Sunday, 23 April 2017

LADY IN RED ART EXHIBITION

ART EXHIBITION LADY IN RED

I would like to invite my readers to pop in to see my LADY IN RED
art exhibition held in my studio at
17a Menzieshill Road in Dundee, DD2 1PS.
Lady in Red in the High Street

As an artist always looking for an interesting project for a series of paintings, I decided to make my home town the topic showing Dundee City Center in summer and winter in daytime as well as evening covering areas including McManus Gallery, High School, Reform Street, through to the Mercat Cross, and showing the
Trades and Bank Bar pubs, then further afield at the bandstand at
Benvie
Magdalen Green and of course our Tay Bridge.

So my Lady in Red has been traveling around the town.

The exhibition also includes some Scottish landscapes, snow scenes, figures, flowers and still life studies.

VISIT THE GARDEN

As my garden in spring is just bursting with flowers, visitors are welcome to walk around the garden to see and enjoy a feast of colour with tulips, rhododendrons and azaleas looking great.


Lady in Red has a Night Out
The exhibition starts on Saturday 29th April and runs till Sunday 7th May open every day from 11am to 5pm.

Summer Seas








Some of the paintings can be seen on my website exhibition page.
Lady Resting

Saturday, 22 April 2017

SPRING FLOWERS ARE ARRIVING



SPRING FLOWERS ARE ARRIVING


Plum Victoria
Last year we got blessed with a terrific display of tulips so we thought it would be a good idea to run with this theme by adding another big bulb plant in the autumn. We are now reaping the benefits as these spring flowers are all competing with each other for attention. Many areas have two or more layers of bulbs planted at different depths but as they may have different flowering and growing times this idea is working just fine. The winter border with cornus, willow, kerria and red maple is underplanted with snowdrops and aconites (for late winter display) followed by tulips for a spring display, and then lilies grow up through this to give a summer display.
Another border with mass plantings of aconites has been added to with a drift of cyclamen which will grow once the aconites have died down for the summer. Normally the aconites grow from January/February till mid summer then go dormant allowing the cyclamen to flower in September then grow through till mid winter then go dormant for the spring and summer, but with the recent mild winters none of them want to go dormant. It makes gardening ideas interesting.
Tulip Abba
Another border packed with grape hyacinths has been underplanted with red and yellow tulips which flower just above this carpet of blue. The display will continue into summer as this border has a third bulb layer of oriental lilies planted underneath the tulips. Hopefully they will all live happily together. This drift of grape hyacinth flowers is at its best in mid April, but in mid March I noticed a couple of purple crocus in flower, unaffected by the leaves of the grape hyacinths which were still only a few inches tall. So now I am planning another layer of about 100 crocus bulbs planted amongst all the other bulbs to see if I can get in a third flower display.
Spring flowers
Blue spring flowers of Chionodoxa, Anemone blanda, Scilla and hyacinths are also all adding to displays all over the garden, and my purple tulip Negrita is accompanying the yellow flowers of Doronicum Little Leo.
Chionodoxa
A few years ago I noticed that a very early dwarf tulip, Scarlet Baby flowering in late February coincided with my yellow saxifrage drift, so I purchased more of these tulips to plant alongside the saxifrage to enhance the show. However the very mild winter brought on the saxifrage more than the tulip, so this year they had a fortnights time difference, but still brilliant to see.
Flowering trees are also giving us a great display with plums, cherries, pears and even my peach all
Hand pollinating peach flowers
in full blossom. My new peach Avalon Pride took over from Peregrine which got devastated by peach leaf curl. However peach leaf curl resistant Avalon Pride is flowering very late, so although I see plenty bees around I still need to hand pollinate as the flowers are so small that I doubt if any of  the bees will bother much with them.
Camellia Donation
Spring flowers continue with the white scented shrub Viburnum carlcephalum, and Camellia Donation a star attraction soon to be followed by a large Kerria japonica which has been allowed to grow full size. The garden displays then change as the rhododendrons and azaleas have their moment in the spotlight, and looking forward I can see the first flower buds on my climbing rose Dublin Bay waiting their turn for attention once we get a few warm days.
Potting up tomato seedlings
A garden full of flowers gives so much pleasure that I am happy to share these moments with anyone who wishes to visit the garden, so I will open the garden to visitors from Saturday 29th April to Sunday 7th May. Visitors can also view my artwork on display in my studio as I show recent paintings of Dundee town centre in my “Lady in Red” art exhibition.

