Sunday, 8 December 2019

FESTIVE GIFTS FOR GARDENERS


FESTIVE GIFTS FOR GARDENERS

We are now in December so it is very hard to avoid festive thoughts on the run up to Christmas, as we ponder what gifts do you get for the keen gardener. Although the keen gardener will have all the necessary tools to keep on top of the garden, things wear out, so check on those secateurs, loppers, and good garden gloves which never last too long.
White stemmed birch tree
Gift vouchers for garden centres or specialist nursery are favourite for chrysanthemums, begonias, raspberries, strawberries and other fruit trees and bushes. Then there is any amount of great house plants in flower to decorate the home and add that wee bit of festive luxury in addition to the essential Christmas tree. Several years ago a friend who knew I was into gardening, brought me ten sacks of horse manure. Now that was different and very welcome but they were not going under the Christmas tree with all the other gifts.
Supermarkets always get geared up for the festive trade, so a large poinsettia is essential, then I see great cyclamen, winter cherries, Christmas cactus, Phalaenopsis orchids, winter flowering azaleas and lovely Amaryllis. Another store had small pots of roses in full flower about nine inches high. This brought back a memory of my time in College in Chelmsford studying for my National Diploma way back in 1968. I did an experimental study for my dissertation on how to grow dwarf roses. College staff helped me sort out some dwarfing chemicals and I managed to produce a range of scented roses of Wendy Cussons taken from softwood cuttings. I was sure this skill was a winner and once I left collage it would make me a millionaire. Just look how the demand for pot mums took off assisted by dwarfing chemicals. Unfortunately I never had a greenhouse at that time so the pipe dream never got started. Dwarfing chemicals are still used to keep the red poinsettias down to a decent size, (they make small trees in native environment.) They last for several months, but in spring they will start to
Poinsettia
grow quite big so without access to chemicals they end up on the compost heap. However the dwarf azaleas and cyclamen can both be kept for several years, but grow them on in summer in cool shady conditions. Christmas cactus can also be kept for many years, but needs drying off after flowering. When it starts back into growth in spring start to water again but once it has put on some decent shoots it needs drying off again till early winter to ripen up the shoots when flower buds should appear once more.
Amaryllis is often given as a gift both in flower and as a dormant bulb. Pot up the bulb in a small pot leaving half the bulb below the surface and keep watered. After flowering keep it watered and fed
Pink orchid
then in late summer dry it off to let it go dormant before starting up again a few weeks before Christmas. Bowls of hyacinths and Paperwhite narcissi are popular gifts for the house at Christmas and both have a lovely perfume. After flowering plant them outdoors where they can grow and flower for a few more years. Phalaenopsis orchids are also a favourite and these will flower for many years. Some evergreen house plants make great gifts including dumb cane, Aloe Vera, the Cheese plant, the rubber tree and many others. The festive period is a great time to do a bit of goodwill to people, the
Cyclamen
environment and the planet so a gift of a young tree is a great idea to help out our carbon footprint as green leaves absorb carbon and add oxygen to the atmosphere. However make sure there is room for one. Trees come in all sizes and shapes and where room is restricted go for a columnar shape like the upright cherry, Prunus Amanogawa. Other smaller trees will include hazel, rowan, white stemmed birch, Japanese maple (Sango Kaku is a cracker) and the evergreen Cordyline australis, the cabbage palm. Fruiting trees are also popular especially apple (Starline Firedance), pear and plum and for the more exotic try a fig plant.

Wee jobs to do this week

Potting up rooted geranium cuttings
Geranium cuttings taken last October have rooted well and now need potting up as the young plants are starting to grow. Pot up into small pots and keep them on a windowsill in a cool room. If they have put on a bit of growth, pinch the top out to keep them stocky and encourage sideshoots. Remove all flower buds so plant can put all its energy into creating a strong plant, and do not overwater during the winter months.
END

