Gardening Advice

  • Watering: get the basics right

    Watering is gardening’s most basic task, in every sense of the word. It’s always needed at some point, no matter what the garden. Watering is really a very simple task, however so often it is under-watering or over-watering that can cause our plants to suffer and even die.

    All plants need water, even the drought tolerant ones, but the volume and frequency of that watering varies hugely from plant to plant. The first thing to consider is where the plant is originally from (and I don’t mean the garden centre – but where around the world do its ancestors live)? If you know what kind of environment your plants descend from, replicating that as closely as possible when you care for it will bring the most success.

    If you’re not sure about your plants’ origins, the leaves will give a good indication of what it needs. Narrow, silvery/white or fleshy leaves show it is adapted to minimise water loss or store water for long periods, so it is from a hot area with little rainfall. Wide or large, green, thin leaves indicate it is not used to being without water for very long, so it will need more watering in dry periods.

    Raised beds such as those supplied by WoodBlocX can make watering plants much easier. The soil you put in them can be adapted to the planting; for example, gravel can be mixed in to mimic the free-draining soils most Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and thyme are used to. The watering itself is easier because the soil level is lifted off the ground, meaning less stooping with a heavy watering can and it’s much easier to get the water directly to the soil (see below). Alternatively, raised beds lend themselves very well to the installation of automatic irrigation systems – from the high tech to the simple leaky hose attached to a water butt.

    Always check the moisture level in the soil before beginning to water, because a dry dusty surface may actually be moist further down, or vice versa. Sticking your finger in the soil is the only way to find out! However and how often you are watering, it’s important to water in the morning or evening. Watering in the middle of the day is a waste of time – most of the water you apply will evaporate before it even gets to the roots, and on really hot days, before it even hits the ground! The cool of the morning and evening means the water has a chance to penetrate the soil.

    That said, in very dry and hot weather, it may be necessary to water plants that are drying out too fast in order to save them, but always check the soil first. Some plants will flag in the midday sun, looking as if they are wilting and dying, but in fact they have enough water in the soil – it’s just a temporary mechanism to prevent too much water loss.

    Always give your plants a really good soak when you water them, rather than just a sprinkle over the top. Not only does this mean you have to water less often, it will also encourage the roots to grow down into the soil, rather than up to the surface where they will then dry out faster anyway. Make sure the water is going on to the soil rather than the foliage as much as possible as well – this will ensure it gets to the roots where it is needed, and not create a humid atmosphere around the plant which can encourage disease. Follow these simple steps and your plants will thank you for it.

  • Organic growing – the whys and wherefores

    Growing in your own garden means you have total control over what goes into your plants, and many gardeners are opting to have an organic garden, at least for their edible plants. Organic gardening means to grow without the use of chemicals but can be interpreted in different ways depending on how strict you want to be.

    The first consideration is where – or in what – are you growing your plants? If you are growing in the ground, you have less control over what is in the soil, and what has been added to it by those who previously tended it, but by growing in raised beds and planters you can start afresh with topsoil and compost that is certified organic.

    However, don’t forget that the raised beds themselves may contain chemicals which can leach into the soil and then get taken up by the plants. This is especially true of old railway sleepers, the older ones of which will be impregnated with creosote. WoodBlocX wood is not only treated in such a way that the wood will not leach any chemicals like traditional railway sleepers.

    Artificial fertilisers are out if you are growing organically, but there are some organic multipurpose feeds available, including liquid seaweed extract. Alternatively, make your own by steeping fresh nettles or comfrey in a bucket of water for 24 hours and then straining the liquid to water the plants.

    Most of the organic-or-not considerations relate to pest and disease control. Government and EU regulations have removed a lot of pesticides and other sprays from the market anyway, so it makes sense to stay organic. Raised beds makes keeping the pests away from your plants easier – many WoodBlocX beds are the same width as protective tunnels and cloches, so they will look neat and keep out the birds and bugs that want to eat the plants, and slugs and snails will not like to crawl up the wooden sides to get to them either.

