Wednesday, August 29

Finishing the job

I mentioned a few posts ago that I had started thinning out the summer fruiting raspberries - well at the weekend I actually finished the job.
I've thinned out the canes and tied them all to the support wires. Unfortunately I couldn't find the twine that I thought was in the allotment shed and so had to use the horrible green plastic stuff.
The earliest raspberries Glen Moy are a bit of a disappointment - quite a lot of the canes didn't take and didn't really produce much in the way of fruit. The canes that did grow are rather small and pathetic and not shown in the photo. In spite of this some runners from the few plants that are growing had strayed from the wires and so these have been chopped off and stuck in the ground. I doubt they'll grow but nothing ventured etc.
The mid season - Glen Ample and later - Glen Magna have produced really well. Now that I've cut them back you can really tell where one variety ends and the other starts. The later variety has reddish canes. There is a gap in the row of Glen Magna and again some canes have strayed so I'm going to dig these out and plant them in the gap.
Just in front of the raspberries is the more established strawberry bed. You may remember I gave the plants in this bed a hair cut. The new shoots have really responded well to this and are looking strong and healthy.

I still haven't 'trimmed' the everbearing variety as it is still producing one or two fruits. The problem is getting to them before the slugs do! Can you spot the few strawberries in our latest harvest box.
The plants in the new strawberry bed are determined to reproduce so I will have to have another runner chopping session. I promise I won't plant any!!
By the way if you are interested, Martyn popped a bit of video taken on the plot on his blog here.

Monday, August 27

Eyes to the front

The front garden bed is still managing to produce colour - yellow provided by the rudbeckias - has now come into the equation and the pastel effect is fading. The pastel colours are still there but are not as dominant.
I've popped some extra plants in from elsewhere in the garden for instance I planted a couple of clumps of yellow crocosmia near to the fencing - you should be able to spot one in the photo above. I had a really thick clump in the back garden and now that I have split it up have more crocosmia than I know what to do with.
I planted a few seed sown antirrhinums which I hope will self seed next year. You can probably just about make out a bright pink one in the photo above but these have flowered in a whole range of colours.
I've also planted some achilleas that were brought back from the plot and the geraniums are still producing some flower. Like the penstemon these have been flowering for ages.
Michaelmas Daisy - Monch - is now in full flower and looking beautiful
Other plants that have been cut back or dead-headed such as the campanula and salvias are still managing to produce new flowers. The salvias have just kept on going throughout but the campanula is producing lots of buds to give a second showing after its rest.
There are still some small gaps in the bed where you can see bare soil but this is mainly because some plants such a geraniums have been cut back.
I'm not really sure yet whether to plant in these pockets as if I do there will be times when the plants are swamped. Maybe I should take some seed from verbena bonariensis and plant more in the gaps where they will rise above any lower growth.

