Saturday, 16 December 2017

Garden gifts for the tool shed (3)

A plastic scarifier for grandad
The grim sweeper
Over six days before Christmas I make some suggestions. They are tools that I regularly use. I cannot claim that there are not better ones and if you have your own personal favourites please let me know

Plastic lawn rake
Draper 31069 550 mm Large Head Plastic Leaf Rake

I was annoyed. Not so much that my new lawn rake appeared to be so flimsy, more at myself that I should expect more for a fiver. I thought I might make an unfavourable comment to the vendor but was too lazy.

A bit like a fairy
I was going through one of those phases when I wanted to attack the coarse grass in my lawn by raking it high to be chopped by my mower. Not a very successful management strategy and my metal scarifier had lost too many tines. Hence my parsimonious buy.

I was wrong. My thoughts were a slander. It is a wonderful gadget. What I thought flimsy is light, strong and whippy. After several years it still holds together - although Cathi’s one is now somewhat dog eared. The strong plastic blade really is rather durable.
It’s no good for heavy aspects of lawn scarification such as raking out moss but for my original purpose works very well. 
It is superb for raking up light litter such as leaves on the lawn or debris on the border or collecting hedge clippings. It is a pleasure to use. I love it when I flip out the flotsam from the lawn edge and  - in my case - mulch the border.
It is my first port of call when I need to sift out water weed and filamentous algae from my two rather large ponds. It is not as strong as my metal scarifier but is so much lighter to use and scoops better

It deserves better 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Garden gifts for the tool shed (2)

A fine edge to your lawn
A new toy
With six posts before Christmas I make some suggestions. They are tools that I regularly use. I cannot claim that there are not better ones and if you have your own personal favourites please let me know

Black and Decker strimmer
30cm 36V 2.0Ah Lithium-ion Strimmer® Grass Trimmer

Light and easy to handle but a bit big for the tree
I like perfect lawn edges but have always failed to attain them. The best edges I know are in two gardens that belong to former hairdressers! They know something I don’t.
I had come to the conclusion that long handled lawn edgers are best and had got by edging a miserly once a month. With 750 metres of edge it took as much as three hours. I have tried gimmicky alternatives but they just could not cut muster.

A former colleague visiting on open day delicately enquired whether I had ever considered Black and Decker’s electric strimmer. He offered to bring his own as a demo. It has transformed my life. I have never spent a hundred quid better.

Although a long time ago I used employer's heavier petrol driven stimmers I do not have happy memories and have been prejudiced against them. Not this one, it is very light and a pleasure to use.
Modern battery operated tools are so much improved. Mine is not a great roaring monster. It might not scalp down a thick grass sward to its roots but it is proving useful for light cutting in unanticipated situations. For the lawn edge it is absolutely superb.

The battery always sits ready in the garage. (One that has no room for the car)
With a little practice the strimmer is precise and speedy. I soon will be sufficiently proficient to get round on one charge which set on ‘eco’ keeps going for half an hour. At present I go away and play for the ten minute recharging time I need. Each new time I want it, it is sitting there ready to go.
It is a light and sturdy machine. The battery stands on the bench in the garage on its charger which is very similar to the one for Brenda’s itinerant ‘hoover’. The battery clips on with ease. The strimmer head self winds with no need for adjustment and with a flick of the wrist flips horizontal to vertical.
Although not suitable to cut a new edge out of soil I do find on my own very sandy soil the line of my edge is gradually improving. 
After each cut my lawn edge is getting closer to the quality of my hairdresser friends.

30cm 36V 2.0Ah Lithium-ion Strimmer® Grass Trimmer

Although I have not used this supplier they also sell electric hedge cutters. No doubt some of the batteries will be compatible for both tools. Make sure your strimmer is supplied with its battery as it is from this featured source. Although the cord lasts for very many hours it might be a good idea to order an extra reel - it will be most frustrating to run out half way through a job. (I wish I could remember where Brenda has put my spare)
I had no sooner wrote this when I  received a sponsored ad - a good offer!

