A 'Blooming' Good Reason for Growing Houseleeks

Succulents have, by and large, passed me by for most of my green-fingered life. It was only when I began planning my wedding and looking at more masculine table settings and bouquets, that I began to realise just how wonderful Sempervivum (houseleeks) are. Until then I knew them only for nostalgic r…

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Making a Case for Violas

There’s no love lost between Pansies and I. I’m not really a big fan of gaudy flowers, and I’m afraid I normally put pansies in this category. Add the fact there’s a vast amount of deadheading to do throughout the season, not to mention these plants tend to be short-lived and get very straggly, and …

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Plant Pick - Growing Hollyhocks

I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…

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Plant Pick - Growing Dahlias

‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …

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Plant Pick - Growing Tulips

If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.

I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…

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Plant Pick - Growing Osteospermum (Cape Daisy)

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteospermum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucundu…

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Plant Pick - Growing Sedum (Herbsfreude)

Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…

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Plant Pick - Growing Skimmia

Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…

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Plant Pick - Growing Thrift (Armeria)

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Armeria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the…

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Plant Pick - Growing Aquilegia

 

I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…

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Garden Design – Considering Hard Landscaping Features

It’s not until you know a garden that you really know a garden, if you understand my meaning. It’s almost a year since I bought my latest house and allowed gardening dreams to expand from the tiny postage stamp plot I’d had in London. My new oasis is one third wider and about three to four times as long; LOTS more planting room. I had grand plans of course; a Mediterranean garden, the aviary and bird house, a sweeping gravel path to the lawn, tropical border and cutting garden and then, finally, the vegetable patch. However, as any gardener knows, it’s not until you’ve actually got down and dirty in a patch of earth that you begin to establish what works – and what doesn’t.

Twelve months have past and A LOT has been completed. But some things aren’t working. The oval lawn, for example, is a mess (ruined by chickens and dog wee). The yew tree at the bottom of the garden casts too much light over the raised beds. I also don’t have enough vegetable beds either. So, at this time of the year when garden planning is rife, I’m considering new options, including some design changes.

When it comes to garden design, it’s essential to think about hard landscaping. This term isn’t applied to the planting design, position of flower beds or the shape of your lawn, but to the fixed, non-moving structures; paths, ponds, rockeries and patios, for example. Okay, so you might think of a shrub as a ‘non-moving structure‘ but you can lift that and put it somewhere else pretty easily if you wanted.

Paths

Paths are one of the most important aspects of a garden and, to my mind, don’t get the attention they deserve. All too often they’re an afterthought, getting plopped down to link one area to the next. But with the right time and planning, you can create a journey through your garden, leading people from one area to the next.

This path and retaining wall draw you into the garden.

Paths can curl out of view to create some mystery. They can provide a stepping-stone hop across a lawn that’s not only practical during the muddy winter months, but fun too. You can have a main path for all to see and then some hidden nooks and alleys to tempt people to explore. And, you’ll also make life far easier if paths are in the right place to help you access all areas.

Patios

Patios, decked area and gravel bays are also extremely important in the garden if you’re ever to take a seat and relax. I’m normally rushing around dead-heading, digging, chopping and taking pictures. I rarely just got and sit. Why? Because I don’t yet have a patio area to recline in!

When you’re thinking about patios, it’s vital to consider the aspect of your garden. The future design might look sublime but you don’t want to have the expense and hard labour of putting in a patio only to discover it’s in full shade all day. Think carefully about where the sun is and what you want to use the area for. For example, I don’t really like sunbathing. My patio, therefore, will be in partial shade, providing me with a warm but shady area to relax, read and drink wine in!

Once a patio or decking area is installed, it’s not easy to alter. So get it right the first time around!

Ponds

I love water in a garden and always advise fitting a water feature in somewhere, even if it’s just a tiny tub pond or a solar-powered fountain. You could, of course, go to the opposite extreme and install a huge pool instead.

Again, placement is crucial. I see a lot of ponds pushed into shady, funny shaped corners that people haven’t quite known what to do with. A pond will never succeed in such an aspect, though a small brook or pebble fountain might work with the right planting. To get the best from a pond, you need sunlight for the water plants which will, in turn, aerate the water, keep everything clean and create a thriving eco-system. Also, site it away from trees where possible as you’ll spend the entire time clearing out leaves and trying to deal with the huge build-up of sediment.