    The best way to keep your plants healthy and performing well is to look after them! Keep the areas around them clean, use clean tools, and keep an eye out for breakouts of pests and disease all the time: removing the affected parts promptly can often save the whole plant. All of this is again easier in raised beds, as the plants are that much closer to eye level, and it’s easier to see under the leaves where a lot of pests and diseases first take hold.

    Gardening organically means working with nature, rather than trying to control it, for we inevitably lose that battle. Employ some natural predators by planting flowers such as marigolds (Tagetes and Calendula species), borage, dill, cosmos and herbs such as Mint, Fennel and Lavender to attract them to your garden. Feed the birds over winter too – in the summer they will feast instead on the aphids in your garden (blue tits are especially good for this, so put peanuts, their favourite, in the feeder).

  • Getting started with fruit and veg growing

    Growing your own vegetables, herbs and fruit is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s easy to get in on the action. In a few short months – weeks even – you can be picking your first harvests straight from the garden.

    The first thing to decide is what you want to grow – there is no point growing fruit or veg you don’t like to eat! It’s also worth starting in a relatively small way: grow the crops that it’s really worth having fresh, such as sweetcorn and salad leaves, or that really benefit from being able to ripen fully on the plant, like tomatoes and strawberries (many fruits and vegetables sold in the supermarkets are picked when still unripe to make them easier to transport).

    Once you’ve got the bug, then it’s time to move onto the bigger crops such as potatoes, cabbages and onions. These are relatively inexpensive in the shops, so you’re unlikely to save a lot of money by growing your own, but the range of varieties available to the home grower is much better than the supermarkets, so you can trial and test your favourites. New potatoes especially benefit from going straight from the soil to the pan – ‘International Kidney’ is the closest the home grower can get to a Jersey Royal.

    Fruit is a more expensive initial investment than most veg, as you generally have to buy plants, bushes or trees rather than seeds, but after that they need very little attention and can soon provide you with kilos and kilos of fruit every year. Again, it’s also possible to grow fruit not widely available in the shops, such as greengages (try ‘Cambridge Gage’) and unusual hybrids such as white strawberries.

    Think about what space – and time – you have to be growing your crops. Most fruit trees and bushes can be trained into, for example, cordons or fans that are perfect against a wall or fence, and can even be grown in raised beds of a minimum depth of 45cm. Alternatively, grow them as a ‘normal’ tree shape in a large pot or planter. WoodBlocX planters are a great choice here as they will not crack in a frost and give the tree’s roots plenty of space and protection.

    Raised beds are often used by gardeners for fruit and veg growing, and with good reason. With raised beds the soil is never compacted, so it remains really healthy year on year, and is easily topped up with fresh compost full of nutrients to grow big, flavoursome crops. Take care that the beds are not made of materials that will leach chemicals into the soil that will be then taken up by the plants – using something like WoodBlocX (all pressure treated without nasty chemicals) means you don’t have to worry about that at all.

    Finally, think about the design of your growing area. Do you want to have square or rectangular beds with straight rows (attractive in their own right), or a more informal circular area, perhaps with a central fruit tree? Consider what crops you will be growing: it might be worth having a segmented raised bed – either all on the same level or at different heights – to divide into areas for annual vegetables, herbs, and perennial fruit bushes and trees that need a bit more root space than the veg and herbs. Corner beds work well in this regard, but WoodBlocX can be created in almost any configuration to fit your needs and space.

    If inspiration is what you need, you’ll find lots of pictures of our easy to assemble kits on the WoodBlocX website. To get daily updates on all things WoodBlocX, be sure to follow us on social media; visit our TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube pages.

  • Growing Winter Veg in Your WoodBlocX Raised Beds

    Yes, your WoodBlocX raised beds can indeed still be productive, even though British summer time is well and truly over and growing is now at a slower pace. As we reach the darker days of winter, it is still possible to enjoy an array of vegetables, such as salads with some planning and a little care!

