Saturday, 24 July 2021

Gardening mistakes and some offers

The flower clusters are like a star-burst
It has been said: There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments. The epithet contains more than a grain of truth. But rather like love, the saying covers a multitude of sins. Scorching hot weather, such as we have experienced this past week, will certainly show up a few deficiencies but we can also get some pleasant surprises 

The flower in our first photo shows my Ligularia. It can hardly be a rare plant but I do not know anyone else who grows one. Mine is now 30 years old, perhaps a little more. Although it regularly puts on a great show, for the first few years it languished and was on life-support more than once - revived by a good soaking . This gave me a clue as to possible remedial action

The bog garden seen from the kitchen window

Later, when I created a bog garden next to the pond, I decided to relocate the ligularia there. Then, when winter came, I thought I had lost it. However, in the following Spring, the plant took on new lease of life with a display of large leaves. From these emerged long flower spikes with bursts of bright yellow flowers. Since then, without fail, it has got bigger and brighter, year on year. The flowering stalks are now two metres in length - they make that growth afresh every summer. It is one of those plants where you see the increase every day

The indoor tomato bed when first planted up
So, a failure was turned into success. Mind you you, we tend the remember those - the successes, that is - more than failures. So, let me even the score

[Perhaps, first, I should just say a word about the author of the saying quoted at the beginning. Universally, the attribution is to Janet Kilburn Phillips. However, I can discover nothing about the lady - she remains a mystery - can any reader enlighten us?]

Tomato experiment

Our Monty (Don, of course) advises the fairly close spacing of tomato plants. So, I have given this a try (look back a few issues to get the story). Result: the greenhouse has turned into a green jungle. But I should not blame the expert ...

First to fruit was Tumbler - in a hanging basket
As part of the experiment, I planted three rows. Having a few Cerise spare (my favoured bush tomato), I put them at the front. Well, the position was right - it is fairly easy to hack them back every time I squeeze into the greenhouse. But the location was wrong - they do far better outside

Cerise is a bit wild in its habits but, as many readers have found, it will crop prolifically outdoors. I won't be growing it in the greenhouse again - too much leaf, too little fruit. That apart, I'll see how the cordon tomatoes do and report back - several different varieties being tried. Sungold is currently leading the way

[Perhaps I should add a rider here - particularly having mentioned mistakes - I am not 100% confident about my labelling. I shall own up to errors! More on this next week]]

Intrepid no-digger sets off on assignment - a tool for every eventuality
The no-dig experiment

Continuing the experimental theme, Codger has two no-dig trials going on. One is just around the corner from our own garden whilst the other is in Birmingham. I'll focus on the Birmingham plot this week and the local one next week, mattock and all

You may remember that I set out the first no-dig step as buying a bike. That was a joke, of course - I might have well told those interested to buy a large-screen TV. The point being: for classic no-dig you need a large piece of cardboard. This is simply placed on the lawn where you want the growing bed to be - assuming that you wish to sacrifice part of the lawn for a veg plot

No-dig frame laid on top of the cardboard layer

If you look up 'no-dig' on the web, you'll soon get the picture. The cardboard is to suppress the grass and weeds by excluding light. But what next? The head honcho of this method, Charles Dowding, has moved away from hard edging in more recent videos (he believes they harbour slugs, I think) 

However, for what I thought to be good reason, I decided to construct a frame from decking. Why? Well, I was worried that the torrential downpours that we had a couple of weeks ago would wash the growing medium washed away. It is far too precious to waste! 

Mrs Codger watching over the stuff
This raises a key point: what material to use as the growing medium? Well, I happened to have a good supply of wonderfully well-rotted manure stored away. This, I supplemented with a few bags of bought multipurpose compost plus a bag or two of my own homebrew

At this stage of the story I should point out a salient fact: no-dig is NOT no-work! In all I used 20 bags of material - these were carried from the back of my garden to the car (60 paces) - and, after transportation, from the car to the bottom of the receiving garden (another 80 paces)

Hence the distance covered can be calculated as: 20 x (60 + 80) = 2,800 paces. Observers wondered if I was training to compete in the Special Forces Physical Fitness Entrance Test. So, with no-dig, you don't have the work of digging, but you certainly have the work of carting heavy material to the site

After only a week plants doing well - paths still to be sorted
Once in place, the contents of the 20 bags were spread to fill the frame and then trodden down. Now, one marked bonus of no-dig is that you can plant straight away - we did and the result is already looking good - as you can see in this photo

So, what's Codgers take on no-dig? Well, he is keeping his counsel until next week when he will furnish more details and compare the two trials. The Tipton trial allowed for an extra tweak - watch out for that mattock!

