Helen Tuton

Jun 262018

Hi, my name is: Aphid

Describe yourself: I’m a real softy, small in size (around 2 – 3mm), with a shiny, transparent green or yellow body! I occasionally dress up in a white, woolly coat. I’m rarely seen on my own as I hang out in a pretty big group!  A particular version of me, the cabbage aphid, is more grey and particularly loves brassicas in winter.

Hobbies: Multiplying!!! Sucking sap; exuding honeydew; hanging out with ants which are attracted to the honeydew, encouraging sooty mould and passing viruses from plant to plant.  You’ll often find yellow patches from these viruses on infected leaves.

Likes: Yellow flowers, warm moist environments, succulent new growth of just about every kind of plant (I really love roses, heaps of veggies, annuals and citrus trees).

Dislikes: Chives, coriander, garlic, onions, petunias and radishes. Soaps – like home made chilli soap, neem oil (Azadarachtin).  Don’t get along with Ladybirds or Lacewings, Braconid Wasps, Hover Flies or Praying Mantis! Oh, and I hate sticky traps!  These predatory insects seem to be attracted by companion plants like Alyssum, Yarrow and Dill.

You’ll know you’ve met me when: all your plants’ new growth is seriously malformed; there are heaps of ants on the stems or plant parts are sticky from my honeydew. Oh, and yucky black sooty mold soon appears!

Breaking up ain’t hard to do… if you:

  • Squash me and my mates by hand. It’s icky but effective! Or pay your neighbours’ kids to do the deed- they love squashing us!  In my death throes I emit a chemical signal that makes the other aphids take off quick smart!
  • Stop my ant friends from coming around by growing tansy or other ant repellent plants! Ants tend to our every need and protect us from garden bullies. Without their protection we are very vulnerable to being eaten!
  • Irritate me by putting a flattened square of aluminium foil around the base of plants to bounce light on the undersides of leaves.
  • Spray me with a home made garlic or chilli soap. Or make an insecticidal soap (2ml liquid Castille soap per 100 ml water) and target the underside of leaves.  Some claim that including mint tea in the water can also be helpful.
  • Suck me off with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Spray your plants’ leaves with a strong jet of water (either with a hose or kitchen spray bottle) and knock me and my mates right off our perch!
  • Provide a bright yellow plastic dish, half filled with water, near my preferred plants.  I can’t resist yellow things, but I can’t swim either! You can work out the rest!


Pic 1: E Shallue, SGA
Pic 2: E Shallue, SGA
Pic 3: Bob O’Neil Purdue University

May 282018

Ok, it’s official, winter is upon us. And while it may seem easier to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, it is the perfect time to get amongst it in the patch! There is a sense of hibernation for a lot of us but wherever you are in this nation it’s time to don the boots and get to it. Continue reading »

May 272018

Plants in pots… it’s hardly a new or revolutionary concept… I mean, we are all well acquainted with the potted Maidenhair fern in the bathroom, a dusty ‘Parlour Palm’ struggling for life in the corner of the office, or the ubiquitous ‘Peace Lily’ given as a gift when we can’t think of anything better. But what about productive plants in pots? Imagine a ‘movable feast’ in your inner city courtyard, providing a fair amount of the food you love to eat? A bounty of beautiful herbs out by the BBQ, or tonnes of tumbling tomatoes at your townhouse? Just about anyone has room for a few pots at their place, and we reckon you will be amazed by just how much produce you can grow in just about any space!

Continue reading »

Apr 122018

Like most people, I enjoy my gardening, but have to do so on a fairly tight budget (as they say, horticulture is a job you do for love, not money!). So, when it comes to garden tools, it used to be a case of ‘the cheaper the better’. Not any more. I now buy the best I can afford, even if it means going without beer money for a week! Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, the first being that cheap garden tools just don’t last, be they secateurs, shovels, shears, picks or loppers.


Longer lasting and money saving

Cheap, nasty cutting tools don’t last, blunt quickly, are difficult to sharpen, rarely cut cleanly (thereby damaging plant tissue), and are more likely to injure you as you use excessive force to accomplish the job. I was replacing my cheap secateurs more often than I watered my pot plants – spending money, time, petrol and emitting carbon that I just couldn’t afford. And don’t even get me started on cheap shovels, mattocks and picks. In one afternoon alone I managed to bend the tines on a (new) fork, snap a shovel and axe handle, and crack the head of a mattock attempting to cultivate what was to become my veggie patch! Needless to say, I stopped buying cheap garden tools that day.