This link to one of my earlier Open Day posts gives some idea of my old edges

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Garden gifts for the tool shed (1)

Something useful for the garden
Husqvarna hedge trimmer
Some of my pictures will be somewhat frivolous
Over six days before Christmas I make some suggestions. They are tools that I regularly use. I cannot claim that there are not better ones and if you have your own personal favourite tools please let me know

Husqvarna Hedge Trimmers Hedge Size 122HD60 Nitro 22 CC
It did not start well when I upgraded to a brand new  professional-standard trimmer! Unlike Peter’s older model which has purred away for twenty years mine kept choking out on its second outing and on the third failed to start!
The manufacturer must have had a duff supplier of the soft tubes that suck up the petrol from its tank. Investigation showed them to be disintegrating and clogging the system. At no cost (but considerable bother) to me the internet supplier took it back and cleared out the system. The idiot did not correct the cause.
Fortunately handyman Chris is a whiz with machinery and mechanically blowed out the garbage and for ten pence worth of new tube cured the problem. Talk about spoiling the ship for a h’peth of tar.

This year I am shredding down almost all my perennials this way  
I have only forgiven husqvarna after three years of use. It is not too heavy, starts first time (after a little practice) and cuts all I need. I use it to cut back my herbaceous perennials usually shredding as I go, cut hedges and generally ‘rough prune’. It’s a long time now since I cut electric cables with abandon although I do understand modern batteries are much improved and my ‘helpers’ - who are now taking over in Bolton Percy cemetery cut the hedge the electric way.

Job done

From the ridiculous to the sublime (credit Country Life)
Personal note. My father-in-law was butler at Cirencester Park and fifty years ago my family spent a dozen Christmases behind this hedge. They used to use a ladder

Husqvarna Hedge Trimmers Hedge Size 122HD60 Nitro 22 
It might be best to buy from a local supplier for just under £200

I tracked this internet source It's not where I bought mine!

I write about reducing maintenance of herbaceous borders

 Next tool tomorrow

Monday, 4 December 2017

How to kill brambles

Is this our worst weed?

 Impenetrable jungle
Despite what you read, so called native plants such as blackberries, nettles and bracken make a greater and often more harmful ecological impact than much hyped alien weeds

Another native thug
It is a moot point how you define native. If a plant has been endemic since 1500 it is dubbed by botanists as archetype, the oldest category on offer and one which includes plants that have been with us for thousands of years. (Ironically if a plant arrives from seed carried by a bird and successfully establishes over just a few years it qualifies as native)
I suspect brambles have been with us for a very long time considering blackberries, my favourite fruit, must have been prized by ancient mankind

Merton Thornless was not around in the Stone Age
Rubus fruticosa has been no respecter of national barriers as it has travelled via the guts of mammals and birds.
The name Rubus fruticosa describes a very mixed bag of genetic material which has involved natural hybridisation between closely related species, subspecies, varieties and clones. Apart from its fertility it also often sets seed by apomixis a vegetative process that does not involve fertilisation although sometimes, and not uniquely to rubus, a process that needs the female germ cell to have had contact with pollen

A valuable nutritious fruit

This strong one year shoot will yield copious tasty blackberries next year
Man has selected from nature and by breeding has created superior varieties of blackberries. Indeed blackberries, raspberries and many other related berries have been crossed with each other to create a wide range of ‘hybrid berries’. Unfortunately some are more vigorous and viciously thorny than wild brambles! I love my vigorous high yielding thornless blackberry that yields big juicy black fruit. Most of the rest of them are too much for me.

Unfortunately not mine
Look what jumped out of my raspberry
A very pernicious weed

‘Bramble’ literally means scrubland and in the UK that means blackberries. It is an aggressively invasive weed, initially from seed. It then spreads vegetatively by strong growing stolons and root suckers and takes over disturbed landscapes both in the open and under light tree cover. It overwhelms abandoned allotments in just a few years

Brute force versus weedkillers
A single blackberry perhaps one year from seed should be physically removed. In contrast removing an old thicket is for the strong, foolish or impatient. It will surely work but only after pulled muscles and several severe scratches. You will not get it in one go and it will take several months removing suckers from roots you have missed. You will need to extract every last piece.
It is best to kill it by spray.

