Well, we’re not entirely sure how it happened, but somehow the summer holidays have come to an end and we’ve reached September - the month that sees a change in season and a change in focus in the garden. With the kids heading back to school this month, we thought we’d offer a helping hand with any of those burning gardening questions they might have - you just never know when compost facts might crop up in class, after all! (Or, for the adults it might serve as helpful pub quiz content…)
What do plants eat?
Much like us humans need food and water to survive, plants also need food and drink - but it’s not the same as us eating some cereal or drinking some juice. Plants are actually really clever and are able to make their own food - they’re one of the only living organisms on the planet that are able to do this, and most of the earth’s creatures eat plants so there’s lots of people and animals relying on them!
During the day, plants breathe in carbon dioxide through their leaves. They use sunlight and the green from their leaves to make sugars from the carbon dioxide, which gives them energy to grow. This is called photosynthesis.
Plants also need water for photosynthesis - they absorb water and other nutrients through their roots, and this water is then used by the plant to help make the sugars they need.
What is soil?
Soil is the loose surface we find outside where plants grow, but it’s more than just dirt. It actually takes thousands of years to form, and it’s made up of all kinds of things, from decayed plants and animals to rocks and minerals. Plants use soil to help them grow - their roots grow into the soil, and then the nutrients in the soil help to feed the plants.
Soil is also where lots of insects and animals live - earthworms, ants and some beetles all live in the ground.
Sometimes, the soil we have in our gardens isn’t the right type to grow the plants we want to grow, so we can add different mixes to the soil to give the plants a helping hand.
Why are worms good for the garden?
Earthworms are really good for the garden because they help to keep the soil healthy. They eat decaying plants but they don’t damage plants and flowers like slugs and snails do.
Worms are also really helpful in the garden if you’re making your own compost, because they can help to speed up the composting process by eating food scraps and then digesting them, which turns them into compost.
What is compost?
Compost is usually made from food and garden waste - so that’s the things you’re getting rid of, like old vegetables or flowers you’ve dug up in the garden. All of the ingredients mix together and over time they start to decompose. Then, the compost mixture can be used on your soil to help improve it because it has lots of nutrients in it, which help plants to grow.
You can make your own compost in your garden or you can get ready made composts which can help if you have a particularly tricky soil where you can’t plant some flowers and plants.
How do you make your own compost?
It’s easy to make your own compost, you just need the right mix of materials to make it work. Good compost is made up of half green materials (things like grass or hedge trimmings), and half brown materials (things like twigs or cardboard).
Choose a sunny area of the garden, and if you’re making a compost bin, put it here - but make sure to place it directly onto the earth as this speeds up the composting process and helps worms and other creatures easily get into the compost to help break it down.
Turn the compost occasionally and also be sure to keep the rain out so it doesn’t turn into a sludgy mess!
The compost should take about 6 months to be ready. Once it’s done you can use it in the garden on your soil to help grow flowers, plants and vegetables.
How do you grow your own vegetables?
Firstly, pick which fruits and vegetables you like to eat, because these will be the most fun to grow. Vegetables like courgettes, beans and tomatoes are all easy to grow, or you could even try planting some strawberries.
Lots of fruits and vegetables can be grown in pots and in small spaces, but if you have the space in your garden it’s a good idea to create a dedicated vegetable patch. You can also make a raised bed to grow your fruits and vegetables in, which will help keep the weeds away and keep your crops separate from the rest of the garden.
Different vegetables grow at different times of year. If you’re growing courgettes you can plant them from seeds and you’ll want to do this by starting them indoors in the springtime (around April) and then sowing them into the ground in May once it’s no longer frosty.
For carrots, these seeds can be planted straight into the ground any time from March to June. Tomatoes grow best in pots or containers, and a peat free compost works best. Plant tomatoes in late spring (May/June) when the weather is warming up. They take about 12 weeks to ripen, and then you’ll have your own crop of juicy tomatoes to enjoy.
With the cost of living on the rise, there’s never been a better time to look at how to make your garden a little greener. No, we’re not just talking about watering the lawn (hosepipe ban notwithstanding), but it’s also important to focus on how to make gardening more eco-friendly and sustainable.
From tapping into your rain reserves to selecting sustainable soils, here we look at six ways you can work towards growing a more eco-friendly garden
Reuse your rain
With this summer seeing droughts and hosepipe bans, keeping the garden hydrated has been tricky, but installing a water butt is a simple way to give your thirsty plants and grass some refreshment.
Generally, water butts are inexpensive but can save you money on your water bills - something that many of us would probably appreciate at the moment. Simple to fit, the water butt works by collecting and storing rainwater so that you can use it in your garden as you wish. Just place it outside within reach of your downpipe and connect it up using a diverter (many water butt kits come with all the equipment you need to do this). Then, when the showers do arrive, you’ll be able to start conserving that water and begin working towards a more eco conscious gardening approach.