Monday, 2 December 2019

A GOOD TIME FOR WINTER PRUNING


A GOOD TIME FOR WINTER PRUNING

Most of the autumn leaves have now fallen, and a few frosts towards the end of November have firmed up the soil, so now is the perfect time to start the winter pruning. Up at City Road allotments the timing of pruning is also related to the disposal of prunings. We have a large shredding machine so we make sure everything needing pruned
Cutting back the outdoor fuchsia
is done in one operation, so roses, fruit bushes, raspberries, apples and pears and even our grape vines all get chopped. We form teams who gather the prunings together then another team feed the wood
Climbing rose after pruning
into the shredder. The shredded material is great for paths, mulching, or adding to the compost heap. Nothing is wasted and it is great to see all our pruned branches get recycled back onto our plots. Wood chips used for paths will only last two years before it gets removed to the compost heap and a supply of fresh material brought in.
Raspberry pruned and tied in
Apples and pear pruning in the early years is all about building up a well balanced tree with an open centre then after a few years remove any diseased shoots, overcrowded centres, crossing branches and with pears some removal of those over vigorous shoots growing straight up without  any fruit on them. Do not prune plums in winter as it risks infection by silver leaf disease. Prune these in early summer.
Blackcurrant pruning is done to keep bushes young and remove older wood. Redcurrants are also pruned this way so no shoot is allowed to remain if it is older than three years. They readily push out new shoots from the centre, so try to keep about ten or so main shoots then do a bit of spur pruning to the remaining framework.
Rose bush pruned
Gooseberries have a tendency to bear heavy crops that bend down to ground level when full of fruit, so remove any low growing shoots and keep the centre of the bush open to make picking easier. Invicta is a great variety, but the spines are deadly when picking.
Saskatoons fruit on all wood so pruning is only needed to keep the bushes down to about five feet so they can be netted to keep the blackbirds away. I remove any tall shoots right down to ground level as they grow again from basal suckers.
Raspberries come as summer fruiting on canes grown the previous year, and autumn fruiting on canes grown in the same year. So for autumn fruiting cut everything down to the ground, but on the summer fruiting only cut out those canes that fruited last summer. New canes are thinned if growth has been
Spur pruned grape vine
prolific so that canes can be spaced about four inches apart when tied in to the top wire. Practise tying in with a running knot as this prevents the canes being blown to one side in gales.
Brambles are like summer fruiting raspberries. They fruit on long shoots grown the previous year. Remove all the old canes that have just fruited and tie in the new canes to fruit next year.
Shredding team at City road Allotments
Grape vines grown both under glass and in the open can be pruned in the same way. Establish a permanent framework of rods and spurs. The rods produce spurs every six to ten inches apart from which fruiting laterals grow, so prune from December to January by cutting all this growth back to one or two buds. Sap rises very early on vines so do not delay pruning beyond January otherwise the stems may bleed with rising sap. The Guyot system allows rods to be replaced every year.
Rose pruning of bushes and climbers are fairly similar in that we try and encourage new wood and cut out old wood, but it is difficult with climbers as they need older wood to climb up walls and fences. Remove weak and any diseased shoots and shorten back vigorous shoots by a third.
hardwood cuttings

Wee jobs to do this week

Now that all the deciduous shrubs have gone dormant it is a good time to propagate these with hardwood cuttings. This is an excellent way to propagate Cornus, Forsythia, Philadelphus and many other shrubs as well as currants and gooseberries. Take some of this year’s shoots about pencil thickness and about six inches long, cutting below a leaf joint and above a bud. Insert into a prepared bed of good garden soil with grit mixed in to aid drainage placing cuttings about four inches apart and half their length. A cold frame is also useful to give the cuttings some protection. They should be well rooted by this time next year.
END

