Sunday 26 July 2015


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Passionflowers have deeply lobed leaves which are followed a month or so later by a proliferation of showy, creamy-white flowers with purple-blue zoned coronas. Towards the end of the summer the passion flower will produce its golden, egg-shaped fruits.

I love passionflowers, they look so exotic and untypical to Britain.  However there are some species that will grow very easily here and can be grown easily in your garden, including Passiflora incarnata, Passiflora careulea, and Passiflora lutea. 

Although they are cited as evergreen in all but the coldest regions, they generally suffer some cold damage and look best in the summer/spring when the new growth is visible. Therefore it is best to position your passionflower in a sheltered south-facing area.

Passionflowers will grow true from seed, but it can be a challenge to grow passion flowers this way. The main problem with passion flower seeds is their unpredictable dormancy period, which can be anywhere from two to twelve months. In order to assist dormancy you  could lightly sandpaper the seeds on one sides using a fine sandpaper and then to soak them in tepid water for a day. Remove any seeds found floating in the water as these will not be viable and can be discarded. 

Temperature is critical to germination and they require a range between 20-30 degrees celsius.  Sow the seeds during the summer in the warmest months or use a heated propagator.

Fill a seed tray with seed compost and plant your passionflower seeds 5 mm deep. Add a layer of horticultural grit of perlite to aid drainage.  Water the seeds in, cover them with clear plastic and place them on a sunny windowsill until germination. This could be as quickly as 2-4 weeks or as long as 48 weeks.

Remove the plastic at the first sign of germination to prevent fungal rots appearing, although you will be required to keep the compost moist during the germination period. Keep the new seedlings out of direct sunlight until the second set of ‘true’ leaves have appeared. Pot up into 9 cm pots and grow on for several weeks before planting outside. 

Friday 24 July 2015


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The use of garden machinery can be hazardous and result in injury.  Whilst it is the duty of employers to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees this does not apply outside the work environment.  

Ensure that you protect yourself whilst operating machinery by carrying out lawn maintenance safely. Safe operating procedures for the use of rollers, scarifiers, spikers and lawn edger's are detailed below.

  • Before use, first remove the plug lead and then check that the machine is in a safe working condition. 
  • Ensure the correct safety guards and cages are securely fitted especially on scarifiers and spikers. 
  • Remove any visible hard objects from area before use and as work proceeds.
  • Start machine in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.
  • Keep your feet well clear of the machine at all times
  • Stop the engine before moving the machine across roads and uneven hard surfaces, particularly kerbs.
  • It is important that you have full control of the machine at all times and make sure that you can always see clearly where you are going. DO NOT WALK BACKWARDS.
  • Do not continue to use your machine if other people, particular children are in your way or within the immediate working area.
  • If you are working in a group always keep well away from other operators
  • With spikers and scarifiers it is important to clean underneath the machine as often as necessary to remove clogged matter and check that the blades or spikes are in good order.
  • Always remove the plug lead before carrying out this operation.
  • Never tilt the machine with the engine running
  • Remove the plug lead whenever the machine has to be lifted or carried.
  • Do not leave the machine to stand with the engine running.

  • Only refuel in the open.
  • Do not refuel on grass areas.
  • Do not refuel with the engine running.
  • Do not refuel if the engine is very hot.
  • Always use a spout or funnel.
  • Avoid spillage and check for fuel leaks.
  • Do not smoke whilst refuelling the machine or carrying petrol.
  • Never carry a spare can of petrol on the machine.
  • Turn off fuel, leave the switch at the off position, remove plug lead and clean underneath the machine.
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Tuesday 21 July 2015


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The term legume is often used in cooking and gardening terms, and most people would recognise that peas and beans are legumes.  But what are they exactly, and how many types of legumes are out there?

Legume is used to describe a plant from the family Leguminosae or its fruit. These plants bear simple, dry fruit contained within a pod which develops from a simple carpel and usually opens along a seam on two sides. 

