Sunday, 26 August 2012

Reap what you sow


The allotment is now providing fresh fruit and vegetables for the table for immediate consumption as well as stocking up the freezer, and cut flower for the home. We grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables, but in smaller amounts using successions of sowings so we can eat very healthily right through the summer.

Summer vegetables
A little bit of warmth and plenty moisture has brought out the best of some vegetables. Cabbage, kale, turnips and salads have just loved this weather. Early sown beetroot was held back by the cool weather, but those sown a couple of months later got away to a good start and are now just as big as the earlier ones.
Lettuce has been perfect and I have now sown my fourth row to give us succession of cropping. Other salads are also going in where ever I can find space, such as in between my strawberry rows as this crop is finished and the old leaves have been mown down and removed together with the straw. I dig over the middle of the row about 15 inches wide and get a quick crop in before the new foliage needs the space.
I am sowing a row of Pak Choi, the Chinese cabbage which is very high in vitamin A and C. It can be used as a stir fry leaf, and is ready in a few weeks if you just use the leaves or a few months if you leave it to heart up.

Soft fruit
Blackcurrants are now harvested so the bushes can be pruned. I remove any low growing branches round the outside cutting back to the nearest fresh young shoot which will fruit next year.
Early bramble Helen is also harvested and most of the berries in the freezer.
Autumn raspberries are very late and only just starting to crop.
Gooseberries have had a great year with our best yield ever, but really needed more sun to sweeten up the fruit. We eat what we can and freeze the rest. Some will go into summer fruit compote, some will be stewed and some will give me a few demijohns of wine.
Blueberries are now cropping with a decent crop of good sized berries, but all well netted to protect them from the birds.
Cherry Cherokee gave a decent first crop, but there was a lot of split fruit which I will blame on the bad weather.
Saskatoons were later than previous years, but still yielded a good crop of berries. They are getting quite tall so some pruning to reduce height will be done once the nets have been removed.

Glasshouse crops
Tomatoes have only just started to ripen up, and two plants were so poor I removed them and replaced them with some large cape gooseberries which were getting too big for the windowsill.
Black Hamburg and Perlette grapes are looking good, (but not Flame) though very slow to ripen.
I now remove all new growths and any unhealthy looking leaves to allow good air circulation and sunlight to penetrate the canopy to ripen up the bunches of grapes.

Dead heading is needed on poppies, geraniums, fuchsias, delphiniums, roses and any other flowers which may go to seed. Collect seed heads for sowing from poppies. Iceland poppies were sown a few weeks ago and have now germinated. These will produce plants to flower next spring.
Wallflower seed was sown in between my rows of sweet corn which were not growing strongly so there was ample room. They have now been transplanted into nursery rows to grow on ready for final planting in October.
Forget me nots, pansy and polyanthus were all sown several weeks ago and have now been transplanted into cellular trays to grow on for planting in tubs and baskets for flowering next spring.
Roses were poor on the first flush, but came back very strong for the second flush.
E H Morse, my best scented red rose has been outstanding.

Plant of the week

Phalaenopsis comes in a range of colours and is one of the easiest orchids to grow. Our white phalaenopsis lives in the bathroom so gets a warm moist atmosphere with dappled sunlight. It may get repotted with orchid compost every three or four years as it tends to grow out of its pot and may fall over. It never fails to flower in mid to late summer. They are available in numerous garden centres and florist shops, but although quite common, they reward you with a glorious display of flowers which can last for several weeks.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Garden bees