Monday, 25 November 2019

GARDENING DURING THE DORMANT SEASON


GARDENING DURING THE DORMANT SEASON

With autumn now almost past, colder weather with frost and snow will most likely be arriving very soon. We still hope for another mild winter, but we have had quite a few lately and word on the street (allotment) is favouring a return to that one off bad winter like in 2010. Time will tell, but while we wait there are a few wee jobs we can get on with.
I always set myself a target of trying to get
Digging up leek Musselburgh
all my winter digging completed by the end of the year, and leaving the surface rough allowing frost to penetrate the ground and break up clods so I get a friable seedbed surface for spring sowing and planting. There will be compost to spread before digging commences, but you need to have your
Green manure of field beans
rotation worked out to make sure the heavy feeders, (peas. beans, onions, pumpkins and courgettes) get the most compost and the root crops don’t get any otherwise forking is likely. Areas sown down with green manure crops can get dug over last, or if tares or field beans were used they can wait till near end of winter. These leafy crops will prevent nutrients getting washed away in winter rains, but then once they decay they will release these nutrients for the next crop.
Herbaceous plants that have been growing in a clump for several years are best divided up and the strongest roots with good crowns replanted after adding some compost to the soil. Late
Swede Marion
autumn to early winter is a good time for this task. The dormant season is also the best time to carry out any replacement planting of trees, shrubs, roses and fruit bushes, but choose a day when the soil surface is dry enough to walk on. With existing trees check any stakes and ties that may need adjusting or removal once the tree is well established.
During winter when snow or frost puts an end to working with the soil, we can always find a pruning task with roses, fruit trees and bushes, grape vines, and figs. Autumn raspberries get the whole canes removed to ground level, but summer fruiting ones only have the old fruiting canes removed and new canes tied in to the support wires. If you are on an allotment site, and have a
The last chrysanthemums
shredding machine it can shred all the pruning so the resultant waste can be put back on the plot as a mulch, put onto paths, or added to the compost heap. Repairs to fences, paths, gates, sheds and greenhouses can all be tackled when access to the soil is limited, and this is also a good time to give the greenhouse glass a good wash both inside and outside.
However crop harvesting will continue no matter the weather as we all try to be self sufficient over most of the year so the plot will still have plenty, swedes, sprouts, kale, winter cabbage, leeks, Swiss chard, parsnips and maybe even a cauliflower. I normally have plenty beetroot left in the ground over winter as our recent mild winters have allowed them to remain unharmed, but this year the wet summer has not been to their liking and many roots have just given up. This year however has been brilliant for leafy plants
Nerine bowdenii
and I still have plenty of lettuce and spring onions in the ground.
The poor summer has held back ripening of grapes grown outdoors and my two vines of Regent and Rondo just gave up. All the bunches just shrivelled up long before they had a chance to ripen. White grape Phoenix was a wee bit better, but Brant on my south facing wall gave me forty pounds of grapes with a specific gravity reading of 1080. They are now in three demijohns, though I have added a wee bit of sugar for the yeast so I can get my 14% alcohol strength.
It is good to see the garden flowers a bit late but still trying to put on a show. Fuchsia Mrs Popple is very reliable as it a large drift of the pink Nerines, but geraniums, border pinks, roses and chrysanthemums have all got plenty of flowers still on display.
Greenhouse at end of November

Wee jobs to do this week

The last of the tomatoes have been picked and the grapes have now been eaten or are now fermenting in several demijohns, so tidy up the greenhouse and use the space to grow a few winter hardy salads or over winter a few geraniums and fuchsia and fig rooted cuttings. These are not totally hardy so be prepared to put in a heater overnight if frost is forecast. Take the chance to give the glass a clean while the greenhouse is not packed with plants. Keep the fuchsias relatively dry.
END


