Stiga

  • The Return of the Good Life

    We’re marking British Food Fortnight from 22 September to 7 October by celebrating the Great British home-grown fruit and veg revival.

    It seems that we’ve fallen back in love with ‘The Good Life’, with not enough allotments to go around, and more of us creating our own fruit, veg and herb plots at home.

    The UK’s first own-grown food survey since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory campaign is currently under way, as home-owners and local communities are encouraged to ‘dig in’ for a healthy lifestyle and self-sustainability. More of which later, but first, a brief look at where it all began.
    allotment
    Allotments go all the way back to Anglo Saxon times, from 410 to 1066. But today’s system of allotments was a response to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, when there was no such thing as The Welfare State. Pockets of land were given to ‘the labouring poor’ so they could feed themselves. Allotments were therefore born out of necessity.

    Later, at the end of the First World War, an Act of Parliament was passed that allowed land to be made available to all. This was primarily to help the servicemen returning from the war.

    Today there is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand – but nowhere near enough are being provided. The National Allotment Society reckons more than 90,000 gardeners are waiting for an allotment.

    Which brings us back to the MYHarvest (Measure Your Harvest) survey. It’s being carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield to help us get a picture of what and how much we are growing at home or in our allotments.

    It comes at a time when more of us are growing fruit, veg and herbs – and amid concern over the UK’s food sustainability. The researchers and its supporters, including the National Allotment Society, are hoping it will lead to more space being provided for grow-your-own projects.

    The survey began in 2017 and runs until the end of March 2019 – anyone who grows produce at home or in allotments can take part by sending in details of their harvest (www.myharvest.org.uk).

    According to the data so far, there is a clear leader in the veg we like to grow the most: let’s hear it for the humble spud. Potatoes are grown by the most people, while strawberries are the most productive when it comes to yield. Apples provide a bountiful harvest too, while courgettes, tomatoes and plums are also popular amongst home-growers.

    Growing your own doesn’t just save money, it’s also rewarding in other ways. It encourages a healthy diet, it’s fun and it’s great for keeping fit. Yep, it seems that people who grow their own really do know their onions!

  • September Gardening Tips

    SEPTEMBER can lull us into that dreadful false sense of security; it can still be blissfully warm and we forget that it is actually the autumn, with winter just around the corner. But the better the condition of your lawn prior to the onset of winter, the better it will cope with the extremities of the weather ahead. So there’s a lot you can be doing this month.

    REDUCING THATCH: Thatch production will be at its highest during summer, so now can be another great time to control your thatch levels. And that means scarification! Yes, it makes a mess, but not for long; the lawn will soon fill right back in with natural grass growth. And that’s the key to proactive intelligent lawn care – letting nature and natural processes do the hard work.
    Grass thatched topsoiled
    Another reason for scarifying now is that the lawn has more time to recover before the hardships of winter. As strong growth returns after the summer, the pruning effect of scarifying – slicing the shoots and stolons – will encourage superb natural thickening.

    MOSS: Now, many people make the mistake of applying moss killer before scarifying; there’s a logic to it as the scarifier can surely pull away the dead moss? Well, yes and no. This way you only kill some of the moss. Much better is to scarify first, thereby opening up the sward and allowing the subsequent application of moss killer to reach right down to the base of the pesky plants. That’s where it works at its most effective. Do it the other way round and you’ll leave behind plenty of living, green moss in the thick thatch layer.

    SQUASHED SOIL? You bet. Even if you haven’t walked on your grass all summer, the soil beneath will have become compacted as it dries out. So now is the time to sort this out in time for the autumn rains, and to make sure plenty of oxygen can reach the roots and the microbes and good bacteria below.

    Hollow tine aeration is essential – never use a garden fork as this just squashes the soil sideways and doesn’t remove those lovely little cores of earth. And those cores make great seedbed soil for patch repairs, or you can rake them into any dips you want to level out. You don’t always need to worry about filling in the holes either. You need good drainage in the months ahead for healthier soil and stronger grass, so leave them open.  It’ll be fine!
    Top Dressing
    TOP DRESSING? If you are cylinder mowing, you should apply a dressing – buy carefully; don’t just throw any old thing down. Once a year is a minimum, but you can do it more often if you wish.

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    And of course, keep mowing, and keep that blade sharp. Begin raising the height gradually from the end of the month; you don’t want to be removing too much of the nutrition that’s stored in the leaf – your grass will need it in the months ahead. But if you have to pick just one big job for September, make it aeration – it will always pay dividends!

