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Penny’s gardening blog: get crafty with vegetable tie-die

Dying using veg and fruit is easy, fun and will educate your kids about the different uses plants have.

You can try beetroot, onion skins, blackberries, redcurrants, plums, to name but a few plus all sorts of spices like turmeric and saffron and different tree barks and roots.  Follow this link for much more information on what to use and how to do it. http://pioneerthinking.com/crafts/natural-dyes.

I decided to have a go last weekend and took some photos to show you my results. It does take some preparation and don’t expect really strong colours. Have a read and start collecting your dye materials.

Equipment, you will need:

  •  saucepans
  •  colanders or sieves
  • rubber gloves
  •  salt
  • vinegar
  • 100 percent cotton material
  • your chosen dye materials  (I managed to procure some red and yellow onion skins, some beetroot, red cabbage leaves, and a mixture of blackcurrants, plums and cherries).

I made a dye solution by boiling the dye materials, using twice as much water as dye material, for about an hour. I stained each one and set aside. 

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I prepared some cloth by boiling in a fixative solution:

  • Use half a cup of salt to eight cups of water for berries. 
  • Use four cups of water to one cup of vinegar for plant material.

Make enough solution to cover your cloth. And simmer for an hour, then rinse.

Place the dye solution in the pan with the wet cloth and simmer gently, stirring here and there until the cloth has reached a good colour. Rinse and dry out of direct sunlight. 

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I borrowed my friends kids and had a go at tie dying some old shirts they had, using the dyes we had made.  Our results seemed initially good, the colour faded quite quickly but it was fun anyway. The colours will fade in sunlight, and with washing, which should be done separately from other clothes.

 This method of tie dying using marbles or stones is quite effective.

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Place a marble or coin onto the material, pinch it and twist the material around it. Secure it in place with an elastic band. Be sure to secure the band very tightly for good results.

Livy using marbles and rubber bands:Image

Luke using a stick to spiral the t shirt:

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Tie up as tightly as possible using rubber bands and string.   We added several colours but of course you can’t boil these in, so using one colour is probably a better idea when using natural dyes. 

 

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 My Jackson Pollock design! 

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Our results!

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penny’s gardening blog: tips on how and where to plant your veg box to grow

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Many of you will be receiving your veg box to grow kits this week and next. They come with full instructions of what to do to look after the plants, how to plant them and how to sow the seeds. Follow this advice carefully to get the best results – however here are some tips to help you grow.

Here are my tips and some pictures from planting our vegbox to grow outside the Riverford Field Kitchen this week, if you are ever passing feel free to pop by and see how our veg patch is growing.

When your vegbox arrives

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Open the box to expose plants to sunlight

As soon as you get the chance, open the box and unpack the plants. Lay them out somewhere sheltered and in a sunny area. Put the seeds somewhere dry and cool until you are ready to sow them. Open the seed potatoes and put them somewhere dry and protected from cold weather and expose them to light to encourage the chits to grow.

Watering

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Watering seedlings once out of the Riverford Veg Box to Grow

If any plants look a bit loose after the journey, gently firm them into the module. They will more than likely need a light watering. Leave the plants to acclimatize and recover from the journey for a day or two before planting. The plants will be fine left unplanted for a week or so if you are not ready but make sure to check them regularly and water them if the compost is looking at all dry.

Where to plant & soil preparation

It is important to choose a site that gets plenty of sunlight for successful growing. It’s also important to prepare the soil as well as possible.  Hopefully you will have followed the guidance in the box booklet on preparing the ground and will already have adding well rotted farmyard manure, horse dung or chicken pellets. If you have done this you are ready to get planting. If not, dig in some organic chicken pellets before planting.

Sowing and planting

Follow the suggested spacing for the seedlings and sowings, remembering to leave enough room to get in between the rows for watering, weeding and cropping later on.

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Planting beetroot seedlings

Whilst planting it’s useful to have a stake or label next to where you have planted your veg to help you identify it later on.Image

Once planted, make sure to water in the plants and check regularly for slugs and snails. Organic slug pellets are useful, but there are many other ways of dealing with these pests. Look on the internet for tips on organic pest control.

Protecting your plants

Covering your planted up area with fleece will help give your plants a head start, creating a microclimate, and will protect the plants from cold and wind. This should be removed regularly to check for said pests and for weeding and hoeing. Then you can pull the fleece back over the area, anchoring it with stones or sacks filled with earth. Once the weather warms up and the plants have shown signs of growing on, you can remove the fleece and store for further use in the future.

