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Which? Gardening turns 30, what would you like us to trial?

We’re celebrating Which? Gardening’s 30th birthday by looking through the archives. We’ve trialled everything from organic pest controls to petunias, from roses to rotavators. And we want your ideas for more trials!

Which? Gardening’s archives make fascinating reading – and not just for the interesting haircuts of colleagues past and present.

In 1982, gardening was less about lifestyle and more about hard work. Veg was grown to save money, power tools were expensive and clunky, and chemicals were used liberally. Peat was used like it was going out of fashion (it later did) and no one had heard of food miles. TV makeover shows such as Ground Force had yet to hit our screens and allotments were a strictly male domain.

The first issues of Which? Gardening featured trials of secateurs, hedge trimmers, tulip bulb suppliers, composts and moss killers – all good, practical stuff that we still cover today.

But in many ways the magazine was ahead of its time. It covered organic growing long before it became fashionable, looked at ‘exotic’ veg way before most people had heard of pak choi, and campaigned to get more kids in schools gardening. It even extolled the virtues of loofahs (they didn’t catch on).

What should we put to the test?

Trials are what make Which? Gardening unique, of course, and it’s been fascinating to discover the lengths that the magazine has gone to when trying out a new product or plant.

Some trials are the stuff of legend: in 1993, a large bed of roses was cut to the ground with a hedge trimmer. It was found that rough pruning them in this way worked just as well as traditional techniques. In 2003, 500 readers experimented with growing crops according to the lunar calendar. They concluded that where the moon was didn’t matter – but that weather conditions did.

The magazine still strives to find the tastiest fruit and veg, the most beautiful and robust plants and the best possible products. It trims acres of turf every year to find the best mowers, sprays tools with salt water to see if they rust, spools and unspools hoses 300 times to see if they kink and deliberately infects roses with black spot. As I write, millions of whitefly are poised to meet their maker in a trial of aphid controls.

So, is there anything you’d like to see Which? Gardening cover? A technique you’d like us to put the test? A product you’d like to see put through its paces? Or a type of fruit or veg you’d like us to grow and taste? We’re currently putting our 2014 schedule together and would love to hear from you.

Comments
Profile photo of Ben Stevens
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The removal of tree stumps.

I’ve dug out a few in my time, and there are lots of useful tips to make this difficult job that much easier. On occasions, however, it’s just not possible and nor is getting a stump grinder down the path beside the house.

In these instances, with the stump cut at ground level, what are the best poisons to use on trees that regenerate? What are the risks to other plants, children and pets? And what’s the best method of application?

Profile photo of wavechange
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I have no personal experience but I have been told on more than one occasion that glyphosate will do the job if poured into holes drilled in the stump. If done carefully, it should be safe.

Profile photo of wavechange
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What I have suggested will not remove the stumps, of course – only prevent further growth.

Profile photo of Veronica Peerless
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Cheers Ben. Great idea, and as it happens, we’re looking to do a feature on this next year : )

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Would like to suggest some trials on protection (of young sensitive fruit trees) against frost. I have lost young specimens of Chinese gooseberry (Actinidia deliciosa) and its allegedly more frost resistant relative A. arguta, in the last two winters. And a young fig was badly damaged but did regrow from beneath the soil. Fleece was of no help to the A. arguta, even using the heavier (70g/m2) version double, suspended on a bamboo cage around it. The same around the fig still saw the fig badly ‘burned’ by frost but it has regrown. Now I have a fine new A. deliciosa 1.9m tall and the regrown fig looks great at 1.3m tall. To protect them I am thinking of, after leaf fall, making the same but taller bamboo cage with fleece and this time filling it with straw. All this is experimental and quite costly (especially in time – we’ve lost two years so far). It would be great if Which? Gardening could do some trials, especially of these ‘warm temperate’ species that should be of importance with global warming. I would be happy to collaborate: I have max / min thermoters for inside the ‘cages’ as well as in a conventional Stevenson Screen from which I record daily temperatures. We are in Oxford.

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Frost protection: further to my suggestion above. An additional question concerns the value of a mulch in frost protection. I have a mulch around all my newly planted fruit trees. Presumably this helps conserve warmth of the soil at night. But might this be counter-productive if it blocks heat radiation from the soil at night thus allowing the above ground stem and branches to suffer more from the cold?