Friday, 22 November 2019

PLANTS WITH SCENT


PLANTS WITH SCENT

Azalea luteum
As the dormant season arrives, this is the perfect time to do some garden renovations. Some trees, shrubs, roses and herbaceous plants may have outgrown their allotted spaces or are in need of
Narcissus
replacement. I had the climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier, shrub rose Ispahan and the shrub Lonicera Baggesons Gold now all so big that they were restricting access along paths. Some got a severe pruning and some got removed. This creates fresh garden space needing new plants. In selecting new plants we tend to think of the obvious flower power, but we also need to consider, autumn colour, berries, variegated foliage, colour of stems and scent of flowers and foliage. There is a wealth of plants with scent for both the garden, greenhouse and in the home.
Home and greenhouse.  Many plants can be grown in the greenhouse then transfer them to the house once they start to flower. Freesias, hyacinths daffodils and narcissus grown from dormant bulbs planted in pots in early autumn
Hyacinths and heathers
can be in flower from December onwards. Use prepared hyacinths for forcing to get an early show. Most daffodils and narcissus are scented, but some have quite a strong perfume such as the Cheerfulness varieties as well as the Jonquils. These can also be used to advantage in the garden in drifts alongside paths, patios and door entrances. They are also perfect in tubs and outdoor pots mixed with spring bedding plants. After flowering they can be planted out in the garden where they will grow again and flower in years to come.
Gardenias and Jasmine are grown as pot plants
Lilac
under glass then brought into the house when flowering. In time they can grow quite big so give them a wee bit of pruning after flowering to prevent them getting too big.
Outdoor scented plants.  Oriental lilies are one of my favourites for huge scented flowers. They can also be cut and put in a vase to provide both flowers and a heady perfume, but take care as the scent is quite strong and some folk may be allergic to it. Bulbs are often bought in late summer or autumn for immediate planting though some suppliers don’t deliver till February. Lilies are also very popular in the herbaceous border, but for scent also plant up some flag iris as most of these are scented. Garden Pinks come in a range of colours and as they are all low growing they
Viburnum carlcephalum
are perfect for the front of borders or on top of walls where drainage is good. They are nearly all scented.
When planting up my tubs, pots and hanging baskets with summer bedding plants I always include some dark blue petunias as they have a wonderful perfume, and for an impressive dot plant in a large tub try a Datura stramonium known as Angels Trumpets because of the large tubular flowers. They are pollinated by a night flying moth so the plants becomes highly scented in the late evening, but take care with this plant as all parts are highly poisonous. Tulips are also used in tubs, pots and borders
Oriental lilies
for the spring display and quite a few are said to be scented. The white tulip Purissima has a lovely scent, and though I have planted up many other scented tulips their scent was not very evident. There are numerous shrubs and climbing plants with great scent including Viburnum carlecephalum, most lilacs, Philadelphus, Hamamellis mollis the witch hazel, honeysuckle climbers, and many Azaleas have a great scent such as Azalea luteum. When it comes to roses you are just spoilt for choice, but a few of my favourites must include Margaret Merril, E H Morse, Wendy Cussons and the shrub rose Gertrude Jekyll.
Shifting good compost
The scented garden would not be complete without some herbs for scent as well as culinary use in the kitchen. A must for a few herbs will be rosemary and lavender.

Wee jobs to do this week

After a long wet summer some of us hoped for a better autumn, but so far that has been a very distant dream. Heavy rainfall and gales have taken down a lot of leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs. Take the chance of any dry days to rake and brush up the fallen leaves and add them to the compost heap. This will be getting quite big now with last summers old bedding plants and waste from the autumn harvests, so it will benefit from being turned over to help decomposition. It is quite hard work, but we can all benefit from the occasional wee bit of hard graft.
END


