Monday, 13 November 2017

HEAVENLY RASPBERRIES



HEAVENLY RASPBERRIES

My first experience of fresh raspberries goes back to the early fifties as this wee scruffy lad joined a band of other kids from the new housing estate St. Mary’s and headed into the countryside to pick some berries for which we would get paid a hefty price of a half penny for every pound picked. Pickers came from Dundee, surrounding villages and many travellers. Most of us got a few berries to take home for jam.
Polka raspberries
Summer berry picking stayed with me till I was old enough to get a full time job on leaving school, but the pleasures of the berry fields never left me so my garden always had a row of raspberries as well as some strawberries. At first it was the tall Norfolk Giant variety, but then along came Malling Jewel as an excellent main crop with a heavy yield. As time went on these were replaced with the very popular Glen Ample but then as climate changed and summers got wetter raspberries began to suffer the root rotting disease, phytophthora.
This event changed everything.
Raspberry tastings at James Hutton Institute
The east of Scotland had the perfect climate and soils for outdoor raspberry growing, but root rot was spreading rapidly so changes were needed. Initially it was the custom to plant canes on the top of ridges to help drainage, but now raspberries are grown in large pots under polythene tunnels with automatic drip irrigation. It was recognised that the older varieties were very prone to root rots so a breeding programme was started to find more resistant varieties for commercial growers.
Picking a few raspberries
Raspberries were so popular that it seemed sensible to extend the season by bringing in early varieties under tunnels as well as autumn fruiting varieties to have fruit well into October or even November in a good year. Autumn Bliss has had a great run for over ten years but now newer varieties such as Polka and Autumn Treasure give us far bigger fruits and picking made easier as the canes have no spines. These autumn fruiting varieties also seem to be less affected by root rots and yellow rust so assist breeding better varieties. However it is not just about disease and larger fruit as flavour is just as important before a new variety is released. Glen Fyne and Glen Dee have good berry size, good disease resistance and excellent flavour, so are perfect for home gardeners as well as commercial growers.
Planting raspberry cane
Raspberries are still grown in rows in the garden, but make sure the ground is well drained. As they will be left for ten years or so, it is worthwhile double digging a metre wide strip along the row, incorporating plenty compost to both subsoil and top soil. Plant the canes in the dormant season, about one to two feet apart and give a dressing of fertiliser to get them started. They will need strong posts with two wires to attach the canes to once they are two years old.
Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on canes produced the previous year, then in winter these are cut out and the new canes tied in with a running knot to prevent the canes moving in windy conditions.
Raspberry rust
Autumn fruiting varieties fruit on canes grown the same year, so after harvesting these canes are totally removed and fresh canes will grow the following spring.
Main pest is raspberry beetle maggots that mainly affect summer fruiting varieties, but sprays and hormone traps are available. The main disease of root rots affects older varieties so use disease resistant types. Raspberry yellow rust can also be devastating on some varieties, though newer varieties have some tolerance. If the rust is not too severe remove affected leaves in spring and burn them.
De Cayenne peppers

Wee jobs to do this week

Pick pepper De Cayenne as the season is now over. They can be stored for a few weeks in the fridge or washed, sliced removing the seeds and dried off for the freezer. This chilli is quite hot so be careful and use sparingly, though the health benefits of these hot chillies are very impressive having vitamins A, B, C and E and the minerals potassium and manganese. Hot peppers boost metabolism, circulation and blood flow and is said to increase energy levels with beneficial long term weight loss.
END