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R Christie says:
1 October 2012

I like to keep fresh herbs growing in pots on the kitchen windowsill. I regularly cut Coriander, Basil and Parsley (which I keep going by re-potting cuttings), and I’m about to try Lemongrass and Dill too.

Of course when the daylight shortens they die back. I fancy making some growing boxes with artificial lighting to keep some growing over the winter. LED’s are now inexpensive to buy and run and are available from red to ultra-violet. I wonder though, what is the optimum balance of lighting? Maybe this is something your experts might try and report back to us in due course.

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David Simpson says:
4 December 2012

I would like plant supports tested. There are so many types now available and some are quite expensive, I would like to know which are the most cost-effective. Each year I buy some more hoops, spirals, link stakes and last year even some girdles! Some worked, some didn’t. I also use good old fashioned bamboo canes and string but these are a bit unsightly and never look natural plus the string often snaps causing everything to flop. I lost several Delphiniums this year with this problem.

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I am interested in buying a rotavator to keep my veg garden neat and prevent breaking my back. Yet could not find any previous results on which?. So strongly suggest rotavators as a new trial please!

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Martin says:
20 January 2016

I have a Mantis tiller which has given excellent service for many years. It is lightweight, very manoeuvrable and ideal for keeping weeds down between rows of veg. It is also good for turning roughly dug soil into fine tilth for crop sowing and planting, but it struggles with compacted ground. Mine came with a lawn scarifier, easily fitted in lieu of the tiller blades..

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I agree. I have just bought a second hand Mantis classic which works very well on the allotment. It does bounce quite a bit on hard ground, which is tiring on the arms, and does not like long grass or large stones which stop it and need to be cleared. It turns the early season ground preparation from a massive unwelcome chore into a days work. I have also used it to “dig trenches”. The tines can be set to just go 2 inches deep so that it can also be used to weed between rows without damaging any but the most superficial roots. It is perfect for tap root vegetables which are undisturbed. Get the 4 stroke version if buying second hand and consider the electric version if you have access to power.

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I have an allotment without an electric supply. At home I have a number of electrical garden tools but can’t use these at the allotment. I did buy a cord free trimmer which lasts about 30 mins on one charge but it is not especially powerful or good at thick undergrowth. I recently looked into getting a tiller and settled on a second hand Mantis classic at £220. New this is £380 but electric versions are significantly cheaper. Petrol engines need maintenance which adds to the cost and are potentially less reliable than electric equipment.
I met a new person at the allotment who had a generator, which he actually bought for other reasons. He plans to use existing electrical equipment with his generator although he admitted it did take 2 people to carry. Dues to recent break-ins and thefts we do not leave electrical or motorised equipment at the allotment so portability is an issue. Very light generators can be extremely expensive, cheaper ones are heavy. I think wheels and a weight less than 24 kg are probably manageable. Price also goes up with power.
Considerations
How much power do you need? Enough to drive a tiller, lawn mower and trimmer with only one being used at any one time. My guess is min 1K power needed.
How long should the generator run for? As this is not to provide long term power a few hours without refilling with petrol is probably adequate.
Are cordless tools a realistic option? There are cordless tillers but they attract a premium price and need multiple batteries which are not cheap. Duration of operation is severely restricted, making them an impractical option at present unless you buy multiple batteries. Then it is cheaper to get a generator.
How would costs compare between a generator and electrical equipment vs petrol driven alternatives? If you have the electrical equipment already then the generator seems a good option.

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Apart from growing fruit and vegetables, I thought the whole idea of an allotment, or leisure garden as they are sometimes described now, was to do things by hand, take your time, not make a noise, enjoy the open air without petrol fumes and constant racket, and keep it under regular cultivation so that powerful tools were not needed.

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Thoughtless use of noisy power tools can destroy other people’s pleasure in gardening and the outdoors.

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I used to lug around petrol generators and became concerned that I could damage my back lifting the things in and out of the car. I bought an 800W inverter (with a higher surge rating), mounted it in a metal tool case for protection and added heavy cables with caravan-type clip on battery connectors. I added auxiliary terminal posts to the battery clamps of my car. When the car engine is idling, the alternator produces enough power to prevent the car battery being discharged, and if I’m using power tools infrequently, I don’t need to run the engine. I have been using my inverter when working away from home since before battery tools became available.

