Gardening Diary JANUARY: week 1
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
The new seed catalogues will be arriving now and you should try to deal with them straight away. Because the demand for garden seeds has vastly increased in recent years, the dispatch departments of the seed merchants work flat out from late winter to mid-spring, and late orders have to take their place in the queue. In a climate like Britain’s, which has all too short a summer for many plants which need a long growing season, delays in the arrival of seed may make all the difference between an excellent crop and a mediocre one.
Buying seed is one sphere where it does not pay to economise. The amount of work you have to devote to the crop is the same, whether the seed is good or poor, so buy the best. You can, of course, save seed from your own garden which, if done carefully, is an excellent idea. It is particularly so with such biennial crops as, and carrots, even though that necessitates leaving a few plants in the ground for a second year. Some gardeners who have harvested a particularly good crop of beans or keep some of the best seed, and with pumpkins I use the seed from my biggest specimens year after year. Of course, professional plant-breeders are always bringing out new and improved varieties, which you may miss if you always rely on your own, so it does pay to buy in seed in some seasons.
Seedare a special case. The reason is that in all but the northern and north-western regions of Britain there is a danger of potatoes becoming infected in the foliage by virus diseases carried by aphids. This results in reductions in future crops. Commercial seed potatoes are normally grown in districts too wet and windy for aphids to nourish, and so seed merchants advertise their seed as grown in Scotland, Ulster or the Isle of Man. If you decide to save your own tubers for seed, you must try to prevent greenfly from infesting the leaves. If you can do this, then you can save seed for up to five years, before needing to obtain fresh stock. After a recent exceptionally dry summer the price of seed potatoes rose to such astronomical heights that very many gardeners, myself included, compromised by buying some seed and using some of their home-grown crop. This proved to be a mistake, resulting in a patchy harvest, because greenfly were particularly bad that year.
If you feel the need to economise on seeds generally (and who doesn’t?), you can do so by buying small packets. Most seed is wasted. You tend to thin out growing crops and consign the thinnings to theheap, or else you find you have a surplus left after you have transplanted all you need. A mistake often made by beginners is to grow far too much of any one crop. Who wants two rows of splendid Primo when peas, beans and all the other more delectable autumn vegetables are in season? Calculate what you need, and don’t overdo it. Sow fairly thinly, and at intervals, to supply a succession of crops, particularly with salads.
Seed catalogues make fascinating reading for the dedicated gardener, whose main problem is one of selection. He would naturally like to try everything. The crops with which selection is most difficult are cabbage,(or ), Brussels sprouts, , , peas and beans. In all of them there is a range of varieties designed to provide a very extensive harvesting season. In studying the catalogue, therefore, you need to note the date when each variety can be expected to be ready for harvest and to assess your own requirements about that time. If you have a freezer, you can, of course, cope with surplus beans, peas and Brussels sprouts, and root crops can be stored, but gluts of lettuce and cabbages can be an embarrassment.
If you use cloches, frames or heated greenhouses, the sowing periods for lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower, assuming you want a complete succession, extend right around the calendar— which is another good reason for getting in a seed order promptly. In practice, I shall not bother much with late summer cabbage but shall concentrate on the early, round-hearted varieties of the Primo I Golden Acre type, and the late autumn and winter ones, such as Autumn Supreme, Winter Monarch and January King. I tend to avoid, too, late summer cauliflower which not only coincides with the bean crop but is also prone to attack by green caterpillars. With lettuce, I choose the outdoor cabbage types for use up to about the middle of summer; after that I rely on the outdoor crinkly types, which bolt far less readily.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
This is the time when we go into the New Year full of good intentions. ‘Off with the old’, might be our password, as we set about some surgery, and cut out dead, injured or diseased branches from our trees and bushes. Red and white currants at this time of year occasionally have old shoots that are studded with small, red, cushion-like dots— symptoms of coral spot disease. These infected stems should be cut out to ground level or back to healthy wood, and burnt.
Apple trees, especially old or neglected ones, sometimes have large sunken patches, surrounded by raised edges of rough bark, particularly on the main branches. These are symptoms of apple canker. If the wounds are small and shallow, pare them out with a sharp knife, leaving only the sound wood. Brush over the cuts immediately with a protective wound-sealing paint.
Large wounds caused by canker, are best cut out complete, however, so that the infected branch goes as well. When large branches have to be removed, remember to make the first saw cut underneath, to about one-third of the way through, and then make a cut from above to meet the lower cut. This prevents the wound and bark tearing away below the branch, as would happen if the cut was made only from the top.
Remember, though, that cherry trees should never be pruned in the winter, because they are particularly vulnerable to infection from bacterial canker and silver leaf at this time of year. Delay pruning these fruit trees until late spring, when the leaves are fully out and dead wood is obvious.
Apples and pears can be given a tar oil winter wash if they are scheduled for it this winter. Choose, if possible, calm, still conditions, otherwise more wash is wasted than is used, and do not spray under frosty conditions or when the branches are frozen.
The benefits of small-sized trees are only really appreciated when one is trying to spray the top branches of tall fruit trees and pumping furiously to get the spray to reach the upper branches. A pneumatic type sprayer, with extension lances and adjustable nozzles, is excellent, but for the averagea double-action sprayer will serve the purpose. When spraying, keep the spray liquid well mixed and don’t allow it so settle, or you could be wasting time and wash.
After spraying with tar oil, wash the pump out well with hot water and a little liquid detergent.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
See that the temperature is maintained in heated greenhouses. The minimum should be 10°C (50°F) in a warm house, and 7°C (45F) in a cool house. Water in the mornings. Unless the weather is very severe, keep the top ventilators open a little all the time. Cover cloches and frames with sacks or other material overnight in hard weather.