AUTUMN TIDY UP
Gardeners, farmers and growers all need to pay close attention to the weather to determine the best times to carry out tasks. Soil cultivation, weed control, planting and sowing all need the right conditions and 2011 has proved that we can get it wrong very frequently. There has been no normality about this years weather, but I remember last years autumn was so wet and the winter so early that there was no chance to get the winter digging completed by Christmas. So this year I thought I would make an early start with the autumn clean up, land cultivations and other autumn seasonal tasks.
The end of summer in the garden for me is marked by putting my sun lounger into storage, normally in the middle of September. This year it had been so little used that it went into storage at the beginning of the month. How many people expected the summer to arrive at the end of September and run into October. However, it is brilliant to be enjoying lunch on the patio in warm sunshine and still marvel at the last of the flowers still determined to bloom while they can, and I can casually plan my autumn clean up.
Planting and sowing
Spring cabbage April was sown a few weeks ago and after struggling through attacks of slugs, caterpillars, vine weevils and pigeons are now ready for planting out. They will need to be strong as they will face more attacks from rootfly maggots, more pigeons and clubroot. However the net will protect them from pigeons and I have collars to go around the stems to prevent rootflies from laying eggs next to them and hopefully my rotation will keep them a fair distance from any clubroot infected areas.
Land left vacant after harvesting sweet corn, salads, French beans, broad beans and my early strawberries will be green manured with a sowing of clovers. I had previously used mustard as it is fast and effective, but is also prone to clubroot so not good for a healthy rotation.
Saskatoon berries harvested in early August were crushed and washed to extract the seed and remove the flesh which contains germination inhibiting hormones, then placed in the fridge for six weeks. I usually place the seed between two sheets of moist kitchen roll to prevent them drying out, and keep checking them for moisture levels and botrytis. They have now been sown in cellular trays and placed outdoors in a cool shaded spot for the winter. I will protect them from mice and birds.
Harvesting and storing
Onion Hytech harvested a few weeks ago has dried out just nicely so I have now roped them for easy storing in the garage. I am amazed that my one packet of seed produced so many quite large onions in a very wet and cool summer.
Apples are being harvested as they ripen. Discovery and Oslin have both been picked and consumed as they need to be eaten fresh. Red Devil have been picked and stored in a cool airy garage, but my Fiesta, Red Falstaff and Bramley are still hanging on so there is no rush to pick them.
My Pear tree has been grafted with two new varieties (Beurre Hardy and the Christie) though I left one branch of Comice and one of Conference to draw up the sap which helps the grafts to grow. Comice was wiped out by scab in the wet weather and Conference foliage was shredded in the gales. The tree decided it could not afford to ripen my lovely crop so the fruit all fell off.
Weeds and leaves and compost
This is the last chance to tackle the weeds before winter. Annual weeds, eg groundsel can be composted before it sets seeds, but bin any perennial weeds.
Leaves have started to fall very early. This is not an early autumn but more the result of bad weather conditions earlier in the season. Many trees such as Whitebeam have lost all their leaves without any autumn colour. All these leaves can be composted. My mature eucalyptus tree has been shedding leaves all summer, but still managed plenty of regrowth, so hopefully it will be strong enough to face the winter.
Straggly shrubs and roses
This is a good time to prune or tie in those shrubs that have grown straggly. Many climbing roses have put on excellent growth which will ripen and flower next year so get them tied in before the winter winds begin. Pruned shoots can be shredded and composted.
Lawns and paths
As the grass growth begins to slow down in October it is a good time to start any lawn renovation work to keep it in good health. A nice level well maintained lawn is an asset that enhances the appearance of beds, borders, trees and houses, but for an area where kids can play in and even make their daisy chains, it does not need a high level of attention as long as it is not liable to flooding.
However if you wish the golf fairway to bowling green standard you can achieve that effect with a wee bit of work to create a free draining, close mown, (in stripes) healthy but not too vigorous, deep green sward, free from moss, disease and weeds.
Kill out any moss with a dressing of lawn sand or water on a week solution of sulphate of iron, (one heaped dessert spoon per two gallon can). I also use this to kill moss on tarmac drives or other paths. The dead moss will turn black, then after a few weeks rake out the dead moss with a springbok rake. The moss can go on the compost heap. Now aerate the lawn by spiking with a hollow tine aerator or a garden fork pushing holes four inches deep every six inches or so. These two tasks are quite hard work, but keep going. Now put on a top dressing and brush it into the holes. This is also hard work but both you and the lawn will recover and be better next year. The top dressing will have a slow release fertiliser to feed the grass throughout the winter.
You will most likely need a wee malt whisky.
Next year in spring check for weeds and spray as necessary. If the lawn is strong and healthy you should not be troubled by diseases such as red thread, fusarium patch or fairy rings.