  • August - Gardening Blog

    AUGUST is for many the holiday month – but does that mean your lawn can take a short holiday too? If following a dry July, your lawn is probably taking a nap having shut down until the rains return; but the great thing about a healthy lawn is that whatever nature throws at it, it will survive. But you can help too. So – what can you be doing during this late summer period? Well, one task can be done from the deck chair – planning – and the others are just little bits and bobs for those who just can’t quite leave it alone.

    Lawn Mower
    PLANNING: When there’s nothing much happening on the lawn, now is the time to plan ahead and be ready for when it does need attention. The problem for lawns is that we can easily forget the little jobs that make all the difference and just concentrate on mowing; then something does go wrong – disease, thinning patches, etc – and it’s too late; then we’re in reactive mode. I’d prefer you to be always working proactively with your lawn, preventing these things from happening in the first place.

    So, make a list of the things you’ll need to do in autumn and winter – pre-order the rental scarifier and hollow-tine aerator ready for September, buy in some autumn and winter feeds, and clear some space in your compost heap ready for the autumnal grass clippings.

    You can also be planning any alterations; you might have a shrub or tree that has finally grown too big but instead of cutting it you want to do something about the expanded shady area beneath. Decide now whether to reseed with shade-tolerant species, or whether to redirect the lawn edge around the shady spot.

    OTHER JOBS: You’ll still be mowing unless we’re in a long dry spell. But remember not to cut too short if it’s very dry – there’s no point taking off more leaf than you need, and the longer, thicker grass will protect the soil from the scorching sun.
    Garden Bench
    You may have a few weeds, although if your grass is thick enough this should be only a minimal problem and easily addressed through careful spot treatment.

    It’s probably not a good idea to do any repair work right now – both seeds and turf can require a huge amount of watering so better to wait until the autumn or early winter.

    One thing you can do right now, if you wish, is to apply an early autumn feed. A nice organic feed can sit on the lawn for a while until we get some rain but you do still need it watering in, so monitor the forecast and see when rain is next coming. If you’re living with drought conditions, you can put this off until September.

    And other than that? Well, I’m sure there are all kinds of things to do in your garden, from harvesting summer vegetables and fruits to tidying up your annuals. But your lawn? No, relax; this is the very best time simply to enjoy it.

  • 10 Great summer holiday garden games for children

    School’s out and summer fun is in!

    Water Slide
    Image by Luke Porter (Unsplash)

    We did a quick, entirely unscientific poll of mums and dads to find out what the kids really love to do in the garden in 2018 – and for many, old school games are still tops. Here are 10 of the most popular activities for children of primary school age…

    1. Bubbly mower. Where else could we start, but with the children’s lawnmower that blows bubbles?! Suitable for children aged 3 and over, they’re great fun for the younger ones – and they don’t cost the earth.
    2. Make a splash. Whether it’s paddling pools, water pistols or water fights, doing stuff with water was the clear Number 1 in our poll of parents. Just make sure it doesn’t contravene any water restrictions that might be in place!
    3. Penalty competitions. We couldn’t leave this one out, after England’s first ever penalty shoot-out success in the World Cup.  Mark out a penalty spot, invest in a net and you’re ready for action. Don’t have a net? Not a problem … a couple of jumpers are a good substitute.
    4. Garden Olympics.  Hula hoop and skipping contests, egg and spoon races, boules, badminton and tug-of-war are all popular this year, again showing that the oldies are still goodies. Skittles are dead easy too, using a tennis ball and empty water bottles.
    5. Build a den. All you need for a perfect hideaway is a few bamboo canes, an old sheet and something comfy to sit on. Or go natural, by creating a den amongst the trees.
    6. Bounce. Trampolining came a close 2nd to water games in our poll. A trampoline is a bit more of an investment, but it’s guaranteed to get plenty of use.
    7. Wheelie fun. Scooters are right up there with trampolines and water games this year. But when it comes to fun with wheels in the garden, you can’t beat a wheelbarrow race!
    8. Get arty. Wall murals will add a splash of colour to the garden, but for something the children can do over and over again, buy a roll of lining paper from the DIY store and let them get creative – and messy – on the lawn.
    9. Treasure hunt. Hide or bury a treasure chest of goodies, with a trail of clues in envelopes for them to follow en route to finding their rewards.
    10. Nature activities. Planting and tending plants and creating nature-friendly zones are a great way for children to get involved in the garden. Or buy them a little trowel so they can join in when you’re doing the gardening.

    All we need now is for the fabulous summer we’ve enjoyed so far in the UK to last throughout the school summer holidays!