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Would I be correct in assuming that this rather purist/idealised view of allotment cultivation comes from someone who does not have an allotment? Get out there, do the work and then come back and tell us how to cultivate an allotment.

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That’s why it is so important to use them thoughtfully as set out in allotment rules.

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You are right, Dugalheath, I don’t have an allotment but I have done the double-digging and the back-breaking preparation for vegetable cultivation on heavy clay. I am also aware of the hard work put in by the plotsmen at our local allotments doing it the old fashioned way without powered equipment. We now have too much garden at home to allow us to manage an allotment as well and we no longer require so much produce. I applaud those who do keep a good allotment going.

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They way in which people choose to cultivate their allotment/garden vary greatly. Whilst I, and a number of others, have chosen to use tillers there are many who continue to dig and some who apply a “no dig” policy. I have never heard anyone voicing criticism of another’s choice and don’t’ see an individual’s choice in terms of right or wrong any more than I would their drinking tea rather than coffee or vice versa.

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Allotments seem also to be sociable gathering places, and their “shops” seem a good source of proper gardening stuff at sensible prices.

My bete noir is watering – mainly in the greenhouse. I seem to either get things too wet, or too dry, particularly at the propagation and early growing stages. Hanging baskets and outdoor planters also need disciplined attention. So I’d find information useful on moisture meters, automatic watering systems – controllers and drips – capillary systems and controllers, and so on; both equipment and its application. An equipment survey and performance from Which? would be good, but so would other gardeners experiences and methods.

I should say I have a Hozelock automatic water controller linked to a drip feeding system that I bought online very cheaply, just as a start, and it did a great job on 6 hanging baskets. Measuring the water output initially at each drip for the water on-time was worthwhile – it is surprising how much a drip produces – drop by drop – in half an hour.

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Over winter I have tended to cover the allotment in black plastic sheets to suppress weed growth and make preparing the ground the following year easier. An alternative is to sew “green manure”. I would be interested in a comparison of the two methods in terms of weed control, ease of preparing the ground the following season and retaining or improving soil fertility.

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Beryl says:
28 April 2017

For people without an outside tap you can now purchase a water pump to put in your water butt. It comes with a long hose and cable to plug into the electricity supply. It saves you humping a heavy watering can up and down the garden several times to water your container plants. I would be interested to know how efficient they are as I am thinking of buying one.

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Hi Beryl – I have no experience of doing this, though I do run my pressure washer from a water butt.

Unlike pond pumps which operate at low voltage the pumps sold for water butts seems to be mains voltage (230V). For safety, it is vital that you have an RCD, either at the consumer unit or plug the pump into a portable RCD adaptor fitted to the mains socket. I would also buy a known brand from a retailer you trust.

Check that the water butt does not have a layer of leaf debris, or the pump inlet filter will soon block. Some of the reviews are not very positive and my guess is that people are using them in butts filled with debris. If you have a long hose you may need a higher pressure pump. The descriptions are a little unhelpful. For example the high flow rates quoted can decrease substantially depending on how far the water has to be raised and the length of the outlet hose.

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Beryl says:
28 April 2017

Thanks Wavechange, I have checked the internet and there seems to be a variation in model pressure and price range. ‘Phil’ @ youtube.com – Priming a Hozelock Water Butt Pump demonstrates on how to assemble it.

Its as well I still have an RCD even though I rarely use the electric mower nowadays and thanks for the reminder to use it. There is almost bound to be some leaf residue at the bottom of the water butt so hopefully the long handled gripper will come in handy to tackle this. There may also be a problem controlling the end hose water supply in some models, seemingly not recommended due to a danger of the pump overheating. My main concern however would be the loss of water when returning to switch off the power.

Apart from that I might just give it a go before the next dry spell.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I think it’s well worth draining off the water and cleaning out the butt before fitting a pump, Beryl. My guess is that there will be a layer of decomposing leaves at the bottom. Here are instructions for a Hozelock pump: http://www.hozelock.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2826-uk-33725-001-W-BUTT-PUMP-UK.pdf They advise sitting the pump on a couple of bricks to keep the it above accumulated debris.