    The beauty of having a WoodblocX raised bed is that it should not require lots of maintenance and they can be sited within a polytunnel, making the maintenance of your area that much easier and ideal for growing a few fast salads that are ready in weeks.

    DIY Polytunnel/Coldframes

    Why not cover your WoodBlocX raised bed in polythene to make your own mini-poly tunnel? Simply use sticks or canes and some Figo Universal Frame Connectors to turn your WoodBlocX raised bed into a mini-cold frame. Then spinach, kale, and some varieties of lettuce will live through the winter inside.

    Certain kinds of onion work well from a late autumn sowing as well and you’ll get a much earlier crop than if you’d waited till spring. Other possibilities are cabbage, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and most root crops. Leeks, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and rutabagas can be sown for winter harvest. The flavour improves if they’re left in the ground until a hard freeze as the cold turns their starches into sugar.

    As it is still early November, you still have time to sow some Broad Beans and plant Rhubarb.

    Broad beans should not be planted before November in southern England or they get too soft and lush making them liable to be killed by frosts and susceptible to botrytis and other fungal diseases. Good varieties include Super Aquadulce, and Aquadulec Claudia (This is a broad bean that is recognised as the best variety for an autumn sowing and comes with an RHS Award of Garden Merit.) It establishes itself quickly, is very hardy and produces very early crops. ‘Claudia’ produces very long glossy pods up to 9in, with tender light coloured beans. Or why not try Sutton Dwarf and Supersimonia.

    Hardy peas can also be started this month: good varieties include;- Avola, Douce Provence, Feltham First and Meteor.

    With Rhubarb why not try Stockbridge Arrow – A superb modern variety that has become recognised as the quality rhubarb. Tender, fine tasting and stringless when forced. Or Timperly Early – The earliest outdoor variety. Succulent pink stems with a delicious tart flavour.

    You can buy special terracotta pots to stick over the top of the cluster, which can look very attractive on your WoodBlocX bed, but it’s just as easy to put a bucket over them.
    You can also Plant out Cauliflower if done within next few days, such as early Mayflower, which you will be cutting from mid May to early June.
    If you are not going to plant anything, once your other Beans and Peas have been harvested, turn the ground within the raised bed and leave it for the winter. Legumes root nodes store Nitrogen and winter frosts will break up the soil allowing the nitrogen to be absorbed into the surrounding ground.

    By now you should also have lifted any remaining root vegetables, and store them for later use. Thin Onions and Turnips if required.
    Then sit back inside with a nice hot beverage and start looking at those seed supplier catalogues to plan your spring sowing campaign!

  • Sustainability of timber garden products

    It’s good to know that when you buy a product it is not just from an environmentally-friendly company, but that the good ethics are present all the way back down the supply chain to where that company sources its materials. When buying timber for a garden project it can sometimes be difficult to be sure where it has come from, but when using a company like WoodBlocX you are guaranteed not only a high quality product but also the highest environmental credentials.

    The modular timber constructions from WoodBlocX – raised bedsplantersretaining walls and terracingpondsbenches and more – are all made using mostly UK-grown timber (some shortfall is made up with Latvian timber that also meets the company’s strict guidelines). Using UK timber drastically reduces the ‘timber miles’ and carbon footprint of the product. Plus, when it comes to delivering the BlocX to your site, they stack easily on pallets for efficient transportation.

    Furthermore, WoodBlocX timber is not only accredited by the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) but also the Soil Association. The FSC is an international body that sets the standards for responsible forest management, and ensures that all timber products bearing its mark are from sustainably-managed woodland, so that you can be sure that your garden materials are from woodland that has its water, soil and ancient trees protected, and that the forestry operation does not use hazardous chemicals. The Soil Association’s rigorous certification process only allows the products with the highest organic standards.