Not many people realise the crucial role that bees play in the production of our food and flower crops. The vegetables we grow from seed in wee packets is only possible because the crop was propagated from a flowering plant that needed to be pollinated by bees to fertilise the seed so they would be viable. Apples, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries and most other fruit whether grown in UK or abroad still needs bees to pollinate the flowers so the fruit can set. Those brilliant fields of golden rape seed need a lot of flying insects to pollinate the crop to ensure a good harvest.
Some crops such as sweet corn is a grass type plant that is wind pollinated, and many trees are wind pollinated, but most of our food crops and flowering plants need ample bees and other flying insects to pollinate the crop.
Bees have been in the news a lot in recent years as their numbers of some species are in serious decline. Bee keepers in the business of producing honey have seen massive losses of bee populations, and scientific studies on a global scale all report declining numbers of bees.
A lot of the problems have been due to virus disease spread by the Varroa mite infecting the bees as well as the Nosema fungus, but other factors such as loss of natural habitat and agricultural crop spray programmes have not helped.
In the past there was a lot of really toxic chemicals such as the organophosphorus, parathion and malathion and the organochlorines such as DDT used for crop protection. These were excellent for killing pests, but were not specific and had a devastating effect on bees and other wildlife.
Most of these chemicals have now been withdrawn, but debate is still ongoing with existing pesticides still in use by farmers and growers. Seeds are often treated with chemicals before sowing and this can have a devastating effect on bee populations.
It is hard to strike the balance between the need to produce sufficient food crops to feed the world and protect vulnerable wildlife. If the bee numbers decline so will food crops which depend on pollination.
Bees, just like humans need a varied diet. However, it seems it should not be too complicated as they derive their protein and nutrients from pollen and their carbohydrate from nectar. This is complicated by the fact that pollen and nectar vary from plant to plant, and whereas we are encouraged to eat at least five or more fruit and vegetables a day, the bees also need a varied diet. In the past there was a huge variety of wild flowers rich in different types of nectar and pollen, but farmers have cleaned up the land and field boundaries and killed off most of these wild flowers, and urban expansion has also eliminated areas of weeds (wild flowers). Roadside verges have also been mown too frequently in the past, though economics is reversing this trend, and new verges and motorway embankments are now deliberately being sown with wild flower mixtures.
A bee’s life is not easy in a world dominated by humans, though our future depends on their good health.

A garden for bees

It helps bees if we can provide a wide range of flowers that they can use for pollen and nectar collecting. I am aware that the Berberis darwinii flowering in late April is a magnet for bees which then find my plum trees which need pollinating. Even in this cold year my peach was very late in flowering but then it was in bloom when there was a few bees around, so they helped me with the pollinating, which is normally done with my sable brush.
Apples, plums and pears all need pollinating so bees need to be encouraged into the garden. Poppies, lavender, heathers, pyracantha, fuchsias and numerous other plants all attract bees. Unfortunately a neighbour’s unkempt garden full of weeds including willowherb, nettles, dandelions, dockens and ragwort, may not be very attractive, but the bees just love these wild flowers, and probably prefer the garden where nature has taken over. You can buy wild flower seed mixtures to add into alpine meadows, pastures and hedgerows or other wild garden areas.
These just need simple management so the seeds don’t become a nuisance to neighbours.

Plant of the week

Scented Trumpet lilies produce huge colourful flowers in mid summer and a very heady perfume making them perfect plants around the patio. They like well drained deep soil with plenty humus added before planting. They do not mind a dry stony soil so long as they can get their roots deep down to seek out moisture. They can grow up to six feet tall so need staking, and be careful when getting close to them as the stamens are rich in pollen and this can stain clothes.
They are best propagated by retaining the seed pods and sowing the seed in late winter in a cold frame. Germination is usually fairly good and the plants only need two or three years to reach flowering size.


