Monday, 12 November 2018

SOIL IMPROVEMENTS


SOIL IMPROVEMENTS

As gardeners we do our best to grow top quality plants, whether it is trees, shrubs, roses, herbaceous borders, rock gardens, a beautiful lawn, flowers,
Kyle and Scarlet double digging
fruit and vegetables. Every plant has its own requirements for cultural needs, location, shelter and soil. If you want the perfect lawn, the soil must have excellent drainage, as this benefits the growth of the fine grasses and discourages diseases and moss. The best golf courses are often found on sandy coastal links ground.
Tares green manure
Roses prefer a deep fertile clay soil and rock garden plants need well drained stony soils. Fruit and vegetables grow best on well drained fertile soil, though root crops fare best when the land was well manured for a crop the previous year, otherwise the roots will tend to split.
Allotment gardens are usually a mixture of fruit, vegetables, some flowers to brighten up the plot, a compost heap, a wee shed for tools, storage and shelter, and a greenhouse for the tomatoes, a grapevine and bringing on the young plants from seed. We all have a competitive spirit, so crop size, weight or flower power is very important if we are to keep up with other plot holders. This is where soil fertility comes in as each crop has its own needs. We resolve this issue with crop rotation and dig, manure and use green manures according to crop requirements. Some people use a three year rotation with potatoes and roots followed by brassicas and these to be followed by the heavy feeders of onions, leeks, peas,
Ryegrass green manure
beans, sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins. Rotation is important to keep ahead of diseases, but with so many new crops to try out, a four year rotation may be a better choice. I also incorporate my strawberries into the rotation as these get dug out every three years with new runners planted on new soil. Once you get the rotation organised you will know in advance what crops will receive the most compost (the heavy feeders) those that get a lesser amount (potatoes and brassicas) and those that don’t get any (the rootcrops.) You need this information in late autumn as you start the winter digging incorporating compost as planned. Retain some compost to add to potato furrows as well as extra at planting time for courgettes and pumpkins. I plan to complete digging by Christmas though sometimes weather has a say in matters and some areas may have a winter mix of green manures which can be left till the end of winter. Always leave the soil surface as rough as possible as
Compost heap needs turning
this will expose a large surface area for weathering by winter frosts.
Keeping a good compost heap is essential for adding organic matter to increase soil fertility. I add anything that is of plant origin though it gets chopped up first to help it rot down. Rhubarb leaves, disease free potato haulms, grass clippings, annual weeds, kitchen waste, autumn leaves and wood shreddings from pruned roses and fruit bushes. Having access to cow or horse manure is a bonus.
Some plants such as sweet peas will benefit from taking a foot deep trench out and forking up the bottom adding compost as you proceed. This double digging is also essential for permanent planting of roses, raspberry rows, new trees and other fruit bushes likely to be left for ten or more years.
Liming the brassica patch
The land allocated for brassicas, (cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, kale) is normally given a dusting of lime as all of these plants prefer a higher pH value than most other crops. However it is better to buy in a soil testing kit and test the soil to find out what its pH value is then apply the correct amount of lime. Add the lime towards the end of winter but well in advance of planting.
Green manures sown in late summer onwards or in spring for late planted crops will add a huge benefit of organic matter, added nitrogen and other trace elements and help to break up a stiff soil.

Wee jobs to do this week

Geranium stock plants
As autumn begins to fade and winter weather arrives it is time to remove geraniums from tubs, borders and hanging baskets. Although we have had a few mild winters they seldom survive once the temperatures drop. They can be cut back and potted up with good compost as stock plants and kept in a cool but frost free greenhouse or windowsill. Once they put on some growth the tops can be taken out for cuttings as well as keeping the plants stocky. Then in spring and early summer as the young cuttings begin to grow upwards take out the tops to encourage them to branch and use these tops as another batch of cuttings to increase stock for the summer display.
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Monday, 5 November 2018

SCOTTISH GRAPES


SCOTTISH GRAPES

Most gardeners love a challenge. We do our best to grow a wide range of normal plants to a high standard, but then enjoy trying to grow the rare, the unusual or those deemed to be too exotic for our area, climate and soils. I have taken the challenge up
Sampling the wine
with outdoor peaches, figs, saskatoons and grapes. We like to think that if Scotland can get just a wee
Black Hamburg
bit of this global warming through climate change then those exotic plants normally associated with tropical climates might just grow in our gardens up north. Saskatoons were easy to grow and very soon adapted to our soils giving us excellent crops. Why figs are not more widely grown outdoors in Scotland is a mystery as I have had great success with Brown Turkey provided you gave them good drainage, fertile soil and restricted root growth at an early age. With mild winters becoming more normal the fig is happy to produce numerous ripe fruits for several months in summer. Hardy outdoor peaches are a bigger challenge as the problem of peach leaf curl disease is a huge set back with our colder and wetter climate. It is nice to get four peaches on a tree, but we really would like to get a few more before we consider them
Grapes fermenting
a success.
Brant grapes
2018 was a unique year as global warming stayed with us right throughout summer. The four summer months could not have been sunnier and temperatures were consistently way above our normal, but this came with a severe lack of rainfall. However as long as the hose was in use to keep plants watered all the plants were very happy. I have been growing a range of grape varieties outdoors in my garden and on my allotment to see if some of them could be considered worthwhile. This warm summer was brilliant for the vines giving excellent growth and providing numerous bunches. However the weather in late summer and early autumn was not in their favour. The bushes produced plenty bunches with good sized grapes, but lack of sunshine in autumn held back the conversion of sugars. Over several years many varieties have been tried and some fell by the wayside. Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu just never got the wood ripened enough to produce a
Black Hamburg just picked
worthwhile crop of grapes. Solaris suffered the same fate so I transplanted a vine to the greenhouse and it just loved this protected environment. It is an early variety so was a good match for Siegerrebe, another early variety from Germany which I grow in my greenhouse. Both have a Muscat flavour so they were both picked in early September at the end of a glorious summer. I had enough for a good demijohn of wine and the juice from the crushed grapes had a specific gravity reading of sugars at 1086 which will give me a wine with 11% alcohol.
Solaris in August
Black Hamburg in the greenhouse gave huge grapes and was ready for picking in October. My two outdoor red varieties Regent and Rondo were also picked at the same time. These grow on a south facing fence and are fairly sheltered. However although together they gave enough grapes for three demijohns, the sugar content was a bit lacking with a specific gravity reading of 1070 which would only give about 9% alcohol so some sugar was needed to increase the strength to an acceptable level of  11%. My last grape to be picked was Phoenix giving me about twelve pounds of sweet white grapes, but only suitable for wine due to having too many seeds.
The only dessert grapes suitable for growing up north is Flame, a red seedless variety, and Perlette a white seedless variety. Black Hamburg does make a good dessert grape but needs thinning to increase grape size as it still has a few pips.

Lifting chrysanthemum stools
Wee jobs to do this week

Lift chrysanthemums stools and dahlia tubers for storing, now that
they have finished flowering. Shake some soil off the chrysanthemum stools then box them up into seed trays with fresh compost and keep them moist but not wet over winter. They really need a cool greenhouse or cold frame that is frost free. Cut back stems to about six inches and make sure they are all labelled. With dahlia tubers you need to remove all the soil and dry them off for storing in an airy but frost proof shed and keep them totally dry. Both will produce shoots for cuttings next spring.

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