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Organic Cottage Garden In Summer

Updated: Mar 22

As grey clouds and heavy rain continue through an extraordinary poor summer the garden is looking fabulous! The adverse weather from a very frosty April, a very wet May and a cool June

has resulted in huge, tall plants, masses of blooms and very few pests and diseases. As a keen gardener who uses the garden for colour and texture research, these conditions have not all been frustrating but as an organic garden they have been favourable. It may also be because this year I have been really vigilant with spraying homemade 100% organic insecticide. I am trialling the use of tea this year. I have read a few articles that suggest old tea bags can be used in many ways, and so far I have to say they seem to do a great job. My homemade insecticide has been developed over the last few summers and comprises of 5 gallons of rainwater, 2 drops of liquid soap, a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda and a pint of tea (no milk or sugar of course!). This gets sprayed on absolutely everything in the garden.

Not only can tea be sprayed as an insect deterrent, it can also be buried in the ground in it's bag to feed nutrients directly to plant roots. I have also been opening tea bags and using the loose tea scattered on the ground in a circle around bug sensitive plants such as dahlias. I have even experimented with spraying my brassicas with the tea solution and then very lightly dusting very small amounts of loose tea over the leaves. As I mentioned earlier I'm not entirely sure if it's the colder than usual weather or my new system but I am completely bug free! I have not had to use my tongs to pick off caterpillars, nor use a paint brush on roses to get rid of aphids. I had considered buying ladybirds online but the garden was full of them back in May, so maybe they had eaten all the bug eggs earlier in the year?

I have also recently read that coconut oil is fine on the garden which means we can recycle most of our bath water. For the majority of our baths we clean with just coconut oil and bi-carb and so the water is perfect for the garden. Bicarbonate of Soda (not Baking Powder!) is an absolute miracle mineral. If used sparsely it is great at not only protecting from bugs, but it also stops fungus and disease. The salt content in bi-carb draws moisture out of fungus and bacteria offering great protection if used regularly. Successful organic gardening means you have to be really aware of the weather as most sprayed solutions and applications will wash away with rain. I always ensure I spray under the leaves and always spray after rain.

This year's wet May has been fabulous for my strawberries as I have never grown them so large, and these on the right are from plants that are 5 years old! Who says you need to replace strawberries every few years and not only are these from old plants, they are actually growing on a gravel drive on a north west facing wall. They break all the rules for strawberry growing! I experimented with strawberry growing and the ones in full sun and fertile ground were really disappointing and so now I grow them in their natural environment which includes lots of dappled shade. With commercial strawberries grown in open fields you have to ask how mine have grown so large in such unsuitable conditions!

The strawberries are not the only fruit that has grown in abundance. I was getting 2 litres of strawberries a day from about 15 plants but the summer fruiting raspberries have been quite remarkable. For the last two weeks, three 7ft rows of raspberry canes have produced 2 litres a day of fruit!

I really believe the bi-carb and tea has helped these plants become so healthy and productive. I never use nets to protect fruit from the birds as none of them ever eat the berries. I think they are probably full of gooseberry! We have two gooseberry bushes that we never harvest and they are always filled with blackbirds! The only bird precaution I use are lines of Tibetan prayer flags but to be fair birds really aren't a problem! With harvesting fruit every day, checking the brassica leaves for caterpillar eggs and spraying every few days the hard work is really paying off. Most

of the really hard work must be attributed to the tea and bi-carb!!

With August just around the corner I'd like to think we may have some sunshine! All of my sunflowers are poised to explode into colour from the ones on the right in little terracotta pots on the decking, that are just a foot tall, to the giants that are already 10 feet tall. All of my sunflowers are allowed to self seed resulting in strong, healthy plants. Whenever I follow the instructions on the seed packets the plants are always small and weedy. I used the self seed principle with my sweet peas last October and this summer they grew to be 7ft tall compared to winter grown seeds in the greenhouse that have only grown about 4 ft. In late Autumn I plan to sow my sweet peas, nasturtiums and sunflowers directly into the ground. This will save lots of space in the greenhouse and will ensure I get stronger, fully blooming flowers.

It will soon be time to harvest lavender and then it is back to work making pretty things for the shopping chaos that is the festive period. I had already made a huge amount of stock before summer so there would be less pressure to make like crazy in the short space of time from September (the start of the shopping season) to November (the end of which is the latest I would suggest relying on the postal service for a Christmas delivery!). I am hoping my festive preparation will mean a more enjoyable winter. Last year I was completely flat out for the whole year, with lockdown shoppers and then the many, many, many commissioned draft excluders during winter. As with the great preventative preparation in the garden regarding summer bugs, I am hoping the equally productive crafting creations from the start of the year will give me a smooth, stress free, festive season. Looking at all the roses in bloom right now it is astonishing how near Christmas feels. I'll be making woollen robins long before the last rose petal falls to the ground!

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