Wee jobs to do this week

Pot up young tomato plants into their final pots where they can continue to grow before getting planted out in growbags, large pots or a prepared border. Wait until the first flowers open up on the first truss before planting out.

END

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

HEALTHY FRUIT and HEALTHY LIVING



HEALTHY FRUIT and HEALTHY LIVING

Anna picking fresh rhubarb
Hindsight is a brilliant factor. Today I feel I live a healthy lifestyle and because of my interest in gardening it keeps me active and the fresh produce gives me my at least five but most often a lot more different fruit and vegetables daily. Looking back into the teenage years I couldn’t wait to leave school to earn a wage. I needed money not education, and I needed an outdoor life in the sun. Just could not be happy in an office or factory so I chose gardening. It is here I was taught how to grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables and how to use them. However quite soon I realised I did need education if I wanted to climb the horticultural ladder. This resulted in a career that took me all over UK, dabbling in fruit production, forestry, landscaping, education, and plant propagation. In the early years money is tight so you need an allotment to grow food trying to cover the whole twelve months with self sufficiency. A very hard task but is made easier today with the use of fridges and freezers. Gone are the days when I needed to make 110 jars of jam (two jars per week) during the berry season to be stored in a cool shed over the next twelve months. In the younger years life was very active with the normal diet of sausages, beef burgers, mince and chips from the deep fat fryer with everything, but we burnt off any excess by an active life. One day in my early
Saskatoons
thirties after a large helping of sausages full of gristle, I felt ill and vowed, no more crap, so sausages went out and the deep fat fryer got binned. From now on it was to be healthy foods only, though an occasional wee relapse at Christmas, and my two lassies needed help to get through their Easter eggs. Next on the list was sugar, so it was tea and coffee without sugar and nae mare honey in my porridge. Now that was a hardship!!! But we survive and prosper.
I now look into which foods give you the most benefits, and research gives very interesting reading. Green vegetables, roots and salads are now normal daily crops grown on the allotment, but it is the fruits that give you that extra boost. My healthy fruits include chokeberries, blackcurrants, saskatoons, blueberries, brambles, cherries, figs, rhubarb and black grapes.
The dark colour of these berries is caused by the very high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant. The fruits are also packed with dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging cell components. These plus the other vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre  assist the fight against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s disease, reduce the absorption of high cholesterol, and can delay macular degeneration.
Pumpkin Hundredweight
Pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers are three fruits we treat as vegetables, but all three score very highly in providing great health benefits, and although seasonal crops, they can be stored for future use. My pumpkins usually store till early April, but then surplus gets frozen.
Chokeberries are not very common at the moment but they produce one of the healthiest fruits on the planet, with very high levels of anthocyanin an antioxidant(1480 mgs per 100gms) high levels of dietary fibre, plus vitamins A, C and E and the minerals potassium, iron and manganese.
However chokeberries are too astringent to eat in any quantity straight off the bush but can be juiced, cooked, added to compote, yoghurts and makes a delicious jam and a healthy wine.
Blackcurrant Ben Findlay
Blackcurrants, red and whitecurrants may only have half the level of anthocyanin, but at over 700 mg per 100gms they are still very high. They are also high in vitamins, dietary fibre and minerals similar to chokeberries plus calcium and zinc.
Saskatoons are also very high in anthocyanin (562mgs per 100gms) plus high levels of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. The berries can be eaten fresh, and frozen for future use in compote, summer puddings, juices, wines, added to cereals, yoghurts and cooked in cakes, oaties and jams.
John picking kale shoots
Blueberries, Brambles and Black grapes, similar to the above (blueberries have 386mgs per 100gms anthocyanin.) However they will allow you to extend the season of use for fresh healthy fruit from summer till winter. Black outdoor grape Brant has pips in the berries, but now we find that these seeds are packed with goodness. So instead of discarding these pips as a nuisance, give them a wee crunch and swallow them. They are anti allergenic, antihistamine and anti inflammatory. They strengthen blood vessels, aid circulation and improve skin elasticity.


