Saturday 25 July 2009

The Night of the Triffids

If you remember the book/film then, not quite - but almost. Anyone who's a serious gardener (as opposed to someone who just likes to sit in their garden) will be horrified if they come across the worst weed in the world. No, not couch grass, bindweed, ground elder or mare's tail - but Japanese knotweed. This triffid of a plant spreads rapidly and is really difficult to control with weedkillers - although after lots of research on how best to apply weedkillers to get the best results, a couple of manufacturers do now provide glyphosate in a Japanese knotweed-unfriendly format.
However, there has been some other research that has yielded a novel control method, but it is causing massive outrage with some people at the moment. And that's using biological control to reduce its growth and vigour. Now I'm a big fan of biological control - I've used it in my greenhouse to eradicate whitefly, but it is expensive to use and all the environmental factors have to be right for it to work. But this particular biological control involves releasing an insect into the wild to control knotweed in the countryside and some people think it'll breed out of control and destroy our native flora. I've seen some of the research results and I believe it to be OK. But what do you think? Here's a round-up of what's happened.

The insect (a psyllid or sucker by the name of Aphalara itadori) is the result of 15 years' of research. It has been tested against around 90 species of native plants, on which it didn't survive, so it seems that Jk is its only food source and the only thing it feeds on. CABI, the organisation that carried out the research, is probably the world expert on biological control and their methods are accepted around the world. It would seem, then, that this psyllid is unlikely to pose any threat. During the research around 150 other organisms were tried and rejected as they could possibly feed on other plants; rejection happened when there was just one instance of an insect developing through to an adult on a native plant.

Monday 20 July 2009

Ideal bargains

Being a bit of a 'media whore', I love working across all the various communication channels - and this weekend was no exception. Saturday at BBC Essex and Sunday presenting Garden Bargains on Ideal World shopping channel on TV.
I love radio as a medium - people have always said I have a great face for radio. Even though you can't see your listeners you do get a real sense of being in direct contact with them and talking to them in their living room or garden. Ken Crowther's Gardening Plus programme is a three-hour gardening 'fest' and I've been guesting on ken's programmes for around 15-16 years. It's always a lively show, with lots of people phoning, texting, writing in and e-mailing their questions to us and this weekend was no exception. In fact, we had to limit everyone to one question - some people like to get their money's worth - in order to fit everyone in. Sometimes we get asked a lot of the same or similar questions, which is useful for me as it gives an idea of trends happening in people's gardens. This week it was more bitty with no clear groupings of questions/problems - although smelly waterbutts did come out on top!
The Garden Bargains programme is a manic two-hour show selling a huge range of garden plants and products. This week we had more than 20 products to get through - from succulents and angelonias to fruit trees, a vineyard collection, raspberry and strawberry plants. The fruit always sell well and it's a sure sign that grow your own is still proving to be a real winner with home gardeners.
I'm back on Ideal World tomorrow evening and again next Sunday. All I need is the list of things we're selling and then I can start building up my enthusiasm tomorrow morning.
Today looks like being dry (oh please!) and I'm hoping to get a chance to shoot over to the allotment for a few hours - that's if it hasn't floated away in all the torrential rain of the last few days. I've just had another BlightWatch alert, so I need to check the tomatoes and potatoes for signs of damage - please, let's not have another year like the last two!

Thursday 16 July 2009

Flexible gardening friend

FIGO three-arm connectorFIGO four-arm connector

I'm helping to launch a new gardening product - FIGO, your flexible gardening friend. For those of you who love a bit of DIY dalliance in the garden - building things to help make your gardening better & easier - then FIGO is definitely something for you.
The versatile three- and four-arm adaptors can be used with a range of bamboo canes and other poles to make loads of things for the garden - from wigwams and other structures for climbing plants to plant protection supports, cold frames, cloches and even fruit cages! In fact, just about anything you can think of - the only limitation is your imagination!

Tripod using a FIGO three-arm connectorFIGO was invented and designed by gardener Sharon Wong, after a frustrating time trying to use an existing product. Sharon was fed up with sharing her vegetables and flowers with rabbits, pigeons and badgers, so she bought a product with claims that, ‘using a set of these connectors, plant protection cages that are strong and versatile could be built, quickly and easily using bamboo canes’. It sounded like the answer to her prayers. Her experience with them was quite the opposite, in fact, it was a long and frustrating process.
Not one bamboo cane in her vast collection fitted the holes in the connectors. Trying to overcome the problem, she shaved the ends of thick canes to make them fit. The task took forever. Having finally sorted a set of canes that more or less fitted, where the fit was not perfect, the canes kept falling out. She resorted to using tape, but it was still most unsatisfactory. After that, she decided to have a go at designing something herself!
We're currently testing and redefining the product to ensure it stands up to the rigours of the most avid gardener. FIGO should be available from garden centres and mail order suppliers from September. I'll let you know when they go on sale.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

Well, actually that was yesterday! But having so much to do, I didn't get round to blogging. Same old, same old...
Because the plan to help write the RHS book on allotments looks like it's going ahead and the publisher, Mitchell Beazley, wants to take pictures on the allotment, I thought I'd better give it a spruce up. Although it's looking pretty good, there are some areas that need titivating.
So, I had a quick weed through, tied in and sideshooted the tomatoes and planted out some more peppers, courgettes and aubergines that didn't make it into the plots at home. A bit late I know, but I'm hoping for an Indian Summer and a later crop.
I also sowed a late crop of runner and French beans.
Then I harvested the garlic.
But most of the time was spent harvesting fruit: apricots - probably around 250 of the golden jewels - redcurrants, blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries.
The thing about a lot of fruit is that it's all ready to harvest in one go and, if you get a bumper crop, what do you do with it all? Simple, head to the Hodge fruit factory.
The evening was spent making raspberry and apricot jam, bottling stewed apricots, making apricot and blueberry crumble, redcurrant meringue etc., etc... The pantry, freezer and fridge are now packed to the gunnels with fruity delights.

More work on the horizon. I received confirmation that I'll be doing some telly work over the coming weeks - guesting on Garden Bargains on the Ideal World shopping channel. If you want to see me in action, then tune in between 11am and 1pm on July 19, 26 and August 2. I've got a couple of Tuesday evening slots too. Eat your heart out Richard Jackson!

Sunday 12 July 2009

The end of an era

Friday was my last day with the RHS and this weekend is the first to put the new life plan into operation.
Sadly, I think it's all gone to pot already.
First, I wanted to enjoy watching The Ashes: well, the England team have ruined that by not turning up and by playing total rubbish.
Second, I wanted some time off working to enjoy working/playing in the garden and on the allotment: well, I've been asked to judge the Garden News Gardener of the Year competition (I did that for six years while I was the Gardening Editor of the title and loved it) later this month and to write a book on allotment gardening by - yes, you've guessed, the RHS!
Anyone else out there want to help ruin my summer by piling on the work?!?

Friday 3 July 2009

And now the end is near...

So much for promises and resolutions. I said this year I was going to make a major effort at blogging and what happens? I'm so busy I don't even have time to do half the things I want to.

Anyhoo, all that is about to change - no honestly!

After eight and a half years of managing/editing RHS Online, the RHS website I'm about to be made redundant! So, more than likely I'll have more time on my hands than I know what to do with.

The RHS has been tasked with making a 10% cut in its wage bill - making between 80 and 100 people redundant - and I'm going to be one of them. I suppose it could be worse - it could have happened in the winter. So now I can enjoy the summer in the garden and on the allotment and watch the Ashes on Sky and drink some beer. Every cloud...