Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

It’s December, and gardeners are longing for spring! The garden has gone into hibernation, and there isn’t that much going on out there. Or so it seems.

But wait, there is always something to do!

 

Sowing

Yes, in the midst of winter, you can do some sowing: if you live in a comparatively mild climate zone, you can sow broad beans outdoors – or under cover, if weather conditions are harsher.
Frost hardy lettuces, such as lambs lettuce and Asian salad mixes, are also good winter crops.

You can get a head-start on some long season crops like chillies or aubergines. But you might need a grow-lamp to ensure they are getting enough light.

December is the perfect time to start onions from seed. Sow them indoors to give them a nice head start.

If you have a tunnel or greenhouse, you can start garlic in trays to plant out later.

 

Harvest

Harvest your winter veggies now. Leeks and Brussels sprouts are ready now.

Any young Brassicas you might have outside are at risk to be eaten by hungry birds. Cover them with netting and remove any yellow leaves to prevent mildew and other fungal diseases.

 

Trees and Bushes

 

Pruning

Prune apple and pear trees, and berry bushes, such as Black Current, Red Currents, White currents and Gooseberries.

 

Planting

Winter is the best time to plant bare-root trees and bushes. Think of the wildlife when you make your choice! Hawthorn, Rowan, Hazel, Elder, and Guilder Rose provide food for hungry birds.

Speaking of Wildlife…

Many animals are hibernating. They might be sleeping right under a pile of leaves or under the compost heap, so don’t disturb them until spring.

The birds are hungry all through the winter. Keep the bird feeders topped up and put out some water – they still need to drink!

Prepare for spring by building nest boxes and insect hotels.

 

Planning

Winter is dream time. Think of the summer to come and what you would like to harvest next year. Planning the garden early means you can sow and plant much more efficiently and harvest all year long.

Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Yew – Taxus baccata

Few western European trees are as enigmatic as the Yew. Dark, brooding and sometimes eery, each Yew tree very much has its own personality.

 

Botany:

The Yew (Taxus baccata) is an evergreen, needle bearing conifer- but a strange one. Instead of wooden cones, it shelters its seed in a bright red, soft and slimy fruit cortex that takes the shape of a cup (Baccata = cup). The seeds, hidden within the ‘cup, along with all other parts of the tree except for the arils, are highly poisonous.

Yews are dioecious; female and male flowers appear on different trees, but only the female flower-bearing tree produces the fruits. They reach sexual maturity between 15-30 years of age, pretty young, considering their potential lifespan! It is difficult to measure the exact age of a Yew tree because most of them become hollow as they age, which means we can’t count tree rings. But in Britain and Europe, there are several, estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old!

As trees go, their height is not that impressive. Yews only grow to about 10-20 m tall, but they can develop an admirable circumference of more than 6 m. Unlike most conifers, they do not produce any resin.

Yews have a dark appearance, and they love shady spots. But they tolerate the sun if they were exposed to it from the start.

Yew of If d'Estry, Normandy

Roi.dagobert, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mythology:

As an evergreen with a seemingly infinite lifespan and a somewhat dark, mysterious Gestalt, it is not surprising that Yews have been linked to the realm of the Dead. In Britain, the oldest Yews are found in cemeteries, often in association with a sacred spring. Britain’s oldest one is the Yew of Fortingall, in Perth, Scotland, believed to be some 3000 years old. However, its age is difficult to verify since it is hollow, and young shoots that grow from the centre, fuse with older ones, thus constantly rejuvenating itself.

In the runic alphabet, the Yew is associated with Eiwhaz Rune, which signifies the shortest day of the year, the eve of the winter solstice. It symbolizes the dying Sun but also its rebirth, since Yews possess this magic power of rejuvenation. Yews cast the dark, silent cape of eternity over the departed and take care of their souls in the afterworld until the time of their rebirth has come.

Thus, Yews are symbolic of life and death, seen as complementary forces rather than polar opposites, and joined at the threshold at the beginning and the end of our lives.

Folklore: Sleeping under a Yew tree was thought to induce prophetic dreams and offer a glimpse beyond the veil.

 

 

Properties and uses

Yew BerryA couple of thousand years ago, Yews were common throughout Europe and Britain. But they are slow-growing trees that were decimated for the sake of war. Yews were the primary source-wood for longbows – which, before the invention of gunpowder, were the most common weapon of war. Even today, Yew bows are used for making longbows for archery. In medieval times, Yews were planted in and around castle grounds to ensure a steady supply.
The wood, which is both strong and elastic, is superbly suited for this purpose. Archaeological evidence has shown that it has been used to make weapons since prehistoric times. Palaeolithic spears and arrowheads made of Yew have been found in a marl pit in southern England. The arrowheads had been dipped in an arrow poison made of Yew, Hellebore and Hemlock to make them extra lethal. Yews alkaloids first stimulate, then slow the heart rate, causing the victim to fall into a coma and die within an hour and a half. The oldest such spear, some 150 000 years old, was still stuck between the ribs of a mammoth carcass.