Monday, 6 November 2017

HOME GROWN WINES



HOME GROWN WINES

In early youth, once you are old enough to sample a wee bit of alcohol you go over a threshold with a new experience that stays with you, but is forever changing as life evolves. As you are still very young there are a lot of lessons to learn, like,
Cutting a bunch of grapes
men drink beer, old men drink whisky and women drink wine. Way back in the sixties when the pubs shut at ten o clock (later on it changed to 10.30pm) as it was too early to go home we went for a meal and
Grape Brant
as we learned to be posh we got a bottle of wine. Following the fashion of the day, this would be Blue Nun, Mateus Rose, or even Liebfraumilch. However, on a trip to Melbourne visiting family my hosts were horrified to hear I drank wine as I got told all Aussie men only drink beer. As time marched on into the seventies, back in UK beer and wine consumption was not gender based and I got back to both beer in the pub, but wine with a meal. I enjoyed wine but these were poorer times so there was a surge in home brewing where you could make your own tipple with a few demijohns, some home brew equipment and a bit of foraging for fruit, such as elderberries, apples and brambles. Home brewing was very popular with shops stocking everything you need, then home brew magazines gave you the recipes and I even went to evening classes for wine making when I lived in Darlington. As my few demijohns bubbled away, then settled down to clear, it was very difficult to
Grape Rondo
contain your patience to leave the wine alone to mature so there was always a bit of early sampling. Eventually the good times arrived and we could have a bottle of wine with our meal on both Saturday and Sunday. Now that was living life to the full. However this was a learning curve, and not all fruit makes good wine so both the raspberry and strawberry went down the sink plus a few others. There was only one answer, and that was to get an allotment and grow my own wine crops. So I started with red currants, white currants, blackcurrants, gooseberries and apples, but had to have trips to the countryside to get my elderberries. They all make fantastic wine, especially if you can lay it down somewhere cool for three years.
Moving on to more recent times, I now grow saskatoons and the chokeberry, Aronia Viking which is extremely high in antioxidants so it makes a great health drink with a wee kick and a fantastic flavour. As climate changes and Scotland gets a wee bit more global warming
One year old wine clearing
(I haven’t really noticed any difference, other than the summers are wetter and there’s not much snow in winter) now could be the time to see if we can grow grapes up north. After trying many varieties my best bet has been Regent, Rondo and Brant which has small bunches, but are very sweet, juicy and black. All of these fruits can be frozen for future use to spread out the work load and demand on demijohns.
Aronia makes a healthy drink
All the normal fruit wines have great flavour, but need added sugar to boost the alcohol strength and once they come out of the fermentation bucket (4 to 5 days) I add some grape concentrate to add vinosity. Modern yeasts can give quite high alcohol strengths, but I try to keep mine at 11 to 12% alcohol and ferment right out for a dry wine as this keeps the calories down.
However wines made from home grown grapes have to stand on their own merits so no additional grape concentrate, but we need more sunshine to encourage the grapes to produce more natural sugars.
Checking the strength of the wine
This year my greenhouse Solaris and Siegerrebe picked in August gave a specific gravity reading of 1074 so needed some sugar to give a strength of 11% alcohol. Similarly my outdoor grape Brant left till the end of October gave a similar reading so the yeast also needed a sugar boost, but my vine yielded 36 pounds of grapes so I got 2.5 full demijohns after racking off the sediment.
Now I just need to wait three years before sampling begins!!!

Wee jobs to do this week
Dahlia drying off

Chrysanthemums will now be finished flowering and dahlias likely to get cut down by the first frosts so lift them both up for storing. Chrysanthemums are labelled and boxed up to grow on slowly in a cold greenhouse, so keep them watered , but not wet, and keep a lookout for greenfly.
Dahlias are dried off and stored in a frost free shed in boxes. They do not need any soil.
END

