Gardens Archive - AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2005
As I write this newsletter the weather resembles November rather than August, the recent weather at Northcote has been changeable to say the least, as the season was very late to get going and warm up this year, but then along came July and the temperatures soured from 15 to 90+ degrees, bringing a week or so of hot sunny weather and now we are back with cool weather and no sun!
It has been particularly difficult to keep our supply of fresh produce for the restaurant going, the dryness and changeable weather has resulted in everything going over very quickly. Many edible crops have started to flower thinking they were about to die, as most plants under stress from dryness will react by changing from leaf production to flower and seed production to safeguard their survival.
A good way to ensure you have more flowers than leaves on your plants is to keep cutting the leaves off. Though once a plant starts to set seed, as far as it is concerned it has safeguarded its survival and no longer has a reason to continue growing - all well and good if it is seed you are producing! It’s always a good idea to think about what you actually want from your plants - leaves, flowers or seed/fruit? Altering the soil, moisture and fertilizer balance will give you your desired result. Nitrogen will give you luscious fruit leaves, but little flower and potash is required to give you flowers, seeds and fruit.
Many of our soft fruit crops are looking poor this year because many of the plums and apples were caught by the frosts in late May and June, and the strawberries came and went very quickly this year, but we are ever hopeful for next season. But - our blackcurrants have been very good this year, as I added to our stock with new plants. All currants are worth replacing every few years with new, virus free stock, as they are susceptible to many viruses, which will reduce yield. It is also looking like we will have a good crop of blackberries this year too, they benefited from a hot spell just at the right time and are ripening now – which is very early.
Our grape crop is also looking promising and I have spent many hours thinning the bunches in the hope of a settled autumn. With luck, the new vines I planted earlier this year will soon be producing good bunches of juicy grapes - Nothing can compare to home grown, well sun ripened bunches of grapes. Grapes are perfectly hardy this far north, they just need a tall enough wall, preferably brick, a little shelter, pruning correctly at the right time and, the most time consuming - thinning the bunches as they start to swell. Without this you would still have grapes, but they would be small and useless, unless you’re planning on wine production, as with any fruit crop, thinning them out gives you less fruit but of a better quality.
Bunches of grapes ripen so late in the season they also need good airflow through the fruit to guard against virus and moulds. It is also worthwhile later in the year to reduce some of the leaves to allow the sun to ripen the crop. If you are already growing grapes under no circumstances allow anyone to handle them - however tempting - as the moisture and viruses on your fingers will cause them to mould rapidly.
As we have had a long dry spell followed by rain I have given our roses a good prune as they had stopped flowering due to the dryness, with the recent heavy showers they should start to grow again, any stems which have flowered can be cut hard back, allowing for new growth to come through, followed by another crop of blooms.
Hopefully, we still have some more settled warm sunny weather to come, in anticipation I shall remove a lot of our salad crops and re-sow with new, I have also started sowing our crops to see us through the winter, most useful being the American Land cress or Belle Isle cress, which tastes like watercress but grows in any garden soil with favourable weather, this will continue in production for the restaurant until may next year.
Another worthwhile crop to sow now is wild rocket, with the same hot flavour as garden rocket but with a longer finer leaf, also it is much slower to go to seed than the garden variety and hardy through most winters, keep cutting it and it just comes straight back. Don’t forget if you are growing rocket, as it is a leaf crop, give it constant moisture and plenty of nitrogen.
Good luck with your gardening and if you are ever at the Manor, please don’t be afraid to come and ask me for simple, practical advice, as I will be pleased to answer any of your questions.
Head Gardener Northcote Manor