About Horti Hugh

Nice to connect with you and thanks for visiting. Blogging here about my garden interests including plants, gardening and horticultural items. As always, comments are welcome. Some previous posts are at hughcassidy.blogspot.ie

Growing the love ❤️ 

For the day that’s in it, here’s a Jasminum polyanthum I grew a few years ago and was training in the shape of a love heart. 


While it didn’t flower on the day, it certainly conved my message, and when it did come into flower, it looked wonderful.

Unfortunately it was damaged by frost the following winter, so having the picture is a nice reminder on the versatility of plants and the meaning they can have for us and others. 

Happy Valentine’s Day ❤️

Seedlings and other February stories 

It’s true. We’ve only a few weeks of this cold weather before the warmth of the March sun and longer evenings grace us with their presence. 

While we still have dark mornings and evenings, there is no doubt about it, there are small incremental changes that we see each day, adding to an over all air of positiveness regarding the seasonal changes. 

In short, spring is on the way.



For now though, I’m still awaking from winter mode regarding flowering plants. I do notice on some of my prize* pot grown plants there are the startings of new shoots. This means the annual repotting, where they are removed from their old pots and potted on into a bigger size pot (see my potting on Wisteria post here), or in some cases some of the old soil is removed and fresh compost is added. I have a fair few to work on, from pot grown clematis to herbaceous perennials to grasses. Yes, plenty to keep me amused. Of course, having the right compost is very important (read my blog on compost here), and this year I will again be making my own mix with loam from the garden along with other additives. 

*not prized, in fact completely neglected at times !

In the potager garden, where I have my fruit and vegetables growing, things are quite dormant there still. I have spent this past winter transforming an extended area, that was very overgrown, into something resembling a workable area. Recently, I’ve been moving bark chippings into create paths, and all the future beds are covered with plastic to smother out the weeds. Some of the beds have been dug, and have had manure added. Others I’ve simply removed the top inch of soil and left to fallow over winter. I’ve still to finalise which beds will contain chosen crops, but mostly this is just a formality as I’ve been pondering it for much of the winter. 

What is coming into vogue is the ‘no-dig’ system for soil and crop management. If you haven’t heard of it before, look here to read more, and a fellow blogger and his recent blog, Spadesharp, here. Of course I have been using this system for years to grow my onions (see here as an example), which has proved to be well worth while doing. in fact, we are still cooking and eating the last of our 2016 onions. With other crops I do an element of digging, sometimes deeper and sometimes not so, depending on the location, and crop, within the garden. And, with such high water table in the garden, it doesn’t bode well to dig too deeply in spots. I came across a phrase recently, when reading Nicky Kyle’s blog (here), that pretty much sums up my approach. She called it ‘minimum dig’ (her monthly blog posts are a must read !). This is digging where necessary, and in other areas, leaving well enough alone. 

On the early seedlings front, there is plenty happening. The tomatoes have germinated and are just about starting their true leaves, and ready to pot on into bigger pots. The early salad foliage plants have also germinated, including  beetroot, spinach and pea shoots. There is still a bit of growing for them to do, and it being so early, we have plenty of time. The sweet peppers too have germinated, so lets see what happens in this space. 

You can see my video clip on all my early seedling updates here

You can see my video clip on making a coldframe from an old bed frame here

A slight change for me this year is to grow my onions from seeds rather than sets. Now, there is always great debates about which is better, and being the convenient* gardener that I am, sets win out every time. However, this year I have taken the decision to get started early and sow some seed, which I’ll grow on over the next few months before planting out in April. According to my dad, my granddad used to always grow onions from seed, and he did a fair job of it by the reports I heard. It would be a nice bit of success to master this craft, and if it doesn’t work, well there’s always sets for next year. 