Monday, 30 October 2017

PUMPKINS



PUMPKINS

Pumpkins have been associated with Halloween for a long time, but there is a magic moment when you grow your own massive pumpkin fruit. My father introduced me to pumpkin growing when I was about ten years old hoping to get me interested in a spot of gardening. However the soils left over from the builders in the new St. Mary’s housing estate was not all that clever and without any additional manure or compost the resultant tennis ball sized pumpkins did not impress anyone. However fathers, peas, turnips, lettuce, radish and cabbages plus strawberries and raspberries helped to give me the gardening bug.
Picking pumpkins
Twenty years later it was my turn as by then I had my own garden and a huge allotment with plenty access to manure, leaf mould and compost, and with two young daughters to entertain, many hours were spent on the plot growing, planting and harvesting all sorts of vegetables and fruit. Wendy had the responsibility of making sure her sunflower reached as high into the sky as possible
Spooky lantern
whereas Val took on the task of growing a huge pumpkin. This did not get picked till Halloween and then the task of creating a scary lantern took a fair bit of time. As darkness descended the lantern turned spooky, but my young lady got so much fun from the event that she performs this ritual annually though now she has her own young daughter to teach the skills of creating spooky lanterns.
Way back in time to my early years before pumpkins were invented our Halloween lanterns were created from the biggest Swede turnip we could find, but life moved on and before long Swedes were replaced with monster sized pumpkins.
I think I have grown pumpkins as part of the normal range of fruit and vegetables to be grown on an allotment or garden for food. They are also a great challenge as when your patch of five or six orange balls starts to swell up into massive pumpkins the garden gets noticed.
Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow provided you give them plenty of feeding and watering and plenty of room to grow. They are gross feeders so they get the lion’s share of compost during the winter digging
Pumpkin flower
. Select a variety of seed known to produce huge fruits such as Hundredweight, and sow in individual pots in warm conditions in late April to early May. They soon germinate and grow so pot them up once they have filled their first pots and do not be in a hurry to plant out as they are still very tender and can be affected by cold weather and strong winds. June is a good month for planting out spacing them about a square metre apart. Water the plants in and add a mulch of rotted compost to retain moisture and add extra feeding as it rots down over the season. The plant will grow very vigorously with many side shoots. Although initially there will be plenty of flowers, they do not all produce fruit so wait till you have two decent fruit forming on each plant and then start to prune back over vigorous shoots if they are barren. Keep weekly feeding all summer so by mid October your prize pumpkins will start to impress.
Val's first pumpkin
As all my family have flown the nest our pumpkins are food (not lanterns) as over the years Anna has tested out numerous recipes to use up our pumpkins, so we just love this taste of autumn. My favourite is still roasted
Roast pumpkin slices
pumpkin slices sprinkled with some seasoning and nutmeg, and then drizzled with honey at serving. Pumpkin soup, risotto, pumpkin pie, pasta and cakes and the puree can be used in numerous dishes and surplus frozen for future use. However pumpkins can be stored for four to five months in a cool utility room. Pumpkins as well as being very tasty are just full of healthy goodness packed with fibre, and vitamins A and C and minerals. Seeds can be roasted and eaten, but do not save them for sowing in case they have been cross pollinated by bees visiting nearby courgettes, or you will end up with weird courgette shaped pumpkins.

Wee jobs to do this week
Geraniums at the end of October
Geraniums planted in a sheltered spot against a south facing wall will continue to flower well into autumn so don’t be in a rush to remove them when clearing out the last of the summer bedding plants. If we get another mild winter they can survive so take the chance and enjoy the flowers while they last.
END

