TV VideoGame Review Shows – Time To Bring Them Back Part 2


TV Needs Gaming Reviews

In my last posting I bemoaned the fact that the videogame shows of yesteryear were all gone due to a dearth of new and interesting games and hardware and the changing demographic of the actual game audience. But I think it’s high time these shows came back to our TVs.

I suggested that the changing ages of the game target market was one of the reasons behind the decline in viewers of games shows as the core audience at the time was in their mid teens and was more interested in just playing the games than watching Free TV shows about them. But that has changed now. Games and their consoles are so expensive now that the core audience is in their mid twenties to early thirties. Mammy (or mom or mum) isn’t buying the games anymore, it’s the working man buying their own games now. And games consoles are now part of the entire home entertainment setup in most houses. The console is no longer up in a bedroom but is under the main TV in the front room.

The amount of consoles available is also greater than it’s ever been. Sure, the core gaming consoles are currently the big three: Sony’s Playstation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox360 and Nintendo’s Wii. But there are also the handhelds: Nintendo’s insanely popular DS (And the recently released but troubled 3DS) and Sony’s PSP (And it’s upcoming successor, the super-powered Vita). But then we have the phone market and casual, online games. More of these in a minute.

At first glance at the consoles it seems to be all First Person Shooters (FPS) like Call Of Duty or Halo, but digging deeper we can see that the range of game types is wider than ever: From puzzle games like the hilarious and hugely popular Portal 2 to the perennial soccer games FIFA and Pro Evo to retro styled games like Scott Pilgrim (a flashback to the old beat-em-ups like Double dragon and Final Fight) to trippy music games like Child Of Eden. PCs have a large selection of realtime strategy games and Massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-games (MMORPG) (say that fast three times) like World Of Warcraft have more players than many countries!! Even the methods of control are diverse. Nintendo started it with the Wii with it’s wand-like controller the wiimote. Sony followed suit with it’s own version, the Move. But still let you control your games as you wanted, with the standard controller or it’s new Move controller. Xbox gives you the option now to not use a controller at all on some games with it’s Kinect attachment. Cameras track your movement and control your game. As a direct result of the Wii the range of gamers has broadened considerably. While the core audience is male (mid twenties-early thirties) the Wii brought in both sexes and gamers now age from 7 to 70 (The Wii is used in many nursing homes as part of physical therapy). Online casual games are also huge business these days, be it Facebook’s Farmville or Scrabble.

But the biggest change is with mobile gaming. For years phone companies like Nokia and Sony Ericsson tried to convince us that games on phones were going to be the next big thing. But, as long as they stuck to the Symbian Operating System this was never going to happen really. Then Apple came out with the iPhone and phone gaming took off big time. The games started out as simple things like noughts and crosses but, with each generation of iPhone hardware the games got better and better: The gameplay smoother, graphics flashier and sound better. The games normally sold for a few dollars, normally less than ten dollars as opposed to 30 or 40 or so for the DS and PSP and they were easily on a par with games for the dedicated handhelds like the DS/PSP. And it meant that you only had to have one device in your pocket instead of two. And, let’s face it, EVERYONE has a mobile phone. Android phones came next and, again, gaming took off on these devices too (Although not as fast as the iPhone initially). Most games are released on both phone types now. The games are now produced by large gaming companies like EA and Ubisoft and are a large part of their profits.

Gaming hardware is changing more rapidly now. The mobile market really only took off about two years ago and Nintendo are bringing out a new console in 2012 and Microsoft (and possibly Sony) in 2013/2014. The aforementioned 3DS came out in 2011 and Sony’s new handheld is coming out in early 2012.

So the gamer range is wide and the core gamer age is older than ever. It’s time for a new videogame review TV show. Call it Gamesmaster: The Next Generation. As I said, currently, in the UK/Ireland anyway, there are no games review shows on TV yet there are any amount of games magazines out there. There seems to be at least 2 magazines dedicated to each particular console and many more that look at all the consoles. Edge magazine looks at the gaming business as a whole. Only a small part is dedicated to reviews with most of the magazine concerning game development and marketing and generally looking gaming from a business perspective but it is still interesting to gamers. Retrogamer magazine, as the name suggests, concentrates on old games (Old games these days is anything beyond 12 years it seems) and consoles and arcade games.

