Gardening news – Fraxinus game, bees, travelling plants

It’s been quite a week for gardening news, read our update here…

Gardening news - Fraxinus game, bees, travelling plants

New Facebook game aims to get to the bottom of ash dieback

New Facebook game aims to protect ash trees from ash dieback

A new Facebook game  has just been launched, in which players have to match coloured leaves that represent genetic ‘letters’. Scientists are hoping that by using the power of social media, Fraxinus will help them to understand more about ash dieback and the genetics of the fungus, enabling them to identify resistant ash trees to grow in the future.

Gardening news - Fraxinus game, bees, travelling plants

Provide food for bees

Keeping bees? Make sure there’s a good food supply

The plight of the UK’s bee populations is almost constantly in the news at the moment and with good reason. Nearly 34% of Britain’s honeybee colonies have been lost because of last year’s bad weather. Many homeowners and businesses have turned to beekeeping to help restore populations, but new research shows that there isn’t enough food to support the new colonies. Growing wildflowers helps and the advice is, if you have space, to grow bee-friendly flowers such as borage, lavender, cornflowers and catmint to provide forage for bees.

Gardening news - Fraxinus game, bees, travelling plants

The furthest travelled T&M plants?

Furthest travelled T&M plants?

We occasionally hear stories of postcards and letters making their way around the world and being delivered years later. But what about plants? Some time ago we received a letter from a customer in Perth, Scotland advising us that her plants were in a terrible condition. The 36 begonia postiplugs she had ordered were very dry and she didn’t expect them to survive.

However, she then noticed that there was a letter attached to the parcel – from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Western Australia! The plants had somehow been delivered to Perth, Australia and the DAFF was returning them to her. Considering the long journey the plants went on, our customer thought it was marvellous that 26 survived and grew on!

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Gardening news - Fraxinus game, bees, travelling plants

Bumper berry crops expected

Bumper harvest for berry plants

If you’re growing blackberries and are wondering if they’ll ever bear fruit, then fear not! The late start to spring is likely to cause a delay in fruiting, but the recent heatwaves should mean that a bumper crop is just around the corner! This is great news, not just for those of us looking forward to freezers full of tasty berries, but to wildlife too. 2012 saw a dismal crop, but this year fruit-eating mammals and birds will be able to enjoy an autumn feast.

Gardening news – National Allotments Week, butterflies and nitrogen

In this week’s gardening news we’ll be talking about National Allotments Week, the effect of weather on butterflies and a new technique to enable plants to source nitrogen from the air.

National Allotments Week 5th-11th August
The National Allotment Society’s yearly celebration of allotments is back and, in their own words, they want allotment societies and associations to “dust off their bunting and BBQs, spread the word and hold a jolly good knees-up!” The aim of the ‘Party on the Plot’ is to show the local community why allotments are so important, not just for the people who garden them, but for families, schools and wildlife too. Visit the National Allotments Week website for more information.

Our expert Sue Sanderson says “Allotments are a great source of information for gardeners wishing to grow vegetables. Whilst looking around a site you will spot different ways crops are being grown or protected. All plot holders are always happy to give help and advice. Many sites, including ours, also have a wildlife area with a dipping pond that is always of interest to children who visit the site. Plus they can see the crops growing on site rather than something on a supermarket shelf or served on a plate.”

Gardening news - National Allotments Week, butterflies and nitrogen

Butterflies affected by bad weather conditions

Big Butterfly Count helps to determine state of butterfly populations
If you haven’t taken part in the Big Butterfly Count yet, there’s still time. It runs until 11th August and you can download and print an ID chart to help you. Simply sit in a sunny spot for 15 minutes and count how many butterflies you see. Last year’s survey showed that 15 of the 21 species included in the count had declined, which is a massive blow for butterflies in the UK. The cold, wet spring hasn’t helped, but experts are hoping that July’s hot weather has helped populations bounce back, which is another reason why the Big Butterfly Count is so important.

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Gardening news - National Allotments Week, butterflies and nitrogen

Tomatoes need nitrogen for optimum growth

Bacteria to fertilise plants?
All plants need nitrogen for optimum growth. Some like peas, beans and other legumes manage this themselves, but others rely on the addition of manure or synthetic fertilisers to provide the correct levels of nutrients. A bacteria found naturally in sugar cane juices traps nitrogen and could be the end of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, which are made from fossil fuels. Scientists at the University of Nottingham have developed a way of introducing the bacteria into plants’ roots by coating seeds or inoculating seedlings. The plants are then able to convert nitrogen from the air, taking away the need for additional fertilisers. Field tests are being carried out on tomatoes, wheat, maize, oil seed rape and grasses and the experts behind the project claim that the technology could become commercially available within three years.

