Barbecue buying guide
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Barbecue buying guide

With the warm summer finally within touching distance, we’re all guilty of starting to dream of lazy weekends in the garden, over indulging in food and drink as we enjoy a well deserved break from work. Cooking up burgers, sausages and other meats over the open flame of a barbecue has become almost synonymous with the warm weather of summer, however if you’ve only recently moved into your new home, the chances are you’ll need to invest in a new barbecue before you can begin to plan your summer get-togethers. From solid structures to portable gas options, we’ve got you covered with our guide to buying a new barbecue.

Charcoal

Charcoal barbecue grills are the traditional option when it comes to cooking your meats outdoors. They have a number of advantages over the competition, and when utilised correctly, they are a great option for your garden. In terms of cooking the food, generally the burning charcoal means that meats can be cooked at a hotter temperature, and the flame grilled cooking style means the meats taste authentically barbecued to the palate.  Of course, when comparing to competitors, there are always going to be drawbacks, and the messy nature of cooking over burning coals is one downfall. If you’re cooking for a vast amount, you may need to restock on charcoal, as the initial heat soon dies away when cooking, and as the device is dangerously hot, the barbecue and surrounding area will need your full attention to avoid accidents.

Gas

Gas barbecues are a more convenient option when it comes to cooking, and the simple push-button starting mechanism provides an instant flame, on which you can begin cooking in around 10 minutes. Above the burners are flavouriser bars, which heat up and play the role that charcoal would on a traditional barbie. With the gas grill you get burner controls similar to a cooker, meaning you can quickly and easily manipulate temperatures to give you immediate desired results.  Contrary to what many people believe, there’s actually very little to no difference in taste when compared to a charcoal barbecue. The adjustability of gas means that it’s easier to cook food more evenly, with less risk of burning. After use, there’s no charcoal ash to dispose of, meaning that the process is far less messy, and easier to clean.

Charcoal options

You have many options available when opting for a charcoal barbecue. If you want to make a garden feature of your grill area, one great option is to build the supporting brickwork yourself. This means that the structure will constantly be on show in your garden. Once the building work is done, all you’ll ever need for your barbecue is the grill section, which can be picked up from Argos for as little as £30

For something more portable, our top option when it comes to a stand alone barbecues is this Weber model, which has a great design and is truly built to last. The round design means heat gets focused and the multiple vents allow you to control the temperatures with ease. With smoking capabilities, the large grilling area gives you plenty of space for direct and indirect grilling and even  comes with an optional rotisserie kit.

Gas options

Typically quite pricey options, there are plenty of designs out there to suit every need when it comes to gas barbecuing. Make sure you do thorough research into models before jumping in with a purchase, but here are a couple of our favourites for you to consider.

Make sure you set your budget before beginning to look at grills, as prices can easily head into the thousands. In our eyes, the king of the reasonably priced gas barbecue is this Broil King, which has three stainless steel Dual-tube main burners and allows you to cook and heat a variety of foods at the same time.

If you’re looking for something more modest in price, stores like B&Q have a range of options that are reliable, hard wearing and well priced, like this Bondi model. The grill and warming rack combination means you can cook items and then keep them heated until you’re ready to serve.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Compfight cc

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Beginners guide to greenhouse buying
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Beginners guide to greenhouse buying

With the weather picking up and spring in the air, we can all finally journey out of our house into the garden once the weekend gets here. Not everyone enjoys getting their hands dirty in the compost, however, if you’re looking to start growing your own plants, flowers and produce over the summer, you need to kick your plan into action. It might be a bit early to expose bulbs and small plants to the March elements, however now is the perfect time to begin getting your greenhouse in order. If you’re a bit of a rookie when it comes to gardening, don’t fret, as we’ve got you covered with our beginners guide to picking a greenhouse design.

Type of greenhouse

Traditional

Traditional greenhouses are the standard option you’ll see at the bottom of many gardens, with a large metal structure covered in glass panels. The generous size of these traditional structures means that you should have ample growing space, plenty of room for potting and it looks good in most garden areas. They provide a great space to get your years growing started early, however the space  can be costly to heat at cold times (like on early spring evenings).

