Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Apple crushing for juice. Very eco! All done by hand!

Monday, 27 May 2019

Product Review: Pipecleaner Plant Ties (Fail)

It seemed like such a good idea...  some time back, I bought a pack of mixed plant ties in my local cheapy shop, and one of the items was a handful of what looked for all the world like pipecleaners.

I used them, they were great: just the right strength, easy to twist, just the right length, and they were green, and kinda cute looking.

Typically, when I went back to buy some more, the shop no longer had any, which is the greatest drawback of these cheapy shops: when you see something you like, you have to grab them quick before they are gone...

Here's one I used earlier - can you see it?

Taking a logical step, I wondered if it would be cheaper to buy pipecleaners in long  lengths, and cut them to size, so I searched online for pipecleaners, and found that they are really expensive to buy, surprisingly - you don't seem to be able to buy them in bulk, just in short lengths, and then only from craft-type shops.

However, a few months later, Wilkinsons (a slightly better class of cheapy shop) were selling packs of just the pipecleaner type.

 Aha! I thought. Just the thing!

They were about a quid for a pack, so I bought a couple of packs, and started using them.

So far, so hoopy.

Oh, there was one incident where a Client screamed "Look at that! What an enormous caterpillar!" and pointed to the roses, where one of these twist ties was clearly visible against the trellis......

We laughed.

I continued to use the pipecleaner ties, or "caterpillars" as they are now known, in various  of "my" gardens.

However, after a few months, they look like this:

Pretty gruesome, huh?

They've gone rusty.

Nasty.

Not so much in looks - frankly, I think they are virtually invisible now - but the thought of how easy it is to scrape yourself in a garden, and how rust can be one of the routes towards contracting tetanus, which is something I really don't want.

Plus, they get brittle and snap.

So, after a year or more of trialling them, sadly, they get a "FAIL!"

Now what shall I do with the left-over pack of furry green caterpillars?  Suggestions on a postcard....



Sunday, 19 May 2019

Product Review: B&Q Hand tools set (Fail)

Last week, I managed to cleverly leave my trowel in a garden somewhere: I rather suspect that I dropped it into my yellow bucket along with the debris and weeds which were removed to make way for the planting.... and it's entirely possibly that I flung the whole lot onto the compost.

Ooops.

(Don't look at me like that, we've all done it!)

For some reason I have a dozen spare daisy grubbers, but not a single spare trowel, probably because I don't wear out trowels in the same way that I get through daisy grubbers. This is because the daisy grubber is in constant use, whereas the trowel tends to sit in my workbag from one end of the month to the other, only being pulled out if I have a lot of planting to do - and most Clients kindly allow me to do the preparation work for new plantings, but are quite happy to do the good bit themselves!

Also, to be honest, a  lot of the time, I use the daisy grubber as a trowel anyway, if there's only one or two plants to be planted. It's all part of being Super-Efficient: I won't waste time trogging all the way across the garden to my car to get a trowel, if I only need it for 30 seconds, and can do the job perfectly well with the daisy grubber.

Anyway, long story made short: I went to the garden centre after work to buy a new trowel, and alas, I couldn't find one. Bizarre, eh?  My preferred trowel style is this:


Short, chunky, sturdy.

The only ones I could find on sale, and there were a dozen variations on this theme, across the three garden centres and two supermarkets which I went to, were all like this: 



...which I would call "swan-necked", I suppose.

I don't like that style.

They don't fit neatly into my workbag, for a start! 

But I needed something for work the next day, so in the end I opted for the super-cheap B&Q own-brand plastic set of fork and trowel, for the grand sum of about three quid.


Now, I must point out straight away that this set is definitely full-sized, and was hanging up in the gardening section.

Not in the kiddies' play-sand area.

It was in the grown-ups' gardening area, with all the other big solid grown-up chunky gardening tools, including axes, bowsaws, and all sorts of sharp pointy things.

So I think I was right in assuming that it for grown-ups to use, in actual gardening, right?

When I got them home, I was wee but dubious about the lightweight plastic-ness of them both, but I know that great strides have been made in plastic composition, and there are a lot of recycled plastic items being made these days, which I assume is a good thing.

So I took the trowel, slid it into my workbag - where it fitted neatly, so it got a housepoint for that - and went off to work.

Did it work? I can hear you all saying. "Did it break the first time out? Did it snap in two? Was it thrown away in disgust?"

Well, it did sort of work:  I managed to plant a few things with no real problem, but it did not feel solid and confidence-inspiring in the hand.  It felt as though it would snap if I put too much pressure on it, and it absolutely would not cut through soil which had not been previously loosened.

So it's only any use if you dig the soil over first.... or use the daisy grubber to weed and loosen the soil, in which case you ("one") might just as well use the daisy grubber to dibble out the holes and plant with, as well.


As for the "fork" thing, well, that was just a joke.