The Hozelock pump has a small filter in the outlet hose connector and that is likely to block from time to time, but can easily be cleaned, so assume that the pump will have to be taken out of the water butt occasionally. That does not seem clever design because submersible pumps are normally designed to keep debris from getting into the pump, not out of it! I have a well designed submersible pump but it’s too big for use in a water butt. I bought it about ten years ago when I was living near a river and my home was nearly flooded. 🙁 Thankfully it has never been used.

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Beryl says:
29 April 2017

Thanks for the very comprehensive diagram Wavechange. It emphasises the importance of preparation to prevent blockages through debris build up. The water butt is conveniently situated very close to a power socket inside the conservatory accessed through a window, but as I am very aware of the danger of water and electricity coming into contact I will make sure I adhere to the instructions. Next step is to find a couple of bricks. The neighbours may oblige if I ask them nicely 🙂

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I found that my submersible pump (Clarke Hippo 2) was supplied with different size adaptors, including a small one that fitted ordinary hose pipe. With a long hose attached, the pressure is not high, but it’s adequate to run a small sprinkler. Thanks for helping me find a use for the pump, Beryl. 🙂

It would be good if Which? would test the water butt pumps because they do seem to differ, for example in how much water pressure they produce.

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Wavechange , most of the pumps are around 1.1 bar for home use but Hozelock have a “Ultra Metal Garden Pump” at 3.5 bar . For £163 you can get a commercial version from a pump company with full size electric motor and all brass alloy pump. Most will be impeller action I have repaired industrial ones the distance between the circumference and the edge of the impeller blade widens with use reducing the efficiency , I usually replaced the whole pump section it was cheaper to do so in the long run . Funnily enough while searching using a German search engine I got- Pakistan,s nuclear weapons program relating to atomic generation in defence against its “enemies ” I think their pump would be too big ? On one website a wag said – lift the water butt higher for more pressure – its a pertinent engineering point.

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I’m familiar with inline pumps and wondered if they were sold for use with water butts, on the basis that it would be easy to connect one to the outlet tap. I turned up the Hozelock pump you mention, which offers a decent pressure. I wondered why the manufacturers suggested using a dip tube and then realised that a water butt tap would restrict the flow too much. The other complication is that it is necessary to prime this sort of pump.

At my previous home I considered using an old mains-powered Stuart-Turner centrifugal pump to water my small vegetable patch from water butts. It was not designed for outdoor use so I took the easier option and raised the water butt sufficiently to provide the pressure needed.

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When we had a much larger garden I coupled two water butts together with a long hosepipe fitted near the base of both butts. The water in the one at the far end of the garden was at the same level as that in the one next to the house. It was useful for filling water cans but this would not work so well if there was a significant difference in level between the bases of the two butts [for example, if the garden was on an incline]. Most watering was done using mains water and we also had an irrigation system with several branches and that was time-clock controlled.

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I use a pressure washer to clean the car. My tap water is very hard and leaves streaks on the windows, whereas rainwater is soft and I can get away with not using a chamois leather. 🙂 Knowing that the water butt attached to the drain pipe from the garage roof would accumulate a layer of debris, mainly from decomposing tree leaves, I linked my second water butt at the top, so that it would fill up when the first butt is full. I’m hoping that this will mean that little debris accumulates in the second water butt, so that the inlet filter on the pressure washer does not need cleaned very often.

My present pressure washer works fine from a water butt on a stand whereas my previous three pressure washers did not. I don’t recall Which? mentioning this in their tests.

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Beryl says:
6 May 2017

Apparently if you cut and separate the legs of a pair of women’s lacy tights you can fill one leg with charcoal and hang it inside the water butt and wrap the other leg around the inlet pipe to act as a filter to trap any debris entering the butt reducing the need to clean.

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After no more than 8 months the water butt fed from my garage gutters contained a layer of organic debris, the only recognisable thing being lots of winged seeds like those produced by sycamore and maple trees. I’m the wrong gender to have women’s tights, Beryl, but that would be better than fitting a filter in the gutter and have to climb up and clear it on a regular basis.