Gardening news – wild gardens, slugs and circadian rhythms

Read our snippets of gardening news here…

Gardening news - wild gardens, slugs and circadian rhythms

Let your garden grow wild!

Hoe(s) down
I look over the fence at the neighbour’s garden and sigh at how nice it looks. Not pristine, just nice. Mine, on the other hand, is just plain messy. Or so I thought. Now, it seems, an untidy garden is exactly what we should be striving for. The RSPB is calling for gardeners to not be quite so neat and tidy and to let parts of their garden grow a bit wild. You don’t have to give your whole garden over to the wilderness, just a little patch of longer grass, a few logs, weeds and wildflowers and it’ll be the perfect habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife. My garden, then, with its ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ long, wavy grass, clover, dandelions and piles of chopped down eucalyptus and holly prunings is actually doing a good thing! Maybe I’ll leave that patch of weeds for just a bit longer.

Read our blog posts on how to encourage bees and butterflies into your garden for more ideas.

Gardening news - wild gardens, slugs and circadian rhythms

Leopard slug – the gardener’s friend

The slug you DO want in your garden
Slugs are one of gardeners’ worst enemies and we’re always on the lookout for the most effective deterrent. However, there is one slug that you do want to encourage…and try not to kill. The leopard slug (Limax maximus) eats fungi, rotting plants and other slugs, but not healthy plants. They live in dark, damp places – rotten logs, fallen trees, sometimes in sheds and damp cellars – and need to keep their bodies damp to breathe. They can grow up to 16cm long and are brown or grey with brown/black spots/blotches. They have marbled spots at the front of their bodies and three dark stripes either side at the back.

The Natural History Museum runs the OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) network, which aims to inspire people to study and protect their local environment. There are lots of surveys you can do in your own back garden and OPAL is very interested to hear from you if you’ve found leopard slugs in your garden.

If your plants are being munched before your very eyes, there are lots of products to help reduce slug attacks. Nematodes and copper tape are the safest methods and very effective.

Gardening news - wild gardens, slugs and circadian rhythms

Cabbages – higher levels of antioxidants in the daytime

Fruit and veg healthier at lunchtime
New research shows that keeping some fruit and vegetables in their natural ‘light-dark’ cycle dramatically increases the amount of anti-cancer chemicals that they produce, even after harvesting. Plants have their own circadian cycles and use them to release natural pesticides called glucosinolates. These are most prevalent in the daytime, when the pests are active and reduce at night. Janet Braam of Rice University, Houston, who led the study said “Perhaps we should be storing our vegetables and fruits under light-dark cycles and timing when to cook and eat them to enhance their health value.”

Gardening news – grass-free lawn, coronation meadows

Read this week’s snippets of recent gardening news stories here…

Gardening news - grass-free lawn, coronation meadows

Coronation meadows

Coronation Meadows Initiative

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the coronation, HRH Prince of Wales has set up the Coronation Meadows Initiative to create or restore 60 meadows throughout the UK, with more to follow in the next few months. 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s as a result of intensive farming and urban development. Remaining wildflower meadows will be used as ‘donors’ of seed and hay to restore existing meadows and create new ones. Wildlife species have seen a sharp decline because of the loss of meadows, including the short-haired bumblebee, which has recently been re-introduced to the RSPB’s nature reserve at Dungeness in Kent. HRH Prince of Wales said that the initiative would “revive several birds with one stone”, benefitting wildflower meadows and pollinating insects. He also said that the meadows will “recreate a lost habitat. […] Unless we have things like this with which to inspire us in a deeper way, what’s the point of life? That’s why these things matter.” (Source The Telegraph online)

World’s first ‘grass-free lawn’

A park in west London is the first in the world to feature a grass-free lawn. Designed by PhD reseracher Lionel Smith and the result of 4 years of research, the ‘lawn’ creates a biodiverse environment with over 25% more insects and wildlife than a traditional lawn. It is intended to be an interactive space to be walked on and explored with all the senses. British native plants, such as red-flowering clover, daisies, thyme and chamomile as well as non-native species have been planted to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Oak processionary caterpillars

Gardening news – grass-free lawn, coronation meadows

Oak processionary caterpillar treatment ‘dangerous’

A bacterial agent recently sprayed over copses in Pangbourne to rid them of the toxic oak processionary caterpillar is thought to have endangered wildlife, according to Butterfly Conservation and Buglife. A report on the BBC news website says that caterpillar nests were destroyed in 2012 and that this year’s aerial spraying was a precautionary measure. However, wildlife experts claim that the pesticide used will kill a large number of moth and butterfly caterpillars. This will have an effect on bird and bat populations, which rely on the larvae as a food source. The woods will be monitored over the next 5 years and the hope is that the moths and caterpillars will re-colonise the area.

