Category Archives: General tips

Natural fertilisers

Bugs1If you want to go organic and steer clear of chemical fertilisers in the garden then there are a few natural alternatives.  Common nettles make a good, if smelly alternative to commercially prepared chemical versions  (another good reason to leave a patch of your garden to run wild). 

Rubber GlovesFor obvious reasons, wear some rubber or gardening gloves to harvest, tear and scrunch up enough nettle stems and leaves to loosely fill a watertight container such as a bucket.   Then weight them down, say with an old plate.  Fill the container with enough water to cover the crushed greenery and then leave to rot down.  (This is a bit smelly so you may want to place this somewhere away from the house)! 

The brew should be ready to use in 3 to 4 weeks and needs to be diluted for use – usually in a ratio of roughly 1 part Watering cannettle liquid to 10 parts water (the resulting diluted liquid should look the colour of tea).  You can keep topping up your supply bucket with nettles and water as the season progresses.  Once your flowers have finished flowering and you no longer have use for the homemade fertiliser, just tip what remains onto the compost heap.

Another alternative is coffee grinds.  Sprinkle them around plants before you water or before rain and the grinds will slowly release nitrogen into the soil.

Flower and beesCrushed eggshells are a well-known old-fashioned fertiliser and work particularly well scattered around roses because of their calcium carbonate content. (An added bonus is that their sharp edges also help to deter slugs).

If you’re lucky enough to live by the seashore then some of the best fertiliser is freely available in the form of seaweed.  You can either treat it in the same way as the nettles above and make a ‘tea’ out of it (which again needs to be diluted for use) or, if it is winter time, dig the seaweed directly into plant borders to feed and condition the soil.

Lastly, but by no means least, consider making either a compost heap or set up a worm Butterflycomposting bin.  In my experience worm bins don’t smell (I kept mine in the garage) and given time they produce wonderful, fine compost and the ‘run-off’ is a good liquid fertiliser for the garden (use diluted as above).

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Natural pest control, 2

LacewingI’ve already covered planting to deter aphids and encouraging toads into the garden to munch away slugs, snails and other garden pests.  Everything in nature is in fine balance and in just the same way that certain bugs are determined to eat their way through our efforts in the garden, so Mother Nature has given us other insects that are the natural enemies of the garden marauders and are therefore our friends.  There are many garden friendly insects but the two most recognisable are the pretty green Ladybirdlacewing (Chrysoperla rufilabris …seen above), and everybody’s favourite – the ladybird, the adult and/or larval forms of which will eat aphids practically by the lorry load. 

To encourage garden friendly insects to your patch of green, first and foremost you must stop using chemical sprays (but then I’m sure you probably guessed that already). 

Secondly, if you can leave a sunny patch of your garden to grow wild, then please do.  In fact the ladybird’s favourite plant for nesting in is the humble nettle so where you see nettles Ladybird larvaestarting to grow, please leave them – you will be helping to increase the ladybird population.  Bear in mind that it is sometimes the larvae of garden friendly insects that are the biggest help to us and this is certainly the case with the ladybird, although you may, up until now have assumed that this little chap is just another pest.  He isn’t.  He’s a veritable aphid hoover!

Third, you can give garden friendly bugs a home in which to live.  There are attractive commercially made bug condominiums available to buy but making your own is also incredibly simple.  I made mine (pictured at the end of this post) by cutting pieces of hollow bamboo to a uniform length using secateurs – I’d say, cut the lengths to about 10 inches long.  (Bamboo is often used as plant supports and so can be easily purchased from garden Bugs1nurseries).  Cut both ends off  a large/2 litre plastic drinks bottle and tightly stuff the cut lengths of bamboo into the resulting plastic tube.  Tie string or twist wire around both ends of the newly made ‘bottle condominium’ so that you are able to hang it in a horizontal position.  Place it somewhere warm, preferably near the main problem area in the garden.  Pretty soon insects will find it and start to settle in your bug condo.  By the way, many insects hibernate over the winter months so it may be helpful to put your bug shelter somewhere like a garden shed over the coldest months to help protect it from frost.

Finally, make a compost heap, the simple presence of which will help to encourage insect life into your garden … not to mention providing you with fabulous compost.

If your garden is under serious attack right now, (or you are of a very impatient temperament!) friendly bug ‘attractants’ can be bought on-line.

0088, Bug shelter

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Natural pest control

ToadIf your garden is being swallowed up by slimy slugs this Summer help is at hand from the common toad (bufo bufo).  Contrary to popular belief, the common toad is a major friend in the garden, munching his way through not only slugs but several other garden pests such as beetles, earwigs and larvae. 