Monday, 13 August 2012



Back in the mists of time, all the local kids went berry picking in summer as farmers grew raspberries and strawberries outdoors. We always brought back whatever spare fruit we could carry, so mother could make some jam. This delicious product was food, so it went on your piece quite thick. Although it was very high in sugar, we were very active outdoor kids surrounded with woods to explore and the Sidlaw Hills, only just over one hour’s walk away, so you soon burned off any additional calories. However, life moves on and everything changes. Computers are now many  kids pastime of choice, outdoor activities are limited by weather, health and safety, availability of cars for travel, and now we can all afford cakes and biscuits, so bread and jam is no longer a staple food. We are also a wealthier nation so very few locals go berry picking, leaving the harvest, now under tunnels, to East European immigrants.
Home made jam is now a special treat brought out to impress and delight guests with tastes and flavours of summer. As kids we just enjoyed the taste of fresh berries picked from the bush and eaten immediately. We had no idea that these were packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and would ensure good health. Today there is such a wide variety of fruit available to grow that you can eat a very healthy diet of fresh fruit from the first strawberries at the end of May till the last greenhouse grapes in December, all from your own garden.

Harvesting the soft fruit

Early strawberries were a disaster as botrytis rotted most of the fruit, but Rhapsody and Symphony being a bit later in fruiting missed the worst of the rain, so I got nearly 50% of the crop.
My summer raspberries are only recently planted, but the crop is being swamped by very vigorous growth from new canes. Autumn Bliss is very late so only time will tell if we get a crop this year.
Red currants, blackcurrants, saskatoons, blueberries and gooseberries are all giving huge crops, and if we get a late summer my figs will produce a bumper crop as it is really loaded with good sized figs. Bramble Helen has started to crop and looks excellent and my outdoor cherry Cherokee has a small but very tasty crop of cherries. The dwarf cherry trees are well netted from birds.

Using and preserving berries

Although we eat our berries fresh throughout the summer at breakfast, lunch and supper time almost every day, and consume a fair bit while picking them, there is always ample left over for freezing and preserves. We can eat all our cherries and figs as they ripen, but most other fruit get preserved as jam, compotes, summer puddings, muffins or fermented to stock up my wine cellar.
Summer is jam making time. In my youth before freezers were invented, I would make about 100 jars of jam and store them in a cool place over winter. I could easily eat 2lbs of jam a week.
However, today, jam is now made with fruit from the freezer as required, and I eat a bit less.
Anna has been busy making some blackcurrant, saskatoon and strawberry jam as well as apricot from dried fruit, and a particularly good mix of rhubarb, fig and prune.
As the crops come in and our four freezers fill up, I will have to start my wine making season to make room in the freezers for more berries. This will be the first year I will make gooseberry wine, but we have had very heavy crops, so nothing gets wasted. Gooseberries are also brilliant when slightly stewed and sweetened and used in muesli at breakfast or in Greek yoghurt and a spoonful of honey for lunch.
All of the summer berries make excellent compote used all year round and summer puddings. Compote is invaluable with muesli, yoghurt and puddings.
Our blackcurrant crop is so heavy that we will be trying some as a health drink high in vitamin C and antioxidants. This can be stored in plastic bottles in the freezer. We are also looking forward to trying the blackcurrant Liqueur De Cassis, which hopefully will be ready for Christmas.

Plant of the week

Tuberous Begonias are extremely reliable, and even in these wet sunless summers they still cover themselves in masses of bright flowers. They are perfect for mass planting in beds or individually as specimens in a large tub. Give them good soil, a wee bit fertiliser and don’t let them dry out in a normal summer. Tubers are not cheap, but they last a lifetime and will slowly multiply, as they can be divided in spring, (cut the tuber with a sharp knife) once you can see where the young shoots are.
Painting of the month

Summer Roses is a figure study in oil on canvas painted for my exhibition at Dundee Botanical Gardens at the beginning of October when I will be showing images of the Artist’s model. Although I paint flowers, landscapes and snow scenes, it is figurative painting that gives the greatest challenge, as there is little scope for error trying to combine the beauty of the female form as well as creating an attractive painting using colour, form, tone and line.


