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Start of Harvesting Season - 27 June 2011
The Summer Solstice already! The longest day and all downhill to darkest Winter now!!!

Except that this isn’t true. Now is the time when many gardeners will be starting to harvest crops like new potatoes, strawberries, cherries broad beans and a host of other fruit and vegetables.

Unfortunately now is also the time that birds and pests want to start harvesting too, so don’t delay protecting your precious crops, if you haven’t done so already. Now is also the time when vigilance is essential. A whole army of garden pests are on the march – birds, slugs, snails and a whole host of other insects want your fruit and vegetables as much as you do!

So – the important jobs include:
-    Net ripening fruit and young succulent salad and other vegetables. And check frequently to make sure there are no breaches in the defences.
-    Wage war on weeds to prevent them taking over the garden
-    Check frequently for slugs, snails, greenfly etc. According to your preference, drown, trap, predate, squash or spray!
-    Water as required and mulch to retain as much moisture as possible
-    Feed. Tomatoes, beans and other crops are growing fast and need food to grow and crop well.
-    Finally, support any climbers. They get away very rapidly now and need constant checking to make sure they are suitably supported.

About 4 hours sleep a night should give you enough time to survive June – and July…
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Strawberry Anti-Bird Net Fruit Cage - 14 June 2011
I netted my strawberry bed over the weekend, using Build-a-Balls and cage components. It only took me about half an hour and should mean that I actually get to eat some of the strawberries this year, rather than providing a free treat to the birds!

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I used anti-bird net, with a mesh size of around 20mm, so that the bees can continue to get in to pollenate. I have a pretty good crop already, but there are still lots of flowers, so the bees should be able to carry on doing their best for some weeks yet. Besides, a number are Autumn-flowering varieties which will keep on developing for some time yet.

The great advantage of using the correct aluminium tubes and Build-a-Balls is that I was able to cut the horizontals to exactly the length I need to cover the whole bed, and its going to be really easy just to lift the net out of the way when I need to weed or pick the fruit.

Lets hope that we get a good summer and that it starts to rain soon, otherwise the great promise of this Spring will not fulfil its potential!
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Malvern Spring Show - 07 June 2011
We always regard the Malvern Spring Show as the “home” window for our range of garden products – and this year it proved to be the best ever. Not only was attendance up and the weather reasonably kind, but our products, particularly the fantastic new range of Pop-up cages and cloches, was enthusiastically received by all our visitors.

In fact, half way through the show, we were forced to return to the warehouse to replenish the rapidly diminishing stocks of items we had taken.

Most popular were the zipped pop-up cages, particularly the low height versions, which are perfect for protecting strawberries, salad crops and early sewings, and the medium height ones which are designed to protect brassicas from Cabbage Whites. The ability to have immediate cover in just 10-15 seconds and then be able to fold the cage up and put it away in its bag when not required was universally applauded, with many people asking why somebody hadn’t thought of it before.

The small pop-up triangular cloches – netted and poly – were also snapped up for their ease of use and simplicity. Plant a row of seedlings and pop a cover over in just seconds – wonderful!

Well, someone has now; and Gardenskill has the biggest and most comprehensive range of pop-ups in the world, with four new double-length versions in development even as we speak. Watch this space!
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Spring Flowers - 27 March 2011
Beautiful weather this last week - sun shining, birds singing... and the great seasonal migration outdoors has begun in earnest. I had my amateur photographer half hour on Friday, taking some snaps of spring bloom before the grey skies hit.
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Species tulips, so much smaller than their more blowsey cousins, ideal for rockeries and great for adding a splash of colour here and there. Easy to maintain, all they ask for is free draining soil. Plant them on a bed of grit, cover up as normal and they'll be happy for many years.
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A great combination - super colour and perfume. Plant these hyacinths near the house or garden paths so you can enjoy the heady scent as you pass by. Picking a few for indoors always works a treat as well.
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A Prunus (of a type whose name escapes me completely - let me know if you have the answer) with an especially docile butterfly who seemed in no rush to move anywhere, even when I got in for a few close ups.
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The world's best tomatoes grown in Birmingham - 25 March 2011
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Taking a cue from cult New York pizzeria Una Pizza Napoletana I thought I'd try growing San Marzano tomatoes last year. Not a good idea. For those unfamiliar, San Marzanos hail from a small town of the same name near Naples, and are generally considered to make the best tomato sauce in the universe. They sit there, baking away in volcanic soil at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, lavished with endless hours of Mediterranean sun, until they reach a sweetness and depth of flavor unrivalled in the world of fruit-masquerading-as-vegetables. Which, to my thinking, made them perfect for growing in the Midlands in April. I seeded around twenty pots, re-potted a dozen of the best seedlings a few weeks later, and then transferred them to the poly tunnel in June. The sun, which had been most obliging up until that point, decided, in a fit of pique, to disappear for the next two months. My plants grew... grew some more... grew again... finally fruited in late August, resolutely refused to turn red and then developed rot. Of the small rainforest I'd cultivated I ended up with one solitary - ahem - 'ripe' tomato that tasted of nothing. Weeks of loving care and attention down the drain. Apparently the Italians just leave them growing wild and unkempt and nature takes care of the rest. Life isn't fair is it?
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