Other Hard-Landscaping Considerations

As well as some of the obvious hard-landscaping structures, there are few others you might need to consider when you’re planning your garden. For example, you might require electrical fixings and cables installed. There might be drainage pipes in the ground. Even your boundary fencing and any additional pergolas can be considered hard-landscaping features and will have an affect on the atmosphere, shape and overall garden experience.

The materials you use will also have a massive affect on a garden. For example, you could use crisp new steel and brightly painted fencing for a modern look. Alternatively, turn to reclaimed materials for a rustic and more bedded-down style.

Whatever you garden design, hard-landscaping is extremely important. So, before you whizz into the garden and cut two vertical flower borders on either side of your lawn, take time to consider some other features and how they’d add interest to your oasis.

On My Oasis – Sorting Seeds

Winter’s set in. Though it’s not terribly cold, its cool and wet enough to have pushed things into dormancy. Unfortunately for us gardeners, we can’t go off and hibernate until spring arrives. Instead, we have to busy ourselves with other horticultural tasks – most of which involves planning. On those mild days, it’s easy to believe the warmer weather is just around the corner. But any good British stalwart knows; the worst of the cold often arrives in February or March, so we’re not clear yet.

Sorting Seeds

I just can’t seem to throw seeds away!

If you’re anything like me, you’re not only a plant hoarder, but a seed hoarder too. I just can’t seem to throw out those old packets, even though they’re well past their best. I mean, I have some that suggest sowing before 2010. Oops!

I took it upon myself to go through the seed collection and throw out anything over a couple of years old. How did I do? NOT GOOD. So many seeds, so many little tiny plant embryos calling out ‘let me live. Give me a chance to grow’. Don’t call the men in white coats yet, that’s what they would say, not what I actually heard. 😉

So, with a complete lack of discipline, and having only thinned out a few ancient veggie seeds, I’ve decided – I’ll sow EVERY packet of ornamental flowers and plants I have. That way, I can not only get rid of the packets but, hopefully, grow lots of new plants too. The Farmers Market near me accept home-grown plant stalls as well as vegetables and other produce, so I may as well develop a small nursery. Of course, now that’s what I’ve decided I need spring so I can get sowing!

Brimwood Farm

If you hadn’t noticed before, you’ll see a new tab has appeared in the menu – Welcome to Brimwood Farm! Yes, I know I live in a 3-bed terrace in a suburban area. Yes, I know the garden’s far from being a farm…but we all have to start somewhere, right?

I’ve started the Brimwood Farm brand to get things on the go for when we finally move to Suffolk. Of course, it’ll be a little restricted for the time-being; there’s only so much you can do in a suburban oasis. The chicken flocks have been growing, and I’m in a position to start selling eggs, hatching eggs and even chickens in 2016. Also – all those seeds I mentioned? They’ll be sold under the Brimwood Farm brand too. And, of course, hopefully there’ll be a glut of vegetables this year. Speaking of which, I’m debated digging up some more garden for vegetable production – there just isn’t enough space.

Chickens a-plenty

The chicken obsession continues to grow. Last year, it was all about hatching eggs I bought on eBay. Fertility rates are pretty awful; you pay for six eggs, two hatch. Not great. So, wanting to get a full incubator of eggs, I stuffed 16 poland and poland/silkie hybrids in from my own birds. And – you’ve guessed it – 15 were fertile! One quit early on, but I’ve got 14 chicks expected to hatch this coming weekend. That’ll grow the chicken total 29!! Gotta keep it under 50 otherwise I’ll have to tell Defra.

There’s some cute pics if you follow on Facebook or Instagram, and I’m updating the Brimwood Farm channel with videos too.

For 2016, I’m going to try and start showing some of the exhibition birds and breed some nice stock from them. In addition, I want to hatch some naked necks for meat which involves a big project converting the large metal shed at the bottom of the garden into a new coop. It’ll be easier to secure properly and has loads of space. We had been contemplating getting a pair of goats too as it’s an ideal goat-shed. BUT, that’s a bit more responsibility than we can take on right now!