*lazy, look for the easy way to do things … Lol

In attempting to negate the effects of cold spring nights, I have constructed a cosy area within the glasshouse. This will assist young plants that require a minimum temperature to grow, and it was a hard lesson learned a couple of years ago when my tomato plants (given to me by my dad) were stunted in growth, even though they were in the glasshouse ! Yes, this area will do very nicely, and it is an expansion of a smaller area I did last year, for the same reason. In fact, the base of this area is full of six month old manure that I was intending to use as a ‘hot bed’. However, to get the hotbed active, certain ‘additives’ have to be used, which is just not going to happen here. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, bless your innocence; and if you do know, stop laughing at my prudishness !  

When looking at my early rhubarb, it is unbelievable to see it growing and defying the frost. Now I do give it a helping hand, through putting fleece over it some nights, but there are other nights where it is left unprotected and it still keeps growing. With some luck, we’ll soon be enjoying some rhubarb desserts. I have lifted the main crop of rhubarb and split it into smaller portions. This will mean less cropping this year, but all going well, there’ll be plenty to go around in the years to come. 

Finally, I’d just like to thank all my fellow gardening friends, who I interact with on a regular basis, either in person or across social media, ranging from novices to experts. It is great to meet and share with like minded folks, whether it is a tale of success, or of total disaster (hopefully the former…), and have fun while we’re doing it.  
img_2322
Happy gardening. 










Sowing sweet pea seeds

Now that we’re into early spring, I’m thinking it’s time to start sowing some seed. Hardy annuals are always good to start with, as these little toughies don’t need high temperatures to sustain themselves. In fact, at times, some plants will self seed around the garden, and the only work you’ve to do is to enjoy them when (and where!) they flower.
 
The first seed I’m going to start with are sweet-pea (lathyrus odoratus). These are easy to grow, flower reliably and require only a small amount of soil preparation when planting. You can read what I’ve written before about them here. In the recent past I’ve concentrated on growing the white variety, which will do nicely this year. However, there are so many other colours to choose from I will indulge a little and pick some other shades. 
You can see my YouTube video on sowing seed here:
And sowing early spring onions here:
In writing this blog and doing the videos, I’m also reminded of my own words on keeping gardening easy, to encourage others to try their hand at sowing some seeds too.
 
So first things first. And when sowing seed, to start, you have to make sure you have the right ingredients to use. For the sweet pea, these are as follows:
 
Seed (in this case some sweet pea saved from two year’s ago)
Seed tray, pots or seed modules (my choice for these) 
Compost (go for a compost recommended for seed)
Label(s)
Water
Propagator cover
 
As you can see from the picture, the first step is to fill the seed modules with compost. An easy task and one that doesn’t take long. I firm the compost in the modules by lightly pressing into the corners with my fingers. I then use a little more compost to fill in any gaps or dips that has appeared. Next, level off the compost on the seed modules and leave them looking neat, with clean edges showing.The compost I use here is home made, however, if you’re only doing a small amount, or a beginner, buy some seed compost in your local garden centre.  
Next step is to water in the compost. You can use a watering can with a rose on it or, as in my case, I used the garden hose turned on low with a nozzle on it to give a fine spray. You can sow seed straight away, although I do like to leave them to sit in order for the compost to settle.
 
And then it’s time to sow seed, the fun part. The general rule of thumb, is that seed need to be covered by soil, twice their own depth. In the case of the sweet pea seed, this means putting about a centimetre (or half inch) of soil over them. My technique is very simply. I take a pencil and, with the blunt end, make a hole about three times the depth of the seed. I then put the seed into the hole, and cover it over … et viola … seed is sown.

 

Once all the seed have been popped in and covered, write your label giving the name and colour of your seed. I also like to put the date of sowing on it. Makes for interesting reading at a later date. 

Now water the seed in. Again a watering can with a fine rose is useful. In my case, I used the tea pot with luke warm water. Watering at this point is important as it will move compost into any gaps or air pockets left by the seed sowing. Using slightly warmed water is a cheat to assist the seed thinking it’s time to germinate.



When using seed modules, it is useful to place them into a seed tray for handling. Which is what I’ve done in this case. I also have a propagator cover to put over them. This ensures a warm moist atmosphere, again, to encourage germination. 