Wee jobs to do this week

If old brassica plants (cabbage, cauliflower and kale) have been harvested but not yet been dug out leave them till young flowering shoots appear, usually with soft fresh leaves, then use these as a spring vegetable just perfect stir fried with a light oil dressing, or they can be steamed for a few minutes adding some ginger, garlic and seasoning.

END

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A GOOD TIME FOR SEED SOWING



A GOOD TIME FOR SEED SOWING

Spring weather seemed to be running a bit late this year, but then a warm sunny spell towards the end of May warmed up the soil just enough to let us get on with the seed sowing.
Root crops such as carrots, turnips and leeks, and salads such as lettuce, rocket, beetroot and radish all need a firm level surface with a good tilth. So choose a dry day and get that rake moving.
Sowing peas
Once the outdoor seed bed is prepared give a light dressing of fertiliser high in phosphates (potato fertiliser) for root crops but a balanced one such as Growmore for salads, then rake in before taking out seed drills. Most crop rows are spaced a foot apart
Tulips and pansies in a tub
but give turnips and parsnips 18 inch spacings as they need more room. Scottish conditions may be a bit on the cool side for spring onions sown outdoors in spring so I sow mine in cellular trays indoors to get them started, then after a few weeks plant them out. These can go in rows spaced just six inches apart as they are quite narrow and upright. Carrots are another crop that can be sown closer at six inches between the rows with three rows together so you can straddle them for weeding. Carrot fly is a real nuisance so cover the carrot bed over with fleece held up over the foliage with hoops.
Sowing salads
Leeks are sown thinly in a seed row and left to grow to pencil thickness before lifting, topping and tailing and transplanting into permanent rows by dropping them into a deep dibble hole and watering them in.
Early peas such as Kelvedon Wonder are best sown in a six inch wide trench a couple of inches deep and space out the seeds along the bottom of the trench in three rows a few inches apart.
A hardy annual flower border can be sown any time from early April onwards. Again they germinate best if the ground is well prepared with a deep friable tilth, but not manured or composted and adding fertiliser will give them a boost but then excessive growth will result at the expense of flowers. Annuals flower best on well cultivated but poor soils.
Back in the greenhouse seed sowing continues in seed trays and cellular pots. Cabbage, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts are best sown thinly in shallow seed trays using a well drained seed compost. Once they have germinated they can be
Iceland poppies
pricked out into large cellular trays or pots to grow on for a few weeks before they are big enough to plant out.
Take care to protect young plants from slugs and snails and pigeons which like to feed on all brassicas as well as young pea foliage, and if your land is infected by clubroot grow some of the clubroot resistant varieties of cabbage (Kilaxy), cauliflower (Clapton), sprouts (Crispus) and Swedes (Invitation).
Sweet corn is best to go direct into smaller cellular trays for germination then a few weeks later they can get potted up into bigger pots so that you have a strong plant at least a foot tall for planting out.
Most summer bedding plants such as Impatiens, petunias, salvia, antirrhinum, French and African marigolds can all grow from seed, but in spring the garden centres are just bursting the these plants in cellular trays as plug plants just ready to take home and pot up. Grow them on for another three weeks or so and they will be ready for their summer quarters in tubs, beds and hanging baskets.

Wee jobs to do this week
Planting early potatoes

Recent sunny weather has warmed up the ground so we can now plant our potatoes. Start off with the first earlies such as Casablanca and Foremost, then second earlies such as Charlotte and International Kidney then go onto the maincrops where choice is wide so pick one to suit your own needs. For a good baked potato Amour is a winner, Lady Christl has taste and great flavour and Sarpo Mira has good blight resistance. I like to plant sprouted seed potatoes in a deep drill lined with compost to get them off to a flying start. Add some potato fertiliser to keep them well fed for a heavy crop. Space the sets about a foot apart in rows two feet apart for earlies, but give maincrops a bit wider spacing between the rows.

