Gardens Archive - MARCH / APRIL 2006
Hopefully the worst of the Winter weather is behind us? This winter has been harder than previous ones, with temperatures here at Northcote reaching as low as minus 10° on a couple of occasions. We also seem to have had long periods with overcast skies, making growing difficult, even in the milder spells.
In Previous Years the early Spring bulbs, such as Winter aconites and snowdrops have been in flower early, sometimes even before Christmas, however, this year they are only showing their heads in late February – and even then its very slow! This only goes to prove the point that whatever your gardening books and seed catalogues tell you, nature has its own schedule! All Plants respond to warmth, light and moisture – give them the right amount of each and they are happy!
Soon it will be time, once again, for another seasons seed sowing, if the weather is favourable, certain varieties can be started in March, it all depends on soil temperature. If your soil is cold and wet, seeds will not germinate with the right soil temperature, lettuces, for example, will not germinate below 55° or above 70°. Tomatoes, Peppers & Aubergines need temperatures above 70°.
The only way to ensure your soils warm up early is to keep it well drained, wet heavy soils are slower to warm up, raised beds warm much quicker than others and darker coloured soils warm even sooner. Victorian gardeners often added soot to their soil to darken its colour!
If you have a greenhouse you can start most things off indoors and plant them out later, it’s the germination that’s tricky! Often people say, 'I sowed my seed but nothing grew’, ‘I had a bad batch of seed’, more than likely the soil temperature was too high or too low. Once a seed absorbs moisture, it wants to grow but if it gets too cold or hot, at some point growth ceases!
One of the questions I am asked most is the proliferation of
F1 Hybrid seed. These seeds are the result of a cross between
two particular parents, only the seed company knows which, and
any seed saved from them will either be sterile or poor quality.
If you want to grow them again you are forced to go back to the
company you bought them from. Unfortunately, as in many other
things seed production has become big business.
Most people now buy their fruit and vegetables from a supermarket and they have rigid instructions on size and shape, mainly due to packaging and cost constraints. Basically, seeds are now primarily bred for large industrial concerns, not the small grower.
Modern advertising tries to disguise this, so when something is advertised as being good for freezing, what they really mean is it is bred to ripen all at once for machine harvesting so you get a glut! Really uniform habit is the result of inbreeding from a small genetic base, which may not adapt to your soil conditions and climate.
In summary hybrid seed F1 is only an advantage to the industrial farmer who wants to harvest all at once, but the small grower who wants a good yield, over a long period traditional varieties are more suitable, yes your tomatoes may not all look the same, you might have large and small potatoes and your carrots may not be all straight, but they will perform better in a wider variety of weather and soil conditions and taste better. One of the more interesting new varieties I have seen are leafless peas, ‘easy to pick in the pods’, good if you want to harvest by combine all in one go! No messy leaves to separate.
Apples are a good example of this, there are hundreds of varieties
of apple, all sizes, shapes, colours and flavours, some ripening
as early as July, some not until November, some need storing,
some you eat straight off the tree.
But sadly now we are only able to buy a few varieties, because they are uniform, ripen all at once and are happy being in cold stores for up to 18 months before being shipped to you the consumer. Most people have heard of Bramley apples, the original tree was grown from an apple pip, by Mary and Ann Brailsford about 1810. The tree started bearing fruit in 1837, but it was not until 1860 that a local nurseryman Henry Merryweather recognised it as an excellent variety.
He took cuttings from the tree and it was named after its then owner a Mr Bramley!
All subsequent Bramley apple trees originate from this one quirk
of nature. However clever we become, nature can still go one better.
Everytime a bee pollinates a flower and creates a seed, depending on which pollen the bee is carrying there will be a slight variation; it is this selection over millennia that has given us the varieties we now have.
All originating from wild plants by careful selection for particular characteristics humble insignificant plants like the wild carrot have now become staple foods! Even the potato everyone eats was bred for centuries by the ancient Incas in Peru to suit varying soils and climates of their empire, before being brought to Europe and further modified over time to suit European soils and Climates.
Hopefully after reading this you may look at the fruit and vegetables you eat and buy in a different way? If you are visiting Northcote please feel free to ask me any questions concerning gardening and I will try to answer them!
Head Gardener Northcote Manor