Oilseed rape

Gardening news – grass-free lawn, coronation meadows

Oilseed rape – red flowers in future?

Pollen beetles that attack the traditional yellow flowers of oilseed rape are becoming increasingly resistant to chemical pesticides, so researchers at Rothamsted, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, have been investigating ways to control the pest. Changing the colour of the blooms from yellow to red with food colouring has shown promising results. The team involved in the experiment grew white flowered oilseed rape plants in pots, then washed off the soil, placed them in a buckets of water and added food colouring – blue, red and yellow. Tests over 2 years in the lab and in the field showed that the beetles preferred flowers that reflect ultraviolet light, so the red flowered plants were least affected by the beetles. This an exciting development, as it means that the plants could be bred to produce red flowers. Other possibilities are also being researched, such as plants with no petals at all and ‘pest traps’, where fields are planted with the resistant plants in the centre and surrounded by the non-resistant colour.

Gardening news – British Tomato Week, wildlife survey, ash dieback

Gardening news – read our round-up of the latest news in the gardening world.

Gardening news - British Tomato Week, wildlife survey, ash dieback

British Tomato Week 20th – 26th May

British Tomato Week – 20th – 26th May

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a perfectly ripe, juicy tomato. British Tomato Week aims to encourage people to buy British tomatoes, which will be in shops from this week until November. Tomatoes are grown in the UK under strict conditions, with most growers using natural pest control instead of pesticides and eco-friendly growing methods. If you’d like to know more about the humble tomato, where it came from, how it’s grown, why British tomatoes are best and so much more, head over to the British Tomato Growers’ Association – you’ll find out more about tomatoes than you ever thought possible!

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Gardening news - British Tomato Week, wildlife survey, ash dieback

UK’s wildlife in stark decline

Wildlife survey highlights dramatic decline in species

The State of Nature report, launched by Sir David Attenborough, shows that in the last 50 years, 60% of Britain’s native animal and plant species have declined. Turle doves, toads and hedgehogs are among the most affected species. He has been quoted in the news as saying that, while this is a stark warning, it is also a sign of hope. There are many conservation groups around the country with expert knowledge on how to improve conditions for our native wildlife. There is no single solution to saving wildlife, but there are many things that people can do to help, such as growing native wildflowers, creating ponds, submitting sightings to online surveys and supporting wildlife organisations to name but a few. You can find out more about encouraging wildlife in your garden here.

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Gardening news - British Tomato Week, wildlife survey, ash dieback

Good harvest predicted

A good year for apples and pears?

Environmental experts are predicting that 2013 will be a good year for apples and pears. And after the awful weather in 2012, which caused a 50% drop in harvests, growers will be hoping for a better yield this year. Conditions have to be just right for apples and pears to grow – a sunny & dry autumn to encourage flowering, a cold winter, good weather during the 14-day flowering period for pollination, no air frost and warm weather in May. So far, so good…

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The fight is on against ash dieback

Ash dieback, or Chalara fraxinea, has been one of the most talked about diseases in the last year. Of the 500 cases reported to date, over 50% are in East Anglia, where 160,000 ash trees are being planted in the hope that 1-2% will be resistant to the disease and can be propagated. Planting where the disease is prevalent means that the impact on the newly planted trees will be quicker and allows for quicker analysis of potentially resistant ash trees. A new grant scheme has also been set up to help foresters replenish woodland. Foresters across the region are being awarded £2,000 per hectare to replace ash trees with oak trees to make the forests more resilient. Speaking to a BBC reporter, Steve Scott from the Forestry Commission said that, while ash dieback is just one of 18 tree pests and diseases to come to the UK in the last 10 years, it is making people think about trees and woodlands and what they can do to protect and preserve them.

The impact of ash dieback on Britain’s wildlife is also a much talked-about subject. Ash trees provide shelter for beetles, including the lesser stag beetle, butterflies and birds. Plants such as wild garlic and bluebells thrive beneath ash trees, as their growth is aided by the trees’ loosely-branched structure, which allows plenty of light to reach the ground.

Tree experts are now calling for a plant health register and tighter biosecurity at UK borders to prevent further outbreaks of potentially devastating diseases.

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