END

Monday, 3 April 2017

A BUSY TIME IN THE GARDEN



A BUSY TIME IN THE GARDEN

The spring rush is just round the corner. Last year it was in full flow at this time, but spring 2017 has been quite cool, so there has been no rush to start outdoor seed sowing and planting.
Anna transplanting tomato seedlings
Last year I planted my first early Casablanca potatoes on the 20th March, but this year the soil has not yet warmed up so they will have to wait a bit longer. The potatoes are all sprouting in their chitting trays but not putting on any growth to worry about.
Sweet peas are very disappointing this year. I bought three varieties to try but there was only ten seeds in each packet and I only got one of my favourite Air warden to germinate. The seed company from Newmarket will not be getting another order from me next year. Other seed packets were all very sparse. Gone are the days when you sowed half the packet one year and kept the rest for the next year. The sweet peas are very slow to grow so not yet big enough to go outside on a warm day.
Trying out some new chrysanthemums this year, so my delivery of plants from Harold Walker arrived on time with excellent strong well rooted cuttings, which are now potted up. Existing spray type chrysanthemum stools in the greenhouse are all growing well so a batch of cuttings was taken and will root in a small heated propagator.
Dahlias showing new growth
Dahlias boxed up a few weeks ago and kept in a warm place are now beginning to grow so soon another batch of cuttings will follow for the propagator.
Begonia tubers were beginning to sprout so they have
now all been boxed up and put into my cold greenhouse which I give some supplementary heating to on cold days and nights.
Broad beans and established geraniums are all growing well, but with continual gales and cool weather they will need to wait a bit before going outside to harden off.
Sowing continues with cabbage Kilaxy, cauliflower Clapton and Brussels sprouts Crispus (all my clubroot resistant varieties) as well as lettuce All Year Round, spring onions and beetroot Boltardy. These
Young seedlings
will be planted outdoors direct from their cellular trays into a bed warmed up with a low polythene tunnel at the end of April.
Last year’s leek crop of Musselburgh was very disappointing so this year I will try a different variety, Autumn Mammoth and sowing them earlier, but because of the cold weather they have gone into trays and will soon be needing pricked off.
Onions sown earlier are now all growing well and they are now ready for pricking off as soon as we get some warmer days. If you are using sets they can be planted at the first decent dry day onto well prepared and enriched soil.
Rhubarb ready to pick
As cooler weather limits what I can put outdoors for hardening off the greenhouse is getting very cramped, but I am lucky with having a lot of good windowsill space so my tomatoes are still indoors but needing pricked out into cellular trays. Later they will go into pots and get transferred to the greenhouse as the cooler atmosphere and better light will keep them sturdy.
The cool moist weather is just perfect for lifting and transplanting snowdrops and aconites in the green as they will get less disturbance, and continue to grow for a few more weeks, before dormancy begins and they die down for the summer.
Transplanting aconites in the green
Rhubarb crowns have had an early start so pull a few fresh shoots as soon as they are a decent size, and at this time of year they will try and run to seed so remove these as soon as possible. Rhubarb is a thirsty plant with its huge leaves and a gross feeder so give a fertiliser dressing then a mulch of well rotted compost to retain moisture throughout the growing season.

Wee jobs to do this week

Keep checking for slugs and snails and put down some pellets where ever you are planting young vulnerable plants such as salads, beans, sweet peas, as the mild winter has not helped to reduce the numbers overwintering, and they will be feeling hungry. Greenhouses with young seedlings and soft cuttings are a magnet as there are so many places to hide underneath pots and boxes.