    The timber is then treated using a water-based preservative (Wolmanit CX-10), so there are no nasty chemicals to leach into your garden’s soil. WoodBlocX constructions are so strong that they don’t need foundations – even for retaining walls – so you won’t have to use any cement, which has many environmental concerns connected to it. The dowels that fix the BlocX together are even made using recycled plastic, so it’s all in all one of the greenest products on the market.

    The more UK-grown wood is used to make products, the more trees will be planted to meet the demand, and we all know that more trees in the world is a good thing. Imported wood can often be from areas that are not managed sustainably, causing untold damage to the earth’s wildlife and climate – WoodBlocX UK timber has none of those concerns.

    But the ethical aspects of sourcing materials extend to more than just the materials themselves. Using a product made of UK timber means that you are also supporting many UK companies, not just WoodBlocX themselves. The wood is not only grown but also cut in the UK, managed by forestry companies and WoodBlocX’s own sawmill - all of which create jobs in rural areas. Jobs bring money and life to rural communities, often in areas that sorely need them. Using a UK-timber product such as WoodBlocX is the smart choice, for the environment and for your garden.

  • How to Grow Carrots in Raised Beds

     

    Long and thin, short and stumpy or round; orange, purple, white, yellow and red: there’s more to carrots than the basic orange ones that fill the bags in the supermarket. Growing your own means you can access this wide variety of shapes, colours and tastes, and also means you are able to eat them quickly after the harvest. The longer a carrot is out of the ground, the more of its natural sugars will convert to starch: for the best tasting carrot ever, just wash off the soil and eat it there and then, straight from the plot.

    Raised beds are ideal for growing carrots. The enormously long ones seen at village shows have all been grown in some kind of container (usually drainpipes filled with sand). There’s no need to go that far for the veg for your Sunday lunch, but the principle is the same. Carrots will fork, bend and generally distort in stony, lumpy and heavy soil. Growing in a raised bed means you can give them the perfect growing conditions and create perfect carrots, whether the beds are standing on a hard surface or just raising the soil level a bit over the top of the garden soil. Just make sure your carrot rows are not directly above any buttresses inside your WoodBlocX beds! The lighter the soil the better for carrots, so don’t add any manure or other compost the same year you sow them (though the previous autumn is fine). Multipurpose compost and stone-free topsoil are both ideal.

    It’s possible to grow carrots for harvesting from early summer right through until autumn, and left in the ground some will even be fine to harvest into winter, such as ‘Autumn King’. Check the seed packets for the correct sowing and harvesting time for that variety so you have a succession of harvests and no major gluts. If your beds are relatively shallow it will be best to choose shorter or round varieties like the Nantes series and ‘Paris Market’, but beds with at least 45cm growing depth are fine for most carrot varieties. Some seed retailers offer packets of mixed seed, which is a good way to get a multi-coloured harvest, and there’s no need to choose a different type for each successional sowing, as most will be fine sown over a long period.

    Carrots are best sown direct into the soil (i.e. not raised in individual pots or plugs then planted out), as is true of most root crops. Scrape out a shallow drill – a line in the soil – and water the bottom of it before sprinkling the seeds thinly along it. You want one seed about every centimetre, but there’s no need to be exact! Brush the soil you scraped out back over the top of the seeds and pat down gently. Most importantly, label the row with the variety and the date you sowed it. Water, using a rose on the end of your watering can or a spray hose – this helps prevent the seeds being washed out of their line, if the weather is dry. The soil should stay moist but not wet.

    Once the seedlings have poked up some leaves, wait for a few weeks before pulling one up to check the root size. At a 1cm spacing the carrots are too close together to give a good harvest, and will need thinning to leave one every 5cm or so. However, if you wait until the roots are usable as baby veg, and take out every other plant until you reach the 5cm spacing, you’ll get several harvests from the same row.