Sunday, 22 October 2017

END OF SEASON TIDY UP



END OF SEASON TIDY UP

As autumn arrives and the summer flowers fade, and crop harvesting is well under way, we theoretically enter a quiet phase of gardening, (I’m told) so take the chance to carry out the end of season tidy up.
Tidying up the borders
October is my target month for the final weed clearing task from allotment plot, rose, shrub and flower borders and along paths and fence lines. At this time of year hoeing is not very effective as the sun is not strong enough to shrivel weeds up so hand weeding is preferred and weeds can go on the compost heap. Then as leaves begin to fall rake them up and put them on the compost heap. On the vegetable plot some plants lose the lower leaves such as Swedes, kale and sprouts so remove these to the compost heap. If you do not have room for two compost heaps, try to keep fresh additions separate from old rotted down compost as this will be in demand as the winter digging starts. Any land cleared of crops can get composted and dug over to leave it rough for winter to allow frosts to break down the soil surface. It is now too late to sow any more green manure crops, but if tares, clover,
Six month old compost
field beans, mustard or winter rye have been sown there is no rush to dig these in unless they were sown early and are likely to start flowering. In which case trample down the plants and dig then in carefully so they get completely buried and left to rot over the winter.
Late autumn to early winter is a good time for getting out the secateurs, loppers and a saw as fruit trees and bushes, tall shrubs, roses and raspberries will all need pruning. If you have access to a wood shredder put all the pruning through the machine and the resultant fine or course shreddings will be invaluable for allotment paths, mulching fruit trees or adding to the compost heap.
Prune grape vines
In the glasshouse tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and grapes will now be at the end of their season, though I have picked some Black Hamburg grapes in early December a few years back. This year most will have been picked by the end of October. Take the chance to carry out a good clean up. Wash the glass both inside and outside, removing any moss and algae from overlapping glass panes. Give the gutters a good clean as they usually fill up with moss and leaves and all sorts of debris. Repair any broken panes of glass and make sure the sliding doors runs smoothly.
Bring wooden patio tables indoors as there won’t be much opportunity to eat outdoors for quite some time. I store ours in the garage, which also gives me the chance to clear that place up to make room for tables and storage of fruit, flower bulbs and corms and vegetables. Check over the patio tables and give a coat of varnish to preserve them for another year.
Put out the bird table with fresh seeds
Towards the end of the month we put out the bird table for winter and top up with fresh seed. However be guided by the weather as there may well still be plenty of natural berries on trees and shrubs and if the winter is mild birds can still find insects, grubs and worms in the soil.
The lawns should just about be finished growing now so give them a last cut, but set the blades slightly higher than normal so they have some growth to see them through winter. Now is a good time to get out the springbok rake and give the lawn a good scarify to remove thatch and moss. It also improves the lawn if you spike it with a garden fork every six inches to a depth of at least four inches. Brush in a sandy lawn compost to fill the holes, improve surface drainage, and add a sprinkle of a long lasting lawn fertiliser.
Check lawn edges and repair any broken bits to keep the lawn looking pristine.

Wee jobs to do this week
Winter cauliflower

Plant spring cabbage, Durham Early or Duncan and cauliflower Aalsmeer from sowings made in July and August. These will overwinter and provide fresh spring greens and hearted cabbage and cauliflower in spring. Space cauliflowers about 18 inches apart each way, but cabbages can go closer if you intend to harvest alternate plants earlier as spring greens. Duncan is very versatile so can be also grown as a summer and autumn harvested cabbage by altering the sowing date.
Protect crops with netting against pigeons and put a few slug pellets down as they have thrived in this mild but wet summer.
END

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

AUTUMN HARVESTING



AUTUMN HARVESTING

There was a time when the autumn harvest was all about potatoes and apples, but there are so many new crops and new types of existing crops that we are spoilt for choice as to what to pick, leave a bit longer or even take a chance with crops left in the ground in case we get yet another mild winter.
Harvesting Red Devil  and a few Bramley apples
Autumn raspberry Polka
Raspberries now come as summer and autumn fruiting with spine free stems and larger, sweeter fruit. It is mid October and I still have a few Polka raspberries to eat fresh, but Autumn Bliss fruit is past its best though ok for freezing for use in jams and compote.
Potatoes have now all been lifted, dried out and sacked up for storage in my garage. The crop weights have been outstanding with both Amour and Sarpo Mira producing massive spuds. Hopefully they will both store a long time. We are now using Lady Christl as the main potato as it does not store too well as young shoots want to break into growth, and our salad potato Casa Blanca gave us a very heavy crop of small but delicious potatoes.
Sorting out potatoes for storage
We are now into our fifth wet month, but with mild temperatures, so plant growth on everything has been luxuriant. Courgettes needed constant picking to keep sizes down before they looked like prize giant marrows, but still make great soup. Pumpkins continue to swell but rampart growth needed pruning before they took over half the allotment. Harvesting will be the end of the month.
The Oslin Apple
Apples may have been thinned twice in summer but still the trees are producing massive crops. The Oslin started us off with fresh apples in August, though suffered a fair bit of brown rot with the wet summer, to be followed by Discovery throughout September. A lovely early apple with a great flavour, but not so sweet this year due to lack of sunshine in these parts. Red Devil got picked early October and again the crop was massive with some really huge apples. Fiesta and Red Falstaff are still ripening up so wont get picked till the first few apples fall off naturally. Our cooker, Bramley is usually the last to get picked probably towards the end of the month, but then it is a brilliant keeper in store.
Apple Bramley
Pears appeared thin on the tree, but once they ripened up and started falling we discovered that we had quite a good crop and again there are some massive pears. Considering my pear has five different varieties grafted onto it over time, it has been quite difficult finding out how they are performing. Comice has no fruit, Conference just a few and Beurre Hardy is totally barren, but Christie has been prolific. Fruit may be a bit misshapen but very sweet and tasty. Concorde grafted in spring has four good shoots for fruiting next year or the following. I will cut down a few Beurre Hardy branches desperately reaching up to heaven and graft them with another variety called Beth which seems to do very well on City Road allotments.
Leeks, Swedes,
Leek Musselburgh
Parsnips, Kale, Sprouts, Cabbage and Cauliflower have all matured so picking/cutting can continue throughout the winter months.
Beetroot is another vegetable that just loves the warm but wet weather. Roots are plentiful and all are a good size. I have lifted some for storage in dry soil in boxes under cover, but still have three rows still growing happily on the plot. I’ll keep an eye on the weather and cover them over with soil for frost protection or if cold weather threatens they will get lifted for storing indoors.
Winter lettuce Hilde and winter hardy spring onions were planted on land cleared of onions, peas and early potatoes and are now just about ready for picking and should last for a few months.