Saturday, August 25

Garden Fruitfulness

I guess you would think that having an allotment would mean that all our fruit was grown there but we do have several fruit tree in the garden. The reason for this is that we can give special care to fruit growing close by that we can't give with that growing a distance away on the plot.
Our garden isn't big enough to be able to plant additional fruit trees that will grow to a mature size. When we starting buying fruit trees for the garden we already had two mature crab apple trees and a large magnolia as well as some apple and pear cordons that had sneakily become trees and we had planted a medlar tree with the intention of keeping it reduced in size. The medlar was planted more as a novelty than anything else.
We have occasionally used the fruit to make a medlar jelly but to be honest we don't really eat jams and jellies as we prefer to eat our fruit without the addition of lots of sugar.
Maybe if we were starting our garden again with the knowledge that we have now we would have planted fruit trees other than crab apples which, even though one - John Downie- does produce edible fruit, were bought mainly for their decorative value.
Unlike the pears trees on the plot our Conference pear in the garden has hung on to some fruit. Like the apples in the garden this was originally a cordon which had different ideas and managed to gain tree like proportions when we took our eye off the ball. Although the pears don't look like prize specimens, the apples are looking much better than the ones on the plot despite being left more or less to their own devices. All we tend to do with these 'trees' is to keep them under control or at least try to. Maybe the extra shelter in the garden has paid dividends this year.
If you follow my blog then you will know that we have a peach tree - Avalon Pride - bought a couple of years ago (and should have been a nectarine) that is growing in a container outside of our greenhouse. The idea is that if a really frosty night is predicted when the tree is in flower we can drape some fleece over it. We didn't have to do this last year and lots of fruit - well lots for us - set. We had the dilemma of trying to decide whether or not to thin the fruits and predictably decided against this. Some fruit fell off of it's own accord and some has developed brown rot but we still have a pleasing amount of peaches which we now have to decide when to pick.
The tree has grown a bit taller than we want so will have to be pruned back. As I understand it this needs to be done in early spring once the danger of frost is over so there is less chance of disease entering.
One problem this year was that the tree developed what I think was peach leaf curl so we will have to take precautions against this next year.
Last year we acquired a nectarine - Fantasia -  which also had some symptoms of peach leaf curl. The nectarine had one or two flowers but no fruit set. Hopefully next year we will have at least one or two fruits.
At the same time as we acquired the nectarine we bought an apricot - Flavourcot. This had no flowers at all this year so it's another case of fingers crossed for next year. We decided that with a little bit of careful pruning the shape of this tree leads itself to being grown as a espalier. As we are novices at this we have started to prune it carefully. It's maybe a little difficult to get a sense of the shape from the photo below. We need to construct some sort of support framework once we decide where it will have it's more permanent home.
Also growing in a pot is a kiwi Issai. So far this has been a bit of a disappointment. It starts to grow well, fruit sets and then suddenly all the leaves start to dry up. The plant also had telltale weebing that seemed to indicate  that spider mite were the problem. We kept the plant in the greenhouse to start with this year so no doubt that helped the spider mite to gain a strong foothold but last year we kept the plant outside and had the same problem. Next year we may have to look at some sort of biological control. The plant has recovered from the spider mite infestation but it lost all the young fruits that held so much promise.

Until Martyn reminded me, I am ashamed to say that I forgot our Lazarus fig - the one that rose from the dead. This has been given some protection in the greenhouse and has a few fruits. We now have to decide if and when the fruits are edible. By the way the fig on the plot also has a small shoot so will be known as Lazarus 2.
Finally there is the grapevine that each year attempts greenhouse domination. This year it hasn't as many bunches of fruit and the bunches that have formed don't seem to have been completely pollinated, having gaps in the bunches, but we will still have some lovely sweet seedless grapes to enjoy.
 You would think we had enough fruit in the garden by now but we have just ordered something else to grow in a container. It isn't very exotic but is something we have been thinking about for a while. For now I'll leave you guessing and I'll tell you about it later!

Thursday, August 23

Beauty and the beast

We have a beast living on our allotment plot. It is as old as our 'ownership' of the plot. It marked the fact we had been accepted by at least one of the long standing gardeners as it was given to us by one of the old timers, (I wonder if people nowadays refer to us in this way?), soon after we showed we were going to be serious gardeners.  Sadly the giver is now no longer around but his gift is still flourishing and providing us with a yearly supply of lovely, big, juicy, blackberries.
So why is such a prolific plant called the beast? If you have ever picked blackberries, I'm sure you know the answer. To protect the lovely berries the canes are covered in vicious thorns. Not only do the thorns manage to tear at flesh when picking the blackberries but they also making keeping the plant in check challenging to say the least.
Our one original plant has developed into a thicket in spite of yearly hard pruning. The vigorous, spiked, canes would reach out across our entire plot and our neighbours plot too if left to their own devices. If it wasn't for the magnificent crop that it produced no doubt it would have been long gone!

Last year we planted a thornless Loch Ness blackberry from Victoriana Nursery Gardens. The idea is that this plant will eventually make picking blackberries a less painful task. This year it has produced a few berries which are also a good size.
We will, however, secateurs at the ready, need to keep a watchful eye to spot any thorny canes that try to sneak in. If any are allowed to remain then this more benign plant could turn into a beast like it's older cousin.
Now we just need Loch Ness to do plenty of growing so it can maybe replace the beast. Having said that I'm not sure we would have the heart to remove the beast altogether but maybe we could prune it down to ground level and tidy up the ground around it and start again. I'm sure that the undergrowth around the base of the plant is providing an ideal hiding place for all the nasty creatures that enjoy feasting on me - at the moment I am an itchy mess!

As for beauty on the plot, the exotic visitor first mentioned on Martyn's blog is still hanging around.

Jo thinks it's a lovebird and Lorraine has gone one further and thinks it's a Fischer lovebird.

At the moment it regulary sits in one of our trees cheeping happily so maybe we can take some seed on our next plot visit and try to coax it to the ground. Anyone any idea what its chances are of surviving 'in the wild'.