The internet is chock full of games related websites as you can imagine but these are no longer the rantings and ravings of some pubescent console fanboy. These days the sites are professional, informative and entertaining. They are produced, as with the old TV shows, by people actually interested in gaming. 1UP, Kotaku, Screwattack and Gametrailers are but a few. Screwattack alone produces a five minute news programme every day along with about for or five videos about various games related reviews/retrospectives etc a week and also a weekly show called Sidescrollers that averages out at about 35-45 minutes long. This is all from one single website.

So surely there is enough games related news and information/reviews out there to make a weekly half-hour show. Games are coming out faster and faster these days and, games being so expensive nowadays, people want to know what a game is like before buying. Should they buy a game or wait six months until the update comes out; what’s the multiplayer like on a game, how long to finish it? What about games from smaller companies? They cannot compete, advertising wise, with giants like EA and Activision so a TV show could be just what they need to get their game known.

Also, what about retro gaming? The last gaming show I remember being on TV was Gamesville on Sky in 2000 or so. The show wasn’t brilliant but at least they did a brief news segment and, towards the end of it’s run, a retro corner that gave histories on older games and their influences on today’s games. Remember, most of the core gamers these days grew up with games: From arcades by the seaside to their C64s and Megadrives to their Gamecubes to the PS2s. These are all retro these days and they bring back fond memories.

So come on Channel 4 or ITV or anyone. Bring back videogame shows. The only time we see videogames on TV these days is when they are trying to blame games for shootings or obesity or global-bloody-warming. Bring back Dominik Diamond and Violet Berlin. Hell, bring back Sir Patrick Moore while he’s still with us.

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TV Video Game Shows – Where have they all gone? Part 1

Gaping Hole in TV Shedules

Once upon a time, in the mid 80′s to the mid 90′s videogames ruled. Schoolyards rang with arguments on which was better: The Commodore C64 or the Sinclair Spectrum and later: Nintendo or Sega. And as a result videogames were all over Free TV. It seemed that every Television station had their own videogame review show, from Channel 4′s Gamesmaster to ITV’s Bad Influence.

These pretty much followed a similar format: Late teens-early 20′s presenters, produced by people also in their mid twenties. “Wacky” camera angles and hyperactive editing were also de rigueur. The shows consisted of reviews by presenters (and often times by kids that were in the audience of the show), news about up and coming games and consoles and, invariably, a games guru who dispensed tips or cheats for various games (In the case of Gamesmaster the guru was astronomer Sir Patrick Moore with his face superimposed on an animated floating head).

As many games developers at the time (and still to this day) were based in the UK the shows had many interviews with publishers that went on to become huge in the gaming industry. In general the shows were accepted by their youthful target audience and were successful mainly because the people involved had a genuine interest in gaming. Many presenters and producers went on to work with gaming publishers or gaming magazines or even start up their own gaming companies. Gareth Jones, another youth TV presenter went on to work with (and marry) Bad Influences’ Violet Berlin and they produced a couple of games related TV shows. Gamesmaster’s Dominik Diamond still writes for gaming magazines and produced a couple of games shows on satellite TV.

The shows were cheap to produce: Normally the presenters and production teams were straight out of media college and this was their first job. Sets normally consisted of some cool lighting, a few sofas, a couple of each of the current gaming consoles/computers, a couple of TV screens and normally two or three handheld cameras. Games companies were more than willing to go on the show or release copies of their games for review as it was free publicity.

And then, almost overnight, they disappeared. There were a number of reasons for this in my opinion. The Sega Megadrive (Genesis in the US) and Nintendo SNES were the main consoles at the time. The C64 and the Spectrum had gone the way of the dinosaur, the Atari ST and Amiga and PC were just too expensive and the Playstation, N64 and Sega’s doomed Dreamcast were still a couple of years away. While initially the games coming out for the Megadrive and SNES were very new and innovative and the graphics and sound amazing compared to the C64/Speccy they soon fell into a bit of a rut. Streetfighter 2 came out and suddenly it seemed that most of the games coming out were fighters.

The graphics were beginning to look a bit dated at this stage and the games were getting more and more expensive and out of reach of the initial core market. The core market (12-14 yearold boys) soon grew up and moved on to cheaper forms of entertainment: sports, music and girls. When the playstation came out games were well and truly out of the price range of this original audience and the new gaming audience, mid teens, wasn’t interested in TV so the TV show audience left in droves and, within a couple of years all those insane, hyperactive, jolt-cola induced videogame shows were gone.

