Tuesday, 25 December 2018

FESTIVE GARDENING


FESTIVE GARDENING            

As Christmas is just a few days away we are more likely to get into relaxation mode rather than try and catch up with all those outstanding gardening tasks. Main problem to solve; will the gooseberry wine, the Saskatoon wine or the redcurrant be
Best wishes for Christmas from John and Anna
best for the Christmas table, and will Santa bring along a couple of bottles of good malt whisky. Anna will need my best sprouts, and this year they are huge, some Swedes, cabbage, kale, leeks and parsnips. We still have plenty beetroot in the ground and so far there hasn’t been any frost to bother them, and after the Christmas meal it is no a bad idea to keep some salad ready for the following days when you need something a wee bit lighter. The three rows of winter lettuce are all ready to use as well as rocket and spring onion.
A few winter vegetables
After a long dry spell in autumn the early winter rains started in mid November and stopped soil cultivations, so the winter digging is running behind schedule, but as a lot of the allotment has a covering of green manure the digging can wait a few more weeks. Areas of cleared crops will get composted and dug over first remembering to allocate compost quantity to heavy feeders, those that just need an organic top up and root crops which get none. It is a great task to keep you warm on a cold and frosty morning. Pruning rose bushes is another task I often keep for an early winter task when I’m keen to get outdoors but the ground
Christmas cactus
may be frozen, and there is always the chance that I may get a couple of blooms at Christmas. Looking ahead the mild winter phenomenon is almost becoming normal, but this year the bets are on for a bad winter to balance out and follow on from the brilliant summer. However at this point in time as my snowdrops begin to flower I am betting on another mild winter. In mid December the weather has turned reasonably mild, the sun is out so I wander around the garden to see if winter is upon us. Some roses are still flowering, pansies and polyanthus in tubs are still colourful, Fuchsia Mrs Popple shows no signs of giving up and my border pinks are still in bloom. The winter weather might restrict outdoor gardening, but there are still a few odd jobs to do in the greenhouse and indoors on the windowsills. In the greenhouse the old tomato plants have now been removed and chopped up for the compost heap. All
Early snowdrops
the grape vines have gone dormant and dropped all their leaves, so these get cleared up. Grape vine pruning will be done in early January both under glass and outdoors.
I had a fair few geraniums lifted from flower borders and potted up to give me a good start next year. These were in my cold greenhouse, but with cold weather now settling in they had to be moved indoors in a cool but sunny windowsill where they will stay till next March. Geraniums grown from cuttings take up less room, but I still keep them cool otherwise they will grow away fast and need potting up and more space.
Impatiens
Impatiens grown from cuttings in jars full of water quickly rooted, then got potted up, and are now happily blooming in a warm room. My Amaryllis bulb dried off in the greenhouse after growing throughout the summer got started into growth again in early November, but I doubt if it will be in flower for Christmas. Fingers crossed. My Christmas cactus is also flowering, but not as good as previous years so next spring I will take the shoots as cuttings and start again from a young plant. Poinsettias are now available from garden centres and stores and are not expensive, but almost essential as festive decorations in the house. However, this year there will be no orchids in bloom over Christmas as my two phalaenopsis are taking a break. They flowered so profusely for almost the whole year so I think they deserve a wee rest.
Patio tables go into storage

Wee jobs to do this week
Bring in outdoor garden furniture made from wood such as tables and chairs. Once they have dried out they can be cleaned and repaired if required, and sometime over the winter give them a coat of varnish to freshen them up.
Sun loungers are usually put into storage in October as it is then too cold for tea on the patio. It will be the end of March or early April before these get dusted off and get back to the patio.

