With the nation’s apparent obsession with gyms, healthy eating and trying to lose weight, have you considered just how much exercise that you can do carrying out the simplest of garden tasks. We all ache after a long session of hoeing, digging or weeding and that’s probably because we’ve used muscles that we don’t normally and, providing we’ve been sensible, and safe, then it has probably done us some good!
With just a few simple garden tools you can burn off the calories, tone up your body and at the same time, have a well tended, beautiful garden, be it flowers or vegetables. Here are a few ideas to get you started and all at a fraction of the price of a gym subscription!
Hand trowels and forks will tone up your triceps and biceps too when you are using these for planting and weeding your beds and borders.
Using Secateurs, Grass Shears and Pruning Saws is the best exercise you’ll get for strengthening your forearms, wear gloves though – no point pruning yourself too!
If you want to improve your chest muscles (pectorals and lats) then trim hedges and shrubs with a pair of shears and clip your lawn edges with edging shears too, although don’t take on too much at once as you will soon lose interest and won’t want to finish the job!
You can’t beat using Loppers in the garden for those tougher pruning jobs and it’s a great way of working out your biceps, although don’t be tempted to use them to cut thicker branches than they can handle, you won’t get a clean cut and you might well break them – use a pruning saw instead.
If you want to improve your legs then simply dig! Using a garden fork or spade to dig over larger areas, be it a vegetable plot or a large flower bed, will give you lots of exercise and will burn off loads of calories too. If you haven’t got a huge plot to dig over then try an edging blade to keep your lawn in shape.
Lastly, and by no means least, your back, the bit that holds everything in place, be careful with it, you can’t get a new one (yet!). We all know to lift heavy things with a straight back and bent knees etc but it is so easy to quickly bend over, grab something – and then hurt yourself! For more gentle working, use a rake on beds, or a lawn rake to pull out moss from your lawn or just a leaf rake to clear up mess in your garden.
Of course you can combine things when you use some tools, hoeing will use your back and arms, wheeling a barrow will work out your back and legs, trying to stretch whilst you are working will also help with flexibility and importantly, start slowly each time, allow your muscles to warm up before you tackle the bigger jobs. You wouldn’t leap into a heavy gym session without first warming up and you shouldn’t rush out into the garden for a hard day’s graft without warming up to it either. Maybe walk around the garden first and work out your plan of action – preferably with a cup of tea, shrug your shoulders a few times in a circular motion to loosen yourself up a bit – put the tea down first, and then start with the easier jobs first. Don’t try to do everything at once either, working a bit more the next day will help to loosen up those aching muscles rather than overdoing it. After all, “Loam wasn’t built in a day”!
Just to give you a rough idea of what working in the garden will help you achieve, below is a list of approximate calories per hour burned whilst performing some simple garden jobs, these are only rough figures that I’ve gleaned from the internet and will vary from to person:
Average calories burned per hour – based on a 10 stone person
Carrying heavy loads 490
Chopping logs quickly 1070
Collecting grass or leaves 250
Mowing lawn with a push-along mower 280
Mowing lawn with a ride-on mower 150
Planting seedlings/shrubs 250
Raking lawn 250
Pruning shrubs 280
Above all else, remember that your garden is also to be enjoyed, it’s all very well spending loads of time on a gardening/exercising regime, but you’ve grown all your beautiful flowers for a reason – so take time to relax and enjoy it too!
Spring is on its way! Every farmer, gardener and outdoor working person will be able to identify with this, there is something in the air. One day we just step outside and the air feels and smells different. Bulbs are flowering, birds are singing and there is more heat in the sun. But it’s more than that, it’s an essence of things to come.
Amanda’s Potato Sacks & T&M Potato Sacks
My greenhouses are now filling up with fruit, veg and flower seeds that have been recently set. I love this time of year. I started out by asking Mark to find my potato sacks and give them a cold shower, so that there was no risk over overwintering pests or diseases in them that could affect my crop. After leaving the sacks to dry out in the big greenhouse until the weekend, I then set about choosing which seeds to grow. I did plan in January what I wanted, but then I changed my mind again. I do understand why garden designers say to just plant a few types of seeds with the same colour palette as it gives the garden uniformity, but I don’t like this style. I agree that it looks really effective, but to me, life is too short to just grow one type or colour of something.
