Monthly Archives: April 2014

My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds

Sowing and growing in upcycled air-pruning plant pots

My air-pruning plant pot project is continuing to make good progress. In my last post I’d added some upcycled fabric grow-bags to the upcycled plant pots I’d created from milk cartons. The next stage was to fill my now-fully-prepared air-pruning plant pots with compost and sow my Sweet Pea seeds.

I discovered the cut-off piece of the milk carton made a very useful sized scoop when filling my air-pruning plant pot with compost
I discovered the cut-off piece of the milk carton made a very useful sized scoop when filling my air-pruning plant pot with compost
In the process of making my milk carton plant pots I’d cut off a scoop shape from the top of each carton. I discovered one of these mini plastic scoops made an ideal assistant for filling the plant pots with compost. I filled the pots quite close to the top with compost but left enough space to accommodate sufficient watering.

I generally plant seeds into ready-watered compost, so the next job was to carefully water the compost in the fabric grow-bag. As I was adding the water, I was also watching to see how the water soaked through the compost and out into the fabric grow-bag. When I’d prepared the air-pruning plant pots I hadn’t made drainage holes in the base of the pots as I felt there was plenty of opportunity for evaporation through the sides of these smaller-sized air-pruning pots. I’d left about 2.5cm /1 inch intact around the bottom of the plant pots too, to catch the water if I did happen to water them too enthusiastically!

I left the bases of the milk cartons intact so that they would catch any extra water whenever I watered the Sweet Pea seedlings
I left the bases of the milk cartons intact so that they would catch any extra water whenever I watered the Sweet Pea seedlings

Now it was time to sow the Sweet Pea seeds. Sweet Pea seeds are quite large, as seeds go, so for this task I used my ‘old pen’ dibber to make the holes in the compost about 1.5cm / half inch deep. I decided to sow two Sweet Peas in each pot. Then after sowing the seeds I used the dibber to cover them over with compost before adding a final drop of water to help the seeds on their way.

Making the planting holes with my 'old pen' dibber for my Sweet Pea seeds
Making the planting holes with my ‘old pen’ dibber for my Sweet Pea seeds

And that was the seed-sowing done. The only remaining task I had was finding a suitable indoor home for my plant pots … time to build a new shelf …

All of my Sweet Pea seedlings are doing well in their air-pruning plant pots
All of my Sweet Pea seedlings are doing well in their air-pruning plant pots

I’m pleased to say that all of the Sweet Peas have now germinated and the seedlings are looking healthy.

Now I must get working on completing my crochet jute and willow garden screens ready to support the Sweet Pea plants in my back yard … hopefully I’ll be posting more on that very soon.

J Peggy Taylor

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Measuring and cutting the grow-bag material to size

Upcycled plant pots with air-pruning in mind – Part 2

In my Part 1 post I explained how I had created my upcycled air-pruning plant pots from 4 pint milk cartons.

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots
Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons – I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots

The next stage was to create some breathable fabric grow-bags to fit into the air-pruning plant pots … the whole idea is to allow air to reach the plant’s roots. In the video where I originally saw the air-pruning idea, they had made use of recycled woven polypropylene shopping bags. As with the containers, I needed something much smaller. And, as before too, I really wanted to use upcycled materials.

Old jogging pants were ideal to make grow-bags to fit the milk carton air-pruning plant pots
Old jogging pants were ideal to make grow-bags to fit the milk carton air-pruning plant pots

My solution for this part of the project was to use some of my sons’ old and worn jogging pants from my upcycling ragbag. The legs of these old cotton pants were just the thing to fit in my air-pruning plant pots.

Measuring and cutting the grow-bag material to size
Measuring and cutting the grow-bag material to size

I measured and cut off the required length, using one of the prepared milk cartons as a guide. This gave me a fabric tube which I closed at one end by simply tying a piece of cotton string around it. And that was it done! I had one simple and upcycled grow-bag ready to insert into its air-pruning plant pot.

I simply tied the bottom of the grow-bag together with a piece of cotton string
I simply tied the bottom of the grow-bag together with a piece of cotton string

In order to maximise the use of the jogging pant material I had available, I did resort to a little bit of sewing to create some of the tubes, but they all ended up roughly the same shape and size. The fabric grow-bags were then carefully inserted into each of the air-pruning plant pots.