END

Monday, 17 December 2018

RASPBERRIES


RASPBERRIES

Autumn Bliss
My introduction to the humble raspberry was in the early fifties when this eight year old followed a group of young kids from our housing estate to our local raspberry fields, just a ten minute walk away. It was a magical moment when I first tasted
Planting raspberry canes
the fruit, and then when I filled a bucket of berries and handed them over to the farmer I got paid. A few years later, as the young apprentice gardener keen to learn horticultural skills, I purchased a few canes to grow my own raspberries in my garden. It was probably Malling Promise variety, though at that time Lloyd George and Norfolk Giant were also very popular. However Norfolk Giant was so vigorous that you needed to learn to arch over the canes in winter when you tied them onto the wires. Later on Malling Jewel appeared and became the favourite for many years. Raspberry breeders are still very busy seeking out those with excellent flavours, canes that are spine free and plants that can resist pests and diseases. Work on raspberry breeding has been going on for a very long time at the Scottish Crops Research Institute, now known as the James Hutton Institute. The early success with Glen Ample was a big breakthrough, but then the raspberry root rot phytophthora rubi appeared and devastated field production. Breeders added resistance to this disease a priority both here and other countries. Demand from supermarkets for clean fruit and the need to protect canes from soil borne disease changed the growing system, so now raspberries are
Pruning Autumn raspberry canes
grown in containers off the ground and under the protection of polythene tunnels. However the home gardener is still most likely to grow them in a row outdoors, but we can take advantage of new varieties as they are released to the trade. I now grow Glen Fyne and Glen Dee for my summer fruiting crops and Polka and Autumn Treasure for autumn fruiting. I also have Autumn Bliss, one of the first autumn fruiting varieties which is very reliable, but the stems are full of wee spines so picking can be unpleasant on a warm day with bare arms. Nikki Jennings has been very busy breeding new varieties at James Hutton Institute and this year the latest to be released is Glen Carron, a summer fruiting variety with excellent flavour and size, and spine free canes with good resistance to cane diseases. Nikki has another excellent summer fruiting variety RBC16F6 showing good resistance to
Raspberry Glen Carron
phytophthora root rot still under trial as well as two autumn fruiting varieties, RBC16P4 and RBC16P5, as yet un-named.
Soil cultivation and planting
Raspberries can continue to fruit for well over ten years, so make sure soil cultivations are at their best. Take out a trench and fork up the bottom adding plenty of manure or compost then backfill. Plant canes about a foot or more apart. In spring add some fertilizer and keep the rows weedfree.
Raspberry RBC16P5
In the second year they will need support with strong posts and wires at three feet and five feet from the ground. Summer fruiting varieties fruit on canes grown the previous year, so in winter cut out the old fruited canes and tie in the new canes so that they are about four inches apart along the top wire. Autumn fruiting varieties have all the canes cut back to ground level in winter. Raspberries like well drained fertile soil that retains moisture in summer and has a neutral pH. Once shoots begin to emerge in spring it is a good idea to add a mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Raspberries produce a lot of suckers which is fine along the rows but unwelcome anywhere else so remove these as they appear. The main pest is raspberry beetle which lays eggs which hatch and the maggot starts to eat its way into the centre. They can be controlled with carefully timed sprays at first pink fruit and a fortnight later.

Wee jobs to do this week

Drying off begonia tubers
Tuberous begonias that were lifted in November and brought indoors should now be quite dry, so clean off any soil and store them in boxes in a frost free garage or shed for the winter. Check tubers after a few weeks for any sign of vine weevils as they love begonias and the grubs will slowly eat the corms if not eradicated. Damage shows up as they burrow into the tuber leaving a wet hole.

