Around February each year the weather in Yorkshire can start to improve. It may start out cold, almost frosty, but as the sun rises often so does the temperature. Once the sun shines crocuses may open up, in all their glory. They look so sweet, fully opened and embracing the sun. This humble flower which is so often overlooked is a pretty addition to a late winter garden
Crocuses are bought as very small corms. A corm is lightly different to a bulb and tends to be smaller. A packet of these corms will usually contain about fifty and be quite cheap to buy.
Crocuses originated in Europe and I suppose that is one of the reasons they seem quite happy with or strange temperate climate. However they are really from the more southern regions of Europe. My Crocuses are among the many plants which were swamped in previous flooding but survived so I guess they are quite hardy. They are also perennials which mean that they keep coming back into flower each year.
The crocus is from the Iris family, or Iridaceae, and I can see that connection in the flowers. The name crocus is from the Greek, Krokos. This relates to the fact that the spice Saffron is taken from a particular crocus, the Saffron Crocus. I used saffron for years to colour white rice to yellow before I realised where it came from.
I was fascinated to see that there are about 80 different types of crocus, although only about 30 of these are cultivated. No wonder you often come across strange looking ones on the Greek Islands, for example. I have yellow, purple and white crocuses in my garden. They have small, narrow, green leaves with a white stripe running down the centre strip. The flowers when closed almost look like a small Tulip when there is no sun around. However when it is, as today, lovely and sunny, these flowers open up. There will be about 6 to 8 petals which are paler toward the centre.
The stems are about 3 to 4 inches long depending on the variety and the flowers are about the same height. Generally Crocuses flower in Spring though there are some Autumn varieties. Some of these Autumn crocuses are not strictly speaking crocuses though.
They are a great little plant for adding early colour to window boxes, planters, laws, flower beds and borders. They can be planted in bulb fibre indoors in bowls. The great thing about them is they are so tough. If they are planted in grass you can just mow them with the grass after they have finished flowering. You may not want them in your lovely lawn but may welcome then in natural grassy borders.
Crocuses tend to like plenty of sun hence their pretty opening up on a sunny day. They tend to like good soil with plenty of drainage. Still they must be quite tough as they survived being underwater for quite a while with the floods.
Crocuses can be propagated by dividing the corms which grow at the foot of the plant in late summer. For me the best time to plant is early Autumn. I usually try to stagger planting of corms and bulbs through Autumn so that there are always some just about to flourish once Spring is on the way.
There are no rules with Crocuses. You can plant them close together or not. I have some at the base of a large plant and I have these planted individually around with regular spaces between them. I also have some that are planted in small groups of 5 or 6 together and the groups are close also. If you want to split colours into groups make sure that you buy the appropriate corms.
However, for me I like to have the three colours growing in a mish mash of colour. Once they flower the flowers will last a few weeks and then all too soon they are gone for another year. If you do not want to do anything you can just leave them and they will wither away and faithfully return the next year.
Along with snowdrops and daffodils, Crocuses say to me Spring has arrived and Summer will be following on behind' Crocuses are recommended as an easy to care for, trouble free little plant that can lift your spirits on a cold day.
Please note as with all bulbs and corms, keep out of children's and pet's reach as ingestion can cause problems or may poison.
Many items which would normally fill up your trash can, or dustbin, can be used to make great compost.
It is not as time consuming as you may imagine. Once you get into the recycling mode it may spread to other parts of your life.
Composting means that you can:-
Purpose made composters come in all shapes and sizes these days. There are small ones suitable for postage stamp sized gardens or much larger ones. Decide what will work for you. Of course if you have a large garden space you can just start a compost heap. The trouble with these though is that they can attract rats and other vermin. A nicely lidded composter will be much safer. So:-
What you CAN put into a composter
What you CANNOT put into a composter
Hints and Tips
You will get a real buzz when you see what is basically rubbish or trash turned into something beneficial to your garden. Many of your plants will benefit from this rich compost and there is no trekking to the garden centre and paying over the odds for what may be a suspect product. Having your own compost on tap will boost your garden, save you money and help the environment, which these days is the real bonus.