But I say it’s time they made a comeback. As they say on TV. Stay tuned for part two

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Deep Space Nine. The Best Trek?


Star Trek DS9 – The Trekker’s Favourite

In a previous post I commented on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Currently Sky Two is repeating Deep Space Nine and CBS Action, available on Satellite TV and Freeview, are cycling through Star Trek Classic (Digitally cleaned up and with a bit of spit and polish on the effects) and Deep Space Nine. So it seemed like a good time to post my thoughts on my favourite of the Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine.

Kirk vs Picard vs Sisko

Now, I know it’s traditional to like Star Trek Classic or The Next Generation best. The debate of who is best: Kirk or Picard has been raging since the dawn of the internet and according to legend, the first forum post on the precursor to the Internet, DARPANet, was who was best: Kirk or Spock? But, for all the high-kicking, stilted dialogue delivery and cold war allegories of the original and the touchy-feely, moralizing of The Next Gen, I feel that Deep Space Nine stands head and shoulders over all other Trek series.

DS9 Progressive Storylines

Deep Space Nine brought a sense of weight to the Star Trek universe. No longer would a problem be wrapped up in 45 mins with no consequences for the future like in Trek Classic. You knew that anything that happened in DS9 (Especially from season 2 on) was going to have ramifications months or years down the line. DS9 was different from all other Trek series in that it had a six year storyline (Starting with season 2). There was a definite progression in the one story from the end of season 2 right up to the end of season 7.

Grey Morality in Star Trek

Gone, also, was the goody-two-shoes moralizing of The Next Gen. Deep Space Nine was not all black-and-white. The “good guys” did questionable things in the name of war: Instigating germ warfare, deliberate murder of civilians and engaging in torture. Alliances changed all the time: This year’s enemy could be next year’s ally. But it was never done for shock value or simply to keep you on your toes like other shows. The plot points and changes were all very logical and, looking back, the only choices. The black and white of the Next Gen disappeared for the shades of grey in DS9 (Even down to the styling of their uniforms. Starting off with the bright Next Gen colours before changing to more military-styled greys of the later seasons).

Retianed a sense of humour

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. DS9 also had some of the funniest episodes of any Trek series: From meeting Kirk in Trials And Tribilations to being the Roswell aliens in Little Green Men DS9 had some hilarious episodes.

So, if you’re going to give Star Trek a go, ignore the camp classic, the squeaky clean Next Gen, the nasal Voyager and the bland Enterprise. Go for the smart Trek you can get your teeth into. Switch over to Sky two on Sky or CBS Action on Free TV and get stuck into Deep Space Nine

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The I.T. Crowd. The geekiest show on TV?


Top Geeks?

Sure, people will harp on about The Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory does seem to have more geek references with their obsession with Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and anything related at all to Joss Whedon (They constantly reference his cancelled cowboys-in-space series Firefly and, of course, Whedon’s seminal series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But for all the nerdiness of Sheldon, Raj, Howard and Leonard we should remember those IT gurus Roy and Moss in Channel 4′s The IT Crowd.

Another Hit for Graham Linehan

Created by Father Ted’s Graham Linehan The IT Crowd is, as the title suggests, about the IT department in company in England. Anybody who has had ANY dealings with their company’s IT department can testify to the sharp observational nature of the humour: One of the main characters just answers his phone with “Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?” and their social skills with their co-workers and others? Well… well, they could be improved alright.

Subtle Geeky-ness

But, while the humour doesn’t really rely on the nerdy it’s the details that make it the geekiest show on Free TV in my opinion. I mean check out that basement set. Sure, everyone spots the old Apple Mac and the Space Invaders stickers on the guys desk but it’s the more subtle signs I’m looking at. It’s one thing to name drop Firefly in The Big Bang Theory it’s another thing to spot a small poster containing no writing, just a shadow. Just to the left of the top of the entrance to the basement. You see it? Well that’s a poster to Joss Whedon’s internet only web series Dr. Horrible’s singalong-a-blog…… Yep. And that camel sticker behind Moss? That’s the logo for the unix based language Perl. Instead of having two subtitling options on the DVD; English and English for the hearing impaired, The IT Crowd also has another subtitle option 1337 “Leet” This converts the dialogue into net leetspeak.

