Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Compost, Manure and Mulch: Prepare Your Soil This Spring!

What many budding vegetable gardeners fail to realise is that what you put into the ground is as important as what you get out of it!  When I started vegetable garden, I often planted things in the ground and then wondered why things struggled to grow, when preparing your soil with a range of compost and nutrients is so vital.

It’s also important to use the right compost for your different gardening needs.  When growing vegetables, I tend to use a good multi-purpose compost which not only retains and absorbs moisture, but also contains Vitalizer – an entirely natural long lasting growth booster for strong healthy plants with minimal feeding.

However, for growing flowers, an ericaceous compost is much more effective: it contains the perfect pH for lime-hating (acid loving) plants, while promoting strong root and flower growth.

Compost Direct is a great site where you can get a range of compost and soil delivered directly to your door.  Compost Direct is the chosen compost suppliers of the National Allotment Society and has a range of great products and services on its site.

I love the fact that Compost Direct offers product samples, allowing you to decide which products are best for you before buying a bulk bag, as well as easy 24-hour ordering and quick delivery, typically within 3 days, leaving you free to get on with the gardening.

So as Spring finally arrives and we start preparing the garden ready for another season of vetegable growing, remember that investing some time and effort into soil preparation can reap huge dividends by the end of the summer.

Do you have any tips and advice for readers of the London Vegetable Garden blog?  Let us know by adding a comment below!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

How to Grow Vegetables in a Small Garden

There’s nothing like growing and harvesting your own vegetables. You can save a significant amount of money and get a lot of personal satisfaction from raising crops in your own garden. It’s something that the whole family can get involved in and the best thing is that even if you only have a small garden to work with, you can get involved in home growing. There are plenty of space saving varieties of vegetables and small scale growing ideas that you can put to use. Read on for growing tips tailored for small gardens.

What Should You Grow?

Think about the type of vegetables that you’re most interested in eating and focus on them. Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, celery and maincrop potatoes take up a large amount of space so it’s worth avoiding these. It’s advised that growers choose vegetables that are expensive to buy in shops and taste best when they are at their freshest. Most legumes fall into this category and good space savers include pole beans, bush beans, fava beans and peas. Dwarf varieties are good for small containers and climbing beans utilize vertical space.

Make Your Own Containers

Making upright boxes out of wood that can be filled with soil is an ingenious space-saving solution. Most seed packets will tell you how much space the adult plant requires so you can plan ahead for this. When constructing your wooden boxes, use well-maintained and high quality power tools to get the best results, like those from Anglia Tool Centre. You can also use old crates or cans if you want to create a bohemian feel.

Time and Space

Plan your space carefully and utilize what you have. If you have limited space to work with, try growing crops that will be out of the ground within a few weeks. That way you can quickly go on to a new crop and maximize the number of varieties and vegetables you are able to grow. Crops that take a long time to be ready for harvesting include parsnips, leeks, pumpkins and squashes. If you want to grow vegetables that take a few months to reach maturity, why not try ‘intercropping’. This means interspersing slower varieties with fast growing vegetables to save on space.

Making Your Allotment Shine All Year Round

Now that the New Year is finally upon us, millions of us up and down the country are scrambling around, looking for a New Year’s resolution. One area that you should immediately look to for this resolution is your allotment. Here is a guide to how you can make sure you use your resolution to make your allotment usable all year round.

De-Weeding To Aid Growth

Your allotment needs continuous hoeing and de-weeding to stay in prime condition. Although going out to de-weed in the depths of winter may not sound like an appealing idea, it is one that’s entirely essential. To help aid the process and make it less laborious in the future, you should consider planting potatoes, pumpkins or courgettes as they actually smother weeds and hinder their growth.

On the other hand, you’ll need to make sure that small items such as carrots or peas are away from areas with weeds, because they cast little shadow and are vulnerable to being smothered by weeds. Items like these should instead be grown in beds with plants as this will make the de-weeding process far simpler.