Wee jobs to do this week

Taking geranium cuttings
Geraniums have had a great year and been in flower from late spring, and although they are still putting on a show now is the time to take cutting to ensure the display will continue next summer. Take strong young shoots and snap off at a leaf joint making a cutting three to four inches long. Remove lower leaves and any flower buds and pot up into well drained sandy compost. Keep them warm but not in the sun on a shady windowsill or greenhouse if it can have some heat over winter.
They will root after a couple of months but best leave them undisturbed till March before potting them up into small pots.
END

Monday, 9 October 2017

TIME TO PLAN NEXT YEARS STRAWBERRIES



TIME TO PLAN NEXT YEARS STRAWBERRIES

Strawberry growing has always been a mixture of producing a very healthy and tasty fruit and rising to the challenge of growing them big, disease free, and over as long a season as possible. Way back to teenage years the normal growers season coincided with the school summer holidays as we were the pickers together with local folk from towns and villages. So the main picking was in early July. Growers had not yet discovered polythene tunnels.
Strawberry Elsanta
My horticultural career took me south to a farm in West Sussex in the late sixties where I first saw fields protected with low tunnels growing Red Gauntlet ready for picking in early June. However botrytis was a problem with most varieties at that time, so the crop got three sprays of fungicide plus a contact and residual weedkiller before the straw was run up the rows. Crops were still picked by our farm team of ladies from the village, plus local gypsies and many Londoners looking for some work in the sun with fresh air, good fruit to eat and good money if you worked hard. This was a working holiday for many of them.
Elsanta in tunnels
Today strawberry growing has moved on dramatically. Almost all the crop is commercially grown under tall tunnels and new varieties are not prone to botrytis, and as they are container grown there is no need for weed control around the plant.
On a garden scale we now have new varieties appearing every year so we can try out something different to sort out those that work best for our own locality. The challenge today is to pick the first strawberries well ahead of Wimbledon. With the right early variety such as Mae grown under a low polythene tunnel I can get my first berries by the third week in May.
Anna cooking strawberry jam
To sit outside on the patio on a sunny day for lunch with a plate of fresh strawberries you know summer has arrived, and it is only going to get better. Once you start to pick more than you can eat there is plenty for jam, compote and freezing. Where would we be without that freezer. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was making 110 jars of jam (strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant) during the berry season to last the next twelve months provided you stored them somewhere cool. We went through two pounds of jam every week, but needed it as lifestyle was very active looking after family, garden, allotment, car and home maintenance and weekend walks in the countryside.
Culture
I still grow my strawberries in rows three feet apart, spacing the plants six to twelve inches apart depending on availability of runners. With new varieties it may be wise to just take two seasons fruiting instead of the traditional three years as some are reluctant to produce runners after a couple of years. Today weed control is by hand or hoeing making sure the ground is clear before the straw is placed up the rows just before the first fruits start to show colour.
Lifting strong runners
Botrytis, red core and mildew are no longer a problem with modern varieties, but slugs, snails and birds just love them so slug pellets are essential and netting over the crop should keep the birds at bay. Other early varieties to try include Christine and Honeoye. Maincrop varieties include Elsanta Alice and Hapil, then two good late season strawberries are Florence and Symphony, but to continue the season into September look for the perpetual varieties like Flamenco. I tried Albion, but bright red berries with a texture like a wee red turnip did not impress me, and Colossus was not at all big and the plants had plenty of leaves but very few berries. It is getting dug out.