Place the unit onto a bright warm windowsill, or similar, and the seeds will germinate in no time. I have a little heated propagator, so I give them a couple of days in this first and then into a warmish spot in the greenhouse. 

There are a few more steps to take before you’re smelling these lovely fragrant flowers, however, sowing seed is the very first step. As we go through the coming months, we’ll keep and see out for these seed and see how they get on. 

Happy gardening
This was an update from an earlier post at http://hughcassidy.blogspot.ie/2015/02/easy-gardening-sowing-seed.html

Vine weevil, the evils of …

Well, I could be accused of being childish with  blog title like that. However, before you start singing ‘all creatures great and small to me’, I have plenty of experience of loss to justify my abhorrence of vine weevil, otherwise known as Otiorhynchus sulcatus. In actual fact, for these little lady’s (and yes, they’re all female …), who was practically unknown here 30 years ago, there is a lot of information published on them. So rather than ranting about my own experiences and wailing about my losses, I’ve decided to do some research on them, which I’ve shared with you below. I’ve covered their life cycle, some information about their adult and larvae forms, and of course, what to do. While most of the information has been quoted from other sites, the pictures of vine weevil, unfortunately, are my own. Enjoy …  

Vine weevil is an insect that can infest a wide range of ornamental plants and fruits, especially those grown in containers. Adult vine weevils eat leaves, and the grubs eat roots (https://www.rhs.org.uk)

The life cycle

Vine weevils are parthenogenetic (only females, reproduction without males) and only reproduce once a year. Many adult weevils emerge in late spring and early summer, when a feeding frenzy commences before of egg-laying. Some adults emerging later in the year can survive overwinter given favourable conditions.  Eggs laid on the plant or soil surface hatch after several days and the larvae burrow into the soil where they can feed on plant roots. After several developmental moults, the majority of weevils overwinter as larvae before pupating at the start of spring. (http://www.fruitdisease.co.uk)



The grubs

Typical vine weevil grubs are creamy-white, up to 13mm (0.5in) long, C-shaped, with a brown head and no legs and will eat the roots of a wide range of different plants. (http://www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk) including roots, tubers, corms and the lower stems of susceptible plants (http://www.bbc.co.uk). In the past, their favourite food was fuchsias, cyclamen, begonias and primulas. But in recent years they have become less fussy and will make a meal of a much wider range of plants – especially any that are growing in containers. This is possibly due to the use of peat-based and peat-free composts – being less gritty than John Innes composts, the adults are more likely to lay their eggs in them (http://www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk). 

The adults
Adult vine weevils cause notch like  leaf damage, which can be unsightly but rarely affects plant growth. The adults are 9mm (about 5/16in) long, dull black beetles with a pear-shaped body when viewed from above. Adult weevils may be seen on the foliage at night; during the day they hide in dark places. They are slow-moving insects that cannot fly but they are excellent crawlers and climbers (https://www.rhs.org.uk). The adults have a long snout and if you spot an them, it is likely to lay still and tuck in it’s legs as a form of defence. (http://www.thegardenshop.ie). Adults are mainly nocturnal and only feed at night. Adult vine weevils appear between March and April from the soil of indoor pots, and between May and June from outdoor pots and borders (http://www.bbc.co.uk). 

So, what to do?

Well, there’s plenty of really interesting and practical advice for us, from some chemical controls, to using natural predators to good gardening habits to type of soil used. Here’s a selection that I’ve come across divided into prevention and physical controls, biological and chemical control, with a few top tips to finish…
Prevention and physical controls 
Garden hygiene in short is all about keeping your garden tidy, regularly. In that I mean really really giving it a good decent once over down on your hands and knees 2- 3 times per year. And it is the not doing that that encourages the Vine Weevil’s to set up home in your patch or garden (http://doneganlandscaping.com).

