HOW AND WHAT DO WORMS EAT?




When you look at a worm you can be forgiven for not knowing which end is which. However, and as you would expect, one end is definatly the head and for this article this is the end we are interested in.

What a worm eats will depend on whereabouts in the soil they live as they can be found living both close to the surface or much deeper underground.

To make sense of this earthworms have been split into three different categories. The first are the surface dwellers, the Epigeic worms. Then there are the upper soil worms, the Endogeic worms. Finally, there are the deep burrowing species, the Anecic

Surface and upper surface worms ( Epigeic and Endogeic worms) will eat a variety of organic materials, such as dead grass, any other larger leaf material, and even decaying animals! However there are a huge variety of microscopic organisms that also live on these food sources. This allows earth worms to not only feast on the decaying matter, but also on a 'balanced diet' of algae, fungi and bacteria - essential for a worms healthy lifestyle!

The deep burrowing species (the Anecic worms) live deeper under the ground have a diet that is primarily raw soil, but these worms survive once again by digesting the bacteria, fungi and algae found living there.

The soil passes through the worm and comes out as what is known as worm casts. This is a nicer way of saying worm poo! However, these casts are also beneficial to your garden plants due to their nutritional value. In their search for food worms also naturally aerate the soil, improving the root environment for your plants.

How does an Earth worm eat?


Earthworms eat by pulling food into their mouth with their prostomium - the small, nose-like portion of the worms first body segment. It is then 'sucked' into the body using a muscular pharynx. The food is stored in a crop and then ground up into small digestible pieces in the gizzard - a specialized stomach that contains small pieces of grit or sand that helps break down and digest the food.

Earthworms need a gizzard because they do not have any teeth. The nutrients are then absorbed into the body by way of the small intestine.

They can consume a great deal of matter in a relatively short period of time. In fact, they can produce their own weight in worm casts every 24 hours!

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CAN YOU KEEP HONEY BEES IN THE GARDEN?




Over the past few years, conservationists have become increasingly worried about the current trend for bee populations to crash after being over wintered. In fact, the winter of 2007-08 was positively disastrous, with more than 30 per cent of all colonies failing to reach the spring.

Our native bees and honey bees are responsible for pollinating the majority of flowering plants in this country, which in turn, produce many of our crops. In fact many of our fruits, vegetable and nut crops rely solely on insect pollination and it's believed that at least 1/3rd of our diet is directly dependant on the relationship of flowers and their pollination by bees.

As Albert Einstein observed ‘...No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man...’
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But with most families only having a small garden to their name, is there anything that the average man in the street can really do to help?
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Most of the beekeepers featured on TV and in the media tend to be located on beekeeping farms but it is perfectly legal and acceptable in the UK to keep bees in your own garden - and your garden doesn't have to be that big. In fact, some types of bees fare better in more confined areas.

Of course, it helps if you have some prior knowledge of keeping bees and it’s only fair to let your nearby neighbours know what you intend doing, but apart from that, there's absolutely no reason why you couldn't keep bees in your own back. After all, they are one of nature's true 'friends'.

There are obvious benefits to beekeeping. Your garden will thrive because bees as they are great pollinators, and as well as producing delicious honey in the beehives you can use beeswax for a whole variety of applications such as for polish and for making candles. Did you know that beeswax is also used for coating wine gums to stop them sticking together!

However on a more serious note, many people choose to keep bees much in the same way as others choose to observe birds or to encourage other wildlife into the garden. This is because they are truly fascinated by these creatures.

To get started all you need to do is borrow a couple of beekeeping books from the library and seek out further advice from the BBKA's website. You'll probably find that there's a local beekeepers' association not far from where you live. It's a good idea to get involved with that, in addition to picking up tips from more experienced beekeepers, you can also take courses in beekeeping ranging from basic level to intermediate up to senior. Beyond that, you can even study for a National Diploma in Beekeeping if you want to become even more of an expert and it's well recommended to enrol on a course if you're serious about beekeeping.