I hope that Which? will test water butt pumps, both submersible and inline types.

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Beryl says:
6 May 2017

You can buy them online Wavechange but make sure you avoid the Nora Batty ones as I would imagine they could block the water supply as well as the debris 🙂

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Indeed. Maybe we should discuss bloomers next, as in the kind that add a little colour to even the smallest garden.

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Beryl says:
6 May 2017

It never ceases to amaze where a bit of humour can lead to on Convo! Bloomers led me to a more practical garden idea such as the Brassica genus, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc. which contain goitrogens, not recommended for people such as myself who have inherited hypothyroidism. Goitrogens can induce hypothyroidism and goitre (hence the name) in the absence of normal iodine intake.
Source: en.m.wikipedia.org – Brassica

I was always advised to avoid these vegetables but never understood why. Mystery now solved Wavrchange and it all started with water butts!

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I would be interested in a review of frost protective devices. You can get fleece, polythene and cloches. Prices vary greatly. I have never really understood when to use polythene and when to use fleece or if one is better than the other. I read the claims for a poly and an fleece tunnel side by side and the seemed pretty much identical. I just use polythene and recently made cloches for beans out of 2l plastic lemonade bottles by cutting off the bottom.

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“No dig” gardening appeals to me in principle. How this is best done? Anyone practise it? We are on a clay soil.

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Lawn?
You could always have wild flower sections. 🌾🍀🌼🌾☘🐌🌾🌷🐝🌾🍄🌾

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I recall you posting that you had obtained four tonnes of manure, Malcolm, and I assume that this needs to be dug in. My father had a large garden with heavy clay. It took many years of digging in compost to make it into good soil for vegetables and fruit. A cultivator would have saved him a great deal of work. Looking at Google Earth I see that his wonderful garden has become a lawn. 🙁

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i always leave compost – home made or otherwise – on the surface and let the worms do the work – they are all on internships. Except when I want a seed bed, then I shuffle the surface with a spade. The best cheap soil conditioner I had was spent mushroom compost. I also had good crops of mushrooms but the farm has closed. I’m not sure of the qualities of my cow manure yet, but moving it kept me fit.

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OK, but I had assumed that digging would improve the drainage of clay soil and digging in compost make it less heavy.

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I believe the worms improve the drainage.

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They do malcolm over a long period of time if you leave leaves on the top of the soil the worms pul them down through the soil , it takes a long time for thick clay but it does work and the soil structure enables plants to grow that dont like thick clay. The quicker way is the hard work way digging up a few feet of topsoil and adding fibre to it (organic ) and if it is wet clay digging drainage channels to draw away the water quickly , all hard work. Or you could be the “sterile ” gardener – concrete over and plant pots with plastic flowers -drawback – no smell from the plastic flowers .

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Many many years ago when plastic flowers started to arrive from HK, our neighbours concreted over their back and front lawns, painted the concrete green, surrounded the “lawns” with hollow concrete blocks and “planted” polythene flowers in them. I suppose these days it might be on display at Chelsea or Tate Modern.

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I have tried no dig gardening with some success. There seem to be a number of ways of doing this the simplest of which is to put down a layer of cardboard and then a layer of rotted manure/compost on top. Plant into the manure/compost. You can get cardboard for free but unless you are manufacturing a very large amount of your own compost you are going to need to buy some. This is the greatest expense. Also weeds do still come through. I stopped because it was too expensive even though I cover the ground with free manure in the autumn and then with plastic sheeting to suppress all weed growth. I still needed to buy compost/manure in the spring. Also the manure we get has a high proportion of wood chips which are left on the surface the next year. They are not fertile so I have started turning them in. I got fed up digging and so got a second hand 4 stroke Mantis classic tiller (I do not have access to an electric supply). I do have some no dig beds from this year.
If you turn your ground over to cultivation of “permanent” crops such as Asparagus, Artichokes, Raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb etc there is less ground to “prepare” each year and if you use raised beds that cuts down the amount of land further.
You can always experiment with a small area and see how it goes. If you just hate digging consider a Mantis tiller. I looked on e-Bay and Gum Tree. Prices on the former did seem higher (I think people get carried away with the bidding process) and bought one through Gum Tree from a local householder. I prefer this as if I visit a house it is unlikely to be stolen and I can see the tiller and ask questions before buying. The season for buying these tillers is over so there are fewer second hand ones available right now. However, the sellers of new ones may have reductions from now on. I note that Mantis had a sale last December. If you have access to an electric supply you can get an electric one much cheaper.