END

Monday, 10 December 2018

ART IN GARDENING


ART IN GARDENING

Gardening has always been in my blood from childhood days encouraged by both my granny and father who always liked to provide fresh food to feed the family. During my gardening apprenticeship (five years) I got the chance to learn how to create
Sophie watering geraniums
great looking gardens. My first landscape garden was my council house garden in St. Marys which got sweeping curves in the lawn, roses growing up the walls and brilliant spring and summer bedding plants. When my career took me to Dudley I got the chance to start planting trees to the bleak black
Cape Gooseberry
country landscape, then in Darlington it was a new golf course that needed my attention. Then moving north to Livingston New Town I started bulb planting by the thousand along highways and in urban housing estates.
Summer Colour
Creating beauty in garden landscapes from my small house garden to the larger outdoor landscapes was a big part of my life. However we all need a hobby and drawing and painting gave me the chance to extend my creative skills in other areas.
The principles of artistic beauty are the same for both creating an attractive garden or a painting. We look at shapes, colour, contrasts, composition, focal points, texture and fashion. My hobby of painting helped me to relax as I entered a different world away from every day pressures, then after submitting
Cottage in Rait
paintings to my first exhibition in Darlington, I got my first red dot (the mark for a sold painting) and my life changed. My casual hobby of painting took on a more serious role and I started to paint at every spare moment. I saw beauty all around me from Scottish towns, villages, flowers, snow scenes and figures. However my garden activities provided me with a great source of subjects ready to capture on canvas. At first it was red poppies growing in huge fields near Herriot Watt University captured on two canvases. They were very popular so I used the images to publish as prints. These were added to with my Fuchsia Swingtime and my favourite roses in a bowl, but as a proud Dundonian I had to paint the town as there were so many places I admired. The daffodils around Magdalen Green Bandstand were perfect for a large canvas in oil.
The Market
Artists tend to work in projects so one idea for a painting of an orchid left me with the problem, do I paint that lovely white Phalaenopsis, the red Cattleya Saturn or the golden Cymbidium. Problem solved I decided to paint all of them plus several more that caught my eye.
Ideas in the gardening world were also demanding attention when I tasted some Saskatoon berries on a holiday in Canada. No-one in the UK was growing them so I got some seed and before long I had about twenty small plants. I needed an allotment to plant them in, so visited City Road and got the perfect plot. This opened up another place of interest for paintings as it turned out to be a poppy paradise. Ramshackle sheds, quaint steps, dilapidated fences and floral patios to relax on were all screaming to be captured on canvas. Arthurs plot got painted three times, then there was the leaning apple tree, some gorgeous hollyhocks against a blue fence and a plot smothered in Californian poppies. It turned out to be the perfect spot for an outdoor art workshop, though one lady seeking my help asked me to hold a poppy still while she
Waiting Patiently
painted it, as it was blowing in the wind.
Still life paintings needed some good cape gooseberries, grapes and peppers from the greenhouse and raspberries from the plot, but spring flowers left me spoilt for choice from snowdrops pushing above the snow, Iceland poppies and flag Iris to daffodils and tulips.
Even in a figure study, “Waiting Patiently” I had to add a cracking red 
Amaryllis to the background.

Wee jobs to do this week
Pruning grape vine Brant
Grape vines both outdoors and in greenhouses are best pruned any time in December and January. Any later and the risk of sap weeping is high as grapes like to start growing quite early. Under glass they are usually grown as upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart. All sideshoots growing from these rods are cut back to a couple buds. As grapes need a lot of warmth to ripen up the bunches they are best planted against south facing walls or fences in Scotland. Establish a framework of main shoots either fan shaped or in laterals spaced same as rods and again all sideshoots are trimmed back to the main stems.
END

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

GET READY FOR WINTER


GET READY FOR WINTER

Although the trees, shrubs and garden plants are ready for their winter rest as they go dormant, no such luck for the gardener. The day length in
John gathers up the leaves
winter may be shorter, but we can always find a job to do while there is light. Right now the wee jobs are just piling up as we prepare for the winter lying ahead. Every dry day is a bonus to get on with the winter digging, but on days when the soil is wet we can be checking tree stakes and ties, fix fences,
Check over apples in store
paths, and give the compost heap another turn as it is now overloaded with fallen leaves. In inclement weather we can be in the garage sorting out and checking stored produce, cleaning pots and seed trays, or in the greenhouse cleaning up and preparing the borders for next year’s tomatoes. Pruning of the grape vine is left till mid December to January, and the prunings will be just fine for a batch of cuttings for some new plants.
Outdoor jobs
The dormant season is a perfect time for pruning fruit bushes, fruit trees and roses. However the pruning will vary for each one as flower and fruit for some is on older wood on spurs, some on last years shoots and some on shoots growing the same year.
Apples and pears fruit best on young spurs formed on shoots a couple of years old as well as older shoots so try to achieve a balance of both young shoots as well as older branches. Trees grown as fans
Dry off gladioli corms
on walls or grown as cordons or stepover trees get spur pruned where summer pruning is done to reduce shoot vigour then further pruned in winter to a couple of buds to form spurs.
Plums are best left alone in winter otherwise they are liable to infection of silver leaf disease. Prune them in summer.
Figs grown on walls as fans are kept in check by removing vigorous shoots growing too far away from the wall, and only a bit of minimal pruning to keep a good shape.
Summer fruiting raspberries have all the previous years fruiting
Rose pruning
canes removed and the new canes tied in. Autumn fruiting raspberries have everything cut down to the ground as they fruit on wood grown in the same year.
Saskatoons need some height management to make netting easy to erect. I try to keep the height down to less than six feet by removing a few tall shoots right down to the ground.
Blackcurrants fruit on one year old wood best so remove some older wood every year.
Gooseberries and redcurrants both fruit on spurs so cut back young shoots in summer before fruiting then cut them back further in winter to control vigour and encourage fruiting.
Roses flower best on young shoots so look for shoots growing near the base and take off about half. Remove weak shoots and older wood if it can be replaced with a young shoot.
Other winter tasks
Pot up Amaryllis bulbs
Now most of the leaves have dropped we can rake them up and add them to the compost heap.
Continue digging, adding in manure or compost and leaving the soil surface rough to allow winter weathering so the soil breaks down easily to a fine tilth in spring for seed sowing and planting. No rush to dig over areas sown down with green manures as these will be fine for a few more months.
Lift gladioli and chrysanthemums that have now finished flowering. Box up the chrysanthemums and keep growing slowly in the greenhouse, but dry off the gladioli corms for storing indoors.
Check fruit and vegetables in store and remove any with signs of brown rots.
Wheres ma seeds
Pot up Amaryllis bulbs kept dry over summer and start them back into growth on a warm windowsill.

