Reduce Plastics in the Garden

By Tim Wells Agents for Becausewecare.

Most of us want to reduce the amount of plastics we use in our households. In some countries such as Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland there are Government imposed levies on disposable plastics e.g. for plastic shopping bags. However, in horticulture there have traditionally been vast amounts of plastics used, whether it is plastic plant pots, weed retention matting or other uses. Unfortunately most of these plastics are difficult to recycle and end up clogging up garden sheds up and down the land or worse, end up in landfill where they will stay for hundreds of years.  Horticultural pursuits which should be natural and environmentally focussed still rely too much on disposable, non-recyclable plastics.

In the UK alone a staggering 500 million plastic plant pots per year are brought into circulation with the majority of those being used once and then discarded.

The plastics that these pots are made from are difficult and expensive to recycle, and council or privately run recycling stations often refuse to take them. But what is the alternative? Plastic pots are easy to use and handle and are cheap. Ideally most gardeners would like to use a more environmentally friendly alternative. Peat based pots that can propagate a seed and then be planted directly into the soil have been around for years. However, as they are peat based there are issues surrounding the sustainability of the material used to make them. From a practical point, peat pots have a habit of crumbling and falling apart when the seedling is growing and being watered. Also due to their thickness they can often take a long time to degrade in the soil and the roots of the growing seedling can find it difficult to grow through the walls of the pots. In addition the pots themselves absorb the moisture from the soil within them, meaning that the growing plant may have to be watered more often with a risk of over watering.

There are other pots available that are made from cow manure, coir and other natural materials, but they all have compromises, whether it is cost or ease of use, compared to the plastic plant pot. It would be great if a pot was available that had the flexibility, ease of use and affordability of plastic pots with the benefits to the environment of being compostable and biodegradable and made from sustainable resources. Such a product has been recently introduced to the UK marketplace.

Becausewecare™ is an Australian company that manufactures a range of environmentally friendly alternatives to disposable plastics. One of their products is the becausewecare™ compostable seedling pot. The pots are designed to propagate and grow a seedling, and when ready, be planted directly into the soil, where they will biodegrade, releasing nutrients into the soil as they do so. The Becausewecare™ seedling pots are made from a by-product of corn production, they are literally made from waste corn that is not suitable for human or animal consumption. In addition the corn that is used is grown in an area of high natural rainfall, so the crops do not require irrigation. Unlike peat based and plastic pots, these compostable pots are made from an annually renewable and sustainable resource. They are certified compostable to European, US and Australian standards for compostability.

One of the key things about the Becausewecare™ pots is that they have the advantages of plastic pots, they are light and easy to handle, and can be watered without significantly altering the rigidity of the pots. The pots do not absorb water, thereby leaving the compost within nice and moist for the growing plant with no risk of over watering. Once planted in the ground the pots degrade quicker than peat based pots and because they have very thin sides, the seedling’s roots can grow through the sides of the pots rapidly.
The pots are ideal for grow it yourself gardeners and are perfect for growing any plant from seed. They minimise root disturbance from transplanting and help develop strong root systems. The best thing is that these pots are kind to the environment and are step towards cutting down on the reliance of plastics in the garden.

It makes sense to try and use natural and eco- friendly products such as these to grow your own produce and plants and cut down the crazy amounts of non-recyclable plastics in the garden. Once these pots have been used they will leave no trace on the environment, even the packaging they come in is compostable and biodegradable, and importantly they are a practical and useful alternative without compromise.

Roses for North-facing walls

By Carolyn Dunster, Simply Roses

In the course of my work as a planting designer specialising in roses, my job is to advise clients on the best varieties to grow. All too often, I hear people complaining that they have no success with roses in their gardens and that there is no point planting them as they fail to thrive. This is never the case but is down to the fact that they have planted the wrong rose in the wrong place.

Right Rose, Right Place

There is also a common misconception that roses are high-maintenance plants and that you need to be an experienced gardener in order to care for them properly. Again, I like to demonstrate that this is a bit of a myth. Although roses can be fussy and will let you know if they are not happy, the right rose planted in the right place at the right time of year will be content to do its own beautiful thing with minimal interference.  As a rule, this means that bare root plants should be planted in the autumn and pot-grown plants in the early spring.  Furthermore, the key to selecting the correct rose, when there is so much choice available that it can be quite confusing for novice gardeners, is to take advice from specialist growers. As a priority consider the planting aspect – this is more important than the soil conditions and think carefully about what you would like the rose to do. Pore over the catalogues and read up on the subject so that you get to understand the different types of roses and their habits rather than just selecting a favourite colour on a whim. Work out what kind rose you need for any given position and look to see what your neighbours are growing in similar spots – if their roses are flourishing the chances are that yours will too.

North-facing walls

North-facing walls seem to present the greatest challenge when it comes to rose growing but what better way to cover up a bare, dismal expanse of brick of concrete than by smothering it with clusters of fragrant blooms? Either a climber or a rambler will do the job beautifully. The difference between the two being that climbing roses are generally repeat flowering and have larger flowers and stouter growth than ramblers. Both will require some support such as a trellis in order for them to grow horizontally against a wall and this will encourage them to spread and cover the space. Rambling roses tend to flower only once in the season and have an abundance of smaller flowers growing in clusters or tresses.