Bang on the speed limit!
Hot composting (1)

As we pass on, just a quick word about my favourite gardening activity - composting(!) 

I still find readers get frustrated by cold, dank piles that don't seem to do the business. So, over the next few weeks I'll be giving a few tips. My first is very simple: chop small. I use an old pair of shears. As I add the material I chop away with a slight mixing action. I know from experience how small to chop. Think of grass mowings - you need to aim roughly for that size

To prove my point look at the photo of the thermometer. The heap had gone cold, (about 20 degrees) to 70 degrees in 24 hours. Chopping small makes a definite difference - but it is, of course, far from being the only factor. To learn more, read again next week

Pot planted with zinnias and petunias
Four offers

Yes, old Codger has been doing a few things other than carrying heavy bags, constructing frames and chopping up weeds and kitchen waste. So, here is the four-fold lowdown:

(1) Hanging baskets. Some time ago, I mentioned that I was investigating different types of basket. I have yet to find one that does not need watering (!) - especially with the weather we have had this week. Be that as it may, I now have three or four baskets available on a first-come, first-served basis. They are variously planted up with geraniums and petunias - and looking good. The photo below will give you a feel (see also the tailpiece). As usual donations go via Codger go to BCM

Geraniums in a hanging basket
(2) Colourful containers. These are ready planted up and would look great on the patio. Several available - both pots and troughs. Mainly geraniums but also zinnias, French marigolds and petunias. See photo above


(3) 
Soft fruit. Once again a fair range is available: raspberries, strawberries, redcurrant, blackcurrant, rhubarb, blueberry and chuckleberry. Roll up, the choice is yours

(4) Border plants. Need to fill some gaps? Replacing slug damage? Come and see what we have got - a wide range of perennials are available - coneflowers, daises, stocks and so forth - too many to list

As I have explained elsewhere, because of health problems at home, I have less time than formerly so I am no longer able to produce long lists of plants which have to be constantly updated. But there's an easy solution: come and see! The photo below is a view of one part of the border to give you a feel for the range of perennials we have available







An experiment that worked

Readers will be aware that Codger is an inveterate recycler (the making of compost being the supreme form of recycling!). That apart, and being a war baby, nothing wittingly gets thrown away - and that includes plastic milk cartoons. We usually buy the 4 pint size. A quick rinse out and they are filled with clean water - destined to be stored in the greenhouse as you can see in this photo

A greenhouse or a dairy?
During the day they absorb heat - remember the temperature in a greenhouse can rise suddenly and rapidly. During the cooler night they give back some of that heat thus, to an extent, the thermal mass evens out the day/night temperature of the greenhouse

A further advantage is an immediate on-hand supply for emergency watering. A plant in containers can dry out in an hour so I've always got water available if I spot a plant in difficulty 

Potatoes to the left, French beans to the right
Buckshee potatoes

I don't actually know if there is a potato variety called Buckshee - but it would be a good name for those that appear by mistake or accident in one of my raised beds

Watching Monty on BBC 2 last night, I was reminded that it was time to have a poke around. You can see here was surfaced - a full trug of good quality potatoes - the sort that don't have much of a skin

The tubers being unearthed this morning
Believe me, I don't plant these - they just appear! My assumption is that I must, by accident, leave the odd tiny tuber which springs to life the following season. You can see in this photo that they were growing very close to the beans. Whether that reduces the quantity, I know not. The really surprising fact is the large yield: 6kg! That equates to 14 pounds or one stone, in old money. And the growing area is less than half a square metre

Where did they come from in the first place? One possibility is an early foray into potato growing. I had read that they were good for breaking up clay soil. I certainly found this to be the case and would recommend the practice to anyone. But this trial predated my raised beds. Could the seed tubers have survived all that upheaval? Perhaps, I should add that the original heavy clay has benefitted greatly over the years from the annual mulch of homebrew compost (more tips next week!)

