Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Warm Breakfast for Cold Chickens

Have you ever wondered what to feed your chickens for breakfast on these very cold days?  Well a warm meal may just help.

Over the last few weeks I've been visiting the girls as usual each morning but I've been taking somewhat of a different approach, taking on board the points from a recent guest post focussing on Winter chicken care.  Each morning I've visited with a large bottle of warm water, which is very slow to freeze, and a nice warm breakfast.

I'm sure the girls would be fine without this extra meal but I'm also convinced they really appreciate it and if the way they approach the meal is anything to go by then I'm almost certain they look forward to it each morning.


The recipe mainly consists of layers pellets and boiled water.  This ensures that your chickens still get the necessary balanced diet that promotes good growth and egg production but it can also be added to each day to provide variation.  I tend to use porridge oats or rice with fruit and vegetables.  At the moment banana is a particular favourite.  At this time of year I also tend to add a few mealworms to the mix for added protein.  This extra protein also supports chickens that are moulting or have recently moulted.

I'm still relatively new to chicken keeping but this seems to work a treat as I'm still getting two eggs a day and the girls are thriving.

This little menace also enjoys the walk to the chickens and right now she is loving the powdery white snow that blankets the plot, along with her Mum and our other dog. 


Do you use any other methods of keeping your chickens warm and fed?  Do you have any particular recipes or additional treats that you would recommend?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Ryan’s Review: Soil Mates

Now and again I get the chance to review books and products, or even give them away to readers as per my regular competitions illustrate.  I’m a true book lover and anyone who knows me well is aware of my penchant for buying more books than I can physically read, whether at a bookshop, charity shop or other.  When asked if I’d like to review a couple of gorgeous paper beauties I jumped at the chance and when they arrived, coupled with the recent snowfall, it felt as though Christmas had literally come early. 


The first book, in what may become a series of book reviews, is ‘Soil Mates : Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden’. This small handbook does exactly what it says on the tin, well, nearly.  On first impressions the book is beautifully presented with it’s textured burlap-esque cover, colour coded chapters and many colour illustrations. It’s therefore no surprise that its author, Sara Alway, is a professor in graphic design and she clearly has a great eye for visuals and detail.  The book contains twenty “soil mates” sections, a section containing one or two plants that compliment one another in various ways, and this is further complimented with a recipe that uses said plants.  Following on from this comes a plant profile that gives cultural information to help the gardener achieve best results.  This information is presented in a casual if not sometimes humorous manner that is formed around the authors’ simple play on words.


Plants, just like people, can have natural affinities with other plants akin to human relationships, this can lead to the production of mutually beneficial outcomes in the form of increased yield, protection from pests or reduction in disease.  The author has taken the practice of companion planting and humanised it somewhat to create a light-hearted book that is aimed at beginner gardeners, encouraging them to branch out in to growing their own produce.  The notion that plants may have “soil mates” just as humans may be seen to have “soul mates” seems a little incongruous as I’m not sure the concept translates in to horticulture, however, this is not intended to be anything other than an introduction to the world of companion planting.


When asked to review the book I was informed that despite being an American publication the content still applied as the plants and vegetables contained within were recognisable to the UK gardener.  They are indeed recognisable, however, I’m not entirely convinced that all of the planting partnerships are suited to growing outdoors in the UK with the cultural advice that is given.  For example, I would be hard pushed to successfully grow sweet potato on the plot let alone find myself combating Mexican bean beetles.


When I finally reached the ‘Garden Preparation, Planning and Care’ section, which actually contains a lot of good information, I found that the writing style had started to become a tad annoying.  The notion that growing annuals was likened to a “fling” and that the plants’ anticipated senescence was described as “heart breaking desertion” was simply enough to make me want to stop reading.  The implied assumption that readers would be upset at harvesting plants and having to replant the following year, or maybe not even be aware of a plants life cycle, is somewhat concerning.  Surely the most uneducated of gardeners has the ability to read a seed packet at least or have some vague idea that not all plants live beyond a single growing season?  The problems don’t end there.  As you progress through this section you most certainly get the sense that this book is written specifically for the American market and is now to be sold in the UK as an afterthought.  Advice is given and suggestions are made to further help you in your quest to grow veggies, however, contacting departments or agencies that are only available in America is not all that helpful.  I also found that far too many pests, diseases or beneficial creatures were somewhat specific to the American gardener and would simply be lost here in Great Britain.  I’m sure that with a little bit of effort and a small amount of editing this could easily be rectified.