  

Taking it a stage further, in plant growing, the hygiene starts with sterilising pots [I use milton, yup for baby bottles or jeyes fluid] and clean compost. Not doing the basics here, then propagating plants and then handing out to varying punters is what gives some nurseries a bad name, or allows you the individual to fall out with friends and family (http://doneganlandscaping.com).
In choosing plants, I only choose my plants from good nurseries. And a quick survey of their plants, should it be necessary will tell me if they are using products like Suscon Green of old or Supernemos to prevent the Otiorhynchus sulcatus from developing further, prior to being brought into your garden (http://doneganlandscaping.com).
As feeding generally occurs during the night, weevils can be controlled by nocturnal gardening! Go out with a torch and spot and remove beetles from infested plants. Use an upturned umbrella positioned underneath your plants to catch weevils as you knock them off (http://www.thegardenshop.ie).
Vine weevil changing into an adult
You can set up a Vine Weevil trap. One example is to use corrugated cardboard, rolled up into a tube and held together using an elastic band. Position this inside infected plants at night and the next morning you should find several Weevils inside (http://www.thegardenshop.ie)
Replant perennial pot plants in the spring and look for and remove any vine weevil larvae you find. Quarantine or dispose of any soil from pots where vine weevil have been found. Don’t reuse this or throw on the garden because it may still contain vine weevil eggs, larvae or pupae. Remove plants that have unexplainably wilted and died and examine the roots. If they appear eaten, then search the surrounding soil and destroy any vine weevil larvae that you find (http://www.bbc.co.uk).
Physical barriers on top of the soil or compost also work very well. Add a 2cm (0.75in) deep layer of sharp grit or gritty gravel on top of the compost or around the base of the plant to prevent the adults from laying eggs; the egg-laying structure is irritated by the scratchy feel (http://www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk). 

Another way is to use a physical barrier as the adult beetles cannot fly from plant to plant. Stand potted plants on upturned pots sat in saucers of water – the adults can’t swim. Or surround the pots with Barrier Glue available from Agralan – the adults cannot walk across it. With either of these methods it is important to move plants away from walls or greenhouse/conservatory walls as the adults can jump down onto them; they cannot fly. http://www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk/

Adult vine weevils hide in debris around the bases of your plants so try to keep the area immediately under them free of dead, fallen leaves and reducing the number of places that they can hide. As the adult vine weevil will lay its eggs in the soil at the base of its preferred plants you can consider using physical barriers such as landscape fabric or Mypex to prevent the newly hatched larvae from entering the soil. This is a simple yet effective method that will deter the adults from laying eggs preventing further insect damage (https://gardenofeaden.blogspot.ie)

Biological Control 
We are lucky in this country as there are a number of native predators that will make short work of both adult and larval vine weevils, it is just a matter of encouraging them into your garden. The easiest way is to provide a wildlife pond and or log piles. This will attract a number of very useful mammals, amphibians and predatory insects into the garden which will feed on vine weevils, but it doesn’t stop there as they will also devour other garden pests such as slugs and snails (https://gardenofeaden.blogspot.ie).
Use commercially available nematodes (microscopic worm-like creatures) Steinernema kraussei and Heterorhabditis megidis that can be watered into pots or surrounding soil, during the summer months, to control vine weevil larvae. The nematodes seek out and kill vine weevils (http://www.bbc.co.uk). Either can be applied to the soil in late Summer. But their effectiveness is limited by their ability to survive cold conditions and dry or heavy soils (http://www.thegardenshop.ie). Surprisingly it is not the nematodes that kills the larvae directly but a particular strain of bacteria that they carry which will infect the vine weevil larvae, killing it. The nematodes then invade the body to feed on the contents and breed (https://gardenofeaden.blogspot.ie).

Chemical Control

Avoid using broad spectrum insecticides which will kill soil-dwelling predators of vine weevil larvae, such as centipedes and carab beetles (http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Adult weevil damage is difficult to prevent but you can protect plants against the larvae in late summer by applying a compost drench to ornamental plants grown in pots, such as Provado Ultimate Vine Weevil Killer 2 or Scotts Bug Clear Vine Weevil Killer (http://www.telegraph.co.uk). Note: It is important to read manufacturer’s instructions for use and the associated safety data information before applying chemical treatments (http://www.bbc.co.uk).