Chemical control
Spraying is much easier. It will take a little longer and you will need a complete growing season. Even more for myself when I take a feeble and gradual approach! Spraying might take longer to achieve final victory but in comparison the man-hours expended are tiny

Combine physical and chemical methods
If you can gain access to within a large clump and it is in late Spring, Summer or early Autumn spray at the first opportunity. This will be impossible if the brambles are eight foot high and extensive. Perhaps an overgrown allotment is small enough to spray from the edge?
For large expanses you will need to cut back first. Although a considerable chore you will eventually need to cut back dead stubble anyway. Cutting back is much easier than trying to dig it out! Use an industrial strength strimmer or wearing heavy gloves a strong hedge trimmer. You might need a sharp saw handy. 
Although I usually emphasise that you need to spray an intact top of perennial weeds to be effective, cutting back brambles might not be too detrimental to herbicide uptake. It is a moot point whether a woody head of an old thicket absorbs your spray chemical better than perhaps not less than foot long regenerating shoots

No use spraying old tops like these
I would spray these
Some of the literature says that if you spray fresh six-inch high cut back stumps immediately with a heavy drench of a strong solution of spray it works very well. As little as a year ago I would have claimed that this was nonsense. With my recent experience spraying the stumps of equisetum and reports on my post about Japanese knotweed similarly treated I am not so sure. I withhold any opinion!

Whatever variation you use and whatever chemical you chose you are extremely unlikely to completely kill the bramble in one go and it might very well take several applications. Let new shoots grow strongly before you respray. It is probably a waste of time respraying old yellow leaves.

Which weedkiller?
With the proviso that you will need to spray more than once there are several weedkillers that kill brambles very well. That blackberries are sensitive to glyphosate I know to my cost. I remember it only gently drifted on the strong scrambling shoots of several hybrid berries of an employer and they turned rather sick. Fortunately he never noticed! 

As it happens this discolouration was not herbicide damage 
Even this year a few early shoots on my raspberries turned yellow. Never control distant garden raspberry suckers by spraying! 
In that many of my readers will already have a five litre tub of 360gm/litre glyphosate they need look no further than using it at 1 in 40 or 50.

Brambles often invade grassland and MCPA bought as Agritox kills the brambles without harming the grass. So does its sister chemical 24D.
Use them at 1 in 50 and give a good drench.

Most brushwood killers do a good job and a chemical called triclopyr is particularly effective. I have used it as Grazon 90 ( Now called Grazon Pro) that is a mixture of triclopyr and dicamba. Absolutely superb although a litre costs nearly as much as five litres of the others - mitigated by its efficiency and that it is used at a third of their rate of dilution. It will also control almost all the difficult weeds in your lawn.
All the above are professional products readily available on the net but not at your garden centre.

A significant case study, Worsbrough cemetery

Twenty years ago this was solid with eight foot high brambles
I find this difficult to write as I am emotionally attached to this project started more than twenty years ago and one that I have now relinquished. 
I did not expect to tackle three acres of eight foot high brambles when I had offered to demonstrate my Bolton Percy techniques in the more public, and less weedy, parts of the overgrown cemetery.
We had unexpected help from the probation service when the ‘naughty boys’ came with their brush cutter strimmers! They were there for ten weeks. Normally after such attention and when no further action is taken the blackberries are as strong as ever two years later.
I felt obliged to continue. 

It was now possible to gain access and I waited until regenerating growth was nearly two foot high to spray with grazon which was very effective but challenged my budget. I reverted to using glyphosate and MCPA. It took eighteen months to get rid of it spraying several times.
No longer was it necessary for two men to take a couple of days to cut a swath through the brambles as a corridor to a new grave on the rare occasions the ‘old part’ of the cemetery was needed.
Although the brambles were beaten the area was charged with a huge number of blackberry seeds and for at least two years their germination was prolific. That was no problem as my garden weed maintenance is by regular spot spraying which has continued ever since. Of course the ground cover of desirable plants does most of the work now!

When ground cover like this is given a completely clean start from perennial weed it does most of the weed control for you
Sadly I have made my last visit to Worsborough. At seventy five it has become too much for me to hold back a four acre cemetery from nature! 

Plants such as this rhododendron give succour to seedling blackberries
Brambles even still appear from seed and have the constitution to infiltrate even my best ground cover plants and they also regularly emerge from large attractive clumps of Rhododendron ponticum and other thick growing shrubs such as six foot high hebes.
I have my doubts that the church has the resources and know-how to continue regular professional maintenance. I do hope I am wrong.
Without regular spot spraying (but not a scorched earth policy) I fear the brambles will return. Perhaps locals will welcome a season of blackberry picking. Even two before a dark shadow descends.