Wednesday, 13 November 2019

GARDENING FOR KIDS


             GARDENING FOR KIDS             

When you reach a certain age you are able to look back to your childhood and compare it to today’s kids growing up in a technological age. We all played outdoors as there was no television, no phones and no-one had heard about paedophiles so
Watering the pumpkins
outdoor activities for kids was safe. We also lived in a time when there were very few cars so we played football in the streets and ice hockey in winter and got extremely annoyed when some rich bloke with a car drove up the street and disturbed our game. I have a vivid memory looking down St.
Sophie picking the redcurrants
Fillans Road during the seven weeks holiday and feeling great to see over fifty kids all playing on the streets. Living in St. Mary’s in the early sixties we had fields and woods to play in and often walked up to the Sidlaw Hills as I needed to know what lay beyond those hills. My only knowledge of Scotland came from reading the Broons and Black Bob. We learned to climb trees, roast potatoes on a bonfire and holidays were a bus trip to the Trossachs with a tent, or a day on the sands at Broughty Ferry.
Life has moved on, we now all have cars so streets are out of bounds, open spaces are plentiful, but devoid of kids as parents are not too happy to set them free. However kids now have mobile phones, play stations, television and holidays abroad, so no need to venture outdoors. Very few houses come with any garden as space is needed for the cars and to save work garden space is covered over with slabs, sets, gravel and tarmac. Many people live in flats so kids never see where their food comes from. I never forget a few years ago when one of the kids was playing on the allotment next to mine. I had a cracking crop of strawberries so picked a large one and offered it the wee fellow. He ran off in a panic to his mum, “That man wanted me to put THIS into my mouth!!!”
He never knew that strawberries in a packet on a supermarket shelf had at one time been grown outdoors in the ground.
This case is not isolated and it is now recognised that the kids of today need educating with gardening
Erica waters the spring flowers
to let them see where food comes from, together with the benefits of fresh food free from chemicals. Many schools, such as Kingspark School in Dundee are creating garden plots to grow food and other plants for education. Allotment sites are also very helpful as we can all encourage our kids to do a bit of planting and looking after their wee bit of garden. It helps if you can interest them in growing something that will catch attention, like a huge pumpkin or a tall sunflower.
Another long term plan is to get them to sow the seeds from the core of an apple after they have eaten it. They grow quite easily on a windowsill, but then need potting up and planting outside in spring. As these young plants are juvenile, they won’t bear fruits till they become adult after about fifteen years. You can get round this problem by grafting a shoot onto the young apple seedling using a shoot of Discovery, Fiesta, Red Devil or others. Plenty information on grafting on the internet, but it is a task for the adults as you
Sophie and Anna top and tail the gooseberries
need a very sharp knife. It is quite simple and the grafts grow readily and will fruit in a couple of years.
Sowing annual flowers from seed is another wee job for the kids, then they can learn how to thin and in hot weather they can water the young plants, but when you give kids the hose stand well back as a wee bit of fun is inevitable.
Harvesting crops such onions, then after drying them out they can pleat them up for drying. Picking peas, beans and sweet corn is also interesting as is picking raspberries and strawberries, though crop weights seem to shrink on the journey home much to the amusement of the young labour force.
Chrysanthemum stools boxed up

Wee jobs to do this week

Early outdoor chrysanthemums will now have finished flowering, though the season was late and some were still in bloom in November. Cut back all growth leaving about six inches of stem, then attach a label to each stem before digging up and replanting into boxes. These can be over wintered in a cold greenhouse or frame. However it is best to start each season with fresh stock taken from cuttings in spring in the greenhouse.

END

Monday, 4 November 2019

TOP FRUIT


                                                             TOP FRUIT


The harvesting season of the top fruit trees now begins in mid September. It used to start in August when my outdoor peaches ripened, but the Scottish climate was more than they could handle. They are successful in a greenhouse, but mine is just
Anna picks apple Discovery
not big enough for tomatoes, grapes, peppers and bedding plants as well as a peach. I tried Peregrine but peach leaf curl disease was rampant and just about completely defoliated the tree. I never got more than two peaches. Peregrine got dug out and replaced with Avalon Pride said to show strong
Peach Avalon Pride
resistance to this disease, and though peach leaf curl was less rampant, it was still a problem and this variety was poor to flower so I only ever got one peach each year, so it has now been dug out. The next tree to fruit had always been the Oslin (Arbroath Pippin) which is ready in August. However it is very prone to brown rot, and in this year of continual rainfall all summer the whole crop was affected, so a bit of summer pruning was carried out, and the Oslin is no more, but I will graft the remaining stumps next year with a new variety. September is when the early apple Discovery is ready to pick. There was an excellent crop, but the wet and sunless summer created an apple with less flavour
Apple Fiesta
and sweetness. My late variety Red Devil, had just about given up hope for a decent autumn and started to fall off the tree in September, a good month ahead of normal. However it is a good keeper so it is now in store. Apple Fiesta is a biennial cropper and last year was its off year so this year there is a good crop ready to harvest in mid to late October. Red Falstaff has been a very poor cropper this year, but although it is not known as a biennial bearer and gave us a great crop last year, maybe it is just having a wee rest from cropping. Our Bramley cooking apple usually stays on the tree till the end of October, but this year a lot of apples have been falling off since
Apple Oslin the Arbroath Pippin
early October, though we have suffered a lot of gales and heavy rainfall. Some of those fruits still on the tree are massive and looks like we will have a great crop to store and keep us supplied with a great cooking apple right through the winter.
We had a huge plum Victoria which was always laded down with very heavy crops every year but sadly this forty year old tree suffered from an attack of silver leaf disease which killed it, so it was chopped down and its replacement is growing well but as yet has still to establish and start fruiting. With a bit of luck it will have a few fruits on its branches next year. Up on City Road allotments the leaf curling plum aphid arrived in swarms and totally defoliated a few trees, so there
Pear Concorde
was no crop this year, but the trees later on survived and put out fresh leaves. The overwintering eggs on the tree can be killed with a winter oil applied November to February. In spring give the trees an insecticidal spray at bud burst when the aphids hatch and start to feed on the young shoots and before the new leaves begin to curl up and give them protection.
Apples in store
Pear trees this year are all giving very good crops. My first to ripen up was Beurre Hardy then Beth but Concorde, Christie and Conference stayed on the trees for a few more weeks. No sign this year of any damage from codlin moth in the fruits or the dreaded stony pit virus. There was a lot of damage last year, but now the trees all have healthy fruit. The Christie pear is not an attractive shape or colour, but it has large fruits and has a great flavour. However it does not store well, whereas Concorde and Conference store for longer. We use pears cut up and added to breakfast cereals, mixed with apple and banana in desserts with custard. Surplus fruits can be cored, and cut up and lightly poached then put in the freezer for use later on in compote, sauces and many other recipes. They are a great companion to Bramley apples in numerous dishes.