On reflection, ‘Soil Mates’ provides a good introduction to companion planting, although it is quite specific to the American reader.  The book itself is beautifully presented and I could not fault the overall design.  When it comes to it’s content, the vast amount of good horticultural knowledge and advice contained within is second to none.  However, for the vast majority of the book it is overshadowed by a repetitive and often irritating dialogue.  


If you are looking for a small gift or easy to read meander in to companion planting then this book may be of interest to you. Despite it’s apparent shortcomings much of the advice offered is sure to benefit you and by complementing the read with a little more research you are sure to succeed in your quest to grow great veg.


Have you read this book?  I would be interested to read your take on it.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Wreath Making: Without Spending a Single Penny


If I told you that you could make a Christmas wreath for free and in twenty minutes would you believe me?  Believe it or not this is extremely easy to do and you can achieve excellent results without having to spend a single penny.


Last year I made a number of wreaths including a variegated holly number and a simple ivy wreath. These were both very simple affairs and I used a preformed metal base to add structure and shape to the designs.  Something I may not have done had I known better.


This year I have been inspired to make my own wreath base using nothing but garden prunings. Sarah at Modern Country Style made it look and sound so simple that I thought I would give it a go. 


Using what I could find in the garden I created my base from Cotoneaster, Jasmine and Passion Vine, three things that I always have an abundance of.  I then used the excess from my Christmas tree to form the main body of the wreath.  I always choose a tree with heavy growth at its base as I know I will find a use in the home for anything I need to remove.  Last year I made several door decorations, which were one of my favourites of 2009.  Extra decoration came in the form of Rosemary and Miscanthus from my garden, Holly berries and Ivy, which I scavenged from the allotment and Pine cones from last years dining table centrepiece.


And there you have it.  A rather rustic and personal wreath for the door that does not cost a penny!


In other news, the Ryan’s Garden Christmas Competition winner has been announced and you can check to see if you’ve won by clicking here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Toby Buckland to Leave Gardeners' World

Why is it that just when you get used to something it has to go and change?


Like an old biro or a comfortable pair of shoes we know that one day, when you’ve passed the “breaking-in” stage, it will run out of ink or come apart at the seams respectively.  


Gardeners’ World has come in for some stick in recent years and it hasn't escaped my ramblings either (see here).  Directions and presenters came and went and after a few teething problems, notably the first series with Toby Buckland at the helm, it soon settled in to it’s rhythm again.  A mix of old and new (with a little less of the new) appeared to please the majority of viewers that tuned in and in my opinion it had just started to become a more worthwhile effort and interesting 30 minutes or so.  But alas the decision has been made that Toby will no longer captain the good ship GW. 


It is no secret that Toby is to be replaced by Monty Don who is to return to the show after suffering a stroke in 2008.  Monty has a huge following and I’m sure he will be warmly received back in to the bosom of the nation.  Still, I cannot help but feel that a backward step has been made here somewhere?  When looking to revamp a show or move away from an approach that has been seen as “dumbing down” what’s on offer you cant help but feel a new presenter with new ideas would be more appropriate?  


This move may say more about a need for figures than an improvement on what is to be offered to license fee payer who is genuinely interested in the world of horticulture.  I’m aware that television programmes need figures in order to justify their existence but surely the public deserve progress and innovation too.


There have been comments made to suggest that Toby Buckland is devastated by the announcement and rightly so.  Creating a garden, whether for a television show or for your home, is something that requires time and effort and I’m sure that despite the hired help behind the scenes, investment was made on Buckland’s part.


Toby, in a recent tweet wrote:


‘It was such an honour to present Gardeners' World and I'm sad to be leaving. Wish Monty and the team the best of luck. T’


It has also been announced that Alys Fowler will not be returning to the programme.  Although I'm confident that we will see much more of her in future.


If you have a particular view on this announcement or on anything contained in this piece, please leave your comment below.