Environmental Impacts

The environmental impact of continually replacing cheap garden tools is astounding, and the main reason I now save up to buy the best tool I can. Consider the use of resources that go into the manufacture of most of the cheap, imported garden tools on the market, not too mention the (often) excessive packaging and transport costs. Embedded water, carbon emissions, and the significant contribution these broken tools make to landfill are reason enough to buy the best. So, while the initial outlay for some of these top of the range garden products can be a little daunting, consider the savings you are making in the long run. Good quality tools should last for years provided they are cared for.

Secateurs: Top quality secateurs (eg Felco) cut better, are easier to sharpen, are more comfortable to use, and easier to maintain. Look for handles with rubber shock absorbers and cushion to protect the wrist, toothed centre-nut for aligning the cutting and anvil blades easily and precisely for a clean, accurate cut. Remember to try the product out before you buy, and make sure it is the right size for your hands. Left handed gardeners should always choose left handed secateurs (eg Felco 9 and Felco 10).

Forks: for turning and breaking up clumps of soil, and aerating compost, forks are fantastic. Look for a fork with the tines drawn from a single piece of carbon steel and the shafts are made from hardwood. D-shaped handles are generally regarded as the most comfortable.

Shovels: this has a scooped blade (as opposed to the flat blade on a spade), which makes it suitable for moving garden material such as sand and dirt. Choose a size to suit you – small is right for most women, and medium is fine for the average man.

Select the proper handle length for a garden shovel, with the length of shovel handle dependent on the height of the user. A standard shovel handle length is 28 to 29 inches long and made of wood or metal, with wood being the preferred option, due to weight and durability. Opt for the garden shovel with a D-type hilt or handle instead of a Y-type hilt that could split if used for heavy loads.

Spades: this has a flat blade and is used for digging, cutting edges and dividing plants. The critical thing with spades is to keep them sharp (bevel the back edge off using a bench grinder or sharpening stone). Buy a stainless steel bladed shovel or spade for a lighter weight, non-rusting option, although a carbon steel blade is still the best all-around blade.

Loppers, Choppers and all things garden: for all the other garden tools around, it is vital you select the right tool for the job, and buy the best you can afford. Wolf-Garten, a German company, manufactures a great range of top quality garden tools with interchangeable handles, effectively increasing the versatility and usability of each tool. While the initial outlay may be high, the environmental and dollar savings are significant in the long run.

Using a diamond sharpening stone on secateurs is on of the best things you can do, and will reduce user effort and damage to plant tissue by keeping blades sharp. Clean and sharpen secateurs and loppers, and be sure to check blades carefully for rust, particularly if you’ve discovered the secateurs under a pot or abandoned in a garden bed! Careful use of steel wool and oil should restore good quality cutting blades to use.

If you buy the best quality tools you can afford and look after them, they will perform well for years. Don’t leave them out in the rain! Look after timber handles with regular oiling (50% mineral turpentine and 50% raw linseed oil is best). Clean blades carefully and sharpen where necessary, and sand down rough splinters on wooden handles. To keep blades and the edges of spades and shovels sharp, use a bench grinder or a sharpening stone. Squirt some oil on saw blades and anything else that might rust, then rub the oil in with an old cloth. Oiling tool handles and blades is a great job for a rainy day.

Top quality garden tools such as shovels, forks, mattocks and picks should almost last a lifetime (Spear and Jackson offer a 10 year guarantee on their digging tools), are designed to reduce discomfort to the user, and makes the difference between a gardener that works daily in the garden and one that cannot get out of bed in the morning.

First class garden tools are both an excellent investment and an absolute pleasure to use by comparison with cheaper products. They are better for the environment, our garden, our health, and ultimately, our back pockets!

Feb 272018

March, the month named after Mars, the Roman God of War, is an excellent month to wage war on your patch. Be it ripping out the weeds, mulching up a storm, or popping in a plethora of plants, March is the ultimate time to launch a full scale (but well planned) attack on you patch! So, all you weekend warriors … March into action! Continue reading »

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