Barn style roof

The barn style roofed greenhouse compromises on horizontal growing space in favour of vertical room. Ideal for taller growing items due to the generous headroom, the barn style essentially ‘pops-up’ as no base is needed for the greenhouse, as opposed to the traditional style which requires concrete foundations. The barn style is undeniably stylish looking and just as effective as other models, however, similarly to the traditional build it can be equally costly to heat during colder snaps.

Lean-to

It might not be the most aesthetically pleasing option available, but a lean-to is great when you’re trying to make the most of a small space. Built utilising an exterior wall, the lean-to can pretty much latch on to any structure, even if your home is only a single storey. This means that you can hide the structure out of the way, using your garage, should you not wish to have the structure in close proximity to your home. Although very heat and cost effective, the lean-to isn’t without disadvantages. If the structure is north facing, your plants will be robbed of light for the most part. On the other hand, if south facing, you face the prospect of your greenhouse overheating, especially on hot summer days. Ventilation and constant watering systems would be required and blinds often become a necessity. 

Heptagonal greenhouse

If you’re trying to make the most of a small garden, then a opting for a heptagonal design means you’ll conserve space in your garden and have all the features of a traditional greenhouse, albeit with slightly less room for plants. Decorative in shape and suitable to put on any ground type, the only real drawbacks come in the form of limited room. If you’re willing to get creative though and enjoy working in a small space, the heptagonal design isn’t a bad option.

 

Photo Credit: e³°°° via Compfight cc

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Enjoy a pergola this summer
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Enjoy a pergola this summer

Believe it or not, summer is just around the corner and the long days and warm evenings are just a few months away. If you want to get your garden in top shape, and fancy creating a relaxing area to enjoy the summer heat, then a pergola is a great option. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a DIY expert, then you can even create the area yourself and save on unnecessary cost.

Why do I need a pergola?

We don’t tend to get a whole lot of nice British weather, but when we do, it’s great to have a secluded area where we can head for a bit of quiet relaxation with a wine or beer in hand. A pergola is an aesthetically pleasing addition to your garden, giving a feel of class to the area whilst also serving a practical use of being relatively easy to maintain. You can make it as large as suits your garden, and means you can custom buy a table that fits in with the area perfectly. Ideal for inviting guests over for a barbecue, you’ll soon be showing off your new pergola to anyone that visits.

Location

Location is vital and you need to consider the flow of your garden. Many people don’t put enough consideration into where garden items need to be placed, so it’s vital you don’t fall into that trap. With a pergola, the chances are that you’ll want to spend lazy Saturday evenings relaxing after cooking up a barbecue, so you’ll need to consider what areas of your garden are positioned to get the greatest amount of sunlight. Also, you don’t want to build anything too close to your house; a pergola should give you a sanctuary of quiet away from the rest of your property, so a far garden corner which makes the most of evening sunlight is definitely your best option.

Flooring

Generally when it comes to erecting your pergola, the first question you need to answer is regarding the style of flooring you want. As it’s generally best to seclude a pergola away from your house, you’ll need to establish strong foundations – as is the case when building any structure. Once your concrete foundations are in place, you can opt for either a paved floor or a wooden decking.

Support beams

The number of structural beams, or legs that your pergola has is mainly dependent on how large your structure is. The beautiful thing with a pergola however, is that no two are the same, so you can incorporate your personal design and flair into your building plans. If you’re building your structure near a fence, or garden boundary, incorporate that into your design. Utilising fencing in that manner means you’ll reduce the number of supports you require, and your pergola will give off a much more open feel.

Roof

Whilst some pergolas are roofed, some give off a more open feel when they have simple beamed tops. Think carefully when making this decision and consider when you’ll be using the area. If you want to bask in evening sunlight, then having a beamed roof that allows light through means you’ll catch those last few flickers of light as the sun sets.

