Monday, 15 December 2014

PREPARE FOR WINTER



PREPARE FOR WINTER

A lot of people are under the impression that, as the days get shorter and colder with frequent frosty mornings, it is now time to forget about the garden till next spring. Unfortunately, the dormant season is a time to catch up on numerous tasks that seem to keep us outdoors on most sunny days and even those days when the ground is frozen or covered in snow.
The dormant season from November to March was traditionally the time to do all the new planting of trees, shrubs, roses, and many other plants that came as bare root plants. Today most plants are in pots so planting can be done just about all year round. However this time of year is best for soil cultivations incorporating manure or compost ahead of planting. This will also give the new planting a better chance of establishment as weeds will have been removed or dug in, then a mulch applied to retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing.

This is about the latest time for planting fresh strawberry runners for cropping next year.
I have always chosen a frosty day when the ground was frozen to carry out some tree, shrub and rose pruning. It never seems to do any harm. With bush roses I remove most wood except the strongest young shoots which get pruned by about half their length. Shrub roses just get straggling untidy shoots removed. Climbing roses get removal of all weak shoots, and some older wood and any shoots growing away from the wall or fences. Other shoots are lightly tipped and tied in.
With apple trees I try a bit of crown reduction on my mature trees to reduce the height so I don’t have to climb so high at harvesting time, as Anna’s nerves just can’t take it any more. I keep telling her good gardeners, well trained in fruit growing just don’t fall out of trees.
Well at least not very often. I only do a modest amount of spur pruning in winter as I prefer to regulate the balance of growth to fruiting wood, by removing the occasional large branch provided I can replace it with another younger shoot to take up its place.
Up on the allotment the autumn rasps and brambles have been pruned as well as my outdoor vine Phoenix, Solaris, Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu. Prune greenhouse grapes in December to January.
Digging in compost continues as I try to complete all my soil cultivations by the end of this month.
Next year’s rotation plan is now completed, so I know where all the main crops will be going. That way I can add compost as digging proceeds according to the needs of each crop.
Land allocated for late planted crops such as sweet corn, courgettes, French beans and pumpkins will get sown down with a clover green manure crop in March, then dug in before planting.
I keep an eye on the weather forecast as my last row of beetroot is still perfect outdoors after getting some earthing up,
but if any severe frost threatens then I will lift them and store them indoors.
Outdoor water supplies have been turned off and drained and the pipes lagged for frost protection.
Keep a watch over stored apples and potatoes. Remove any apples going bad and keep shoots off stored potatoes. Gladioli and begonias should now be quite dry so they can be cleaned up and stored in some dry sand or soil in a frost free place till spring.
Now is a good time to complete taking of hardwood cuttings of shrubs and fruit bushes. They can be lined out in a prepared bed in a cold frame or in pots of well drained compost.
Put out bird feeders now, as once they have devoured all our berried trees and shrubs and the ground starts to freeze up their food source gets a wee bit restricted.

Plant of the week

Salix britzensis is a favourite willow for the coloured stem winter garden, where it is grown as a stooled bush. It has bright orange red stems all winter from leaf fall till the following March. It will start to grow then, but to keep it a bush it gets cut back to ground level. It will grow up to about eight foot tall. After cutting back in March I use the tall stems on the allotment to support my rows of peas.

END

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

PLANT SOME SHRUBS



PLANT SOME SHRUBS

Garden shrubs are just as essential to the landscape as is a lawn, trees, patio and paths. Everyone who has a garden no matter how small or large will at some time be considering  a bit of landscape planting for many different reasons, and when we move house to a new property or an established one we still want to create our own wee patch of heaven.
If the new garden is already well established by a previous owner, we need to assess what is there and what we want. Most often you will find several plants that are well worth retaining, so do not be in a rush to clear the site. However on a new built plot just vacated by the builders we will have a blank canvas to create our personal landscape to our own needs. There are many factors to consider so take plenty of time and work things out on paper before buying in the plants.