The more obscure, the better

Even more than the basement though is Roy’s T-shirts. They range from the fairly straight forward “I Read Your E-mails” and “OMFG” to RTFM” RTFM stands for Read The F****** Manual. Initially used, unoficially of course, by support personnel when confronted by people misusing their products. Now it’s actually pretty much acceptable. IBM have an acronym look up tool, entering RTFM brings up Read The “Function” Manual, complete with the quotes. Who says big corporations don’t have a sense of humour. Some of his T-shirts are really obscure. One has what seems to be an outline of a square-ish cartoon character with the words “Never Forget” underneath. This is a reference to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon series. Specifically the movie version. As part of a viral advertising campaign, they left various models of the characters around the city of Boston.

HS not in one the joke……

All went well until, bizarrely, one was thought to be a bomb. Homeland security and the bomb squad was called in, the street closed off and the model blown up by the bomb squad. Homeland security then pressed terrorism charges against the producers (But the case was thrown out of court). However, probably the MOST nerdy T-shirt worn was what looked like a series of random coloured squares stacked vertically. I used to work in a video arcade and can tell you that this is either an boot-up screen or a kill screen (When the minimal onboard memory buffer on these ancient games is full and causes the game to crash) There really aren’t many people who have seen this screen (You may have heard of the Kill Screen if you saw the documentary King Of Kong.

Takes one to know one

So while it may not be as overtly nerdy as The Big Bang Theory underneath The IT Crowd is the geekiest thing this side of a Star Trek convention…… And yes, I do realise I’m just as nerdy to spot them……..

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Preview of Upcoming Free TV Dramas

Good year ahead for TV drama series

I know I know, I harp on about Sci-Fi a lot (too much probably) but that’s not all I watch on TV. I stay away from “reality” TV and talk shows etc but I like a good drama series too and, thankfully, decent, articulate shows are on the increase.

Thank you thank you thank you HBO. If it wasn’t for your groundbreaking shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Deadwood with grown up storylines, great writing and excellent acting we wouldn’t have Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Without True Blood we wouldn’t have The Walking Dead.

Mad Men, set in an advertising agency in the 1960′s has, justifiably won numerous awards for it’s cast and writing/directing crew. It’s dark, funny and full of the most unpolitically-correct characters you’re ever going to come across on TV. It has made stars of its actors Christina Hendricks, January Jones and, especially, Jon Hamm. Sometimes it’s a difficult watch and sometimes it’s just painfully funny…. Sometimes it’s both at the same time.

Ah, Breaking Bad. My favourite. Take the idiot, but well meaning dad from Malcolm In The Middle, give him terminal cancer and turn him into a meth manufacturer and you have one of the darkest and funniest shows on Free TV. Bryan Cranston was always a fearless actor. There was pretty much nothing he wouldn’t do on Malcom In The Middle. From making a shake with mince, eggs, pepper etc in a blender and drinking it in one go all on screen (So there was no sneaky substitution for something more appetizing for the actor) to being covered in thousands of non-CGI bees. You name it, he has done it on TV. But on Breaking Bad he just out does himself. Shaving his head for the part of Walter he gives a performance that is unremittingly bleak and, at the same time filled with the blackest of black humour. He has gone on to win a best actor Emmy and is one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood at the moment with seven films either about to come out or in the process of being filmed.

And there’s more coming. Everyone is jumping on the grown-up TV show bandwagon (Thank God). First up is Pan-Am. Set in the 1960′s it’s aiming to be a Mad Men in the air concentrating on the lives of the barbie-like stewardesses and the mad men like pilots. Hopefully it is more mad men than sex in the city. Also coming is The Playboy Club. Set in, well, The Playboy Club, it follows a group of Playboy bunnies and their high-powered political and/or mobster clients.

Next up is Boss about a hard-as-nails mayor of Chicago who is diagnosed with a motor neuron disorder and the lengths he goes to keep it under wraps and his career on track. Shades of The West Wing (albeit with a less cuddly politician :) and The Good Wife.

Then there is Hell On Wheels. A post-civil war America set during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad it concentrates on a Confederate soldier on a mission to hunt down and kill a group of Union soldiers who killed his wife. The show’s name comes from the traveling slum that followed the line during construction.