Many legumes have a special ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil through special nodules on their root systems.  Commercial farming land and vegetable plots are often planted out with these crops to take advantage of this property and return fertility back to the soil. The whole plant is chopped up and returned to the soil, including roots, stems and seeds. Because of the fertility that they provide, legumes are often used for crop rotation and are sometimes referred to as green manure.

The most commonly recognised legumes include alfalfa, beans, clover, peas, lentils, lupins, peanuts and soybeans. Legume species grown for their flowers include lupins, lathyrus and sweet peas. 

A full list of legumes includes:
  • Acacia holosericea
  • Adzuki bean
  • Apios americana
  • Appaloosa bean
  • Arachis hypogaea
  • Bean
  • Bean harvester
  • Beech
  • Black-eyed pea
  • Broad bean
  • Canavalia gladiata
  • Caragana arborescens
  • Cassia tora
  • Catjang
  • Ceratonia siliqua
  • Chickpea
  • Cicer
  • Cicer arietinum
  • Cowpea
  • Crotalaria longirostrata
  • Detarium microcarpum
  • Detarium senegalense
  • Fabes de la Granja
  • Fava bean
  • Fenugreek
  • Field pea
  • Flageolet bean
  • Flat bean
  • Geechee red pea
  • Glycine max
  • Green bean
  • Guar
  • Honey locust
  • Inga edulis
  • Inga feuilleei
  • Inocarpus fagifer
  • Kidney bean
  • Lablab
  • Lathyrus aphaca
  • Lathyrus japonicus
  • Lathyrus sativus
  • Le Puy green lentil
  • Lens culinaris
  • Lentil
  • Lupin bean
  • Lupinus luteus
  • Macrotyloma geocarpum
  • Macrotyloma uniflorum
  • Mesquite
  • Mucuna pruriens
  • Mung bean
  • Neptunia oleracea
  • Parkia javanica
  • Parkia speciosa
  • Parkinsonia florida

  • Parkinsonia microphylla
  • Pea
  • PeanutPediomelum cuspidatum
  • Phaseolus acutifolius
  • Phaseolus coccineus
  • Phaseolus lunatus
  • Phaseolus vulgaris
  • Phaseolus vulgaris 'Tongue of Fire'
  • Pigeon pea
  • Pithecellobium dulce
  • Pochas
  • Prosopis alba
  • Prosopis glandulosa
  • Prosopis nigra
  • Prosopis pubescens
  • Prosopis velutina
  • Psoralea esculenta

  • Sea Island red pea
  • Snap pea
  • Snow pea
  • Soybean
  • Split pea
  • Tamarind
  • Parkia timoriana
  • Trigonella caerulea
  • Tylosema esculentum
  • Vicia faba
  • Vigna aconitifolia
  • Vigna mungo
  • Vigna subterranea
  • Vigna umbellata
  • Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis
  • Wattleseed
  • Winged bean
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Sunday 19 July 2015


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We spotted some large, ominous black birds the other day and the is it a rook or a crow and a debate ensued.  This was further complicated by someone mentioning ravens. 

It can be quite difficult to tell them apart, especially from a distance.  Often the easiest way to tell them apart is by their habitat and behaviour. Ravens are unusual as they are found only around the western parts of the UK inhabiting cliffy, rocky habitats mostly along coastlines. 
Unlike ravens, crows and rooks can be spotted almost everywhere from city centres to parks and gardens and in upland moorlands, woodlands and sea shores.  

In contrast to the large rook groups, crows and ravens are often seen on their own or in pairs. If you see lots of crows together they are probably rooks, and if you see a rook alone it is probably a crow.


Rooks are larger than crows. They have a thinner, paler beak and lighter feathers around their greyish white faces. Their feathers have a purplish iridescent sheen to them.

Rooks live together in large groups. In the countryside they can often be seen in their big nests in the tops of trees. As the sun goes down the rooks fly around their Rookery making loads of noise. 