To encourage Mr Toad to move in, a water feature in the garden is ideal but failing that, if there are already toads nearby just making a simple shallow watering hole will probably do the trick.  You could partly bury an old shallow dish somewhere shady or use one of the trays that you would normally put under pot plants, place a few rocks in there for him to clamber on and fill the tray with water.  Make sure you keep this watering hole topped up during hot weather.  He’ll also need somewhere to live.  Toads like damp, dark places that they can dig down in so old, broken terracotta pots placed on the soil would do the trick .  They actually need remarkably little space to keep them happy,  as I’ve recently found out.  We’ve just removed a wonky old patio and found several toads hiding under the broken paving slabs – I’m happy to report that all toads have now been removed to a place of safety.  It should also go without saying that to encourage any wildlife to your garden you should stop using chemical sprays.

Here are a few toadie facts that you may not know:

  • The common toad can live up to 40 years. 
  • They are mainly nocturnal creatures. 
  • They live for most of the year in damp areas such as deciduous woodland and it is only during the breeding season that they seek out lakes, ponds, ditches and slow-moving water. 
  • Common toads are solitary creatures. 
  • They hibernate in late October. 
  • Only male toads croak.

Get over any squeamishness you may have about frogs and toads in general, welcome their presence in your garden and pretty soon you’ll be happy to be sharing your space with them because of the great job they do in protecting your plants from hungry pests.

More tips specifically on controlling aphids/greenfly can be found on my page here.  For general gardening tips and advice please go to my House/General index.

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Thank you

Woman in blueMy generation was possibly amongst the last to be taught old-fashioned manners, including routine acts like acknowledement of the little kindnesses that people show us with a thank you note.  Thank you notes are not only for occasions like thanking grandma for a birthday gift, they should be sent whenever thanks are due for a present, hospitality or a personal favour – basically any time when someone has shown a kindness in thinking of us or put themselves out to help us. 

We’ve all got into the habit of emailing and Twittering and it’s sad that a hand-written note is therefore becoming a rarity.  The fact of the matter is that there is no substitute for holding a note that someone has taken the time to hand-write.  Imagine that you are the recipient and you’ll know that’s true.

Thank you notes should be written promptly after an event and if you’re unsure what to say just remember the golden rule:  Keep it simple, sweet and from the heart.  A personal reference of any kind in the note will help to make the standard text come alive – mention a particular food that the hostess prepared and that you enjoyed, tell her why her gift was so special etc.

One final note: When writing to a married couple, a thank-you letter is traditionally addressed to the wife only.

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Natural deterrent to aphids

FeverfewBattling with aphids (greenfly) in the garden?  Commercially available insecticides often contain a chemical called pyrethrum which is derived from nature.  Rather than buying bottles of commercially prepared and potentially hazardous chemicals, you can harness the power of nature in deterring greenfly just by some clever planting. 

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a pretty daisy-like plant that contains pyrethrins – very similar to the chemicals in commercial sprays.  Plant Feverfew amongst your flowers and it’s presence will deter the little insect marauders. DaisyGolden feverfew is a pretty plant in its own right – as the name suggests its foliage is a yellow/golden colour – and all plants will readily self-seed all over the garden if you allow them to.  (This plant is also used as a traditional herbal remedy for migraine).

BeeWhilst it is possible to make your own insecticidal spray or powder from these plants I wouldn’t advise it as it is toxic to bees. In its plant form it seems to work well enough for me and does no harm to bees.  Some sources claim that it will deter bees from the garden, although I have never found this to be the case and have often seen bees visiting the feverfew flowers.  

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Tea, glorious tea

Freshly plucked tea leavesI’ve just written about my own addiction to this glorious drink over at my regular blog and just thought that I’d give you a quick run-down of perhaps lesser-known facts about tea because…well just because you can never know too much about something you love.

Did you know that tea, in its dry form contains more caffeine than coffee?  However, just to confuse you, a prepared cup of coffee contains higher levels than prepared tea.

Unlike coffee, tea also contains valuable anti-oxidants that are associated with preventing cancer and heart disease.

Tea is made from the leaves of a camellia plant, in this case Camellia Sinensis.  

Since tea was first introduced into Britain (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, 1533-1603) it has been credited with healing powers.  This is reflected in a few current English brand names – P.G. (which is said to stand for ‘pre-gestive’) and Typhoo (which is Chinese for ‘doctor’).

A New York merchant named Thomas Sullivan is credited with having invented the first tea bag in 1904 when he sent out samples enclosed in silk.

A nice cuppaAs a nation the British drink 175 million cups of tea daily and this consumption makes it our number one beverage.

The habit of drinking black tea with lemon was a Russian habit introduced by the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Emperor of Prussia.  However the habit never caught on amongst the general British population as the overwhelming amount of tea is drunk nowadays with milk. 

‘Char’, as in the English expression ‘a nice cup of char’ (i.e. tea) is derived from the Chinese word for tea – tcha.