Retain your reserves
As well as collecting your rainwater to keep the garden hydrated, you’ll also want to think about water retention as another way of gardening sustainably. By using mulch on your soil, you could reduce the amount you have to water by as much as two-thirds. Mulch offers shade for your soil, which aids water retention and helps to conserve soil moisture.
Scrap single use
Next time you’re buying new plants or bulbs for your garden, have a think about how they’re packaged. Many plants come in plastic, single-use pots, while bulbs, compost and other garden products are in plastic bags or wrapping.
If you can, try to purchase more eco-friendly options, such as plants in reusable pots or bulbs in boxes. Investing in some planters might be more expensive in the short term but they’ll last you years and will look much more aesthetically pleasing than black plastic plant pots, too.
Speaking of those plastic pots - generally they can’t be placed in your recycling bin because they contain pigments which make them undetectable to the sorting machinery used to sort plastics. However, many local authorities do offer collections so it’s worth checking with yours to see if they can sustainably remove and even reuse your unwanted pots.
Consider your compost
Making your own compost is not only an excellent way to easily get rid of your garden waste, but it’s also very eco-friendly, too. Every 1kg of homemade compost typically saves over 0.1kg of fossil CO2 emissions, as well as helping to enrich your soil and offering a place for various creatures to live.
If you’re considering making your own compost, check out our pallet compost bin kits for everything you need to contain your green waste.
Buying compost? Peat free compost is generally thought to be more environmentally friendly because peatlands release carbon when the peat is removed for use in gardens. In fact, scientists believe that peatlands in Britain are releasing approximately 23 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.
Petrol mowers and power tools might be convenient, but they’re not always the most environmentally friendly, and with fuel costs at an all time high, it could be worth switching to something more sustainable.
According to the RHS, if just 21% of UK gardeners who use power tools switched from fossil fuel to green energy electric-powered tools, it would save enough carbon equivalent to drive around the planet 29,820 times.
Or, if your energy bills are also higher than usual this year, perhaps it’s time to go back to basics with some manual tools?
Planting flowers, trees and plants in your garden that are native to your local area or to the UK is an easy way to be sustainable. No importing from overseas means you’re helping to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but by planting native species, you’ll encourage more wildlife to visit, such as bees and other pollinating insects.
This is our new bagging unit, based in the Sevenoaks depot. At this time of year, it is used especially for 25-kg bags of cricket (Surrey) loam, but it can of course be used for any material going into small bags.
At the back of the picture, you can see a grey bag hanging in place under a small hopper. This is fed with material from a conveyor belt, which is located outside the store, behind the wall. To the right of the bag is a weighing unit which displays how much material has gone in the bag, to ensure the correct fill every time. Once the bag is full, it drops down on the conveyor belt below and is moved, upright, to the sealing unit to the left (the grey box on the wall). The bag is heat-sealed and then moves further to the left and onto the upwards conveyor, ready to be placed onto the waiting pallet. Once the pallet is full, it is moved outside with a forklift and then shrink-wrapped for stability and protection.
The unit can be operated by one or two people, allowing for up to 1,200 bags on 30 pallets to be produced daily.
Here is a picture of some 1,700 tonnes of prime cricket loam (a.k.a. Surrey loam) ready for bagging at our Sevenoaks depot. It will be processed in our new bagging unit, palletised and sent out to waiting customers all over the Home Counties.
But what on earth (err...) is cricket loam and what makes it so special? The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) explains it in their maintenance guidelines document, which is the bible for groundsmen around the country.
Essentially, it is a type of topdressing with around 30% clay content, which is used at the end of the cricket season to repair wear and damage to cricket squares. The clay content ensures suitable and consistent bounce during play. A greater clay content gives higher performance but requires more maintenance, as it will be more liable to drying out and cracking. Therefore, the recommendation tends to be for a clay content of 28-35% for first class cricket, but more like 25-28% for school pitches. Ultimately, it is the soil's "breaking strength" which determines its suitability, and this is dependent not only on clay content, but also on the other components of the loam. The guidelines explain how to test your soil - please refer to them for details.
Most importantly, though, the loam applied must be compatible with the existing soil. If not, it will create layers where the different types of soil dry out (and therefore shrink) at different rates. Such layering affects the bounce, is prone to damage and provides an unsuitable environment for good quality grasses. Again, the guidelines explain how to check soil compatibility.
We have been producing and supplying cricket loam to a high degree of consistency over the last twenty years, and have it tested by the STRI to ensure its quality and suitability. This year's supply is now ready to be shipped. Full details on the Bourne Amenity and Gardenscape websites.
On July 4th, GreenBlue Urban invited us to a Contractors' Day to show their offices and production facilities, launch their new RootSpace 400 soil cell system, and give a practical demonstration of how to use the system when planting a young tree in an urban environment. It was a very impressive demo and a short blog post would not do it justice. So, to get the full story, head on to this special page for a longer read with many photos. We are grateful to Louise and Lloyd at GreenBlue Urban for the invitation and help with the article!
Updated 13 July: GreenBlue Urban's report from the day, with video, is now available on this page.