It's pretty hard to tell a raven from a crow at a distance, as they are similar apart from their size. Ravens are larger than crows, with a large and strong bill and long wings.  They can be distinguished by their tail shapes when in flight; ravens have a diamond-shaped tail whereas the crow's tail is rounded.


The crow is similarly all black but significantly smaller than a raven. Crows make up a third of the species in the Corvidae family. Crows are fairly solitary, often being spotted alone or in pairs. The collective name for a group of crows is a 'flock' or a 'murder'.

Crows are considered to be very intelligent animals, capable of not only tool use but also tool construction.

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Wednesday 8 July 2015


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Ride on mowers are an effective way of cutting larger grass areas quickly and are an essential piece of equipment for large gardens.  However they do need to be used carefully and in a safe manner.  This article outlines an effective safe use of ride-on rotary & cylinder mowers

The main hazards of operating ride on mowers are:
  • Foot and hand injuries caused by contact with cutting blades.
  • Eye and Body injuries caused by debris being discharged by the cutting blades.
  • Hearing loss caused by exposure to high noise levels.
  • Injury caused by fire or explosion resulting from poor refuelling techniques, leaks or a build up of grass around hot parts of the machine.
  • Whole Body Vibration Syndrome (WBVS) and Hand Arm Vibration (HAVS) caused by vibrating machine.
  • Injury caused by overturning of machine when operating on slopes or descending/ascending ramps.
  • Injury caused by slips, trips or falls.
  • Varying toxic effects caused by poisoning, inhalation, ingestion or eye injury from hazardous substances (oil, fuel & greases).
  • Occupational dermatitis from contact with hazardous substances.
  • Contact with vehicle when working adjacent to highway or travelling on highway.
  • Contact with pedestrians when working in public areas.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes building up in a confined space.

Operatives should be familiar with the operator’s manual for the machine that they are operating and know how to stop the machine quickly in an emergency.

Suitable PPE should be worn when operating the machinery such as safety boots and eye protection. Ear protection must be worn where the noise level of the machine exceeds guidance. Gloves must be worn to prevent cuts and abrasions when carrying out maintenance. During cold weather wear gloves to keep hands warm, maintain a good blood flow and reduce the risk of injury from HAVS. Long trousers must be worn to prevent injury caused by objects discharged from the machine.

Ensure machine is maintained as detailed in the operator’s manual and records retained of maintenance carried out.   Carry out daily maintenance and safety checks before use (details of machine specific checks can be located in the operator’s manual) as follows:
  • Check to ensure all guards are in place, drive belts are adjusted correctly and all grease points are greased. Ensure the oil level and fuel levels are correct and that there are no leaks.
  • Check that all interlocks function correctly.
  • Clean relevant filters and top up radiator coolant level.
  • Check the operation of the Operator Presence Controls (on most machines there is a sensor below the operators seat).
  • Check the condition of the tyres and that they are correctly inflated.
  • Check that the mower is in good working order, in particular the brakes and steering. Pedals all move freely, that all lights and beacons fitted work, as does the horn.
  • Check the hydraulic system is functioning and that the hoses and fittings are not damage.
  • Ensure all latches are secured. (Most machines have latches which when undone allow access to parts of the machine for maintenance purposes).
  • Check that the blades, the blade bolts are not damaged, excessively worn and are adjusted correctly.
  • Clean any grass from the machine, especially around the exhaust manifold and cooling fins. If box mowing ensure that grass collector is fitted and if fly cutting ensure that the correct deflector is fitted and in the correct position. .

When transporting the machine to and from site, by van or trailer, ensure that it is fastened safely to prevent movement. Ensure that the cutter heads are raised and that the latches and safety locks are in position. The machine must be switched off during transit and fuel lines turned off where applicable. When loading or unloading use ramps.

If the machine is travelling on the public highway it must be roadworthy, taxed and fully fitted with a road legal kit. The operator must be suitably licensed to drive on the road and must adhere to the laws of the road. Passengers must never be carried on the machine.