So come Saturday, I sowed my potatoes and put them on the path of the large greenhouse where they will stay until the frosts have passed and they have been earthed up maybe once or twice. I also potted up some hot chillies and some mild peppers.
On Sunday I emptied everything out of the smaller greenhouse and gave it a good brush out. Mark then dug the greenhouse border over for me, pulling up a few weeds that had germinated in there over winter. Whilst he did this I took a variety of different sized pots into the house to give them a warm soapy wash in readiness for refilling.
Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’
While the pots were drying I then set about sieving the garden centre compost. I enjoy doing this as its a great workout for my upper body. I place about three to five scoops of soil into the sieve and then shake it like mad until I have a fine potting compost in the tray below. The rougher stuff that is left in the sieve then gets thrown into the large borders in the bigger greenhouse, as its still good stuff just not great for the seeds. Sieving the compost also shows me what quality the shop bought stuff is like. I have bought what I thought was good value compost only to find out that it’s full of twigs and hard material and vey occasionally some clippings that seeds would not be able to push through. T&M sell incredicompost® but I have not used this as yet.
It takes me at least an hour to sieve about thirty litres of compost, it thirsty work but it’s nice in the sun. Mark is cutting the lawns so I sneak off to put the kettle on. Once inside I then look through my three tins of seeds. I am banned for buying seeds, according to Mark I have enough seeds to last me a few years. I like to have a choice though, and I always grow something new each year. Although I do have my favourites that I grow each year. These include sunflowers, peas and tomatoes.
Cycad seeds, Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ & Pea ‘Aderman’
I am probably too methodical, but once my compost is sieved, I three-quarter fill all of the clean pots, this way I can see if I have enough compost, as it annoys me when I get to the last three or so pots at the end of the day only to find I have to drag everything back out and start sieving again.
I then put my seeds packets in order and using my seed sower device that looks a bit like a syringe I plant the number of required seeds into the pots. Sometimes I will sow the whole packet, but occasionally I just like to try a few seeds, this way if they fail the first time around, or an unforeseen change in weather kills them. I can always make a second sowing.
I start by planting three pots of Geraniums, I have not grown these from seed before so am excited to see how they differ from shop bought ones. There are eleven seeds in the packet so I put three per pot. Then I plant a single pot of Basil ‘Lemonade’, I love this herb, it’s so versatile. I also do a single pot of Basil ‘Rubin’, this is a very strong burgundy basil that I want to share with my friends and family. The Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ are next, I plant five pots, two seeds per pot. Next is another plant I have not grown before, it’s called Malvin ‘Mystic Merlin‘ and it’s a mallow. The packet says its good for cottage style gardens and back of the borders, the flowers are lilac, purple and blue. This pack of seeds was part of a gift that I had for being blogger of the month towards the end of last year. I don’t think I have ever seen this plant before, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like. The tomatoes are next on the list. I am growing the Vegetable of the Year (2016) Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ variety. It’s the best for blight resistance and as we had blight last year because of the warm wet summer, I am hoping I will have a much better crop. It’s also Year of the Cosmos so I plant up three pots with these seeds. Summer isn’t summer without going out into the garden and eating peas from their pods so I sow ten Pea ‘Alderman’ Heritage, they go into individual one inch pots. I never grow rows of peas, I train them up a wigwam and do succession sowing during the year. This way I can avoid the pests and crop for longer in the year.
Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
I am eager to try a new vegetable too, so I sow three pots of Patty Plum Squash. These green skinned ones look like they would be nice stuffed and roasted. They also look good for a squash soup.
Finally I plant up my Cycads Species Mixed, again a free gift from T&M, there are only three seeds in this pack and one of them is huge as large as a fifty pence. It says they take one to three months to germinate, this is another new plant for me. I have seen them growing in botanical garden greenhouses, and I am a bit dubious about how big they are going to grow, but like I stated earlier, life’s too short to just grow one type of seed. I have a plan, that if they do grow they can stay in my small greenhouse turning it into a nursery and tropical space, whilst the bigger one can be for my fruit and veg. Mark did say if it gets too big it can always go outside, but being a greenhouse plant I don’t think it will survive. The Cycads are slow growing though so hopefully I will have few years to think about what to do with them if they actually grow.
