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More Planting Tips

Guides to growing vegetables, hints & tips to help you get more from your plot.

Couch Grass aka Twitch Grass or Scutch, Wickens, Quick (Agropyron repens)

If wish to clear Couch Grass from your plot completely, plant the troubled area with turnip seed

The two will not mix and the couch will wither back and die. Even if you have cleared the grass it may come back if you have not removed every single root. So to keep it at bay give this a try. I promise you it will work. A lot of allotment plot holders know this trick, but a great many others may not have heard of it.

Midges & Mosquitoes in Water Butts

Water butts can and do attract midges and some mosquitoes. To avoid this happening float some olive oil on the top. Just enough to cover the surface with a very thin coating. After a week or two skim it off and replace with fresh oil. It may look a mess but it will not affect the water quality and I guarantee it will stop them from laying any eggs.

Before you treat your water butt, remove anything floating on the top.

If you have a water butt with a lid from which you draw off water from a tap in the bottom, then midges will lay eggs if they can gain access. They will breed in their hundreds if not thousands and become a nuisance when they start to bite. My tip is to help avoid this. If you have a tight well sealed lid that will also stop them but most butts are just not that tight. Normally a water butt only requires that you start off with a clean interior and that you draw off the water regularly to stop it becoming stagnant.

The only reason for using olive oil instead of the cheaper oils is that olive oil will not separate allowing minute particles to sink down into the water below . It also lasts longer without going rancid. Otherwise any oil does form a barrier and that's what it's all about.

Stop Lettuce Bolting

You can not wait to pick your first lettuce and suddenly you have too many to eat and they are not so tasty if you try to store them. So what can you do?

When you have too many maturing at once pick them very carefully, root ,soil and all and lay them in a shady place for an hour or two. Then replant them. This gives them a shock and will slow them down for 5 to 7 days thus giving you time to catch up. The flavour and quality will not suffer but make sure to water them in well .All to the good if they lay over a little they will soon pick up and you can stop giving away or wasting your beautiful plants

Discouraging Badgers

Urine has been a very useful by product for 100s of years. It was an essential ingredient in dyeing cloth. The finishing of Harris Tweed, tanning leather and one of the most important, the making of Gun Powder. Up until the first world war it was used to whiten shirts and sheets in the laundry process and almost every compost 

However are there still uses for this liquid to day. Yep there is. If you have a badger problem ask all your men folk (sorry ladies but it has to be the men this time) to sprinkle around your boundary. Repeat this every 4 weeks and your problem will go away. Badgers will not cross the line ever again

Also, of course, it is still a great and very cheap activator for your compost heap but be very careful when and where you dangle your dingle.

Simple Tool Care

We all know that tools work better and last longer if they are regularly oiled and kept clean. Your spade digs a little easier and the soil sticks a whole lot less. Hoeing is so much less of a chore with a clean sharp edge.

So an easy way to do this every time you use it is as follows. Place a bucket sized container outside your allotment shed door, filled with sand and mixed with that old engine oil from your rotovator or grass cutter or even from you car. When you have finished with your spade or hoe etc, knock off all the soil you can then plunge it up and down in your sand and oil filled bucket. The result is a well-oiled, very clean and de-rusted, re-sharpened tool ready for use next time.

Water for Drought Sensitive Plants

Right at this moment it seems impossible to think that before long we will be back to wishing it would rain. When this does happen it would be useful to have a reservoir or two of water around those plants that are drought sensitive.

This can be achieved by planting 2", 4"or even 6"flower pots in strategic places. The plants you know need that water most. Pop some clean pebbles and some tissue paper in the bottom of the pots and when you water make sure you fill them to the brim.

The idea is to slow down the water seepage and give you that much needed reservoir, particularly those runners in mid and late summer when you cannot always get down the vegetable plot at the same time. Sometimes being even an hour or two late on a scorching day can check their growth.

You can use the smaller pots on tomatoes but do not over water them Use the larger pots on runner beans, which I find almost impossible to over water.

Hiding the Compost Heap

We all have or should have a good working and invaluable compost heap but sometimes they are a little unsightly. Made, as they often are, out of bits and pieces of wood, mesh and whatever was to hand at time of construction. Well to improve their appearance and also help them work, grow Common Comfrey or as in my case Symphytum Grandiflorum (Hidcot Blue) around them, Not only will they look so much better, you can chop some comfrey down now and then and add it to your compost heap to help it along. Which to me is a win win situation.

Carrot Fly

This tip about carrot fly sounds so daft I almost did not post it but it's true and it works..

If you suspect that the dreaded carrot fly has got past your defences, your netting and smell diversions and is living within your carrot fortress. Then place some bits of mirror along and between your rows of growing plants .The idea is that the female carrot fly will see her own reflection and charge at it knocking herself out!

Then you come along and remove her. I know you think I am kidding but I swear it's true, give it a go.

Incidentally, I grow all my carrots in dust bins sown in a spiral. The sun sorts them out so that they grow first on the outside then as you pick them this allows the inner ones some sun and they develop.