Pesticides applied every spring and autumn will kill the larvae. But I worry that the active ingredient (thiacloprid – a nicotinoid compound related to imidacloprid) also kills bees and other wildlife (you can read more on the subject here). The theory is that the thiacloprid is absorbed via the roots into the plant’s sap, pollen and nectar, and that anything that feeds from it can die. Thiacloprid is active for up to three months and imidacloprid can last for up to six months (http://www.gardenersworld.com).

Top tips from a recent Twitter conversation started with greensideup.ie
@Greensideupveg, to add to the existing body of information above, I hope this short selection of tweets does the long and very good conversation justice:

Seems to have been a bad year for them , I’d clear out sterilise the pots, use John Innes Compost and repot Lord WishWellingtons@Helmsleygardens  

They can’t swim though. Drown them. If its cold they need longer Charlotte Moss@cmossperennials

A good tip, if it’s a plant worth saving is submerging the plant/pot in water overnight. TallGardenerEoin@eoin_mcguigan

[On drowning vine weevil] Try the tiniest drop of detergent, to break surface tension. They’ll mostly drown before plants Charlotte Moss@cmossperennials

[On using nematodes] Nematodes are non native. I find more concrete result with topdressing (examining visually) Charlotte Moss@cmossperennials

Yes, repotting pref twice yearly for vulnerable plants, mulch with grit…Harriet Rycroft@HarrietRycroft 

When I buy primulas/Heuchera/succulents I wash all compost off. Harriet Rycroft@HarrietRycroft 

When I repot, I put all the old compost in the chicken run,they love weevils! Lynn O’Keeffe-Lascar@OkeeffeLynn

Some final words from Geoff Hamiliton’s ‘The Organic Garden Book’ (Dorling Kindersley, 1987):

Start by growing strong, healthy plants that have the ability to resist attacks from pests and diseases. Always plant into fertile soil and make sure the plants never go short of water and food. rely as much as you can on physical methods of pests and disease prevention and control and constant vigilance … and nature will do the rest for you’. 

Please leave your comments on this topic below, 

Happy gardening


Information has been drawn from the following website links on the 30th of November 2016. Please feel free to cut and paste these links into your browser to visit for further information and insights:


Potager update … January 2017

When writing about the potager this month, the expression that comes to mind, is ‘not much to see’.

img_1897

This captures the fact that on the one hand mid winter is a quiet time for fruit, vegetables and flowers, and, the fact that the lower part of this area has been reclaimed from a very overgrown and tangled mess that contained some raspberries and not much else.

The reclaiming of this area has been my most recent project, and I’m happy with the progress, given the limited hours of daylight and, of course, the busyness of the season that’s in it.

It has involved a lot of clearing and cleaning. My initial thoughts were simply to continue the path from the potager, and have beds on either side, so this is what I did.


The main path has a hard wearing weed control fabric underneath with a nice layer of bark on top, so. I shouldn’t see too many weeds for a while. The beds on other side are currently covered with black plastic, which is s useful way to leave them dormant over winter, and they should be nice and weed free when I go to use them in later months. I’ve treated the soil in the beds with lots of well composted manure, straw, homemade compost, in fact anything I could get my hands on that will breakdown over the seasons and enrich the soil. In some parts of the new beds, I removed the upper one inch layer of grass sod that was on top first, and this will be stacked to one side and covered for a year, and the result will be a lovely crumbly loam that I will use for making my own potting compost.

“I’ll hold off on this until the towards the end of January, and hopefully at that point we’ll have some fun …”

And what about the raspberry canes I hear you ask? Well, they’ve been ‘heeled in’ temporarily until the area I’m planting them into is ready.