Wee jobs to do this week
Put out bird table and feeders now that berries are getting scarcer, especially after the autumn gales that were so severe that many plants lost their fruit as it got blasted off the trees and shrubs. Feeders are best hung from tree branches on strong string so mice cannot reach them. Keep the feeders clean and also put out a shallow container for water to drink and splash in to keep clean.

Monday, 26 November 2018

WINTER COLOUR


WINTER COLOUR

The garden is now coming out of its autumn phase
betula jaquemontii
and heading into winter as plants go dormant, autumn colour fades away as all the leaves fall off and frost and snow is not far away. However all
Cornus sibirica and Mid Winter Fire
through the winter months there is still plants looking good and some still flowering to keep us cheery. Once the real winter sets in and the snow arrives we then look forward to the first snowdrops as a hint that spring is approaching. At least that was how it used to be, but with mild winters now becoming normal my first snowdrops start to flower in December, and this year the shoots are already two inches tall. Fingers crossed that the beast from the East gives us a miss this year. I have always dedicated a small patch of garden for winter colour, but when you decide what to plant in it you find there is a massive choice of plants that have interest in winter.
Cotoneaster simonsii
Senecio greyii
The early winter is the time for berries from rowans with red, orange, pink and white berries, down to a huge range of berberis and cotoneasters with red and orange berries. A perfect choice for a north wall is the firethorn, Pyracantha with red and orange berries. This is a great plant around windows as the thorns will deter any burglar and in spring the blackbirds love its protection for building their nest in. Then the snowberry with white berries lasts well into winter, but nothing is more festive than the holly with red berries before the birds strip them off. Pernettya however lasts well into spring as the birds have to be really desperate before they have a go at them. If you want a tall shrub
Houttunia Chameleon
with grey foliage popular in maritime locations then go for the sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides with bright orange berries that are a real bonus for those that like a very healthy fruit, but ask Google how to prepare it. A better proposition for edible berries is the outdoor fuchsia Mrs Popple. This year the bush has hardly any fruit on it yet last year it was so prolific that I picked the berries and put them through the juicer for a lovely tasty drink.
My winter garden comes into focus as the birds devour the last of the berries and interest comes from shrubs and trees with coloured stems and bark. Cornus Westonbirt and Mid Winter Fire are hard to beat for intense bright red stems and grow alongside the green stemmed Kerria japonica and the orange stemmed Salix britzensis.
Jasminum nudiflorum
Next to them is a small Japanese maple tree Sango Kaku with red stems and fantastic autumn colour, as well as my white stemmed birch, Betula jacquemontia which is always a winner for a dramatic statement. This colourful winter border lasts into March, but then I have to stop the show, as they all (except the Kerria) require cutting down to ground level. New stems then grow to replace them for the following winter. They also need removing as the winter border now becomes a spring border as it has been planted with masses of
Pernettya mucronata
crocus and tulips and last month I added a batch of tall oriental lilies to flower in summer above the growing shrubs. Other parts of the garden have the pink scented Viburnum fragrans and yellow Jasminum nudiflorum; my only two reliable plants to flower in winter outdoors. Another garden area given over to winter colour is my shady border with bright foliage on the Euonymus Emerald n Gold, the silver Emerald Gaiety and the silver Senecio greyii. A good tall background plant is the golden Lonicera Baggesons Gold, a favourite for nesting birds in spring as it is so dense.
Viburnum badnantense
For ground cover the Houttunia Chameleon with red and gold markings over the leaf is very attractive though some say it can be a bit invasive if it takes a like to your garden.
Planting rhubarb
Heathers are also great for ground cover and my favourite for winter is the Calluna vulgaris Goldsworth Crimson which brightens up after a few frosts.

