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Huw Richards at Askham Hall Gardens

Some of you may have heard of Huw Richards, a young gardener from Wales who has already had three gardening books published along with many YouTube videos, along with a very large following on social media. To cut along story short he visited and filmed the community gardens at Askham Hall in Cumbria. This garden can be seen on one of Huws YouTube videos. Among this very productive garden Huw came across the Hot Beds. The managers of this project had visited myself at the Cellar Trusts Allotments in Keighley where clearly they understood the value of Hot Beds. Huw purchased my book and has since visited me twice where I demonstrated the method of construction. We have agreed to set up an online Hot Bed Course which, if all goes according to plan, will be available later in the year. 

Due to certain circumstances, I was late with the Hot Bed this year, not sowing until February the 23rd. Even so the carrots, spinach and salads are up and away. I tried an experiment this year sowing tomatoes, squashes, sweetcorn and others in pots which were plunged into the Hot Bed also on the 23rd. 100% germination was achieved quite remarkable when one considers that this is an outside Hot Bed with many frosty or near frosty nights. The tomatoes will be used in the greenhouse but I now have the interesting problem of keeping the squashes going.

Jack First

Fleeces in Growing

Not so long ago a sheep farmer could expect a fair return for fleeces sold by the bale. There was, for instance, a high demand for wool in the carpet manufacturing business.  That has all changed now with more and more synthetic products being produced. This lack of demand has led to a dramatic drop in the price of wool. My sheep farming neighbour  informs me that after shearing and transportation costs that there is a huge loss. When I inquired if he would sell to gardening  groups or allotment holders at a break even price his answer was of course yes. I have since contacted a farmer I know in Hipperholme with the same question who also was affirmative. I have used wool and daggings for years now and can safely say that wool is one of the best by products to use around the garden. For a start used around seedlings it will deter slugs and snails. As mentioned before the last thing a slug needs is to be dragging a wooly coat around. Wool will eventually rot down, fertilising that ground as it breaks down. It will make a very good compost when mixed with other organic materials. I use a great deal of it in my hotbeds. Having some wool about the garden in Spring will help some birds line their nests. I know for a fact that around Bradford, Halifax and Keighley that there are quite a few sheep farmers who you could approach. 
Jack First

Jack first on Compost

What more can be written about compost, a subject covered hundreds of times by different authors. Time and time again we read of the usual composting materials such as kitchen and garden refuse, of leaves and manures of garden pets such as poultry and rabbits. Horse manure might be available to a lucky few. One thing is for sure, for many there is never enough of these composting materials to meet all the needs around the garden. But have you ever passed by a landfill site on a frosty day and wondered about the clouds of steam rising. That steam can only be generated by all items created via photosynthesis and includes many items discarded by all that could be used to produce compost.

While living in Yorkshire I had no problem obtaining large quantities of horse manure for making Hot Beds or adding to compost heaps. But this supply has dried up as I now live in Wales with few stables nearby. So I have had to seek out alternatives sourced locally, some of which maybe local to you. Many leaves are gathered by the lane that runs by our house. Sacks of spent hops from the local brewery are collected free of charge. Local sheep farmers have delivered bales of daggings, the soiled part of sheeps wool separated at shearing time). A bunch of onions passed on in gratitude goes a long way. Seaweed is plentiful as we are close to the coast but check with your council first in case permission is needed to collect it.
To a lesser extent paper and cardboard can be used but remove tape, do not include glossy paper and check that cardboard is not plastic lined. All goods made from 100% natural fibres such as cotton clothes, sheets and other bedding can be included. Paper, cardboard and those items made from natural fibres should be weathered before including in a Hot Bed or compost heap. All the above have been used in Hot Beds and within ten months have successfully decomposed.
One can also assume that these materials will likewise decompose in a compost heap, providing air and moisture is present. The exceptions are underwear which can contain much elastic, and although 100% marked cotton trousers and jeans will mostly decompose, the zip, pockets, studs and washing instructions remain, all connected by nylon thread.
Typically a pair of my trousers and jeans weigh two and a half pounds. The remnants after being in hot bed weigh four ounces. So only 10% goes to landfill the rest totally decomposes.

Jack First

Jack First Food for Thought

For seventeen years prior to retirement I ran a horticultural project for people with various mental health problems on an allotment site near Keighley. One of my first priorities was to improve local wildlife so the perimeter was planted up with native hedging trees. A small pond with a seating area was soon established along with nesting boxes around the site. One of these nesting boxes was positioned on a shed close to the cabin where we had our breaks and from this cabin we could observe all the comings and goings of the blue tits that nested there every year. A small orchard planted nearby provided favourite perching places for the birds before they entered the bird box. We could clearly see all the various insects, caterpillars and worms still wriggling in the bird’s beaks prior to their entering the box.

Read more: Jack First Food for Thought

Jack First on wildlife and growing in North Wales

It’s been five years since leaving West Yorkshire and I thought it time that I brought you up to date with some insight to our new lives in North Wales. We have been very lucky having found our house which is surrounded by fields and all sorts of wildlife. Within two thousand metres of our house is no less than forty-one remnants of ancient woodland and other protected areas. The sea and Snowdonia are nearby along with many footpaths. Besides the usual birds which visit our garden, buzzards fly nearby. During nesting time, a few crows bravely make a noisy beeline to see off any buzzards which venture to close. It is fascinating to see the aerial combat which ensues. While out walking one day a stoat carrying a large rabbit crossed our path. On another occasion a stoat could be seen chasing a mouse in and out of a stone wall. Ravens often feed in the fields nearby, with the aid of binoculars one can see their large and powerful beaks. By night one hears the Barn Owl and sees bats fly silently by. We are blessed with a site nearby where starlings gather in huge numbers and perform their amazing murmuration. The starlings sometimes congregate on our oak tree before heading down to the roost. The other day a grey squirrel was half way up our holly tree when a magpie which was nesting there, flew down and chased it out of the garden and down the lane, all be it cautiously and at a safe distance. We have the usual frogs, toads and newts and lately ducks are regular visitors.

All this wildlife is good news, but there is a bit of a downside if you happen to grow fruit and vegetables. For instance, why is the bird bath sometimes almost dry, what has been making all these holes and scuff marks in the lawn and other areas, and what has burrowed into the hot bed and compost bin? My newly planted potatoes have disappeared down a burrow. I had been meaning to purchase a wild life trail camera, so these recent events have prompted me to get on and do so. The images have revealed some of these mysteries. An ewe with a lamb drinking out of the bird bath, and images of mice or shrews as well as a rat and a small rabbit. The night time images reveal a few cats on their nightly patrols and the ducks asleep on the pond. Unfortunately, our garden is very rocky, a spade or fork will not penetrate the soil, so raised beds are the answer. High input, but it is the only way. And of course, all that lovely loose soil in the beds is ideal for burrowing animals. A bit of fleece covering the crop and some fencing here and there has mostly sorted this problem. Although there might be a few naughty rabbits occasionally entering our garden, I still expect to be producing fair harvests. The organic growers’ mentality regarding wildlife is a good one. It’s easier to cope with bunny and others.

Jack First

Terry's Tomato Tips

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Children's Section

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From Val's Plot

Drawing of alloment plants with clouds and blue background. Overlain text saying"From Val's Plot: Seasonal reporting from and everyday plot"

Jack First's Advice

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