Even if you are not really into gardening composting is a great way of disposing of a lot of your waste and the cost is minimal.
If you love your garden then slugs are one of those creatures that can be an absolute pain. As darkness falls they will appear from behind walls, under planters, behind pipes or just about anywhere and start to wreak havoc on your garden. They will home in on certain plants and chomp their way through many of the leaves. They seem to have a voracious appetite which is selective in that they prefer some plants to others.
Controlling slugs can be quite difficult as they seem to breed easily and quickly. Many of the over the counter products which you can buy in an attempt to control slugs can be very toxic.
Having one dog now and others in the past, this writer never uses toxic-slug control; that has been in 40 plus years of home gardening.
In England lots of people set 'beer traps' for slug control and this seems to be the traditional nom-toxic method.
To do this simply pour a small amount of bitter beer or stout into something such as a saucer, and place it in the garden, where the slugs usually rampage. If it is a saucer with a high side the slug will crawl over the top and into the beer but not be able to get back out.
Whether this is because the slug is drunk or not I am not quite sure. You can then humanely dispose of the offending slugs, and by this I don't mean throw them into your neighbour’s garden!
Another good method is to put a small circle of sharp gravel around the base of your plant, in other words where it comes out of the earth. This should keep slugs away from your precious plants.
Finally, years ago, people would throw salt on slugs as it makes them shrivel and die. Nowadays we are more humane and would not usually do that.
Imagine you had an accident and a huge strip of your skin had been removed. Throwing salt into your wound is exactly what it must be like for the slug but for the slug it's all over their body and fatal; a very nasty way to go.
Of course if you dare to pick slugs up you can remove them from your garden.
I have a large composter and plenty of slugs live in there nicely making new soil for me. As long as they stay put and leave my flowers alone we co-exist quite nicely thank-you.
More slug control advice online can be found at RSPB
Growing fruit on trees is easy these days with fairly cheap young saplings for sale even at supermarkets, isn't it? Answer - no!
While purchasing such young trees and planting in a suitable spot in your garden is not rocket science managing to get any good fruit growing on the tree and fit for eating is not so easy.
Some years fruit trees, such as apple, are dogged by pests. In the end they may strip your tree bare and or result in stunted fruit. Then there are young and older birds that may pick of the best of the fruit while it is still too small for you to select. The bonus is though those birds will also sometimes feed on the insects on your tree's leaves.
In June 2015 in the UK a mixed weather bag gave our fruit trees a bumpy ride.
Our garden is fairly small but we have managed to plant one cherry, one plum, a pear and an apple tree. They have been in situ a couple of years now.
In 2015 the cherry and apple trees had a good show of blossom in spring. Sometimes that leads to nothing but we were lucky and a fair amount of apples and cherries growing fatter each day and slowly ripening followed.
The problem however in 2016 was pests or bugs especially on the plum tree.
We noticed one evening that the leaves of this tree were sticky. That was the first sign of infestation.
We tried the old and tested method of spraying with soapy water liquid but that did not clear the problem. Ultimately we had to use a pest killer against better judgement.
That improved matters but meant no plums this year.
The cherry tree remained in good health and we received a bumper crop this year but the apple tree was problematic.
This time we spotted leaves turning in on themselves and sure enough checking the underside of leaves we found a variety of bugs settling in.
Taking a couple of photos in the garden to accompany this report a nice group of small animals looked bigger than they really were as two medium sized snails had attached themselves.
Mother Earth news offers some good information about growing fruit trees
What is your advice for getting a good fruit crop from a small garden? Let me know in the comments below as we all look forward to spring 2017 and beyond.
Radishes are one of the easiest and quickest salad vegetables to grow. Not only that, they taste much better than shop bought ones.
First let's make sure we all know what radishes are.
They are those small round red, pink or white, slightly peppery tasting salad vegetables. Good radishes are firm and crunchy to bite into. If you have only eaten radishes bought from a supermarket this description may amaze you. Those ones pale by comparison to home grown radishes.
