Tuesday, 24 March 2015

PEAS AND BEANS



PEAS AND BEANS

Peas and beans are found on most people’s allotment. They are very easy to grow provided you give them rich soil that was well manured or composted during the winter digging. Runner beans, dwarf French beans and later sown peas can also benefit from a green manure crop, since there is time to grow a quick clover crop before the ground is needed for sowing or planting.
Freshly harvested peas and beans can be on the dinner plate within a couple of hours of picking and there is nothing more healthy and delicious to taste. These pulses are rich in fibre, protein, vitamin A, C, E and K and the minerals copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc and selenium.


Broad beans are quite hardy so it is possible to do an autumn sowing and over winter the plants to give a very early crop. However I prefer to sow early in March indoors with some heat and grow them on in cellular trays for a couple of weeks on a sunny windowsill. When they are about four inches tall I transfer them to my unheated greenhouse to harden off. They will go outdoors to harden off further before they are planted on prepared ground in early April once the land has warmed up. I plant in a double row about nine to twelve inches apart spacing the plants about nine inches apart. I grow Giant Exhibition Longpod as although it is very vigorous and grows quite tall it produces a very heavy crop. It will need good support as it grows using stakes and binder twine.
I have never been troubled with blackfly, but taking out the tops is recommended as a precaution once the plants have set the pods. They are ready to harvest in summer in a one off operation. I pick the crop in the morning then it is a family affair in the afternoon as we gather around a table on the patio and shell the beans. I wee drop of Saskatoon wine adds to the social occasion. However the work continues in the kitchen soon after as the beans are blanched so the skins can be squeezed off.
This is necessary for perfect broad bean soup with a flavour to die for, and extremely healthy.

Runner beans are not so hardy so they are sown in small pots in late April and grown similar to the beans so they can be planted out in early June. They can also be sown direct outdoors in early June.
They need a support of canes or poles about six feet tall as they will climb.

Dwarf French beans are more tender so sowing is even later. I sow direct outdoors the first week in May (provided the soil has warmed up) in a double row a foot apart spacing the seeds about four inches apart. These do not need staked and picking should be regular over several weeks in summer.

Peas can crop over a long season by using different varieties and sowing times. To get earliest crops use a variety such as Kelvedon Wonder sown indoors in a length of guttering  filled with compost then when the plants are a few inches tall slide the whole batch into a furrow in the garden.
For succession follow on with the same variety outdoors in April, then later on use a maincrop such as Onward or the very tall Alderman. Peas will need staking and protection from pigeons. I use the old fashioned, but still effective black thread tied along the rows on the pea support. It frightens off the birds as they can feel it but not see it. For a late sown crop go back to the fast maturing Kelvedon Wonder or Feltham First sown in July. All peas get sown in a six inch wide furrow, a couple of inches deep and spacing the peas about two to three inches apart in three rows.

Wee jobs to do this week
Complete any outstanding pruning of fruit trees or bushes, except plum trees liable to infection from silver leaf.
Plant strawberry runners delivered as cold stored runners. They may not have much leaves on them but as long as they have strong crowns they will soon grow once the spring gets under way.
Once snowdrops and aconites have finished flowering the clumps can be lifted, split up and replanted where they will continue to grow for a few more weeks as long as they are kept moist.

END

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Art Exhibition Dundee Art Society

Dundee Art Society Spring Exhibition


Exhibition starts on Saturday 21st March 2015 at 11am at the gallery at 17 Roseangle and finishes at 5pm. Open every day at the same time until Saturday 28th March 2015.
My three paintings on display are this lady in red called Warm Glow


Entry is free and there should be about 100 paintings and a lot of craft on display.
Please support us and bring a friend along to see our artwork.