There are always your own personal “must have” shrubs to find a spot for. My personal choice includes the rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, plus heathers for ground cover. Viburnums and honeysuckle gave me the scents and clematis and climbing roses gave me colour for tall fences.
I know of many impressive very small gardens who may only have one decent specimen shrub, but when it is in full bloom that garden comes alive even if only for a couple of weeks. For the bigger garden with room to grow a magnolia or philadelphus unpruned and allowed to mature it can make a fantastic specimen, but unfortunately too many people get nervous as it reaches ten feet or more and out comes the loppers.
Different parts of the garden will be sunny or shaded, sheltered or flat and in the open or adjacent to walls and fences so each area’s needs will be quite different. I always use all my south facing walls and fences for the more tender or exotic plants such as my outdoor grape vines, cherries and figs.
Shrubs can be used for screening along boundaries or around the compost heap and if an
impenetrable barrier is needed then use a pyracantha, rubus (mentioned below) or some of the very thorny shrub roses. Patio areas have their own needs for shelter from winds, privacy for sun bathing in summer and if possible use scented plants to create a pleasant environment.
Steep banks that are difficult to maintain can be planted with ground cover such as ivies, cotoneasters, hostas or heathers and if the ground is sunny and dry then use senecios, ceanothus, brooms, pinks, and cistus or rosemary and lavender. Some ground cover such as hypericum can also be underplanted with bulbs such as the stronger Darwin Hybrid tulips which will give a spring display of colour.
It is also a good idea to try and create strong impact in a range of places at different times by grouping those plants together that flower at the same time. Cistus flowering in early summer looks great with a background of the taller deep blue ceanothus.
Plants with good autumn colour can also be combined together to give an autumn display before all the leaves fall off. Deciduous azaleas, cotinus, the smoke bush, and dwarf maples will combine to brighten up the autumn display.
Similarly berried plants such as the cotoneasters, pyracanthas, pernettyas and berberis will provide food for small birds as well as being attractive in early winter.
Then for interest right through winter give thought to the coloured stemmed shrubs such as cornus, willow, kerria, rubus and some maples. They make an eye catching display right through to the end of March, when they then get pruned back to ground level. However the show can continue as they are quite happy to share the ground with spring flowering bulbs such as snowdrops, aconites, crocus, daffodils and tulips.
Shrubs can be planted from now right through till next March.



Plant of the week
Rubus cockburnianus is a very prickly white stemmed bramble growing to about six feet tall. It makes quite an impact in the winter garden growing alongside cornus, kerrias and salix. To maximise on the white stems it should be cut down to the ground at the end of March every year.

END

Monday, 1 December 2014

A COLD DAY ON THE PLOT



A COLD DAY ON THE PLOT

As autumn gives way to early winter we expect to find a few frosty mornings and maybe even the threat of some snow, but at this moment damp cold days predominate. It would be nice to crack on with the winter digging but the soil is often too wet to work on. However every time we get a dry sunny day there is always some job to tackle.
This year has been brilliant for beetroot and I have one complete row ready for picking, but we may get yet another mild winter, so I will leave the roots in the ground and just pick as I need them. The roots have been earthed up with some soil to protect them just in case we get any frost.
Autumn salad leaves and winter lettuce sown several weeks ago outdoors are now ready for cutting, but will last for months, hopefully. The greenhouse has also been planted with winter lettuce after removing the old tomato plants. The lettuce was planted at about nine inches apart and I have been using alternate plants for salads to give the remainder more room.
Back on the plot the winter vegetables are ready in abundance. Brussels sprout Crispin, a clubroot resistant variety is ready for picking, as is the swede Marion and winter cabbage Tundra. Leek Musselburgh and Parsnip White Gem add to the variety. However summer cabbage Kilaton, also clubroot resistant is still available and looks like it could last for another couple of months. It is quite difficult to use so much fresh produce when the freezer is still bursting with summer harvested fruit and vegetables. Kale is also at its best just now, and just perfect for soups and stir fries. Swiss chard is also a favourite for stir fries and other dishes.
When the soil surface is dry enough to walk on we can get on with the pruning of the autumn raspberries, the fig tree, outdoor grape vines, roses and the brambles. Other fruit was pruned in summer after fruiting as I wanted to gather as much pruning together as possible. We shred all our wood at City Road allotments then add the shreddings to the compost heap.
Next years seeds have been ordered as I need to plan the rotation. This allows me to know which areas to add compost to for digging in. The lions share goes to the heavy feeders such as peas, beans onions, leeks, sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins and potatoes. Brassicas get a light cover of compost, but I can forget about the salads and root crops as long as they go on land that was well composted the previous year.
Digging is progressing on every dry day after spreading out the compost. I leave the soil as rough as possible to get weathered by frost, assuming we are to get some winter weather. Areas where clover and tares green manures are growing will be the last to get dug over. There is no rush to dig them in as the longer they grow the more the land will benefit from being broken up by the extensive roots. Nutrients will also not get leached out by winter rains and melting snow as the plant will absorb goodness from the soil as well as nitrogen from the atmosphere which is fixed into the root nodules. This is released back into the soil after digging the crop in and the plant rots down. These nutrients are then available for the next crop.
Sometime in mid winter on those areas where the brassicas are to be grown I spread lime to increase the soil alkalinity. Brassicas prefer a soil pH of about 7 or 7.5 to discourage the clubroot fungus. However do not lime freshly dug soil which has been manured or composted as it will react with the manure or compost and release nitrogen to the atmosphere.