By the 16th century, Yews were almost extinct. But, they were saved by the invention of gunpowder which was invented right around that time, allowing Yew populations to recover.

 

Medicinal uses:

In recent times, Yews were in the news for saving lives. A compound found in the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, was discovered to have cytostatic properties, capable of inhibiting cancerous growth. But both, the Pacific Yew and its habitat are threatened. A single tree only yields 3 kg of bark, containing only 1g of Taxol, the sought-after active compound. Taxol proved highly effective in chemotherapy for treating breast- and ovarian cancer, and thus was in high demand. Given the slow growth and endangered status of the trees, the situation was precarious. Scientists were struggling to find a way to synthesize Taxol from other sources. But eventually, the breakthrough came in the 1990s. Scientists had managed to create Taxol molecules from Taxus baccata, the European Yew, which is a far more common species.

Thus, the Yew has held true to its ancient promise as a harbinger of both death and life.

How to Make Natural Body-Care Products?

How to Make Natural Body-Care Products?

This article offers a short introduction to how to make natural homemade cosmetics.

Homemade natural cosmetics are a real treat and easy to make

I don’t know about you, but I always like to give at least some homemade gifts at Christmas, so right around now, I start to scratch my head, wondering what to make.

There are plenty of items that are always well-received: jam, syrups, and pickles among them. But I am a bit more ambitious than that. I look for something a bit more special. Homemade body-care products make great gifts that can easily be personalized, and many are straightforward to make without the need for complicated procedures or ingredients.

The best natural cosmetics are homemade using high-quality vegetable oils and butter such as coconut, avocado or almond oil. These can be combined with organic flower waters (hydrosols) and essential oils to make nourishing lotions and crèmes.

Since many natural oils are rich in unsaturated essential fatty acids, it is generally a good idea to make smaller batches to prevent spoilage. What’s so great about natural cosmetics is that you can tailor-make them to specific needs, and there is such a variety of products you can make. Therefore, before you start, consider what kind of product you want to make and what properties it should have.

Emulsifying agents

Lotions and crèmes aim to nourish and moisturize the skin, or even to heal or repair skin damage. They usually consist of an oily and a watery component, such as a hydrosol or tincture. But since water and oil do not mix well
an emulsifying agent is needed to blend them.

Just like oils, emulsifiers also have different properties, and one can’t simply be substituted for another.

Most emulsifying substances are the product of complicated chemical processing, even if they derive from natural materials.

In the past, spermaceti, a substance produced in the heads of whales, was the most common natural emulsifier. Thankfully, nowadays, there are non-animal source alternatives.

Pick your ingredients according to your specific nutritional or therapeutic requirements (see the previous article about oils).
Some oils are ‘drying’ while others are moisturizing. Combining these with humectants such as vegetable glycerine or aloe Vera gel changes the consistency and skin-care benefits. The trick, when blending crèmes, is to combine them slowly have all ingredients at a similar temperature to avoid curdling. If you have ever made mayonnaise from scratch, you have a good idea of what it takes to make a lotion or crème.
Apart from the emulsifying wax, which blends the watery and oily components, you may also need a stabilizer, such as stearic acid. These are added in tiny quantities to stabilize your crème’s consistency. However, use sparingly, or your crème will become chalky instead of smooth.

If you don’t want to mess with oils and waxes, there are now ready-made base crèmes on the market. These generic crème bases can be enhanced by adding special ingredients such as essential oils, infused oils or Aloe Vera gel. However, they can only absorb a few additional ingredients, before they become unstable, so experiment carefully. The quality of such crème bases varies widely, and most contain preservatives or alcohol to increase their shelf-life. However, these chemicals are not that great for the skin, so read the ingredients label carefully, and do your research. Making your own is definitely preferable and will be of much higher quality. For personal use, making small batches is much the best strategy, as you don’t have to worry too much about the shelf-life.

Recipes:

I’d like to share my favourite body butter recipe with you. It is so easy to make and very adaptable to your needs.

body butter

Ingredients:

 

  • 100g Shea butter
  • 100g Coconut butter
  • 100g Cocoa butter
  • 100 ml Almond oil

Method:

In a double boiler, melt all the hard ingredients and add the Almond oil at the end. Stir well and let it cool down. This takes a while. Once it starts to set, whip with an electric blender to make it fluffy and creamy. Allow to cool some more and then whip it again. When the consistency is to your liking, fill it in your prepared (sterilized) jars with the help of a spatula.

 

This is quite a dry, yet very soothing body butter that is generally well tolerated. It is very easily and quickly absorbed by the skin. If you like it a bit richer, you

can adjust the oil or the butter. Cocoa butter and shea butter are great because they stabilize this blend. Coconut oil by itself would be less useful as the melting point is too low, and the butter would only stay solid if kept in a cool or cold place. 

You can add a few drops of essential oil in at the end but research the oil first to make sure it is not allergenic or irritating to the skin. Also, keep the percentage of essential oil well low (1-3%)

For an additional therapeutic benefit, add in a small amount of nutritive oil, such as Evening Primrose, Hemp, or Borage Seed oil. (10% of the total amount). 