I am not sure there is a right and wrong way to do it. I hope this helps you decide.

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Thanks dugal 🙂

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There are numerous “no dig” videos on YouTube. I am subscribed to 5 or 6 of them for the continuing story.

This is one of the best. People with enquiring minds.
youtube.com/channel/UCVQCQJyZQcIioTDQ4SACvZQ
if the look does not work for you the channel name is “Back to Reality” and they have been trying a variety of no-dig methods. I have no doubt there are some English gadners also doing videos.

The charity HDRA now trading as Garden Organic have indicated this site
charlesdowding.co.uk
which looks pretty darn good.

I considered raised beds but may well go to no-dig for a lot of the area and perhaps use a machine where I will be planting long rows for things like sunflowers where I am not fussed about them all flowering together. Anyway we will see as I have a new garden this year and an unkempt field to consider. Different soil, latitude, aspect etc – it does not pay to be too ambitious.

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Beryl says:
6 May 2017

The key with weeding is to get them as soon as they show. They are much easier to pull up and you get them before they have a chance to reproduce. I remember one neighbour who went out with his hoe every w/e and chopped them up before they even grew. He had a large garden but it was all finished in about an hour. His wife always mowed the lawn which invariably took a lot longer.

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The problem weed I have, in common with many others, is convolvulus (bindweed). I have two varieties – one with single roots that form spaghetti-nests, and one with multiple roots. Both roots go too deep to extract them all. Whilst I do dig a lot up as it surfaces the better way is to let them grow up sticks, or along polythene, and then attack them with Glyphosate. But the latter solutions look untidy. Any other ideas?

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I just accept that I have it and pull out anything above ground whenever it appears. The idea is that if it cannot photosynthesise then it cannot survive. It is too early to say if this approach works. However, deep digging does not.

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Patrick Taylor says:
8 May 2017

Glysophate whilst they are young I would think preferable to allowing them to grow. However given the evidence against glysophate I am running down what I have or may even dispose of it.

I do often just keep attacking weeds on a morning walk around the garden as dugalheath suggests. Enlarging the garden may mean much longer morning walks : )

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/

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Thanks for the link Patrick Taylor.
Scary….
I attack horsetail with it in small sections so I can prevent the wildlife getting at it.

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There is plenty of evidence why glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) is best avoided, Patrick, and you have provided one example. It’s best to assume that all chemical pesticides are harmful because our metabolism is so similar to that of plants.

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I have started sewing green manure as a means of supressing weeds and enriching the soil, especially if I do not plan to plant for some time. Areas under trees have a long term manure. I bought from this site. https://www.thegrassseedstore.co.uk/product-category/green-manure/
There are a number of different types for different applications. I make sure the ground is pretty weed free before I start which means that I rotavate it first. I am waiting to see if it will outcompete the weeds. So far I need to core out the dandelions and dock with a special weed extractor tool from Tesco (not the Wolf one) leaving the surrounding green manure relatively intact. Some areas take well and some don’t so I will reseed in a few weeks.

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There are a lot of places where you can buy tools for the garden including supermarkets (Asda, Tesco, Waitrose), value stores (Wilko, Aldi, Lidl, Poundland) and DIY stores (Homebase, B & Q, Wicks). I would be interested to see a review of “lower end items” (perhaps “own brand” items) sold at these stores to see if they are “fit for purpose”.
I bought a stainless steel spade, secateurs, garden canes, gravel trays and large pots from Wilko; wire brush for cleaning between paving stones, garden kneeler and stainless steel trowel from Tesco and propagators from Homebase. All at very good prices and they seem to work well.
I note that Which has recently asked members for their experience with electrical items from Aldi and Lidl. It would be interesting to compare a few “own brand” everyday items that are reasonably priced from these outlets in terms of functionality and cost. Items for comparison might include fork and spade, secateurs, seed trays, gravel trays, pots, a mini greenhouse, garden canes, trowel and fork, loppers, garden twine/wire etc.