Monday, August 20

Salad Days

We finally harvested our first ripe tomatoes - we seem to have waited an age for this event. These are now eaten and there is very little evidence of any more ripening soon.
These tomatoes - Gardeners' Delight - were growing in the plot greenhouse. The plants there seem to be fruiting better than the ones in the garden greenhouse.

It's usually the opposite way round. The plants are looking really healthy but we would like the fruits to ripen soon. Maybe we should hang up a few bananas to coax things along.

We grow an outdoor variety of cucumber - Burpless Tasty Green. So far we have harvested one small fruit but the plants are the best we have grown and have lots of baby cucumbers and flowers.

Lettuce has also proved a challenge this year. It's grown but so have the weeds surrounding it. The weather has prevented us visiting the plot as often as usual, and as there has always been some more important task needing attention, the lettuces have had to struggle on. The consequence has been not much useable lettuce. Now we have planted more lettuce and this time through weed control fabric.
So far we have used weed control fabric for the carrots and strawberries - both seem to have worked and we've planted brassicas through it which seems to be working so let's see how the lettuce fare. The idea is that if we can cut down on some of the weeding we can concentrate on areas left undercovered - well that's the theory. When we remove the fabric it will be labelled so we can reuse it for the same crops next year.

Radish needs to be sown regulary. The roots are very sneaky - one minute there is nothing at all and the next the plants have gone to seed. The trick is to catch them midway between the two extremes. Not easy when they are growing on the plot where we can't keep a daily look-out. We have managed some harvesting though.
We are thinking of having a few salad crops in the garden next year where we can keep them under closer observation.

Then there are the spring onions. What is it with spring onions these days? We used to grow them with no problems at all but now they seem so very slow. We thought it was something we were doing but one of our plot neighbours was complaining of exactly the same thing. We picked the first spring onions on 16 August after sowing on 20 May and some of these were pathetically small. Three months before achieving a tiny harvest seems ridiculous as we used to sow successionally throughout the season and have a regular supply. We've tried different varieties and also tried growing in large pots of compost but it doesn't seem to make any difference.
As for celery - it's our first serious attempt at growing it and whether we will achieve a harvest or not is anyone's guess.
PS: have you seen the photo of our exotic visitor on Martyn's blog? We haven't had any suggestions so far about what type of parrot (if it is a parrot) this is. Can anyone help with identification?

Friday, August 17

Raspberry relay

We have three varieties of summer fruiting raspberries - Glen Moy - early, Glen Ample - mid season and Glen Magna - late season which along with the purple raspberry Glencoe have been providing us with a succession of fruit this year. Glen Moy let the team down - the early variety was disappointing, the plants don't seem to have grown very well and they seem not to know when to fruit. Maybe being an early variety they are more susceptible to strange weather conditions. The other raspberries seem to have stood up to the weather better than the strawberries but  now their fruiting period has come to an end.

These raspberries had produced quite a thicket of canes so earlier this week a priority was to cut out all the canes that had produced this year's berries. These varieties will all produce fruit on the canes that grew this year and have not yet fruited. I cut out some of the canes that had strayed too far away from the main clumps and any thin straggly ones.

The row of red fruiting raspberries now looks like this:
There are still maybe too many canes so I may thin them out a bit more and then the canes will be tied into wires running between the support posts.

Glencoe is a little different in that it is sold as an individual plant which throws out very long canes from the main clump and doesn't sucker - a bit like a blackberry. It also fruits on canes produced this year so, as with the summer fruiting reds, I've cut out all the old canes to end up with this:
The new canes will be bent over and tied into the wires just as I would train a blackberry. Bending the canes rather than cutting them shorter means I get more fruit!

Happily though it isn't all over for us as far as a raspberry harvest is concerned as the summer fruiting varieties have now passed the baton to the autumn fruiters. We have two varieties All Gold - a yellow berry and Joan J and red one. At the moment these are off at a steady pace producing only a few berries each.
Our new (last year) thornless blackberry Loch Ness has also produced some early ripe berries which have sneaked into the photograph.

The yellow raspberries spoil quickly in wet and windy weather so need picking quickly. Their fruits are fairly small in comparison to Joan J which produced great fruit last year so I hope she is on form again.

Sunday, August 12

Allotment Runners

I thought it was time that I dealt with the strawberry runners. I started with the new strawberry bed - the one that wasn't really planned - the one that came about because I couldn't resist potting up runners last year!