Plant of the week
 
Cornus Westonbirt is one of the brightest red stemmed dogwoods. Grow it as a bush pruned every year at the end of March cut right down to ground level. My bushes grow up to four foot tall without any feeding or even mulching, but they would respond to this with taller shoots. Mix Cornus with other coloured stemmed plants such as Rubus cockburnianus, Salix britzensis and Kerria japonica to create a winter garden to brighten up the colder months. Underplant the bushes with spring flowering bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus to extend to colour into spring.

END

Monday, 24 November 2014

NOVEMBER FLOWERS FOR THE HOME AND GARDEN



NOVEMBER FLOWERS FOR THE HOME AND GARDEN

The summer is but a distant memory and we watch weather forecasts for the first signs of snow, but wander around the garden on a sunny November day and just marvel at how so many plants just want to keep flowering. As gardeners, we have to work with the seasons so next springs bedding plants and bulbs needed planting, but the summer bedding plants they were replacing were very reluctant to die down. Tuberous begonias were dug out while still full of flowers and geraniums may not be at their best, but they are still full of colour. Even African marigolds still think it is summer so I have left some in the bed with wallflower plants now crowding them out.
Both climbing roses and bush roses still have many buds in full flower and as long as the frost stays away they should continue to bloom.

Fuchsia Mrs Popple has no idea that winter will soon be here. She still thinks it is summer and continues to flower her wee heart out. Cosmos was quite late to flower this year but is now making up for lost time. Climate change seems to throw many plants into a state of confusion. Mahonia Charity normally flowers in February, but it is in full flower now, and my Chaenomeles (Cydonia) has started to flower. It is very welcome, but this is not his time.
Snowdrops are pushing up into the light, but hopefully they will hang on a wee bit longer before flowering. They started to flower in January early on this year.
Back into the home, the late season house plants have all come into life. There is always a great selection available to brighten up the winter months. House plants have evolved over time.
My first memory of a plant being brought into the house was way back in the 1950s when my mother was gifted an Aspidistra. It got pride of place in the hall at the top of a dark stairway. It added to the gloom. It was ugly and no matter how much ill treatment we gave it, it thrived till years later as fashions changed it got replaced with a rubber tree plant but placed in a brighter room.

Then along came the Cheese Plant, Spider Plant, Begonia Rex and a whole range of foliage plants. For flowers in the home we had pot mums and cyclamen, and for Christmas the Poinsettia was, (and still is) compulsory. They really are show stoppers. However the Christmas cactus is also a favourite during the festive season, and if you get lucky with the growing techniques it will flower twice or even three times about a couple of months apart. Immediately after flowering dry them off but keep them in a warm sunny room. If another set of flower buds start to form recommence with the watering. This will bring on another flush of flowers, then repeat the process but only if more flower buds form, otherwise do not water unless they start to shrivel.

Other favourite pot plants which I grow on are the Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) and my geraniums. These are started from cuttings taken from garden plants in early autumn then potted up in November where they will flower for several weeks. Geraniums on a sunny windowsill can be in flower continuously all winter. Japanese dwarf azaleas are also quite popular at this time of year, but to keep them flowering and healthy do not let them dry out and place them in a cool room on a window sill that does not get much sun.
We have a dwarf Orange Tree that produces scented flowers in summer followed by small oranges in autumn and winter. It is very easy to grow but watch out for scale insects which are attracted to the lush green leaves.