Finally – making tea.  There has been an on-going debate about whether to add the milk to the tea first or second.  Those who brew their tea and then add the milk insist they are right.  I say they’re wrong and now I’m being backed up by scientific evidence (there’s nothing like being smarmy is there)?!  Adding the milk after the tea has brewed precipitates the release of tanins, which tend to make the tea taste more bitter, not to mention causing worse staining of your teeth and the tea cups.  Also, the proteins in milk more easily split and divide if added to the hot tea, leading to clumping.  …And no one wants clumpy tea now do they?.

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Sleep, Rest and Recoup

tired

Tips for a restful night’s sleep

If you’re reading this, logic tells me that you are concerned about lack of sleep.  First of all, it’s important to say that  while 8 hours is the accepted norm for a good night’s sleep, you needn’t necessarily feel bad because you routinely sleep for less than this.  Some people actually only need 4 hours (Margaret Thatcher being a famous example), while others are out for the count for a full 12 (just about every teenager on the planet).  

However, sleep deprivation, when your body is telling you that you need more rest (!),  can be both debilitating and depressing and no one really wants to resort to potentially addictive chemicals to solve the problem. There are so many possible causes, cures and herbal remedies that I thought it might be helpful to put together a whole list of them.  I hope you’ll find something here to help. 

Herbal Help

Lavender has been known for centuries to induce relaxation and can be used in a number of ways: a couple of drops of essential oil sprinkled on the corner of your pillow will help, as will  lavender oil in a cold diffuser placed in the lavender-1bedroom.

A warm bath, at the optimum time of two hours before bed, helps to regulate body temperature to an ideal level and is particularly helpful when combined with lavender products like bubble bath and body lotion.

Herbal teas can also prove useful – chamomile and valerian (which is often combined with hops) are both well-known for aiding relaxation and sleep.  While both will help with insomnia, I’ve read recently that valerian, especially when combined with ‘chaste tree’ may help with sleep maintenance. 

Extra help and accepted wisdom

Even 20 minutes of gentle exercise during the day can help to stop stress hormones from interfering with sleep.

Try to avoid heavy meals just before bed – a minimum two hour gap between meal and bed is a good idea.

art-deco-girl-11Avoid caffeine drinks like regular tea, coffee and cola in the evening.

Is your actual bed ‘up to muster’?  The lifespan of a bed depends largely upon quality but as a rule of thumb, if your bed is ten to twelve years old you should probably replace it.  (Here’s a tip: If you suffer from backache, it may just be your bed)!

Equally, do you need new pillows?  There are a huge variety of pillows out there – foam, feather, down – and it may just be that a change of pillow would help you get a restful night’s sleep.

Try to avoid sheets with a high synthetic content.  Sheets with a high cotton content allow your skin to breathe, which in turn makes the bed feel more comfortable.  (I tend to buy sheets with a maximum cotton / minimum polyester content, simply because I’ve found some pure cotton sheets can be an absolute swine to launder).

Environment

Try to ensure that your bedroom is furnished fairly simply and is clutter free.  Psychologically, a clutter free bedroom makes for a calmer and more relaxing atmosphere.

Look at using colours for walls, carpets and soft furnishings that you personally find relaxing.  Traditionally shades of blue and green evoke feelings of calm and relaxation in many people but you may have something else in mind.  (For example, I always seem to opt for gentle creams). 

Try not to watch TV or work in bed.  Your bedroom should become associated in your mind with your own haven of peace and utter relaxation.

off-to-bed1The best temperature for a relaxed sleep is surprisingly cool, i.e. 68 degrees.  Fit individual thermostats to radiators if you can so that you can keep your bedroom at this temperature (and save money)!

It goes without saying that minimising noise and light will also help – it’s strange but true that even though you are asleep you will become aware of increasing light levels in a room where the curtains / blinds allow the morning light to percolate through.

If you live in a quiet area and it is safe to do so, leaving a ‘top light’ /small window slightly ajar to let in some fresh air is a good idea.  Good sleep doesn’t happen easily in a stuffy, ‘sealed’ room with stale air.

Less obvious but worth mentioning anyway:

Airing the room each day, allowing a fresh supply of oxygen to flow through your room will keep it smelling sweet and welcoming.

Toss back the covers each morning to allow cool air to permeate the bed covers.  Even half an hour of this while you shower will keep the bed smelling fresh (not to mention keeping any mites at bay)!

Make the bed each day – an un-made bed doesn’t exactly call you to its gentle embrace, now does it?

Change the bed sheets each week (hopefully you knew that one already)!

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I really, really hope something here will be of help.  Let me know how you get on and…

Remember if this is an on-going problem and you feel at all concerned you should still talk to your doctor.

sleep-soundly

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