I inserted the grow-bag into the air-pruning plant pot and secured the grow-bag to the pot
I inserted the grow-bag into the air-pruning plant pot and secured the grow-bag to the pot
I had made the tubes long enough so that they would amply overlap the top of the plant pots. My thinking here was that this would prevent the grow-bag from sinking down inside of the pot. To assist further with securing the grow-bags in position I made two small holes in the overlapping part of the grow-bag at either side of the milk carton’s handle using my stitch ripper.

I took another piece of string and threaded this as a doubled length through one hole, behind the carton handle and back out through the second hole. I removed the yarn needle and tied the ends of the string together firmly in a knot. I then created a string loop by threading the knot back through the loop at the other side of the handle to finish it off. As well as helping to secure the grow-bag in place, I thought the string loop might be useful when it comes to fixing the plant pot in place in my back yard.

My upcycled air-pruning plant pots are now fitted with their upcycled grow-bags and ready to be filled with compost. I’ll show you more on my air-pruning plant pots project very soon.

J Peggy Taylor

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots

Upcycled plant pots with air-pruning in mind – Part 1

I was so inspired by the air-pruning video I shared with you a few days ago that I immediately decided to try out this seemingly magic method of improving plant growth. I already had imminent plans for sowing some Sweet Pea seeds as I am planning on training several Sweet Pea plants to grow up and through the crochet jute and willow garden screen that I have also been working on recently. The willow garden screen project is my experimental version of location-specific vertical gardening.

Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place
Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place

As my back yard is only very small I needed to develop some air-pruning pots that would be more size-appropriate than the 5 gallon buckets they used in the video. But I also wanted some containers that would reasonably accommodate the Sweet Pea plants. I have grown Sweet Peas in my yard in the past using moderately-sized containers and with a bit of care they successfully reached their full six-foot height.

A further consideration was that I need to be able to attach some of the plant pots to the back of my yard gate, so lightweight containers with ‘attach-ability’ were additional factors to bear in mind. And, as I frequently do, my preference was to use upcycled materials for this project too.

The solution to my air-pruning plant container conundrum is … four-pint milk cartons! These milk cartons satisfy all of my requirements – lightweight, with built-in handles for ‘attach-ability’, moderately-sized and easily re-designed for their new purpose … and upcycled.

Fortunately, I had a number of these milk cartons readily available as I had saved them ‘just-in-case-I-need-some’ – I’ve made milk cartons into standard-type plant pots on previous occasions. But this time my design plan was rather different.

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - cut carefully around the milk carton's original opening, making sure you leave the handle intact
Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons – cut carefully around the milk carton’s original opening, making sure you leave the handle intact

I began by making a large planting hole at the top of each carton by cutting around the original milk carton’s opening. You can see I have cut high above the carton handle to leave the whole handle intact. Around the sides and front of the carton I dipped down a little lower with the scissors to make a reasonably-sized opening to give accessibility.

Next I pondered on the best way to ventilate the sides of the cartons to provide the air-pruning effect. The air-pruning video showed circles cut out of the sides of the 5 gallon drums. I emulated this on the first carton, cutting out relatively large holes all around it.

Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons - I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots
Making air-pruning plant pots from milk cartons – I decided to cut different-shaped vents in some of the pots

However, I then wondered if different shaped holes would be more or less effective at air-pruning. To test out my curiosity, I have decided to make different shaped holes in some of the cartons. Two cartons have circles, two have wide vertically-oriented ovals and the remaining two have a series of narrower vertical vents. It will be interesting to see if the different-shaped vents in the containers make any difference to the plant growth.

Watch out soon for Part 2 of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots project in which I will show you how I made the fabric grow-bags to fit inside the pots.

J Peggy Taylor

Wood Sorrel flowering on the woodland floor

Nature Notes: Woodland walks in Spring

Having the woods right on our doorstep makes me rather like Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. If you know this classic children’s story you may recall that Mole is drawn from his chores by the temptation of the outdoors. “Hang Spring Cleaning!” he exclaims before setting out to explore Springtime in the countryside. Just like Mole, I find sunny Spring days hard to resist … who wants to be stuck indoors when there’s so much to enjoy outside!

Mole, Spring cleaning - The opening chapter of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This special centenary edition is illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk.
Mole, Spring cleaning – The opening chapter of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This special centenary edition is illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk.