Also, do not forget that there is still time to enter this years’ Christmas competition to win a choice of real or artificial Christmas trees!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feathers, Frost and Fun

Image courtesy of www.chickenstreet.co.uk
Keeping Chickens as pets and for eggs is an extremely rewarding hobby, what's more is that they make for a fantastic addition to the garden - eating pests, weeds and producing a fantastic amount of manure to give back to the soil.  Andy at www.chickenstreet.co.uk has kindly offered up a few tips for keeping your hens happy and healthy through the tough winter months.  I met Andy via Twitter and he will be supplying me with two new pullets next Spring.  To say I'm excited is an understatement!  Enjoy the post!


Winter can be a challenging time for your poultry.  Not only is the weather predictably cold and wet, but the daylight hours are at their shortest, in all this means that your flock will have less time to forage for food and will be under a level of stress so it should come as no surprise to find that egg production drops and in many cases stops altogether. Here are a few tips to help keep your birds safe and healthy during cooler months:
  1. Ventilation: Your birds will spend significantly longer roosting due to the shorter day lengths but don't be tempted to seal the house from the elements. At this time of year ventilation is absolutely essential to avoid health problems. Ventilation allows fresh air to be drawn into the building by the warmer air leaving the building, a subtle but important difference to a draft which should be avoided.
  2. Pests: Red Mite is a pest of the summer months and whilst it may not be active during winter be sure to clean the coop thoroughly as it can survive over 6 months without feeding. More importantly, be sure to check your birds for Northern Fowl Mite. These pests appear during the colder months and unlike Red Mite, they live on the birds. They can prove fatal in a short period of time if not treated.
  3. Water: Birds will need to drink during their foraging time. Ensure that the drinkers are free from ice by emptying them during lock up the night before and refilling in the morning. This is far easier than wandering around with a kettle trying to defrost them. Alternatively use large dog bowls; these are usually designed to be difficult to flip over, though they are also easy to ‘knock out’ if they are frozen. Remember though they will need topping up more frequently.
  4. Frost protection: Breeds with large head gear such as Leghorns are susceptible to frost bite. A smear of Vaseline can work wonders against this. It will save discomfort to the bird.
  5. Evening treats: You don't need to change your current feeding regime, however, feeding a handful of split maize to your birds during the afternoon will help them generate some internal body warmth for a long cold night ahead. Remember, only feed it as a treat, the flock will still need the balance of its staple diet.
  6. Nutrition: Adding a vitamin supplement to either the birds food or water can give the flock a boost. Supplements such as poultry spice are cheap to buy and easy to administer, simply add some cod liver oil to your usual dry feed stuff and then add the spice. The cod liver oil helps the spice stick to the feed meaning the birds get the full benefit.
  7. Substrate: Don’t be tempted to add straw or hay to the litter in your poultry housing in an attempt to keep things warm and cosy. Both give the impression of being dry and clean when they are not and both sweat when soiled which promotes the growth of fungus which can lead to respiratory problems for the birds.
Did you find these tips useful or do you have any tips of your very own?  If so, please leave a comment below and don't forget to enter this years Christmas competition!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Tree-mendous Christmas and Competition!

Apologies for mentioning the C-word whilst still in November but it is not without a good reason - the launch of the annual Ryan's Garden Christmas tree competition!

With Christmas looming large on the horizon there is no doubt that preparations are well under way.  Many people will be turning their mind to decorating their home and more importantly the main focus of any Christmas display - the Christmas tree.

As is slowly becoming tradition here at Ryan's Garden I will be offering one lucky winner the chance to win a beautiful tree of their choice.  This year I have been lucky enough to be able to offer a choice between an artificial and a real tree (my personal choice) ensuring that varying tastes are catered for!

If you would like to enter for your chance to win please view the competition page for instructions on how to be in with a chance to win!

The graphic below was provided by the All-In-One Garden Centre and provides some interesting facts about Christmas trees.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Demise of Daphne

McGee (Front Left) and Daphne (Back Right)

Ryan’s Garden is minus one helper.


I was greeted with a heart stopping sight this morning when approaching the allotment.  As I parked the car I noticed that the chicken coop roof was half open.  In a blink of an eye I had that sick feeling, you know; that feeling you get when something you have invested time, love and energy into is, in a single blow, dashed, tarnished and broken beyond repair.