Instead of the plain base oil, you can also use infused oils, such as Calendula, or St. John’s Wort oil for their extra healing qualities. 

 

bath salts

Bath Salts

The cheapest and easiest bath salts are coarse salts, such as Epsom or Sea Salt. Crush to a grainy size (dissolves easier) and add a few drops of a gentle essential oil, such as rose, lavender or Jasmine. Stir and blend well, fill in a jar and let it macerate for a few days. Some people like to add food colouring to make it look more like commercial bath salts, but this is purely for looks. If you don’t mind ‘bits’ floating in your bathtub, you can add a handful of fresh fragrant rose petals or lavender flowers to the salt blend. The salt will dehydrate them and absorb their scent. 

 

Bath Oil

Soaking in water for any length of time dehydrates the skin. Normally, the skin’s natural oil secretions prevent it from drying out, but frequent bathing washes our natural protective layer off. Body butter or simple oil application (almond or apricot oil) replenish the natural skin oils. But better still, use bath oil instead of commercial detergent. Almond or light coconut oil are good choices. Add some drops of essential oil for a beautiful scent (make sure they are not toxic or irritant and don’t overdo it). Add a small amount of Turkey Red Oil, to facilitate the dispersion.

If you don’t like the greasiness of bath oils, but still want to use essential oils in your bath, use plain milk, buttermilk, or cream as a dispersing agent for your essential oils. A tiny blob of honey mixed in is also very pleasant and softens the skin.

Gardening Jobs in November

Gardening Jobs in November

What gardening jobs are there to do in November?

By the beginning of November, the gardening season is coming to a close. The leaves are coming off the trees, flowers have long gone, and everything seems to be going into hibernation.

But that does not mean that there is nothing left to do in the garden!

 

Planting

Late fall is the time to plant bulbs for spring flowers. You will be delighted when the first dots of colour appear in the spring, and the bees will love you for a welcome source of nectar early in the year. It is also time to plant perennials, shrubs and naked-root fruit trees.

 

Sowing

As for veggies, it’s now or never for planting garlic, shallots, and onion sets, before it gets too cold.

You can also still sow some hardy crops, but make sure to select winter-hardy varieties!

Of course, your climate zone determines what you can grow. So, check your growing zone, and use your own judgement – you know your micro-climate best!

In growing zone 7/8, likely candidates are salad greens, Asian mustards, and maybe even radishes.

Broad beans and peas, as well as hardy spring onions, are also good contenders.

The most impatient gardeners even start sowing certain long season crops like chillies at this time. But, that is only recommended if you have the space on a warm windowsill or in a frost-free greenhouse.

If you are not growing anything during the winter, treat your empty beds to a crop of green manure. These can be cut and dug under in the spring, to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

Harvest

If you have followed a well-spaced growing plan, you will still have fresh vegetables to harvest. Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celeriac and carrots are still in season. Leek and kale will soon be ready.

Don’t forget to cover the Brassicas to protect them from hungry mice and birds!

 

Tidying up

Traditionally, gardeners get their scissors out and start snipping off the dead foliage and wilted bloom once summer is over. But, if you value the wildlife in your garden, don’t do it! This apparently dead foliage is where the caterpillars attach themselves and spin themselves into a chrysalis to over-winter and transform into butterflies.

And, some of those dead stalks still have a cache of seeds that the birds will appreciate.

But, do rake up the leaves and compost them, or use them as mulch on your beds. They provide excellent nutrients to nourish your plants next year.

 

Cutting back

Cut the dead canes of autumn fruiting raspberries and dead or old branches of black currents and similar berry bushes.

 

Grafting

If you have trees that need grafting, now is the time to take hardwood cuttings so you can graft the trees early in the coming season. The cuttings must be over-wintered in a cool, dark place (fridge or cold basement) to keep the buds dormant until you are ready to use them.

 

Wildlife

It is now getting more difficult for the animals to find enough food to get them through the winter – especially for the birds. Fill your feeders with seeds and nuts or, make some fat-based seed cake

And, don’t forget, birds and hedgehogs that are not yet hibernating also still require fresh, clean water.

Samhain

Samhain

At Samhain, the Goddess retreats into the deep vault of the earth to join her dark lover in the Underworld. Life withdraws, and the landscape turns bleak, cold, and grey. There are no more fruit or flowers, and the birds have left on their journey to the south. We mark this time of death and decay by remembering and honouring those who have gone before us. Death is but a stage of the wheel of life. Far below the surface, the Goddess sheds her old cloak and falls into a deep meditation that regenerates her vital life-giving energies.
We face the darkness of the cold season, as the Sun grows weaker and has little power left to warm us.

At this time, remember that life and death are aspects of the same eternal cycle. One cannot exist without the other. There is no light without darkness. This is a time for reflection and reminiscence, and for gathering our inner strength in contemplation – for soon, the wheel of the year will turn again, and the Sun will be reborn once more.

Pin It on Pinterest