Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Harvesting Fruits of your Labour


The harvesting and picking season is just getting into full swing. Times are very busy as there is so many fruit and vegetable crops to be picked and eaten or preserved.
Salads have been available for some time but now the summer cabbage, courgettes, early carrots, Swiss chard, baby beet thinnings, mangetout peas, broad beans, early potatoes and leafy kale are all needing to be regularly picked.
Soft fruit picking is almost a daily task with blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, Bramble Helen, and my huge crop of saskatoons all needing to be picked. There is still a few perpetual strawberries, (Malling Opal) popping up though most of the summer ones are now finished. As usual there is always a glut so the summer diet is extremely healthy with ample spare to pass to family, friends and the freezer.
This used to be the time of year for jam making from summer soft fruits in season which would then be stored in a cool spot for use till spring. However the freezer has now taken over and fresh jams are made as they are needed, provided you can find freezer space.

My partner Anna created a brilliant compote of blackcurrants and rhubarb stewed with sugar to taste. It is added to the muesli at breakfast with a sprinkling of saskatoons or brambles and often at lunchtime with yoghurt and a dash of honey and again some soft fruit, rasps, brambles or gooseberries. As the summer season fresh fruit crops finish there is plenty in the freezer to continue the fruit diet all year round. All those anti-oxidants and vitamins must be doing us some good apart from the feel good factor from home grown produce..

Summer Flowers

Flower beds, tubs and hanging baskets are all at their peak but to keep them flowering they need feeding, watering and dead heading regularly. Shasta daisies are a picture and my exotic Japanese lilies are giving a fantastic show with a heady perfume that permeates the whole garden. I bought a couple of bulbs five years ago and after flowering kept the seed heads for sowing. They were quite easy to germinate and grow on, so now I have masses of them.
I grow a large drift in my winter border of coloured stemmed shrubs, (cornus, kerria, leycesteria, salix britzensis and acer Sangokaku) which is quite a dull border at this time of year. The lilies grow through and above the shrubs in harmony adding colour and scent.

Climbing roses as well as bush and shrub roses have all finished their main flush but many can be repeat flowering with a wee bit of summer pruning to take off seed heads, straggly shoots and any showing signs of mildew, blackspot or rust. I have a policy of only growing those varieties that are resistant to these diseases since there are no longer any chemicals available to the amateur gardener to control them other than Dithane which must be used regularly and preferably before the first signs of any disease appears. However if you grow organically it may be possible to look into the latest idea to use of milk sprayed at 10% dilution every ten days throughout the whole season to prevent some fungus diseases from getting started. This idea is still in its experimental stage, but you can keep up to date with this new method on a range of gardening and allotment forums on the internet..

My other main flower task at this time of year is disbudding early flowering chrysanthemums. I grow one bed with a range of decorative, reflex and incurving flower heads and another bed of sprays which need no disbudding. These will give me cut flower for the house from August till October. I grow these in beds three feet wide and support them with 6 inch weldmesh wire held between four posts. As the plants grow up I raise the weldmesh to keep them supported.

Gladioli are now coming into bloom and will be cut for the house with some left on my allotment to give a show of colour throughout the summer. These are grown on well manured good soil in rows one foot apart and planted four inches apart along the row.
I have kept the corms for years and add new varieties to the collection every year.

Looking ahead to next spring my wallflower seedlings sown in the middle of June, are just perfect for transplanting so they can make a sturdy bushy plant by autumn. I transplant my four inch seedlings into rows spaced 12 inches apart with the plants at 4 inch spacings.
These will be planted on good ground that has just been cleared of my broad bean crop. I also had some land left over from my early summer cabbage, but as they are all in the same family, cruciferae, the risk of clubroot disease is too great to risk it.. I can sow some late summer lettuce and radish or even a fast growing dwarf early pea variety here. There should just be enough season left for these to grow and give a crop in autumn.

Hanging Baskets and Tubs

These are now at their most colourful and can be kept like that with continual dead heading, watering and feeding. My hanging baskets usually combine a central geranium with petunias and nemesia, then Impatiens and trailing lobelia around the perimeter to hide the container.
Some pots which were planted with winter flowering pansies for an early spring display dont seem to realise it is summer. They were to be replaced with summer bedding weeks ago, but they refused to stop flowering and continue to provide an excellent display so I will just leave them a wee bit longer.
Often in late summer I will replant any pot or tub that is going past its best with cyclamen in flower which become available in garden centres in late summer and early autumn. They will then flower till the frosts come.

Larger tubs get my best tuberous begonias as they need more space and in full flower they are very impressive. I bought a box of young begonias nearly twenty years ago and at the end of the season, usually late October I lift and dry them. The dormant tubers are stored in my garage over winter.

I should be finding some time to do some painting, but art has been relegated to late evenings often going well beyond midnight as I need the daylight hours for gardening tasks.
Just finished potting up a batch of indoor and outdoor grape vines which I will take to the Camperdown Flower Show in September to accompany my saskatoon fruit bushes.

Summer pruning fruit bushes

Mid summer is the best time to prune currants and gooseberries, peaches and of course grape vines need continual pruning throughout the growing season.
Blackcurrants fruit on young shoots produced and ripened the previous year, so cut out old wood that has just fruited down to the nearest young shoot. Also cut off any branches too close to ground level.
Red and white currants are spur pruned on a framework of about nine main branches which can be replaced every third year. Cut back all sideshoots to four or five leaves on these main branches.
Peaches are also better spur pruned in late summer to encourage fruit buds to form and restrict growth.
Grape vines need all new growths cut back to one leaf in summer. Earlier on all shoots would have been cut back to two leaves after each flower truss.


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