I navigated the gate and entered the plot with the reassuring sound of chickens in the distance, which saw my panic reduce slightly.  Other plot holders were going about their business unaware that all was not right.  A few even greeted me in my hasty approach; I grunted a rushed hello in return.  I rushed to the coop like some bumbling idiot where my worst fear was confirmed.  There were only two chickens to be seen and Daphne was missing.


After carefully researching, planning and building what appeared to be a entirely secured coop and run I had come undone.  I had accounted for predators, pests and hygiene and I didn’t think for a second that in such a sheltered spot the wind would be able to raise the heavy roof.  Whatever happened, whether it was human or nature itself, something had lifted the hinged coop roof open allowing just enough room for my Speckledy hen to make good her escape.  There were signs that she had been scratching and hanging around the coop this morning and to make things worse the egg she had laid was still warm.  I managed to find a few feathers nearby that may indicate she was taken by a predator (probably an hour or so before I arrived) and on my return to the plot at dusk there were no signs that she was coming home to roost.


I guess I’ll mark this one down to experience for now and look at finding my two remaining girls a couple of new friends come the Spring.  I guess you cannot be too vigilant when caring for hens?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Delays, Daffodils and Dreary Motivation Sapping Weather

Narcissus bulbicodium var. citrinus pictured today
Have you ever found yourself a victim of the weather, the seasons or the elements?  As Autumn gets ever closer to Winter we begin to see day length shorten, temperatures plummet and the first leaves of beloved plants blackened by frosts but these changes are not limited to plants alone. Trevor is slowing somewhat, the chickens appear to be starting a mini-molt and are less productive than they have been and I have not gotten off lightly either. The seasonal changes have most certainly made their impact, so much so that not unlike the humble dormouse I ‘m feeling an overwhelming urge to eat huge amounts of food,  roll up in to a ball and hibernate until next Spring.

Despite the melancholic haze and general dampness, the garden is giving a final push by offering a plethora of sensual treats before the Winter comes to deliver the annual deep clean.  The Katsura or Candy Floss tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum),bought at RHS Cardiff a little while a go,  attacks the senses with its beautiful burnt sugar scent and visual spectacle.   The sweet scent is carried on the wind as if from some other location often making the tree difficult to track down if you are not sure of its site.  Its cordate leaves, fringed with red, are ablaze in a myriad of oranges and yellows and are less conspicuous than its often allusive perfume.  I have not yet encountered any tree that comes close to rivalling the Katsura and I urge you to grow at least one in your lifetime or at least visit an arboretum in Autumn that houses a mature specimen.  

Other seasonal highlights include Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf’, Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream’ and  Narcissus bulbicodium var. citrinus.  Okay, so maybe the latter should not be in flower until next Spring but this particular bulb is a little eager to get going.  Correct me if I’m wrong but I was under the impression that as this bulb has already flowered this year that it would just go dormant over Winter until the weather becomes a little more favourable.  In fact, it appears that this particular bulb is the direct polar opposite to me at present.  It’s eager, it’s bright and it’s raring to go.  If only I had the same motivation.

Has anyone else experienced eager Daffodils? Or is the Autumn weather dampening your drive?

In a late but necessary move the winners of last months competition have been announced and can be found here.  Please forward your address to ryan@ryansgarden.co.uk if you are lucky enough to have won a prize.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Planning a Cutting Garden and a New Competition!

Have you ever been tempted by the idea of starting a cutting garden? Maybe you’ve had enough of paying for stems of over-engineered, chemically coated and unscented shadows of a former bloom, when you know very well you are more than capable of growing better yourself?  I know my answer to both questions and I imagine I’m not on my own here.
   
Since I’ve had a garden I’ve grown flowers for the home and I guess that started with my Grandmother bringing Roses in to her home and naturally roping me, an animal crazed youth, in for earwig duty. That was much more exciting at the time but the Roses never failed to amaze either.  They were always large, old fashioned, scented blooms in shades of pink and red, a much better quality rose than the mainstream tight budded chaff that is churned out en mass nowadays.  To date, I have refrained from growing roses but that doesn’t mean that the influence of growing cut flowers has been lost.  