I also paint a lot of views from my allotment site at City Road, including this one of The Red Shed,


 and this snow scene winter landscape of The Apple Tree



Sunday, 15 March 2015

POTATOES FOR THE GARDEN



POTATOES FOR THE GARDEN

The humble potato has had a major impact on the British way of life. It is eaten by most people daily as boiled, mashed, baked, as a salad or as chips. It is a great source of food health and its cultivation gives us immense exercise. It is a major farm crop in Scotland for both ware and seed potato production. It holds an essential place on the allotment plot rotation. We all have our own favourite varieties depending on taste, texture and use. Some like a dry texture, others waxy or floury. Some have a strong flavour whereas others can be very bland. As my diet has evolved away from chips and now into salads, my needs are for the smaller potato cooked in their skins (the healthiest part) with enough surplus to add to a couple days salads.
Last year I started lifting my second early Lady Chrystl in mid July. It gave a good crop, and the earliest ones may not have reached full size, but they were perfect for me. However it was the smaller sized potato Maris Peer that was the perfect salad spud, though the crop weight was not high. This year I will be trying International Kidney as my first early salad potato.
My best maincrop last year was Sarpo Mira, which I still have plenty of in store so I will be planting it again this year.

Culture


Potatoes are heavy feeders so grow best on land that has been well manured in autumn and left rough over winter. It is a good practice to chit tubers as it gives them a head start. Place the seed potatoes upright, (rose end upwards) in trays or egg boxes and leave in a light frost free position for a few weeks to get them to sprout.
Planting
Planting time depends on weather, so this year as the weather has been cold it will begin early to mid March. Earlies are spaced about 12 inches apart along the rows which are 24 inches apart. For maincrops increase the spacing to 15 inches apart with rows 2 to 2.5 feet apart.
Take out a furrow six inches deep and run some well rotted compost along the bottom. Cover this with some soil and plant into this. Cover the rows but leave a slight ridge to mark the line.
Potato fertilizer high in phosphates and potassium, may be added during the covering of the tubers.
Growing on
Once the foliage emerges keep an eye on the weather and if frost threatens earth over to protect them. Continue to earth over as this kills weeds.
Hopefully earlies will escape blight, but watch out for blight on maincrops if wet weather predominates. You can protect the foliage with spays of Bordeaux mixture, but if rain keeps washing it off it may be better to cut off and remove the foliage.
Lifting
Lifting can begin at the end of June with first earlies and continue till October for lates. Lift on a sunny day and leave the spuds to dry on the surface for an hour or so. Discard any tubers that show any greening as this contains poisons. Potatoes are best stored in the dark in hessian or paper bags in a frost free shed protected from mice.

Wee jobs to do this week


Clean the glass in greenhouses both inside and outside as seed sowing will now be under way for many plants and grape vines will soon be budding up. Any vines left low to encourage even growth along the rods can now be tied back into place.
Tomatoes, onions and broad beans sown earlier in February will now be germinating and need more light to keep them sturdy. Only the tomatoes require constant heat, whereas the others can be grown as hardy as they can stand. Salads for an early crop to be planted out under low polythene tunnels can now be sown in a warm room or windowsill, unless you have a heated greenhouse.

End



Sunday, 8 March 2015

ONIONS AND LEEKS



ONIONS AND LEEKS

The allium family cover garlic, shallots, spring onions, pickling onions and leeks as well as onions.
However it is the onions and leeks that are the most popular. Most allotment plot holders will grow a few as they are not too difficult and are very popular in the kitchen almost on a daily basis as they can be used in so many different ways. As a healthy food crop they are just about the top of the list as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, dietary fibres and antioxidants.
They all grow best in rich well drained soil in a sunny location. During the winter digging session I allocate a very generous amount of compost to them, then about a month before planting the land gets a wee dusting of lime as they do not like an acid soil.

Onions
They both need a long season to grow so it is usual to give them an early start. Some onion types can be autumn sown and planted to overwinter then give an early harvest. Sets are also available for autumn planting. If you are into huge onions for show you will most likely be growing Kelsae which should be sown at the end of January. However, you will need to keep it warm and in the light to maintain sturdy growth. Over the years I have grown many varieties, but once you get the one that suits you best you tend to stick with it till someone shows you a better one. My favourite for the last few years has been Hytech. It is easy to grow from seed, is very tasty, and gives large onions that store well into spring the following year.


