Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Rope, Sisal, for the use of.

A short while ago I bought a packet of coloured Sisal fibres to add to some office flower displays. I wanted to use the Sisal for support and to add a little something unusual. While trying to separate the bundle in to smaller useable amounts, I was reminded how extremely strong the strands are. Even as small an amount as two or three fibres is very difficult to break by hand and I had to use scissors.

Sisal fibres are very long, often over 1m, and because of this were used historically to make twine and rope. The fibres come from the leaves of a type of Agave, Agave sisalana. They originated in Mexico and were introduced to Florida, the Caribbean islands, Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya, and Asia in the late 19th century. Commercial propagation started in the 1930s.

The fibres are extracted by crushing and thrashing the leaves with the waste pulp being washed away. The waste can be over 95% of the plant material and recently some attempts have been made to improve economic viability with a power plant being developed using biogas from the waste material.

World production of Sisal and a similar agave fibre, henequen, is estimated at around 300 000 tonnes. The major producers are Brazil (120 000 tonnes), Tanzania (30 000) and Kenya (25 000). Brazil exports around 100 000 tonnes of raw fibre and manufactured goods, particularly rope to the USA. Kenya exports around 20 000 tonnes and Tanzania 15 000 tonnes.

Sisal or Manilla rope is traditionally used as tug of war rope. There are rules set by the Tug Of War Association ( yes, there is one!) regarding the use of the rope and how it is held. Nylon should never be used as Tug Of War rope as it stretches and in extreme cases can snap and cause injury. There is a recorded case of two men having their arms cut off by the rebounding force of a nylon rope that snapped during a Tug Of War match.

Agaves make a dramatic display when planted in to the right plant container. Care should be taken when handling the leaves as most have sharp spikes along the edges. In the current health and safety environment I would think that they could cause problems in a garden that has public access unless a large warning sign has been erected nearby!

Friday, 17 July 2009


To most British people of a certain age, Spangles are small square translucent boiled sweets originally in strawberry, blackcurrant, orange, pineapple and lemon and lime flavours. Other flavours were added later on. I remember cutting out a coupon from a comic that promised a packet of Spangles if you posted the coupon to the Mars confectionery address. I’m still waiting.

There are other meanings of the word spangles. One is defined as small pieces of shiny metallic material sewn on to garments; sequins. Another meaning is in the field of budgerigar breeding. ‘Spangles’ in that sense refers to a type of colouration or patterning.

Only very recently have I learned of yet another meaning for the word. While looking for suppliers of galvanized steel plant containers, I came upon a glossary of terms for industrial galvanizers. My choice of reading encompasses all. In this glossary was the word spangle. Spangles were defined as: Crystalline formations on the surface of the galvanized coating caused by the presence of lead and other alloying elements in the galvanizing bath. So now we know.

The term spangles used in the galvanization industry leads me to a handy link: galvanised plant containers. To many, galvanised means the patterned finish (complete with spangles) that is used to protect steel from rusting. This finish occurs with hot dip galvanizing which produces a tougher, more corrosion resistant finish when compared to electrolytic galvanisation. In my opinion the hot dip finish with visible spangles is not an attractive finish and is really a protective layer that should be coated with paint.

There is a more attractive finish available for galvanised plant containers: the ‘aged’ galvanised finish. This is achieved with acid etching and looks far more attractive. These plant containers are available from of course!

On a side note, there are some plant containers made that look very similar to the Spangles that were mentioned at the beginning of this article. If you would like plant containers made to look like your favourite confectionery or anything else for that matter, we can supply them!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Growing vegetables in window boxes

Growing vegetables in window boxes is as easy as growing them in the ground- provided you remember that you will need to choose vegetables with compact growing habits, and that you will need to water the window boxes frequently. The window boxes or containers will need to be placed in a sunny position and must be well secured to prevent them falling on someone’s head!

If you have a large number of window boxes or plant pots on a patio, the watering can be taken care of by an automatic watering system. These are simple battery operated valves with timers that fit on to an outdoor tap. Connected to the timer valve is a 15mm diameter hose and from that hose, smaller diameter feeder tubes allow each container to be individually watered.

You can even adjust the amount of water given to each pot if some are larger than others. If you don’t have too many pots to water and don’t like the idea of the large diameter pipe being placed around the patio, you can attach the 6mm diameter pipes directly to the timer and tee off where necessary.

If you don’t want to install a watering system or don’t have a tap nearby then you can place a self watering unit in the planter or window box. This is a water reservoir that allows the plants to take the water they need. This way you don’t need to water every day.

Vegetables such as cucumbers, egg plants, green beans, onions, lettuce, peppers, radishes and tomatoes all have a small growing variety that will be suitable for smaller containers and window boxes. Carrots are easy. Larger varieties of vegetables can be planted in large plant containers as can quite a number of fruit trees and bushes.

The dedicated horticulturists can sow vegetables from seeds if you have a propagator or suitable container that you can cover with a plastic bag to help them germinate. It is often easier to buy small plants from nurseries and grow them on if you don’t mind having a more limited selection.

It’s a wonderful experience to eat vegetables grown in your own back yard. It’s funny to think that it is something that most families have never experienced.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Artificial rocks!

Artificial rocks, fake rocks, faux rocks. That’s normally what they are called. I have googled bogus boulders but didn’t find anything listed. I won’t bother searching for pretend pebbles, counterfeit cobbles or simulated stone. I am sure there must be other alliterations, but I’d only be using them to pad out this article anyway!

What am I on about? Well I mean hollow GRP ( fibre glass ) shapes that are made to look exactly like a piece of rock. These can be up to 6ft tall. When I say exactly, I really mean it as the GRP shapes or artificial rocks are produced in a mould which is taken from a real rock.

These are made the same way as a GRP plant container. Using silicon rubber or latex as a mould the rock is created with coloured resin and fibreglass matting. See details on how this is done in my earlier post: Silicone moulds for GRP plant containers.

All of the crevices and details of the original rock are faithfully reproduced and once the artificial rock is in position and has a bit of dust and a few old dried out leaves on it, then the boulder is indistinguishable from the real thing. Until you kick it.

You may wonder why there is a need for artificial rocks. Well, the most important use for them is showing off in front of young ladies on the beach. Some planning is involved including working out where your potential victim, sorry, date usually sits on the beach. Let’s face it, humans are creatures of habit and those ladies will usually sit in the same spot.

You will have already studied the types of rock in the area and will have had a boulder produced to match the indigenous strata. Whatever that means. An early visit to the beach is essential to place the artificial rock in position. If you are not planning in waiting by the rock in order to prevent its discovery then it is an excellent idea to place a dog turd on top of the rock and at least one other very nearby to deter potential rock sitters. These are available on all good street corners or you can make one out of wetted, crumpled cardboard toilet roll inserts. They are also available in plastic versions in good joke shops.

When your potential date has been on the beach for some time, approach her and bid her a polite good morning. Ensure that an accomplice has removed the turds to avoid later Yuck! issues. Make sure your potential date watches you while you stroll over to the rock, struggle a little, and then lift it clean above your head and walk off. Keep walking until you are out of site before putting the rock down. AVOID carrying the rock towards the sea as it will float if you drop it in the water. Of course this may not guarantee you a date but it will certainly leave a lasting impression of sorts!

There is another use for artificial rocks: landscaping. You can use real rocks if you can find one the right shape and you have truck access to where the rock is going to be placed. If access is difficult or there are load restrictions in the area that the rock will be placed then artificial is the way to go. Artificial rocks would be particularly suitable for roof gardens and the rocks can be adapted to include a water outlet for use in a trickle water feature.

You can see an avalanche load of rocks at