Ripe figs (actually now devoured!)

Almost time

Well, I think we are almost out of time. I have not done as I said and identified the flowers in last week's tailpiece - but that can wait, I'm sure. In fact, I shall give you a few more to ponder - plus proof of the weight of the buckshee potatoes

Please consider the four offers. The plants are here and waiting. Why not call in and take a look? We had three young visitors this afternoon. A convenient number as the first figs were ready for picking - precisely three of them

Older visitors get the choice of tea or coffee - drinks that is, not plants! Thanks to those who have recently donated - I would love to creep a bit closer to that target. You can check the progress by clicking here


... with best wishes from your old friend, the Garden Codger

PS: This week's extras. First, the only flower I grow that might be considered exotic. Know what it is? Clue: think water, think Japanese


Do you know what this flower is?




Here are the hanging baskets, about halfway to full bloom. You have a choice



And every time I walk up to the greenhouse I get the wonderful scent of this flower




And, finally, proof of that potato yield!





Saturday, 10 July 2021

A great day!

Old Codger is dying to let his readers know that today's charity plant sale was a great success. So, hot of the press we present this short report

The weather forecast was a bit iffy, but in the event the weather was perfect - warm, dry and the odd spot of sunshine to brighten the proceedings

Not at all surprising, really - folk were obviously pleased to be there - especially as the event had to be cancelled last year

Despite earlier fears, there were lots and lots of plants to choose from. In fact, there are a good number left so Angela will be pleased to see anyone who would like to browse during the week

A difference
Codger was on duty for the first hour-and-a-half and noticed a difference between this event and the previous one, two years ago. The customers were often looking perennials and displayed more gardening savvy. Evidence, perhaps, that lockdown has moved forward the interest in gardening

And there was I, working all week, coaxing annuals into bloom in the mistaken belief that that is what the customers were after. We now know for next year!

Great result
This photo shows Head Gardener, Angela Webb, with her assistant, Keith. He is good with the money and reports that they notched £1250 for BCM - a great result

Cakes, too
Perhaps we ought to mention the cakes. Yes,

we should definitely tell you about the cakes. Learning from experience, the cake table was our first port of call - and just as well. Old friends wanted to call back at Codger's Nursery afterwards so we had something to share - yes, the Victoria sponge was whole when we bought it

And, as you can see, we are set up for the week! All for a good cause, of course!

A perfect Saturday
Since the threatened rain held off, we got the lawns mowed today. I always find that job a bit like cleaning shoes - a bit of a chore but pleasing when done. Then off to the plant sale where we saw lots of folk and we able to catch up with a sense of normality in the air

Then, back here for the cake and a chat, and two hours real gardening doing the sort of things that Monty Don tells us to do. This included taking down the broad beans. Great fodder for the compost heap

Have you noticed? Codger has not said much about compost for a while - not wishing to bore his readers

However, you may be interested to see this shot. The fungi - a good sign - had sprung overnight. I followed my normal practice of turning over the top six inches before adding grass mowings, chopped up broad bean stalks and weeds plus shredded paper

I've just been outside to check the heap (the time is 9:35pm). In a couple of hours the temperature of the heap has risen by 12 degrees - that is certainly what we want

A climbing snail
Have you ever been told that abrasive surfaces are abhorrent to slugs and snails. Clearly, no-one had told this snail. She/he/it was over a metre up the wall. they are amazingly persistent critters

Despite the recent blandishments of celebrity gardeners I still deal firmly with gastropod invaders. Mind you, I do not use poisons - we fight fair

It is worth saying that keeping a pond helps. The frogs that breed there help keep down the slugs. We get some slug damage but, generally, not enough to worry about
Even so, I was horrified to find that I had passed on a strawberry plant its very own supply of embryonic
slugs. Just look at that clutch of eggs. (I'm no expert - they might be snail eggs - does anyone know?) 