  • Lawnmower racing - the grassroots Grand Prix!

    July 5-8 sees one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, the Formula 1® 2018 Rolex British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone.
    lawnmower mower
    Hamilton v Vettel, Mercedes v Ferrari; Ricciardo v Verstappen, Red Bull v Red Bull!  With the cars costing millions of pounds to build, and reaching speeds of over 200mph, who wouldn’t want to swap places with the stars of the track, even for just one day? The thrill of the race, the exhilaration of hitting those speeds. Ah, if only.

    However, there is a version of motor racing that’s open to everyone – lawnmower racing. It might not be quite so quick – the top speeds are 50-60mph – but if it’s good enough for Sir Stirling Moss, then it’s good enough for us.

    It all started in a pub

    As with so many good ideas, lawnmower racing was born out of a chat with mates over a beer down the local pub. It was 1973, the pub was The Cricketers Arms in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, and the man with the lightbulb moment was motor sports fan and former Ford rally driver, Jim Gavin. Fed up that Formula 1 had become inaccessible and commercialised, Jim and his pals organised a race in a field in the village – and 80 racers turned up with their mowers. A 1923 Atco was among them!

    The new sport soon took off and has attracted big name celebrities and motor racing legends, including Sir Stirling Moss, Murray Walker, Chris Evans and Kimi Raikkonen. Sir Stirling, a veteran of 16 Formula 1 victories, won the Lawnmower ‘Grand Prix’ in 1975 and 1976 – there’s a wonderful black-and-white photo from the 1975 race, where an Atco lawnmower is pictured just ahead of him! Sadly, the rights prohibit us using the photo – but you can see it if you do an internet search.

    These days, races take place right across the UK, run by the British Lawnmower Racing Association (BLMRA), a non-profit organisation that uses the events to raise money for charity. The biggest event of the year is the 12-Hour Endurance Race which this year takes place near Billinghurst in Sussex on 4 August.

    Push or ride, you decide

    The first ever race was for self-propelled, roller-driven mowers – and the spirit lives on in the Group 1 races. Basically, the mowers will go as fast as you can push them!

    Group 2 is for cylinder-type roller-driven mowers with a towed seat. The BLMRA reckon that Atco lawnmowers are among the most popular in this group.

    Groups 3 and 4 are the fastest. Group 3 is for ride-on wheel-driven mowers with no obvious bonnet, and Group 4 is for ride-on wheel-driven tractors with a bonnet. For more exact definitions and rules and information on how to get involved, visit the website, www.blmra.co.uk.

    Mowers might not be ready to give the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari a run for their money – yet – but lawnmower racing really does bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘grassroots’ sport!

  • July is the pinnacle of summer

    JULY is the pinnacle of summer. It’s when we’re anticipating our holidays and just want to enjoy being in our gardens. And why not? You did all that hard work (well, it wasn’t that hard I hope, but it should have really paid off) – you now deserve some deck chair time. So, other than mowing with a good sharp blade (and keeping the air filter clear – there’s a lot of dust around), the only thing to worry about – or not – is watering. And watering lawns just happens to be one of my hot topics…
    July garden
    If summer is being kind to us, one of the concerns we may be having is whether to water the lawn or not.  In fact, dependent on what our irrational weather has thrown at us, you may already be watering but here are some helping points regarding water.

    Water is the world’s most valuable resource and plenty of thought should be made before you decide to embark on what could be a lengthy and costly watering program.

    DO I NEED TO WATER THE LAWN? You’re going to feel concerned if your lawn is beginning to brown up in dry conditions. But if the lawn is basically in good condition (and assuming the rains return eventually… and they will!) then there is nothing to worry about. Grass always bounces back. In fact the turning brown is not a symptom of it being unwell but simply its own proven survival technique. But yes, there are plenty of reasons why you may want to minimise this seasonal behaviour. So…

    WHEN SHOULD I WATER? Many think about watering when the lawn is already brown.  It’s a simple fact that to get the lawn lush green again, it will take a lot of water; so it makes much more sense to water the lawn earlier, before it gets too dry. With the plant still growing, it can utilise the water more efficiently.

    HOW DO I WATER? For maximum efficiency there are some things to consider.

    Do you have a water supply sufficient to be able to put enough water down in the time frame you have?  Many never know their water pressure and when it comes to the time to water, soon realise that watering may be a mammoth time-consuming task.

    Do you have the correct tools to be able to water quickly and efficiently?  Do you plan to water by hand?  Is your sprinkler working correctly?  Do you have all the connectors you need?