Moles in the Garden

If you see a mole hill you should be delighted .Depending where it is of course. Why? because what you could do is scoop as many mole hills up that you can find. Put the soil into a biscuit tin and pop it into an oven at 200c or 400f for a couple of hours, Let it cool down and be very careful removing it from the oven. What have you got? Lots of cheap John Innes Type Sterile Compost

Avoiding Backache

Most of us have given ourselves a bit of a bad back or an ache or two having dug, picked, hoed or sown down at the allotment. Some times we have even given ourselves a very bad back and can hardly move. Well do you realise that a lot of bad backs are not caused by the work but by the choice of seating after we have stretched and warmed our muscles? Plonking one cheek on a box or squatting on a corner of anything available is sure to bring on the pain.

You owe it to your back to provide the best possible seat while your body cools down, and if you want it to last you should start to take care of it from now on..

Take a good look at your garden seat. If its good, then great you are doing the right thing. Remember to sit and give your muscles a chance to cool and heal. If not, look around you will soon find something that will do the job properly and give your mobility a few extra years.

Stop Birds Eating Your Strawberries

How is it that no matter what netting you put up the Birds will always try to get to your strawberries before you do? Well here's one extra way to stop them.

Paint a few stones red and lay them just outside your netting. Make sure that in size and shape they resemble strawberries. The birds will soon swoop down to peck them and get a real shock instead of a treat. Soon the birds will give up and leave your luscious fruits alone.

It is fun watching them pick up the stones and shaking their heads when they peck down. They sometimes do a little dance, perhaps in frustration.

Getting Caterpillars off Cabbages

To get rid of caterpillars from your prize cabbages. Add a half cup of salt to your watering can. Stir well until salt dissolves and using a fine rose pour over any infested cabbages or spray with the saline solution. Don't worry, they won't taste of salt when you pick them, but the caterpillars will hate the salt and fall off. Repeat as necessary.

Brassicas don't mind a little salt and it won't harm the soil as long as you don't grow them in the same place every year.

Storing Onions Tip

It's always a shame when your carefully stored onions start growing extra green leaves, spoiling the look and flavour. To avoid this just hold the root end over a naked flame for a few seconds. The shock totally stops any further growth without affecting the look or taste.

Runner Beans - Get Bumper Crops

When your runner beans start to slow down it can be quiet depressing, so if you want a second bumper crop, try this Put a good shovel of horse manure in a large bucket of water and leave for around a week. Wait for the leaves on your runners to start to turn and shrivel and carefully remove them all so that you are left with the few tiny runner beans and bare stalks.

Then pour your magic liquid on the roots of your beans. Around 1 bucket full to 12 feet of beans. Result, a new crop of beans, best picked small, they will taste so sweet. Sorry but this hardly works north of the border, the further south you go the better it works.

Cutting Winter Kale

If you are cutting your winter Kale on a "cut and come again" basis, when you do cut the leaves its a good idea to cut at an angle, about 45 degrees would be great. This helps to prevent rot and disease, plus it aids water run off. Keeping the cut and the plant fresher for the next cut.

Avoiding Frost Damage to Broccoli

If you want to avoid losses caused by even a light frost, try this old method. 
Locate north on your plot and dig a little soil away from the base of your broccoli plants on the north side. Then go around to the south side and using a spade gently tilt the plant over, then build up a little soil and compact it so that the plant head lays over a little. This will ensure a slow thaw out in the worst frosty days, thereby avoiding browning and spoiling the tops of your much cared for winter food.

Saving Winter Cabbage

If we get a mild slow start to winter, cabbages can start to put out too much leaf. This will affect the heart and size later in the season and they may not be fit to stand a very cold snap. So what to do?

Dig your shovel in about a foot out and a spade depth down forming a square around the plant. This chops off the thin roots that will eventually weaken the whole system when its strength is most needed. Just push the spade right down do not wiggle it about then pull it out and tread the soil back down. Job done!

Courgettes on Poor or Sandy Soil

If you have poor or just sandy soil you can do the usual mound etc. but you may like to give this a try instead.

Take a cheap plastic bucket and make a series of holes all around it about 2" from the bottom and another series of holes 4" from the top. The holes should be about the size of a large pencil.

Place it in a hole up to its neck and pack the soil around it.Then plant your courgettes (four would be best)in a circle around it. About a 3ft or 1M circle would be fine.

Next fill the bucket with horse manure and always water the plants by pouring it into the bucket. This will ensure that the nutrients get to work their magic.

You will almost certainly get a bumper crop. You will also have the added benefit of catching a few slugs and other pests. Unfortunately, this does not work so well on heavy clay soils or for marrows

Cats in the Garden and on the Plot

Cats do a lot of good for gardeners, keeping the rodent population in check but they do have one habit that infuriates growers, leaving their calling cards in loose soil. It's not just a matter of them relieving themselves, to them it's a method of communication and marking their territory to other cats. Really unpleasant when you are hand weeding.

Stop Cats from Establishing in your Plot

Over winter on allotment sites where the humans are rarely about the cats will happily establish their patch so it is a good time to deter them.