For us, woodland walks in Spring bring the exciting prospect of foraging for fresh wild food. Spotting the first ‘munchies’ of early Spring is something of a family ritual. The wild food we fondly refer to as ‘munchies’ is Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella. Once the Wood Sorrel’s new acid-green citrus-flavoured trifoliate leaves begin to brighten up the forest floor we can’t resist picking a few as we meander on our way.

Picking tasty new Wood Sorrel leaves in Spring
Picking our first ‘munchies’ of this Spring … that’s Wood Sorrel btw 🙂

Whilst on the same walk, as well as finding this year’s first ‘munchies’, we also spotted the feathery leaves of another Spring flower of old woods, the Pignut Conopodium majus. The chestnut-type root of the Pignut seems to be quite a well-regarded wild food though I must say I have never tried it. The digging up of any wild plant is not legal in the UK unless you have the permission of the landowner. I forage out of interest rather than necessity so I tend to restrict my wild food foraging to leaves and fruits, making sure that the plants retain the ability to thrive and re-grow. This photo shows the Pignut in its classic habitat – growing amongst the Bluebells.

The feathery leaves of Pignut growing through the Bluebell leaves
The feathery leaves of Pignut growing through the Bluebell leaves.

Some of the woodland flowers are among my Spring favourites – I find I have ‘favourites’ for each season! Spring finds me combing the sunny banks for the first Violets and Wood Sorrel, or taking certain paths through the woods to seek out keenly anticipated patches of wild Primroses or Bluebells.

I have been eagerly watching out for the Primroses in one of our woods in particular. The area where they grow had been under conifer plantation for some years but has recently been part of a programme of ancient woodland restoration. Now that there is more light reaching the forest floor, it is wonderful to see those sleeping seeds that have been waiting patiently in the woodland soil for years taking their chance and bursting into life.

Primroses in Spring sunshine
Primroses in Spring sunshine

This week when we visited the wood we found the Primroses had sprung up in lots of lovely patches of yellow and green. They looked wonderful! We also discovered this lone Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa nearby. I love the way my son has managed to capture the silky texture of the white petals in his photo. The flower was popular with insect visitors too – there’s a small cardinal beetle making a cautious entrance in this shot! Hopefully that will mean there will be more Wood Anemones here next year.

Shimmering white petals of a lone Wood Anemone in the woods
Shimmering white petals of a lone Wood Anemone

Here is another fascinating flower that I watch out for each Spring. This is Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina. It grows on a sunny bankside beside an old road over a Victorian railway bridge in our woods. I have seen it described as the ‘Town Clock’ flower and when you look closely, it is easy to see how it came by this name. Each flowerhead is held on a tall stalk (approx. 5-10cm high) and comprises five yellow-green florets with yellow stamens. Four of the florets form a square with the fifth one facing upwards. The three-lobed leaves at the base of the stalk are a darker green than the flowers.

The intriguing 'Town Clock' flower - Moschatel, growing on a sunny bank
The intriguing ‘Town Clock’ flower – Moschatel, growing on a sunny bank

On one of our sunny Spring walks this week we saw the promise of the first fruits of this year – the bilberry, that’s the UK’s own wild ‘blueberries’ which grow quite prolifically in our local woods. The pink berry-like flowers are just beginning to open. Although we have hillsides growing thick with the low-growing bilberry bushes, these berries do take a bit of picking when they ripen in late Summer.

Pink and green berry-like flowers on low-growing Bilberry bushes
Pink and green berry-like flowers on low-growing Bilberry bushes

The berries grow singly and are often tucked away out of sight so keen eyes are needed to hunt them out. Equally keen eyes are needed if I am hoping to make sure any of these tasty purple-blue berries actually make it back home rather than being enjoyed straight from the bushes 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Using air-pruning to improve plant growth

If you’ve ever grown plants in pots you’ve probably dealt with that stage when a plant has become pot-bound and has stopped growing. When we remove the plant from its pot we see roots have grown round and round the inside of the pot. Our normal response is then to simply pot the plant into a larger pot. But apparently dealing with our plants in this way does not help them to develop the most healthy root systems.

Although I’ve been growing plants in containers for years I’d never heard of “air-pruning” them to improve their growth and yield … until I happened to come across this fascinating video a few days ago.

