Late flowering plants are essential sources of nectar for insects including butterflies and bees who are still foraging at this time of the year. Martyn Loach suggests five plants that will make your garden wildlife friendly into the autumn.
Martyn Loach explains that organic gardening is about working with nature rather than against it, if nature had succeeded in sustaining life over millions of years, it must have something going for it.
In the short term chemicals might well improve yields but, because organic matter isn't replaced, the soil structure deteriorates. At the same time the eco-system of pests and predators breaks down and increasingly strong pesticides have to be used.
The organic gardener grows a wide variety of plants and feeds the soil rather than the plant, allowing them to take up the nutrients when required. The theory is that this will make them stronger and more pest resistant.
Maintaining and improving soil fertility is therefore key to organic gardening success.
To aerate the soil and let winter frosts break it up, dig annually in the autumn. This will improve the structure, particularly if you add organic matter such as manure.
Make sure you feed the soil with the big three nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potash. Other trace elements are required and all these can be found in organic fertilizers such as mushroom compost; liquid seaweed extract; bonemeal or hoof and horn; wood ash; and fish, blood and bone.
Prepare the soil well, removing all weeds and wait until conditions are ideal before sowing or planting out. Then keep the plants well watered. If you use a mulch to conserve moisture, this will also deter weeds.
Employ fleeces and cloches as protective barriers to combat pests. Try companion planting, for example plant nasturtiums near brassicas and the caterpillars that attack the latter will prefer to lay their eggs on the former. The smell of marigolds is said to deter aphids from feeding on adjacent crops, they also attract hover flies, whose larvae feed on aphids.
Thin out plants so that air can circulate more easily and keep plots and beds tidy so that diseases won't be harboured. If you are growing vegetables, use crop rotation – this will prevent diseases that relate to a particular plant from building up in the soil and nutrients are replenished more efficiently.
The bugbear of all gardeners is weeding. Chemical weedkillers are the easy solution, but especially sprays can be hit and miss, beneficial insects and their habitat can also be destroyed. Hand weeding is best, making sure you catch them before they seed, completely removing perennials. Use a hoe against annual weeds.
This guide by Andy Taylor is all about battery powered lights, a very safe way to decorate your home with festive colour. With low running costs and bright LEDs, batteries may be the smart choice this Christmas.
There's a huge selection of Premier Christmas Lights, and it's no wonder why they are market leaders judging by the variety and innovation that's on offer. This is Andy Taylor's guide to their range of top quality lights and decorations.
In the past Christmas decorations were limited to streamers and fairy lights, but not any more as Robert Hall discovered when reviewing the huge range of novelty Christmas items that are brought to life by LEDs.
Christmas wreaths, swags and garlands might be thought a little old fashioned, but Robert Hall thinks that modern versions of these traditional decorations are a fabulous way to combine tradition with colourful contemporary themes.