  • Raised beds: the benefits and options

    Raised beds are the ideal solution to many garden situations. Most obviously, they provide a place to grow in courtyards and other paved or concreted areas where there is no available open ground. However, they can also be used to grow in areas of bad soil – where it is boggy or stony for example. By filling the raised beds with fresh, sterilised topsoil, the soil is then free from weed seeds (at least to begin with), pests and diseases, giving your plants the best possible start.

    The new soil can also be made rich in nutrients by adding compost, so vegetables and fruit can be planted more intensively, providing a bigger harvest from a smaller space. They will also be given a head start in spring, because the soil in raised beds warms up faster than the open ground. The soil is also less likely to be compacted by footfall on the beds as many raised beds are narrow enough that the whole bed can be reached from the sides. The extra height off the ground makes maintaining the plants easier as well, with less strain on your knees and back (and also means your plants are out of reach of rabbits and household pets – a minimum height of 45cm is needed for this).

    Raised beds make a great choice for all generations of gardeners – whether it’s a child’s first foray in growing, or a more accessible bed for the older gardener – but the variety of construction choices can be confusing. Here are the main options:

    The least durable are beds made with woven willow or hazel branches. These can be woven yourself, or pre-made panels can be bought to assemble into a bed. They don’t offer much height, and the wood quickly becomes brittle and breaks. They are best for edging a shallow bed as a temporary measure.

    Metal panels are also prone to corroding, and their ability to conduct heat means the plants in the bed can often have their roots fried in hot temperatures, and more easily frozen in low ones. Brick and stone offer more insulation, but they also require technical skills to construct well and safely, and are the most expensive option.

    No wonder then that most people choose some form of wood to construct their raised bedsRailway sleepers are often used, but they are very difficult to deal with as well as expensive – even the reproduction ones. They are incredibly heavy and need power tools to secure together safely and trim to the correct size. They don’t offer a lot of options as to the size and shape of your raised beds either – you are, excuse the pun, railroaded into creating long rectangular beds. Furthermore, because the sleepers themselves are so wide, the available growing space is significantly reduced.

    Planks would seem to be a good substitute, but again, require DIY skills to put together and the sides will often warp and bend from the weight of the soil in the bed, and rot or weather badly over time.

    WoodBlocX avoids all of these problems and is much cheaper than most of the other options; they can be put together in myriad, made to order shapes and forms – curvedangularsquare and corner beds – require no technical knowledge or power tools to put together, and their unique interlocking system means they are safe and strong no matter how large or tall the bed. Which is important, considering they are a fully-bespoke product and the finished design of the raised bed or planter can be specifically made to measure for whatever space you wish to build in. The pressure-treated wood is even guaranteed not to rot, warp or distort for 15 years, and at only 7.5cm wide, there’s plenty of space for your plants.

  • Top tips for Gardening with Children

    If you’ve ever despaired at your children’s lack of interest in eating fruit and vegetables, why not try growing some with them? Following the whole process of sowing the seed to harvesting the crop, and then cooking it together, can really make children invest in their labours – they’ll want to try what they’ve spent all that time growing. Chances are they’ll suddenly discover that they do like carrots after all! For short attention spans, crops with quick returns are best. Micro-leaves offer the fastest harvest time, as they are just seedlings, and can be grown like cress – remember the cress ‘hair’ in the eggshell heads you probably made when you were a child? All sorts of salad crops can be grown this way, or just on a piece of damp kitchen towel, such as lettuce leaves, beetroot and radishes. Full grown radishes also offer a fast turnaround from sowing to harvest, and baby versions of mainstream crops such as carrots and parsnips are harvested sooner, and are often naturally sweeter too. Then it’s time to think about the crops that can be eaten straight from the plant – fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and tree fruit (apples, plums, cherries) are all great choices. Peas can be eaten straight from the pod – or eat the whole pod with mangetout (literally ‘eat-all’) – when a vegetable is freshly harvested its natural sugars are at their highest level, and peas can be munched like sweets. New potatoes also offer excitement and learning opportunities – planting one potato results in many more, and digging for the harvest is like digging for buried treasure. Giving children ownership of their own growing space also means they are more invested in the outcome. A raised bed can be a great way to do this – a small space, contained and separate from your own flower/veg beds, so there is no chance of precious plants being trodden on, and raised off the ground to make it easier for them to reach. If blueberries are a particular favourite, a raised bed is also a great way to introduce the right soil – acidic – for these plants in a neutral or alkaline soil garden.