I am so impressed by this method of improving plant growth that I’ve already started a new experiment to see if it will work for me. I’m using the Sweet Peas that I’m preparing for the new crochet jute and willow garden screen project I’ve talked about in a couple of my previous posts. I’ll post more about my Sweet Peas “air pruning” experiment very soon.

Crocheting a willow garden screen for my back yard
Crocheting a willow garden screen – part 2

J Peggy Taylor

I’m following the WordPress Daily Post’s Blogging 201 to try and improve my blog. Started today, Tuesday 15th April. Trying to set some goals …

1. Post three times a week … including establishing a weekly nature walk post.
2. Create an editorial calendar for next 3 months by end of April.
3. Continue to keep in touch with my current followers and find more followers during Spring/Summer 2014 🙂

#1 was my aim since starting my blog at the beginning of the year … I have occasionally succeeded 😉 MUST TRY HARDER!
#2 I have ‘meant’ to do several times but never seemed to find time! Then this week when I had a series of posts already planned it dawned on me, “What a good idea an editorial calendar would be!!!”
#3 is something I do enjoy – reading everyone’s blogs and exchanging comments … my aim will be to do this more 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Materials for crochet jute and willow rod garden screen

Crocheting a willow garden screen – part 2

I have made good progess this week with the willow garden screen project that I talked about in a previous post. The first section of this crochet jute and willow rod screen is now complete.

Measuring the width of the willow screen
Measuring the width of the willow screen

I have used two rows of crochet jute as the main binding to hold the screen together. I’m planning on adding some additional materials when I fix the screen into its required position. These will be woven into the main jute and willow framework. I have some interesting pieces of Scots Pine cuttings and some thinner willow weavings that I will use to add some interest and texture to the screen whilst I’m waiting for my Sweet Pea plants to grow.

Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place
Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place

This is the complete framework of the larger willow screen
This is the complete framework of the larger willow screen – the doorway behind shows the scale
I have designed the willow screen so that it has plenty of spaces for light and air to pass through it. One of my sons raised the issue of stability in the stronger winds we are experiencing in recent years. I am hopeful that the flexibility of the willow will be beneficial in this regard but I have also considered adding some hazel rods to assist with stability, particularly perhaps as the Sweet Pea plants grow larger. This crochet and willow garden screen project is very much an experiment-in-progress so I shall be learning from the ongoing experience.

This week I have discovered another new and exciting experiment to add further interest to my jute and willow screen project. It is a new-to-me concept that certainly appears to improve the growth of all kinds of plants from pine trees to sweetcorn! I will be trialling this new idea for my Sweet Peas plants and hope it will help them produce a bumper crop of flowers. You can expect to hear more about this plant magic very soon!

J Peggy Taylor

What I’m reading this week

Behind the Brands

– a new Oxfam report on social and environmental policies of the world’s ten largest food and beverage companies and the quest for food justice for all.
http://www.behindthebrands.org/en//~/media/Download-files/bp166-behind-brands-260213-en.ashx

Screenshot from Oxfam's Behind the Brand website
Screenshot from Oxfam’s Behind the Brand website

World Development Movement

– background on the food sovereignty issue
http://www.wdm.org.uk/foodreading

Catastrophic Security Flaw Impacts Millions of Sites

http://techtalk.pcpitstop.com/2014/04/09/security-flaw-impacts-millions-sites/?heartbleed=
“Heartbleed is a major security hole in multiple versions of OpenSSL resulting in temporary information being stored in a site’s server memory after it has been unencrypted.” http://www.techlicious.com/blog/heartbleed-security-bug-may-be-worst-ever/
Techlicious recommends you use the Heartbleed Test website to check if your favorite sites or servers are still at risk.
http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/

J Peggy Taylor

Speedy Rocket and lettuce seedlings

Success with Spring seedlings and cuttings

As part of my plan for continuous salad leaves across the Spring and Summer, I sowed another batch of mixed leaves (lettuces and Rocket) last weekend. The “Speedy” Rocket seeds are certainly living up to their name as they’ve germinated within just three days. My tray of salad leaves seed is on a sunny window ledge alongside two trays of potted-up Parsley seedlings and a large pot of newly sown Sage. The Parsley seedlings are now beginning to grow their first proper leaves.