So it could be a good year for grown up TV dramas. It seems studios have heard that people actually want grown up shows….. Who would have thought!

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Doctor Who – leaves us sick with mid-season break


Spoiler alert

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen Doctor Who up to June 5 2011 episode “A Good Man Goes To War”

You have been warned.

Dr. Who Convert

First off, let me explain that I am a relative Dr. Who newbie. Born and raised in the bog inIreland, we never had BBC. My only knowledge of Dr Who was repeats of BBC panel and comedy shows on RTE which normally slagged Dr Who off for it’s cheap sets and locations and it’s dodgy effects. I never got into it until the recent reboot starring Christopher Eccleston and Billy Piper. This was part of the new BBC. Big and expensive and aiming for an international audience. It worked. Dr Who is a pretty large hit on BBCUSA. Maybe not quite on the level of The Office but still enough to get the stars on the US Chat Show circuit.

Dr. Who Improves with new Doctors

Anyway, this was my first real intro into Dr. Who and I enjoyed it. Big and fast paced with story arcs that covered entire seasons. Eccleston left after season one but, this is not a problem for The Doctor: Bish bash bosh, a quick regeneration later and David Tennant is the new Doctor. A little more manic, a little less edgy and a bit more fun. And I liked this Doctor too. “Blink” is probably my favourite Dr. Who episode of them all and The Doctor barely appears in it at all. A clever, touching episode which starred a young Carey Mulligan before she went toHollywood. Tennant stayed for three seasons before there was another pretty much reboot. New Doctor – Matt Smith, new companion, new head writer, director, producer. I must admit, I wasn’t gone on the “new” direction initially. Old school fans loved it because it was more inline with the tone of the original series they grew up with. Just with infinitely better production values. However, about half way through Matt Smith’s first season I suddenly got into it. REALLY into it. The stories weren’t as loud and brash as previous ones but were a bit lower key and smarter. The new Doctor had a great subversive sense of humour and the writing was top notch. If “Blink” was my favourite episode, season 5 (Or 25 or whatever. Most seem to count from the 2005 reboot as “Doctor Who” and the original ones as “Dr. Who”…… I’m not THAT bad ) had four episodes IN A ROW that were just plain awesome: “Vincent” saw The Doctor and his companion, Amy, visit Vincent Van Gough and help him fight a monster in typical Doctor Who style. However it’s the quiet moments dealing with Van Gough’s crippling depression that really gets to you and I DARE you to watch the end without getting a little lump in your throat. “The Lodger” sees the Doctor get stranded on Earth and flat-share and do other normal things while trying to figure out what happened. Probably the funniest episode of them all. And then the final 2-parter, consisting of Romans, Daleks, The Big Bang, a wedding and a fez. Simply fantastic

Doctor Who – Season 6 Cliff Hanger

So now we have season 6. the first two episodes, for the first time filmed inAmericato go along with their new audience, were amazing: The Moon Landing, aliens and creepy girls. After that there was a little bit of a lull (Pirates? Really?) and a two parter that could easily have been one episodes. But last Saturday we had the mid season cliff-hanger. We find out what happened to Amy, find out who exactly River Song is (that, in itself, was a jaw-dropper), loads of ships blowing up, headless sword fighting monks and a very angry doctor. And now we have to wait until September until we find out exactly what the hell is going on!!!! Sick isn’t the word.

Freesat – Bring back the Doctor

I’ll just have to sit back and rewatch the first half of the series I suppose. Thankfully saved in glorious HD and surround sound on my Free TV box (Rory’s speech at the start of “A Good Man Goes To War” looks bloody amazing in HD with the volume turned up to 11. BLOODY AMAZING!). Come on BBC bring back The Doctor, we’re dying here!!!

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TV Soap Operas – Their Influence on Society & Vice Versa


We all have our favourite soaps, and lets face it folks they have been a part of our lives ever since Ken Barlow and Coronation Street appeared on our screens in 9 December 1960. Coronation Street, along with other favourites such as Eastenders and Emmerdale has had a huge influence on our society, and how people interact with each other in todays world. Similarly it could be argued that the world we live in today reflects what we look at on Free TV. When Coronation Street hit the air 50 years ago TV was still in black and white, it was post war Britain and people behaved accordingly. As we moved through the decades the young Ken Barlow slowly but surely lost his mummy’s boy image and it wasn’t long until extra martial affairs were the order of the day for Ken.