Of course, it goes without saying that you cannot use pesticides in your garden  if you intend to keep bees.

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HOW DO YOU PLANT OUT ONION SEEDLINGS?




Onion seedlings can be planted out anytime from mid-spring, so if you are living in an northern European climate you are looking at around the April/May time. If you are organised and have the foresight you can start preparing your onion seedbed in the autumn by digging in plenty of well-rotted farm manure. This will give the ground a chance to settle over the winter period and allow frosts to break down the soil clods. If you soil is too acidic – below pH 5.5 – you will need to add lime to it according to manufacturer's recommendations. In general, onions prefer a pH of between 6 and 7.5.

It is possible to grow good onions on heavy soil, but you must improve the drainage first before planting. Add plenty of horticultural grit and bulky organic matter to the soil and then create a ridge of soil 4 inches high to further reduce soil moisture.


Plant one onion seedlings every 4-5 inches. If you are planting more than one row then each row should be at least 9 inches apart. Remember to clear away any discarded, undersized seedlings so as not to attract onion fly.

You will need to keep a a particular eye on the newly planted onion seedlings as these will often attract the attention of inquisitive birds – particularly pigeons and blackbirds - who will lift your juvenile crop straight out of the seed beds for nothing more than a little mischievous fun. If you don't have some kind of protection in place you can end up loosing almost an entire crop!

Onions are not very good at suppressing weed growth, and if regular weeding is neglected they will easily be out competed for nutrients resulting in your crop becoming stunted. Try to leave enough space between the rows to get your hoe in for weeding, but always hand-weed any weeds close to your onions as they can be easily damaged by garden tools.
To maintain a good year-round supply of onions, you can make a second planting during the late summer which should be ready to harvest from June. However, this second planting isn't recommended if you have heavy, poorly drained soils. In general, onions should be given as long a growing season as possible to reach their maximum size.

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HOW TO GROW SWEET CORN





Freshly picked and timely cooked sweet corn is one of the great pleasures of the vegetable garden calendar. With every bite full of succulent sweetness, the new world’s sweet corn truly encompasses the taste of the summer sun. However, to get the best out of your sweet corn crop there are a few simple guidelines.

Sweet corn prefer a free-draining, and moisture retentive soil. If you can remember to, it is best to try and prepare the bed the previous autumn before planting the following spring. Dig it over to remove any perennial weeds and add plenty of well-rotted manure to the soil as you go.

Don't worry if soil preparation ends up being a ‘last minute’ exercise, sweet corn beds can still be prepared in the spring. Again, remove any weeds and dig over the site with a spade, removing any particularly large stones.

Roughly level the ground and then work over the area with a rake to leave a fine finish. Then - to ensure your crop gets off to a flying start - spread some general fertiliser granules over the planting area and gently rake in to the surface. Try to have this done two or three weeks before planting or sowing. Once the plants are of a reasonable size you can also water using a liquid feed once a week to help accelerate growth.

You can either sow sweet corn seed directly into the soil or consider planting ready-grown sweet corn plants which can establish quickly and provide cobs earlier. Ready-grown plants can go into the soil from May until June, while seeds can be sown directly into the soil in late spring to early summer. In cooler climates it's worth protecting the emerging seedlings with horticultural fleece.

Sweet corn are wind pollinated and are best planted in large blocks, where the male flowers at the top of the plant have more opportunity to shed their pollen on the female tassels below. The absolute minimum number of sweet corn plants you would need to grow for effective pollination is 5. These will need to be planted in the shape of a square – one in each corner with the 5th one in the middle. For this shape there should be a gap of approximately 12 inches between each plant.

When creating larger blocks, plant sweet corn seeds – or seedlings - 12 inches apart with a 2ft space between rows.

For effective pollination you would need to consider planting at least a dozen – preferably more. Each plant will produce one or two cobs, so work out how many cobs you're likely to need (you can freeze them) and provide enough space to achieve this. However, there are no rules about how large the block has to be as it can only be determined by how much corn you decide to grow.