Well let's get started
As with most vegetables radishes have quite a few different varieties. What all radishes have in common though is that they are all quick and easy to grow. You do not need a large garden as they can be grown from seed in trugs, troughs, planters and the like.
You can buy a packet of radish seeds fairly cheaply from garden centres or supermarkets. As a rough amount a packet of seeds containing 500 seeds will cost you about 45p. We opted for a packet of seeds from Asda (UK) for £1 that contained lettuce, spring onion and two different varieties of radish seeds.
You can grow vegetables such as radishes even if you do not have a garden; they do not require a massive amount of space. Plastic round trugs which retail from between £2 to £8 are perfect for the job in hand. Remember to drill a couple of drainage holes in the bottom though before planting.
Radishes grow so easily that a basic multi-purpose compost will be fine. Buy a huge bag as it works out cheaper.
Radishes will thrive in a sunny spot. Summer in the UK can be a hit and miss affair so choose an area that has the most sunlight. Ensure though that they will not get too much sunshine on a daily basis. Radishes might like sunshine but they do not want to get too hot.
Ideally plant in rows at a depth of around 1/2 an inch. Cover with soil or compost. Aim to leave a space between each seed. Some radish seeds are a fair size and so this is easy to do with these seeds.
Take care not to disturb any surrounding radishes that are not yet ready to harvest. Gently put your hand around the radish under the soil or compost. You will be able to assess if the radish is large and mature. If it is gently pull it up. Snap the top leaves and bottom root off for washing and eating. Throw the discarded leaves and roots into your composter.
As radishes are so easy and quick to grow they are perfect for beginners and children to grow.
With ever increasing grocery prices in supermarkets growing your own vegetables could save you a bundle of cash. However tight the growing area around your home is, there is always space to grow a few vegetables. Lettuce fresh from your own "plot" is tasty, convenient, cheap and easy to grow.
Good Old Lettuce
Having written an easy to follow article, How to grow radishes from seed, I thought I would share my knowledge of growing lettuces. Lettuce is a fairly easy vegetable to grow. They may not grow quite as quickly as radishes but they are not far behind.
In the UK when I was a child in the fifties and sixties most salads consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onions and some protein such as meat and or eggs. The lettuce was always a plain old common or garden lettuce; no such thing as iceberg lettuce for us. But these days we all tend to enjoy raw peppers, mushrooms, celery and various varieties of lettuce, plus a multitude of other veg in a salad.
So grab a cheap packet of seeds and let's get going
We decided to grow a small selection of salad vegetables in our tiny back garden. Due to the lack of space we decided on radishes, spring onions and lettuce but later added a few potatoes. These potatoes were ones that had been left in the cupboard too long and had sprouted.
All of these vegetables have been grown in medium or large plastic trugs and a couple of wooden boxes. The cost has been minimal.
One problem with the seeds was that we purchased them late in the UK growing season. We had some carrot seeds but have left those for next year. Remember, if you buy a packet of seeds, to check the best-before or use-by-date.
Out of date seeds may still grow but there are no guarantees. Usually this season's packet seeds will be fine for a couple of years but it is best to check.
Our seeds were bought cheaply from a local supermarket and so was the compost. We do have two composters in the garden but we decided that in general the compost in these was too strong for seeds.
If you have never grown any vegetables before choose the easiest version to grow. This may be a Cos variety of lettuce. Once you are more confident try other varieties.
So you have the seeds, what now?
What we found with our lettuce seeds was that they were tiny and fine. This can mean that the seeds will be unevenly distributed in the soil or compost. If you are careful though this does not have to happen. If this does happen you will need to prick out and separate the seedlings when they are strong enough to move, discarding any that look too weak to survive.
On the whole though lettuce are not happy being moved. The best plan is to sow the seeds very thinly in the first place and avoid the need to prick out or move seedlings.
Cover the sown seeds with around a 1/2 inch depth of compost or soil.
Depending on the weather, lettuce takes a couple of months to grow from seed.
Varieties of lettuce