My small garden is host to a number of plants and flowers that could be considered as vase worthy and I have been known to sacrifice a few for the home but this is not without a touch of resent.   A few decapitated blooms in a small space is often too great a loss, at least it is not something that is entirely sustainable, and it is therefore my intention to dedicate a bit of space (a small space at that) on my allotment.  The question is – What do I grow?

I have visions of growing a mix of annuals, perennials and bulbs so that I can create seasonal displays. I have a vague idea of what to grow but I want a wider and more informed view of what will grow well and last and in true Ryan’s Garden style there is an upside to this - there’s a prize in it for you!

In association with clothes retailer Lands' End I am giving away six £25 gift vouchers and several packets of Nasturtium seeds, which are perfect for sowing next spring in the garden or on the allotment.  Lands' End sponsor the Colour Garden at Barnsdale Gardens.  I was lucky enough to be invited to the garden this year but I couldn’t attend.  I will visit next year for sure as part of a number of much needed garden visits.  

So the question is - What Spring bulbs would you recommend for cutting?  To enter the competition please click here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Allotment update: The harvest just got better

You may remember that back in May I got a call to say that my time had come  to become an allotmenteer after a lengthy wait on the waiting list.  I was offered a quarter plot which was just a little overgrown (see here) and since that day the allotment has come a long way.  Today's harvest was easily the best yet.


The Nero di Toscano has grown well alongside my other Brassica's, the Courgette's have been unstoppable (no surprise there then) and the beans have grown amazingly well this year.  I have eaten more beans than I think I've eaten in my whole life combined.  Some of my favourites have been Runner Bean 'St George' with its red and white flowers, Broad Bean 'Bunyard's Exhibition' and French Bean 'Purple Queen'.  The latter is an amazing bean that has gorgeous purple flowers and pods that are almost black .  Upon boiling the beans magically transform and become green as per your standard French Bean.  I couldn't help but think that if there is a way to get kids interested in vegetables and cooking then this little bean may have what it takes.  It certainly entertained me.


Besides the obvious vegetable excitement you may have noticed a new addition to the harvest?  That's right, one of my new girls laid an egg today and I'm hoping that the other two will follow suit shortly so that I can make something substantial. 
The Speckledy hen above is the one that is the most likely to have laid the first egg as she is supposed to lay brown speckled eggs, the Cotswold Legbar (the brown hen above with the great hair do) is likely to lay a blue/green egg and the Copper Black Marans below should lay quite a dark brown egg.  Only time will tell but I cannot convey how excited I was to find the first egg today!
The small but perfectly formed egg was put to good use and helped to make today's Yorkshire puddings (pictured below) and besides the obvious benefit of keeping hens I'm learning that they make for great company. They have great personalities, dispose of pretty much anything, including waste from the plot or from the kitchen and they are sure to increase the fertility of my compost.  
Gardening will definitely be more interesting from here on in and I'm looking forward to my first  omelette!

If you have any Chicken keeping tips please leave a comment below!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Get Out and Forage: An Allotment Story

There are very few things in life that are better than free food and if you know where to look you will find that it’s right on your doorstep! 


I’m lucky enough to have been granted an allotment plot this year, which allows me to grow a lot of produce and expand my gardening horizons, but what makes this acquisition even better is that it’s surrounded by a productive but rather boggy woodland, which has a lot to offer.   I’m planning to take full advantage of this great resource as much as I can and I’m sure the autumn months will allow me to cook up some great treats and several alcoholic delights.  


After feeding the chickens, oh did I forget to mention that I now have three beautiful girls?  They’re yet to be named but I can tell you that I chose a beautiful Cotswold Legbar, which escaped on day one; not to worry she’s back now after spending the night in a tree, a Copper Marans cross (the boss) and a very friendly Speckledy hen.  They are all point of lay (P.O.L) hens and I’m hopeful that they are coming in to their egg-laying phase. I will update on progress and post when the first egg arrives.  They seem to be settling in really well and have brought me that step closer to having my own small holding.  Okay, so I’m a fair distance off but I will get there eventually.  