    In a 90cm by 90cm square bed, such as those offered by WoodBlocX, there would be space for:

    • A strawberry plant in each corner
    • A central sunflower – use it as a support for a climbing bean plant
    • A row of baby carrots
    • A row of peas
    • A row of first early (new) potatoes that once out, could be replaced with a pumpkin plant for Halloween (though this will probably trail out of the bed a bit as well).
    Alternatively, by going for a slightly deeper bed – 45cm as a minimum, such as the hexagonal 1.55m x 0.925m bed from WoodBlocX – you could go for the lower maintenance option of a fruit tree surrounded by herbs and flowers. Children love to try the different scents on the leaves: mints are great for this, coming in flavours such as strawberry and chocolate, and pineapple sage is another good option. Nasturtiums are a brilliant seed to sow with children as their seeds are large and easy to handle, and germinate relatively quickly and reliably.
  • Seans Allotment Garden

    Sean has been preparing his perfect gardening space for years and we had the opportunity to help him by installing some of our raised beds. Our video will give you an idea as to how versatile and cost-effective our WoodBlocX can be.

  • Making a Garden from Scratch

    A new garden – or a new determination to transform the garden – can be a daunting prospect. There are two possible approaches: do it all at once, or do it bit by bit.

    Doing it all at once, if you can afford to do so, is obviously an attractive proposition. You get the garden you want in very little time, and can enjoy it fully and properly as soon as it’s done. Doing it bit by bit is easier on the purse strings, and is also a good option if you’re not sure how much time you’ll have to devote to gardening as your plans can be amended as you go along to accommodate different circumstances – adding lower maintenance areas for example, or including more veg-growing space because you’ve discovered you enjoy that most of all.

    Either way, before you start, spend some time thinking about exactly what you want the garden for. Do you want purely ornamental planting, or productive areas as well? How much, if any, lawn do you want – do you need to supply a sports pitch or play area for the children? What about seating and entertaining areas and storage (where’s the lawnmower going to live?)? Then assess what you want against how much time you have to look after it, amend your plans as necessary, and then it’s time to design your garden.The design needn’t be complicated, but if the idea of working it all out fills you with dread, or even if you just want a second opinion, think about using a design service. Unlike many others, the one offered by WoodBlocX is completely free and puts you under no obligation to buy.

    Most garden designs will use some form of hard landscaping, but there is no need to be daunted by this if your DIY skills aren’t up to scratch! WoodBlocX can be used to build raised beds, planters, seating, ponds and edging, and all without a power tool in sight. They are all also guaranteed to last for at least 15 years.

    Even the most difficult-looking of gardens can be transformed with a bit of thought. A steep slope can be terraced to create a stepped garden with flat beds and paths: WoodBlocX will do all the calculations, and design specifications for you, and their strong interlocking construction method means complete peace of mind once your garden is finished.

    Front gardens and courtyard gardens are often neglected, but a few simple beds or some edging can really transform the look and feel of these spaces. Raised corner beds are especially good for small urban courtyards – WoodBlocX have single and multi-level options, or you can give them your specifications for a free bespoke design. Wooden planters are also a really good choice for courtyards or to flank a front door: they are smart, can be painted any colour you like, and will not crack or corrode.

    Whatever you end up doing with your outdoor space, remember that gardens are there to be enjoyed, not to be a chore!

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