I sow my Hytech seed in cellular trays, dropping one to three seed per cell at the end of February. After watering in these are kept indoors in a dark warm place to germinate. When shoots appear they will go into a light warm windowsill for a fortnight before they get transferred to my cold greenhouse. Once they are hardened off they are quite tough so no need to mollycoddle them.
They will get planted out on the allotment about the end of April. I plant in rows a foot apart spacing the cellular grown plants about four inches apart. If cells have two or three seedlings per unit do not separate them, as they are quite happy even if a wee bit crowded along the row.
During summer keep them weeded and try to avoid any watering unless the weather is really dry, otherwise white rot fungus might infect them. If it appears remove any infected plants immediately.
Towards the end of summer allow the onion tops to bend over naturally while they ripen up. Once the leaves begin to wither lift them and dry them off in the sun before cleaning and storing in nets or tied up in ropes. The land vacated from the onions can now be sown with autumn salads, planted with spring cabbage or cauliflower Aalsmeer or a green manure to help increase fertility.

Leeks
I sow my leeks a wee bit later than the onions as I sow direct outdoors once the soil has warmed up about mid March. Using my tried and well tested Musselburgh variety, which must be two hundred years old, germination is good and soon I have a sturdy row of seedling six to nine inches tall and ready for transplanting. After carefully lifting the young leeks they get topped and tailed before planting. Prepare furrows spaced a foot apart and a few inches deep then dibber in wide holes about six inches apart. Drop in the seedlings and water the row to settle them in. As they grow the rows slowly earth up with hoeing to create a longer blanched stem.
They are ready to use from autumn and should last well into spring.

Wee jobs to do this week

Bare root trees, shrubs and roses can still be planted for a few more weeks while they are dormant. However container grown plants can be planted just about all year round, but keep them well watered in the growing season.
Once snowdrops and aconites have finished flowering they can be lifted and replanted if the drifts are getting overcrowded. They still have time to continue growing and get settled in. If either are forming seeds these can be scattered as they both spread and multiply easily from self sown seeds.

END

Monday, 2 March 2015

THE GARDEN AWAKENS



THE GARDEN AWAKENS


As winter weather recedes and we can feel some warmth in the sunshine, a trip around the garden lets us know that plant growth is on the move.  The snowdrops have finished, the aconites are past their best, but crocus are now blooming and bringing life into the garden. All my roses, pruned several weeks ago, have small shoots growing, and in the greenhouse the greenfly and whitefly are in great abundance and in party mode. Recent dry sunny weather has brought out the pests. Greenfly on my chrysanthemums and whitefly everywhere were just waiting on fresh new leaves to enhance their diet.  However a wee spray of Provado on a dull day stopped all their fun.
I had purchased some gorgeous pansies and polyanthus in full bloom so I could plant up my spring flowering hanging baskets and a few tubs. I kept them in the cold greenhouse to get them established as there is a strong chance they have all come direct from a polythene tunnel. They will go outdoors after a couple of weeks.
Sweet peas sown two weeks ago on a windowsill have all germinated and have now gone into my cold greenhouse as they are fairly hardy once they get growing. They were sown at three to four seeds in each cell in a tray and will get potted up in a fortnight.
Outdoor grape vines were pruned last month. The strongest of the pruning were used as cuttings (six inches long) placed in cellular trays in a propagator with bottom heat. They are now starting to grow so will get potted up into small pots but kept in the cold greenhouse.
Three new grape vines, (Rondo, Regent and Siegerrebe) have been purchased to replace those that died last year due to phytophthora root rot on the allotment. However they are growing at home in good soil against a south facing fence, with Siegerrebe going into my greenhouse.
Geraniums grown from cuttings last autumn and kept cool but frost free on a windowsill are now putting on some growth. The tops have been removed and used as more cuttings to increase stock. Geraniums are quite hardy so the biggest plants have now gone onto my cold greenhouse to harden off. This will keep them sturdy removing flower buds as they appear to keep the plants strong.
The sowing season kicked off a few weeks ago when I started my sweet peas, but now the last week in February is when I sow my tomatoes and broad beans, then a week later I will sow my onions.
I use the variety Hytech which is very reliable giving a heavy crop of large onions which can store right through winter into spring.
Apples in store are just about finished. Last years crop was not as heavy as normal due to lack of bees for pollination resulting in fewer apples. Bramley in store suffered some brown rot, but there will only be a few left at the beginning of March. Fiesta is the only apple still in store, but now down to my last five.
Down on the allotment the strawberries have had plenty frosty days to initiate fruit buds, so I have erected a low polythene tunnel over a row of the early variety Mae. I hope this will give me my first ripe berries at the end of May or early June depending on our local weather. Picked my first strawberries last year on 30th May, but it was a great year.