Surviving the Depths of Winter

Once you’ve got the layout of your allotment sorted and started de-weeding, you’ll have to consider how your allotment will cope in the depths of winter. Some soil types (especially ones that are clay based) can be very hard to work during the winter months, and waterlogged soil will lead to poor growth. To solve these problems you can:
  • Plant raised flower beds to enhance the drainage options
  • Consider time. If you’re short, plant pears, peas and carrots that will give a heavy yield when they are sown late.
  •  Banish slugs by using replants. Slugs are everywhere in the wet season and it is vitally important that you deter them as best as possible if you want a good crop growth. 

Surviving the Drought of Summer

Winter and the wet months, however, are not the only struggle that you will have. Despite being a popular time for gardening, the summer months can also prove tricky, with constant maintenance required. If it is exceptionally dry, clay based soils will work in your favour here, but sand based soils will dry out incredibly quickly. Remember that you may have restrictions on water use, so plan for every eventuality.
To avoid a struggle, you need to plan accordingly. Have a look at long range weather forecasts before deciding what to plant. Leafy salads and runner beans will suffer on dry soils, so if it is going to be dry, choose more tolerant plants like squash or pumpkins.

Finally, to make sure that your allotment is usable all year round, make sure that you have all the equipment immediately available at your disposal. A shed from somewhere like Sheds and Things is a lifesaver for an allotment that’s in use 365 days a year. Make sure you’re properly prepared. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Muck Boots: Perfect Winter Wear

Whether you’re sweeping up great swathes of wet leaves, digging up vegetable beds, turning soil or generally pottering about, the garden can be a messy place at this time of year, which is why solid footwear is so important.

Luckily for me, my friends at The Internet Gardener (www.internetgardener.co.uk) sent me a pair of Muck Boot Scrub boots to help me in the London Vegetable Garden over the autumn and winter months.

The first thing I have to mention about these boots is the fact that they are half-height, making them the perfect boot for garden work.  Shoes can offer little protection from muddy, cold and wet garden conditions, while full-size wellington boots can often feel cumbersome for gardening tasks that require a lot of flexibility: these Scrub Muck Boots are comfortable and protective while allowing freedom of movement.

As with all other Muck Boots, this Scrub Boot is constructed in by creating a neoprene bootie complete with Airwick lining. The entire boot is then covered in natural rubber ensuring it is 100% waterproof.  The ridged rubber sole will give grip without clogging up with mud as other wellies can, making it perfect for tramping through soil and undertaking gardening tasks such as digging, while  it also provides a firm grip on patios and decking.

I have recently been standing in vegetable beds as I dig out old roots, and turn the soil, as well as wading through great piles of leaves while sweeping up garden debris, and these scrub boots kept me warm, dry and were very flexible and easy to work in, as well as being extremely comfortable.

These boots are available in sizes 4-12, and when ordering from The Internet Gardener, you can also order a boot jack in a variety of colours, as well as a stylish boot bag to keep your boots in.  I highly recommend these muck boots, which have already become a key part of my gardening activities here at the London Vegetable Garden.

Visit The Internet Gardener for these muck boots, plus a whole host of superb gardening equipment!

Boot-Scrapers: Keeping the Outdoors, Outdoors!

Whether pottering about in the garden or rambling across the moorland of Derbyshire, I love nothing better than being outdoors.  However, what I dislike is bringing the outdoors back inside with me!

Muddy walking boots, leaves, soil and all sorts of garden flora and fauna invariably end up being trampled inside my house, much to the chagrin of my wife.  Luckily for me, the folks at the English Lamp Post Company have come up with the perfect solution for life here at the London Vegetable Garden.

Well known for their range of lampposts, the English Lamp Post Company is turning its expertise in superior cast iron to garden products, which of course, is very exciting news for gardeners!  The company’s new boot-scrapers are the perfect solution for muddy boots: the boot-scraper and brush has been hand cast in iron and is finished in a satin midnight black, ensuring a quality product with a durable finish and stylish design.

The back door of my cottage now has a beautiful boot-scraper outside, ensuring that the muck and mess of a wet wintery garden is kept firmly outside.

