for Gifts ers grow
Does your loved one have green fingers? Brian Callaghan offers some ideas for their Christmas presents
The extra protection provided by a glasshouse or polytunnel allows tender crops to be started into growth earlier in the year whilst also extending the cropping season at the end of summer. Less common fruits, such as melons and grapes, which might otherwise struggle in some parts of the country, can be brought to a successful conclusion under cover and many overwintering salads remain more edible than those grown outside, which often become tough and stringy.
Although polytunnels and glasshouses provide a valuable working environment, they also involve a major investment, so why not consider the humble cloche as an introduction to protected cropping? They are relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain and provide a very flexible means of protection for both individual plants and those grown in rows.
The key benefit is that of moveable protection which allows the structure to follow crop rotations and provide protection where it is needed rather than fixed in one place as with glasshouses and polytunnels. Add the facility for swapping the plastic cover for a net pest-protection material and you have a very flexible piece of growing equipment.
Cloches are simple to construct from spare materials if you have old irrigation piping lying about and might make an inexpensive home-made Christmas gift for a grower ( see
pages 29-30). Alternatively, purchasing a set of hoops such as those supplied by Two Wests and Elliot at just over £ 50 for a 12ft run (their measurements, not mine) would form the basis for a solid system that could be expanded as future needs developed.
Notebook and pencil
As anyone who keeps a diary will attest, we do so much more in our lives than we actually remember. Growing is a constant state of learning from observation and experience and the intention to write things down ‘later’ is often forgotten when we get back indoors.
Enter the simple notebook and pencil. I have tried voice recorders, of many sorts, and they have been lost, ruined by mud and water and more often never replayed and written up afterwards. Buying a pocket-sized notebook for each season and keeping them in order as a point of future reference means being able to identify that crop of potatoes which you forgot to label; or remembering the area of ground when ordering seed; or what date blight affected your tomatoes when you switched from hand watering to overhead irrigation. Such valuable information might otherwise be forgotten. Until we make the same mistake again.
Why a pencil and not a pen? Pencils will write on damp paper, can still be used when broken and do not fade if used on plant labels exposed to ultraviolet light.
Most plants grow best in a temperature range of approximately 10 – 35C. Too far outside of this zone and growth slows and damage may occur even if the plants are only exposed to the extremes for a brief period. In addition to temperature variations over the day, there are many further variations within sites, often referred to as micro-climates, which can be identified via use of a thermometer.
The old-fashioned, but reliable and battery-free, type consists of a U-shaped glass tube. As the temperature rises and falls the alcohol in the tube is pushed up and down where its height may be read against a calibrated scale. Magnetic pointers which record the maximum and minimum temperatures over the recording period need resetting each day.
Digital types can be more accurate and many have the capacity to store readings for more than one day thus obviating the need to carry out daily checks. They do need battery changes, but power consumption is very low and many incorporate external probes allowing temperature measurement at more than one