Wee jobs to do this week

Seed potatoes for planting in March are now in boxes in a light but cool room to let the shoots chit.
Potatoes and onions are still fine in store while kept cool, but I keep pumpkins a wee bit warmer. Winter cropping vegetables outdoors such as cabbage, swedes, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts and parsnip should still be fine for using as required.
Beetroot left outdoors has now been lifted for use and was perfect even after a few frosts.
Rocket sown in autumn continues to provide plenty fresh leaves for salads, and flower spikes have been cut off as they appear to encourage growth.

END

Sunday, 22 February 2015

BEGONIAS



BEGONIAS

Tuberous begonias are hard to beat for an exotic summer bedding plant, providing a wealth of large blooms in any weather in just about any colour except blue. They are perfect for bedding, tubs, window boxes, hanging baskets and as a house plant on a sunny window sill.
The flowers are usually double and can be frilled and some have a beautiful picotee edge.
Once you have grasped their basic cultural needs for growing and storage they will last for years. I purchased my tubers over twenty years ago and at the end of each season I have more than I started with as the tubers grow larger. Protect them from frost at all times as they are half hardy.
It is usual to use different varieties suitable for summer bedding (doubles, Non Stop, Frilled and Picotees), those with a trailing habit for baskets (pendulas.) You can pay up to £40 for one tuber of the best variety, whereas tubers for bedding are about £1 to £6 each. They may be expensive to start off with, but they last for years and slowly increase in size. As they grow bigger you can cut them up in late March to April as long as each portion has a good couple of strong young shoots.

Propagation and growing

Tubers can be split in April when emerging shoots are quite prominent. You need at least two shoots on each piece, but this is a very slow way to bulk up stock. Seed sowing is the best way to produce a lot of plants quickly. Sow in February on finely prepared seed compost. Do not cover the seeds as they need light to germinate, but to retain a moist atmosphere cover the seed tray with glass. Turn this over daily to remove condensation. They must always be moist, but never wet and need a constant temperature of 65 to 70 F. to germinate. When big enough to transplant you will need to make a forked stick to lift them out together with a very small dibber. Plant them in trays about 4cms apart and once they fill those, transplant them again into larger containers.
Dry tubers are started into growth by placing them close together, concave side up in shallow trays of compost in February. Cover them with compost but not too deep. They need a temperature of at least 65 F. Once the sprouts begin to grow replant them into larger boxes or pots. Keep them watered and fed. Harden off by mid May and they should be ready for planting at the end of May or early June. I plant out my begonias in beds at about a foot apart as they can grow into quite large plants. They are gross feeders in tubs, pots and baskets and need constant watering, but will reward you with a fantastic show of colour right up till the autumn.

Storing
At the end of the flowering season, about mid October, cut back the plants to about three or four inches and lift them carefully. Knock off any loose soil and store them in an airy dry cool but frost proof place. Let the soil around the tubers dry out and fall off. Store them in boxes concave side up covering them with the dried out soil or old potting compost. Make sure it is dry.

Wee jobs to do this week
Cut hedges and any ornamentally shaped shrubs. Always start at the bottom, work up the sides and leave the top till last.

Check for leeks on garden shed roofs and repair with new felt or use bitumastic on small holes or tears. Replace any broken glass from shed windows, cold frames and glasshouses.
Areas on the vegetable patch allocated for brassicas, and dug over a few months ago can now be limed to reduce the soil acidity. This helps to minimise the incidence of clubroot disease.
Check for scale insect infestation on rhododendrons and evergreen azaleas as they can become quite a serious pest causing loss of foliage and allowing the fungus sooty mould to develop. They can be controlled with several sprays of Provado or Resolva. However best time to spray is in summer when the young scale nymphs are hatching.

END

Monday, 16 February 2015

INTERNET GARDENING



INTERNET GARDENING

Garden lovers have always bought a regular gardening magazine to hold our interest and give us up to date information. We also regularly visit garden centres and nurseries as well as horticultural events in our area. This way we gain knowledge of modern gardening techniques and the latest plant varieties as they appear. Today, even in the world of gardening everything has moved on and now we seek our information on the internet as well as the other sources. There is any amount of information available at the click of a mouse leading to websites, blogs, forums and newsletters.
Schools teach computer studies from primary age, so our kids are well versed up in internet technology, but my generation has a lot to catch up on and although there is plenty courses in basic computing, it is not easy to adapt to this new technology.