I like to think that the Worsbrough fisherman enjoys the view
I read somewhere that in olden times brambles were sometimes planted on graves to keep the devil away

This was my post about spraying cut back mares tail and Japanese knotweed
The story of the Worsbrough fisherman
My articles about Worsbrough cemetery can be accessed by clicking on Worsbrough at the bottom of the theme column
If any new readers are inexperienced with glyphosate they will find the blog is littered with information - use the search box or theme column.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Organic matter for nerds

Preserve your soil organic matter
My old brussels sprout stalks are fed to Cathi's sheep
I take a frivolous attitude today and my post might be even more disjointed and lacking direction than usual. Never-the-less I hope it will contain some significant content and might serve to guide you to my more serious posts about organic matter - many gardener’s holy grail.
Today I will reveal my obsessive nature in conserving this valuable gardening resource. It might therefore surprise you that none of my gardens contain a proper compost heap although on a good day I admit to a temporary pile. I sometimes suspect that some gardener’s raison d’ĂȘtre is to wallow in the joy of making the stuff. In another life I might be one of them. What really gets me is those gardeners that compost their waste and never get round to using the sweet smelling manna.

‘Organic’ is a hugely abused word. You might have noticed that all plants and animals are a completely organic tribute to evolution and yet when you buy them they tell you that some foods, flowers and vegetables are more organic than others and sell them at inflated prices. I spend no little time removing them from my trolly. This is only exceeded by filtering out the ‘fat free’.

When Lady Eve Balfour the much loved founder of the organic movement farmed nearly a century ago one of her missions was to persuade farmers that organic matter should  be recycled on the farm. This involved having both animals and plants. Not usually an option available to gardeners - who would have obtained manure from local supplies.
In our modern society an equivalent option is organic recycling. I tend to be disparaging about the green bin. I rarely use mine. Never-the-less despite my constant harping, the ensuing so called compost does have some value. Less to the soil and more to the benefits of avoiding ‘land fill disposal’ . 
What I argue today is that like Eve Balfour we can recycle within our own garden. Easy for me with an acre. Less so on the average small plot.

Lady B would have had plenty of FYM which is the very best soil improver. Unfortunately it brings weed seed into the garden and sadly these days can be contaminated with herbicide
The idea has grown that gardeners need to purchase organic matter from outside resources in order to maintain their own soil fertility. The sources of some such resources are environmentally dubious.
I maintain that the belief that is necessary to buy in manures and bulky organic matter is nonsense. It might be a crutch to rapid soil transformation, it might enable the use of pretty mulches (mea culpa), and it does contribute to replacing organic matter that the gardener has removed or destroyed. I cringe at all the goodness that goes in the green bin and wince when I see organic matter being oxidised away by unnecessary soil cultivation.
The thing that goes unrecognised is that the photosynthesis of your own plants is more than enough to create all the organic matter needed to produce a wonderful soil. As long as you don’t kick nature in the face and squander.

Benefits of organic matter
It is beyond the scope of today’s offering to detail all the wonderful things organic matter does for the soil. In fact without it it would not be soil. Here is a brief summary

1. In numerous ways it directly and indirectly improves soil structure with all the attendant benefits of aeration, drainage, water retention and resistance to erosion

2. It is part of the substance of the soil in various forms such as decaying organic matter, glomalin and humus - and not least living organisms themselves!

There will be more mycorrhiza and consequently more glomalin if you do not dig

3. The mineral content released when organic matter decays is a source of nutrients - particularly nitrogen which can leach away if in inorganic form.

4. Not only is organic matter made up of nutrients, its surface electrostatic charge holds nutrients which are freely available to plants.

How you might  conserve and recycle organic matter in the garden
Enough of the lecturer in me, more of the lengths I go to to retain organic matter. You might conclude that I am obsessive, stupid, misguided, lazy, unhygienic, untidy and inefficient. At my age I don’t really care.

1. Don’t destroy organic matter by excessive cultivaton. 

2. Don’t throw away soil!

3. Return all the organic matter you grow to the land. For many gardeners some or most of this process will be via a compost heap

Most snails prefer to rasp up decaying organic matter rather than your plants 
4. It is a moot point whether direct recycling of fresh organic matter is better for the soil than adding decayed matter from a compost heap albeit compost is much tidier. I do not believe fresh organic matter encourages pest and disease; sometimes quite the reverse and my own slug and snail damage is far less than most people’s.

