Hazel / Willow Hurdles

Screening off areas in a garden can be achieved in many ways such as growing a hedge, using a wooden lattice or fences.

Hedges are economical but take time to grow and can have a large width taking up ground space.

Recently my wife became frustrated with a laurel hedge we had hiding our oil tank, it was taking time to cut, time to dispose of the waste and was a taking up space which could maybe be reclaimed.

We live in a character property in the countryside so ruled out traditional shiplap type fences. After some deliberation we decided that a woven fence would offer a nice rustic feel and having large air spaces should not suffer that much when storms blow in.

We have never used a hurdle type fence before but measured the area and went to local fencing company to purchase some. Whilst opinions my vary on how best to fit them the fencing company told me that they used cable ties. I was a bit surprised but decided to give it a go, in many ways it made sense and would avoid drilling through the small canes to fix them to a post. The idea of using cable ties also appealed since it should offer a quick method of fixing the panels.

Using hazel hurdles wasn’t the cheapest of options and the fact you can’t cut the panels down meant some wastage with overlapping due to the small area we wished to cover. Having said that I like the rustic charm and feel that the area is now screened off but also that some planting in the foreground with annuals will help to provide some extra colour. We have planted a row of sun flowers in the reclaimed space, I love sunflowers they always make me happy when in flower.

 

 

 

 

2 Stroke tools and the dangers of modern fuel

In order to maintain a garden a few basic tools are required.

  • Lawn mower
  • Hedge cutter
  • Trimmer / edger
  • Chainsaw (optional)

Whilst electric tools with a mains cable are suitable for the smaller garden / yard when the size increases you find the tools underpowered and the cable a pain. In this scenario it is common to use 2 stroke tools for things like hedge cutters / chainsaws.

So what exactly is a two stroke engine and how does it differ from a regular 4 cycle engine ? Without going into the technical details the main difference as far as most people are concerned is that engine is simpler, the fuel being a mix of petrol and oil and more importantly for many gardening tasks the engine is able to operate on it’s side and upside down without stalling.

Whilst this offers many advantages the introduction of ethanol in most modern unleaded fuels causes many problems to gardeners with these tools. In the UK it is now more or less impossible to buy any fuel from a garage which does not contain ethanol, even the premium unleaded with a higher octane rating still contains ethanol.

I first became aware of this issue when my multi tool kept stalling whilst cutting a hedge. I found that by tipping the machine to one corner I was able to keep it running. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the fuel supply line inside the tank had perished and that the line was now at such a height inside the tank that the engine was unable to get any fuel. The fuel line looked very similar to the pipes I had used on radio controlled cars as a child, so I visited a model shop and bought a few metres of fuel line and set about replacing the fuel line. After about 6 months I found the lines had perished again.

Frustrated with this issue I did some research and became aware that this was due to the ethanol drying out parts and causing this problem. I tried to buy premium fuel but found this made no difference.

The ethanol is a real issue for modern small engines. Unleaded petrol does not store well and should be used up within 3-4 weeks of purchase. If you wish to keep a jerry can of fuel for longer you should add a fuel stabiliser. This will help prevent issues with varnishes and getting a gummed up carburettor. After use the fuel should be drained from the tank and the engine run dry. If you have an inline fuel valve twist this and start the machine again until it runs out, this will prevent fuel sitting in the carburettor and forming a gum.

Many gardeners however only use their machinery occasionally, they use a few litres of fuel a year and want the machine to be reliable and minimise the amount of time when the machine is at a dealers being fixed / serviced. If this is the case I would recommend you simply purchase a premixed fuel. At the time of writing a litre of petrol is around £1.20 in the UK which equates to £5.40 a gallon. This fuel will keep for a 3-4 weeks before it goes stale and so the cost a fuel stabiliser should also be factored in. This is available from Screwfix and similar stores from £4 for 100 ml then there is also the cost of 2 stroke oil and the time spent mixing. If you are an occasional user does it make sense ? You still need to drain the tank after each use and run the machine dry. Instead I would recommend buying a premixed fuel which is both high octane and ethanol free and can be stored for 3-5 years with the fuel left in the machinery between each use. Stihl motomix or Husqvarna premixed fuels are readily available from reputable tools suppliers and online.