Painting of the month
 
Dalwhinnie Distillery is an oil painting on canvas. The festive season is a great time to show winter landscape paintings, as if this winter proves to be like the last very mild winter, it may be the only place to find some snow. This and other snow scenes are currently on display at the West End Gallery on the Perth Road in Dundee.

END

Monday, 17 November 2014

REVIEW OF SCOTTISH EXOTICS



REVIEW OF SCOTTISH EXOTICS

Creating an attractive garden with flowers all year round and almost self sufficient in fruit and vegetables is expected when you have had intensive horticultural training and gardening has been in your blood since childhood. I have always experimented with new plants, so when the prospect of climate change promised to give Scotland a wee bit of global warming, you have to try out something new and maybe a wee bit exotic.
Saskatoon fruit growing may not be very exotic, and they had been growing at the James Hutton Institute for over forty years, but no-one had taken them to the next level. They needed promoting to let folk know they are edible, delicious, easy to grow, suitable for UK conditions and hopefully before long our garden centres will be stocking them.
Chokeberries are also a novelty fruit needing a wee push as tasty health product. Although they may be just a wee bit astringent for eating fresh from the punnet, they make brilliant jam, compote, summer puddings and one of our favourite wines, now considered a health beverage.
We may not need a warmer climate for those, but as my garden is on a southern slope with some south facing walls it is perfect for trying out other Scottish exotics.
Peaches, figs, cherries, goji and outdoor grapes have all been planted and assessed to date.

Fig Brown Turkey is this year’s success story. I took a chance by leaving all last year’s unripe fruitlets on the bush, against normal good practise, as these will take up the plants energy, only to fall off in a cold winter. However we never got a cold winter and my figs survived and gave me a bumper crop of nearly eighty ripe fresh figs. They cropped over many weeks so most were consumed fresh, though some were lightly stewed to concentrate sweetness for a dessert.
Goji, however, was this year’s failure. I had waited about five years for the bush to flower. It had grown ten foot tall and I had to be pruned before it took over the garden. It never ever looked like it wanted to flower or fruit, then in spring it died, most likely from phytophthora root rot which my allotment now seems to be suffering from.
Outdoor peach Peregrine and cherry Cherokee both put on plenty of good growth and were covered in flowers, but there were very few pollinating bees around in spring so the flowers never got fertilised and just fell off. I got one peach and about ten cherries. Not a great success.
Outdoor grapes
My outdoor grape trial continues to battle with problems. I have tried eight varieties all planted against south walls and fences, but lost one (Siegerrebe) to a red spider infestation from which it never recovered. Then Rondo which produced its first well ripened bunch last year died in spring. Regent grew for two years, produced several bunches this year, then died before these could ripen up. I think the phytophthora root rot may be the type that can infect a whole range of woody plants. I can see no other explanation for gradual deaths of so many plants. Muscat Bleu and Polo Muscat are both growing just fine, but have not yet flowered. Solaris is now about four years old and still to produce its first bunch. However, Phoenix, in its second year has produced masses of growth and three bunches which ripened up, though they were small and seedy. The Muscat flavour was terrific.
My ornamental grape Brant growing on a south facing wall gave me forty pounds of ripe sweet black grapes now fermenting peacefully in several demijohns, but scheduled for the first tasting at Christmas 2015. Its success gives you faith that we can grow grapes outdoors in Scotland, but they  need a warm sheltered spot with deep well drained soil, and the pruning has to be precise and constant to curtail excessive growth to allow sun onto the bunches, while retaining enough leaves to feed the swelling bunches. Although 2014 got a decent summer from spring till the end of July, the wet and cool August did the grapes no favours at all at a critical time.
Chris Trotter’s vineyard on the south slopes of Upper Largo in Fife had a similar result with Solaris not having its best year, though Rondo produced enough grapes for a small trial run. Chris feels 2015 will be the year for his first decent grape harvest from his 400 vines, though he has had to learn to adjust pruning to cope with Scottish conditions.
END

Sunday, 9 November 2014

NOW FOR SOMETHING BLUE



NOW FOR SOMETHING BLUE

Gardeners throughout history have always had a fascination for blue flowers. It is both the beauty of a pure blue flower as well as the emotive response we share with the colour. The climate in UK is quite variable and in Scotland we get our fair share of cloudy skies, so we get that feel good factor every time the sun shines giving us that bright blue sky and we can feel the warmth.
My garden is not large, and being a very keen gardener I grow a wide range of plants. When checking out all my blue flowered plants it struck me that the majority flowered in spring and early summer. This suggests that these blue flowers remind us that winter is past and sunny summer days are just ahead.