After writing out a set labels on the back of old lolly sticks for each set of seeds, I then placed the tubs in wicker baskets and cover them with cling film to help retain heat and moisture during germination. I need to find my Dymo Machine so I can make individual labels for each pot, as I can guarantee things will grow at different times and I will move things around on the staging, and before I know it, my tomatoes will be in the garden borders and peas will be in the greenhouse, as I will have muddled the labels, or worse Mark will knock the labels off whilst watering and then I will have no idea what is what.
Just when I thought I had finished, I decided I would direct sow two dozen radish into the small greenhouse border. After all the soil was looking bare.
The above list might sound excessive but in all I only planted about thirty five pots and four sacks of potatoes. This will give me a good start and add to the plants that are now recovering from last month. It also leaves me with the opportunity to sow again later in the spring.
Petunia ‘Anna’ & Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Greenhouses aren’t just for germinating seeds though, they are a great place for bringing on plug plants, I am expecting a delivery soon from T&M of Petunia ‘Anna’, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and my favourite Nicotiana ‘Eau d’ Cologne’. I have also ordered the shrub Barnsley Baby a Lavatera x clementii I have always fancied one of these and as it was on a special offer I could not resist. It comes in a seven centimetre pot so I might need to bring it on before it gets planted in the garden.
Greenhouses come in all shapes, sizes and prices, I started out with the plastic pop up ones many years ago, and I would recommend starting with these before investing in a horticultural one as this is a great test to see if you have the time and energy to devote to gardening whilst on a budget. My brother bought a lean to greenhouse last year, but as yet he hasn’t even built it, although he says its definitely going up this year and please can I supply him and the girls with some plants including aubergines. I hadn’t got around to sowing the aubergines.
So I now have another list of other plants that I have to grow for myself and the family, Aubergines, for my brother Sweet Peas and more Cosmos for mum, and a selection of herbs for someone at work. I usually grow loads of plants anyway so what’s a few more?
Do you end up growing more than what’s on your original gardening list or is it just me?
Until next month, Happy Gardening,
Have you ever really considered what attracts you to gardening or plants in general? Is it the way they look, the colours they produce, you can eat them or they were just the ones that the shop had at the time? For me it’s a bit more sciency (yes I’ve just made a new word).
We all know that you can set a seed, keep it warm and damp and it will grow. That part is no different to how we reproduce. (Well slightly but the theory is the same.) Except plants don’t just reproduce by seed. Some you can break a piece of them off, put it into water on a windowsill and it starts to shoot roots and grow more leaves. Others simply grow another version of themselves out the side of them, which you can then divide.
It simply fascinates me that they can do this. We can’t simply chop off a toe or take some hair and place it into water to grow another one of ourselves. If we could it might have some rather drastic consequences.
Of course we do share some similar qualities to plants in the way we present ourselves to others to be able to continue to stand as a human race. I know that sounds rather strange but we put on make-up, dress in certain ways and spray ourselves silly with perfumes and aftershaves. But plants are very special in how they do this. They get someone else to do the work for them.
Take the bee orchid. How has it evolved to know that it needs to produce a flower that looks like the bee that pollinates it to reproduce? Or the Titan Arum which has a 10 foot tall flower and smells of rotten meat to attract its pollinators? Some plants will only open when they cane ‘hear’ the vibration of the certain insect that can pollinate it. Others make their fruits attractive to birds because they need the stomach acid to soften the seed coating before it can germinate.
Is it possible that maybe plants, although do not have a physical brain like animals, really do think and have managed to manipulate the world around them for their own advantage? This might be a bold statement but really, plants are far superior to the animal kingdom. After all they have been here thousands of years before us so they should have a good head start. I just can’t get enough of them.
Until next time Lesley
Thompson & Morgan is moving into its peak supply season with a spring in its step having swept the board at the Great British Growing awards for a second consecutive year.
