27 Jan


I woke up with good intentions last Sunday , and planned my day ahead: I was going to complete the frame work for two new vegetable planters and then spend the afternoon out on one of my bikes seeking the final seven clues for me to add to task sheet for the January Norwich AlleyCat Treasure hunt.

I got as far as my third mug of tea before I began playing online Chess and Backgammon. I have a passion for Backgammon and will play it at every opportunity that I can. It is less than 7 years ago since I learnt to play, and it was probably a line by the character, Locke from the TV series Lost that inspired me to learn how to play the game:” Backgammon, the easiest game in the world to learn, and the hardest game in the world to master”.  After almost seven years of playing in person and online I now class myself as a very sharp intermediate player: I win an awful lot more games & matches than I lose … … … one day I will walk into a real casino with £500 in my pocket and play backgammon on a green baize table and gamble upon my playing, and win or lose it will be for the pleasure alone of the experience.

I made it to 1.30pm continually playing online Backgammon and Chess, and then depression hit, and I literally crashed down and wallowed in self pity for the rest of the afternoon.

Some of the reasons that we have decided to use planters for this project rather than ground level beds are that we can control the soil used for growing and its fertility. We can also manage the cultivated areas easier, and the steps of the planters will discourage Oz our collie from damaging the plants. Although this is not what happened when we built the first 3 tiered stepped planter; for Oz this was just another obstacle that we had added to his adventure playground that is our garden. At first he enjoyed running up and down the steps, jumping all over it, and then digging in the fresh loose soil. So we installed a 1 metre high plastic mesh fence around the planter, and for a week it was a battle of wits between Oz and me: every precaution I took was overcome by a lateral thinking Border collie cross. Eventual y Lois managed to bring Oz under control and he even stopped going onto the open ground level 4 mtr X 2 mtr vegetable bed that we had under cultivation, although he still has a fascination for freshly turned soil as we are tilling it.

With planter steps at increments of 200 mm or about 8 inches high, management of the growing crops should be somewhat easier; the areas are positively defined and fixed, some leaf canopy of the plants in the top tiers will clear the growing tops of the plants in the tier below. Hoeing, weed control, feed application and other continuous type maintenance jobs should also be easier to undertake.

After the initial ground breaking spade work to level out the proposed sites, the filling of the planters can be done with a standard shovel and three pronged border rake I have. Post crop clearance can undertaken with my Azada

Now Azadas are wonderful cultivation tools, and great swathes of Africa, Asia and southern Europe are cultivated with them, and why British gardeners do not make more use of them is beyond me. A standard garden fork and spade are not ergonomic tools, and because the handles are not really long enough for the type of job they do many gardeners become injured; especially back injuries. Yes there is a need for the humble fork and spade, but the handles should really be considerably longer to reduce the chance of this type of injury occurring.

I am an Agricultural Engineer by trade, and I have also worked on heavy duty earth moving equipment, in the offshore oil & gas sectors, including being a deck mechanic on geo-survey and oil exploration ships, so as you can tell I come from the heavy duty end of the engineering spectrum, and I like long handled tools; no, I really like long handle tools, as this means I have to put less effort into using them, and that includes gardening tools. To this end I have several long boarder and potting type garden tools, but I have also increased the length of the wooden handles on some of them, and I will do the rest over the coming few weeks; 4 inch long handles will become 8 or 10 inches in length. Apart from reduced leverage and effort required to wield these tools, there will also be a reach advantage which will be an additional benefit when undertaking hoeing, weeding, and light tillage jobs in the planters.

In a previous post I mentioned not being frugal when purchasing gardening tools, and advised to purchase at one level above what you can afford at the time, and I still stand by this ethos. I own a lot of tools; I have my own small engineering business and so I earn my living using hand, power and workshop tools on a daily basis. The last thing I want or need is for a tool to fail one me during a job. Not only have I the expense of replacing that tool, but I also have to endure the inconvenience of lost time, and time is the most valuable asset a human being has at their disposal: once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and it can never be made up. You will also find that cheap or low cost tools have nasty habit of failing just when you need to use them at an important phase of the task at hand, and when the shops or suppliers  are either closed or out of stock.


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