When planning new landscapes, or bedding schemes we go for bright red and yellows flowers to create drama and impact , but nothing beats blue to relax and calm us down.
As winter gives way to early spring and the first flowers appear the dominant colours are white with the snowdrops, then yellow with the aconites. Chionodoxa, the Glory of the Snows, and Anemone blanda lead the blue flowers out of winter, and then the Pulmonaria, a low growing herbaceous plant comes into flower. I always try to grow plants in association groups so a range of different plants can add their own bit to enhance the group. My Pulmonaria is planted amongst a drift of aconites alongside some early flowering yellow Doronicum. That way I am sure to have the blue pulmonaria flowering next to some yellow flowers, but depending on the season.
Once spring takes over and warmer days become normal, blue flowers get stronger in intensity. Tubs and hanging baskets will always have some deep blue Pansy Ullswater, and to show off dwarf red, pink and yellow tulips in flower beds, it is hard to beat Myosotis the Forget me nots, or the blue Polyanthus.
Tubs growing near doorways will have some deep blue scented hyacinths underplanted amongst the spring bedding plants.

This is also the time for my drift of bluebells growing under the apple trees to but on their display, but I always remove seed heads after flowering as they can take over the garden given half a chance.
Summer sees another range of blue flowers from the delphiniums, meconopsis and iris in the herbaceous border to the gentianas in the rock garden. Large outdoor tubs can be planted with the not so hardy agapanthus, and smaller tubs and baskets always have some blue scented petunias.
Annual borders can find spots for some drifts of cornflowers and Nigella, the Love in a Mist.


Plant breeders have always risen to the challenge of trying to create a blue flower from some plant that is not naturally blue. Roses and tulips have tested the breeders for years, but if the gene for blue colour does not exist in the species or genus they will have an uphill battle without resorting to genetic modification. Last year saw the first blue flowered phalaenopsis orchid appear in the garden centres, but then it emerged that the plant had been treated to some blue dye that would only last the one flowering season.
Another favourite plant prone to modification is the hydrangea being very sensitive to soil acidity.
The flowers will only remain blue with the right variety on an acid soil enhanced with some aluminium sulphate.

Plant of the week


Pernettya mucronata is a low growing evergreen shrub which produces an abundance of pink, white, red or mauve berries. These can last all winter as birds leave them alone till near the end of winter when lack of other berries and food drives them in desperation to eat a few Pernettya berries. The plants which are female benefit from a male to assist in pollination to produce berries. This shrub grows on most soils as long as it remains moist and is happy in the shade.

END

Monday, 3 November 2014

ONE SEASON ENDS AND ANOTHER BEGINS



ONE SEASON ENDS AND ANOTHER BEGINS

Snow has arrived in Scotland, frost threatens so we assume the summer flowers will be finished. However on looking around my outdoor fuchsia Mrs Popple is still in full flower, the cosmos is at it’s best, the roses and geraniums are far from over and I am still picking plenty of chrysanthemums for the house.
Going into the greenhouse the Alicante tomatoes are still growing and fruiting. My plans to plant up winter salad leaves in the greenhouse once the tomatoes are finished and pulled out will have to be put on hold. Back amongst the fruit crops all the apples are harvested and now in store but I am still getting some nice Autumn Bliss raspberries to add to my muesli in the morning.
Over on the allotment the winter vegetables are having a field day. The last courgette has been picked and is heading into the kitchen for the next vegetable bake.