One area I’ve enjoyed clearing is a patch of Autumn raspberries to the right of the little shed. When we first moved here, my dad gave me some raspberry canes which I planted in a group, and left, intending to come back to them. Well, five years on, they had thrived in the area, providing plenty of produce, however, unfortunately so did the weeds. Again, nothing for it only to get stuck in and lift the canes, clear away everything and  I’ll leave the area rest for the time being.


As I’ve been doing with other parts of the garden, the wood has been stained and repairs carried out as needed.

In the upper area of the potager, I’m also continuing with cleaning and mulching of beds, clearing out old pots of flowers and weeds, and collecting together all the plastic pots that seem to have decided to reproduce exponentially! Those of you that have visited the garden will know I like to collect items, upcycle and reuse, however this is a great time of year for a good old fashioned clean up.


There are some shrubs and herbaceous plants that haven’t been used, so rather than allowing them to linger in pots for 2017, I’ll plant them into a ‘holding area’ until they’re needed or to be discarded.

In the glasshouse I’ve build and filled a ‘hot bed’. No, it’s not an attempt at garden erotica, it’s a type of growing method from the 19th century, particularly popular with the French. The bed I’ve constructed a 6ft by 4ft bed, 2ft in height. This has been filled by some fresh(ish) manure and straw. The idea here is that as this mixture decomposes, it will realise heat, which in turn  will heat an 6inch layer of soil placed over the manure, allowing from some particularly early salad crops. The final step is to ‘activate’ it. This is done by dampening the area, allowing the process to begin. I’ll hold off on this until the towards the end of January, and hopefully at that point we’ll have some fun.

Finally, isn’t it nice to see the first shoots of growth in 2017. In this case they’re of my December planted garlic, I wonder what gardening endeavours await between now and harvesting.


Happy gardening.

Pricking out seedlings

After hosting a garden workshop this weekend for a local community group, it was interesting to ask a local grower what was his top tip for growing seed. ‘Heat’ he said, without hesitation, ‘unless seed have heat to get them going, nothing else will matter’.

Hmmm … fair enough.

This is similar to a question I asked dad last month about bringing on early seed potatoes and other crops. ‘No’ he said, ‘I like to grow crops when the soil is warm and you get good results without having to fuss too much’.

So you can see the connection, in order to get things going and growing, we need heat and warmth.

IMG_7427.JPG

When that’s something that’s not present, have to either provide it artificially or wait. I come in the former category, as regular readers of this blog will know (even if things don’t work out). I have a small glasshouse, and a greenhouse, with both designed to create a protective environment from the elements. Add to this, my heated propagator and my temporary cold frames just for extra space. Before both houses were donated to me, I used to use any available windowsill space and a number of temporary cardboard cold frames, as per Geoff Hamilton.

Now that I have this extra protected space, I do try to make the most of it, which brings me around to pricking out seedlings. You see, sowing seed is just the start of the process -set up your tray, put in compost mix, level it, water it, add seed and cover (or not). Place into warmth et viola – Houston we have lift off!

But what happens next?

IMG_7431.JPG
Well, once the seedlings germinate, any glass or propagator covers need to be removed over a period of days. All going well the young seedlings will produce a pair or two of true leaves. At this point the seedlings can be transplanted from the seed tray into individual pots. Do this gently as you don’t want to damage these new plants.

IMG_7432-0.JPG

Firstly though, prepare the pots by filling with a nice blend of moist compost, lightly firm it and then make a hole in the centre with your finger. I use a spoon to scoop out a cluster of new seedlings. I then tease out a single seedling, holding it by one of its seed leaves. You’ll find the root and soil will come away too. Drop the seedling into the hole in the pot to the same level it was in the seed tray, and tuck it in with compost.

Place the newly pricked out seedling back into a protected growing area, spray it lightly with luke warm water and leave it to grow on. Repeat this process until all seedlings are pricked out.

Very quickly, what was one packet of seed will quickly become dozens of plants with the promise of a blaze of summer colour.

Perfect. Happy gardening.

IMG_7433.JPG