I’m sure that will keep me busy for the moment. I’ve got LOTS of books to read, veggie magazines to pore over and chicks to raise! What are you up to in your garden?

How to use a T5 lighting system to grow beautiful plants

Today I’ve got a welcome guest post from Ben Thorton of T5Fixtures. In the grey weather of British winter, it’s easy to become rather depressed; there is, after all, only so much planning you can do before you need to start getting your fingers back in the soil again. Luckily, modern technology allows us to grow indoors and it’s not as hard, or as expensive, as you might think!

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Gardening is a great hobby because it allows us to relax, to be outdoors and to be one with the nature so to say. However, once the weather gets cold outside usually we need to stop gardening and need to put our hobby on halt. But there is a way you can continue to garden even during the coldest of winters and this way is to start indoor gardening under artificial grow lights, and, more specifically under T5 lighting system.

A T5 grow light system is a tube shaped fluorescent grow light fixture where each of the T5 grow light bulbs are 5 eights of an inch in diameter. This means that not only are these grow lights  small and compact, not taking up a lot of space, but they also are very efficient at giving out bright and powerful light but not consuming a lot of watts. So you can say that by using a T5 grow light you have the ability to grow healthy and tall plants quickly in an indoors setup.

When you are thinking about using a T5 lighting system you need to know a few things that are curtail to the health of the plants that you are growing indoors. Firstly you need to know how to properly set-up your indoors garden and your T5 lighting system so that it gives you the best results.

t5-grow-lightsThe most important thing in an indoor gardening set-up is the height at which you hang your grow lights because this will determine how much light your plants will get and how intense that light will be. But when it comes to T5 grow lights everything is quite simple. Because these fluorescent lights are designed so that they don’t emit a lot of heat and run cool even after multiple hours of being turned on there is less of a chance that you can burn you plants with these lights. However I would recommend to place T5 lights about 6 to 12 inches from the plant canopies depending on what type of plants you are growing. This is the ultimate height for T5 grow lights that will allow them to give the plants the most potent illumination but the light will also be diffused enough so that the heat won’t damage even the plants that are not fans of warmth. And because the height also determines how many plants you can place under on T5 fixture the 6 to 12 inch height will allow you to place a few plants under it (depending on how big or small of a T5 grow light setup you choose) and they all will get optimum light exposure.

Then after you have properly placed you lights you also need to think about the space where your indoors garden is located in general. If you are growing your plants in a place like your basement of garage then you probably won’t have a lot of problems with heat, but those who have specially set up their indoors gardens in smaller spaces really need to watch the temperature of their grow room. Although as I mentioned before T5 grow lights don’t give out a lot of heat a small space still means that heat can accumulate faster meaning that you might need to think about some type of ventilation system that would help you discharge the excess heat and keep your plants cool.

When I think about grow lights I automatically think about artificial sunlight because grow lights essentially are an artificial way to provide plants with light they need to grow. But the same as sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day you grow lights too need a specific schedule of light and dark hours that will determine when you will turn on your T5 lights and when they will be turned off leaving the plants in the dark. This schedule is called light cycle. The more light you give to plants the faster they grow so you need to give your plants the amount of light that correlates to how fast you want your plants to grow. For example if you want a really fast growth you should put your plats on a light cycle of 24/0 to about 18/6 hours of light and darkness however if you want your plants to vegetate slower then implement a light cycle of 8 or less hours of light and leave the plants in the dark for longer.

potting-soil-resizedAnd lastly you also need to know a little about the watering and fertilizing regiment for plants that are growing indoors under T5 grow lights. If plants that grow outside usually receive most of their nutrients from the soil they are growing in and the water from rain or dew then indoors these plants have none of that and you need to be the one who provides the water and the nutrients to them. The watering of the plants will probably different from one indoors garden to the next because not only different plants are grown in these gardens but the conditions, too, are different in each garden. But a good rule of thumb is to check the soil of the pot where your plants are growing every couple of days or so. If the soil on the outside of the pot is dry that indicates that the plants need more water but if it is still wet then the plants don’t need water yet. And the same goes for nutrients or fertilizers. Even though you can go skip fertilizing all together indoors plants will grow better and be stronger if you do decide to use some type of fertilizer on them. But to know when to use the fertilizer you also need to simply check the appearance of the plants. If it seems like they are withering away then they probably need some pick me up nutrients so they can get stronger and actually grow not to just stretch towards the light becoming skinny and weak.

