Cat, Celebrations And Holidays, Composting, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Insects, Mice & Rats, Moles, Outdoor Heating, Pest Control, Slugs & Snails, Spiders

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With Easter practically on our doorstep we are all looking forward to nicer and warmer weather so we can spend more time in our gardens.

If your garden is anything like ours you will probably have quite a lot of cleaning up to do before you can really enjoy it.

We thought we would help you and show you our range of composters so you can dispose of your garden and vegetable waste whilst creating compost to be used at a later time. Available in various sizes they are functional and look great!

Of course it is also important to enjoy your garden once you’re done with the spring clean, but we still have some chilly days and nights ahead of us. If you can’t wait, why not take a look at our patio heaters.

Whether you’re looking for a freestanding heater or one to attach to your wall or ceiling, we’re here to keep you warm.

It isn’t just you and your garden that needs a bit of TLC at this time of year, but also your pond. Do you have enough barley straw to clarify your pond?

It is totally safe for:
  • Fish
  • Pondlife
  • Aquatic plants
  • Children

It is simple to apply and maintain – all you need to do is remove the plastic outer packaging, and put it in your pond.

“Barley straw… now recognised as the only effective product that can safely be used in ponds”

– Chris Beardshaw, ‘3 little gems’, Daily Mail.

Of course you have to be able to reach your pond. Our roll-out path makes navigation in your muddy and wet garden simple!

We also have a huge range of weed killers and pest control to tackle those not-so-pleasant problems.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Mice & Rats, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control, Slugs & Snails

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and it is this change from winter to spring that sets the human heart on a course for growing. Indeed, any warmish day (should one appear) gets us all talking about spring and itching to get out there in the garden. But don’t be fooled into starting too soon – It is always true that what you can sow in early March will be just as good started out in late March.

Snowdrops coming up in the garden
The snowdrops look lovely this year in the garden, growing everywhere they shouldn’t. It’s a joy to see these little beauties popping up all over the place.

March for me is a “just about” month. You can just about still prune your roses, you can just about plant bare rooted trees, you can just about get away with sowing salads, carrots, and parsnips, so long as the ground is warm. But really, March is a month for preparation.
First crocus blooms of spring
I don’t mind admitting it – the first crocus of the year move me to tears – just don’t tell anyone!

A fine tilth

The biggest preparation for me is that of the seed bed. Now this year I am building raised beds and what with everything else, all the piled-up work and myriad tasks I have to sort around the house, it looks as though I am going to be a little late. But no matter, it’s best to get things right than to try to rush them.

Seed beds need to provide the young plants with all they need for growth. These are:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Oxygen
  • Protection from cold – which is different from warmth (I’ll explain later)
  • Protection from hungry animals
  • Ventilation
  • Nutrients
  • An easy passage for roots to grow

Moisture

All living things need water to grow and this is provided by the moisture between the particles of soil. It is increased by the addition of rotted plant material which acts as a sponge, holding moisture until it is forcibly taken in by growing roots.

I always make sure that my beds are enriched with compost for this reason – water retention. However, too much water can be a bad thing. You can check how much water your soil has quite easily by the way it responds to squeezing.

Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If it forms a tight ball, there is too much water in it. If it just starts to fall apart when released, it is just right. If there is too much water in your seedbed, add some sand – this will open the structure.
If your ball simply refuses to stick, even a little, your soil is too dry and you need to add more organic material – compost.

Warmth

In the first week of March I cover the soil with black plastic where possible. This is to warm the soil, the black plastic acting as a blanket to keep the day’s warmth in. By the end of the month the soil is ready for sowing direct. Even a couple of degrees is all you need for a growing seedling to get established.

For this reason also, I tend to put a plastic cloche on my tender plants, to keep the heat in. But you don’t want it so hot that the seedlings grow too quickly. I have found over the years that seedlings that grow too fast don’t store well when picked. Take onions for example: if you grow them too quickly they will produce onions that rot more easily than the ones that were a little cooler and slower growing. I am not sure, but I believe this is because of fungal infections that might get in the seedling and lie dormant.

Another thing to look out for is the amount of water in it that causes it to be cold. Clay soils are cold, and seeds don’t germinate too well in them. Adding compost, sand, and lime to clay soils, over a number of years, can improve it tremendously.

Oxygen

Almost all living things need oxygen for growth. This comes dissolved in the water between the soil particles. If your soil is too wet, if there is a lot of clay, it is likely that the oxygen in the soil will be largely used up.

The way to improve this is to add sand and organic matter. A fluffy soil is an airy soil.