I await a few frosty nights to help to sweeten up my parsnips, swedes, brussels sprouts, leeks and winter cabbage. In the meantime the mild autumn has allowed plenty growth on my late summer lettuce and salad leaves as well as my new trial of mooli radish. The latter have been very successful in producing large pure white carrot sized roots. However in the kitchen the mooli are giving off an extremely strong turnip smell which is a major downside.
Our thoughts now turn to 2015 and the spring flowers. This is the time to be planting our wallflower, polyanthus, tulips, crocus, daffodils, and hyacinths, but before that the summer flowers must be cleared out of the flower beds, tubs, and hanging baskets. This is the last chance to take geranium and bizzie lizzie cuttings to provide stock for next summer. I usually take geranium cuttings 3 – 4 inches long and place them around the perimeter of a shallow flower pot, in well drained compost. These are placed on a windowsill of a warm room, but not in full sun. The bizzie lizzies are placed in a narrow glass jar filled up to the top with water with about four cuttings in each jar. These will root after about two months and can then be potted up into compost.
Back in the garden, now is the time to lift the gladioli that finished flowering several weeks ago. Cut back the old stems 3 inches above ground level, lift them up, shake off the soil and store in a cool frost-free shed or greenhouse until they dry off. Once they dry off, they can be cleaned up and stored in boxes. Remove all the small bulbils but retain the biggest of these as these can be grown on to produce a flowering plant in a couple of years.
Once all the early flowering chrysanthemums have finished, they can also be carefully lifted, labelled, and boxed up in good soil, and kept in a cold greenhouse over winter.
Tuberous begonias put on a fantastic show this year but have now come to the end of their season. These can be lifted up and placed in trays in a frost-free airy greenhouse, shed, or garage to dry out. Once they are completely dry, they can be boxed up for over wintering in frost-free conditions. Autumn which is now upon us is a great time to take shrub cuttings for those special plants that you wish to propagate such as Cotinus, Cistus, Cornus from hardwood cuttings. The best time for successful rooting is usually between two weeks before and two weeks after leaf fall.
Back in the garden the autumn gales have arrived, and the leaves are coming down from the trees rapidly. These need sweeping up and are very useful taken to the compost heap.

Plant of the week

Coleus blumei used to be a very popular house plant 30 years ago but had been replaced by more fashionable house plants. However they’re having a resurgence of popularity. They are available in a large number of very brightly coloured leaves. They are very easy to grow, requiring moderate feeding but are not frost-hardy so are only suitable for indoor decoration. The plant grows fast, but if it gets too big it is simply a matter of taking some more cuttings to start new plants. They root very easily from softwood cuttings.

END

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

PUMPKINS



PUMPKINS

I first grew pumpkins about thirty years ago on my allotment in Darlington. I thought it a good idea to encourage my young daughters in the ways of outdoor gardening by giving them the task of growing a huge pumpkin. This of course would be destined for a lantern at Halloween. I would never have dreamed that any part of it could be consumed.
At the end of October one massive pumpkin got harvested to the delight of a young lady who set about the task of creating the ugliest scary lantern she could carve for Halloween.
As parents we do our best and hope that our efforts in the garden, getting the kids to help with the strawberry picking, pea pod harvesting and cutting some nice flowers for mother will pay rewards in creating the next generation of garden lovers. No chance.
Pumpkin growing continues to be an annual event, but for entirely different reasons. You can forget the lantern. They are a health food product, and growing them is still a whole load of fun. The challenge is always to grow them as big as possible, and try to get at least two from each plant.
The more pumpkins you grow the more delicious soup, risottos and pumpkin pie you will enjoy.
Now that will give you far much more pleasure, than one useless but scary lantern.