On My Oasis – #Project Mealworm

Despite it being mild, it’s fairly quiet on my oasis. These warm temperatures allure to spring, but I’m trying to avoid being seduced. After all, if there is cold weather to come (of which I’m sure there is) it’s far too early to be sowing seeds. And that cool climate needs to arrive soon if it’s going to do so because the garden doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. There’s a strawberry plant in flower, for example. November-planted broad beans are not short sprouts awaiting spring warmth, but tall, slender plants already in need of staking. Bulbs are popping up everywhere, and I noticed the apple, photinia and acer all have growing buds on them. We need this cold snap soon otherwise it won’t halt growth, it’ll kill freshly sprouted greens and leaves, and cause more damage than good.

 

#ProjectMealworm

Before the New Year starts, my major new challenge is #ProjectMealworm. There have been all manner of studies done on the protein content of insects. In fact, research suggests that the ratio of proteins and good fats in mealworms is higher than in beef cattle. Though not common in the western world, lots of other countries eat bugs and I, for one, can see the advantages. It’s cheap. It’s nutritious. It’s low on carbon emissions, and if you can get past the squeamish nature of it, you can grow cultures at home. Of course…that’s possibly the hardest part – getting past the negative culture that surrounds eating bugs. Even some of my most self-sufficient, eco-friendly farmery friends were a little ‘eewwww‘ at the bug eating prospect.

Mealworms can be roasted and, it’s said, they taste like peanuts. Have as a snack. Use as a garnish. Add to salads. You could even grind them down and use them IN cooking – though I don’t really see the point in that so much. I don’t really want to make mealworm cake, but I suppose grinding down could help camouflage the critters a little.

So, one of the new things I’m doing this year is an all-out attempt at growing more protein at home. These includes mealworms (see below video) and raising more meat birds.

Raising Chickens for Meat

With money tight and too many cockerels in the backyard, Christmas dinner was one of two small Poland roosters. Surprisingly, the birds had quite a lot of meat on them and, unsurprisingly, they were darn yummy. Also, though past killing, plucking and dressing has been a little stressful, I found it far easier this time. So much so that I’m now determined to raise as much chicken myself as possible. It’s the main meat our household eats, after all.

There are a few species I’m going to try. Light sussex is a good dual-purpose birds, and I can keep hens for eggs and kill any excess, along with any roosters, for meat. An instagram friend – Claire at Smallholding Dreams – suggested I try naked necks too. As yet, there are no hatching eggs for the latter on eBay, but light sussex are generally fairly easy to get a hold of.

The Ornamental Garden

But it’s not all about meat and veg, and I’m looking forward to the ornamental garden this year too. I find this gardening more relaxing than veggies and fruits and the constant fear of poor harvests. With ornamentals, the merest bud, opening flower or beautiful and unfurling new leaf is reason to smile. Alas, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s too early to get sowing, but I’m wishing for spring so life will start emerging in the garden again with abundance.

On My Oasis – Spring Buds and New Life

It’s December 21 – rejoice! The Winter Solstice…as I announced on Twitter only to be told the solstice is actually tomorrow. DOH. Still, in a matter of hours it will have arrived and that, at least in my mind, means we’re marching closer to spring. The truth and reality is, however, that we have January and February ahead, and potentially the coldest temperatures to go (though that’s not hard given the mild Dec). It’s this current warmth that means that garden doesn’t really know what’s going on. There are daffodils poking their noses up, there are buds on the acer and we haven’t had a damn big enough frost to kill off those pesky aphids. In the chicken coop, the cockerels have also determined its spring and the poor hens have been having a rather rough time of it, though they’ve increased their laying so that’s no bad thing. Actually, the Poland chicks from this summer which, knowing their breed, I assumed wouldn’t start laying for a good nine months, have already started producing!

An assortment of eggs – can you guess which the Poland one is?