The raking part is sort of ok, not the sort of tool I would use, and but believable: but the holes in the handle?

Huh? - what are they all about?

Are you supposed to sieve the soil over teeny tiny seedlings?

Are you supposed to put seeds in it and sprinkle them over your freshly-forked soil?

Or is it, in fact, a kiddies' toy play set, for use in the sand pit?

Well, I managed to unearth an old trowel in the shed, rusty and rather sad-looking but still perfectly usable, which is another reason for not throwing old tools away just because they don't "look" as nice as they did...

And in the meantime I will continue to hunt for a new "proper" trowel... and when I find them for sale, I'll buy three!


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Homing Snails

Homing Snails... is this a horror story? Will there be spine-chilling background music? (No, of course not, this is a blog, not a multi-media entertainment channel!)

I'm sorry to talk about snails, I know they're not a favourite gardeners' friend, but this is actually an amazing story.

It starts back in 2017.

I had recently been painting my fences and steps blue, and a couple of snails found themselves with stylish blue blobs on their shells.

On the 24th May, I flung them out of my garden, over the fence, and way out into the open grassy area next to my house, which is lush, grassy, and tree-edged, which I assume is something like a permanent running buffet to snails, as opposed to my fully-shingled, soil-less desert of a garden.

This is my chosen method of dealing with snails at home - I fling them out of the garden, releasing them into the wild, rather than deliberately, cold-heartedly killing them.

After all, I don't want them in my garden but they do have a job to do, in the wider scheme of things: they are part of nature's bin-men team, reducing plant waste to organic matter, and recycling our dead greenery for the benefit of all. It's just annoying when they chomp on my prize plants, instead  of eating the masses and masses of weeds which are freely available... but I am not a naturally cruel person (“no, I have to work on it!”) and, like many gardeners, I don't want to scatter chemicals around the place needlessly, nor do I want to deliberately kill a living creature just because it eats my plants.

OK, I'll make an exception to that last part for Vine Weevils, and for Lily Beetles, both of which I kill without a second thought whenever I find them.... but generally speaking, not a cruel person, blah blah, chemicals, microbacteria, blah blah, risk of poisoning to birds and hedgehogs, you know how it goes.

Now, I read on the internet that snails do indeed have a homing sense: this is based on the work of a lady called Ruth Brooks, who did an informal experiment in her own garden, followed by a proper scientific one in 2010 in which she found that snails would return to “home” if relocated 20 yards/metres or so. Her conclusion was that snails need to be moved at least 30m, preferably 100m or more, in order to prevent them just schmoozing on back, at their average rate of a yard/metre an hour.

I didn't know about this, back in May 2017, otherwise I might have flung it harder. Hmm, could this be a new Olympic sport? Snail hurling? Maybe not.

My overarm fling was probably barely 10 yards, which at the time I thought was sufficient to set this snail free.  Did it take advantage of this second chance, to go and see the world outside my garden? Did it ramble off to explore the lovely hedgerow? No - it chose to laboriously inch its way back into my garden, presumably followed by all the other snails which I have ejected from my garden.

January 2018, and look what I found in my garden - right: yes, it's the same snail!

Elegant blue paint still clearly visible, he doesn't seem to have grown in the meantime... but actually I have no idea how long snails live, or how fast they grow.

Are they like tortoises, unable to grow if their shells have been painted?

(quick break while I do some cursory internet searching: ok, they live 5-15 years on average, up to 25 years in captivity. Question: why would anyone want to have a pet snail?)  Well, I don't really care how long they live, this one was sent on another flying expedition over the side fence, this time with quite a lot of energy.

So, this is conclusive proof that snails have a homing facility.

Or was it just coincidence?


April 2018, and here it is, back in my garden, AGAIN, lurking with a bunch of others on my wood storage box. Excuse me while I huff, indignantly.

What was I to do with it? I couldn't kill it, could I? We were practically friends.

So I hurled him back over the fence, with at least twice as much vigour as the second time. Right over into the long grass.

This time, for sure, he wouldn't be back....

Time went on, no more blue-painted snails were found. The rest of 2018 came and went.

And then..... yesterday......







I was cleaning out some boxes full of plants in pots, and what did I find?

A dead snail.

An empty shell.

But look! An empty shell with blue paint on it!

May 2019, two years after this inadvertent experiment began, he's back - but dead.

So that, dear readers, proves conclusively that snails LOOOOVE my garden, and will return to it time and time again, despite being flung out into an all-day, all-you-can-eat haven of food, shelter, and - presumably - other snails with whom to converse, mate, and generally enjoy life.

They will turn their back on this paradise and painstakingly ooze their way back to my shingle-covered, open-to-the-birds back yard, where they can eat my precious plants and generally annoy me.

The moral of this tale is that, in future, snails will receive NO MERCY in my back yard!