Andrew's bi-monthly news for the gardens at Northcote
NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2005
Suddenly Winter is here again, every year it seems to creep up on us by surprise, the clocks change and it's suddenly Winter. Fortunately we have only had a few frosty nights so far, however mild though the weather is, many plants cease to grow as the day length shortens. Most plants can actually be categorized as short or long-day-length plants, some actually needing short days to induce fruiting.
The cold of Winter may be unpleasant to us humans, but in nature it is a necessary cycle of renewal. We tend to forget many of our traditional fruit and vegetable crops originate in other countries, the garden strawberry we all love and enjoy originated in North America, though we do have our native woodland strawberry. Lettuces originate from the Middle East and were grown in ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago as an aphrodisiac. Rhubarb originates from Siberia and tomatoes from South America, along with their close relative the potato. The Peruvian Incas bred hundreds of different varieties to suit the varying altitudes of the Andes Mountains.
Onions, leeks and garlic also were intensively grown in ancient Egypt, so as you can see we have inherited our traditional crops from around the world, all retaining some of their characteristics from their original homeland.
Through the Autumn and Winter I shall be adding to our existing fruit stocks, including more varieties of red, black and white currants, several more varieties of gooseberry, more damson and plums, including two new varieties of Mirabelle from the Crimea. I am also planting up a bed of blueberries and cranberries as they both love wet conditions and we see plenty of that in Lancashire. As our existing vine is producing good crops I have planted several more, including a red seedless variety in the greenhouse. For the future I shall be planting mulberries, which although not difficult to grow are slow at fruiting, though they do live and fruit for over a hundred years.
During the time I have been looking after the gardens at Northcote, I have been doing so organically, but we have now decided to register them officially with the soil association. This process normally takes two years but as our initial inspection went well we are hoping to be registered sooner.
There is great debate as to whether organic or non-organic is better, I am already an organic convert, but the debate goes on.
Organic gardening is not simply the non use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers; it is a whole system approach to food production recognizing the inter-relationship between all parts of the production from soil to the consumer. Its aim is to work within the systems and cycles through all levels from the soil, to plants and animals, to maintain the long-term fertility and biological activity of soils, to treat livestock ethically and respect regional, environmental, climatic and geographical differences, as well as maximizing the use of renewable resources, waste and processing. All food production causes some disruption to the environment; organic farming minimizes this disruption by limiting the types and quantities of fertilizers and pesticides used.
I hope you have had a productive season and my hints and advice have been helpful, if you are visiting Northcote please feel free to ask any questions you may have, I shall try to answer them for you.
Head Gardener Northcote Manor