Designate an area for refuelling away from ignition sources, preferably in the shade. Fuel must be stored in a suitable and clearly marked container and secured against unauthorized access i.e. children or other third parties.

Fuels, oils and greases must be handled as detailed in the relevant COSHH Assessment. Never smoke or handle ignition sources whilst fuelling. Make sure correct fuel type is used. Switch the machine off and allow it to cool, before adding fuel in a well-ventilated area. Be careful, and use a funnel (if required) when filling, to prevent spills. Wipe off any small spillages and use a spill kit for larger spills.
Before commencing work check the work area and remove any objects that may be discharged by or cause damage to the blades. Look out for hazards and the ground conditions are suitable i.e. not too wet, uneven or too steep for the machine. If obstructions cannot be removed (e.g. man hole cover) then remember the locations and cut around them.

If you strike an obstruction then stop the machine immediately, then lift the cutter heads to the transport position and engage the safety locks or lower the cutter heads to the ground. Apply the hand brake and then remove the key, and investigate. Inspect for damage and make repairs, if the damage cannot be repaired do not operate the machine until the repair has taken place and the defect is remedied.

Choose the correct machine for the task and ensure that a safe working area can be maintained. If third parties breach the safe working area then stop work immediately until the safe area can be maintained again. Pay particular attention to children and animals.

If the machine is fitted with an adjustable seat and/or steering wheel, adjust these to suit the operator. By adjusting these the correct posture will be adopted by the operator.

Always ensure that roll bars are situated in the up position to prevent risk of injury if the machinery overturns. Ensure the a seat restraint is also worn by operators.

It may be necessary to wear hi-visibility clothing and operate the flashing beacon (if fitted) to be seen. When working adjacent to a highway it may be necessary to sign and cone off the work area.

The height of the cut should be adjusted and the machine should be started and operated as detailed in the operator’s manual. Alter the travel speed to allow for total control of the machine whilst travelling over the specific site conditions. When reversing care should be taken.

Reduce speed when making turns and avoid using tight turns. In particular great care must be taken when turning on slopes. Disengage cutters when travelling across non-grass areas between areas of operation i.e. gravel or tarmac paths.

Do not operate the machine on slopes greater than the maximum angle as detailed in the operator’s manual. Stay clear of steep inclines and sharp drops. Do not start or stop suddenly and stay alert for humps, hollows and other hidden hazards. 

If box mowing then learn to recognise when the grass bag is full (this may be when the airflow stops). Remove and empty the grass collector when required by the method as detailed in the operator’s manual. Check the collector for damage each time you empty it and replace it if necessary. Do not operate the machine with a damaged collector.

In areas of heavy growth it may be necessary to raise the cutters for the first cut and lower as required to obtain the desired height.

If you hear unusual noises from the machine, stop the engine immediately, lift the cutter heads to the transport position and engage the safety locks or lower the cutter heads to the ground. Apply the hand brake and then remove the key, and investigate the noise. If the problem cannot be located or resolved then report the defect to your supervisor and do not operate the machine until the defect is remedied.

When clearing blockages on a cylinder mower lift the cutter heads to the transport position and engage the safety locks or lower the cutter heads to the ground. Apply the hand brake and then remove the key to prevent accidental starting. Always wear gloves and never rotate the cutters by hand to free a blockage. Use a wooden instrument of a size that fits between the blades and the cylinder, and is long enough to apply pressure in a rocking motion. When freed, remove the wooden instrument and adjust the cylinder if required as detailed in the operator’s manual. 

When clearing blockages from a rotary mower lift the heads, lock in position and remove the ignition key. Always wear gloves and never rotate the cutters by hand to free a blockage. If there is a lock off to disable the cutters then it must be applied before the obstruction is removed.

When maintaining, cleaning machines or dismounting for any other reason lift the cutter heads to the transport position and engage the safety locks or lower the cutter heads to the ground. Apply the hand brake and then remove the key to prevent accidental starting.