tells gardeners the seeds should be begun outdoors.

flower seeds

Ready to Plant Your Seeds?

1. Fill clean containers up to just beneath the rim with peat mix from the bucket that was watered. Make sure the mix is crumbly to facilitate oxygen flow.

HACK: Sterilize the containers with one part bleach to ten parts water. The tiniest contamination can kill seedlings.

2. Plant seeds according to seed packet instructions. Push into the peat mix with a finger or the top of an ink pen or the eraser end of a pencil. Two finger-pushes in the container will hold seeds. Small seeds can even be sprinkled atop the soil.

HACK: The largest seeds sprout first.

planted seeds

3. Cover the tray with plastic. Poke holes in the plastic for ventilation. The cover keeps moisture in, which the seeds need to live. When the first green sprouts appear above the peat mix, the plastic can be removed.

HACK: Plastic lids from store-bought birthday cakes make excellent covers.

4. It’s time to water the seedlings. Watch the pressure with which they are watered. A strong flow, such as from a pitcher, will kill the seedlings. A soft flow, like a mist, isn’t enough. Some experts recommend a turkey baster for the right pressure. Gardeners could also try a child’s squirt gun.

HACK: When the plants sprout, remove the plastic cover to water the plants from the bottom. Watering from the top introduces germs or bacteria into the plants which could kill them or damage their produce.

5. Place seedlings near a heat source, not directly upon it. When the first green sprouts show, remove the tray from the heat source. Keep it in a warm area with temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees. Plant when the last frost is past.

Sarah BradleySarah has loved gardening and nature since childhood. She loves to read about new plants and gardening tips. She works for YourGreenPal which helps you to quickly find, schedule and pay for Lawn Care Services.

Composting, Grow Your Own, Megan, Sustainable living, Vegetables

Live More Sustainably by Cultivating your Kitchen Waste – Start Growing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps!

Composting is a great, sustainable way to reduce your kitchen waste – but did you know lots of kitchen scraps you toss into your compost can be used to grow a new crop of vegetables? Growing vegetables from kitchen scraps is easy, fun and will help you reach a new high of sustainability in your kitchen.

Spring Onions

Growing Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps - Spring Onions

This one is probably the most straightforward on this list! Simply place the root ends of the spring onions in a jar of water and let it do it’s thing, it should start to grow within a few days. Make sure you replace the water when it needs it. It’s as simple as that! The same technique applies to leeks and fennel. Spring onions are the perfect vegetable to begin with when delving into the world of growing vegetables from kitchen scraps.

Avocado

Growing Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps - Avocado

Want to make smashed avo on toast with you very own homegrown avocados? It’s easier than you think! After polishing an avo off, take the pit (which is actually the avocado seed) and give it a wash to rid it of any left over green flesh. Identify which end is the top and bottom. The top, where the sprout will grow out of, is slightly pointy and the bottom is flatter. Take three or four toothpicks and stick them around the circumference of the avocado at even intervals. Place in a cup of water with the toothpicks resting on the rim, so the bottom of the pit is immersed in water. Set on a windowsill where it will get some sunlight, and change the water every few days. Once the pit starts to grow roots, place in potting soil and you’ve got yourself an avocado plant!

Potatoes

Growing Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps - Potatoes

We’ve all left potatoes a little too long and opened the vegetable draw to find them sprouting. Once the potatoes are at this stage they are inedible, so instead of tossing in the compost why not try planting them and see what happens? Make sure you bury them deep into the soil and add a little compost. Water & mulch the potato plants well and cover the stems as they grow for the optimum crop turnout. Growing potatoes is very cost effective and one potato will give you 1kg+ of homegrown produce! If this isn’t proof that growing vegetables from kitchen scraps isn’t one of the most economical and sustainable things you can do in your kitchen, then what is?

Carrot Greens

Growing Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps - Carrot Tops

If you buy carrots with their tops, you can use the tops to grow carrot greens which can be used as a garnish for salad, added to smoothies or even made into pesto. Place the carrot top cut side down in a small bowl of water and place on a sunny windowsill. Change the water every day and wait for the tops to sprout shoots. Once sprouted, plant in soil. Harvest the greens early if you prefer baby greens or later if you prefer a more developed, deeper flavour.

Garlic

Growing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps

Garlic is an essential ingredient for all food enthusiasts, and it is easy to grow – all you need is a single clove. Plant in potting soil with the roots facing down. Garlic likes lots of direct sunlight. Once the clove starts to develop shoots in the form of green stalks, cut them back. The clove will then start to grow into a full bulb. Garlic is a crop that keeps on giving – simple take one of the cloves from the newly grown bulb and plant again and you will never be short of garlic in the kitchen again!

Ginger & Turmeric Root

Growing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps

As ginger and turmeric already come in root form, all you need to do to regrow them is place them in soil with the largest buds at the bottom. Soak the roots in water before planting to help the root retain moisture. Keep the soil moist but be careful not to over-water. Be patient with this one – they take a while to grow. After a few weeks you should see shoots develop and after a couple of months small pieces should be ready to harvest.

Overall, growing vegetables from kitchen scraps is a great contribution to living a more sustainable lifestyle, so why not get started today?

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

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