Monday, 6 August 2012

A Crazy Summer


This is supposed to be holiday time, when we relax at home on the sunny patio with a cool beer or take a trip to sunnier climates leaving our worries behind. This year has been different.  The sun lounger is going rusty from lack of use. It has been very hard to catch up with outdoor work, as the rain has been a constant pain in the arm. Lack of warmth and sunshine don’t help.
Weed control with glyphosate has been difficult as you really need a couple of dry days after spraying to allow the foliage to absorb the chemical. Weed control by hoeing is a waste of time this year, as it just transplants the weeds, so they have been allowed to grow a bit bigger so we can hand weed them.
Crops that need sun, e.g. sweet corn, pumpkins, courgettes, French beans, Cape gooseberries are proper miserable. However green plants such as lettuce, cabbage, broad beans and turnips have never been better, and my opium poppies are bursting with flowers.

Allotment vegetables
Spring cabbage April has been brilliant, but now they are finished the ground was raked over, fertilised and a late crop of broad beans planted in their place. These were sown in mid June, then potted up and are now about nine inches tall.
Summer cabbage Golden Acre is now just about ready for cutting. No sign of clubroot as my rotation has been good and nets keep most of the cabbage white butterfly and pigeons off the plants. Rootfly has been prevented with nine inch square covers made from carpet underlay and placed around the plants at planting.
Turnip Purple Top Milan and Golden Ball seem to like the wet climate and are now ready.
I harvested a great crop of Amsterdam Forcing carrots, sown first week in May and protected from carrot fly with fleece. Some of these will be used within the next fortnight and the remainder will go in the freezer. Growth under the fleece was great even though our resident allotment black cat frequently used it as his hammock bed.
Courgettes are really struggling to grow, with some fruit just rotting and others eaten by the mice.
Pumpkins and sweet corn are standing still waiting on summer weather. We all know that feeling.

Greenhouse tomatoes are now growing, but most lost the first two trusses as the tomatoes just fell off in the cold sunless climate. Third trusses are fine, so instead of stopping them after four or five trusses I will keep them growing till the sixth or seventh truss.
Flame, my red seedless grape has totally failed to produce any grapes this year, but Perlette my white seedless grape is heavy with huge bunches of good grapes. Black Hamburg is always reliable, though excessive growth has had to be kept under control. It does not need too much foliage.

Fruit crops
Strawberries have not done well in this wet climate, suffering botrytis rot which took out about 70% of my crop. The remainder are not sweet and do not keep more than one day.
Raspberries are small and not very sweet. I think I have Glen Rosa, though they were purchased from Dobbies labelled as Glen Ample, which they definitely are not. However as I never retained my receipt they would not entertain my complaint.
Black and redcurrants, gooseberries and saskatoons are looking great and picking is well underway.
Autumn Bliss rasps and an excellent crop of figs both need sunshine to ripen them up.

City Road Allotments Open Day
Come along on Sunday 5th August to our allotments when we open our doors to the public to check out allotment life and see the rewards of hard work, enthusiasm, and getting close to nature.
Sample our produce from our sales stalls with fresh vegetables, flowering plants, jams and tablet and pop into our cafe for a coffee or tea and some home baking.
I will be showing some of my allotment paintings and Saskatoon plants and berries.
We are open from 10.30am to 2pm. And there is plenty of free parking on City Road.

Plant of the week

Opium Poppy is widely available as seed from most garden centres as a very colourful garden poppy.
Botanically it is Papaver somniferum and there are many variations of colour with flowers both single, double and pompom shaped. My colony started as a colourful bright pink chance seedling, which seeded itself and now flowers every year, even in these wet cold summers.
It has a history going back over thousands of years due to its high level of opiate compounds contained in the seeds, seedpods from the milky latex sap. Although it has been misused as the opium gets converted to heroin, drunk as tea, or smoked, it is also very important as a source of other drugs including codeine and morphine. Opium poppies are now grown in England commercially for drug companies to address the shortage of morphine.
Recent research has also found noscapine, a cancer fighting agent, which is giving hope in the fight against breast and prostate cancers. Trials on animals and human cancer cells suggest it may shrink the cancer cells and help to stop the spread of cancer throughout the body.