Wee jobs to do this week

Pink cuttings now well rooted
Border pinks that were propagated from cuttings of non flowering shoots taken in early August rooted in a couple of months and then got potted up. Some of these are now ready to plant out into their permanent positions. Choose a sunny border with well drained soil such as at the top of a wall and close to patios and paths so you can enjoy the strong scent as well as the flowers.

END


Monday, 28 October 2019

PUMPKINS


                                                             PUMPKINS

Pumpkins
Pumpkins belong to the cucurbita family, which also includes vegetable marrows, cucumbers, butternut squashes, gourds, courgettes, shark fin melons, melons and several other variations which differ according to the country where they are grown. Outdoors the courgettes, gourds, vegetable marrows, mildew which spreads very rapidly. They all need a warm summer and a favourable autumn to help ripen them up. The summer of 2018 was perfect for them but this year the continual wet weather and lack of sunshine has done them no favours. My two Zucchini courgettes only gave me six courgettes to take home, although the plant had great vigour. The flowers just did not set. My three pumpkins planted nearly four feet apart only produced four large fruits.
However my four pumpkins will keep Anna happy in the kitchen for several months as they go a long Butternut squash has become very popular as the main ingredient in creamy soups, ravioli filling, and risotto. It is quite sweet and has very few seeds. Pumpkins are a great plant to get the kids involved in nature and growing from seed sowing, planting, watering and feeding, and then you will need them to help in the harvest. Unfortunately they will want the biggest one for carving up into a lantern, though all the flesh scraped out can still be used for a sweet pumpkin pie, cooked of course by the kids.
Squashes

way. My favourite is roasted pumpkins, but they also make a great soup, or used as a side dish or added to numerous other recipes. Pumpkins as well as the other cucurbits are all a good source of potassium and vitamin C and rich in the antioxidants alpha and beta carotene, which are both
Roasted pumpkin slices
There were a few more but they all rotted away in the wet weather. However, vigorous shoots started running all over the place, even trying to climb up my Autumn Bliss raspberries and blackcurrant Big Ben. I had let them roam free hoping that at some point the flowers would produce a pumpkin. To get really big pumpkins give them a weekly feed with a high potash liquid feed like tomato fertiliser.


precursors to vitamin A, a vitamin that is important for keeping eyes healthy.
Auralia with her shark fin melons

butternut squashes, sharks fin melons and pumpkins are all relatively easy to grow provided they get fertile soil and a constant supply of moisture. Usually a mulch will help them through any dry spells in summer, and keep an eye out for
They have been a source of food for over 7000 years growing in their natural environment from southern Canada down to Mexico, Central America, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, but are now so popular they are grown all over the world. The USA is a massive importer of pumpkins mostly grown in Mexico. Gardeners in UK grow melons and cucumbers under glass and courgettes, marrows, squashes, gourds and pumpkins outdoors. As people on holiday see other types grown
Yellow courgettes
abroad we are now all experimenting in growing something different and then trying out new ways to cook them. The Shark Fin Melon seems to be the latest to appear in allotments. It is very vigorous and can soon take over large parts of the plot if allowed. It produces an abundance of large green and white spotted fruits which can be used in soups and stir fry dishes. Cucumbers and melons need warm conditions in a glasshouse and although the cucumber is relatively easy to grow and very productive, melons are far more challenging. They can take up a lot of space in the greenhouse, so if you grow tomatoes and a grapevine you will need a big greenhouse to accommodate a melon.

