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There is no need to feel daunted by the growing list of tasks tht face us through the year. As Bob Flowerdew explains, the secret lies in learning to prioritise

ABOVE Turning compost helps to speed the rotting process, but can be placed down the list if there are other jobs to do LEFT Summer pruning is important, but may wait a tad

In many things timing is everything. "What is the difference between a good gardener and a bad gardener? About a month." Or, "There's a right time for doing every gardening task; and for most it was a fortnight ago."

When you first start gardening there are an overwhelming number of basically simple tasks and routines to get used to. The seasoned gardener has years of practice; not only of performing those tasks but also of arranging the timing of them. The old hand knows just how long he can leave the weeds to grow before they need hoeing, or when to prune or trim this and that, or sow, or water. He is conscious of each seasonal task before it comes round and does each in order without reminder. The novice has to learn all of this and often with little guidance. In other words - exactly what should you do now, which task is a priority, and which can wait a day or a week or is too late already.

It is so easy to spend vast amounts of time, money and labour and not make much of an impression on a garden, when with better timing a simple task works

1 Ventilate greenhouses, polytunnels and cold frames when necessary and don't neglect covered seed trays. An automatic vent on the greenhouse is very useful

2 Regular watering of seed trays and young plants is especially important

3 Pricking out seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle helps to avoid growth checks 4 Pollinating certain crops such as melons and peaches by hand can help to increase yield significantly, but timing is critical 5 Timely sowing ensures that long-term crops have the longest possible growing season. Sow little and often to avoid gluts

1 Ventilate greenhouses, polytunnels and cold frames when necessary and don't neglect covered seed trays. An automatic vent on the greenhouse is very useful

2 Regular watering of seed trays and young plants is especially important

3 Pricking out seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle helps to avoid growth checks 4 Pollinating certain crops such as melons and peaches by hand can help to increase yield significantly, but timing is critical 5 Timely sowing ensures that long-term crops have the longest possible growing season. Sow little and often to avoid gluts wonders. I once enjoyed watching new neighbours hack their way into a long overgrown garden in late summer. They had a hard time with thistles, nettles, docks and so on six feet deep. Still they persisted and cleared it all despite the pits, bricks, wire and junk troubling them all the way. Then they started digging the bone dry ground as they wanted to grow vegetables and had not yet realised there was little they could sow until the next spring. If they had just waited until winter when the top growth withered they could have cleared the area in one-tenth the time with much less bother and dug the moist soil so much more easily.

For years I maintained my own garden and for my living maintained dozens of others. Gardening friends were amazed as they rarely kept on top of their own gardens by devoting every evening and weekend to them, whereas I looked after so many in so little time, often less than an hour or two a week, how could I do it all?

A few things made all the difference. I was only maintaining gardens; not changing them, or pottering about enjoying them, and they were already up and running in good order. I was professional; in other words the job was done for money, it had to be done as profitably in time as possible thus I had good sharp tools - and knew where they were. I was not responsible for certain tasks such as picking or processing any produce, maintaining the fabric of the buildings etc and these can take a lot of time. Most importantly; I had an ordered routine applied to each and every garden that got each job done so none were overlooked and the most urgent were done first in case the weather broke.

Once a routine is established it's easier to keep on top of the many different tasks involved in running a garden. But as everyone soon finds out; although a veg plot, orchard or fruit cage can get by with only weekly attentions as soon as you have a greenhouse or even a cold frame you are into daily, indeed twice daily ministrations. The number of tasks gets much bigger again if you raise and pot up your own seedlings and plants.

Even if you establish a routine there soon comes a day when everything is I

Thinning out the weakest seedlings ensures that those which are left have more light, water and nutrients

screaming to be done immediately and there simply is not enough time to do all the tasks. It's then you need to do the most important jobs and delay others. But again the novice is given little help as to the relative urgency of each task in terms of potential crop lost. Often much worry and time is spent on pest and disease control whereas a more serious loss of crop is occurring elsewhere for other reasons.

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Building Your Own Greenhouse

Building Your Own Greenhouse

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