growing guide

  • Right Plant Right Place: what does it mean?

    You may have heard gardeners talking about the ‘right plant right place’ principle, but what does it actually mean?

    In essence, it refers to working with Mother Nature rather than against her. By looking to a plant’s origins – where in the world it is from, the kind of environment it has evolved to grow in – we can ensure that we give it that same environment in our garden and maximise its chances of success.

    For example, if a rosemary plant, which has adapted to free-draining soil and the hot, dry weather of the Mediterranean, was planted in a boggy, cold spot in the garden, it would quickly wither and die. Similarly, if a hosta, whose large, thin leaves are adapted to maximise sunlight absorption in the dappled shade of damp forests was to be planted in a hot, sunny spot, its leaves would scorch and the plant would die. Raised beds are a brilliant way to create the perfect environment for plants that we might not otherwise be able to grow.

    The right soil is a crucial component for creating a specific environment, and by using a raised bed, it’s possible to mix together the exact type of soil different plant groups need. Here are some ideas of plants you could grow:

    • Acidic soils. Blueberries, cranberries, rhododendrons and camellias all need a soil with an acidic pH. If your garden has neutral or alkaline soil, but you’d like to grow these fruits and flowers, why not grow them in a raised bed? Alternatively, a specimen camellia would look great in a wooden planter, which gives the roots more space than a pot.
    • Plants from dry areas and hot countries – such as alpines and succulents – will prefer a shallow raised bed, and mix some gravel in with the topsoil as you fill it. 
    • If you’ve got a shady part of the garden that would be perfect for woodland plants such as primroses and bluebells, but that has no actual soil – perhaps by a door or in a passageway – why not put in a small or narrow raised bed to grow these plants and bring some life to the area? WoodBlocX can design beds to your specific needs, and have a large number of kits in a variety of shapes and sizes.

    Finally, don’t forget that raised beds can also offer several different soil environments in one bed: by segmenting the bed into different areas, and even different heights, the bed can accommodate separate plant groups in one area, which would never be possible in the open ground. WoodBlocX offer corner bedsrectangular beds and octagonal raised beds in a range of height and size combinations. For example, to create a herb bed to grow the full range of culinary herbs, use the shallowest part for the rosemary, sage and thymes, a deeper area for chives, lovage and lemon balm, which prefer a richer, moister soil, and a separate area for mints, which tend to rampage over other plants and are best contained within their own area.

  • 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.

  • How to Build a Flexible Design

    Are you struggling with a design for a difficult area of your garden? Or do you need something a little out of the ordinary? Have you considered using a modular timber system such as WoodBlocX? Other options in these situations – such as old railway sleepers – could struggle with the required dimensions. Modular systems are almost infinitely adaptable and can create designs that you might find surprising!

    The beauty of modular systems is that they can be tailored to almost any situation. Perhaps there is a narrow passageway or awkward corner that needs some plants to brighten it up – raised beds with the WoodBlocX system are narrow in themselves (unlike bulky sleepers) so they give much more planting space. Each component is also easy to get into the garden, because they are light, clean, small and easy to move in awkward spaces – great if you have to take all your materials through your house.

    Modular timber systems can also be used to create a wide range of shapes – not just squares and rectangles. Circles, hexagons, pentagons and octagons are all available in the pre-designed kits, or specify what you need. They are cheaper too, especially when it comes to curved designs that would otherwise have to use stone or brick, and are all guaranteed for at least 15 years. Corner beds and L-shapes are easily achievable. This is not just for raised beds either – ponds, steps, walls (perhaps with inbuilt seating) and edging are all much simpler to install with a modular system.

    Perhaps your garden needs a multi-level design. Terracing and stepped beds out of sleepers, brick or stone can make the expense (and the weight) really add up, but modular timber systems provide a durable alternative at a much lower cost. They are easy to put together too: there’s no need to hire builders to do it for you, saving a lot of money.

    If you are working with an awkward area, off-the-shelf products and fixed dimensions may not work for you. WoodBlocX offer a design service for all of their products, so that you can create a bespoke project for your unique requirements. Better still, this service is entirely free and you have no obligation to buy. Alternatively, try the online calculators on the WoodBlocX website – just put in the measurements to get an idea of what you will need and the cost.

    Perhaps you want to create an inspiring play area for your children, or a tree house – well, WoodBlocX have been used to build pirate ships and a model elephant over 6ft tall. Really the only limit is your imagination – WoodBlocX would love to work with you to create something amazing!

  • 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!

  • Timber systems versus railway sleepers

    When considering the options for your garden building project – whether it be raised bedsplantersbenches or more, timber is often at the top of the list. It’s a natural product, relatively easy to use and cheap. Boards and planking can warp and bow over time however and cannot be guaranteed to be strong or durable enough, so railway sleepers are often seemed to be the only timber option. However, a modular timber system such as WoodBlocX has many advantages over sleepers.

    Construction

    • Sleepers are very heavy and awkward to handle. Their size can mean they are difficult to get into the garden, and you’ll need help to get them there and into place.
    • The individual WoodBlocx pieces are so light, small and easily carried that a child could build with them.
    • Sleepers require cutting, drilling and bolting together, all processes that take time, need expertise and create noise.
    • WoodBlocX are pre-cut, pre-mitred and pre-drilled so are quick and easy to put together and require no power tools.

    Environment

    • The origin of the timber for some sleepers cannot be guaranteed.
    • Most of WoodBlocX timber is UK grown, and it is all processed in the UK.
    • Sleepers are treated with a range of chemicals including creosote that can leach out into the soil or water. From there it can be taken up by plants (and who wants creosote in their veggies?) or poison the water in ponds.
    • WoodBlocX timber is pressure-treated with environmentally-friendly products.

    Design

    • Sleepers come in limited sizes, all of which are big. Their size limits a design because they can only be used in a few ways.
    • WoodBlocX are significantly smaller so can therefore be used to create more detailed designs and a more flexible approach to the whole garden. Curved and circular beds are also possible with WoodBlocX, designs which are not possible with sleepers
    • The width of the sleepers themselves takes up a lot of space that is essentially wasted.
    • WoodBlocX are only 75mm wide, allowing more space for planting or paths.
    • Sleepers – especially re-used ones – generally only come in one dull shade of dark brown.
    • WoodBlocX can be very easily painted any colour of the rainbow or clad in metal.

    Cost

    • Sleepers are expensive and can also result in a lot of waste..
    • WoodBlocX supply exactly what you need in pre-fabricated BlocX, at a fraction of the price..
    The WoodBlocX modular timber system is a great option for any garden project, and can be used to build raised beds, planters, benches and seats, raised pondsretaining walls and edging. They are cheaper, better to build with and more flexible than railway sleepers. Have a look at the website to see how they can be used in a garden, or give our team a call to discuss how we can help with either our kits or a bespoke design.
  • 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.

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