The UK’s largest horticultural mail order supplier took four top gongs, all nominated and voted for by the gardening public. There’s no industry back slapping here, the accolades have all come about through high customer satisfaction levels and a quality range of grow your own essentials, offered via the best website in the business.
Grow Your Own British Growing Awards 2016
The nation’s army of grow-your-own gardeners voted the Suffolk business Best Online Retailer over big players in the market including the world’s largest internet retailer Amazon.
Its range of fruit and vegetable seeds was voted best in the business, as was its plug plant offering. Known and respected for bringing more new varieties to the UK than any other plant retailer, its exclusive dual-cropping Tomtato® plant scooped the Most Innovative Gardening Product Award, having taken the Best New Veg Growing Product award in 2015.
T&M Winner of: Plug Plant Range, Most Innovative Growing Product – Tomtato®
Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord said: “Our products and services win us multiple industry awards each season, and it’s always good to be recognised by our peers, but nothing beats a nod from our customers. To be rated so highly by the great British gardening public is a true testament to all the hard work and effort the T&M teams puts in to ensure we have the best range of products that give gardeners the results they are looking for.”
Thompson & Morgan will be at the Edible Garden Show (Stoneleigh Park, 11-13 March) to collect awards for:
- Best Fruit and Veg Seed Range
- Best Plug Plant Range
- Best Online Retailer
- Most Innovative Growing Product – Tomtato®
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
Fertiliser choice is the key factor in improving sweetness and flavour
When Thompson & Morgan assessed over 140 tomato varieties at its Suffolk trial grounds last summer, the aim was to gauge the plants against indoor and outdoor growing conditions. What they weren’t expecting was to hit on a simple way of vastly boosting the sweetness and flavour of home-grown tomatoes.
One aspect of the trial compared the results of different plant feeds on Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’. In terms of health, vigour and yield, incredicrop® stood out as the best feed for tomatoes. A single application of this season-long feed at planting time led to the best plants both in a greenhouse setting and out in the field. This was all set to be a key message at an end-of-trial event attended by gardening press, bloggers and industry figures.
Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ and incredicrop®
John Burrows, director of ProVeg Seeds – a major UK trade supplier of tomato seeds and plants, attended the event with his Brix meter in hand, ready to test the sweetness levels of each variety. While passing the fertiliser trial patch, fruits of Sweet Aperitif grown with incredicrop® and another market leading fertiliser were tested – with amazing results! Fruits grown with incredicrop® registered at 12.4 Brix against a level of 10.1 from those grown with the market leader.
A taste test by those present confirmed the finding. Even organic growers among them, normally reluctant to use manufactured fertilisers, had to admit that using incredicrop® made fruits sweeter.
John Burrows and Paul Hansord – Brix Testing Tomatoes
T&M horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, said: “We already know Sweet Aperitif is the sweetest red cherry on the market, the first to consistently score over 10 on the Brix scale. We couldn’t believe the sucrose levels could be boosted even further. The findings add to an already impressive list of benefits for incredicrop®, setting it well ahead of other feed options on the market. Brix levels for Sweet Aperitif were unchanged by other feeds. Our exclusive vegetable fertiliser not only encourages stronger and healthier plants with impressive yields – the produce will also taste better.”
Notes to editors
What are Brix Levels? The Brix score for any fruit or vegetable is the number of grams of sucrose per 100 grams of solution (specifically the juice from a tomato in this study). Higher brix means better flavour and better nutrient value and is an indication that plants have been grown in a healthy soil, with sufficient nutrients and water. The measure is used widely by commercial growers but the equipment needed for testing is costly and is not a viable option for most home growers.
How does incredicrop® work?
This controlled slow-release feed utilises Double Nitrogen Technology to promote vigorous green growth and bumper crops – a single application at planting time will support strong healthy growth for 7+ months. Nitrogen is released in two phases in perfect sync with plant needs, avoiding wastage, which is often a problem with other fertilisers. Part of the nitrogen is stabilised to gradually break down over the first eight weeks to kick-start plants into piling on growth. The second part is released through polymer coated granules that deliver less or more nutrients depending on temperature and moisture levels, again matching plant needs for optimum flowering and cropping. (£12.99 for 750g tub)
Available from www.thompson-morgan.com or call 0844 573 1818