END

Monday, 27 March 2017

GROW SOMETHING DIFFERENT



GROW SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Grape Brant
Gardening just like technology is moving onwards at a fast pace. The days when we get an allotment to grow healthy food from a cheap packet of seeds are a distant memory. We still do that, but new plants are appearing at a fast pace, either an improvement on standard varieties so they are less prone to pests and diseases, (clubroot resistant cabbage Kilaton) or just a bigger version of normal plants like strawberry (Sweet Colossus), blackcurrant (Big Ben) or potato (Amour.) Every year we plan the garden with normal plants plus something
Aronia Viking
different to create a challenge to our gardening skills and give us an interesting topic of conversation to visitors to our gardens and allotments. Often new ventures one year soon become common place through success. I first tried sweet corn many years ago and was amazed how easy it was to grow this rare crop up north, but now they are almost a normal part of many allotment rotations. Mangetout peas were once a curiosity, but as a tasty and healthy crop to consume they have become quite popular.
Although I continue to try out new plants, so do many other plot holders on the allotment site.
Saskatoon berries
Last year the new crop was sweet potatoes, but it was not very happy with our climate.
Cape Gooseberry can be successful in greenhouses, but can be quite vigorous taking up a lot of space, so try them out on a south facing fence or wall in a sheltered spot. In a good summer they can be brilliant.
Scorzonera and Salsify were two root crops I just had to try out as I was intrigued by their names. They were easy to grow, and tasty on the plate, but a lot of work in preparation for cooking for such a small return. The same applied to kohlrabi as it does not have size on its side.
Our site will now have a Kiwi on trial, so I hope it has better success than my Goji which was very rampant for about four years then got wiped out as phytophthora fungus spread through my soil before I could see my first berry.
Fig Brown Turkey
Grapes growing outdoors are my latest venture into the exotics with some success but need a decent summer and autumn to ripen up the fruit and increase the sugar content. Both Rondo and Phoenix show a lot of promise, and Regent is also good but with smaller grapes. I want to try Siegerrebe outdoors, though it can be troubled by wasps as they know the grapes are very sweet.
Figs are another success, and I am very surprised they are not widely grown as they have been very successful year after year growing against a south facing wall on my allotment site. However I started them off by the book which indicated you plant them in a deep slab lined pit with a lot of drainage and only just enough good top soil to get them started. The roots will soon escape into the soil, but the initial restriction curtails excessive vigour and encourages fruiting.
Peach Peregrine
Cherries on the new dwarfing rootstock Gisela 5 is suitable for garden culture and saskatoons and chokeberries are some of the newer kids on the block for those into healthy black berries. If you can spare the space in the greenhouse, or have a very warm windowsill try the pepper variety the Carolina Reaper. The challenge is in the growing as it really needs a hot climate, but once you get the fruit what do you do with the hottest pepper on the planet where it has to be handled with protective gloves. This is not one to add to a summer salad dish, but there is plenty information around to keep you safe and enjoy its merits, and scientists are finding beneficial effects to sufferers of osteoarthritis. It will certainly be a great topic for conversation.


Wee jobs to do this week
Planting broad beans

This could be a long week as there are a hundred wee jobs all needing attention. Broad beans and sweet peas sown last month are now needing hardened off so they can be planted on the next warm day. Onions and leeks from seed as well as tomatoes are all needing pricked out, and it is time to sow cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, kale and any amount of salads. Then in spare moments take cuttings of early chrysanthemums and dahlias if they are big enough. Geraniums grown from cuttings last autumn have now been potted into their final pots.
END

