Gardening Diary DECEMBER: week 4
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
In this, the last week of the calendar year, there are many gardeners who will feel that a break from garden jobs is well earned and almost obligatory if they are to re-charge the batteries of their enthusiasm for their hobby. In any case, it is a week when there are other preoccupations, and it is not at all a bad idea to be involved in totally different affairs for a while.
On the other hand, there are perhaps as many gardeners who will appreciate being able to devote a few days in succession to their plants, instead of an hour here and an hour there and, at the same time, work off the worst of the Christmas excessess.
With the New Year just round the corner, tidying up the garden and finishing jobs which have been only half done is a satisfying way of ending the old year. Moreover, it often happens that the weather turns unseasonably mild and sunny in temperate climates at this time and it is possible to get on with work that has been halted due to lack of time, flooding, fog or frost.
Digging is one such piece of work; this will include clearing of as much ground as possible where crops are finishing, and spreading manure or garden. If you have a recalcitrant clay , try one of the substances suggested for making it workable, porous and well-drained. For instance, gypsum, which will help make it friable without altering the pH; coarse sand, which acts mechanically rather than chemically; the alginate preparations, which are derived from seaweed, and of course, lime— quicklime is probably the best for heavy soils, but hydrated lime can also be used. Remember that any of the limes, and gypsum, can only be used where manure has already been added to the soil for some six weeks.
It pays many times over to clean the vegetable garden of anynow; if left, by the time spring arrives they will have a good, well-rooted base from which to start, but you will have no time to deal with them if you do not want to miss the right times for sowing and planting. Get them out now, and clear out the remains of crops too, so that they do not provide homes and food for pests, and so that you save on the pesticides bill next season.
Look at the supports and protection for various crops. Already by now, they will have had to withstand some battering by gales, rain and possibly snow, and will almost certainly need tightening up and securing. Nylon netting cages over the brassicas may be sagging, may have blown adrift at the base or may have torn where it passes over the top of the supporting poles or piping. You can bet that the pigeons will spot a possible entry almost as soon as it appears, so make certain you thwart them. Supports for sprouts and sproutingmay need positioning more firmly. Look, too, at cloches and polythene tunnels, for shattered glass, torn polythene and disease ridden vegetables spreading their ailments to the healthy plants.
The time when fresh vegetables can easily be had will be coming to an end in a few weeks’ time, so have a look at your stored crops, mostly roots of various kinds, and take out immediately any which are rotting, so that you are able to use the rest and they do not go to waste through contamination. These root vegetables, together with forced crops such as, , and asparagus, protected crops like , , and celery, and also the hardy brassicas, , and winter , ensure that there is no need for the cook to grumble about a shortage of fresh vegetables from the garden for the festivities. There should, indeed, be a positive cornucopaeia of them, and the good gardener can relax knowing that he has done more than his fair share towards the seasonal celebrations.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
During the festive season, unless the great outdoor arena is particularly inviting, many gardeners are inclined to indulge in the less energetic exercise of armchair gardening. Nonetheless, time can be well spent browsing over books and catalogues as we prepare our plans.
The pruning of apples and pears should now be completed. If this is the year for applying tar oil winter wash it can be put on as soon as the pruning is finished. Some of the cordon apples and pears may need nicking and notching to induce either more fruitfulness or growth as the case may be.
A few new trees, to extend the period of picking, such as George Cave apple, might be bought perhaps and can still be planted now provided the ground is not hard with frost, covered with snow, or sodden with rain. George Cave is an early variety that does well, particularly in the eastern part of Britain. It is ready for picking in late summer.
The black, red and white currants, should also be winter washed, as should the gooseberries if aphids were a trouble in the spring and summer. See that the cane fruits are securely tied to their supports, particularly the raspberries.
All fruits in pots should be brought inside or otherwise protected during the next few weeks, in case the weather becomes severely cold. Batches of rhubarb can continue to be brought inside for forcing, and outdoor crowns can be covered with straw and upturned buckets or boxes to force them into growth before the unprotected rhubarb.
Gooseberry and currant bushes, as well as the wall-trained trees, covered with wire or plastic netting, should be checked. Various finches will feast on the fruit buds during daylight hours now and for some time ahead, if they are given the opportunity. Have a look also at the bases of tree trunks, if you top dressed in autumn. If the topdressing was rather strawy or has collected leaves, and is now close against the bark, mice and voles are likely to be nesting in it, and gnawing the bark, which thus provides them with instant food. However, it also provides instant death for the tree, if the bark is removed from all round the trunk.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Whatever else you have to do at Christmas, do not neglect the greenhouse. The ventilation will always need adjustment, and you must be prepared for a sudden, quite hard frost. Listen to the weather forecast, and watch for changes as evening comes. If the skies clear and the late afternoon is or becomes Calm and free from wind, there will almost certainly be frost, so supply heat accordingly.
Keep the glazing fabric clear of condensation each day, both for venti-lation reasons and to let in as much light’ as possible. If you are growing lettuce for Christmas cropping, watch for grey mould on the leaves closest to the soil, and slug damage, and make sure that parsley grown for the holiday is free of greenfly.
Vines, peaches and nectarines can be started into growth by closing the ventilators almost completely, watering the borders and giving a little heat. The pruning of all these should, of course, have been completed by now.
One of the more tenacious of greenhouse pests is the glasshouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum). Traditional control methods for this troublesome insect are to fumigate frequently and to spray with malathion or gamma HCH. But recently a biological method of control has been developed. A minute wasp (Encarsia formosa) has been discovered which lays its eggs on the eggs of the whitefly. The wasp larvae hatch first, cat the contents of the whitefly eggs and set about another generation to continue the good work. So once we have introduced them to a greenhouse we have them as perpetual allies, provided there are always some whitefly present. Stocks of the wasp can be obtained from the Royal Horticultural Society, and from commercial suppliers. There is also a new insecticide available called bioresmethrin, which is very effective when dealing with whitefly. It is very similar to pyrethrum, but even safer to use.