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Chilli Peppers

Every year I grow my own Sweet and Chilli Peppers from seed, they can be very slow to germinate so are one of the first crops that I get going, if you want to have a go at growing your own now is the time to get started, seeds can be sown between February and April, I will be sowing mine in the next couple of weeks.

Sweet and Chilli Peppers make very attractive plants, there are lots of different varieties to choose from producing fruits in varying shapes, sizes and colours, and different degrees of heat, did you know that the heat of Peppers (and other spicy foods) is measured on the ‘Scoville Scale’, one of the hottest known peppers is called the ‘Carolina Reaper’ and measures ‘2,200,000’, at the opposite end of the scale the Sweet (Bell) Pepper which does not contain any heat measures ‘0’.

Sweet Peppers Yellow

Peppers can be grown in a greenhouse/polytunnel, on your windowsill or even outdoors in a warm, sunny sheltered position, Peppers love the sun and will thrive in warm/hot conditions which allow their fruits to ripen and change colour, those grown indoors tend to produce bigger crops that mature quicker.

How to sow your seeds

Fill your seed trays or pots with seed compost and sow the seeds thinly on the surface, lightly cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite and water carefully, don’t forget to add a label, Chilli and Sweet Pepper seedlings and plants look almost identical.

Place in a propagator at a temperature of 15-20C (60-68F), do not exclude light this helps germination, be patient some varieties can take 7-21 days.

pepper plant

Growing On

Once your seedlings have appeared, remove them from the propagator and grow on in a warm environment, once they are large enough to handle pot on into small pots of good quality compost.

When they have outgrown their pots (you may notice roots growing through the bottom) it is time to transplant them into their final growing positions (larger pots, hanging baskets, containers, grow bags) where they are to crop. If you want to grow them outside harden them off first and plant out in a sunny, sheltered position after all risk of frost has passed.

Aftercare

Gently spray the flowers with tepid water to encourage fruit to set, feed the plants weekly after the first fruits begin to form, keep the plants moist but do not overwater. As the fruits develop you may need to stake the plants to support the fruit bearing stems which can become quite heavy.

Sweet Peppers Purple

I grow both Chilli and Sweet Peppers, I give a lot of my Chilli Peppers to friends and family as I am not a big fan of hot spicy food, I do enjoy the Sweet Peppers in salads, stuffed, roasted and stir fried they are delicious.

Happy sowing

Gill

This week is British Chip Week (16-22 February) and there is no better way to celebrate the humble potato than by eating freshly cooked, crispy chips, whether they are chunky, thin, crinkly or wedged, add your favourite condiment; tomato sauce, brown sauce, mayonnaise, salad cream or traditional salt and vinegar or cover with gravy, curry sauce, baked beans or cheese and enjoy. Chips are so versatile they are a snack, a meal and can be served with most foods they are delicious, filling and we just can’t get enough of them, in Britain almost 676,000 tonnes of British potatoes are made into fresh chips each year.

If you want to have a go at growing your own potatoes this year, now is the perfect time to get started. Commercially potatoes are grown in fields, in Britain we grow around 14,000 hectares of ‘chip’ potatoes each year, if you don’t have a garden or an allotment potatoes can be grown very easily and successfully in growing bags or containers.

Potato Growing Bag 40 Litre

What you will need

What you need to do

  1. Once you get your ‘seed’ potatoes put them into egg trays/boxes with the ‘rose’ end upwards, this is where you might see tiny shoots or the ‘belly button’ end facing downwards and place them in a frost-free light (not sunny) room, this is called chitting and helps the potato to produce strong shoots, which speeds up growing once they are planted, when the shoots are about 2-3cm they are ready to plant.
  2. Fill your bag with compost to a depth of 10cm
  3. Place 4/5 seed potatoes, with the shoots facing upwards, on top of your compost equally spaced out so that they don’t touch each other.
  4. Add another 10 cm layer of good quality potting compost and water well.
  5. Position the bag somewhere sunny and sheltered, on cold nights cover the bag with protective Fleece to prevent frost damage.
  6. As the leaves emerge cover with more Compost and repeat until you reach the top of the bag.
  7. Potatoes need to be kept well watered but not soggy.
  • First Early varieties – plant from end of February until end of May, harvest in approx. 10 weeks
  • Second Early varieties – plant from March until late May, harvest in approx. 13 weeks
  • Early Maincrop varieties – planted from March until late May, harvest in approx. 15 weeks
  • Maincrop varieties – plant from March until mid May, harvest in approx. 20 weeks

Why not give it a go children love planting, growing and harvesting potatoes they taste so much better when they are home grown.