My first steps
About twelve years ago I enrolled onto an evening class for basic computing learning a wee bit about all the parts and how they worked, then I found another course on learning to search and surf the internet, “Computing for the Terrified” I was an uphill struggle as the keyboard, which I had never used before, really had me baffled, but Scots don’t give up easily.
At this time Dundee Business Gateway was running a series of courses on computers, the internet and website building for small businesses, so yet again this very determined lad enrolled on all of them. I got enough information on just what to look for to buy my first computer with confidence. Now I could practice all these lessons I had been taught. Before long I was searching, emailing, scanning, adding pictures from my camera, printing, booking buses, trains, holidays, and building up a list of my favourite sites that I look at frequently.
My next step was to build my own website www.johnstoa.com to showcase my paintings, prints and art tuition. However I also added pages to show my gardening activities in and around the house as well as my allotment at City Road.
I then added a new blog, scottishartistandhisgarden.blogspot.co.uk linked from my home page to archive all my Dundee Courier articles for future reference. The latest venture is into Facebook and other social media sites, but being very careful with uploading pictures and content.
Today every worthwhile nursery, garden centre and grower has a website. So do Botanical gardens, the Royal Horticultural Society, stately homes, research institutes and numerous allotment sites.
If you wish to find information, or where you can buy a plant just go to Google and type in the common or botanical name and browse through the result pages. Pests, diseases, weed control, pruning, planting, composts, greenhouses, sheds, fences, polythene are all easy to find.
You can look up local garden centres such as www.glendoick.com  or if you wish to look up specialist plant growers try Cockers at www.roses.uk.com and www.davidaustinroses.com for roses.
For fruit growing try www.kenmuir.co.uk, and for excellent chrysanthemums check out Harold Walker at www.walkersplantcentre.co.uk I have used him for over twenty years.
If you want the best tuberous begonias look up www.blackmore-langdon.com.
Our own Dundee Botanical Gardens can be found at www.dundee.ac.uk/botanic 
For information on allotment sites try www.allotment.org.uk which has links to everything you are likely to grow, then check out both the National Society at www.nsalg.org.uk and the Scottish Society at www.sags.org.uk

Wee jobs to do this week


Lift and divide rhubarb plants more than three years old and replant them in well prepared soil that has been well manured as they prefer a rich fertile soil.
Tidy up the edges of lawns with a half moon lawn edger. Any areas that are damaged can be repaired by cutting a square of turf then turning it around so that the edge is clean and straight on the outside. Add soil to the broken area, level it and sprinkle in some grass seed.
Check over all garden tools and sharpen blunt edges with a file. Many tools such as secateurs, spades, hoes, axes and shears all get blunt with constant use.

 End


Monday, 9 February 2015

PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES



PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES

We seem to have a very favourable climate in the north east of Scotland. We may get the gales in winter but we have missed out on the rain and snow, and only enough frost to firm up the ground. As longer sunny days arrive it gives us the perfect opportunity to crack on with any outstanding pruning jobs while plants are still dormant. I do a lot of pruning of fruit bushes pretty soon after harvesting as this gives new growth time to ripen up before winter. I also like to carry out all my pruning at the one time then I can put all the clippings through our allotment shredder and add them to the compost heap.
Raspberries (summer fruiting) fruit on new canes produced the previous year, so remove all the old fruited canes down to ground level and tie in those left. If there is plenty canes available remove weak ones, short ones and any overcrowding ones so those left can be spaced at four inches apart along the top wire.
Raspberries (autumn fruiting) have all the canes cut down to the ground as they fruit on new canes grown in the same year.
 Redcurrants have their own style of pruning. I establish a framework of about nine main shoots which I summer prune by cutting all sideshoots back to about six inches or so, then in winter I spur these back to a couple of buds. Try to replace a couple of these main shoots every year with new strong shoots grown from the centre of the bush.
Brambles, loganberries and Tayberries are all treated the same as summer raspberries, though the canes can be quite long, so sometimes they are woven up and down along their supporting wires to save space. The new bramble Reuben fruits on canes grown the same year similar to autumn fruiting rasps so it is also cut down to ground level.
Blackcurrants have old fruiting wood removed, shoots trailing too near the soil, and open up the centres. Leave all strong young shoots for fruiting for the next couple of years.
Gooseberries are best pruned after fruiting in summer but it is still time to give them a trim now. Most varieties are very thorny so pruning aims to make life easy for picking. Remove growth from the centre of the bush as well as any shoots on the outside trailing down onto the soil. Now spur back weak shoots and any that cause overcrowding, or are likely to impede safe picking.
Plums should not be pruned in winter as this increases the risk of infection by silver leaf disease.
Apples and pears vary in their pruning needs as there are so many different training forms. Bush and tree forms are managed by regulating branches to maintain a supply of young wood that fruits for three to five years and is then replaced by younger shoots allowed to take its place.
Other forms such as cordons, fans, espaliers, stepovers and pillar forms are spur pruned (similar to the redcurrants) in both summer and winter, once the basic framework has been established.
Peaches are usually trained against a south facing wall or fence as a fan shape then spur pruned to control growth and encourage formation of fruit buds.
Grapes grown under glass are usually trained as upright rods spaced about eighteen inches apart. One plant can have one rod or as many as you wish to fill the space. Once these are established all sideshoots growing out of these rods are cut back to one or two buds in December or January.
If pruning is left any later the vine will start to grow and sap will bleed from the pruning cuts.