Monday, 20 March 2017

GRAFTING APPLE AND PEAR TREES



GRAFTING APPLE AND PEAR TREES

As the world moves on into an age of high technology, change and progress are happening at all levels. There is no excuse now not to buy an apple tree as I don’t have a big garden. Breeders and scientists have produced trees to suit both commercial orchards as well as the enthusiastic gardener with small gardens. The step over apple tree grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock grows only a few feet tall but is kept small with summer pruning. Another dwarf tree is the single stemmed Starline apple (Firedance is a great variety) kept narrow and columnar also by summer pruning all side shoots to a couple of buds. Other apples for small gardens come as cordons, espaliers, fans or dwarf bushes all grown on dwarfing rootstocks.
John picks Red Devil apples
However you still have to sort out a good variety that is disease resistant, easy to grow and has good flavour, but to complicate matters you want an early variety to start picking ripe fruit at the end of August, continue for a few more months on the tree then in store for a few more months.
Cutting a scion for grafting
Over the years I have grown many varieties so now I can pick from end of August with those in storage taking me through winter. My first apple of the season started with the heritage variety the Oslin also known as the Arbroath Pippin, then my early Discovery takes over for a few more weeks. Maincrop Red Devil, and Red Falstaff keep me in apples into winter then finally it was the end of February before my last Fiesta reached the plate though the cooker Bramley lasted till March.
My garden my be bigger than your average, and I have four trees, but to get my wide range of varieties one large tree is a family
Scion inserted into prepared branch
tree with at least six different varieties grown on it, and every time some-one shows me a must have variety, I get some young shoots and graft it onto my tree.
My pear tree has undergone the same treatment and now has Comice, Conference, The Christie, Beurre Hardy and soon Concorde will be added to it.
In my early youth I was shown how to graft while working at the Scottish Crop Research Institute which had a museum collection of apples from all over the world to try and find varieties suited to Scottish conditions so grafting was a common practise. It sounded very technical and difficult, but is surprisingly easy and it is a wonderful feeling when you check up in early summer and find all the grafts
Grafted shoot tied and sealed with grafting wax
have taken and are pushing up strong growth.
Today the technique is shown on many Youtube videos, and you do not need many tools other than a very sharp knife, a pair of loppers or a saw and a wee tub of wound sealer or grafting wax which can be applied cold.
In winter I collect strong one year old shoots of a good variety which I want to add onto my tree and heel them into a shaded cool spot in the garden. In spring once trees begin to grow the sap starts rising and acts like a lubricant helping the bark to separate from the stem to allow our graft to be easily inserted and the sap will bring the two together. The tree is prepared by selecting a branch to be grafted and cutting it down to allow space for a new shoot to grow. If this branch cut is about one inch across it will take one graft, but if you are doing a larger branch say four inches across it will take three grafts. Take the graftwood (also known as scions) and clean any soil from it. Now make a two inch long cut going right through the stem near the bottom of the shoot
Grafts begin to grow
between two dormant buds with one bud opposite the sloping cut. Trim this scion to about three or four buds. It is now ready. Make a downward cut about two inches long at the top of the prepared branch and gently flick open the bark slightly. This will allow the short scion to be inserted with the flat cut against the inside. Commercially this is now tied tight with grafting tape, but I don’t have any so I cut up strips from some polythene bags and they do the same job just fine. Now seal up any exposed cut surfaces with some wound sealant or grafting wax. If you are doing a few varieties tie a label on them so you know what they are, then await warmer weather for the new shoots to grow.
Paul Barnett from Sussex has grafted over 250 varieties on one tree over the last 24 years.

Wee jobs to do this week
Mixed pansies

Check over pots, tubs and hanging baskets planted last autumn with spring flowering pansies and primroses and replace any that have died in winter. There are now plenty in flower available now in most garden centres.

END

Monday, 13 March 2017

TIME FOR TOMATOES



TIME FOR TOMATOES


Tomato growing has always been one of the gardening challenges with great rewards when you pick that first fruit fully ripened on the bush, and then followed by loads more as the season progresses. Summer salads would never be complete without some home grown tomatoes.
Beefsteak tomato
At this time of year they are available in the supermarkets, but you struggle very hard to find a ripe one with some flavour, though we did find a small red cherry one on the vine, to go with our salads with lettuce leaves and spring onions fresh from the greenhouse. They had been sown last autumn to utilise the greenhouse borders over the winter months.
Early March is soon enough to sow the seed as I germinate mine at home on a warm windowsill growing them on a few weeks before they go into my cold greenhouse. If any frost or cold nights threaten them I have an electric heater to keep them protected over night.
Alicante tomato
Sow them thinly in shallow trays in seed compost and keep them warm for germination. They are generally very easy to grow so germination is usually good. Prick them out into individual small pots once they have made strong seed leaves and only handle them by the leaves, (not the stem)
As my windowsill space is limited I keep them as long as possible in small pots, but soon they will need a bigger pot and transferred to the greenhouse. Keep them growing in the pots until the first trusses show, then they are ready for their permanent position.
Tomato Ilde
There are several options to consider. Do you use large pots, ring culture, grow bags, straw bales (very popular fifty years ago) or border soil. I have tried all methods and while grow bags make life simple, it is growing in fertile border soil that has given my tomatoes the greatest flavour. This used to be the traditional method (many years ago) but commercially the soil was sterilised every winter with steam injection or chemically with chloropicrin. My fertile border soil has been composted and dug every year and I got three years of great crops, but as I have no means of sterilising the soil, last year my crop  Anyway I will try the border again this year, but then go back to growbags in 2018. The border will have some fertiliser added then the tomatoes planted about 18 inches apart. Once they get established and the first trusses start to flower begin to feed the plants with a tomato feed every week.
Ring culture tomatoes
suffered from verticillium wilt. So this year I take no risk, so the whole border got dug out a foot deep and replaced with healthy fertile garden soil with added compost. Who needs to go to the gym for exercise when you can grow a tomato crop.
Tomatoes grow on a single stemmed cordon that needs a strong support especially when full of ripening fruit. I use six foot lengths of polypropylene binder twine hung from roof wire supports and tied to the bottom of the tomato plants which are then twisted around the twine as they grow.
Remove all sideshoots so the plant can use its energy for fruiting. Remove the growing point after six to eight trusses or more if you get a glorious summer as tomatoes love the heat.
There are plenty of varieties and different types to try out from normal fruits such as Shirley or Alicante, cherry types such as Sweet Million and Sungold, beef stake types, plum types and a good one for hanging baskets or tubs is Tumbler.
Let the fruit fully ripen before picking and if you get more tomatoes than you can handle they will make an excellent soup, or they can be frozen for future use.