Anyway, back to the foraging thing.  I fed the chooks and on the way out I collected some wonderful free food.  In the pouring rain and in true allotment style (I’m slowly getting used to that!) I used my ingenuity and recycling skill to conjure up some sort of receptacle.  The result, you may see, is in the image above.  Yes, that’s right it’s a dog poo bag.  I find that they pop up in the strangest places and they have so many uses.  Anyway, I collected what I thought was rather exciting and headed home.  The following dialogue ensued:


Me: I’m back!


(I run upstairs and present the bag)


OH: What is it? (Half asleep)


Me: Guess! (At this point I’m rather excited)


OH: Well don’t open it on the bed.


Me: Okay.  What do you think it is?


OH: A hedgehog?


Me: What?!


Okay, I have no idea what goes on in that head and it didn’t go exactly as I wished; I’m also not entirely sure what it says about me?  But one thing I do know, however, is that we can safely say that guess was wrong.  It wouldn’t have been too far away from the correct guess in my younger years when I would regularly come home with pots of leeches, stray dogs, cans of spiders and pets that horrified my mother, including several snakes, stick insects that later inhabited our airing cupboard and numerous pet frogs.  But no, it was not a hedge pig.  It was in fact a lovely, full bag of glistening plump Blackberries.
A bit of an anticlimax really compared to the anticipated hedgehog but in my experience they don’t really fit well in to a crumble.  


Does anyone have any great Blackberry recipes?  What other fruits and foods do you forage for?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Chamomile Tea: How to make your own

Do you enjoy a nice cup of Chamomile tea of an evening?  Or are you growing this wonderfully scented herb in your garden and don’t really know what to do with it?  Either way, you should consider making your very own Chamomile tea.  It’s easy, it’s free and best of all it's good for you.


This aromatic tea is easily made when you have fresh flowers of German (Matricaria recutita) or Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) to hand but as with everything in horticulture seasonality comes in to effect and it’s not always possible to have a fresh supply of flowers.  By harvesting and drying the fresh flowers you can enjoy this somniferous delight, with its many other health benefits, throughout the darker months when fresh Chamomile flowers aren’t available.  


I always have a steady supply of Chamomile growing in my garden and it has become a plant I wouldn’t go without.  I initially grew Chamomile from seed to make a small lawn but after falling in love with the plant I then went on to make an informal path with stone leading up to the back gate. Now that the path has established itself and has been allowed to run riot (My fault completely) I now have more of a chamomile hedge than a path.  Luckily, I always have a use for Chamomile in the bath as part of a Bath Bouquet and it is excellent for easing aching muscles, soothing cuts, and keeping skin healthy, amongst other things. 


Anyway, back to the making of tea.  The method of oven drying is very simple and by following a few simple steps you are sure to have home grown tea to hand throughout the Winter.

1) Pick your flowers first thing in the morning as early as possible.  Anytime between 6:00am and 12 noon should suffice.  Discard any damaged or diseased material. 


2) Fill a bowl with cool water and add the fresh flowers.  Gently clean the flowers, removing any insects and sieve off any debris that floats to the surface.  Allow flowers to soak for a few minutes after cleaning.  


3) Remove flowers and strain with a colander or salad spinner ensuring that as much moisture as possible is removed.  Paper towels may also be used as long as they do not disintegrate.  
4) Heat an oven to 200 degrees and whilst the oven is warming up place the individual flowers on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Once the oven heats up fully turn the oven off and place the baking tray on the lowest rack of the oven.  Ensure that the oven door remains slightly open and allow the flowers to dry.  Check for dryness at regular intervals and if flowers are not dry after a few hours you can reheat the oven and begin the process again.


5) Once the Chamomile is dry, place it in an airtight jar and store for up to 4-6 months in a cool dry place.  


6) When you want to make your tea either crush
the dried chamomile or leave it whole and allow a tbsp per cup to steep in a pot of boiling water for around 10-15 minutes.   Strain with a sieve and add honey, a slice of lemon or other lemon herbs as desired, and enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Hose pipe ban: Five ways to conserve water and keep plants healthy

Most people know that water is an essential requirement in the garden but following a recent decision to impose a temporary hosepipe ban on millions of householders in the north-west of England, gardeners all around the country have come to realise that this Summer has the potential to wreak havoc and leave nothing but scorched foliage in its wake.  There are, however, many ways of preserving your beloved plants without the use of a hose.  A few of the methods I regularly use are discussed below.


