This is a great time of year to clear out the shed (if you haven’t already) and check that you’ve got everything you need to support, cover and maintain your produce in the growing season ahead. When starting a summer weekend of peaceful pottering in the veg patch, it is very frustrating to spot a trailing plant or a Cabbage White then find yourself driving miles to a crowded DIY store for a suddenly essential bean pole or bigger bit of butterfly netting. Even worse, to later find that you already had the very thing you needed lurking in the back of the shed!
But don’t get bamboozled into buying lots of fancy expensive stuff. I’ve found my most useful garden accessories come from other places than the garden centre. Here are my top 10 items I can’t get enough of…
- Netting – I find it pays to be more than generous with sizes of netting, fleece and mesh. Don’t buy pre-packed lengths until you’ve measured up your beds. As you rotate crops each year, it’s frustrating to find last year’s net is just too small for this year’s bed. A net or mesh with gaps at the bottom is no defence against butterflies or carrot fly. And trying to join pieces together is a faff. Buy them extra-large (at least 50cm extra in each direction) and you can always roll them or fold them as necessary. I also find the more expensive soft woven nets are better value in the long run. They are nicer to use, don’t scratch you or snag plants, hang rather than bounce (so don’t need as much pegging), fold away well and are easier to mend. Buy wide widths online (Amazon, or a trade supplier) by the metre to get the best sizes for your space. Look after it, store in labelled bags over winter, and it should last well.
- Wooden clothes pegs – have all sorts of uses, and allow quick access to netted crops. Even the broken ones can be used as labels.
- Metal “U” pegs – better than destructive serrated plastic pegs – for securing weed sheets, cardboard mulches, spacing strawberry runners, joining chicken wire mesh (overlap the wire and weave the U in and out a few times).
- Steel 2m rods – for cage construction, hoops, supports. By making cages with curved edges you avoid snagging nets.
- Plastic cable ties – I use fine black plastic ties for constructing supports – If you don’t have ones long enough for the job, join a few together and trim ends, after tightening.
Twine’s fine, but my sparrows soon take most of mine for nests.
- Large smooth pebbles – to weigh down nets (without snagging them), and anything else prone to blow away. I don’t know why, but I’m quite attached to my pebbles. One or two have come back in the suitcase from far-flung lands, and there’s the odd fossil too.
- Cane hoops – cheap and useful plant and net supports in the raised beds. Look nicer than plastic ones, IMO.
- Wire waste paper baskets – from the local £1 shop make great protection for young plants, especially if you mix plants together. Add net to make butterfly proof. Note also bulldog clips… very quick, and handy alternative where clothes pegs don’t work.
- Pop-up food covers – You may have a set of these that, due to the English weather, you never use. Much more useful in the veg patch, they make ideal quick, temporary cloches from frost, birds, butterflies, and over pots of seedlings. Secure with U pegs or a cane hoop over the top. And they pack away easily too! Mine were from Lakeland. 10. And my most useful hand tool? After the trowel, it has to be my serrated, prong-ended, flexible bread knife from Kitchen Devils. The long blade gets among plants to cut cleanly, it can slice asparagus under the soil, it opens packets of compost and cuts the roots around weeds and leeks before easily removing them. I can use it like a machete to cleanly remove leaves. It can even saw through cabbage stalks. I’ve had mine for 20 years and it’s still as sharp as ever without any care whatsoever. There’s probably an expensive Japanese gardener’s version of it, but this’ll do me.