However there is bound to be a few kids out there who might disagree with that thought.
Let’s start at the beginning.
If you want the biggest pumpkins you need the right varieties so choose Hundredweight or another type known to grow massive. Sow the seeds individually in small pots in mid April on a warm windowsill or greenhouse if it has some heat. Germination only takes a couple of weeks then the seedling wants to grow quite quickly. It will need potting up after a few weeks, then hardening off in May. However watch out for spring gales which can shred the soft large leaves. Strong young plants can be planted out in late May to early June.
Back on the allotment the ground allocated for pumpkins and courgettes will be left fallow for a few months in spring. Do not waste this opportunity. Sow an early green manure crop of clover as there is plenty time for it to mature and get dug in before you need the land for planting the pumpkins.
Pumpkins need rich soil that can hold moisture, so give a heavy dressing of manure or compost before the green manure is sown. Encourage the green manure to rot down after digging by giving a nitrogen fertiliser. This is also necessary to encourage ample growth once the pumpkins are planted.
While they are growing, keep them well watered during the summer and give regular feeding to encourage strong growth. As the pumpkins form place some straw underneath the fruit to keep them clean and off the soil. They should be coloured bright orange in October when they can be harvested. Store them in a cool frost free place and they should keep till next March.
When preparing the pumpkins for cooking you can save some seed for the following year’s crop, but it may not come true to type especially if you have courgettes or other squashes growing close by. Bees will cross pollinate them. I discovered this when I saved seed from a massive pumpkin.
The following year I grew loads of plants and passed them around allotment site friends who produced courgette shaped pumpkins of a range of colours. One plot holder thought this a bit of fun so saved the seed yet again and produced pure white oval pumpkins.
Pumpkins can be used for pies, risotto, soup and many other dishes. The flesh can be pureed and stored in the freezer for future use. My favourite has always been the soup, though the risotto comes close.
All parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the flowers, leaves and seeds. They are a very healthy food to eat as they are rich in vitamins A, B, C, E and K and contain the minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
With this amount of goodness, by all means have your lantern, but use that flesh as a very healthy food product.

END

HARVESTING SOME APPLES



HARVESTING SOME APPLES

It seems to be a good year for apple crops. A lot of top fruit suffered poor pollination last spring as the very mild winter brought flowering forward before the bees got their act together. However apples flowered a wee bit later and managed to get pollinated just fine. The hot, sunny and dry weather in June and July helped growth and swelling of the apples but the cool wet August gave them a fright. It was such a contrast that many of them got a bit confused, thought autumn was arriving so started to drop the apples before they were ripe. It was a daily task to collect these from the ground before the slugs and wasps found them and bring them indoors to ripen up.
Test the wind falls to check ripeness by cutting in half. If the seeds are black the apple is ripe but if still white or just turning colour it is not yet ripe, though you can still cook with them.
As usual Arbroath Pippin all got picked in August but suffered a lot of brown rot in the wet weather. It is a poor keeper so it was an apple a day till they were all gone.
Discovery was the next to get picked, and although the apples were massive the total crop was not huge. Maybe I was over zealous with the July thinning.
Red Devil was surprisingly very early to shed the crop this year. It normally hangs on the tree till well into October as it ripens quite late. My crop this year was all picked in September before they all fell off the tree. They are now in store and will continue to ripen and keep well for months.
Fiesta and Red Falstaff are still on the tree as we need more sunshine to ripen them up, but if bad weather or gales threaten they will need to get harvested otherwise they could suffer too much damage dropping to the ground.
Bramley cooking apples are also on the tree catching as much of the late sun and warmth as possible before picking. If the autumn is kind I will leave them on the tree till the beginning of November. They are not slow to let you know they want harvesting as they will start to drop off the tree so I keep a watch over them, though this year’s crop is just a fraction of last year’s crop. Might only have enough spare for two demijohns of wine whereas last year I got eight demijohns with the surplus apples.

Storage
Apples need sorting out before storing so they keep well. We wash all the dirt off, dry them, then sort them out, but keeping all varieties separate. Only store clean disease free and undamaged fruit otherwise they will rot in store and spread to healthy apples. However the damaged fruit can be used for cooking in numerous recipes including stir fries, sauces, compote, summer puddings and crumbles.
They are also fine to eat when ripe but just cut off the bad bits.
Small fruit, misshapen fruit and those with only slight damage are separated out for wine making as I just love my Sauterne styled apple dessert wine. These apples are also just fine for juicing or cider making. Juice can be bottled up and will keep for two to three days  in the fridge or even longer up to six months in the freezer.

Plant of the week

Impatiens commonly known as the Busy Lizzie
gets a second mention as my plant of the week as it has had a fantastic year and although we are now getting cooler nights it is still flowering its wee heart out. They have been outstanding in my hanging baskets and in a well drained border that only gets sun for a couple of hours each day. This ground is undisturbed as it is a drift of aconites. These flower in February, grow in March to April then die down for the summer. It is a perfect spot for a carefully planted batch of small Busy Lizzies to add colour in summer and early autumn before leaving the ground for the aconites.

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