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I have been very satisfied with some own-label garden tools I have bought from Wilko, including a shovel [strong but not too heavy], sieve, rake [good tines and braced head], rubber tubs, and gloves of various types. I also use their path weedkiller which is much cheaper than the big brands and seems to be just as effective [given that half of it goes beyond the target anyway]. I have looked at – but not bought – garden tools from Homebase or B&Q because their designs seemed unnecessarily strange and clumsy; I could see the intention to make them more ergonomic but they were too heavy for prolonged use. I haven’t found a trowel anywhere that wouldn’t bend or break within a short period of use [including Wolf products] so I still use my father’s ones that were probably bought in the late 1940’s.

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I successfully used Lidl anvil-loppers to deal with pruning roses and shrubs that needed something more than secateurs. When I moved home and needed to prune trees the aluminium anvil bent and then broke. I had realised that this was a weak point when I had bought these loppers but they were fine for the light duties that I had originally intended. I’m now using Wilkinson Sword loppers that were heavily discounted old stock in The Range and they have seen a lot of use in the past year.

The only cheap gardening product I can recommend is pruners like the ones in this photo:

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Courtesy: learningwithexperts.com

These plastic ones have a ratchet that gives additional leverage and though they won’t last for ever they are quite nice to use. I have a friend who helps me keep the shrubs under control and she now selects the cheap plastic pruners rather than the Felco or Wilkinson-Sword ones. I don’t think these plastic pruners are still on sale but I am still using the ones I bought years ago.

I certainly don’t believe that ‘you get what you pay for’, Dugal. Like John, I bent a fair number of trowels but now have a stainless steel one that has survived heavy use. It’s more curved than its predecessors, which makes it stronger.

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I bent an trowel recently and bought a stainless steel one from Tesco. Manufacturers need to concentrate on the strength/material of the shaft connecting the blade to the handle. I guess reductions in the amount of material used in more modern tools mean it has got weaker. I also broke a steel spade and replaced it with a Wilko stainless steel one. So far so good on both products. It might be worth Which testing the flexural strength of various trowels.

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Hi Dugal. I edited my comment to add the comment about trowels, having read John’s post. You are absolutely right about many modern tools being weaker, so it’s important to inspect products carefully for obvious design faults.

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I suspect it can be quite difficult to make an accurate assessment by sight alone. I believe tools are made from tool steel which comes in a number of grades. I presume that certain grades are for certain purposes but imagine that trowels can be made from a basic steel which is cheaper and not as “strong”.

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Has anyone experience using a small stump grinder? Do they leave stumps at ground level or is it possible to take them below the surface? I would need a small stump grinder because there is not much room between the house and the garage. Going through the garage is no better because the back door is no wider than a normal door.

A friend had a couple of fairly small trees cut down and has asked me for advice. What I have in mind is hiring one, probably from a local independent company rather than one of the large chains and also using it on a couple of Leylandii stumps in my own garden. I did dig out one stump and it proved much harder than expected.

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I had a large Maple tree removed professionally after the roots toppled a garden wall. They used a stump grinder. As I recall the factor determining the size of the grinder was weather it would go through the door at the back of the garage. It did and they ground out the stump well below ground level so that the wall could be rebuilt. On replanting it was as if the tree had never been there. Although I cannot tell you the exact depth of the grinding it was deep enough.

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Thanks Dugal. I guess the tree surgeon did not offer to remove the stumps was the access problem. The annoying thing is that there is plenty of room at the other side of the house but a substantial fence in the way. I had better measure the doorway in the garage.

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Otherwise, call in the Royal Navy to do a trial Field Gun Challenge over your garage roof. It would make a change for them from the usual chasm.

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That possibility had not occurred to me, John, but I’ve a feeling it might annoy the neighbours.

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When I had the tree surgeons remove my maple tree they seems conversant with the problems of getting access to the back garden with stump grinders. They knew the standard size of doors and which ones would go through so I guess there are machines that will go through but I cannot tell you which. Maybe ask tree surgeons or hire firms.