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Saskatoon Fruit Growing


Saskatoon fruit grows on the Amelanchier alnifolia bush, a member of the rose family, which grows wild in North West America and Canada from New Mexico to Alaska. Over time superior fruit has been selected to produce bigger and better fruiting varieties which are now very commercial. The industry is growing very fast to meet demand for this fruit, which is very high in nutrients and antioxidants.
They look similar to Blueberries, but have a different, sweeter flavour and are much easier to grow.

History of the Saskatoon
Native American Indians have been using the fruit for hundreds of years, eating it fresh, using it in soups and cakes, and mixing it with dried grated buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican. This is dried and stored for use throughout winter. Settlers in America soon realised the value of this fruit and started to gather it from the wild, then selecting the best bushes to cultivate.
The Saskatoon bush was also used medicinally for numerous ailments, the leaves were brewed for tea and the wood used for arrows, basket making and in the construction of canoes.
Saskatoons were growing prolifically along the banks of the Saskatchewan River and when the town grew up at this location it was named Saskatoon after the anglicized version of the Cree name, Mis-sask-a-too-mina for the fruit.
At present demand for the fruit far exceeds supply and it is estimated that soon over 4000 hectares will be under cultivation. Harvesting is done by machine, hand pickers and nearly half the crop by pick your own, as people love a day in the country picking native fruit.
The first variety, Success appeared in 1878, but it was not until 1952 that the first selections produced the superior varieties Smoky and Pembina. Smoky was the main variety used in the first orchards established about forty years ago. However with micropropagation techniques other varieties including Thiessen (this one has the largest fruit size), Northline, Martin and Honeywood were mass planted.

Nutritional value and use
The fruit is high in iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium and very high in anthocyanins. These antioxidants may help prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer, cataracts and other chronic illnesses associated with ageing.
They can be eaten fresh during the picking season of nearly one month and used in jams, jellies, compote, pie fillings, yoghurt, smoothies and wine. They make excellent fruit compote mixed with other soft fruit or rhubarb and used with breakfast cereals, dessert or a topping or filling with sponge cake. The berries freeze well for future use.
The bushes are quite dense with a strong root system, making them perfect for landscape planting in shelterbelts, hedges, urban and edible landscapes and on slopes viable to soil erosion. They are very attractive in May when they are covered in white flowers and are beneficial for bees, birds and other wildlife. Many varieties of Amelanchier have excellent autumn colour.

Saskatoons tolerate a wide range of soils from acidic to those with a high pH, clay, sandy, loams and peat provided drainage is reasonable. They are very hardy down to -50 centigrade, (they grow in Alaska), though a late frost or severe wind can affect young foliage and flowers. I have not experienced any severe Scottish weather that affects mature bushes, but have had some damage on young plants in the May gales last year.
For garden cultivations plant single bushes about 6 to 8 feet apart, or 3 feet apart for hedgerows.
Without pruning they could reach about 15 feet. They do not need pruning for fruit production, but do need height management for picking. Cut out a few tall shoots right down to ground level in winter. These will regenerate with fresh new shoots which keeps the bush young and wont need pruning for another five years.
They will produce 6 to 10 lbs fruit per mature bush from the middle of July to early August.
Young bushes start cropping about three years old and continue for over thirty years.
Birds just love the fruit so they will need netting or grown in a fruit cage.
Visitors are very welcome to inspect and sample a few berries from my crop of bushes, now 7 years old at the City Road Allotment site Open day on Sunday 5th August from 10.30am to 2pm.

