Beware of the flowers

(and the Rottweiler, whose sure gonna get you, yeah!)

I woke up this morning after having a dream that I had to write a speech for Bruce Forsyth but I couldn’t get any further than the “nice to see you, to see you nice” part. Not good, anyway I digress.

So you’ve got the garden, the tools and the seeds, now you’re ready to roll. Traditionally you sow the seed indoors or under glass in the spring, plant out after the frosts, weed and feed throughout the summer and harvest from late summer to autumn. As it’s at the end of the growing season, now is the best time to get the plot prepared before the winter, which will give you a head start for next year.

The secret to gardening is “little and often” and only take on a little bit at a time. So if you’ve inherited a large plot, just cordon off a small area and start on that (the other parts can be covered with sheets of black plastic to slow down the weed growth).

When we first moved into our house, the place was in a terrible state, including a rottweiler flap (aka a big hole) kicked out of the back door. The  garden had not been touched for about twelve years and it took us a week to realise we even had a pond at the bottom of it!

The first night we sat outside our back door having a drink with a good mate of ours hearing all sorts of movement in the the towering undergrowth in front of us, after ten minutes deciding to go back indoors as it was too mental! I even ruined a brand new flymo the first time I tried to cut the lawn, constantly ducking while old wooden clothes pegs whizzed past my head and finally smashing the blades on a half-submerged kid’s bike (I didn’t tell customer services that when ringing in for the replacement part!).

It took us about three years to get some sort of normality in the garden as we’d been busy doing other work on the house and it’s still a work in progress. So I’ve learnt to take it nice and easy as life is not like 60 minute make-over.

The first thing to do is to clear the area of brambles and woody debris which can be burnt later on. Use a good pair of secateurs, council-worker type gardening gloves and a spade and get out all the roots. Then start clearing all the weeds, don’t use a rotavator as new weeds will grow from the roots if you divide them. If you are going to do it organically without weedkiller, you will have to dig out out all weeds and their roots by hand and that will take time. Get rid of any builders rubble, bricks and large stones as you go along and then use a fork to break up all the soil. To get the best possible conditions for your veg, get a soil testing kit (from your local garden centre or the internet) and see if any adjustments have to be made to the soil (more in a later post). Finally fork in some good organic material, ideally rotted down compost, leaf mould or make a compost trench with a layer of vegetable peelings, old newspapers, straw, grass clippings, etc to rot down in situ.

A bonus to any garden is a compost bin which can be made out of wood, old carpet or try your local council who might have a free composting bin scheme. Making your own compost is easy to do, great for the environment and encourages wildlife. You can throw in all your vegetable peelings, old flowers, tea bags, coffee grindings, lawn clippings, eggshells even thin prunings if they’re not too woody.

If your soil is really poor how about making a raised bed, made out of scaffolding boards, stone, railway sleepers or any timber and they can be filled with decent compost and you can tailor make the soil to the plants you want to grow in them. They can be at a good height if you hate all that bending and they need less maintenance, which is a bonus.

So prepare the soil now (and do it as thoroughly as possible as those weeds will come back to haunt you!) and keep an eye on the bed over the coming months and knock off any weeds wtih a hoe, which might try to come through and you’ll save yourself a bit of effort in the spring.

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