This spring is particularly cold and shows no signs of letting up, so be careful to put the tomatoes, courgettes, squash and coriander in an area protected from frosts and wind , e.g.; a greenhouse, polytunnel, conservatory or on a light window sill, at least. Grow these tender plants on, repotting if necessary until the risk of frosts and cold wind is over. Only then, should you plant them outside. Look at using cloches for protection once planted.

Please make use of me for any questions you may have or for problems you are facing – either comment on this blog or tweet us @riverford. I am happy to help and wish you much success.

Happy growing

Penny

Penny’s gardening blog – preparation tips for spring

Spring is finally here and although it has been rather wet and cold, we are now approaching the busiest time of year in the garden. 

Feed your soil: The most important task in any garden, be it a vegetable garden, herb garden, ornamental, cutting or even a container garden, is to look after the soil. I am totally insistent on composting in all the gardens I work in, mostly for this very reason, but also as it provides an area to recycle waste from your garden in the form of your lawn clippings, weeds, leaves, some paper and cardboard too, plus kitchen waste such as veg and fruit peelings and puts it all to really good use. All this, if managed properly, will make great compost to feed your garden with and improve the structure and fertility of your soil.

 

I won’t bore you too much as I have already written a blog about composting (see here), but if you are keen to start composting, or want to improve your techniques this link will help you gain more knowledge. I have known Nicky Scott for about thirty years, around here he is renowned as being the ‘Devon Composting Guru.’ He is also an accomplished musician and I remember being very impressed when I noticed a large sticker on his guitar case promoting composting. This is my kinda guy!

Weeding: If you already have a compost heap, this is the time of year to empty it out and feed your soil with it. 

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Digging compost out of the heap, ready to spread

 

Before spreading your compost, it is essential to thoroughly weed your beds, digging out any perennial weeds.

Dig between existing plants looking carefully for weeds, such as bindweed, buttercup, couch grass and nightmare of nightmare, the worst of all, in my eyes…. the dreaded ground elder. I have some appearing in various areas of my garden and am slightly obsessive about weeding it out. Once it gets a hold you are done for. Time to sell the house and move elsewhere!  I spent a couple of hours digging it out, lifting clumps of perennials and teasing it out. 

Becoming familiar with these weeds is a good idea so here are some pictures of just a couple of the worst. In my next blog I will add more:

Know your weeds!

Bindweed roots

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Ground elder

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Growing veg?

If you are growing veg this year you need to prepare the ground. Some of you have ordered our veg, herb or flower grow your own kits to kick start the season.  If you are still thinking about it, hurry, do not procrastinate and avoid disappointment as we have limited numbers (see here). The veg box to grow starts being delivered on the 21st April, so now is the time to get busy.

Feeding the soil is key to your success in growing anything.  Weed your beds and apply compost from your heaps and for extra fertility, some well rotted organic farmyard manure. This is particularly important to growing veg and should be spread a few weeks before planting and sowing. Chicken pellets can also be used.

If you’d like to ask me any questions, comment here and I’ll get back to you.

Penny

In my next blog I’ll be sharing tips on how to divide perennial clumps and what to plant now for summer flowering, check back here or look out for news on our social media.

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Penny’s gardening blog: signs of Spring & our boxes to grow

Snow drops are flowering; daffs are starting to push up through the sodden earth. Signs of spring are here and it’s really not long before we can start to get busy in our gardens. If only it would stop raining! Just as we think the ground is finally starting to dry out we get another shower or downpour.

Growing your own is not just about producing food/flowers etc. It gets you outside. You are learning new skills. Breathing in fresh air and getting some exercise. You can educate your children about growing and also about the insects, birds and small mammals that live in our gardens and are very much part of the whole picture. Growing your own is a brilliant way to connect with the earth that we live on. Communing with nature! That may sound a bit hippy but it really is true!

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Riverford’s Boxes to grow are now available to order (you can order via the website here) and come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t even need a garden to grow them in. The small veg box to grow and the herb boxes to grow are ideal for people with a patio or balcony and it is amazing what you can produce in pots, tubs, old buckets, boxes. Even old veg boxes make a great container! We have put together large and small veg kits, two sizes of herb kits and an amazing flower box to grow too – the idea is that when your box arrives, you follow the preparation guidelines on the website and dig/weed your plot, spread well rotted manure etc and await the arrival of your kit with excitement!
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What’s in the boxes?
The veg and flower kits consist of plants, seedlings, seeds and full instructions and guidance on what to do and how to do it. The contents of the veg and herb boxes to grow are carefully selected by our knowledgeable team here at Riverford, putting into a box our years of experience of growing fantastic tasting vegetables. We pick varieties that are full of flavour and disease resistant that more often than not, we ourselves use here on the farm.