As Thatcherism Britain began to wield its social destruction, the soaps due fully followed. Images of drunken men and domestic abuse frequented our screens more often. The introduction of Eastenders to the airwaves in February 1985 depicted the daily goings on of Londons East End, and real problems such as HIV and drug abuse highlighted the city’s social problems. When Emmerdale Farm hit our screens in 1989 the show was a true representation of the quite rural life in the Yorkshire Dales. However it wasn’t long until Emmerdale followed suit and social inefficiencies were soon to the fore. Is it fair to blame what we watch on TV on today’s social problems, and what are the mechanics behind this relationship?

Without doubt the soap land culture has done many wonderful things for society. It has given us many witty and fun loving characters. Coronation Street has given us the Duckworths, Emmerdale the Dingles and Eastenders has given us Dot Branning and Alfie Moon. Each of us know a character from the soap world in our own lives. We can all relate to the know it all in the pub or the busy bodies in our local cafe. This sense of familiarity allows us to feel at ease with our own lives. Yes people get divorced, and young people die in real life. So why should it be any different on TV? The truth is it’s not. TV is a true depiction of real life events, albeit ten times more concentrated than reality.

Producers of these soaps would argue that they are merely trying to mirror real life. After all it is the 21st century and why shouldn’t gay marriages and transsexual tendencies be shown on our TV sets. However the line has to be drawn somewhere. Rape scenes like the one shown on Coronation Street or the assisted suicide and self harm story line in Emmerdale do more damage than we realise and are truly depressing. Eastenders is the worst offender for this. The relationships between the characters is often deplorable and how they relate to each other on screen is less than what you would call acceptable.

Having been to London recently and witnessed firsthand the lack of respect people show each other it is quite easy to draw conclusions linking soap land to real life. Stopping short of blaming the London riots on Eastenders and other soaps, the producers of these soaps have to realise the effect they have on people. Certain vunerable groups can be heavily influenced by what the watch on TV. They see characters such as Phil Mitchell and others as role models. But creating role models is not in the interests of those in power. Ratings are. Audiences want to be shocked and the soaps more often than not meet their expectations.

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Growing exotic seeds with a propagation kit

Some of the tastiest and most interesting fruits and vegetables are more akin to warmer climates then what we have here in Ireland and growing such plants has not been an option and can’t be done on a large scale. It is however possible to grow a small amount of exotic plants and seeds in your home or greenhouse using a propagation kit and heated greenhouse.

Starting seeds can be a bit hit and miss with some species of plants proving to be quite difficult to grow. Plants such as morning glory, banana, citrus, grape and cannas all prefer warmer, damp conditions to germinate and grow. To achieve these conditions there are a number of things you can do. First it is recommended to invest in a high dome propagation kit; these handy kits come with a plastic cover which traps heat and increases soil and air temperatures by approx 4 or 5 degrees celcius.

Another way to increase the success rate and germination rate of your exotic seedlings insure that you provide the best soil mix. Prepare you propagation Kit by added a mix of well drained compost and cover over the soil is a fine mulch such as perlite or horticulture grit. The soil mix that you use can vary for different exotic seedlings as some prefer more damp conditions but a general ratio would be 1 part perlite to 2 parts compost.

Position of your propagator is also important; choose a warm and sunny location such as a bright windowsill, conservatory or greenhouse. Choose a spot that receives the most sunlight but to wary of temperature fluctuations at night time. Seedlings and especially exotics do not like sharp changes in temperature that can occur at a window sill. The propagator will minimise this but it would be recommended that you move your seedlings away from the windowsill on cold nights. Remember exotic seedling require approximately 23 degree Celsius to grow.

It is also important to minimise the amount of disturbance to your young seedlings as possible. This means that to soil and roots should not be touched and that when potting on or transplanting from the propagation kit care should be taken to reduce stress on the plants. Using biodegradable pots such as coir pots is ideal as these pots can be planted directly into the ground without any root disturbance.

You will often find that exotic seeds require having their seed coat scratched or nicked prior to sowing to induce germination. This can be done by rubbing the seed against sandpaper or cutting the hard seed coat with a knife. Other exotic seeds benefit from being soaked in water for 24 hours prior to sowing in a propagation kit.

