Friday 22 May 2020

Readers' Questions

Rose perfection from Boskoop
Readers' questions today, so we begin with a reader's picture. Lovely, is it not? Boskoop, of course - the buckets give it away

I seem to be well behind the prowess of my readers with our roses. Not really a speciality of mine. I came to roses late. We bought several after a David Austin visit during the early stages of chemo - and then we had a couple more as gifts. One great aspect of those bred by David Austin is their scent. I won't be answering questions about roses - I'm still at the early learning stage. I'm a bit better with veg

Shredded paper about to go on
mowings and lies is beneath
Q1: Soggy compost
A common problem - mainly caused by not having a good mix of material. The trick is to incorporate brown material with green. By this we mean dry stalky type stuff - what's left of last year's perennials, for example. Technically, it's a matter of balancing nitrogen with carbon. Getting enough of the drier material is difficult. I find shredded paper to be the answer. This adds the necessary carbon to the heap. All our junk mail gets shredded. But remember not to use the plastic bit of window envelopes - these do not rot down and become an annoyance

About to make the cordial
Q2: my compost refuses to rot
If you are building the heap with the right stuff, it will rot eventually. But you will get better compost by accelerating the process. How? In a word: urine - let's call it Factor-X. Each grandchild in turn has been horrified to discover this well-kept secret of Codger's garden. But, think about the waste just going down the drain when it could be helping to produce beautiful crumbly compost! I often use the Factor-X neat but if the heap has dried than I dilute to taste, if you would pardon the expression. (There is not a hygiene problem here, Factor-X is sterile - unlike No 2 which should be avoided as there is a define health risk!) 

This is not the heap itself - more the departure lounge!
Q3: how do you get your heap to heat up?
The two answers given so far will certainly help. My third tip is to think two-stage. Let me explain. Assuming you have the fairly standard plastic conical composter, you will also need a large bucket or something similar, with some drainage. Put your peelings, weeds and so forth, in this container. Do NOT immediately add to the heap. Chop up with a pair of shears. Keep moist with diluted Factor-X. Once a week add this already rotting matter to the heap. If you have a lawn then synchronise this with mowing - all the ingredients will then be on hand at the same time. Then top the heap with shredded paper. This not only adds carbon but helps to keep the heat in. In other words, stage-manage the rotting down process and you'll get a better result. Skill is involved - so, practice makes perfect

Two of my three trowels (!), narrow spade, secateurs and spray
Q4: what are your most useful tools?
Undoubtedly a trowel. I have three so I can always lay hands on one. They are very ordinary cheap jobs - nothing special at all. Next comes a narrow spade - the sort used for making fencing post holes does the job. It can reach where others can't - especially useful when digging out plants in a border. Third: secateurs - the only expensive garden tool I own (a gift one Christmas). You may have seen these on TV - nearly all the experts seem to use the same make: Felco - the one with red handles. My opinion is that they are definitely worth the money. They take an edge like no other (yes, you need to keep them sharp)

Q5: do you spray?
Yes, I use SB Plant Invigorator occasionally (photo above - other makes available). I mainly use it because I get trouble with whitefly in the greenhouse. Even with the best practice the enclosed space offers them protection. I also give the roses a treatment from time to time. Thinking about it, the gooseberries also had a dose the other day. It is approved for organic growers. I think it is meant to make the pests feel poorly so they go away. When I hear the greenfly coughing I immediately give them another dose

Q6: are you a no-digger?
Technically, yes - but the term, while useful, is not exact. The mere act of inserting a plant into the ground involves a degree of digging. But, I am no-dig in that I no longer turn over the soil. I mulch with compost - as much as I can make - and plant into the the top layer of soil with is compost-rich. The research seems to indicate that you get better results by simply laying on the compost - digging it in does not help. Let the worms do the work!

Q7: what about your faith? You make the occasional reference
Even without gardening I would believe in God. The evidence for a Designer standing behind the design of the universe seems overwhelming to me. More particularly I follow Jesus Christ. It thrills me to think of his involvement in creation. The Bible says: Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made (John's Gospel chapter 1 verse 3). There is much to this. But there is a gardening connection, in the beginning part of the whole Bible it says, almost casually, Now the Lord God had planted a garden ... (Genesis 2:8). But I would also point out that I do not believe the oft-quoted line: You're nearer to God's heart in a garden. It is faith in Christ alone that brings us near to the heart of God

Rows, from top to bottom :
Morning Glory
Peas (Prelado)
Little Gem lettuce
Cucumber (Marketmore)
Q8: how's the compost experiment going?
I assume you are referring to the trial I started recently. This concerns the performance of bought potting compost. (Not home-made garden compost, as mentioned in questions 1 to 3. It is an annoying feature of English usage that the word 'compost' is used in two different ways). Well, I can best answer with a photograph. Vertically, so to speak, are the three columns of compost. From the left, ordinary B&Q, then expensive professional grade and, on the right, a good quality peat compost - the old sort, you might say. The rows correspond to four different seeds. So, for example, the bottom row shows freshly germinated cucumber seed. The others do not matter at the moment. You can see for yourself the result at seven days - there are distinct differences (click photo for a larger image). I have done my best to produce equal treatment in watering, warmth and light levels. Look out for the 14-day photograph next week ...

... and keep the questions coming. There is a a huge amount I don't know but I am happy to help where I can

With best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Graham Thomas - another David Austin rose
Note on photographsMost of the garden photographs on this site, but not all, are my own. If you click on a photograph you will usually get a much bigger image. This is useful if you wish to check a detail. In the case above (seeds germinating) you will see definite differences at the seven day stage. As we mention, we plan to report again next Friday. In the meantime, we hope to see you again on Monday

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