Using a premixed fuel works at around £20 a gallon which is 3-4 x more expensive than buying regular fuel from a petrol station. However for the occasional user does this matter ? How many litres do you use in a year ? How much does a carburettor rebuild cost ? How much time does it take to replace the fuel lines or how much will you be charge if someone else does this job ? How long can you afford to be without the machinery whilst it is being fixed ? In the height of summer having a tool at a dealers being fixed can soon mean that you fall being on routine maintenance and then on the back foot fighting a battle to try and get everything in order before winter draws in.

For the typical domestic user I believe that the convenience and fact that the machine will be more reliable over the long term make the use of a premixed fuel a no brainer.

Replacing rotten wooden fence posts

One of the hardest tasks any gardener faces is replacing old fence posts. Over time the effects of rot takes it tole and frequently a storm will then snap the posts.

I have used many different methods to replace the posts in the past and have on occasion even managed to chisel out the old post and fit a new one in the existing concrete. The metal posts never seem to drive into the ground freely and often seem to get damaged if they hit a rock on the way down.

I tend to favour removing the old post and concrete if necessary and starting again from sctratch.

One technique I have used recently is use simple machinery to lift the posts out and reduce the amount of digging required. When we lost two posts to the most recent storm I found the I could dig down a small amount and drill trough the wood. I then fed a D link bike lock through the wood and locked the end to provide a strong anchorage point. A cable puller / ratchet was then attached to the lock and the post pulled out.

HUSQVARNA 115IL REVIEW

A strimmer / edging tool is an essential piece of kit in keeping a garden looking tidy. Regardless of the design of your garden there will usually be points which you can’t reach with the lawn mower or areas where the grass encroaches onto paths.

For the past 2 years we have used a multitool for tasks ranging from strimming / edging through to hedge cutting. Whilst the tool has worked well the engine has recently started to stall. 2 Stoke engines are great when they work, they offer power and portability without the need to run electrical cables around. However when the engine has a problem fixing them can be time consuming and expensive.

My wife found the old 2 stroke model too heavy so I had a look around at what alternatives there might be with the following being the key points we were looking for.

•Light weight

•No cables – we wanted the ability for go from one end of the garden to the other or into the front garden with ease.

Having previously unsuccessfully entered into a competition to trial a Husqvarna automower I thought perhaps we should buy the Husqvarna 115IL 36v trimmer since it seemed a good fit for out requirements. I also looked at the Stihl battery tools but having only a 1.4ah battery put me off.

I have now used the machine of multiple occasions, for both a one off start of season hack back and for subsequent general maintainance. Below are my finding after several uses.

Weight – The machine is around 4kg which is around 3kg lighter than the petrol model.

Power – The model had no issues with cutting borders and working hard to cut back areas where the grass was growing over paths.

Noise – The real advantage of this model is it is a lot quieter and there is no need to walk around with ear defenders.

Fumes / smell – Normally after using the 2 stroke model the smell of fuel permeates into my clothing. The Husqvarna is clean which is ideal, I have found I don’t need to change clothes or shower if I want to go out in the evening after using this machine, which was not the case with the old machine.

Vibrations – The 115IL is a nice machine from this point of view. It is low vibration and your arms do not suffer fatigue as a result.

Runtime – The 2ah battery is sufficient for routine maintenance where you are basically tickling the edges of paths and borders. If the edges have been neglected and a harder hack is required such as at the start of the season you will require multiple charges. I have found that for general maintenance and when trimming just grass I am able to complete all the edges on a single charge in economy mode (which also reduces the noise).

Cord – The model came fitted with a reasonable cord however after doing a few edges I soon ran out. I fitted a 3mm cord which due to the way the head is designed worked without issues. With this thicker cord fitted it was much easier to reduce the grass which was growing over the path and as a side effect also helped save the battery.

Replacing the cord – This is a made easy since the head clips in place via 2 recessed press buttons.

Running costs – The 2 stroke tool is not very efficient and given I anticipate I would have used around 1 litre of petrol strimming this area (on an initial hack back), which at current prices is around £1.20 a litre. The Husqvarna batteries state they are around 75 watts, so 5 charges would use 375watts. My current electricity tariff is 12p a kWh meaning that it cost 4.5p in electricity as saving of £1.15. A new battery costs around £60, however I would expect to get several hundred charge cycles out of the battery. As can be seen above if the battery lasts 50 charge cycles the saving in fuel alone has covered the cost of another battery.