    Have you worked out the best time to apply the water, to ensure the plant gets the best use out of it?  Evening (after 8pm) is the optimum time as the grass has all night to use the water more efficiently.  Mornings are ok, but you have to remember that soon, it will be warm and moisture can be drawn back to the surface.  And that’s not great for the roots.

    July dog

    So, water is expensive and the life source to all; choose to use it well and don’t waste it. If you can live with a little browning mid-summer, then do. It’s just your lawn having a ‘siesta’ as it’s done for millions of years – and when it’s ready it will soon green up again.

  • Three reasons dads deserve a great big Father's Day 'thank you'

    It’s time to say: “Three cheers for dad!” – and not just to celebrate Father’s Day on 17 June.

    Because this is the time of the year when dads really do come into their own in the garden.

    We’ve picked out three roles they’ll probably be performing in the garden this summer that all deserve a big cheer.
    fathers day

    1. The Lawnmower King. There was a survey done a few years ago which looked at how household chores were shared out. It asked which ones were done by the men of the house and which ones were done by the women. Mowing the lawn was in the Top 5 list of chores that were deemed to be a job for dad. One theory is that it’s an inherited thing, a job that dads pass on to their sons. And, judging by all the blogs and articles on the internet, they don’t see it as a chore at all, because they enjoy doing it.
    2. The BBQ chef. With the UK enjoying some lovely weather this summer, the chances are you’ve had the BBQ out at least once already. And, with Midsummer’s Day on 21 June, those long, light evenings are perfect for getting in the garden and enjoying a get-together with family and friends. Just like the lawnmower, the BBQ has become dad’s territory. Pass him the sausages and burgers and he’s happy … and you won’t find anyone else in the family complaining about that!
    3. The sports star. School holidays, bored kids … but not if you’ve got a sports complex in your garden. From goalposts and cricket pitches to tennis courts and swimming (ok, paddling!) pools, dads are adept at creating makeshift sports ‘facilities’ for the children. There’s probably a good reason for this – they want to join in the fun and games, too! Either way, it gets the kids outdoors and being active, which has got to be worth a cheer.

    The list could go on and on and yes, we know that mums perform these roles as well. But it’s Father’s Day, so let’s raise a glass, show our appreciation and say: “Thanks dad!”

  • World Cup 2018 and Real Grass

    As the 2018 World Cup kicks off, let’s give 3 cheers to real grass!

    For those of us who love our lawns, the grass v artificial debate is a mis-match: grass wins all hands down!
    2018 World Cup
    And, when it comes to football pitches, it seems that footballers agree there’s no substitute for the real thing.

    The Professional Footballers’ Association in England surveyed its members during the 2017-18 season – and a whopping 94% said they were against artificial pitches, much preferring to play on grass.

    However, it seems it might be possible to have the best of both worlds because, for the first time, the FIFA World Cup Final this summer will be played on a surface that isn’t 100% natural grass.

    The brand new SISGrass hybrid surface has been laid at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where the Final is being played on 15 July. Developed by UK firm SIS Pitches, it’s made of 95% natural turf and 5% plastic in the form of specially-designed PE yarn.

    The company argues that the technology offers greater pitch stability and that it lasts considerably longer than grass.

    Although it’s a first for a World Cup Final, combo pitches are actually quite common in international football. The Wembley pitch has a Desso Grassmaster system that combines synthetic grass with Wembley’s own ryegrass mix.

    There are some pitches used for international matches that are completely artificial. Last year, England played on an artificial pitch in their final World Cup qualifier in Lithuania, which they won 1-0.

    But the players have made it crystal clear what they think about such surfaces. They are hoping their opinion counts, when the English Football League (EFL) meets on 8 June to discuss whether artificial pitches should again be allowed, in the lower leagues at least. They were banned in 1995, partly because of concerns over player injuries.

    The issue is back on the agenda now because some clubs in the National League – the highest tier of non-league football – are allowed to have artificial surfaces. It raises the prospect of a club winning promotion to the Football League, but not being able to take their place in the higher division, Football League Division Two, unless they dig up their pitch and re-install grass.

    The main reason why clubs such as Sutton, Maidstone and Bromley have an artificial pitch is because they can also use it as a community resource and they can rent it out for events.

    But we agree with the footballers who say grass is best. It’s a living thing, it supports nature, it looks great – and nothing quite compares to the smell of newly-mown real grass!