Lastly, the sprouted seedlings will require high humidity to reduce water loss. To increase humidity in a propagator you can close the vents, preventing fresh air from getting in. To increase the humidity in a greenhouse you can pour water on the floor in warm weather, the water will evaporate increasing water vapour or humidity in the air.

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How to make your own garden cloche

Garden cloches are an essential tool for all gardeners as they protect delicate and tender crops in their early stages and they increase soil and air temperatures in early spring and late autumn extending the gardeners growing season. Cloches also extend the range of vegetables that can be sown and even help to protect crops against pest attacks.

These handy pieces of equipment come in a range of sizes, and there is one to suit every gardeners needs. However if you don’t want to spend the money, ranging from 12 euro to 60 euro, then why not try and build your own garden cloche?

The garden cloche i will show you how to make is a simple ‘mini –polytunel’ style of cloche that is used to cover an entire row of your vegetable patch.

There are a few things that you will need to build your own, but nothing expensive and most that you can find lying around the place. You will need; An old garden hose, a number of clothes pegs, a number of old clothes hangers (the wire ones) and some clear polythene sheets (approx 1.2M X the length of your vegetable plot.

To start; Take the old garden hose and cut it into even sized lengths of 1.2M. Next unwind the old clothes hangers and push them through the old garden hose pieces. Now bend the hangers to create a wide ‘U’ shape, you will need 5 of these for a 2M long Cloche. These ‘U’ shaped sections will from the structure of your tunnel.

Next; on the Vegetable plot position the ‘U’ shaped sections evenly along the row of vegetables you wish to protect. Make sure that each section is equal height and width and that they are all in a line.

Once done you can turn your attention to the polythene cover. Cut you polythene section so that they are 1.2M in Width and as long as your vegetable garden or cloche needs to be. When you have it cut out, place it over the ‘U’ shaped sections. Take the old clothes pegs and use them to pin down the polythene to the ‘U’ shaped sections.

There it is; a simple Garden cloche made from a selection of useless items lying around your garden. If you find that you have a windy garden i would recommend that you place a line of soil along the edge of the polythene on both sides to prevent the wind from getting underneath and lifting your cloche up.

You can reuse it year after year and save yourself a lot of money and save your vegetables from a late frost or attack of pigeons or rabbits!

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Remember to label your plant pots

Gardening should be all about trial and error, there is no reason why every gardener shouldn’t try his or her hand at growing all manner of different flowers and fruits. The beauty of gardening is that if you do it right then you’ll have a lovely new plant, and if you do it wrong; well, at least you learnt something new along the way. The key to this practice of trial and error is that you label and record your plants and your procedures.

There are so many different gardening tasks and projects that can be done in your potting shed or on trial beds in your vegetable plot. If your going to undertake a trial be sure to have a pen and note pad with you at all times and list out all the steps you do in each trial. Remember to have plant labels to hand and keep your work space as organised as possible

To effectively use plant labels it is important to note all the vital information; be sure to include the plants name, be it Latin or common name. Also include the date at which the trial took place and also include the factor which you have altered for that particular trial.

Examples of gardening trials include; variations of plant pot potting mixtures, variations of fertiliser types, variation of fertilizer amounts, variations of growing times, variation of plant pot sizes.. As you can see the list of gardening trials is endless. As a gardener you if have to explore what areas you want to explore.

The reasons for gardening trails would be to create the most ideal and most economical growing conditions for your particular plants. Personally I try to record as much information as possible around the garden, from recording the growth of newly planted beech saplings over many years, to recording the condition of various plants after heavy frosts. Note taking is crucial to learn and develop an understanding of how plants grow and respond to external stimuli and external factors. The benefits of accurate plant labels mean that quick and accurate reading and identifying of plants can be made and this will certainly benefit beginner gardeners at developing their range of plant names.

You can carry out a gardening trial any time of year. Winter is a great time to record the effects of cold weather on your plants. To get started with a trial, begin by preparing your plant labels, once written up and in place you should note in your notepad the purpose of your trial and date at which you will start. Continue to assess the growth and changes to plants over the course of the trial and by the end you should be able to determine a result and conclude on how next to approach your garden.

Over a number of years you will be able to develop an extensive amount of data and information on plants, climate, soil, fertilisers, pest control options and more. These notes would be the envy of every gardener.

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