Andrew's bi-monthly news for the gardens at Northcote
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2005
Autumn is now in full swing, the leaves are turning glorious autumn colours, the result of trees reclaiming the nutrients produced through photosynthesis in their leaves to store as sap for next season's growth. The bright colours are created by the sugars left behind in the leaves along with unwanted toxins. Depending on the amount of sugars produced in the summer, the weather conditions and night time temperatures at leaf fall; all affect the variation in colour and good sugar production. Cool sharp but not frosty nights and dry air, will result in brilliant displays of autumn tints.
As the day lengths are rapidly shortening, 2.5 minutes per day, there are not enough hours of daylight for summer plants to so, so the Autumn/Winter varieties take over which require less daylight. These include the endives, chicories and radicchios in the salad garden, along with one of our favourites American land cress, also known as belle isle cress. It can be used as an alternative to watercress, which is high in vitamin C and beta carotene, you usually associate vitamin C with citrus fruits, but many vegetables, even potatoes contain vitamin C. Beta carotene is usually associated with carrots, but it is converted by the body into vitamin A essential for cell growth, and as an antioxidant.
If you are fortunate enough to have an area to grow only a few vegetables you can see the benefits of growing fresh produce, the vitamins they create for free is essential for our wellbeing. Cooking, processing and length of storage all destroy certain vitamins, so fresh is better if you can obtain it. Even if you only have the smallest of patches, I would never be without land cress. It does prefer cool and moist, however is accommodating to all types of soil and weather. Just keep cutting it and watch it grow back. Use it in your salads or if it gets large blanch it as a vegetable, or turn it into soup. Wait a few weeks and cut it again. With good soil and plenty of water, one sowing will last over 12 months. What other crop is so versatile, healthy, tasty and easy to grow?
The new rose garden I planted earlier this season has now established and the compte de chambord roses are still flowering heavily, and will probably continue until Christmas with favourable weather. Cut back in stems that have flowered immediately by about two thirds, and new growth will soon appear followed by another flush of flowers. Along with the roses I planted old fashioned carnations, and they are just beginning to flower, prolonging the season.
It has been a variable season in the fruit garden, the stone fruit, plums, gages and damsons have been poor, due to the late frost and lack of pollinating insects. Though they were good last year, the apples have been good as well as the pears. Both have benefited from good thinning of the crop at the right time, as have our outdoor grapes, which are just being harvested. The colour and flavour are good but they could have benefited from a little more water during the summer.
At the moment I am preparing some new ground to grow cranberries, blueberries and loganberries. All like our damp cool climate, and are not that difficult to grow, though they do need acid soil. Although they need to be constantly wet, they won't like being waterlogged, so good drainage is essential, but with the addition of peat or sawdust if you prefer not to use peat, the correct soil acidity can be achieved. Just remember not to use tap water if your water contains any lime. You will know this if your kettle constantly needs de-scaling.
You are probably familiar with cranberries and blueberries, but not loganberries; they are very similar to cranberries but much easier to grow. The cranberry is a native of North America, the Lingonberry is European. Cranberries are naturally a bog plant, so do require lots of water. If you have a very wet patch of ground which is acidic, plant cranberries. I am also planting more blackcurrants, redcurrants, white-currants and gooseberries, along with rhubarb. With several varieties you can harvest rhubarb from March until September.
The Fig I planted last year has started to produce, though they are slow to start with, once they are established they will fruit for a lifetime. Do remember to restrict their root space as they will produce nothing but leaves and no fruiting wood. Given a sunny wall they are relatively trouble free, though the new figs do need to over winter on the branches until the following autumn in our climate to ripen. If you can, try and find where the plant originates from and recreate that condition and you won't go far wrong.
I hope you have had a successful season in your garden and my information has been useful.
Head Gardener Northcote Manor