Wee jobs to do this week
Pansy hanging basket

Make up hanging baskets for a spring display. Pansies are always favourite. Use an old compost bag
inside out (black side outside) with a few slits around the side and cut to shape. Fill with a mixture of potting compost and some good garden soil and add a dusting of fertiliser. Plant up the sides first then add compost up to the top and finish the planting. To give an early start to the display, plant a few crocus bulbs amongst the pansies. I keep my hanging baskets in a cold greenhouse perched on top of a large flower pot to give them some shelter over the winter and an early start in spring.

END

Monday, 21 October 2019

HEALTH BENEFITS OF BLACK FRUITS


HEALTH BENEFITS OF BLACK FRUITS

I can remember getting my first allotment up at Stirling Park on the Law Hill in early 1960s. I had a plot of land to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers and it also had a greenhouse for a few tomatoes. As a young apprentice gardener I was very eager to
Anna picking chokeberries
learn all about my trade. The plot had a row of blackcurrants which I knew were full of vitamin C so they just had to be good for you. However it was a long time after before the health benefits of fruit began to sink in as I experimented with a whole variety of fruit bushes and sought information on
Chokeberry jam
cultivation and use on the internet. All of a sudden the world becomes a small place as the internet opens up and you can reach all for information from around the world. In my early days it was the blueberry that got all the attention, and I can remember picking a range of new varieties on trial at the Scottish Crops Research Institute (now James Hutton) in the mid sixties. They are still grown up at Mylnefield but a lot of research is going into blackcurrants for commercial use. Two other black fruits grown there were the saskatoons and chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa Viking) but they never received much attention as no-one was growing them and after many years they got grubbed out. I took an interest in saskatoons after a trip
Aronia wine fermenting
to Canada in 2004 where they are very popular and with a huge demand for them as fresh and processed fruit. When I found out that the Saskatoon was the fruiting form of the Amelanchier which is grown all over UK as an ornamental shrub, I knew they would be easy to grow here, so I started growing them about fifteen years ago.
Their popularity was helped by the fashionable custom of looking for a superfood with more health giving qualities than normal. The blueberry was very popular and had high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants, but the Saskatoon levels were even higher giving it superfood status. Its demand in Canada and the USA far exceeds its production, but in UK it has yet to find much
Aronias washed and dried
attention, apart from one grower in Pershore growing it as an additive in gin which at present is very much in fashion. A lot of research in USA and Canada has been given to the health benefits of these black fruits and while checking them out I came across the chokeberry which had been identified as the next superfood as it had more antioxidants and vitamin C than any other fruit. I had grown them before as a shrub with great autumn colour but never realised the fruit was edible, but after doing a bit more research I had to find and grow my own chokeberries. It seems that black coloured fruits have more health benefits than other fruit so I now add black grapes, blueberries and blackberries to my fruit collection.
The dark skins are a rich source of vitamin C and anthocyanins, an antioxidant which may help prevent heart
Brant grapes
disease, strokes, cancer, cataracts and other chronic illnesses associated with ageing. However the fruit is a bit astringent when eaten fresh so it is usually processed and added to numerous recipes.
During my research as well as Anna’s looking for chokeberry cooking recipes we came across the Midwest Aronia Association based in Iowa which has a high concentration of Aronia growers. Their website, www.midwestaronia.org and videos were a real treat and very informative. So now Anna after acquiring the Aronia Berry Recipe book regularly creates her Aronia crumble bars, makes jam with a mix of aronia, apple and raspberry. It also goes into cakes, compote and sauces, and I use just over ten pounds for three demijohns of a fantastic wine with great health giving properties. Now that canna be bad, and should help to keep me in good form for many more years.
Lifting gladioli corms

Wee jobs to do this week

Lift and dry off gladioli, tuberous begonias and dahlias before frosty nights arrive as these plants are not hardy, though with recent mild winters I have seen both gladioli and dahlias left outside come through the winter unscathed. However I would not risk it just in case The Beast from the East pays us another visit. They can be left outside on sunny days to dry off, but then clean them up and store inside in cool but frost free building. Make sure you tie a label on the Dahlia stems so they don’t get mixed up.