Wee jobs to do this week
Winter lettuce Vaila

Tomatoes will continue to ripen for a few days if the sun returns, but once the crop is over and the old plants get cleared out take the chance of the free space to grow some winter salads. Whether you grew your tomatoes in bags, pots or border it is a good idea to be well prepared by sowing the salads well in advance then prick out into cellular trays so they are a decent size for transplanting. Use a variety of winter hardy spring onion, winter hardy lettuce e.g. Hilde or Winter Density, some radish and Mezuna, Rocket or mixed salad leaves. Lightly fork over the surface and add some fertiliser then water plants in after planting.
END

Monday, 2 October 2017

TIME TO PLAN FOR SPRING FLOWERS



TIME TO PLAN FOR SPRING FLOWERS

Planting tulips
The summer flowers are past their best, so now we look ahead to the spring for our next show of floral colour. Remove old summer bedding plants from borders, tubs and hanging baskets and put them on the compost heap. Remove some of the old compost and check for vine weevil grubs especially around fuchsias and begonias. Top up with some fresh compost and a dressing of fertiliser before planting up with wallflower, myosotis, polyanthus, primroses, pansies or other spring bedding plants. The display will be enhanced if you add some bulbs, but select carefully to match heights and colours. Tulip Apeldoorn, a tall red Darwin Hybrid is perfect with yellow wallflower, but for other low growing spring bedding plants choose from the range of dwarf double early tulips such as Abba, Sun Lover, Monte Orange and Global Desire.
Tulip Abba with Doronicums
Tulips can also enhance other garden plants flowering in spring such as the yellow Doronicums which I combine with the purple tulip Negrita as well as the red Abba. My earliest tulip Scarlet Baby, a dwarf red flowering in March is perfect with my yellow ground hugging saxifrage. It might also be the perfect companion for a drift of the early blue pulmonaria.
Some tulips have the strength to stand alone in a drift to naturalise and make a huge impact, coming back into flower year after year. Try some of the Darwin Hybrids like Apeldoorn, Golden Apeldoorn, and
Tulip Scarlet Baby
Orange Sun and if you want scent as well try the Fosteriana types such as the white Purissima. Many other tulips are described in catalogues as scented, and I have tried most of them, but only ever detected scent in Purissima. I have some drifts of these tall Darwin hybrids planted about twenty years ago and they flower every year in a slowly expanding drift without fail.
Phlox and red tulips
When planting up a spring hanging baskets pansies are favourite and often very long lasting well into mid summer. You can combine some crocus with these as they are not tall so work well together just fine.
Tubs and borders near main doors and patios can have some hyacinths planted both for colour and scent. Wallflowers are also important here for the same reasons of colour and spring scents.
Polyanthus and primroses are very popular for tubs but also a favourite for vine weevil attacks so if you suffer from these in your garden, use some of the biological controls, as they are very efficient.
These plants are also perennial so after flowering they can be lifted and lined out somewhere to grow on during the summer months and be ready to reuse the next autumn.
Narcissus February Gold
Daffodils are usually planted in borders often underneath deciduous trees and shrubs and bring in the spring from early March onwards. One of the earliest and very reliable is my favourite February Gold, but up north in Scotland it flowers in March. It has been extensively planted by Dundee City Council gardeners along many road side verges including the Lochee Road.
The large trumpet daffodils Golden Harvest, King Alfred and the white Mount Hood will all make a terrific display and repeat the show year after year, providing the narcissus fly leaves them alone.
Nearly all daffodils and narcissus are scented with the Jonquils and Cheerfulness types particularly strong. Always leave foliage on daffodils alone for a minimum of six weeks or longer if the foliage remains green to allow the bulb to go dormant naturally. This helps to build up strength in the dormant bulb to ensure good flowering the following year.
Picking Baby beet