So get growing and have some fun

Gill

 

Nyjer Seed Feeder

Winter is all about looking after our wonderful wildlife especially the birds, as their natural food resources decline they increasingly rely on us for food and water, putting out a regular supply can make a huge difference. The RSPB monitor British Bird populations using the results from their Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend, if you took part don’t forget to submit your results before 16th February, Schools have another week left to do their Big Schools’ Birdwatch it’s a great classroom activity and a great introduction to birds.

 Blackbird Nest Box

As the days lengthen the birds sense that Spring is on the way, they become noisier this is often to attract a partner or to defend their territory, the next step is to build a nest you may notice birds carrying twigs, feathers or moss in their beaks, now is the perfect time to give birds a hand and put up some nest boxes in your garden/school garden/local community they come in all different sizes and shapes to suit different species of birds, it may take a while for the birds to show an interest in your box, be patient, they will start by ‘checking it out’ to make sure it is suitable and safe, once chosen they will quickly build their nest inside.

Build Your Own Nest Box

Organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to encourage individuals, families, Schools, Groups and Clubs to put up Nest Boxes in their area, National Nest Box Week (14th-21st February) coincides with the half term holidays so get the children involved, choose and put up some nest boxes in your garden, put up different types to encourage more species, if you really want to get ‘hands-on’ my favourite is the Build Your Own Nest Box Kit it contains everything you need (pre-cut, pre-drilled wood pieces, screws, nails, washers and a hanger) to make your own Nest Box it has a 32mm entrance hole making it suitable for a wide variety of birds including House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal, Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatches.

 Nest box showing removable sections

If you want to go ‘high tech’ in the garden why not put up a Bird Box with a Camera, you will be able to watch the day to day life of your birds and witness that special moment when the eggs hatch.

So give a bird a new home, there is nothing more satisfying than a bird nesting in your Bird Box especially if it is one that you have made.

Love your environment

Gill

Snowy Allotment

The weathermen were right the cold weather has arrived, this morning we woke to a snowy winter wonderland there is little chance of doing any outdoor gardening at the moment.

It is too cold to start tidying up the garden, leave dead leaves/vegetation there for at least another month they are homes to many insects and pests such as slugs which although are unwanted provide a welcome meal for birds, frogs, toads and hedgehogs, small twigs/branches will be picked up by the birds to build their nests – a messy garden attracts more wildlife than a tidy one.

Wooden Puddle Duck Boards - Garden Track

It is too wet/frozen to start working on the soil, you can do more harm than good by starting too early, soil can soon become compacted making digging hard work, repeatedly walking on lawns can create a muddy mess, walking on frost covered grass will leave ‘black’ footprints damaging your grass, if you have to cross your lawn why not put down some duckboards they can be easily moved around or removed when not needed and will keep your shoes clean too, they are ideal for laying on your vegetable beds to walk on when you are sowing/planting.

Why not start your gardening year indoors there are lots of jobs that you can do now in preparation for Spring:

  • Have a good sort through your seeds throw away any out of date packets, it is often false economy sowing old seeds as germination rates can be poor and growing time is wasted by re-sowing. Order/buy new seeds, have a look through seed catalogues or on the internet there are thousands of different varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers available with new varieties each year why not have a change and grow something completely different.
  • Make a Sowing Schedule and a Planting Plan that way nothing will get overlooked and every inch of your garden will be used, have a think back to last year’s crops did some do better that others, should they have gone in sooner, would you grow them again this year?