The 115IL worked without issue and being battery operated offered us the ability to easily work around the garden. The runtime is around 20-30 minutes so if you have done a one off hack back are basically tickling the edges of paths and around borders you should be able to complete the job on a single charge. If the device is put into economy mode the noise level drops and I found I was able to edge the garden at 7:30 am without having to worry about the noise level and being anti social since the noise was so low the neighbours would be unaware and could have a lie in at the weekend. Using the old petrol machine I used to wear ear defenders and wait until 9am before starting the task to show some consideration towards my neighbours. Now I can do the edges first and wait until 9am to mow the lawns which takes around 10 hour with a 21 inch push mower a walk of around 4 miles (I cut fast).

The great thing about the 115IL is it has enabled me to start earlier in the day and get all the routine garden jobs finished earlier, which has changed my weekends routine. Finishing earlier is great since I now have more day light hours to do fun things like going on bike rides, walking the dog, taking picnics, visiting playgrounds with my daughter etc.. In the future maybe I will get a robotic lawn mower which would free up even more time, however for now I find the 4 mile walk pushing the mower as a reasonable amount of exercise and not that onerous.

The tool has a wire contraption which sits on the front which can fold upwards. This can act as a guide and help prevent you strimming too close to a surface. When better access is required this wire guide can be easily folded upward to get close access or work in tight angles.

As can be seen from the images below the brick edging by the pergola looks neat and tidy and the path by the conifer has been cut back to reveal a much wider path (although in the photos it is covered in the grass which has been trimmed back). The alpine rock garden edges and the triangle border in the rose bed look well defined.

Overall I would say this is a good tool and being electric it should be reliable and not need expensive servicing unlike a petrol alternative.

I would recommend replacing the standard cord with a 2 or 3 mm thick cord, particularly if you are trying to cut back the edges of a path.

 

Gardening Multi Tools

Many tasks in the garden can be time consuming, particularly if you have the wrong tool. I know in the past I have spend hours cutting back hedges with week electric hedge cutters. But time is precious and I doubt many people really want to spend hours outside cutting back a hedge or strimming the edge of a lawn. Finding a tool which will get the job done quickly is therefore always worth while.

Buying tools is always an area which requires some thought. Machines are not cheap and whilst it is possible to read online reviews a great deal of these tend to be based on initial impressions. I always feel that it is good to find out how someone feels after several years, since it is only after a longer period of time that faults show.

Around 3 years ago we purchased a multi-tool the logic for this was

– A single motor would mean less servicing costs
– Large number of attachments
– Long reach hedge cutter requirement
– Brushcutter to manage overgrown garden on a property we were selling

We spent a long time deliberating over which tool to buy. There were numerous options and our initial inclination was to buy a Honda UMC435 and then buy a hedge cutter attachment, brush cutter and long reach extension pole. The cost would have been in the region of £800. The reasoning for picking a Honda was the reputation Honda have for building quality engines. We also considered the Stihl KombiSystem.

After further thought we decided that it might be worth trying a cheaper brand and opted to buy a Titan TTK587GDO multitool from Screwfix. This unit offers a brushcutter, extension pole, pole saw, hedge cutter for £160.

Clearly there is a large difference in price however we use the unit for domestic use, although when cutting hedges it gets extensive prolonged use.

Our garden has hedges on 3 sides, comprised of

  • Hawthorn – at the front of the property. 40 metres long and 3 metres high
  • Leylandii – not our choice but planted many years ago. 50 metres long and 3.5 metres high
  • Beech – 40 metres long and 2 metres high

When we asked for quotes to cut the hedges these came in at around £800, which over the years soon adds up. A powerful hedge cutter which can accomplish most of the task from the ground is therefore a must.

The unit with the extension pole and hedge cutter attachment stands over 7 feet tall (I’m 5’10 – shown below covered in conifer clippings)

IMG_1291 2

How easy is it to use ?

