Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Compost bags - you're doing it wrong!

Well, hopefully most of you are doing it "right", but some people haven't quite realised just how useful compost bags can be, if you use them "right".

I'm talking about compost bought in from the garden centre, in nice strong, brightly coloured plastic bags. Not just compost - this goes for wood chips, chipped bark, manure, organic matter, and so on: anything which comes in strong plastic bags.

The "best" way to use them is to stand them upright on their short end, shake or punch or pummel them until the compost falls down to the bottom, so that they sit up: then cut off a narrow strip right the way across the top.

Use the compost as required: after each use, fold the top over (squashing out the air inside) and put a small weight of some kind (most gardens have spare half bricks all over the place!) on the top to keep it closed.

This has several advantages: it keeps the compost inside the bag moist, so it doesn't dry out and become useless dust.  It keeps the rain out, so the compost doesn't become sodden and have all the nutrients washed out.  And it keeps the slugs and snails out!!

When you get to the bottom, turn the empty bag inside out, leave it to dry for a day or so if necessary, then stack the empties in the shed. 

Why? Because the empties are incredibly useful!

They are super-strong bags, much stronger than the bin liners which you buy on a roll.

If they are in good condition, they are even waterproof!

They can be used for temporary potting up, for lining trays, for short-term storage of lifted plants, and many other uses.

They are particularly useful if you have garden waste to be taken down to the tip: they keep the back of the car clean, and they are usefully small units, such that you can lift them without breaking your back, and you can stack them neatly in the car. Those huge builder bags are great for garden waste, but they're heavy and awkward to lift... using individual ex-compost bags is much easier.

All in all, there is much to be said for using them this way.

So, I hear you saying,  what is the "wrong" way?

The "wrong" way is to slash them across the middle. This is a daft way to do it, as the initial slash invariably means that some of the compost spills out, and for the rest of the time, it's awkward to get your hand inside the slash to pull more compost out.

Exhibit A:

A classic case of a wasted compost bag. The compost falls out all over the ground when you try to get it out: the stuff inside dries out and becomes useless, unless it rains in which case it gets soggy and horrible, and all the slug and snails get inside.

Plus, you've wasted a perfectly good, strong, black plastic bag!
Here's one which I retrieved earlier: the owner had made just a small slash, and had only used a small handful of the new compost.

So all the rest of it was now going to be - quite possibly -  spilt, spoiled, and generally wasted.

Furthermore, they'd slit it and left it on the drive, presumably straight out of the back of the car - so when it was moved (as it would have to be, being on the drive!) it would spill the contents everywhere.

Instead of remonstrating with the Client (who I love dearly), I found some gaffer tape in their garage, taped up the split, turned the bag on end, and slit the top open neatly.

As you can see, a quick shake to get the contents down to the bottom, and they stand up by themselves: the top now has a nice wide opening, so it's easy to get the compost out.

And when it's finally empty, there will be a good strong useful bag, instead of flinging it into landfill.

I didn't leave it standing like that, of course: I moved it into a convenient location, which was easy to do because now you can get hold of the top part of the bag, and just lift. This is much better than trying to lift a saggy, floppy "flat" bag.  Having folded over the top, I popped a small log on top to hold it closed.

Job done!

(I live in hope that the Client will notice how much easier it is to use the new improved bag opening style, and will do it that way in future.)

So there you go, even simple garden tasks have a "wrong" way to be done, and a "better" way!

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Friday, 8 March 2019

The Physics of Gardening

It's a simple enough calculation:

(CA + BO) + E = NR

Where CA = Cold Air, BO = Bending Over, and E = Exertion.

This is guaranteed to result in NR, or Nose Running.

I don't think I need to expand on that, do I?

It's possible that there is another equation, a slightly more complex one, which involves weather which could be described as "sunny with showers", the presence or absence of a coat, and  the likelihood of it actually raining.

Obviously there's a serious sub-set in that one, where the availability of a coat reduces the possibility of rain, whereas the location of the coat being half a mile away, tends to increase the possibility.

Or is it just me?

Friday, 1 March 2019

Time to cut back the Sedum!

Yes, it's that time of year again - we're trembling on the edge of spring, I am seriously thinking about getting back into shorts for work, and the Sedum are looking brown, tatty, and no longer bring joy and uplift to the hearts of their owners.

Here's one I half-did earlier (memo to self: really must remember to take the "before" photo BEFORE starting work on the plant...), showing the lanky brown stems which are left over from last year.

Many people like to leave them up for as long as possible, for the "frost display" (excuse me while I laugh in a hollow manner, as in the UK, we rarely get strong, dry, crisp frost: we usually get a ton of damp weather beforehand, so our "frost display" is more likely to be blackened mush than anything else) but there comes a point where they have to be cut back, and NOW is that point!

As you can seem the new shoots are just starting to sprout, so if you leave it much  longer, you won't be able to cut out the old brown stems without damaging the fresh new green ones, and that would be a bad thing.

So break out the secateurs, put on your gloves, and carefully snip off all the old stems, as close to the base as you can.

Don't be tempted to pull them off: they don't snap, and you will find yourself holding a dead brown stem with a piece of Sedum sprouting from the bottom end. These scraps are invariably too small to be worth planting elsewhere, so they tend to be thrown away, so take the time to cut them off neatly.

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