Accessories

Once all of your structural decisions have been made, it’s time to get to the fun part of accessorising your pergola. Obviously, you’ll want an area for seating, and a table is a must if you’re wanting to dine and drink in the open air. Wooden outdoor furniture sets are always a popular option, however glass topped tables and more cushioned seating also gives off a great modern feel. If you don’t want the open at all sides feel, then build side fencing into your design. If you want to keep your party running past sunset and into the night, then give your guests the added warmth created from  a chimenea – it’s an ideal accessory to incorporate to keep your guests warm.

For information on the technical building aspects of creating your pergola, check out this handy guide.

Photo Credit: energyproductsanddesign via Compfight cc

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New Home, New Garden
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New Home, New Garden

Michelle is the writer of  Veg Plotting, where she blogs about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment. She is a freelance writer from Chippenham, Wiltshire. Her last two homes have been new builds where she has designed the gardens from scratch. Her latest is on a tricky one in ten slope, on clay and she finds ‘step sitting’ right in the middle of the garden is the best place to think about what to do next.

Moving into a new home is exciting and once you’ve settled in, it’s time to tackle the garden. This may seem a daunting task but don’t worry, the best present you can give yourself at this point is time. This allows you to get a feel for the space outside and think about what you want your garden to be.

Working through the following steps ensures you make the garden that’s right for you and avoids spending your precious cash on costly mistakes.

Step one – the legalities

It’s worth checking if there are any restrictions on what you can do. For example, there may be a covenant on your property which limits the planting or materials you can have out front, so the overall look and feel of the area is retained. There may be planning restrictions to think about too, especially if your new home is in a conservation area.

Step two – a little light housekeeping

You may need to clear away any rubbish left behind, or make some repairs, especially if they’re needed to keep your home secure such as broken fences. You may also find useful items to put to one side which can be recycled back into your garden later. This “housekeeping” clears the space ready for you have a good think about your garden.

Step three – first thoughts

Brainstorm your answers to the following questions:

  • Who is the garden for? Energetic family, a retreat just for just me, entertaining friends, or a combination.
  • Preferred style – cottage, one for wildlife, a vegetable garden, cool and contemporary, with a lawn or not?
  • Use of colour – lots of it, or a simpler scheme?
  • Do you want any structures – greenhouse, shed, arches, pergola?
  • Use of materials – patio, pathways, lighting, structures, storage, seating, fences.
  • Where do the practicals go? Compost bin, water butt, dustbins, washing line, storage.
  • How much time is there to look after it?

Draw up a wish list of what you’d like and have a think about what’s not wanted too – that can be just as helpful in your planning.

Step four – seeing clearly

Draw a simple outline plan on paper and plot your home’s position, boundaries, pathways and entrances.  Then you can look at how the sun travels across your plot and note the permanently sunny and shady spots of your garden. If time allows, winter observation can highlight frost pockets, windy areas and drainage problems. These will inform where you place some of the items on your wish list and any problems to tackle.

During this time existing plants may appear, come into leaf or bloom which will help you decide whether they add value to what you have in mind. Look around your plot and decide which elements you’d like to keep and those which need to be removed or disguised in some way. Also look beyond your garden’s boundary and see if there’s anything you’d like to “borrow” such as a good view forming a focal point, or a specimen tree which helps to obscure a neighbouring property.

Step five – testing and research

Buying a cheap soil test kit is well worth the money as it’ll help you find out which plants will grow well. I live in an alkaline soil area, yet plenty of people nearby try to grow acid loving plants – which ultimately results in failure. Also, find out whether you have sandy, loamy or clay soil as this may affect what you can grow, how much watering may be needed and any soil amendment required, such as adding organic matter.

Read magazines and garden books; research on the internet; plus visit some gardens or garden shows – they’re a great source of inspiration and ideas. Use photographs, magazine clippings and printouts of what you like to create a mood board showing the key elements for your new garden

Step six – make some shapes

Now it’s back to your plan, armed with your thoughts and research. Sketch in the features and planting areas, remembering to make borders and pathways as large as you can. Any patio area needs to have space to draw chairs away from the table. Decide on your specimen plants and where they’ll be viewed from your home and within the garden, and place accordingly. Play around with the shapes until you’re happy with your design.