Here are my top recommended fragrant varieties for north-facing walls:

Alberic Barbier: double creamy-white flowers with semi-evergreen foliage

Albertine: salmon pink clusters of flowers growing on reddish stems

Madame Alfred Carriere: warm double white flowers that can take on a soft pink blush

Climbing Iceberg: white flowers that will repeat all season

New Dawn: cupped double pearl-pink flowers

Danse de Feu: scarlet clusters of double flowers with abundant glossy foliage

Golden Showers: pointed double yellow flowers that open flat

Zephirine Drouhin: deep-pink cupped flowers

Following a career in publishing, Carolyn Dunster set up Simply Roses in 2000. She trained in floristry with the late Jane Packer and in garden design at the Inchbald School of Design in central London. Her design work and product range have featured in many magazines and newspapers. Over the years, the Simply Roses product range has been stocked in Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols and many independent lifestyle boutiques. Carolyn has also enjoyed creating bespoke, flower-inspired bath and body products as own-label ranges for individual clients including The Cross and La Forêt de Parfum.

Growing Asparagus

Posted by Stephen Read, Reads Nursery for the Shoot Marketplace.

The asparagus plant is grown as a perennial vegetable in the UK and can yield for 15 years, it is essential to get the planting and  preparation right. See our

About asparagus

Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and dietary fibre, it is also rich in soluble fibre, known to have a protective effect against degenerative heart diseases. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium and a  high folic acid content . Asparagus is also low in fat and sodium.It is also a source of iron.

The plant is composed of ferns, crown and a root system. The crown is a collection of rhizomes and lateral roots that initiate new ferns.
Spears, which are the harvested portion of the asparagus plant, are immature ferns. Thus, if the spear is not harvested, it develops into a large fern, which manufactures and stores energy in the crown for next year’s crop. Asparagus is a dioecious plant, which means that there are separate male and female plants. Male asparagus plants produce more spears than female plants do which is why they are planted commercially. Female asparagus plants produce numerous bright, red, berrylike fruits with seeds that can become volunteer weeds in the garden or field.

Preparing asparagus bed

Preparing the asparagus bed is important, attention should be given to choosing the best planting site possible. Like most vegetables, asparagus will not tolerate wet, soggy soil. Choose a well-drained field, or use raised beds to promote drainage. Asparagus will perform best on sandy, light-textured soils. The crowns should be planted in the spring as early as the soil in the garden can be worked. Late March or early April is a good time in most areas, do not be tempted to plant earlier than the weather permits, wait until the soil warms up.

Separate crowns by size and plant similar-sized crowns together; this encourages uniform growth. If crowns cannot be planted immediately, store them in a refrigerator.

Planting asparagus

Make a 8-inch-deep furrow using a garden hoe or spade, well rotted manure can be spread in the furrow. This is covered with an inch of soil, and the crowns are spaced 12  inches apart in the furrow on a slight ridge , this will put the crown 6 inches below soil level. Beware of shallow planting as this will give you lots of thin spears -plant too deep and you will get very fat spears but not many of them.
Each row should be no less than 3 feet apart and ideally set at 5ft, so the ferns can close the canopy and shade weeds out during the summer. If rows are spaced too close together, spear size may be reduced. Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil, and as the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrow through the summer.

Plants that are stressed by drought can become weak and susceptible to insect, disease and weed pressure. Gardeners and growers should be prepared to irrigate new asparagus plantings for the first two or three seasons after establishment. Drought stress after harvest can reduce yields for the following season.

Weed control is the most challenging aspect for successful asparagus production.  Organic mulches such as straw or compost can be applied 4 to 6 inches thick to suppress weeds or growing a green manure in the path can help. Use of a hoe is not recommended for obvious reasons. Salt has long been used as a weed suppressant and some still like this method, however , it can cause long term problems with the soil structure and where rain washes out he salt into surrounding areas.

Diseases

Selecting a site with good drainage and optimal pH (6.2 -6.8 ) will prevent many asparagus diseases. Crown rot, a potentially devastating disease, can be caused by over harvesting, growing in acidic and waterlogged soils, and excessive pest problems.
Cercospora needle blight is often seen as reddish brown, elliptical lesions on the ferns. These lesions are followed by death of the foliage.

Harvesting asparagus

The yield of asparagus spears in the spring is directly related to the previous year’s fern growth. Asparagus can be harvested for a limited time (two weeks) the second year after planting crowns (three years from seed transplants). Over harvesting one year can weaken the plant and decrease yields the following year. Three years after planting the crowns, asparagus can be harvested for five to eight weeks. Each year, during the first several years of production, yields will increase if the planting is managed properly.
Average yields 2.5kg per 100 square feet. (On commercial plantations locally we have achieved 6.5- 8 tonnes per hectare)
Asparagus spears are best harvested by cutting them off with a knife near ground level. Most people prefer to snap the asparagus spears when they reach 7 to 9 inches in length in cool weather (less than 70 degrees F), and the spear tip is tight or 5 to 7 inches in warmer weather (more than 70 degrees). Cutting will break the spear cleanly at a tender point.

To preserve freshness, harvest during the morning or evening. Expect to harvest every one to three days as temperatures increase. Spring freezes will not harm the crowns or subsequent harvests but can damage emerging spears. Thus, emerged spears may be harvested before a predicted freeze.

Asparagus has a short shelf life and may be plunged in cold water after harvest and immediately refrigerated (36 degrees F) to maintain quality. After harvest, the asparagus planting should be fertilized with composted manure or a compound fertiliser to stimulate summer and autumn fern growth. Frost will desiccate the ferns, and they can then be cut in late autumn or early winter, removing all the old ferns and destroying them will help prevent disease build up. We mulch the crowns to protect them from low-temperature injury. The mulch can be raked to the row middles the following spring (early April), and spears will emerge for another harvest season.

Buying asparagus

There are many cultivars to choose from with attributes relating to season and size of spear and colour. Flavours also differ, modern commercial cultivars will yield better and with higher quality than many older choices. Visit the Reads Nursery Shop in the Shoot Marketplace to buy asparagus.