Wee jobs for this week
Remove all old leaves from Brussels sprouts and put them on the compost heap, otherwise if they build up on the ground they can insulate it from frost. The roots will then still be active whereas the tops could be frozen leading to problems with internal browning of the sprouts.
Pot up small rooted plants of geraniums and busy lizzies, as they begin to grow following autumn propagation from cuttings.
Enjoy aconites as they open up on clear sunny days spreading a bit of golden cheer on cold winter days, but this year well behind the snowdrops that started to flower last December.

END

Monday, 2 February 2015

ORNAMENTAL STEMS AND BARK



ORNAMENTAL STEMS AND BARK

It is during the long cold winter months when there is a distinct lack of flowers that we can appreciate other forms of colour in our gardens. There is a wide range of plants grown for winter attraction because of their coloured stems and ornamental bark. These are best displayed in a large group or drift to give impact. Choose a spot that will catch the winter sun and make sure it is well drained, but not dry. Cultivate the soil, adding plenty of garden compost or other organic material to improve the soil structure and add humus. My winter garden is based on heathers, coloured stemmed trees and shrubs, winter flowering shrubs and climbers such as Jasmine, and a carpet of aconite and snowdrop bulbs to add and extend the interest well beyond the winter. Daffodils and tulips can also be used to add colour in spring, then tall oriental scented lilies in summer.

In autumn the show begins when the tree and shrubs lose their leaves to reveal the brilliant red  stems of Cornus sibirica Westonbirt and Mid-winter Fire, bright green stems of Kerria japonica and Leycesteria Formosa and the dazzling orange stemmed willow, Salix britzensis emerging from the ground cover of the black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens. This grass is quite black forming dense ground hugging clumps that give a perfect background to both the bright stems and also a drift of snowdrops. Now white on black; that’s different.
I did have a black stemmed Cornus kesselringii but I am afraid it was a curiosity, not quite a thing of beauty, so it has been relegated to the shade border.
If you wish to try some grey stems look out a Rubus giraldianus, but treat it carefully as it has vicious thorns making it perfect for any vandal prone areas. Another excellent tall shrub is the violet willow, Salix daphnoides which has a beautiful grey bloom on its stems.
As well as shrubs with coloured stems the heather garden is often at its best in winter. It can be enhanced with a magnificent specimen birch tree Betula jaquemontia with pure white bark in a central position within a drift of gold and crimson heather, Calluna vulgaris Beoley Gold and Beoley Crimson. All of these plants are enhanced with the first cold evenings and a bit of frost.
For those in a more frivolous mood in need of the perfect small specimen tree, I recommend the Japanese maple Acer palmatum Sangokaku and although it is not cheap, it will not disappoint. After the dazzling red autumn leaves fall off the bright wine red stems are brilliant in sunshine.