It’s not too late for bulbs

I know, I know…planting bulbs is for autumn. But, c’mon, it’s still so warm. Bulbs require a period of cold before they start pushing up their little noses above the earth to see whether it’s time to flower. With those months expected early next year, and the ground not frozen (indeed, it’s positively warm), this year in particular, you can still be planting. There’s loads of offers around at the moment as retailers try and sell off their last bulbs and also take advantage of the T-shirt temperatures. I popped a video up on the new YouTube channel when I planted some alliums, so take a look.

 

 

New Life

On the subject of the channel, if you’ve not yet subscribed, do so! There’s a couple of projects going on here that I’ll be updated both on this blog and by video. Firstly, we’ve got more new life coming (hopefully) as I’m expecting two ayam cemani chicks to hatch on Christmas Eve. I checked the eggs yesterday and both embryos are moving and the air sacs, though a little small, have been constantly monitored and should do. Though, the silkie chicks were moving last time too and all died on Day 21. Fingers crossed. There’s also a new bug project, but that’ll be featured on the channel in coming weeks.

Will Ayam soon have friends to play with?

Down the garden in the vegetable patch, I’m happy to see broad beans pushing up through the soil quickly. My brussells sprouts have been nibbled – grrrrr – but they’ll do for Christmas Day, and there’s pak choi and winter lettuce in the greenhouse. Unfortunately, those damn aphids are so on the move and we need some cold to kill ’em off!

Broad beans are appearing!

Finally, as it’s just the two of us this year for Christmas, I’m deliberating dispatching a cockerel. In theory I should only have two at the moment – one for the Barbu d’Anver flock and one for the Polands. In practice, I have FOUR Polands – two whites (one of which I need for breeding) and two complete mixes. They are bantams, so not very big and I’m not sure what they’d taste like BUT I need to cut down numbers and, with that big meal only around the corner, one of those Poland boys might have to be tried!

So, in a wrap, that’s the week. What’s happening on your oasis? Tell me in the comments!

Planting Bulbs in December – Sometimes its NOT too late!

Grab some bargain allium bulbs and get ’em in quick.

So, I’m not always the most organised of people. Plus, I’m ALWAYS on the look out for a bargain. Bulbs aren’t generally very expensive, and you can get quite a lot of spring tulips, crocus or daffodils if you hunt around for a few deals. That’s even more true if you’re buying other plants in the autumn by mail order or from websites; at this time of year you’ll often get a few bulbs thrown in for free. If you’re a bit late to the game like me, you can head to a few homeware stores where they’ll often be selling excess bulbs off really cheap in November and December. Whilst these aren’t the ideal months to plant in, as long as it’s still mild, it’s worth giving it a go!

I got my hands on a few alliums; 10 Purple Sensation and 60 Drumstick for £3.96 – not bad! What most bulbs need is a period of cold before the spring warmth starts to creep into the soil. That stirs those little growth cells and you soon start to see the first nubs of green poking above the soil. Over the past few years, and certainly for the south-east of England, the really cold spell has been in Jan/Feb. It’s still unseasonably warm here, and that means the earth has still retained heat from the summer months – in fact, my tulips and daffodils have already started to come up. So, on December 18th, I was bulb planting!

As you know, the garden’s still new so many of the borders haven’t got a lot in. Purple Sensation is quite a large and tall allium, proving some height and a real burst of colour the flowerbed. Instead of grouping it, I planted the bulbs in a natural swathe up the long, thin border as a way to draw the eye up the garden from one pop of colour to the next. The Drumstick variety, however, is more diminutive, so though I’ve still created swathes at the front of the bed, they’re grouped more closely.

I really love alliums and they’re fantastic for insects too. And, bulbs are really easily moved – just wait for the flowers and leaves to die back next year, lift, dry and then replant in the autumn. So if they’re in the wrong place as the garden evolves I can very easily change their location. I filmed a little video for the new Brimwood Farm YouTube Channel too, so check it out!

 

 

So, I know it’s almost Christmas, but YES, you can still get some bulbs in. In the worst case scenario they’ll produce only leaves next year and flowers the year after. But, weather being well (i.e. mild for a few days whilst planting and then a nice cold spell) you can create a last minute bulb display for cheap. Go-on…you’ll be glad you made the effort when those flowers burst into vivid colour come spring!

Did you get any bulbs in this year? Still on the to-do list? Tell me in the comments!





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Meet Geoff Wakeling



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