Onions from sets

  • Onion Sets and Seed potatoes are widely available, buy them early whilst all the varieties are available, choose ones that are firm, disease free and have not started sprouting. Onion sets can be planted now individually in pots, put seed potatoes in egg boxes or seed trays to ‘chit’ make sure the ‘rose end’ of each potato is at the top this is where most of the ‘eyes’ are, place in a light frost-free environment such as a cold greenhouse, polytunnel, porch or on your windowsill.
  • Have a spring clean in your greenhouse/polytunnel/potting shed, de-clutter, re-organise and throw away broken and unwanted items. Wash seed trays, pots, sieves, labels, watering cans, water butts and garden tools with Hortisept Pro Garden Disinfectant, hygiene is very important. Give the greenhouse glass a good clean inside and out with Verritex Pro Cleaning Solution to remove the build-up of algae and let in the maximum amount of light, wipe down the staging and wash out the gutters too.

Sneeboer Mattock Garden Tool

  • Garden Tools are very important and may need some maintenance clean, oil and sharpen ready for Spring. If you already have a Propagator it is a good idea to plug it in and check that it is still working.
  • Buy new compost each year for seed sowing and growing on seedlings and young plants, use last year’s bags of potting compost as a mulch or dig in to improve the soil.

Robin in snow 1

  • Keep the bird feeders topped up and wash out regularly, birds need a supply of fresh water to drink and to bathe in (even if it is cold) bird baths are shallow and will soon freeze up.

Keep yourself busy and warm – Spring is just around the corner (I hope)

Gill

In life there are few certainties and many uncertainties; the British weather has got to be one of the biggest uncertainties, in Britain we have a very varied and changeable climate not just north to south but regional as well which makes it very hard for our weathermen to forecast, even with new technology. The weather affects everything not just your holiday or BBQ, it also has a huge impact on plants, birds, wildlife and even the seasons too, although Spring comes at the same time each year, it can in fact be early brought on by mild temperatures or late if we have prolonged cold spell with freezing temperatures.

Early Small Tortoiseshell

Unseasonal mild weather can bring creatures out of hibernation early, yesterday there was a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly fluttering against the upstairs windows if we had let it out it wouldn’t have survived, it is too cold and there are hardly any flowers about so it would have had no food, as well as being an easy meal for a hungry bird. Thomas managed to catch it in his butterfly net and place it safely in his pop up Butterfly House which he then put in a dark cupboard, it has now gone back to sleep, we shall keep checking on it.

10 Fat Ball Feeding Ring

As I write this there are twelve starlings picking food off the lawn and pushing their beaks into the soft ground trying to find tasty worms or grubs, with half a dozen House Sparrows busy on the Seed Feeders, which are filled with high energy sunflower hearts although they are slightly more expensive than bird seed I find there is little mess or waste, the fat ball feeders are very popular with all the birds and need refilling the most often. The weathermen are predicting another cold snap this week from Wednesday onwards which they say will last well into next week I will be replenishing my stock of bird food to keep the feeders topped up.

We get a lot of Starlings and House Sparrows in our garden (both of which are in decline this has become apparent from the results of The Big Garden Birdwatches over the last 36 years) we also get the odd Blackbird, Wren, Robin and amazingly Goldcrest yet we have very few Blue, Great or Coal Tits, recently we have had regular visits from a family of Log-tailed Tits they are a delight to watch and are my favourite bird, we did the Big Garden Birdwatch at home yesterday (Sunday) we were down on species and numbers compared to last year I think this was partly due to the weather, it was definitely milder than previous days which could possibly mean that the birds were searching and finding food in the fields and hedgerows, I am sure the heavy drizzle didn’t help either.

Here is my ‘forecast’ for the week ahead:

  1. Turning colder
  2. Send in the results of The Big Garden Birdwatch
  3. Buy more Bird Food
  4. Keep the Bird Feeders topped up
  5. Stay warm inside and enjoy watching the birds in your garden

Love your environment – whatever the weather

Gill

Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder

A Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder provides a high energy treat for the birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend (24th/25th January) is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch it began in 1979 and is one of the world’s largest wildlife surveys, last year nearly half a million people took part with 7,274,159 birds being counted. Each year the results are collated and are used to compare trends, monitor species, understand how birds are doing and take steps to put things right.