Save your urine and spray it around. Do this every 2 or 3 weeks and in spring you will not have a cat problem.( If there is heavy rain do it again asap)

If you do not want to do this then scatter Tea Bags on which you have placed a drop of Olbas Oil. The smell will make them feel a lot less welcome. Replace around once per week, or after very heavy rain.

By doing this you are discouraging them from roaming free and claiming your allotment as a toilet.

Once cats have established a toilet, they re-use it to keep their message to other cats live. If you have some bramble or rose cuttings, lay them over the spot and the cat will find somewhere else.

Don't be Cruel!  Throwing stones at cats is illegal and cruel.

Shouting will scare them away and shooting them with a water pistol, one of those big ones is ideal, will upset them but not cause any actual harm. Cats don't like water and this will deter them from returning.

Another tip that often works, fill a clear plastic pop bottle with water and leave it on its side on the plot. The cat sees a distorted reflection and probably will challenge it, thinking it is another cat. The reflection challenges back and will not give way! Off goes your problem to find somewhere else.

You can buy ultrasonic scaring devices, these do work but are pricey.

Training Your Cat Where to Toilet

If you have a problem with your own cat in your garden using a space you'd rather he didn't, then try this. Place a litter tray with some cat litter in it on the space you do not want them to use. Once they have used it a couple of times, move the tray a few feet away. Gradually move it further each day and the cat will follow the tray, forgetting the original spot.

Defeating the Slug

Winter is the best time to help yourselves in the ongoing slug battle. Tidiness and good garden house keeping can help at this time of the year as well as in the growing season.

Clear any areas that are slug heavens, slide your hoe down the inside of your raised beds holding it at a slight angle and open up a small gap. Then, dare I say it, sprinkle a few slug pellets in the gaps you have created and push the soil back.

Look around for any likely slug hiding areas and remove them such as old plant pots, sacks, poly bags.

Most important look under your garden shed, but not if your local hedgehog is in residence, and give it a rake out.

Place a few tiles on the soil and next time you are on the plot lift them, you may remove a few extra slugs this way and maybe even a snail or two. Warm weather may bring out the odd little snail who knows no better.

You may not see them about now but they are there somewhere. Find them and they will not be eating your produce next season.

Harvesting Carrots in Sandy Soil

If you grow carrots on sandy or loose soil, when it is time to pick them, first push the carrot gently but firmly down into the soil. The reason is that this action will break all of the fine hairs that make pulling carrots a little harder then it need be. By breaking these threads the carrots will simply slide out of the ground and being less tugged and bruised will store even better. 
Sorry this will not work for heavy or clay soils.

Planting Early in Spring

When spring arrives we are all champing at the bit to get some seeds in. We all know not to plant when its too wet or too cold, but when we have had a few good days its very difficult to resist popping in a seed or two.

How can we be a little more certain whether or not its ok to start sowing?

Well one sure test is the" baby water test". Yes, place your elbow in the soil and if it's too cold you will soon know it. Just like baby's bath water your elbow makes a great tester to check if the soil is suitable or not. Your fingers and hands are just not suitable for either task.

So on your knees next spring and bare your elbows before you plant anything!

A Use for Feathers in the Garden

If you do happen to have a lot of feathers to dispose of then instead of dumping them try the following.

Put them in a water butt and fill with rain water. Then place a wire grid over them and weigh this down with a couple of bricks. Keep in shade for around 2 months and you will have a free source of nitrogen. It will become a soft mash which you can place around chosen plants etc. as a slow release mulch. Better than just trying to dump them.

Natural Helpers against Aphids

We all know that no matter what we do sooner or later aphids will attack. There are however lots of beasties available to us to help reduce or even prevent any infestation. 
Lady birds are very well known helpmates, but there is one other who quietly does a stirling job and only needs a little persuasion to live in our vegetable patch.

Behold the little insect with a veracious appetite, the bee look-a-like, the super worker the "Hover Fly"!

Plant some Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes Douglasii) or some Buck Wheat (Fagopyrum Esculentum) and you may get 20 plus species of natural aphid predator to lay their eggs and help to protect your crop.

Plant the Tobacco plant (Nicotiana Sylvestris) and its sticky leaves will trap white fly by the hundreds.

Remember if you rid your garden completely of one insect the chances are you will let another take over. Its best to try for a healthy balance. Try not to overkill anything there is room for most of these beasties and they all fulfil a purpose.

Avoid Spreading Clubroot

We all know that lime helps prevent the dreaded clubroot, but not everyone knows that weeds like Shepard's Purse and flowers like Stocks and Wall flowers are highly susceptible to this nasty infection.

So clear your plot of these plants and weeds on sight

One reason clubroot stays in the ground for so long, even if you don't grow brassicas, is that the problem affects all members of the crucifer family. Aggressive weed control will certainly help.

Don't forget that the humble radish is a brassica. If harvested when ready then they do not cause a problem but if they bolt, pull them up before they act as a reservoir for clubroot.

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