Wee jobs to do this week

Sampling first strawberry in May
There is nothing to beat picking that first strawberry in early summer. Our target date was first week in June in my youth when Red Gauntlet was favourite down in Sussex. Today we have so many new varieties to choose from that you can try a few and see which ones suit your location and conditions best. However, to bring on them on a fortnight earlier cover a row with a low polythene tunnel held up with metal hoops. Last year I picked my first berries on 22 May, but with the mild winter we are running ahead so could be even earlier this year. Fingers crossed!!!

END

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

ORCHIDS



ORCHIDS

Orchids once held the reputation of being expensive to buy and difficult to grow as these exotics were not native to our climate. Plant collectors and breeders have now introduced us to a massive array of orchids that most folk can try out with varying degrees of success. I have grown these both for the impact of large beautiful flowers, but also as a subject for numerous orchid paintings. Many of my art class students also like to paint these exotic flowers from their own plants. John has many orchid paintings available for sale from his studio with details on his website www.johnstoa.com
Cattleya orchid
Habitat
There are many types of orchid native to Scotland, though these grow in the ground preferring damp areas and banks just above boggy ground so the roots are not in standing water. These types are known as terrestrial but the common ones we see flowering in garden centres are mostly epiphytic in origin coming from rain forests in tropical environments.
Pink phalaenopsis
These cling to tree trunks and branches where there is high humidity. They roots hold the plant in place and aerial roots which hang below the plant and absorb moisture from the air. They do not draw on their host plant for nutrients but rain with atmospheric nitrogen washes nutrients down in bird droppings, and small amounts of leafmould produced by natural falling leaves.
Culture
Phalaenopsis are usually quite reliable and very rewarding with repeat flowering every year from autumn through winter. They will come in pots with ample holes for drainage and planted in special orchid compost. This is often a mixture of bark chips, coarse graded peat, charcoal to keep the mixture sweet, nutrients and trace elements. Repot in spring after two to four years as growth commences. Once flowering is over allow the plant some dormancy. Keep it in a cooler spot with good light but not in full sun, and water less often, but do not let it dry out. Do not feed at this stage or repot. Never leave the plant in standing water as they all require free draining compost.
Phalaenopsis orchid
Orchids are not heavy feeders so just give them an orchid feed once every two to four weeks.
Propagation
Orchids sometimes produce basal offshoots that can be separated for growing on once they have produced their own roots. Others can produce many pseudobulbs, or swollen stems which can be split up and repotted. Before potting up, remove any broken, diseased or dead roots, and make sure there is plenty of drainage in the bottom of the pot before adding orchid compost. Repot into the nearest size for the plant as they prefer to be rootbound before they settle down to flower. Do not put the aerial roots into the pot when potting.
Phalaenopsis are now a very popular pot plant and one of the easiest orchids to grow with long racemes of large flowers lasting for many months. They are fine on a sunny windowsill in Scotland from autumn till spring, but then give them a more shady position for summer.
Cymbidium Ormoulu
Cymbidiums  flower in autumn to spring producing many spikes with up to twenty flowers each lasting for months. The plants can grow quite large and are happy in a cool room.
Paphiopedilums grow from rhizomes just below ground level and produce medium sized flower stems with just one or a few flowers. They like to be kept lightly shaded. Propagate by division in spring and repot every second year in the smallest pot available.
Cattleyas are very flamboyant with large colourful flowers which are often highly perfumed.

