Inkwell’s Guide to Gardening #5

We have had a mixed batch of weather since the last gardening blog instalment. With breaks from the hot sun and few days of wet weather comes the opportunity for not only your plants to thrive but unfortunately also weeds. Weeds are whatever plant that you do not want to be growing in your garden. In my case it is dandelion, mallow, cleavers, storksbill, ivy and the occasional bramble. You could dedicate a block of time to weeding or if you struggle to find time you could weed whenever one catches your eye. I find the latter more fitting with life. If you have lots of dandelions popping up and you have not used fertilisers heavy in chemicals or weed killers, then why not see if your neighbours or friends’ rabbits want them? Rabbits absolutely love dandelions.

Keep on feeding your plants during the summer. Once a week should be enough and will ensure fuller flowers, larger vegetables and plenty of juicy fruits. More flowers can also be achieved buy dead heading so continue to do this throughout the summer months. Deadheading can also be a great opportunity for you to check for any insects who seem to be taking over your plants. If you see this happening, see if you can figure out what they are. Something like black or greenfly can usually be gotten rid of using a spray with dish soap and water mix. Other inhabitants that you may not want in your garden are snails and slugs. These can destroy whole crops of fruit and vegetables. If you have children and they are particularly fond of these slithery suckers, then collecting them first thing on a morning or late at evening time can be a fun thing to do with them.

One of this year’s gardening ambitions is to grow new plants without spending lots of money at the garden centre. I have seen great results so far with perennial seeds namely foxgloves, sweet williams and campanula. They were planted in the greenhouse in spring and with a bit of tender loving care should be good, strong plants ready to go into the garden by next spring or early summer. The great thing about planting from seed is that I have plenty of plants to go around and can share these with friends and family.

Dividing clump forming plants and taking cuttings are good ways of creating more plants and preserving and sharing plants that belonged to relatives and hold sentimental value. I have seen successful results when dividing clump forming plants, such as perennial geraniums. Other plants that multiply into dividable clumps include hostas, peonies, anemone, sea holly, iris and primula, to name a few. The plant clumps are dug up and then split by either teasing with your hands or simply chopping with a spade. The rule is to divide summer-flowering plants in spring or autumn and spring flowering plants in summer. Dividing plants means you can reduce their size if they are spreading too much or create further plants for around your or someone else’s garden.

Another way to grow from what you already have is to take cuttings. I have a hydrangea that is well established and rather than buy more hydrangea plants I thought I would have a go at taking cuttings. Other plants that you could take cuttings from include buddleja, fuchsia, penstemon, verbina and many more. Cuttings are usually taken from softwood shoots as these have the highest rooting potential. Early summer in the morning is the perfect time to do this. You will be looking for a shoot that is new and is 5-10 cm, cutting just below the leaf node and removing any leaves from the lower stem. Lower this into a pot with free draining soil, water well with a fertiliser and cover with a polyethene bag to retain the moisture. The cuttings should be kept in an area with light but not direct sun and should be checked every few days for moisture and to give an airing. These cuttings will be kept in the greenhouse along with the perennial seeds I planted until next year.

Spending the evening in a garden is proving popular now. Especially if it means you can socially distance with a member of the family or a friend you have not seen for a while. I have been prettying the garden not only with plants but also with crafted items, which I have been making for the Inkwell website and Facebook pages. Thinking about a pretty garden on an evening has got me wondering why the solar lights I hung a couple of years back have stopped working. Rather than throw away and replace, adding to landfill, I decided there must be a way to fix them and sure enough there is! The lights I have are attached to a solar panel, which you can unscrew. Inside the panel is a replaceable battery, AA in this case. I simply switched battery and voila the lights are working again!

Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden really is growing and changing every day now. Strawberries are turning red and I have been told by my daughter that “they taste better than the ones from the supermarket”, although I am yet to try one myself. Blackcurrants are starting to change colour also. If you have fruit growing forgetting to water the plants during dry spells can mean that the fruit are not so sweet and juicy when it comes to picking them. Raspberries can fruit at different times in summer through to autumn so keep checking for fruit. Keep your eye on fruit plants as their fruit get bigger, you may need to give them an extra prop, stake or tie. If you have not already netted your fruits and you would prefer the birds to not have them then netting them now would be a good idea. Growing fruit is great and there can never be too much. There are plenty of recipes out there to preserve it. I have been looking at making cordial, jam and liqueur from my fruit this year. What might you make?

If you find that your pea and bean plants have not quite taken the path you had hoped, then do not be afraid to give them a helping hand. The wind has blown mine about a bit and so I have simply tucked them in and around the netting I set up for their support. This can also be done with any other climbing plants you may have such as clematis, honey suckle, rose and jasmine. Your peas may have started flowering so keep watering and waiting for the peas to grow. It is not too late to continue with further planting for peas and beans. Further planting of carrots and beetroot can also continue and if you feel that they are too compactly planted the thin out.

In the greenhouse cucumber plants are being trained up the trellis and fruit are showing now. I have noticed a powdery mildew forming on vegetables in the greenhouse. Apparently, this is a common problem and can be an issue with ventilation, airflow or humidity. Currently the courgettes and cucumbers in my greenhouse have started showing signs and it is not the first time over the past years. Uneasy about using any chemicals on vegetable plants, whose vegetables will be eaten by the family, I have looked at alternatives. Bicarbonate of soda mixed with dish soap and water is a popular recipe online and although not 100% proven the research completed so far points to this method being both safe and effective. The plants should be sprayed with the mixture once a day for a few days and then intermittently if you seem to have got some control over it. It is best to do this when the sun is not shining intensely as this can cause the leaves to burn.

I can report that I have had good results with the bicarb. spray. The mould seems to be under control and the plants a lot healthier.

It seems that with all the bird food I had laying around my greenhouse that I have managed to attract mice. I picked the bag of sunflower hearts up the other day noticed a small trickle of seeds pouring out of the bottom. In the past the cats have been kind enough to help me with this issue but this year they seem more intent on catching birds than mice. Unfortunately, because of the chickens we have living in the garden the mice needed to be dealt with as they can urinate in the chicken’s food and water which can spread disease. It is not the first time we have had mice in the greenhouse, and this signals a change in storage for the bird food. Sealed containers only from now on!

Chickens

The chickens are now around twelve weeks old and they continue to grow. We spend lots of time hanging out in the garden with them. I could sit and watch them all day long rummaging around with their little t-rex ways! It seems that Mavis is the highest in the pecking order. She is always first to come when called and never misses a meal. Belle and Chicky seem quite happy to hang back and wait to see what is happening. As Mavis usually gets more food, she has grown larger and her combs and wattles have begun to develop ahead of the others. Belle and Chicky’s faces have begun to change to a redder shade but their combs and wattles remain small.

They continue to free range in the garden where you can generally see them foraging together and playing chase with grubs. They love nothing more than to eat a tasty slug or worm on a morning when the grass is dewy. The chickens have also realised that they can find tasty treats under the wild bird feeders. Much like dogs hovering up the crumbs after dinner the chickens keep this area tidy. As they have grown so much, we do not mind leaving the ladies to free range whilst we potter about in the house. The neighbourhood and our cats do not seem to pose a risk anymore due to the chicken’s size. They are however locked up in their run when we leave the house.

We are all excited about the prospect freshly laid eggs and the wager now is on Mavis. Our reason behind it? She is the biggest and her voice has started to deepen. Only time can tell though and it is all just a bit of fun and games at the moment.

Please join us again for another instalment of this gardening blog, which is posted biweekly. We would love to see pictures of your gardens so please do send them to us vis Facebook  https://en-gb.facebook.com/Inkwellarts , Instagram https://www.instagram.com/inkwell_artscafe/?hl=en  or email [email protected] .