Fairly simple, although heavy  it makes cutting a large hedge much easier. Firstly there is no electric cable to get in the way, secondly even without the extension pole you can cut a large area with very little movement. As noted the unit is heavy if you have been outside cutting a large hedge and you work behind a desk most the day you will certainly feel you arms and shoulder muscles the following day.

How quickly can you cut a hedge with the Titan multitool ?

The confier is around 50 metres long and 3 metres tall. I can cut the face of this hedge in 2-3 hours if I work continuously. The two box hedges in the photo below are around 12 feet long and 1.5 feet tall. I can prune these in around 5-10 minutes.

IMG_0353

So how would I rate the Titan multitool ?

During the past 3 years the machine has had some very extensive hard use primarily when cutting hedges. In this scenario the machine might be running all day and have the fuel tank filled 5 or more times.

Whilst the machine with extension is not light (probably around 10kg) I have found it possible to use a wide sweeping action moving the clipper in a clock type sweep. Using this method I can cut the face of a large conifer from the ground without having to resort to using a ladder. This method has some drawbacks the chief one being that you are close in to the hedge and are likely to get some of the clippings falling on you, however given the time saving I don’t mind.

Cutting the top of the conifer is a different matter. Even with the extensions in place the hedge has been neglected that much in the past and is so wide that it is impossible to cut the hedge from one side. To cut the top of the hedge I resorted to hiring a portable scaffolding tower. As can be seen below the vast majority of the face was cut with me standing on the ground. For reference the wooden panel of the compost bin on the right is 6 foot tall. The top of the face being cut with the machine being held in outstretched arms.

IMG_2213

The titan tool has coped admirably with the tasks thrown at it, however there have been some issues.

  • Fuel supply lines – The fuel supply lines on the machine are made from some kind of rubber and perished after 1 year. This could be due to a variety of factors including the use of bioethanol in fuel in the UK. At the time I was not using a fuel stabiliser. I bought some silicon tubing from a model aircraft shop and used these as a replacement. Relaying the lines is not that difficult.
  • Bent extension pole – In one instance the extension pole bent. I’m not sure how this happened but think it was probably that the hedge cutter snagged on a branch when I was a full reach cutting the top of the conifer. The bend is not significant.
  • Extension coupling came off the shaft. The coupling mechanism came off the shaft. In this case I was able to reattach it and added some epoxy resin to help hold it in place.
  • Overheating / cutting out – Recently the machine has started to cut out. I haven’t put my finger on what is causing this. It might be down to a gummed up carbauretter (the machine has not been serviced)

Is there anything which is annoying about the tool

  • The side discharge exhaust is a bit of pain and gets very hot, I have burnt a jumper with this
  • The attachments can be difficult to fit

How would I rate the Titan multi tool ?

Overall I have been impressed with the offering. The overall price was around 1/4 of the cost of a Stihl / Honda system. Whilst the engineering might not be to the same exacting standards for domestic use I would say the Titan is probably good enough for most users.

How does it compare to alternatives ?

I can’t honestly answer this, since I have not used any other machine. I note that the tree surgeon employed by my neighbour uses a Stihl however he probably cuts a great deal more hedges than me in any given year.

What would make life easier when cutting such large hedges ?

Whilst the scaffold tower worked, moving it was time consuming. I would like to get some quality ladders, such as a set of Henchman Hi-Step or Hedgemaster ladders. If I get a pair you can sure to read a review of them on here.

Would I buy a Titan again ?

Yes I probably would, although not until the existing machine is beyond the point of repair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is here

At last spring is here and the garden is returning to life. The lowest winter temperature recorded on our weather station was -6c so most of our plants should have made it through.

The last few weekends have been fairly mild and so we managed to get out and cut the lawn and have a tidy of some of the flower beds.

So far we have several plants in flower including

  • Daffoldils
  • Primulas
  • Camellia
  • Hellebores
  • Crocus (just going over now)
  • Hyacinths
  • Muscari

Its always a joy to return to the garden after the winter months and appreciate the new growth and take in the beauty of nature.

One of the particular joys of gardening is the sensual nature ranging from the visual appreciation of a well manicured lawn or beautiful flower through to the multiple scents which permeate the air.

In terms of scent at this time of year the front garden is often permeated by the lovely scent from a Daphne Odora. The rear garden has a more musky scent from the foxy smell of Fritillaria Imperialis .