  • June - Gardening blog

    spraying-weeds

    JUNE is a strange month when we can be tempted to do things to the lawn that might actually cause more harm than good. The great British weather is responsible - the welcome return of warm, dry conditions tempt us to spend as long as possible in our gardens; but those same conditions mean we must be restrained, just a little….

    MOWING: Whatever else you do or don’t do, one thing’s for certain – you’ll be mowing regularly now. But mowing in hot weather can really stress the lawn, and we need to be counter-intuitive to do it sensibly. The fast growth and fabulous look of a newly-mown lawn encourages us to cut quite short; but if it warm and dry, you really need to raise the height if anything. The grass forms an important cooling, protective canopy of our soils, so by raising the height you can prevent the sun from baking the soil.

    Stress is also the main reason for keeping your blade really sharp too. A blunt blade tears the grass which slows recovery time. And stressed grass won’t make good use of food and water.

    So don’t stop mowing, but protect it. The lawn will thank you for it.
    WEEDS: Warm weather means that herbicides can more easily damage the surrounding grass, so weed treatment can actually be quite dangerous. If you do need to still treat weeds, treat them in the early morning before you get full sun and heat. This will allow the herbicide to get into the plant as safely as you can. Although, if it’s too hot and dry, it’s best left until conditions change and the weed is growing strongly again.

    REPAIRS: The warmth is great for germinating seed; but what about the watering? If it’s dry, you’ll need to water regularly, never allowing the seeds and seedlings to dry out. That’s a lot of work – and a lot of precious water. So try to time your repairs for wetter times if you can.
    garden
    FEED: A summer feed is helpful, especially if you haven’t fed the lawn since Spring. Organic feeds are not just good for the environment but are also a much safer option. Organics also have the benefit of rarely needing to be watered in immediately – you can apply it and then wait for the next rain shower. Beware, however, that products with moss killers should not be used during hot spells as they may scorch the grass.
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    So, do get out there, do enjoy your garden, and do continue looking after you lawn. But bear in mind the stress that this lovely weather can cause – and if you did all the right things early in the spring, your lawn will be in good health and will survive much better in dry weather anyway.

  • May - Gardening Blog

    MAY sits on that lovely cusp between spring and early summer. As the whole garden comes to life, you should be able to see the results of your hard work earlier in the year in that beautiful green centrepiece. And as we’re now well into the mowing season, I’m going to focus mostly on that this month – for some mowing means a gentle stroll up and down the garden daydreaming about everything and nothing, but good mowing requires more concentration – and is well worth the effort.

    weeds in a lawn
    MOWING: Most grass looks good just after mowing but yours will look superb after all the remedial work you’ve been doing (and if you didn’t get round to it, make a note for next winter and spring). But good mowing isn’t just about making the lawn look good; it’s a critical pruning technique, and like any technique, it requires a little bit of skill and knowledge:

    1. Height: Different grasses actually prefer to be cut to different lengths, but for a general lawn there’s a simple rule of thumb that we can borrow from the professionals - cut no more than a 1/3 of the leaf blade in one go.  So, for example, if you like your grass to be 2”, then leave it first to reach 3” before cutting.
    2. Frequency: Once a week is enough when growth is good. However, twice a week, removing half as much each time, will not in fact take twice as long but will give you twice the benefit.
    3. Direction: Mow in different patterns to ensure the lawn doesn’t produce ‘grain’.
    4. Blade: Always keep your lawn mower blade sharp. Ideally a rotary mower blade should be given a ‘new’ edge each time you mow. Sounds like hard work? It’s actually really easy if you keep a spare blade – you can switch it in a moment, and sharpen the blunt one when you have a spare moment.
    5. Clean your mower! After every mow remember to clean the underside of the mower. Hard, stuck clumps of dried grass will interfere with its ‘collecting’ performance and drop onto your lawn.

    FEEDING: If you have renovated a couple of months ago in March, you could apply a nice feed now to ensure the optimum health of the lawn.  It’s best never to let the lawn get too hungry, and while feeds can last for up to 12 weeks, things like heavy rainfall can flush it through the lawn and cut this down to as little as a month.

    LAST MINUTE RENOVATION: Both scarification and aeration can still be carried out. However, as we head closer towards mid-summer, you may need to water the lawn to prevent stress; it’s a good idea to look at some weather forecasts to see if nature’s clouds can lend a hand.

    WEEDS: If you have weeds they’ll be doing really well by now! However, my advice remains the same; don’t drown the lawn in herbicide unless you really have to. Spot treatment works just as well even on stubborn weeds, and is much better for the garden.

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    One final tip – the warmer temperatures will really help germination, so if you have small areas to repair, now’s a good time.

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