There’s a sting in our tail

Thanks very much again to Sharon Bassey of the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) who’s been in touch with us on a regular basis and for recently letting us know that the capital growth fund is releasing more grants of up to £750 for community food growing projects, see for more info.

The LBKA will be running their “Introduction to beekeeping” two day weekend course at St Paul’s Church Hall in SW4 in a couple of months time and after that they run a mentoring scheme where you are assigned to a local beekeeper for a year before going it alone. A great organisation running excellent and informative courses. The cost of the forthcoming one is at the great price of £150 which is not bad at all!

For more information:

Pic: The Worker Bee from Enlightened Cushions

Compost heap, compost heap, compost heap

This morning they were filming next door in the newly built flats for some “Location, location, location” TV spin-off called “Secret location”. Yesterday it turns out they didn’t have any electricity, so they offered us £75 for using ours. I really could do with the brass, but have you seen those lights they use for filming? I can just about afford the leccy at home as it is without the added extra of a film crew, hangers on, catering team, mobile nail bar, P.A’s and stylists etc.

When the programme appears on the telly in a couple of months time If you look hard enough out of the back window into the next door garden you might see a bloke taking photo’s of his compost heap, that’s me that is!

Don’t fear the reaper

The early reaches of the growing season are now with us (well for impatient so and so’s like myself they are). Growing from seed is easy and cheap, and as the soil outside won’t warm up until later on in the spring I’ve started off some veg and herbs off in trays on my kitchen windowsill.

Most of the seeds for this forthcoming year were obtained on the cheap from E-bay, “end of season” bargains from a DIY shop, free gifts with gardening magazines bought cheaply from the market and swaps from mates but I did make an exception and bought some full-price seeds from the garden centre around the corner alongside some seed compost to keep them in business. Local garden centres are great and brilliant for advice and the staff will get to know what you like so will point you in the right direction when it comes to new varieties and offers etc so you wouldn’t want to see them disappear.

Last night I started off some garlic chives and thyme in a posh seed tray (with a plastic propagator lid) which was given to me by a neighbour who was clearing out his loft but you could use plastic plant pots, old yoghurt tubs with some drainage holes in the bottom or cardboard egg trays just to start off with.

I gave the tray a good clean and rinse out to prevent disease, then filled it with seed compost (which is low in nutrients and has added sand to improve aeration) and firmed it down with my hand. It then got a good soak first of tap water from a spray bottle (which avoids disturbing the seed later) and I let it drain off in the sink to get rid of the excess liquid.

On the back of the seed packet you will find detailed information with ideal sowing date, depth and and position of sowing and I always try to sow the seed thinly as not to waste them and it’ll also give the seedlings space to grow without competition and as a rule, planting depth is about twice the size of the seed.

After sprinkling on the seed and covering it with the right amount of compost, I stuck the name of the plants and the date in pencil on a plant label on its side then covered it with the posh plastic lid. You could use cling-film or a sheet of glass over the top which you’ll take off when the seedlings start to show. A couple of days ago I started off some tomatoes and sweet peas in small plastic seed tray with a plastic sandwich bag over the top (below) which works too. The secret is to keep the compost just moist and not too wet. There, I told you it was easy!

You’ve been chitting on me

The other week I couldn’t stop myself and popped into the garden centre and got myself a bag of Desiree seed potatoes. They cost us £3.99 for about 40 which isn’t bad, as you’re talking 40 plants that will give you a good few spuds on each come harvest time in September, well worth it!

The first thing I’ll be doing is encouraging the seeds to sprout or “chitting” them, which will give them a head-start before planting them outside. We’re not talking the long pale shoots that you see when potatoes have sprouted after being stored in the dark, but ones that are short and sturdy. It’s worth chitting spuds before planting as their shoots usually appear in the ground a couple of weeks before seed spuds that haven’t.

All you basically do is stand the seed potato’s upright in a container (a seed tray or a cardboard egg box) with the blunt end of the tuber upwards (the end that has the “eyes”). Make sure the container is in a cool position with natural light and where’s there’s no risk of frost. I’ve stuck mine on the floor in the back room by the patio doors. Fingers crossed I don’t stand on them when I’m half asleep doing me tai-chi in the morning!

There is such a thing as a free lunch!

Yesterday I attended the “worm composting in the city” course at Walworth garden farm in SE17 as part of their introduction to gardening classes. They are free but if you have attended one before in the same year you have to pay a small charge. It was a tenner for this one, a small price to pay for a great day.