We've only had one or two strawberries from here as they took a while to get going. Rather than carry out any major surgery, I just cut off all the runners from these plants and hoed between them.
Hopefully they will continue to grow and become stronger plants for next year. Flamenco - the everbearing variety - does have flowers and immature fruit but I'm not expecting these to ripen or grow to a decent size.
The other bed needed more serious attention. As is their habit the plants had produced a mass of runners which thanks to the weed control fabric hadn't been able to root into soil. It's been an unexpected bonus of covering the ground around the plants. The mature leaves were dying back and new ones were emerging from the crown and so each plant was given the scissors treatment. All the old leaves were cut off allowing light and air to the new young shoots.
Some gardeners take shears to the plants to carry out this task but I prefer the extra control that scissors provide allowing me to more easily avoid cutting the new shoots.
The new growth should add vigour to the plants and should - weather permitting - mean a good crop next year.

You may have noticed that one section of the bed has avoided the chop. These are Flamenco - the everbearing plants. As these are still producing flowers, they may provide us with one or two more fruits before the season ends. For this reason I have replaced the protective netting.
Oh! and just in case you are wondering - I did manage to resist potting up any runners this year.

We are still managing to crop some strawberries - the alpines are still fruiting prolifically.
We're sharing these with the blackbirds. Alpines don't produce runners but self seed freely if any strawberries fall to the ground before picking or being eaten by the blackbird. I guess blackbird activity is the reason that some small plants spring up in other parts of the plot.

Still on the subject of runners - I had a pleasant surprise when I was wandering round the plot - I noticed some fully grown runner beans at the very bottom of the Painted Lady teepee.
At first I thought maybe there was just one or two but I ended up picking a couple of helpings' worth.
I think the beans beat the strawberry runners and take the gold medal for allotment runners so it's silver to the strawberry runners but I'm afraid that in spite of that this year they have all ended up on the compost heap! I really don't think a third strawberry bed is desirable however much we love strawberries.

Friday, August 10

Not forgetting the birds

We have had a couple of posts recently about the bees so now it's the turn of the birds.

For a few weeks now I've been picking redcurrants from under a protective net accompanied by the sound of disgruntled blackbirds. Blackbirds and thrushes adore redcurrants so much so that we learned early on that leaving the ripe or even ripening currants unprotected means none for us. We have lots of blackbirds on our site and some thrushes and they all have their beady eyes on any tasty berries.

We share our raspberries with them as they don't usually eat so many that we are left without but each time we go to pick a bird is guaranteed to fly out of the canes squawking in disgust at having been disturbed.
They seem to find somewhere to sit from which they can nibble at the fruits rather than carrying them off.

The deal with the blackbirds is that once we have picked as many berries as we want we take the netting off the top of the 'cage' and they can move in! Masses of them home in on this bounty (Martyn counted eight fly out of the bushes the other day when he disturbed them). Having been disturbed they don't stay away for long using our nearby shed as a landing stage from which to decide whether the coast is clear. I did try to get a photo but the birds get so deep into the bushes that all that gives them away is the movement of branches.

Soon they will have stripped the plants so that not a single currant is left. Unlike the raspberries the recurrants are swallowed in one gulp!
They'll leave just tell tale signs that they have been.

Thursday, August 9

Keeping up with the sweet peas

We grow sweet peas every year but this year we decided to grow a few more. Then guess what happened? We found another free packet of seeds in a magazine! Then we found another lot that were free last year and we never planted. The result was far more sweet peas than we anticipated.

One lot were a short growing variety - Snoopea - but to be honest I'm not really impressed and so won't be growing these again.

We grow our sweet peas up a bamboo structure that acts as a boundary down one edge of our plot - we're not allowed fences so this is the next best thing.
We tried to achieve the same effect last year but the sweet peas didn't really like the really dry conditions. They have had no lack of moisture this year and as a result have grown really well.
All of the varieties have been chosen for their perfume as much as anything else and are just from mixed packets not the more expensive single varieties. They are also just left to scramble up the netting which is attached to the bamboo structure - no fancy cordon work or cutting off tendrils. So why can't we keep up with them? 
Well if sweet peas are to keep on flowering they need to be constantly picked so that no seed pods form. Once they have produced seed pods the plants think - job done - and just pack up. It's a Forth Bridge job cutting the flowers though so I guess that before long the plants will get their own way.
 And that isn't all we have an overspill alongside our nectar bar!