Incidentally, on the subject of ponds and fish, I thought it worth including this shot (below) of one of my carp. You most probably know about parallax - the foreshortening effect of viewing an object through water


You see the fish and get the impression that they have the profile of a mackerel or a herring. Not a bit of it! Pond fish look more like the one I have captured here

So, if like me, you are no longer sleek and slim do not worry. They are plenty more fish in the pond with the same shape. You just have to look at them in the right way

Which reminds me ...

Whatever, whatever, whatever ...
I said that it was a perfect Saturday. Actually, I missed one thing out. Another little task was to do the reading for tomorrow's service at our church. We are still hybrid at the moment - in-person and on-line - so I needed to do a recording. The passage was from Philippians 4 and I found myself reading these words ...

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things

Who could argue with that? It is worth checking the whole passage - you can do so here. Did me a lot of good. And interesting to see that it goes on to deal with generous giving and gracious receiving

All for now - a few photos after the sign-off - a long day and it's getting late (I'll hunt down the typos tomorrow when I can look with fresh eyes)

... best wishes from the Garden Codger


PS - forgot to say - there's a downside to no-dig (see
previous episode) - Mattock Man will tell you all about it next week

Now for those photos - see if you can identify the following blooms






























Saturday, 3 July 2021

Midlands Premier Gardening Event

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - has colour and scent
Yes, we are proud to remind our readers that the premier event in our gardening calendar happens next Saturday, 10th July 

We refer, of course, to the annual charity plant sale run by Angela Webb who, along with her husband Keith - and in common with Codger - is a keen support of BCM. The Mission will be the beneficiary of all the funds raised. For obvious reasons, the sale did not take place last year. So, if you live locally why not come along and get a bargain next Saturday? - and support BCM in the process

The same roses after this afternoon's storm
Key details
The address of plant sale is 3 Huntsman Close, Coseley WV14 8RU. Codger strongly recommends that you check this on Google maps. You'll see that it's one of those locations (in a cul-de-sac) that you spiral into. PLEASE try to park a few streets away, otherwise we could get in a proper tangle. And, we don't want to upset the neighbours who, actually, are very sympathetic to the venture

The event has been Covid-checked with the local council. No QR codes are needed but those who enter the garden will be asked for contact details which will be recorded. Please wear a mask and observe social distancing. Payment by cash only. The sale starts at 12 noon and ends at 3:00pm

The weather forecast looks good - temperature 22 degrees and a 'low chance of precipitation' as they say nowadays. Which reminds me ...

Today's downpour
Wow! That was heavy downpour this afternoon. Priority this week has been given to preparing plants for the charity sale. We had fears that there might be a smaller supply this year but that suddenly changed with news of an influx from tuther side of Brum where a horticultural society has just cancelled a sale. The result? A good number of surplus plants are being donated to the Webb's sale

Be that as it may, we were gathering our resources this afternoon when the heavens opened. Measuring the water collected in an empty bucket, I reckon we had one inch in half-an-hour. Codger never seems to have enough buckets and containers of various sorts. I rarely throw one away and always seem to have use for more

Just as well: catching, keeping and transporting the fish I mentioned has proved to be this week's big challenge. We had promised half-a-dozen fish to a loyal reader of this blog - no sacrifice as we are overstocked. Codger laboured for a week and only caught one tiddler, oh dear!

Time for new net but, even so, it proved to be slow work. The fish have an uncanny knack of sensing the slightest threatening movement. Anyway, the final result can be seen in the photo

[For those interested, the container is a 5-gallon plastic keg with the top removed and polyester rope handles fitted. Note the way the rope ends are sealed by burning the frayed strands. However, great care is needed when doing this as the melted plastic can give a nasty skin burn.]

A bit of help
The pond and the fish are great attraction to visiting children. The grandson of another reader bears witness to this

In addition to the pond we have an old-fashioned handpump; this draws water from our secret reservoir (more excitement for another time!). Children are invariably thrilled when they discover that the pump actually works. The photo demonstrates the level of enthusiasm engendered. (Looks like an impressive golf swing to me!)

