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A Guide to Armchair Gardening

In winter, gardeners busy themselves with tasks like plant protection, pruning, and bringing in late crops, but generally it’s a quieter time of year. No matter how industrious you are, the months of December and January offer some respite. This is when you curl up in front of the fire with your favorite gardening catalogs and plan, plan, plan. One thing’s for sure, armchair gardening is relaxing by comparison to the labor of the garden, even if you enjoy the toil.

Though online shopping saves on paper, old-school gardeners love nothing more than to gather up nursery and seed catalogs and root out new and exotic plants for the coming year. This is the work of the virtuoso gardener, madly underlining, circling, bookmarking pages that contain the magic elements of their brilliant new vision. It’s a tactile experience, too, thumbing through the freshly inked leaves, all loaded with exciting possibilities.

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Bob’s Blog: Falling into Fall

As summer slowly fades, there is consolation to be found in those lovely inbound fall colors. For many of you, this will be your favorite time of year. There’s plenty to do during September and October as you prepare for falling leaves and colder temperatures. It’s time to start planning and planting for next year, too. Among the items on old Bob Allium’s task list are the following:

Spring-flowering Bulbs

September is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and tulips. Snowdrops are a good choice if you want to see Spring arrive early in your garden. You could plant a few hardy summer-flowering bulbs, too, including lilies. Before planting bulbs, think about improving the soil by mixing in some compost and other organic matter.

Look After Your Lawn

This time of year, you’ll want to spend some time on lawn maintenance. Clear away fallen leaves as fall breaks and mow the lawn if the grass is not wet or frosty. Scarify and aerate the lawn using a rake and garden fork, respectively, and then apply a top dressing. Feed the lawn with fertilizer

Fall Harvest

October is the time to harvest apples and pears, many of which can be stored for several weeks afterwards. “Bramley’s Seeding” cooking apples last well, for instance, or “Conference” dessert pears. Pears can be stored in the salad crisping drawer of a fridge. Apples can, too, though they prefer slightly warmer conditions. Wrap apples up in plastic bags before refrigerating and put holes in the bags to get air to them. Autumn raspberries are ready for picking around now.

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Bob’s Blog: Things Are Hotting Up

Summer is here and, when you’re not relaxing in the garden enjoying the fruits of your labor, there is still plenty to do. With the weather being dryer you needn’t mow the lawn as frequently—fortnightly will do. Remember to water plants regularly in the morning or evening and use recycled water or rainwater if possible, especially if you’re in a drought area. Now, what else needs doing?

Deadheading

You probably know that deadheading refers to the removal of dead or fading flowers. This easy summer task improves the look of your garden and encourages new growth. Perform it on all plants, whether they’re in your flower beds, borders or hangers. You can deadhead by hand most of the time, but will need secateurs for tougher stems.

Garden Harvest

Now’s the time to harvest your zucchini and summer squash, unless you’re growing for show. Other crops may be ready about now, too, including sweetcorn, peas, carrots, lettuce and potatoes. The right time to harvest vegetables is when they’re ready and not before or after. For instance, summer squash should have a tender skin that’s easily scored, whereas winter squash has a tough, inedible skin. Fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines are also ripe for picking about now.

Gather Ye Seeds

Plants disperse their seeds in a variety of ways, so keep an eye on them if you’re aiming to collect them and multiply growth in your garden. Perhaps you’re giving seeds to fellow gardening enthusiasts as a gift. Choose robust-looking plants as the seed donors. If you harvest seeds before they ripen, they’ll fail to germinate, so some familiarity with the plant helps.

Pond care

Algae tends to be at its most aggressive during the summer. Clear it from your garden pond along with weeds and debris. During hot summer months, you may need to top up the pond with water, preferably using rain water. Avoid pouring a lot of cold water into a warm pond if you keep fish, as thermal shock can harm them.

That’s all for now, dear readers. Time for a snooze in the summerhouse.

The Impact of Natural Disasters on US Agriculture

From 1980 to 2016, the US suffered 203 major natural disasters with individual damage costs of $1 billion or more (includes CPI adjustments for cost changes over time). More than $1.1 trillion of damage was caused in total. These figures are not confined to agricultural loss, but do show the enormity of the problem. And the events are becoming more frequent.

It’s evident that natural disasters bring lots of damage to farmers and their land. The land suffers in various ways: pollution of water bodies, loss of harvest, vulnerability to crop disease, and destruction of farming infrastructure. Of course, these effects aren’t only short-term; it takes time to return the land and infrastructure to a workable state.

To give you an idea how catastrophic these events are to US farming, it’s worth studying a couple of them:

Western Drought, 2015

The Western Drought of 2015 affected numerous western states and had a particularly prolonged effect on California. Vast areas of farmland were left fallow in the expectation of loss and excessive water was needed to protect existing agricultural stock. In California, the drought had been building for 4 years and cost $2.7 billion that year as well as triggering 18,500 job losses.