Wee jobs to do this week

Rhubarb has now gone dormant, so we can remove all the old
leaves and add them to the compost heap. If the rhubarb clump has been growing undisturbed for over three years it would be a good idea to lift it up and divide it. Dig over the soil adding plenty of well rotted manure or compost then replant the strongest crowns which have two or three plump buds visible, spacing about two to three feet apart.

END

Monday, 19 November 2018

HOUSE PLANTS


HOUSE PLANTS

Most people were brought up in a home that always had some form of green plant. As a young child I cannot ever forget that Aspidistra that sulked in a dark corner defying all attempts to kill it. Later on in life as gardening began to take hold I learned that there were numerous house plants available and many were quite attractive, so in came a
Aglaonema
rubber tree plant, and that Aspidistra ended up on the compost heap. Then later a cheese plant (Monstera) arrived followed by a mother in laws tongue (Sansevieria) then the spider plant (Chlorophytum) and a tradescantia. However some of these came with their own set of problems. Father asked my advice on what to do, now that his rubber tree plant has reached the ceiling, and he only fed it twice a week!!! There was a massive demand for house plants in the seventies and all sorts appeared but then information on looking after them came in books and plant labels. Slowly over time fashions changed and flowering house plants are more popular though colourful and easy to grow evergreens are still in demand to add life to living rooms, and halls. Orchids are a favourite in light bathrooms where the moist
Aloe vera
atmosphere is just what they need and the Aloe vera popular on the kitchen windowsill quite handy as a medicinal use for light burns and scrapes to the cook’s hands.
The evergreens are now part of the indoor landscape finding a spot to bring life to the dull corners or as part of the furniture. The Yucca and Aglaonema both come in a range of leaf colours and just love the house atmosphere and their architectural forms are perfect to add interest around the house.
Both may be easy to look after, but in time they will grow quite big.
Poinsettia
However the keen gardener will not chuck them out if they have outgrown their place. The Yucca can be cut back to the stumps and after a few months will recover and start growing again. The tops can be used as cuttings to produce new plants to pass onto a friend. The Aglaonema can be removed from its pot and the large crowns can be split up like a herbaceous plant and the smaller sections repotted into small pots.
The flowering house plants are now mostly seasonal whereas forty years ago the pot mum (dwarf chrysanthemum) reigned supreme. We all tried to revive them after flowering to grow on for another year, but not knowing they had been artificially kept dwarf by chemicals they soon outgrew there locations. At Christmas the poinsettias are a similar plant in that they are almost as important as the Christmas tree. We get attached to them and try to keep them for another year, but without dwarfing chemicals they
Zygocactus
soon take off. In their natural environment they grow into small trees.
The other popular festive flowering house plant is the Christmas cactus. This however, is easy for the home gardener to keep for many years. After flowering we just let them go quite dry, just giving an occasional watering if they shrivel up too far, then in late spring we start to water again as they go into their growth phase, but after a couple of months we dry them off again to ripen up the shoots for flowering the next Christmas, or just ahead of the festive season. Other festive flowering plants include the dwarf Azalea, cyclamen, Amaryllis and the
Yucca
Phalaenopsis orchid. All of these can be retained for flowering another year, but you need to check out each one’s own growing requirements as they all need different conditions.
Geraniums and Impatiens grown from autumn cuttings and then put on a bit of growth can be allowed back into flowering during the dull winter months.
Careful watering is very important as some plants can dry out if not checked frequently, then after watering remove excess water. They do not like wet feet. Most plants also like light conditions but out of direct sunlight, except cactus grown on a windowsill.
Poppy ladybird

Wee jobs to do this week
Annual poppies are a great plant for summer colour and are very easy to grow. There are several types such as Californian, Opium, Iceland and Ladybird, and seed can be saved from all of these to grow again the following year. Collect seed heads once they are mature and store them in a frost free shed or garage in paper bags or open plastic containers. Check over in a couple of months and when they are dry enough open up the pods and extract the seeds.
END

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.
END

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.

END