Keep plants well watered and the soil weed free, but take care not to sever the surface growing roots of the sweet corn when using a hoe. In fact to protect the surface roots – as well as give the sweet corn plants more stability - pile soil up around the stems using a trowel or a draw hoe.
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HOW TO GERMINATE SWEET CORN SEED INDOORS





Freshly picked and timely cooked sweet corn is one of the great pleasures of the vegetable garden calendar. With every bite full of succulent sweetness, the new world’s sweet corn truly encompasses the taste of the summer sun. However, why should you wait until the end of summer before you get a chance to lift your first pickings?

.Well, you don’t have to! By starting your sweet corn seed off early you can bring your first cob to maturity 4-6 weeks sooner that you could otherwise have expected. All you need to do is to sow them under protection - and germinating sweet corn seed indoors is perhaps the best and easiest way to achieve this.


In northern European climates perhaps the earliest you would want to start would be the end of March. However, unlike most other vegetable crops, sweet corn are wind pollinated and are best planted in large blocks where the male flowers at the top of the plant have more opportunity to shed their pollen on the female tassels below. Therefore, the absolute minimum number of sweet corn plants you would need to grow for effective pollination is 5.

These will also need to be planted in the shape of a square – one in each corner with the 5th one in the middle. However, for effective pollination you would need to consider planting at least a dozen – preferably more.

To begin with, fill a 3 inch pots with compost and make a 1 inch deep hole in the top of it with a dibber (a pencil will do if you don't have one), then drop two seeds into the hole.

Back fill with compost and water in, then cover the pot with a clear cover such as a sheet of glass or Perspex – even a piece of cling-film will do the trick. When completed, relocate you pots to a warm and sunny windowsill, leaving them to germinate.

Once the new seedlings begin to emerge remove the clear cover, then when seedlings are about 2cm tall discard the weakest one. Water regularly, but do not over water or allow the compost to completely dry out. If the seedlings are in full sun consider turning the pot a quarter turn on a daily basis to prevent your seedlings from acquiring a 'permanent' lean. Once the treat of late frosts are over, move the plants in a shady place outdoors to harden off before planting out into their permanent position

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HOW DO YOU HARDEN OFF SEEDLINGS?




So, you have just spent 6 to 8 weeks germinating and growing on your seedlings inside and now is the time to release them out into the great outdoors. In many respects this is perhaps the riskiest time for your seedlings because being grown under protection typically produces soft foliage easily damaged by direct sunlight and drying winds.

Half-hardy annuals, half-hardy perennials and some vegetable seeds will all have to be germinated under protection during the early spring period. This will ensure that they have reached a decent enough size to get the most out of our short growing season - without the risk of being damaged by frosts or cold winds. .

They will need to be sown early in the year - anytime from February/March onwards - in a heated greenhouse, propagator, warm room or even an airing cupboard for some species! Most seeds will need a minimum temperature of 65F (18C) and will tolerate a drop overnight to about 50F (10C), but there are exceptions and will need to be dealt with accordingly.

Once the seedlings emerge they must be given plenty of light, although not direct sunlight, until they are large enough to be pricked off into trays.

The final operation before planting out is to harden off the young plants. The idea is gradually to acclimatise the seedlings to the harsher conditions of the great outdoors. Allow a minimum of ten days to do this, preferably longer.

Start by putting the trays in a sheltered position outdoors for two hours during daylight and lowering the temperature of the greenhouse or propagator for the rest of the day. Slowly increase the period that the plants are outside so that by the time the frosts are finished, the plants are fully conditioned to being outside. Don't forget that the trays will need watering but should be protected from heavy rain.

When the young plants are transplanted to their permanent flowering positions, they may still need some protection against the damaging effects of strong, cold winds.

A very useful aid to successful hardening off is a cold frame. It should be large enough to accommodate all the seed trays, but can be a very simple and inexpensive structure. During the day the lights - that's the glass or plastic cover over the walls of the frame - can be opened or removed altogether, but make sure that they are put back into position overnight.

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