How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to plan a garden – getting started

When I first started to garden, I went about it very haphazardly. I’d sow things here, there, and everywhere and did not pay much attention to what it said on the seed packages.

That’s how you learn – or rather, that is how I learned. I hope you are smarter than that!
Plants have likes and dislikes and different nutritional needs. Some like it cool, others hot, some don’t really care. Some are fussy, and some are persistent – they are all different, and it makes sense to get to know them. So, now I spend a lot more time thinking about the garden, and its needs, as well as mine.

Here are some things to consider:

Climate or Microclimate?

Before you plant anything, try to really understand your garden.

Do you know your growing zone? Or, do you live in a microclimate with weather patterns that don’t match the hardiness index? How much rainfall do you get? Which are the driest months? Have you traced the path of the sun through your garden at different times of the year? Do you know the sunniest and the coldest spots?

Growing zones

You can find out about your local growing zone with a simple google search. Due to climate change, such zoning is no longer completely reliable. Talk to the farmers or neighbours and listen to their observations.

I made my first plot in a south-facing spot, but later realized it was actually the coldest part of the garden. It lies lower than the rest of the garden and forms a dip where all the cold air collects.
Climate change has shortened our winters and made them milder. But we often get a late frost, even if the weather had been warm and spring-like for weeks.

Soil

Do you know what kind of soil you have? What is the pH level? Is it loamy or does it drain freely?
Plants don’t like wet feet. If you want to grow nutritious vegetables, concentrate on optimizing the soil. That alone will have a huge impact on your harvest.

Once you know your basic perimeters, it is time to choose your seeds. Part of the excitement of growing your own food is that you can experiment with unusual varieties. But always make sure, your local conditions match their requirements.

Friends or Foe

Certain species don’t like to grow next to each other, while others are friends. If you take the time to pay attention to their preferences, you will end up with a much happier garden. (I will write a separate post about this topic).

Getting the most out of the available space

Some plants mature quickly, while others take a long time to grow. But you can make the most out of your limited space by using a technique called ‘intercropping’.

Intercropping simply means sowing fast-growing crops like radishes among rows of slow-growing veggies.

 

 

Also see Gardening Jobs for January

 

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.

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.

Gardening Jobs in October

Gardening Jobs in October

Gardening Jobs in October

The summer is over, and the garden is beginning to wind down. But there are still quite a lot of gardening jobs left to do in October.

 

Harvesting

To begin with, you are probably still harvesting the last of your summer crops. Pumpkins, courgettes, potatoes and late runner beans, beetroots, carrots, and broccoli are still in season.

Any tomatoes that did not turn red yet don’t have to go to waste. Bring them inside and place them into a bowl with an apple or two. Cover them with a towel, and they will soon ripen.

 

Sowing & planting

A cold frame is a perfect place to give your peas and winter hardy broad beans an early start. Asian salad mixes and spinach make excellent winter crops that will bring an extra dash of fresh green to the dinner table.

To rejuvenate mature perennials, especially spring-flowering ones, October/November is the time to divide their roots and replant these to propagate more plants.

 

Plant spring bulbs

Nothing announces the approach of spring more beautifully than watching early spring flowers emerge. Daffodils, hyacinth, alliums, tulips and crocus are great for spreading some spring cheer. These heralds of spring have bulbs, which can be planted now, ready to bloom in the spring.

 

Protect sensitive plants

Bring frost-sensitive plants inside now. Some plants are not easy to overwinter indoors, as it is often too warm for them. A frost-free place that gets some sun is best.

Plants that overwinter outside appreciate a thick layer of leaf mulch.

 

Improving the soil

Now the vegetable beds are pretty much empty, seize the opportunity to feed the soil. Spread a good layer of well-rotted manure on top – you don’t even have to dig it in. The worms and micro-organisms will do that job for you. Or, you can sow a green manure crop such as clover that fixes nitrogen in the soil.

 

Gardening for wildlife

The wildlife is beginning to prepare for winter. Those that hibernate are looking for a cosy, warm spot for the dark season. But before they go to sleep, they are also looking for food to assimilate some reserves that will sustain them.

Gardeners are often a bit obsessed with making their gardens look neat. But the wildlife does not appreciate those efforts. The little critters would prefer if the windfall fruits were left on the ground and the dead stalks of the perennials, many of which still offer plenty of seeds, would be left standing.

You can help wildlife by creating suitable habitats for them by not being overly tidy. Insects, amphibians and small animals such as hedgehogs appreciate wood piles constructed of different kinds of logs and twigs with plenty of nooks where they can find shelter.

Birds don’t hibernate. To survive the winter, they need a high-fat diet. See how you can make a simple birdseed feeder.

Gardening Jobs in September

Gardening Jobs in September

Summer is coming to an end, but that does not mean the end of the gardening season. Quite the opposite! It is time to harvest the fruits of your labour! Zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, potatoes and chillies – there is a glut of veggies to harvest now. Often, far more than anyone can eat. To make the most of the harvest, preserve it now for the lean times ahead.
Check out how to preserve the harvest 

Extending the season

If you want to extend the season to still harvest some fresh veggies until at least the early part of the winter, you should now sow some winter crops.

Salad ingredients

It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to harvest fresh greens even as nature is winding down and retreating for her winter sleep. You can now sow Miner’s lettuce, Lamb’s Lettuce, Asia salad mix, and cress, and radishes.

Veggies for overwintering

Some veggies also appreciate the early start and can continue to grow through the winter.
Spinach, winter peas, broad beans, winter carrots, and if you live in a mild climate, Swiss chard, can all be sown now. But check the varieties – there are always early and late ones and ones that are winter hardy. That is what you want to sow now. You can also plant onion sets now. They will be ready to harvest in July.

In situ or under glass

If you don’t yet have enough space in your plots, you can start the winter crops indoors or in the cold frame.

Propagating

Now is also the time to take cuttings, so you can propagate your perennials and bushes. Take cuttings from this year’s growth that have not become woody yet. They work best if dipped in rooting hormones before planting them into pots. Mix the soil with perlite or similar to improve the drainage.


Happy gardening!



Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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