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Monday, 14 October 2019

A DAY UNDER GLASS


A DAY UNDER GLASS


Crops in the greenhouse, may be well protected from the worst of the weather, so the incessant rainfall did not worry grapes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, but lack of sunshine has been a big problem. Sunshine is necessary to give crops
Black Hamburg Grapes slow to ripen
a decent flavour and help to sweeten up the grapes. There has been some great very warm days but they just never last very long before the rain arrives.
Outdoor crops have suffered the most. Autumn strawberries have been prolific, but botrytis rot has affected a lot of them, and many are not very soft or sweet. Some outdoor grapes are just shrivelling up. They have had enough. Last year I got enough for a couple of demijohns of wine, but crops this year will not be producing vintage wine. However my Solaris and Seigerrebe in the greenhouse were ready for picking in August so I picked a great crop and all now sitting happy in a demijohn, with fermentation completed at 14% alcohol, though I did have to add a few ounces of sugar. Black Hamburg grapes are normally ready in late
Cherry tomatoes
October but poor weather is holding back ripening and some grapes have gone mouldy. These get removed immediately before the disease spreads, and ventilation is also very important to prevent dampness building up.
Tomatoes have given very good crops, but now damp atmosphere due to lack of sunshine and too much rain has encouraged botrytis rots on fruit, leaves and some stems of Alicante. However all my cherry tomatoes (five varieties) have cropped well except Cherry Baby. It produces trusses with well over a hundred flowers, but most of these fall of so number of fruits ripening is very poor. Supersweet 100 is my best red cherry for flavour and cropping, (over 100 tomatoes per truss and most ripened) and Sungold my best orange cherry. Sugarglass is also a good cropper but flavour
Pepper Trinidad Scorpion
and texture not as good as Supersweet 100. Hopefully tomatoes will continue to crop for a few more weeks depending on weather, but then it is time to harvest all remaining fruits and ripen them indoors. The old plants can then be removed and the soil or growbag get tidied up. However ahead of this operation you can sow a few salads for planting in this space once it is available. Use winter hardy lettuce like Hilde or Winter Imperial and some spring onions and rocket.
Hydrangea cuttings
Cuttings of fig Brown Turkey and Hydrangea Charme taken in September have rooted and can now get over wintered in the cold greenhouse. They are both hardy, but some shelter will help to get them off to a good start next year. Other cuttings of geraniums and Impatiens taken earlier to keep good varieties going for another year are better taken out of the greenhouse before frosts arrive as they are not hardy. A windowsill in a warm room is the best place for them. You can let them flower to give an attractive house plant, but in mid winter it is best to remove all flowers to keep growing shoots sturdy.
Peppers sown in early January indoors in a propagator soon germinated and were then potted up and
Rooted fig cuttings
kept on a windowsill till early May before planting in pots in the greenhouse, as well as in garden planters and hanging baskets outdoors. They are quite successful outdoors in Scotland even with our unpredictable climate, but need starting off indoors, and for good plants they need a long growing season. Keep an eye on the outdoor varieties as snails are quite fond of Pueblo chillies from Mexico. Most garden centres now stock a wide range of peppers as plug plants from mild to searingly hot, such as the Trinidad Scorpion (third hottest on record) If you wish to try out the hottest go for the Carolina Reaper, but be careful !!! For storing peppers,
they can be dried and ground into flakes in a food processor, pickled, and my favourite frozen.  

Wee jobs to do this week
Snails, caterpillars and mealy aphids on sprouts

Look after the winter vegetables to keep the kitchen supplied over the coming months. Sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are still prone to attacks from slugs, snails, caterpillars and mealy aphids. Check the growing points, right into the centre and destroy any pests found. They are all easily found as they nibble young leaves. Plants are now a few feet tall but start to drop older leaves. Remove these from the ground as well as any weeds as they give shelter to slugs and snails.
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