Wee jobs to do this week

Beetroot can remain in the ground, over the next few months provided we continue to get mild winters, but it is a good idea to earth them up to give some protection in case of frosts. If normal winters threaten to return, lift them up for storage in boxes with dry soil or sand in a frost free shed or garage. Recent studies on the health benefits of beetroot almost put it in the superfoods category, and you can also use the leaves and stems. Beetroot is high in fibre, folic acid, potassium and manganese and the leaves and stems are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
The juice is used by athletes as a health drink.

END

Sunday, 24 September 2017

EARLY FLOWERING BULBS



EARLY FLOWERING BULBS

You know spring has arrived when the daffodils and tulips are in their full glory and dazzling displays of bold colour raise the spirits. However it is the smaller bulbs like snowdrops and aconites that come out in late winter telling us spring is just around the corner that really gets us excited. We are usually still in the grips of winter and not really expecting to see flowers in the garden, but if these bulbs have been planted close by a window overlooking the garden it is a sight to behold.
Snowdrops
 In recent times the mild winters have distorted the normal flowering pattern of many of these bulbs, so now I am seeing snowdrops in full flower in December and although we will still get some snow, these early flowers seem unharmed. Though a very late cold snap with snow can come in May so tall tulips suffer as the weight of accumulated snow bends them over.

Aconites
This is a good time to purchase bulbs for autumn planting, but give a lot of thought where to put them. Some bulbs like snowdrops and aconites are quite happy with dappled shade underneath deciduous trees and shrubs, but crocus need a sunny position to open up the flowers.
Snowdrops and aconites that have formed large established clumps are best divided while still in full growth immediately after flowering in early March. Both of these will form ever increasing drifts as they grow readily from self sown seeds. They can also be purchased as dormant bulbs in the autumn.
Anemone blanda
Grape hyacinths (Muscari) and bluebells can be very attractive as the drifts steadily expand naturally, but take care as they can both reach nuisance levels as they try to take over the garden. Enjoy the sea of blue while in flower but once they have filled their allocated space remove all seed heads after flowering.
Anemone blanda and Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snows) will also create a sea of blue as they grow into a drift, but they are not invasive and grow happily together with other plants and bulbs.
Iris reticulata flowers a bit later and needs a sunny position with well drained soil and if it dries out in summer so much better. They only grow just over a foot tall so are perfect for the rock garden and the flowers are also blue to violet purple with a yellow strip in the centre. They have narrow upright leaves which have a short life so they are easy to fit in with other low growing plants.
Iris reticulata
Crocus is one of the last to flower of the dwarf bulbs, but when mass planted makes a massive impact. The named hybrid varieties have huge flowers of white (Joan of Arc), yellow (Yellow Mammoth), purple violet (Flower Record), and my favourite is the white and violet striped (Pickwick) They make such an impact to welcome in spring that numerous local authorities have been mass planting them in prominent places for years. They are perfect in borders, lawns, roadside verges, tubs and hanging baskets planted with low growing pansies and polyanthus. However they need the sun to fully open up the flowers. They can naturalise to some degree from self sown seedlings, but I can never wait on this to expand my drifts so every year in autumn I buy in a few more bulbs. Those bulbs used in tubs and baskets can be replanted in the garden after flowering.
Crocus Yellow Mammoth
Crocus species are slightly smaller but flower a week or so earlier than the large flowered hybrids. They all have a delicate beauty that is hard to match when the drifts expand to give an impact.
Some species such as Blue Pearl, Cream Beauty and Snow Bunting are on my essential list, but many others are well worth a place. Ladykiller, Lilac Beauty, Ruby Giant and Whitewell Purple are all worth finding a place for.