Plant of the week

Lavatera is grown in gardens both as an annual and a permanent perennial. Both types prefer poor dry soil and full sun for prolific flowering. The pink and white flowers can be very bold.
Perennial Lavatera should be pruned in late winter quite hard and it will still grow up to six foot tall.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Bush roses


Last week we were looking at large shrub roses and this week we shall look at bush roses.
I have been in love with roses from childhood. A garden with a rose bush was very special as they were quite expensive to buy when wages were still quite low as work study and bonus had not been invented. As a young apprentice gardener I had managed to get a few bushes of what was popular at that time, i.e. Peace, Ena Harkness, Queen Elizabeth and the new vermilion rose Super Star. However rose breeders were bringing out numerous new varieties every year so I had to stretch my budget a wee bit further. My council house garden in St. Mary’s was big enough for a fair few, but as apprentice gardener wages were quite meagre I decided to buy 100 rose rootstocks and bud my own. I got over 70 bushes, which for a first effort at budding was quite good. I had not yet had any training in budding, but had a very good book with pictures. However I had to source my stock of buds for new varieties from a wide source of locations around Dundee and beyond. Enough said!!!
The Rose Bed
I now always have a rose bed or border in my garden, and try out new varieties as space allows.
I do not separate my hybrid teas from my floribundas as there is great merit in both types.
Over the years you always find favourites that you stick with. In the past, breeders wanted the best colours and a perfect hybrid tea shape but now we have plenty of these so demand is for a return to scented roses and healthy disease resisting foliage.

Pests and diseases
However many of our favourites were a wee bit susceptible to blackspot, mildew and rust so breeders have been trying to introduce vigour, strength and disease resistance into their new varieties. Not an easy task as the blackspot fungus continually mutates to form resistance to chemicals, and our wet weather has not helped to keep diseases down. There are suitable chemicals for rose pests and disease control, but you need to spray regularly and your time and chemicals are wasted if the rain washes the chemical off not long after spraying.
I no longer tolerate diseased roses, so unfortunately many of my favourites have been dug up and dumped. I had always liked Blue Moon, but it had to go, and my best scented white Margaret Merrill is only just hanging on. Iceberg is also a good white but has little scent and needs a sunny year to get the best from its flowers.

My rose favourites
E.H. Morse has always been my best red as it is large, has a great shape, good scent and is quite disease resistant. National Trust is the perfect red rose but with no scent it is not top of my list. Fragrant Cloud, Alec’s Red and Ingrid Bergman have all got shape, intense colour and strong fragrance. Evelyn Fison is an old but very reliable red floribunda.

Dearest is top of my pink floribunda list, but Rose Gaujard, a very old variety, is also very attractive though it does not produce a lot of flowers. Congratulations and Blessings are both excellent pinks and Wendy Cussons, a deep cherry red is strong, disease free and has a strong fragrance.
Piccadilly is the most popular red and yellow bicolour, and often my first rose to bloom. Foliage is shiny and very healthy.
Alexander is now top of my vermillion colour and for a bright orange try, Doris Tysterman or Dawn Chorus. Arthur Bell remains my best yellow floribunda, and Margaret Merrill my best white.

Rose culture
Roses like a well cultivated clay soil rich in organic matter as they are gross feeders, but once well established go easy on fertiliser otherwise they may respond with too much vigour at the expense of flowers. They flower better in a sunny spot that is well drained but retains moisture. An annual mulch of compost is beneficial.
Prune in late winter removing old and weak shoots and shortening others by about half. Do not prune too hard as some varieties do not like it. Roses will still be just fine even if they are never pruned, or as I found out cut evenly to two feet with hand shears.
Watch for pests and diseases and spray as necessary in dry weather in the evening.

Plant of the week

Delphiniums are a very popular summer flowering herbaceous plant with huge spikes of
intense blue flowers. They can grow up to six or more feet tall and as the flower spikes are solid with flowers they need thorough staking. They are easily grown from seed from specialist growers such as Blackmore and Langdon of Bath. They are very reliable coming up every year as long as you keep slugs at bay as they will chew the young shoots.
Handle this plant with care as every part is very poisonous.