In addition to boot-scrapers, the English Lamp Post Company also has a charming range of cast-iron post boxes, benches, hanging baskets, water features, urn planters and also a superb garden lighting range.  Take a look today!

Birds and Bees: Bird Seed That Supports British Wildlife

The current plight of bees is a very topical, and indeed, critical, issue facing agriculture today.  This is a global issue with huge ramifications for crops, food and ecosystems, yet it is also an issue that we can help to overcome at (forgive the pun) ‘grass roots’ level.

I was recently contacted by the lovely folks at Birds & Bees bird seed, a new ethical birdseed company from Marcus Waley Cohen (founder of Firefly Drinks) and Upton Estate Manager, Rob Allan (Countryside Farmer of the Year 2012).

Birds and Bees actually started life ten years ago as a project to create some space on their farm for wildlife.  Back then, everyone was farming to the edge of every field; great for farming yields, but not so good for birds, bees and butterflies which had nowhere left to live.

Ten years later, Birds & Bees has over 150 acres of land dedicated to wildlife, home to thousands of species.   Every year they make the farm better for wildlife, but they realised that to make a bigger difference they needed to encourage more people to look after birds and bees in their own gardens, and more farmers to farm in a wildlife friendly way.   And with that, Birds and Bees was born.

They buy all of their British cereals from bird and bee friendly farmers and they have also dedicated to creating more habitats for wildlife - that's why they're planting one square foot of new wildflower meadow for every new customer who joins them this year.

I have already started using Birds & Bees in the London Vegetable Garden and I genuinely love the fact that not only does it help the many lovely birds in my garden (finches, nuthatches, blue tits, sparrows, robins) over the winter months, but the seed is produced in a way that is actively encouraging bees and wildlife back into British farmland and countryside – how good is that!

So please, if you’re looking for bird seed this winter, check out the great range of products over at http://www.birdsandbees.co.uk/.  There are plenty of offers in the shop, plus you can also earn £5 for yourself and £5 for a friend – click here for more details.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Planning Ahead: The Perfect Place to Put Your Gardening Tools

It might be winter now, but that means that spring is only around the corner, and with it comes fresh opportunities for new garden projects to help fill your leisure time over the coming year, and we think we have the perfect project. With house sizes decreasing year-on-year, gardeners all around the UK are running out of space to put their tools of the trade, so this year, why not make your gardening project to design and build your own outdoor space to help store your things.  Here’s how we suggest your do it.

The Right Spot
Here in the UK, we’re accustomed to bad weather. Although it’s not generally enough to dampen our spirits and prevent us from getting out into the garden, it can be detrimental to the health of a shed or greenhouse.  Wood can get water-damaged and the wind can take a serious toll on a greenhouse, so finding the perfect spot for your outdoor storage area is essential.  Large trees or dense bushes make excellent wind breakers, and if you’re building a shed, use a waterproof roof material to prevent any serious deterioration or rot.

The Appropriate Materials
Although you might want to cover your roof in slate tiles, they’re more expensive than a lino and are prone to becoming unstuck in the wind.  Therefore you need to weigh up the pros and cons of every material you plan to use.  If you’re making a greenhouse, you have less to think about in this regard, but you might want to consider the ventilation of you’re going to get out of your planned system – Do you need to drill any holes in your glass sheets to allow your plants to breathe?   

The Necessary Equipment
It’s ironic that you’ll need a range of tools for your outdoor storage space – the very place you intent to put them when the job is done.  Thankfully, the things you’ll need are generally inexpensive and can be purchased from a place like Elcocks, so you don’t need to travel to get everything you need for the job. As a minimum, you’ll require:
  • A hammer
  • A hand saw
  • A measuring tape
  • Screwdrivers

Once you’ve gathered your tools, picked the perfect spot, and thought about the appropriate materials, you’re all set to go. Building your shed or greenhouse shouldn’t take too long, and once it’s done you can sit back and admire your handiwork.


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