Maintenance
At the end of March the shrubs will start to grow, so now is the time to prune them back to a stool just above ground level to encourage the growth of strong young stems that have the brightest colour. However I do not prune back the Kerria or Leycesteria. These get a light pruning after flowering by removing some older shoots back to decent fresh young growth.
Although the coloured stems have been pruned and the early spring bulbs are finished, it is still possible to use this border for a further show of summer flowering scented lilies. These are quite tall and grow through the shrubs into the light to flower.
In autumn apply a mulch of compost after all the leaves have fallen off.

Wee jobs to do this week

As potatoes arrive place them in a warm light place to allow them to start chitting. A favourite is an old egg container with the potatoes placed rose end up.
Place a mulch of rotted compost or manure around fruit bushes to conserve moisture in dry spells in summer and keep weeds down.
This is the latest time to complete grape vine pruning. They are normally grown in greenhouses as upright rods spaced about 12 to 18 inches apart with all growth pruned back to one bud.
There is still time to take hardwood cuttings of many deciduous hardwood shrubs and fruit bushes such as blackcurrants and gooseberries about nine inches long and lined out in a row spaced about four to six inches apart. They will be fine in open ground or a cold frame.
 END

Sunday, 25 January 2015

PLANT AN APPLE TREE



PLANT AN APPLE TREE

There is an apple tree suitable for almost every garden today, no matter how small your garden is. Life keeps evolving and modern housing no longer caters for those wishing a large garden. Most people don’t need a garden to grow their fruit and vegetables as supermarkets can provide everything you want. However when it comes to full flavour and health benefits you are better to grow your own produce. Supermarkets require produce to be blemish free, evenly sized, good appearance and have a long shelf life. None of that is relevant to home grown produce, and we may well also find the odd caterpillar and greenfly, but that won’t put us off if the taste is fantastic and the apple is soft sweet and juicy.
Fruit tree breeders have been encouraged to rethink their strategy in light of the fact that there has been a movement to go back to growing the older heritage varieties that can still be found in old derelict orchards. Most of these older types are not commercial by today’s standards, so where they find outlets is likely to be your local green grocer or farmers markets. The goodness has not been bred out of them in favour of size and cropping potential. These older varieties still have a real apple taste and soft texture. Apart from Cox, there are too many apple varieties available with thick skin and hard tasteless flesh. So when looking for that special apple tree that you know your kids will be happy to eat make sure you get one with flavour and that will grow in your area.
A good heritage or even modern variety in the south of England may not be any good here. We are too far north for a good Cox, but we can grow Discovery, Falstaff, Scrumptious, Katy, Fiesta, Red Devil and for my first early in August a few Arbroath Pippins (The Oslin) are just fine. It does not keep and is prone to brown rot, but has a flavour to die for.
The best cooking apple in my opinion is still Bramley which keeps a long time in store.
Many garden centres hold apple open days where numerous varieties are available to sample usually in early October so you can decide which one to go for.
The next consideration will be how much space is available for a tree. Breeders and nurserymen have helped out the gardener with limited space by producing types aimed at those with limited space. All apples are grafted onto a root stock whose vigour determines its ultimate size.
The latest most dwarfing type is M27 used for columnar shapes, dwarf pyramids and stepover trees.
Then M9 is an old dwarfing type used for cordons, dwarf bush and spindle trees.
Apples grafted on this and M27 require permanent staking.
M26 and MM106 are still dwarfing but will give a bigger tree than the previous ones, growing up to ten to twelve feet. However for standard trees if you have the space look for trees grafted onto MM111 or M25, but they can grow up to fifteen feet tall.

The best forms of tree for limited space is cordons, fans and espaliers which can be grown against a wall or fence and spur pruned so they take up minimal space. In open areas stepover trees are very popular. These are like a single espalier branch trained a couple of feet above the ground and again spur pruned in summer by reducing growth to a few buds. Most apple varieties can be trained in these forms, but a new type becoming popular is the single stemmed columnar Starline range. There are five varieties, but as these are new only time will tell if they will be good up north. For me the orange red Firedance type looks good. These should all be summer pruned to keep shoots short (three buds) and will need permanent staking. They are said to be resistant to scab and mildew.

Wee Jobs to do this week

Check insulation of outdoor water taps and those in unheated greenhouses.
Continue with outstanding winter digging, incorporating manure and compost, but still leaving the soil surface rough to allow weathering.
Spike lawns with a garden fork to improve drainage, then brush in a lawn top dressing to improve the fertility and health of the sward.

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