Wee jobs to do this week

As autumn weather turns cooler watch out for pigeons on
Net protection on sprouts
cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts so keep them protected with nets. Also inspect them for snails and caterpillars and remove as found. Scatter some slug pellets around as slugs and snails are still very active. Also check for mealy aphids on the growing points and under young leaves. Rub them off on a small scale but if the infestation is serious there are plenty chemicals available to use as a spray.

END

Monday, 18 September 2017

LATE SUMMER FRUIT RIPENS



LATE SUMMER FRUIT RIPENS

Summer has just about gone, or maybe we are still waiting for it to arrive, once that rain goes off. However it has been warm enough, so all plant growth has been luxuriant, but we need sunshine to build up sweetness in our autumn fruits
Apple Discovery
before we pick them. Pollination of most fruits was really good as we came through a mild winter to be followed by a brilliant spring so there were plenty of bees around to assist pollen transfer and no late frosts so fruit potential was good. Only my new peach tree, Avalon Pride let me down. Flowers were very late for a peach, but that should have been beneficial as there were plenty pollinators flying around, but maybe with so much flowers to choose from my peach blossom did not impress them. Even though I did my daily hand pollination I still only got one peach, but as it was a cracker this tree may yet prove to be a winner.
Apple Oslin
Apples of every kind were a mass of flowers in spring then branches got laden down with young fruitlets. This got a wee bit of thinning in July at the natural June drop, but after settling down all trees were still packed with fruit so I did a massive hand thinning at the end of July. Trees are still heavy with apples but now with a decent size. The Oslin (also known as the Arbroath Pippin) was ready in August, but suffered badly in the wet summer so brown rot took out a lot of apples. Discovery, my next early variety to ripen up by early September gave a great crop of bright red apples with excellent flavour but lack of sunshine held back sweetness.
Pears ripening up
Red Devil, Fiesta and Red Falstaff will hang on the tree a fair bit longer hoping that at some point a period of prolonged sunshine will fall upon us and provide us with a sweet crop of apples.
Pears fared somewhat sporadically as my tree (Comice and Conference) had also been grafted with the Christie and Beurre Hardy. It seems either they take a fair time to settle down or there could be a compatibility issue as some branches have good pears and others are totally barren. Unfortunately over time the labels have been weathered beyond recognition so I do not know which is the culprit.
Plum Victoria
However to help matters out I grafted some of these barren branches with Concorde which are now growing happily but may be a couple of years before they flower.
Plums seem to be having a good year, with both plenty growth and now heavy crops. My plum Victoria planted in the dormant season failed to grow. Put down to bad choice of supplier, so a new one will be purchased this winter but from a reliable source.
Figs are again cropping very happily and should continue for a few more weeks, despite the wet weather. My first fig was ready at the beginning of August and so far I have had over 130 ripe fruits from one bush of Brown Turkey grown outdoors against a south facing wall. Ripeness is easy to determine as the fruit colours up and then droops so it gets picked before it falls off. It is a great help to have them ripen over a long season, but you still get a glut when Anna needs to cut them in half before a slow roast for an hour, then once they cool down they get bagged up and frozen for future use.
Peach Avalon Pride
Autumn Raspberry Autumn Bliss and Polka still continue to fruit giving us large berries to eat fresh and freeze surplus.
Outdoor grape Brant, Regent and Rondo have all got plenty of bunches of big grapes but really need sunshine to sweeten them up. In the greenhouse Black Hamburg also has a great crop desperately looking for more sunshine. However we still have a few more weeks so fingers crossed.
Spraying weedkiller

Wee jobs to do this week

Weed control has been a big problem this summer due to the wet weather combined with warmth so with good germination and growth of most weeds, it has been hard to keep them under control. They are now slowing down so remove them and dump on the compost heap unless they are perennial weeds. Paths and patios can still get a glyphosate spray if you can get two dry days together, so the chemical has time to get absorbed by the leaves before the rain washes it off. The chemical is not absorbed by the roots.

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