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Bob’s Blog: Blooming Summer

Spring is moving into summer, folks, and of course there’s plenty going on in the garden. Pour yourself a glass of that ginger ale and ponder a few of the things on Bob Allium’s to-do list.

Late Frosts

If you live in a cold area, be sure to protect plants against the late frosts of May. Avoid sowing tender plants into frost pockets, which are areas shaded by fences, hedges and the like. If a cold snap is looming, cover exposed plants with a fleece. Remember to watch weather forecasts. Containers may be moved to sheltered, warmer parts of the garden if low temperatures are predicted.

Veggie Tasks

Now’s a good time to thin out beets and spinach. May and June are also the months when you’ll earth up potatoes, so you’ll mound them up with earth once they’re about 9 inches high. This will increase the harvest and prevent tubers from going green.

Remember to sow repeat vegetable crops such as beets, carrots, radishes, lettuce and chard. You’ll keep your kitchen in constant supply that way. Marrows, zucchini, and sweet corn can also be sown in May or June – start them off in the greenhouse if the weather is still unreliable.

Fertilizing, Watering, Weeding

June’s the time to fertilize roses and perennials. A granular fertilizer is ideal for getting nutrients to vegetables, too, like tomatoes and cucumbers.

At this vital time, you don’t want water or nutrients to be stolen from your plants, so be sure to often hoe the weeds. As the days become warmer, do your watering early or late in the day. Mow the lawn weekly during these months, or start to mow less if you live in a hot area.

Bird life

As you go about your business in the garden, nature has its own agenda to follow. Help thirsty birds by maintaining a supply of fresh water, and check for bird’s nests if you clip hedges in May. Gardens and wildlife go together like summer and elderberry wine.

Bob’s Blog: The Winter Garden

Daylight hours are shorter, cold is colder, and old Bob Allium is writing his latest blog entry in front of a crackling log fire. The trees will be bare soon and there’s not much in bloom, but hopefully you’ve got some winter color going in your garden with a vibrant dogwood or willow. There’s no time for idle hands, as the months of November and December make work enough.

Battling the Elements & Helping Nature

As winter arrives, the chores you began in early fall continue. They include removing fallen leaves from patios, ponds, lawns, beds and borders. Outdoor containers should be insulated from frost with bubble wrap or hessian taped or tied around the pot. Keep the top of the pot open for watering. Check to see what other winter protection you need. There are various ways to shield vulnerable plants from the cold, including mulching, soil cover and windbreaks.

Place netting over brassicas if pigeons are a potential problem. Put food out for birds (other than cabbages), and remember that birds struggle to find water in freezing weather.

Winter Harvest

December is a month for bringing in crops such as leeks, parsnips, winter cabbage, sprouts and the last of the root veg. Some of those will be perfect on the Christmas table.

End-of-Year Pruning

During these final months of the year, there is quite a bit of pruning to be done. You can renovate rose bushes, for a start, by pruning them when they’re not in leaf. They should bounce back spectacularly the following year. As well, apple and pear trees need winter pruning to ease congestion and boost their yield. This is a good time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs, while they’re dormant and less prone to bleeding.

Your fingers are probably numb by now and you deserve a rest from the cold. Throw another log onto the flames, would you? Season’s greetings to all readers of this humble blog.

Bob’s Blog: Winter Chores in the Garden

Hi folks. How are you? Bob Allium here. Well, we’ve brought in the New Year and now it’s time to start preparing and planting for Spring. You’ve probably abandoned most of the resolutions you had made, but you’ll still be keen to get out into the garden. So, what’s on the menu?

Turning the Soil

First things first: you need to prepare your beds. Turn the soil over to a depth of about a foot and add organic materials like decaying leaves, rotted manure or seaweed, bark and compost. Once you’ve given the soil a good going over, level it out with a rake and remove any clods, rocks or weeds. Give it a few week’s rest, and then the soil will be ready for planting.

Pruning

The dormant season is when climbers, trees and shrubs are absent of any leaves. This is the ideal time to do some pruning. Put on something warm if (more…)

Bob’s Blog: Spring Into Spring

Spring will soon be springing and there’s plenty to do in the garden. So, what’s to be done at this crucial time of year? Pull up a chair and all will be revealed!

Removing Mulch

Remember that winter mulch you laid down to protect plants from low temperatures? Now that the weather’s becoming milder, you can remove the mulch a little at a time to acclimatize plants to the open air. Do this over a period of several days.

Planting Bulbs

Gladiola, dahlia and lilies will all be planted over March and April. You’ll need to wait until frosts are over before planting these tender summer bulbs, so in colder places that’ll mean April. If you plant over several weeks until June, you’ll have a continuous stream of blooming flowers throughout the summer.

Pruning Roses

March is a good time in general to be pruning roses. Get those secateurs out and cut a quarter inch above the buds. A severe pruning will not harm the roses or the amount of flowering, but will make the shrub more compact. Now that the leaf buds are just starting to open, you should spray against blackspot with a fungicide treatment.

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