In the morning we went through making garden compost something that has been occupying me for the last few weeks, looking at how the process works and the best ways to do it and a visit to a couple of heaps they have on site (one which was “how not to do a heap” which reminded me of my first attempt!) After lunch we looked more into worm composting, something I hadn’t a clue about before going on the course. You can buy a wormery on the internet for about £65 but we looked at ways you could do it for much much cheaper! At the end of the process you get excellent worm compost and a liquid you can feed to your plants, brilliant! Give it a few weeks and I’ll be making one.

Like the last one I attended, it was very friendly, fun, informative to say the least and well enjoyable. We all should make more of what’s on offer at places like the Walworth garden farm. Tap in “free gardening courses” into google and see if there’s a course near you.

Thanks to Scarlett for the great day!

For more info about the courses on offer at Walworth garden farm:

The real wild house (and garden)

Nearly five years ago we moved into this house that needed so much work even a hardened DIYer would have wept. As a non-hardened DIYer I constantly wept. When you opened up the back doors onto the garden the top picture is what we were greeted with upon arrival. If you look closely in the bottom right panel on the patio door you can see the boarded over remains of the “rockweiller flap” aka a booted-through door.

On the first night we were sitting outside having a drink in the garden wondering if we had done the right thing (I still wonder sometimes) and had to come in after ten minutes what with all the weird rustling in the dense undergrowth.

The photo below is the same view four and a half years later (in mid-winter) and the garden is now cleared of mummified underpants and kid’s bikes and now is a blank canvas to work on. This is a work in progress and work that’s got be be done on little or no budget and this is what this blog is about!

(Just like the Four Tops) I can’t help myself

Last weekend, I just couldn’t stop myself going to the garden centre and purchasing a bag of seed compost to start off those vegetables early. It was the first weekend the shop was open after christmas, I haven’t got much self control have I? Alongside the compost I got some seed potatoes (that will need “chitting” but more on that in another post) Desiree was the variety, by the way.

Now how long will it be before there’s endless seed trays on the kitchen windowsill taking up space and leaking water all over the place? Not long I imagine. I told you I was impatient!

Also in the last post I mentioned I was going to redesign my garden so since then I’ve been doing some research, looking through books and listening to garden design podcasts.

A massive mistake people make is that they decide they want to revamp their garden, go to a garden centre and spend a fortune on plants without any research or thought, stick them all around their garden and wonder why in a couple of months they fail.

What I learnt from only a week’s research is you shouldn’t rush into redesigning your garden, take your time.You should take a year out to gather information about the site. Over the varying seasons look at shadow patterns and what parts get sun and at what times of the day and what are the site’s good views and bad views. Also ask others who live with you what shrubs/flowers/trees they fancy, what are your likes and dislikes etc and the design should start to make itself obvious (so it said on a gardening podcast!). Look at old books, go to parks and gardens, take photographs and get inspired. Rip things out of magazines of plants and gardens you like and keep a scrapbook.

I was looking through “Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto” by David Tracey in the library and came across an interview with an activist who echoed the same sentiments when it came down to garden design and added “in the meantime when you are information gathering, utilise the space and sow some edibles”. Brilliant. So it’s back growing to veg this year then!

I don’t do resolutions

The weather was brilliant today compared to the horrid rain of new years day.  I ventured out and did a bit in the garden to work off the load of tia maria and after eights I had over christmas. I did a good bit of tidying up, cutting back, forked over the beds and carefully with a hand trowel put back the spring bulbs I accidently disturbed. The third attempt at a compost heap was filled to the brim with stuff at the end and the second one is looking well rotten.

With the clean up, I can now see what space I really have in the garden and can plan what to put in the forthcoming year. This will save me a good bit of time and energy come spring. It’s been over four years since moving into this house and in that time I’ve sorted out ten year’s previous neglect in the garden, found beds and paths that I didn’t think existed and mainly been growing veg, herbs and salad. The garden is like a blank canvas now and I am now going to take the plunge of designing a garden that combines flowers and edibles as before I just made it up and put stuff in as I went along. It is time to make a start!

It’s okay for the make-over shows and TV personalities to show what you can do to improve your garden with a nice old budget but what if you haven’t got much to spend on it and you haven’t a team of builder “geezers” to help you out?

I’ll  be trawling the skips, small ads, e-bay, gumtree and freecycle and be on the look out for cheaper ways of getting the plants and materials (I mean I’d love railway sleepers as part of a raised bed but I can’t afford them).

The big jump of designing a garden combining flowers with veg will be a bit of a challenge, but it will be good experience as I’ll be constantly learning, something that is brilliant about gardening. I have to keep telling myself to approach one problem at a time as if I thought about all that I have to do, I’d probably give up!

Happy 2012 to all!