Wee jobs to do this week
John carving the pumpkin in March

Pumpkins in storage need checking, but can keep till end of March in a good year. We still have three left so this one getting cut up for the pot is still in a perfect condition at the end of February.
Anna will roast some of these slices with nutmeg, honey and butter for tonight’s supper. The rest will get roasted, and then skin removed before bagging up for the freezer. Later on they will be used for soup, risotto, pumpkin pie and as a vegetable with a bit of seasoning. Even with young grandchildren visiting there’s just no chance these will end up as lanterns.

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Monday, 27 February 2017

CROP ROTATION



CROP ROTATION

As daylight begins to lengthen and the sun’s warmth begins to get noticed we look for some excuse to make a start to our gardening year. We have had plenty time to look at catalogues and visit garden centres and choose which crops to grow for 2017, so with seeds in hand and potatoes getting chitted we can relax on an evening and plan where everything is going. We have heard of crop rotation, but for some it is still a bit of a mystery.
Anna picks runner bean Enorma
We do it to grow crops on fresh soil away from last year’s crops that may have been infected by disease so hopefully we might just avoid reinfection. The main fungal diseases to avoid include clubroot on brassicas, white rot on onions and blackleg on potatoes. However other factors crop up as some crops such as pumpkins, are gross feeders so need to go on land that was heavily manured during the winter digging. Other crops such as parsnips, carrots and turnips prefer fertile soil that got no compost in winter otherwise you end up with forked roots. Salads like fertile soil so they can grow fast as they are often used as a catch crop or an intercrop, (more later). Then of course, different crops like varying degrees of acidity or alkalinity. Potatoes prefer an acidic soil otherwise scab could be a problem. All the brassicas prefer an alkaline soil with a high pH as this reflects their natural
Pumpkin just planted
environment as many grew wild on chalk soils. This also discourages clubroot disease which can be a real problem. It may all sound complicated, but it is really good garden practice.
It is a good idea to draw up a plan of your garden to scale and include paths, sheds and compost heap. You can then work out where crops are to go well in advance of sowing.
My rotation plans show where last years potatoes were grown, and this is where I start, as this area gets limed for the next crop of cabbages, sprouts, Swedes, kale and cauliflower. The land that grew these brassicas last year will now get the gross feeders such as peas, beans, pumpkins, courgettes and sweet corn. Last years land that grew the gross feeders will now become the root crop area plus salads. On a four year
Turnip Purple Top Milan
rotation the potatoes can follow the salads and roots, but they need a good feed. To get maximum yield the potato patch gets composted during the winter digging, then at planting time I like to take out a furrow and line the bottom with more compost into which I plant my chatted seed potatoes.
If you grow strawberries on the same site and replace these every three years bring this area into the rotation and replant fresh strawberries as part of the rotation. They won’t be affected by clubroot or white rot.
Intercrops
Salads are short term fast growing crops so are very adaptable to use as an intercrop between other slower growing crops with wide spaced rows such as Brussels sprouts or sweet corn, or even on the sides of your celery trench before they need earthing up. Lettuce as pick and come again, rocket, radish and baby beet can all be used as an intercrop to get the maximum value off the land.
Salad catch crop
Catch Crops
The same salads can also be used as catch crops where less hardy vegetables such as courgettes, pumpkins and sweet corn don’t get planted till early summer leaving the land free for a quick maturing catch crop from an early sowing. Similarly catch crops can be used after an early harvested crop such as early potatoes, onions or first early peas. There is usually time to get in another crop before winter, and if you grow winter hardy lettuce, spring onion and rocket they can continue to crop well into winter especially while winters continue to be mild.
If you have enough salads any spare land can be sown with a green manure crop in early spring and autumn to help improve the soil fertility.

Wee jobs to do this week
Tying in shoots of climbing Rose Gertrude Jekyll

Tie in climbing roses after pruning or any affected by recent gales, otherwise wind rock can damage next year’s flowering stems.

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