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What a strange start to the year we have had. More snow than we have experienced in a long time. For many, especially school children and dog walkers (including me), the white fluffy stuff was great. However it did have a down side.

I found that for the first time in years I had to go around my shrubs and trees knocking off snow each morning to prevent the weight from breaking branches and pulling wall shrubs off the walls.

I have written about rubber-tined rakes in the past, and have said how great I have found them, in the growing season, for removing leaves etc. off my beds without causing damage to plants; but they recently came into their own with all the snow.

I found them much better than a brush for moving the snow off paths and great for reaching up into trees and shrubs to remove the snow from their branches. They were also superb at removing the snow from my car.

The rubber tines caused no damage at all to the paintwork and could be worked around the wipers to get all the snow out of the bottom of the windscreen, again without any damage being caused.

Growing your own is all the rage at the moment and I think it’s very good, not only from the food production side but also for the opportunities it brings to develop a sense of community.

I live in an area where I am surrounded by older people and we all share each others’ things, and this includes gardening tools. Not everyone can afford to have a full set of tools necessary for every job in the garden but collectively, if enough people are involved, all jobs can get done.

I recently was asked by a community gardening group about setting themselves up with the major tools needed for most gardening jobs.

My list included – digging spade and fork, half moon edger for lawn work, shovel, rake, draw and push hoes, trowel and hand fork, dibber, spring-tined rake, hedging shears, long-armed lawn shears, loppers, small bow saw and pruning saw, pick, wheel barrow, gloves, goggles, garden line, lawn mower and a good pair of secateurs ( I recommended a pair of No. 2 Felco). Since several people would be using these last they needed to be good, reliable, re-sharpened when necessary and comfortable. I know of no other make that fulfils these requirements so well.

If enough people had trees and shrubs it would be worth getting a grinder as all prunings, providing they are not diseased, should be ground up and composted for use at a later date

This would be an expensive collection if you were setting out to get all these items as an individual but, collectively, when different people offer to buy specific items and then share them amongst themselves, everyone would have a set they had access to but didn’t have to fork out a large amount of money to be equipped.

It also meant that, because they were collectively owned, they would be looked after correctly, by being cleaned before being returned to the central store and oiled before being put away ready for the next person to use.

We are coming up to the main time of the year to start sowing seeds, but the land will be cold so it may be worth investing in some large plastic sheets or cloches and putting these over your vacant plots just to help warm up the soil.

Remember Mother Nature will tell you when it’s ready to sow seeds, not the seed packet date.

Keep an eye on your land and as soon as you see weed seedlings starting into growth you will know that the soil is generally warm enough to allow most hardy plants to germinate and grow.

Spend time sharpening all your tools, cleaning them and having them ready for use when that sunny day arrives and all needs to be done at once.

Spring planting of trees and shrubs, which are container grown, can take place now but remember to dig a big enough hole to receive the root ball.

I find a smaller spade useful at tree and shrub planting time as it does not allow you to pick up too much soil, so making a pleasant job difficult because of the weight involved with moving the soil around.

Remember to soak the plant for a few hours before planting so that the root ball is fully wet and also remember to refill the hole in layers and water well at planting, and also for the remaining season while the plant establishes itself.

Mulching conserves water and I would always recommend putting 10 to 15cm mulch around any tree or shrub you have planted and watered well. Do not pile the mulch up against the stem as this can cause the stem to rot. This mulch will not only help reduce water loss, but will also provide some nutrients when it rots down and will suppress weed growth which could cause competition if left in place, reducing the rate of successful establishment from your newly-planted subject.

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