The plants and seeds for the flower box to grow are all selected by me. I have been growing cut flowers for a long time and have plenty of experience in this area. The varieties I have selected are easy to grow and a good range of colours and will provide you with traditional country flowers to cut for your house and enough to give to friends too, for several months.

The herb boxes to grow consist of a selection of useful culinary herbs which will grow on and give you herbs for your kitchen for years, with the exception of one or two that are bi-annual or annual. These will happily grow in pots/tubs etc and are ideal for planting in our cupboards for veg boxes. We use a nursery that has been raising seedlings for us for many years, they are experts in their field and always send us top quality organic seedlings and plants.

Our boxes really are a great way to get started and are designed for beginners and the more savvy gardener alike. When your kit arrives you simply go out and get busy planting and sowing. In one fail swoop you’ll have a fully packed kitchen garden!

Challenges – the main problems that you could be faced with are the weather and predators such as slugs, snails, pigeons etc, and weeds. It can be a challenge but is usually hugely rewarding. There is nothing quite like going out to your garden to pick your supper, a few herbs and a bunch of flowers for the table. Think back to The Good Life!

I am here to support and give advice to anyone who needs it. I will be writing regular blogs on all areas of gardening over the year so please make use of me and send me questions or comments.

Penny

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Penny’s gardening blog: jobs for January & how to promote biodiversity

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At this time of year every thing is pretty dormant in the garden, so it’s a great time to really have a look at the bones of your garden and work on making it a good environment for wildlife, hence promoting biodiversity. This is really important if you are going to garden organically.

I have always bought the Guardian on Saturdays and for years enjoyed Christopher Lloyd’s articles on gardening. I was sad when he died and still miss reading his writings.  Alys Fowler has replaced him and I love her enthusiasm and promotion of permaculture and wildlife. Below I will give you some links to a couple of relevant articles written by her.

part one: how to promote biodiversity in your garden

build a small pondto encourage frogs and toads. This can be as simple as having a bucket or bath. Look at Alys Fowlers article on wildlife ponds for more information. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/14/alys-fowler-wildlife-ponds

encourage birds – create a bird table or hang fat balls full of seeds and nuts to lure birds into your garden. informationhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/alys-fowler-s-gardening-column+environment/wildlife

wild areas – create some wild areas in your garden.  A few of logs left to rot, for instance, will encourage all sorts of insects, small mammals and amphibians.

plant climbers along walls and borders of garden which will provide ideal nesting habitats.

Part two: January jobs in the garden

clear fallen leaves and debris from areas where bulbs are coming up.

cut back last year’s growth on perennials, leaving any with seed heads still intact for birds and insects. Some people cut everything to the ground in the autumn and like everything neat, tidy and manicured. Personally I like to leave the dead growth up for as long as possible. A lot of seed heads are really pretty and are also a perfect habitat and provide shelter for insects during the winter. Some growth looks awful and rots down into a nasty slimy pile like hemerocallis (day lilies) and agapanthus for example. This can go!

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dig out perennial weeds such as dock, couch grass, brambles, buttercups and the like.

thin out dead and diseased wood from established trees and shrubs.

prune wisteria by cutting back shoots to 2nd or 3rd buds.

in the veg garden

Don’t be discouraged if you had a terrible year trying to grow vegetables last year. It was awful for everyone, amateurs and professionals alike. We cannot give up, we need to soldier on and adapt to the situation. Who knows what the weather will do this year, but I am ever hopeful for a better season ahead.

plan your rotation for the year – the allium and brassica family are the ones to rotate. Alliums include onions, shallots and leeks and brassicas include cabbage, kale, cauliflowers, rocket and mustards. You should rotate these crops by giving a three year break before planting in the same area. This helps to reduce problems with onion rot in the allium family and club root in the brassica family.

weed beds ready for onions and shallots – choose an area that is well drained and preferably was manured last autumn. Onion sets are now available to buy and can be planted from now on although some people like to wait for a month or so.

sow broad beans for an early crop.

prune apple and pear trees.

order seeds or plants – look at what we are offering in our veg, flower and herb boxes to grow this year.  These kits are a fabulous way to get into gardening and grow your own veg, flowers and herbs. They come with plants, seedlings, seeds, full instructions and plenty of advice on how to grow your own produce.

If you have any further questions or want advice on gardening feel free to comment or email help@riverford.co.uk and I’ll be happy to help.

Penny