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You are right Dugal. I looked at a couple of local companies and there are small machines that will do the job. I need to coordinate this with a friend to make hiring a machine more worthwhile.

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The cost of hiring can be quite steep. After receiving a quote I then go and look to se if it is cheaper to buy one. For things you use frequently such as drills, impact drivers etc it is but how often do you need a stump grinder.

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One of the areas I have problems with is early year indoor planting (starting in Jan’ Feb)’ is propagating from seeds. I have modified an airing cupboard and fitted LED lights to allow me to start off seedlings when it is still too cold for the mini greenhouse or soil outside. I sew into either shallow (5 cm deep) seed trays or the plastic trays you get grapes and other fruit from the supermarket and which are 8 to 10 cm deep. I follow the instructions which may include pre-soaking. There are two issues: failure to germinate and etiolated seedlings. The former is noted especially when it is “warm enough” to start propagating outside and usually overcome by placing the seedling in the airing cupboard until they break the soil. If the outside nighttime temperature is >100C (aided by a small thermostatically controlled heater) I place them outside again. The second problem is of long spindly seedlings with no ability to stand upright. In leeks this is a positive plus as you can then drop them down a deep hole. Not so good for brassicas or climbing French beans or broad beans. I end up planting them in deep holes or trying to support them with 2l lemonade bottle cloches.
On gardeners question time it was suggested that it was necessary for the seedlings to be touched to strengthen their stems or have fans blow air across them. I have resorted to placing them on the garden bench during the day in the hope they catch some breeze. The pigeons have not caught on yet, but I do leave out suet balls and seeds for the birds. I have also, and I hesitate to mention this, been stroking the plants gently once or twice a day for ten seconds or so.
An article on how to get strong healthy seedlings and avoid the above problems would be most welcome.

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Patrick Taylor says:
8 May 2017

You have raised an interesting point which crosses my mind now and then. I expect Which? to test products and Gardening Which? does gardening products. For me this means machinery, compost seed germination results, tools etc. And even garden furniture perhaps.

I have gardening magazines and sites for plant advice. This may seem slightly arbitrary but gardening sites generally do not do “testing” of product. Therefore Which? would be THE reliable source – however the X hose piece revealed a bit of a gap in testing and what was related to people. I was much saddened by this.

Unfortunately the way Which? is organised I cannot simply post my report on say x garden furniture, or what site is good on sharpening tools. Given the number of people with gardens one might assume that members could happily have a forum.

There is the Community Forum however as that has been from the start a miserably difficult forum to access – it is barely used. Also even if you subscribed to Gardening Which? you do not get access to the Forum.

This may be changing as I have pointed out to CA recently that their stated intention that they use it for CA governance announcements fails to meet Company Act requirements if Ordinary Members are barred from accessing the information unless they pay additional money.

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There are so many potential resources out there it is difficult to know which one to follow. My wife bought me this book for Christmas which has a beguiling simplicity in that it tells you what to do on your allotment month by month.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=alan+buckingham+the+allotment
I recently bought some raspberry canes from Dobies and emailed them for an advice guide on planting and looking after them. They sent one, which may have been in their online resource but I could not find it and they attached a document not send a link. I also like the RHS site which I trust implicitly and use from time to time.
Anyway, less “chatting” and more gardening. Time to weed the strawberries and asparagus!

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I was looking at polytunnels and noted that you could buy a cheap one for less than £100 but that many were in the £500 range. A review of polytunnels might be interesting.

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Also worth testing with the phasing out of dangerous weedkillers would be the flameguns and also electric guns for killing weeds. They are re under £100 but the costs of the two systems and the efficacy of the electric”gun” are of great interest.

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Paraffin is quite expensive, but not as bad as the little ones that use gas cartridges. I expect that an electric gun would be painfully slow, based not he performance of electric paint strippers. I’m fully in support of avoiding weedkillers.

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I have recently become aware of roottrainer pots and wonder if they are worth buying. A first look or study comparing them with standard methods would be interesting.

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abe says:
16 June 2017

I would like garden plants prices quality tested with well known garden centres and supermakets and diy store plants. Aldi lidl pound shop plants bulbs.

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Some of the gardening magazines and the weekend newspapers undertake this sort of comparison from time to time, Abe.