Now you’re ready to take the big step… making your garden. Have fun!

Photo Credit: EdwinaFran via Compfight cc

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Composting on a budget
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Composting on a budget

First Home News would like to thank Sarah for writing this blog post exclusively for us.

Sarah is the writer of The Compost Bin blog.  She is a freelance environmental educator/writer who grows her organic produce and makes a lot of compost. Sarah and her family try their best to live a more self-reliant lifestyle, growing and making products and re-using and re-cycling things if possible.

 

If you have just moved into a new home with a garden, then setting up a compost area is a good idea. You can recycle your house and garden green waste, and when the compost is finally ready you can add fertility to your soil for free.

Compost can be made in a heap on the ground, but it is more efficient and tidier to use a compost bin. You can get wooden or plastic bins from garden centres, or your local council may sell subsidised ones. A quick internet search for ‘DIY compost bin plans’ will give you ideas for home made versions.

Composting requires a roughly 50:50 by volume mix of grass, weeds and vegetable peelings, called ‘greens’ which are high in nitrogen along with dry paper, straw and card known as ‘browns’ which are high in carbon.

Keep a container in the kitchen to collect vegetable peelings and save egg boxes, loo roll inners and other papers to turn into compost. Grass clippings need to be added with care – not too many at one time and make sure they’re always mixed in with papers.

Getting started

Choose a garden spot where it’s not too sunny but not too shady. Make sure it’s somewhere you can easily add material to the bin and the finished compost can be easily removed. Put the bin on the soil if you can as it yields better results, however it will still work on concrete. Try to build up a good collection of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ material before starting. Put a layer of small twigs in the bottom to make an air gap, then add a mix of torn paper and card bits along with peelings and grass clippings. Make sure you don’t add cooked food waste as it can attract vermin.

‘Hot’ composting method

Within a few days, especially in the summer, the material in the bin will get hot – maybe upwards of 60 degrees due to fast-acting heat generating microbes. When it begins to cool down, ‘turning’ the heap can speed things up again. Remove everything from the container and mix the contents up, trying to get the outside to the inside. Add water if it is dry, or dry material if it is soggy. Replace the mixture in the bin and add more material when available. The contents should  heat up again; the new supply of air allows the microbes to continue with their work.  This ‘turning’ can be done several more times, but when the material no longer heats up again, leave it undisturbed to finish composting. A ‘hot’ composting bin should kill most weed seeds present.

‘Cool’ composting method

If you don’t have a lot of material to add to the bin at any one time, don’t worry as it will still produce compost. Adding small quantities of material over a longer period of time without ‘turning’ works just as well but takes longer and may not kill all seeds. When the container is full, stop adding any more as you’ll have to either just leave it to finish composting, which could take up to a year, or turn it to get more air in and make the heat-generating microbes start to work again.

Whichever method you use, make sure that the contents of the bin are moist and add water as necessary. A sign that it is too dry are ants in the mixture. If it’s too wet, just cover to keep off the rain or use the lid provided.

Finished compost is best left for a month or two to ‘mature’ before it is used, as it is too biologically active to apply to plants straight away. Don’t worry if the compost is not ready and crumbly. Even if it’s lumpy or sticky with bits of twig and eggshell in it, it is still usable and can always be sieved before using.

Obviously, if you have room, more than one bin is a good idea, and you can keep one in use, whilst the other one is full of ‘maturing’ compost.

Photo Credit: London Permaculture via Compfight cc

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Beginners guide: Growing your own fruit and vegetables
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Beginners guide: Growing your own fruit and vegetables

You’ve moved into your new place, everything is settled and you’re happy with your rooms and furniture. All you now need is to spruce up that garden to give you a better view out of the window on a morning. If you have plenty of garden space, why not use some soil space to grow your own food? There’s nothing more homely than the great taste of freshly grown produce.