Protection from Cold

This is different from keeping them warm. There is a phenomenon called ‘cold air drainage’ that basically says as wind blows over the land, it gets cooler. This is pronounced if you live on a hill. Cold air is heavy, and it rolls down the hill, getting colder all the time. This is responsible for frost pockets, which you almost always see at the bottom of a hill, or on your lawn if you live in the valley.

This is the reason for lining beds with box plants to keep the plants out of the chilling breeze. An old allotment trick is to plant in pyramids of soil, which bring them higher than they would have been sown flat.

Sedum plants in the garden
Sedum is as tough as old boots. Simply cut away the old stems when they die and you will get a crowd of new ones as a replacement

Protection from hungry animals

There is nothing more annoying than getting your cabbages ready and growing only to see them become breakfast for a flock of pigeons, or your peas to be pulled out of the ground by hungry mice, or worse still (I say worse – I love to watch them invent ways of getting to your plants), slugs and snails hang off branches to get to your lettuces.

There are clearly millions of chemicals you can use against nature, but in the end I prefer simple netting. My garden looks like a bedroom, by the end of March, with all the plants tucked under horticultural fleece. They get all the light they need, you can water through it and you can buy it so even the smallest insects can’t gain access.

Ventilation

One of the problems with keeping plants warm is this: warm and wet makes fungi grow. If you are using a cloche, keep at least one side open to get a bit of ventilation to shift the fungal infections. I’m not talking cold wind – just a good waft of air.

Nutrients

Not all plants need the same amount of nutrients. I work it like this: Potatoes need a lot, root crops next, then brassicas, then beans, then salads. But for now, seedlings don’t really need any nutrients at all, just enough water to make them explode into life, so if you are using a seed bed you don’t need to manure it too much.

Delphinium growing in garden
The tender growth of delphinium heralds Spring around the corner. I am going to fleece these to give them a little extra protection until April.

An easy passage for roots to grow

This comes by working the soil. It used to be a joke in our family. Granddad never really got on with grandma, so he was always to be found hoeing the carrot bed. It was said that his prize carrots were a barometer for how often they had argued that spring. The hoe is the best tool you have in the garden.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Mr Digwell’s Gardening Tips for February
snow
Snow!

Given the snow and rain we are all suffering from, one of the best things you can do in the garden in February is stay off the soil until it has dried off somewhat. I am always amazed at the amount of tidying up needed when the snow goes, it’s as though the garden has all kinds of secrets slowly revealed by the receding white. Once it all looked pristine and smart, and then nature sets in with her chaos and leaves the garden a scruffy mess.

So continuing with the odds and ends in the garden, like cleaning tools, and is a good move. My absolute favourite is smashing old ceramic pots to make drainage crocks, and this year I seem to have a multitude of weatherworn pots to bash with my hammer – but since I had to go to hospital to have a piece of pot removed from my eye, I always wrap them in an old sack before bashing commences. Continue Reading

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts

The benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables are something that we are all well aware of. Eating our “five a day” has become a great benchmark for us all to adhere to as we try to stay fit and healthy.

Boost Your Fruit Intake

Eating vegetables is the easy part, as we can simply eat our greens with a tasty steak or chicken breast – but remembering to eat enough fruit is something many of us neglect.
Patio Fruit Trees
Often this will not be intentional, but will simply be because we are too busy to nip to the greengrocers or the supermarket to pick up a bag of apples or oranges. One way we can help to boost our intake of fresh fruit is to invest in a patio fruit tree. These can be placed in even the smallest of gardens or patios and produce fruit that is much fresher and better value for money than supermarket fruit.

Midget Fruit Trees

These are often referred to as dwarf or midget fruit trees and can be obtained from a number of garden centres and online suppliers. They are usually grafted on to a dwarfing rootstock – This stops them from getting too large but does not compromise the size of the fruit whatsoever.

Positioning and Care

In order to give your patio fruit tree the best potential for growth possible, it is prudent to adopt a south facing aspect. This has been known to produce the most abundant crops and should have your plant bearing fantastic fruit in no time at all. Plums, nectarines and peaches all flower at the start of spring so it is also a good idea to protect them from any lingering frost in the early months by covering them with a protective fleece or even storing them under cover. That said, pollinating insects should also be able to roam freely so allow access to your patio fruit trees from the garden.

Maintenance

If growing your patio fruit trees in garden pots, it is a good idea to use a good quality fertiliser during the spring and summer months.  This will ensure that any nutrients used up are replaced and that your tree will maintain its foliage and fruit. Also keep an eye on the compost during hot weather and make sure this does not completely dry out, as this could be detrimental to the amount of fruit that your midget fruit tree will produce.

Written by Alan Hamilton on behalf of Mirror Reader offers – the Daily & Sunday Mirror’s reader offers shop. Alan is a keen gardener who finds it hard to stay indoors, even in the harshest of winter weather.

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