Potted-up Parsley seedlings growing their first leaves
Potted-up Parsley seedlings growing their first leaves

Out in the back yard my ‘wild’ leaves are growing on well too. The Garlic Mustard seedlings that self-sow in the large daffodil pot are also growing their first proper leaves now. There are definitely quite a few more of these plants this year which is good because Garlic Mustard is such a tasty salad leaf. The leaves are best picked when they’re still quite soft as the older leaves become slightly bitter and rather more ‘cabbagey’ in texture.

Garlic Mustard seedlings under the Daffodils
Garlic Mustard seedlings under the Daffodils

My other back yard ‘wild’ salad leaf is the Bitter Cress which is now growing steadily – we’ve had a few tasty leaves off some of these plants already. This plant is happy to grow just about anywhere, including this one sprouting out of my doorstep!

Bitter Cress growing in the doorstep
Bitter Cress growing in my back doorstep! This plant really will grow anywhere.

I was delighted to see a few more of my Soapwort seeds are now growing into healthy seedlings. These seeds were sown last Autumn as they need to overwinter outside before they will germinate. I’ve had one seedling (the larger one) for several weeks now but I was glad to see last weekend that it has been joined by a few others. My plan is to establish a supply of Soapwort to harvest for use as a natural soap. I will have to see how this works out … and I shall let you know!

Soapwort seedlings
Soapwort seedlings

Other successes I’ve noticed this week are some of the cuttings I took what seems a long time ago, back in early February. While I was giving my Lavender plants their late Winter prune I saved some of the green leafy shoots. Although it wasn’t the normal time for Lavender cuttings, I thought I’d try some in gritty compost in a (recycled!) poly bag cover on my ‘warm’ kitchen window ledge, just to see if they would root.

February Lavender cuttings have rooted
Lavender cuttings looking slightly ‘leggy’ at the moment

I was pleased to discover this week that at least a couple of them had indeed rooted. One plant was already forming a mini flower spike! I’ve now removed the Lavenders from their protective poly bag environment so they can begin to acclimatise to normal conditions before they go out into the back yard in the early Summer. I’ve also pinched out the growing tips to encourage more lateral buds to develop.

One green leaf on the Common Mallow so far. That is Mint (also grown from a cutting) underneath the Mallow.
One green leaf on the Common Mallow so far. That is Mint (also grown from a cutting) underneath the Mallow.

One of my ‘rescued’ plants, a Common Mallow cutting, is also showing signs of new growth, so I am hopeful that this rather sad-looking specimen will gradually develop into a green-leaved plant from its present brown stick-like appearance!

J Peggy Taylor

Materials for crochet jute and willow rod garden screen

Crocheting a willow garden screen for my back yard

To grow even more things in my very small back yard I am now looking at vertical gardening to expand my growing space. I have seen some interesting versions of planting in vertical space but I’ve decided to go for my own personal twist on this concept.

One of the first problems I needed to solve is that I want to be able to take advantage of some vertical space that at present is completely open, above a small brick wall and a low-level gate. I’m not looking to create a permanent feature as I want to see how using this vertical space will impact on light levels for other plants I have growing in the yard.

Willow cuttings behind the wall
The willow cuttings standing behind the wall where I intend to stand the narrow trough
I am keen to keep the screen structure quite natural-looking and not overly dense to allow light through as well as incorporating natural materials. At present I am designing two jute and willow screens which combine crochet and some simple willow weaving.

My idea is to attach one screen to extend above the current height of the gate using hand-hewn wooden slats. The other screen will be taller, at approximately 1.8 metres, and will be planted into a narrow slatted wooden trough (also yet to be constructed!) that will extend along behind the low brick wall. The initial idea is not for the willow rods to actually root in the trough though it is possible this may happen if the rods are still green when I set up the screen. (I already have a few pots of willow growing from cuttings I took a couple of months ago.)

… and what will I grow here? I’d pondered on beans or peas but, as this is a roadside and the plants will mainly be growing on the outside of my yard, I’m not keen on that idea. I’ve decided to try for a good showing of sweet peas. I love these flowers, especially the old fashioned scented ones.

Crocheting the willow rods together
Crocheting the willow rods together

So far I have begun to crochet the willow rods together and I really like the way it looks … I will report back as I make further progress 🙂

J Peggy Taylor