Save cash

As a new homeowner, cash can be a bit tight. With a bit of forward planning, you can save yourself some money on your weekly shop through growing your favourite or most used vegetables. It’s completely up to you how much or how little you grow, start off with a few potted plants on your patio then work your way up to a mini allotment, it all helps.

Better taste

As handy as it is to nip to the supermarket and grab a bag of salad or some carrots, once you’ve tried the home grown alternative there’ll be no going back. The organic nature of your vegetable growth, the pride in your produce and the vast taste improvement that you get with home grown food allows you to realise just how bland store bought alternatives are.

Get creative

Who knew that there were so many different varieties of fruit and vegetables available? Yes, supermarkets offer a broad range of produce driven by what the consumer wants, but there are so many other options and variations available to the home grower. With the internet now making it simple to find seeds from the popular to the obscure, you really can broaden your horizons when it comes to food. Try some Cavolo Nero – a delicious Tuscan black kale, or the long podded Hurst Greenshaft sweet pea.

Time

Perhaps with all the other jobs that surround settling into your new home, spending time and effort on growing your garden is the last thing you need? Whilst we can’t deny that setting up your produce patch does take a certain level of effort, it also runs like a well oiled machine once you’ve put in the initial legwork, and it is a very rewarding process. Get your plants bedded in early on and you’ll be left to reap the rewards later on, with an ample supply of food that require nothing more than a watering in terms of upkeep.

If you fancy giving it a try, be sure to let us know how you progress and how successful you are. If we’ve missed out any top tips, make sure all you seasoned gardeners let us know in the comment section below. For any other gardening advice heading into winter, be sure to check out our article on winter preparation.

Images used under creative commons courtesy of Clint Gardner.

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Prepare your garden for the winter months
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Prepare your garden for the winter months

You worked hard all spring and summer getting your garden looking pristine, but with winter settling in complete with the short days and icy nights, it’s time to let go and prepare your garden for the months ahead.

Clear out

Obviously, your plants are no longer alive due to the lack of warmth and sunlight over the past few weeks. Even the most resilient of flowers will now be on their way out, and it’s time to clear out the garden for the dormant winter phase. Get out there this weekend and clear any remaining dead plants that you have lingering behind. It looks far tidier when cleared up than having straggled dead plants lying around for months. It also means that when spring rolls around once more, you’ll be all ready to plant your year’s growth.

Maintenance

Once growing season has come to an end and you’ve cleared your garden, it is the perfect chance to give your garden the once over and carry out any routine maintenance. Fences may be covered from view through the summer months, and you don’t want to trample your marigolds while patching up your fencing. So now that it’s all gone, why not spend a Sunday getting everything patched up, from your battered fence to the wall that is showing signs of age – make sure everything is looking trim, proper and ready for next spring.

Protect furniture

If you utilise wood in your garden and have plenty of it on show, it needs to be well protected when the cold nights draw in. Giving your perimeter fences a coat of creosote will make sure they stay looking as good as new until April. If you have a wooden pergola or furniture in your patio area, you’ll also need to treat that to stop it deteriorating over winter, and some may be best to be placed under cover to avoid the worst of the weather.

DIY

If you have any last minute DIY tasks to do that you just can’t leave to annoy you all winter, get out there and carry out your last DIY chores of the year. Make sure you choose a dry day if you need to do any cementing as otherwise you could run into problems whilst trying to relay those loose paving slabs.

Winter growth

If you keep putting off uprooting your late blooming vegetables, now is the time to do it. Even if you have some un-ripened tomatoes still hanging on, get them picked and you can make the most of your produce by making a tasty chutney. Should you be unwilling to give up yet on growing vegetables for the year, get your broad beans planted nice and early, as some varieties thrive on an October sewing.

If you need something to do around the house this weekend, and are struggling to come up with productive ways to spend your time, get your hat, gloves and scarves on and give your garden the attention it deserves. If we’ve missed off any tips and advice, let us know.

Images used under creative commons courtesy of Martin Taylor.

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Lorem Ipsum
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Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

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