Our first tomato
Please excuse a shorter episode this week - we are still getting ready for next Saturday. But I must show you our first ripen tomato. The variety is Tumbler. The blurb said it was extra early and this has proven to be correct. I have three plants in a hanging basket - a rather crowded hanging basket. We will be checking it for flavour in the next couple of days - I must say that it looks promising


Black Hamburg
"But what about Black Hamburg?" I hear you say. Well Black Hamburg is doing fine. Here's a photo taken today - a bit early for fruit, of course. But bearing in mind its three-week bubble-wrap journey from Holland, quite remarkable!

See you soon ...
For those living locally, it would be great to meet you face-to-face on Saturday. Perhaps that should be mask-to-mask - until then or our next episode ...

... best wishes from the old garden Codger


PS - just about time for one extra photograph



Friday, 25 June 2021

To dig - or, not to dig ...

A drizzly morning - so a chance to stay dry and blog
... that is a question that intrigues many gardeners who have become aware of the debate: to dig - or, not to dig

Codger enjoys digging and has probably done more than his fair share - but in the case of our own plot a spade is now only used in order to plant a shrub. It may sound odd today but I was actually taught to dig at school (a punishment for failing the eleven plus?)

These days, I do not do any real digging, yet everything in the garden flourishes! So, what is the story?


Need to do some levelling? (courtesy Wiki)
Gardening in concrete

We moved to our present property in the autumn of 1990. The land was previously the site of a steel works and, therefore, subject to heavy remediation due to contamination of the soil. I do not know for sure where our heavy clay came from, but I have reasons to suspect the Corby area as a result of iron ore extraction. I strange sort of apology for scarring the planet!

By the time the housebuilders got to work, the ground had been heavily compacted by huge machines trundling back and forth

Part of the border as it is now (actually photographed today weeds and all)
During the first winter, I tried to dig the soil. Joke! The imported clay had set like concrete. So we settled down to several seasons with pick and shovel. Meanwhile the neighbours raced ahead by hiring a Kango. But, remember, educated as as a 'hewer of wood and a drawer of water' I dug doggedly on

In fact, I double-dug - a technique known as bastard trenching (why, I've no idea) and, in the process, discovered that drainage was a problem. This was in part solved by constructing a pond and also a reservoir (a story for another day)

Raised beds

Skipping a few years and (hardly surprisingly) suffering some backpain, I decided to change the top half of the garden to raised beds. Two reasons: to improve drainage and to reduce bending on Codger's part. You will get a feel from this photo

Half of this area is now Codger's Nursery and half still used for vegetable growing which I still enjoy more than any other aspect of gardening - grow to eat, what could be better!

Today's crop. Grow to eat, what could be better!
No dig

Somewhere along the way, I discovered a couple of things about vegetable growing. First, stuff grew well in undisturbed soil. Second, I did not need artificial fertilisers provided I was generous with home produced garden compost

So, almost by accident I became a no-digger. I lacked time to investigate this way of growing until 2017 at which point Mrs Codger had become unwell and needed hospital treatment

Beans to the front (French) and beans to the rear (broad)
Now, this is not a criticism of the NHS but but I soon discovered the key skill of waiting. There seems to be a 90/10 rule at work. !0% treatment and - you can guess the rest. So, Kindle loaded I set about studying soil science in the hallowed waiting halls of our local hospital

The key thing is this: look after your soil and the soil will look after your plants. For me, the big thing about no-dig is that it promotes this approach allowing the micro-organisms in the soil to do their thing without unnecessary disturbance 

Before
Codger's caveat

Now, I've told the story for a reason. I do not think I would have got to the present stage of no-dig abundance without the initial dig. Why? Because the ground was so compacted by the original earthworks remediation

As it transpires my help was sought only this week by friends living in a fairly recent new build (recent to old Codger - probably 10 years old). Builders rarely respect the soil. They flatten it, compress it, and build on it  - and, for good measure, add rubble, sand and cement to the mix

So, I had no compunction in digging out (!) my old trusty tools. These included a mattock - a nice touch as the friends originate from Nigeria where the mattock is the standard digging implement. (Interestingly, they considered my mattock a puny thing compared to the African version!)