Collect Shower Water: The addition of a couple of buckets in the shower works wonders for collecting water that would otherwise go to waste.  My black plastic buckets may not look stylish but they are most certainly practical.  Most people will turn the shower on each day and wait for it to warm up.  In my case this cold water fills half a bucket for each shower taken, which is immediately used to water the plants growing in my garden.  


As a general rule water that has been used for washing should not be used as it may include shower gel, shampoo residues and other content which may prove problematic for plants and soil.  This is classed as greywater.  Greywater, which comes from used shower water, washing machines, dishwashers and the kitchen sink, can be used in the garden but it typically requires additional modifications or practices.  For more information please see Reusing greywater from the Environment agency.


Collect Rainwater: Harvesting available rainwater seems to be a logical step when looking to conserve water as it is more than abundant in the cooler months of the year. Water Butts are the favoured option for storing rainwater, with many local authorities providing them at low prices (Check your local council website for more details).  Water butts are easy to install and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours making them suitable for most gardens.  


If you have a surplus of water collected from the shower you can store it in the water butt too.


Drought Tolerant Planting: Plants that thrive in drought conditions and have low water requirements are invaluable when water is at a premium.  Gardens that incorporate such drought tolerant plants may see some decline in warm conditions but they will look considerably better than those that do not.  


For more information please refer to the RHS website


Apply Mulch: Garden mulches come in many forms and can range from simple organic matter, such as compost or manure, to man made substrates, such as recycled car tyres.  Whatever mulch is chosen the principle is essentially the same, to reduce the effects of sun, which may cause water loss by surface evaporation and reduce the effects of drying winds.  Plus annual mulches also reduce the growth of weeds that would compete for available moisture. Organic mulch will also help to further improve soil, improving soil structure and allowing soil to retain water more effectively.


Correct Watering: Believe it or not, there is an art to watering.  Watering at the wrong time of day can mean that water is not delivered efficiently and it may even render the whole process useless.  It is best to water plants in the evening as this will ensure that plants can absorb water over night when temperatures are cooler.  It will also ensure that water penetration is not affected by sunlight.  Watering early morning is also acceptable.  All watering should be thorough as opposed to the little but often approach and a thorough watering will ensure that plants require less frequent watering.  Sprinkler systems should be avoided where possible as they are wasteful and drip or trickle irrigation should be the favoured method if necessary.


A combination of approaches will maximise your water saving credentials although there are a whole world of approaches available that will suit your garden and approach specifically.  


Do you have any tips or techniques for other gardeners?  If you could suggest one method what would it be?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Ryan’s Recipes: The Humble Pea




Peas in my garden

The humble pea is a beautiful little thing, the plant isn’t half bad either and come to think of it I actually love pretty much the whole Pea family.  The problem with this lovely legume is that beyond steaming, blanching or mushing (I doubt that’s the correct culinary lingo) it fails to inspire creative cooking practice in homes across the nation.  Unless of course you count adding pea shoots to salads a culinary feat.


As the pea season is in full swing I thought I would share one of my favourite pea recipes.  Not only does this recipe pack flavour and celebrate the humble pea but it is also very easy to prepare.


Pea and Tarragon Soup
Ingredients:
400g shelled peas or frozen peas 
1 Large onion, roughly chopped (Shallots can also be used)
1 Medium potato, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp chopped French Tarragon leaves
Butter (The real stuff)
Stock (Vegetable or Chicken)


Method:
Add a knob of butter to a pan and fry the onion until tender being careful not to burn it.  Add the potato along with the stock and simmer until the potato is very soft.  You can test this with a fork or by tasting.   Add the peas and tarragon to the pan and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Blend the soup with a hand blender or food processor until you create a smooth soup.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste and serve with crusty bread.  It’s that simple!


Do you have any other Pea recipes?  I would love to hear your experience of cooking this soup.


In other news the Postcarden competition winner has been announced and you can view the result by clicking here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Plant Focus: The Regal Lily (Lilium regale)

The Regal Lily (Lilium regale)
There is no questioning the fact that we are currently in the gentle grip of one of the nicest periods of weather we have had this year so far and I’m hoping that it continues for a few more days at least.  This has led me to spend many enjoyable evenings in the sun soaked garden or up at the allotment, often with a glass of wine, and it is at specific moments like these that I really begin to appreciate what has been created around me and the particular plants that really shine.  The Regal Lily is definitely one of those plants that earns its keep and helps to make this picture even more perfect.