Schools are also invited to take part, they can do the Big Schools Birdwatch anytime this half term until the 13th February, and can Register and download specially designed classroom resources on the RSPB website.

How do you take part?

  1. Register for the Big Garden Birdwatch before this weekend, you will receive an information pack full of advice, information and a Bird ID guide.
  2. Put out bird feeders preferably containing high energy foods as well as a some fresh water, this can be done throughout the year not just during winter or for the Big Garden Birdwatch.
  3. Why not have a go at making your own Bird Cakes? Click here to find out how.

My Fat Ball and Feeder

On the weekend of the Birdwatch

  1. Make sure that your bird feeders are full and fresh water is available.
  2. Get a pen, paper, and a pair of binoculars, if you have some, and have a bird book or guide to birds handy, make it a family activity include as many people as you can, not all birds are easy to spot on the other hand you may suddenly have a large flock which can be difficult to count.
  3. Decide when you are going to do the Birdwatch, birds are often hungry early morning and late afternoon so you have a good chance of spotting a good variety during these times, on a cold dry day you can expect to see more birds than if it is wet and windy.
  4. Sit comfortably and watch the birds for an hour, count and record the highest number of each species of bird that you see at any one time.
  5. Submit your results online or by post by 13th February 2015.

The RSPB are interested in other British wildlife too and are asking you to let them know how often you see any of the following in your garden, park or local area:

Badger, Grey Squirrel, Red Squirrel, Muntjac Deer, Roe Deer, Hedgehog, Slow Worm, Grass Snake.

If you want more information on Feeding Garden Birds click here to have a look at our guide.

Why not practice your Bird Spotting skills before the weekend?

Have a look at our two new Garden Bird Competitions:

In the School Zone ‘Spot’ the 10 hidden garden birds in our wordsearch puzzle and you could win a

Birch Log Nest Box (pictured below)

Birch Log Hole Nest Box

a Wooden Peanut Butter Bird Feeder, a Discovery Seed Feeder and a Fat Ball Feeder.

In the Kids/Family Zone correctly identify the birds shown in the pictures and you could win a

Build Your Own Nest Box Kit (pictured below),

Build Your Own Nest Box

and a Wooden Peanut Butter Feeder.

The closing date for both competitions is 14th March, 2015.

Have a fabulous Bird Watching Weekend, I will be taking part too.

Gill

Xmas Tree Decorations

By now many of you will have put up your Christmas decorations and most importantly your Christmas Tree it is the focal point in any home, decorating it is usually a family occasion with everyone helping.

The tradition of the Christmas Tree as we know it dates back to the mid-1800s, in 1821 Queen Caroline had one at her royal palace which was decorated for the children’s parties that were held there, In 1841 Queen Victoria and German-born Prince Albert stood one at the gates of Windsor Castle, a drawing was later published in 1848 in the Illustrated London News showing them celebrating around an indoor decorated Christmas tree, this was a tradition that Prince Albert had enjoyed in his childhood in Germany, this tradition became very fashionable and soon every home in Britain had a tree decorated with candles, ribbon, sweets, fruit and homemade decorations.

Candles are of course a fire hazard; today we use coloured electric lights, tinsel, foil wrapped chocolate shapes and baubles to decorate our trees, the first manufactured Christmas tree ornaments were sold by Woolworths in 1880. A star or an Angel is usually placed at the top of the tree; the Angel represents the Angel that brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds in the fields.

One of the most famous Christmas Trees in Britain stands near the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square, London it is decorated with great ceremony each year, the huge Norwegian Spruce is a gift from the people of Oslo, Norway to thank the British people for their help during the Second World War.

There are many different types of real Christmas Trees: Norway Spruce, Frasier Fir, Noble Fir, the most common is the Nordman Fir, many people choose to have an artificial tree to ‘save the earth’ or buy a living potted tree which can be brought in and decorated then put outdoors after Christmas to grow.

After 12th night, when traditionally all Christmas decorations are taken down, your Christmas Tree can be recycled, many councils will accept them at recycling centres or collect them on your green bin collection day, they then turn them into valuable nutrient rich compost or mulch.

I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year and look forward to sharing my gardening and nature blogs with you in 2015.

Have a wonderful time.

Gill

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