After! The plants were well watered in
(The neighbour has booked Codger for the same treatment)
As I had suspected the soil was severely compacted. Incidentally, some care is needed with a task like this as telecom cables often lay there waiting to be severed by the unwary. We turned the 'soil' over, extracted a bucketful of stones and rubble, added a bit of compost and planted immediately

Old Codger has found that new gardeners need to be encouraged by a bit of impact so we cheated slightly with the addition of a hanging basket. You can see the result in the photo. The new plants (zinnias, dahlias and petunias) should fill out quite quickly

So what about no-dig?

We explained last week that we have the opportunity to establish a vegetable bed in a Birmingham garden. Last year's lockdown had provided the opportunity for the new owner to rescue the plot from utter dereliction

Meanwhile in Codger's patch the beans show they are happy enough
There are plenty of beans in there, I promise!
The garden has been restored to one long green strip - mainly grass but, we guess, quite a few weeds mixed in. Two flower beds have been established - a small and a large - and now comes the time for the  veg

Cardboard has been laid down (Charles Dowding style - see last week's photo) and we are ready to move to the next stage. The weather and real life has intervened so look out for a progress report next time - compost bagging has begun in preparation

Also following up on last week ...

Excuse the waste pipe - this is real life, not glossy mag
I have now planted up the posh growbag - the one for which I constructed a frame made out of decking. (Remember, one 8' length turned into a 3' by 2' box with just two cuts?)

The middle tomato and the one on the right are both Sungold. Rather than a cane, I am persuading them to do the Monty Don rope trick. On the left we have the ubiquitous Cerise - with a bit of bamboo support. I'll report back in due course. Although they will only get morning sun, I'm hoping that retained warm from the wall will assist growth

A fishy tale

I have resisted an aquatic report for some time now. Partly because of a complete lack of drama. I think the heron still pays an occasional visit here but these intrusions less appear less frequent due to his, or her, lack of success

It seems that the provision of an underwater hiding place has been surprisingly successful. Now, a friend of Codger, and a reader of these pages, has requested that I help him restock his pool. In his case, the predations of a local heron had been 100% effective. So, for days now, I have been trying to catch some of my smaller fish

The photograph shows the total result of one whole week's angling. Time for a break - and a test of Codger's patience! I'll let you know how I get on ...

Another view of the border - weeds and all
... which, two hours later, was utter failure. But we'll try again tomorrow

Winning tip

But, of course, life in the garden is like that. If you insist on being a perfectionist, gardening is not for you. It is a faithful slave but a tyrannical master. At least, this is what I tell myself when I look at my neglected soft fruit area. I had plans - but in the Lord's goodness we may be granted another chance next year to do what I had planned this year. Not in my hands ...

Yes, you can get plants like this one quite cheaply
However, here is a tip that does not take much time and can save a bob or two. Sign up with one or two online suppliers of plants. Resist their many email blandishments until the summer solstice (just passed, of course). then look out for their special email offers - and you can save a small fortune

How does this work? Well, they have to move stock on to make room for the next lot - remember, we are dealing with perishable goods. Here are the bottom few lines from an order I placed today:

Subtotal

£66.96

Discounts

- £52.56

Vouchers

- £5.00

Delivery

£4.99

Total Paid

£15.39

Sorry about the formatting - I've done a literal cut and paste from the invoice to make the point

Speaking of bargains

Angela Webb's charity plant sale is on Saturday 10th July. More details next week

And more bargains

This is the last call if you are after tomato plants. We are almost out of our favoured bush tomato, Cerise. But quite a few cordon varieties (Gardener's Delight, Money Maker and so forth) - please get in touch, if you are interested

My big job in the coming week is to make up a few hanging baskets - hopefully like one one here (see photo). There is a snag with hanging baskets - the cost of the containers which can be as much as £10 each! However, I have found a number of cheaper alternatives and will press on with the job and tell you more in the next episode

A nice surprise

The other day, Mrs Codger took it in her head to do a spot of weeding at the front. Seeing a couple of girls playing in the street (a cul-de-sac) she engaged them in conversation in a grandmotherly sort of way. Later in the day, we drove off in the car passing the two girls and received friendly waves

Returning home we found a slip of paper pushed through the letterbox into the porch











 

All for now, with best wishes from the old Garden Codger