This Lily makes a fantastic addition to any garden adding splashes of white and a degree of temporary height to borders.  I often use it as a cut flower to bring in to the home and, in fact, I’m planning to grow quite a large quantity of these in the cutting garden planned for the allotment plot  along with other flowers I use in the home (watch this space).  

The reason I write about this plant is because it has everything that most gardeners ask for from a flowering plant.  It’s beautiful, fully hardy, very easy to grow and it produces an intoxicating scent that fills the air, whether it be in the garden or home.  In my opinion it is one of the finest Summer bulbs available at present.

Unlike other Lilies that often require additional drainage and a bit more care, the Regal Lily is quite tolerant of moist soil and is likely to grow happily for years to come once planted in to its final position.  The height of its flower stems and the number of flowers produced will vary year-to-year depending on its growing conditions, soil fertility and available moisture.  Plant it amongst other border plants as they will protect emerging shoots from early frosts or alternatively you can grow plants in pots and place them in to bare patches of earth previously occupied by other seasonal displays, which is what I plan to do with Lilium 'Starburst'.  These plants are fairly easy to come buy from various retailers, even including pound shops, and they are also quick to grow from seed, flowering after two years in some cases.  

If you are looking for a Summer bulb that adds colour, height and scent to the garden I would most certainly recommend the Regal Lily.  Do you grow these plants? What other Summer bulbs would you recommend to other gardeners?


Please don't forget that you can enter the latest Ryan's Garden competition by clicking here and leaving a comment.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Shopping at Gardeners' World Live 2010

Lilium 'Starburst'
Gardeners' World Live is a shoppers paradise.  Stall after stall of stuff you didn't even know you needed, top quality plants and lets not forget the Good Food Show.  


After last years show, where I bought a fish tank, and no I didn't expect that either, I was determined to be a little bit more restrained.  A morning of battling the weather and dashing around the gardens put me in the mood for spending a little cash.  The intended restraint waivered slightly but in general I did pretty well.





I purchased the beautiful Lilium 'Starburst', pictured above, and I cannot wait to add it to the garden.  I grow several Lilies but this one appears to have a much larger and striking flower compared to my smaller Asiatics.  I also bought several Seseli libanotis, Trifolium ochroleucon and three Gooseberry bushes ('Invicta', 'Hinomaki Red' and 'Hinomaki Yellow'), which are headed for the allotment.


I had a great day at the show and you can read more about my visit on Dobbies.com blog.


Below are a few picture highlights for you delectation.  
Peony 'Bowl of Beauty'
'Room for Nest Eggs' by Heather Appleton
Beautiful Salad Leaves
Incredible India by Yvonne  Matthews Garden Design
Did you attend the show?  What were your highlights and what did you buy?

Please don't forget that you can enter the latest Ryan's Garden competition by clicking here and leaving a comment.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Competition and the Perfect Green World Cup Gift

Courtesy of Aimee Furnival
The FIFA Football World Cup is upon us and as the opening matches unfold the focus of many is placed firmly on the telly box.  Homes and gardens alike are transformed, with some painted in support of national teams, to facilitate our voyeuristic pleasure, give us a sense of belonging as a nation and unite all planet Earth.  


In honour of this global sporting phenomenon the good people at Postcarden have produced a new creation entitled ‘Football’, pictured above.  Perfect for sending to friends and family, locally or internationally, the Football postcarden makes for an interesting and topical gift that will allow even the most football averse of individuals to join in with the World Cup spirit.


The postcarden team use several illustrators to design their stunningly precise multmedia creations and in support of my nation, who incidentally do not feature in the great sporting contest, each postcarden is printed in South Wales making them a great deal more attractive to me at least.  All other materials are sourced nationally also.
Courtesy of Aimee Furnival
If you like the look of postcarden please check the other designs in the range.  The allotment design is particularly nice.


You can also enter for a chance to win a postcarden by entering a comment in to the comments box on the Competition Page here.
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