With a few heady days of April sunshine we have all had an opportunity to get out there and start some real gardening. It makes such a difference when the sun is out. Everything seemed to be later for the early spring stuff and then the early summer plants are blooming now, but I wonder if, actually, everything is really on time and we have just got used to things coming early because of the years of milder winters that we have had prior to the last two. Whatever, things always seem to catch up and although I am much later putting many of the veg out I doubt anything will suffer for the late start, perhaps though I may get caught out with blight in the potatoes as I will be lifting the new ones nearly four weeks later than usual. Hey ho, we will see what the summer weather brings for us.
I saw my first swallow on April 18th, last year it was the 14th, that’s earlier than ever before so perhaps they believe it will be a good summer and if they get in early will have time to produce two broods. Personally I just hope that the weather we have had in April isn’t our summer which is what happened last year. And I hate to be a kill joy but we really could do with some serious rain!
I always spend the months of April and May building hanging baskets and mangers for customers and it’s a very exciting time. Handling all those wee plants that you know are going to make a summer splash just fills my heart with hope for the summer season and hope that they won’t all get rain bashed and blown away like the last couple of summers.
Now, my monthly rant about the weather over, here is a different subject. In last month’s article I mentioned the peat free compost debate. Frankly I have been a sceptic because the science was not there to prove that gardeners were endangering the planet bearing in mind how much the Asian world uses peat for firing power stations. The government’s desire for gardeners’ and growers’ composts to be peat free by 2010 didn’t happen and I don’t think it was laziness on our part. I have trialed all sorts of alternative composts and they just didn’t match up to the peat alternative.
However, I am, as of now, a relative convert to peat free media and all the trade associations and the government is finally agreed we are to be peat free by 2020. In fact I think it will happen a lot quicker than that. So why have they agreed with each other at long last and why do I think it will happen quickly?
Firstly the science is now there. The destruction of lowland peat bogs has an effect on the wildlife that depends on it such as dragonflies, butterflies and birds. 3% of the global land surface is peat bog and a 10 metre deep extraction takes 10,000 years to replace, growing at only 1mm per year – that’s slow! In understandable terms, it takes 1,000 years to replace every metre of peat extracted. Now I have always known this, but I have been unconvinced that the extraction for gardening use was really significant being so minutely small compared with other uses and there was, in my opinion, no suitable alternative and believe me I have tried them all! Equally, the best alternative was coir which has to travel miles (admittedly by sea, not air) to get to Europe.
However, now we know and have proven evidence that peat bogs not only need to be retained for wildlife but that they are great absorbers of carbon from the atmosphere. This 3% land mass of peat bogs absorb twice as much as the equivalent rain forest.
Secondly, the manufacturers of alternatives have now come up with composts thatare not only as good as peat based but in most cases better! A recent Gardening Which? Trial put all the peat free multi purpose composts above the peat based. The trial grew Busy Lizzy Pink Sparkler and new potatoes and it rather damned some of the peat based in comparison, particularly those with moisture controls.
The fact is that the peat free versions , manufactured from recycled organic, garden waste and timber have been very carefully formulated and have the added benefit that this waste is going back into the land not to landfill.
Now as I said I was a sceptic but I have trialed several types myself and I am now pretty much a convert. I doubt it will take to 2020 for peat to be a memory in composts. Too many professional growers are now convinced and manufacturers are rolling this peat free out and reducing the peat composts available. Several of the large manufacturers will not be selling peat based next season. In any event, composts that incorporate peat now use a lot less than before and that content is being reduced all thetime. So do not feel too guilty if your compost has peat in it, the quantity is relatively small and getting less every year.
The compost I prefer is produced from sustainable sources and is formulated from forest bark, processed wood fibre and clay. The wood content is waste from the timber industry. It has remarkable water holding property whilst being well drained. It is beautiful to handle and looks as if you should be pouring milk on it for breakfast not using it for plants! It incorporatesfertilisers for slow release and in the one I use those fertilisers are organic so I am rid of chemicals too.
The best part is that now you can buy it for the same price as a peat based version, you should not be paying any more, so don’t!
Enjoy May, the best month of the year for gardeners as everything we plant emerges, and try the peat free alternative – I think it makes sense!
Jobs for May:
Plant up summer bedding tubs and baskets. Keep them frost free until mid/end May and harden off before putting outside permanently. All this involves is leaving them outside during the day, bringing in at night until the sappy growth is tough enough to withstand the weather that might be thrown at them.
Side shoot greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers. Start feeding once the first truss has formed.
Plant out hardened off veg plants and try to remember to successionally sow lettuce and other salad crops to avoid the usual feast and famine. Every two weeks should do the trick.
Plant out new dahlias and take cuttings of their young shoots.
Put supports in for the tall herbaceous plants before they get too big to handle.
Remember to feed the dying daffodils so that they make good bulbs for next year.
Soft cuttings of garden shrubs can be taken now.
Finally if you’re flowering ornamental cherry needs pruning for form and shape, do it now. Leaving it later will encourage disease.
Plenty to do – keep at it!!