Is decay on the surface better than compost? It's not as tidy
It was a bridge too far for my friend Rowena when in a previous post I mentioned I scatter all my vegetable remains on my veg garden. Indeed I top, tail, clean or pod my vegetables in situ. Less acceptable in a small garden. Rowena I understand - and Harry’s pictures of his worm bin were lovely.

Rowena prefers the mess to be in the bin
I think myself a little dotty when I walk a long way from the kitchen to scatter a handful of apple or orange peelings! Any advantage of such small quantities is immeasurably small; it’s the exercise and feel good factor that keeps me going!  I can’t bare washed soil from the carrots to go down the sink!

It's not really me
5. I personally have less organic matter that might be composted than most gardeners do. My lawn mowings are not boxed away. Not only is my lawn greener, the worms ingest them and redistribute the organic matter to my borders. All my weeds are tackled by spraying or hoeing or hand weeding when they are small and therefore can be left on the surface to desiccate and decay. Visitors are horrified when I pull out a weed and chuck it down.
Most of my Autumn leaves are left where they fall or if on my lawn are shredded by my mower. Sometimes leaves may be swept up and used as a mulch elsewhere in my garden.

6. More than most folk I do have lots of herbaceous tops in Autumn. Herbaceous perennials are my passion and in particular large ones. Such vegetation by Autumn is low in nitrogen and slow to decay. My solutions vary with place, season and whim.

My Lobelia tupa is tall and straggly and this year has already been cut down
In my wild gardens I use my hedge trimmer to shred herbaceous tops in situ or just leave them alone and let nature take her course. At home I might shred them more tightly to leave as a mulch. The tall plants are a headache and I have variously buried them when creating raised borders, left them in a discrete pile somewhere out of the way or (more rarely) burned them in situ in such way as to create beneficial char. Not being mechanically minded I do not have a shredder but such an implement can be used to make a great mulch.
My more sturdy herbaceous tops are left in situ as long as seems sensible to provide insect habitat and to protect, insulate and fertilise the soil. Autumn vegetation by springtime is much easier to handle. 

All this potential 'humus'
Lyndi's field six months after spraying
6. I have written about several of my projects such as Lyndi’s field and Cathi’s verge where I have eliminated perennial weeds by spraying with glyphosate and planting without any soil cultivation. No organic matter was taken away. I shudder when I see gardeners stripping organic matter to make new garden features. All the goodness, organic matter and fertile soil is retained when you spray and their is no loss to oxidation by stirring the soil. Users of glyphosate have fertile biologically rich soils.

My charcoal will conserve carbon for a very long time
7. My garden generates a lot of woody prunings. I burn them. Not exactly ecologically sound but I do douse the burning embers of my very hot fire to make charcoal. In doing so I make this ‘everlasting’ bulky soil improver and perhaps halve the carbon dioxide I would otherwise generate.
There have been occasions where I have buried woody prunings when for instance I have wanted to raise soil level. It serves as a soil improver for several years.

They bury woody prunings at Funchal  botanic garden
At Blandy their leaves and woody pruning are composted in the ground 
8. On the subject of burial after thirty years of burying great wads of newspaper I have now desisted on grounds of impending senility and finding suitable holes. Their considerable soil water holding benefits continue for several decades.

Two month's supply of the Times. It will be about a  foot down and will retain winter wet
9. I make my own soil or soil/charcoal potting composts. I shamelessly reuse them and turn any liverwort and pearlwort to the bottom of pots and trays. Only rarely does my old potting compost again enrich the ground. My point is that it is never  wasted.
As I read through this list I see I have descended into writing in the ‘first person’ Perhaps just as well as you will find that some of my eccentricities are unsuitable for you.

Links to further reading

I was alerted to research that nitrogen fertiliser did NOT speed up composting

Herbicide contamination of manure

Harry Kennedy's worm bin

I buried newspaper

Garden eccentric Tony Cuthbert made a very long list of things that can be composted

Tony didn't think of this one

....diamond dove droppings  are rather small....wonder if Cuthbert thought of hair clippings....

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