Gardening Diary (NOVEMBER: week 2)
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Now is a good time to think about tackling that patch of rough ground at the end of the garden, or, indeed, of beginning a new garden anywhere. Unless you are lucky, any uncultivated area will be in foul condition. There may be docks, nettles, thistles or even brambles, and almost certainly there will be a tangle of couch grass roots. Probably the surface will be very uneven, particularly if the plot has been used for dumping rubbish.
Do not let this reclamation project daunt you. It is really quite simple and straightforward. Just decide which is the most accessible side and start digging. Use a stout fork if possible, although if theis very heavy and compacted and if there are lots of tough roots you may have to employ a spade. Dig one spit deep and 30 cm (1’) or so wide along the selected side and take away the rubbish in a wheelbarrow. You now have a strip of cleared ground on which to dump further rubbish.
Now stand on the undug patch facing the cleared strip. As you dig each forkful, shake it out (if sufficiently dry) and leave the vegetable rubbish on the cleared land—nettle roots, couch grass roots, bush roots, everything. Keep the wheelbarrow handy for carting away bricks, stones, tin cans and any other non-vegetable debris. Dig as deep as you can. The obstacles you encounter will almost certainly make it impossible to dig in a straight line, as you would in a cultivated garden, but never mind. Just get all that rubbish on top of the ground. You will notice that the surface of the rough patch is already becoming more level.
When you have finished, the plot will look nearly as bad a mess as when you started, for all those roots of the perennialare now lying on the surface, and nobody but yourself knows how many barrowloads of stones and household rubbish you have carted away. You may be tempted to start moving the mass of roots and making a bonfire of them or another heap elsewhere, but better to leave well alone.
The main purpose of undertaking the reclamation now, or at any time before Christmas, is to let the frost do the work for you. No matter how matted the roots, how closely the wet soil now adheres to them, frost (by expanding the water into ice and then allowing it to be released again when the thaw comes) will cause the particles of soil to crumble and fall apart. Then, in late winter or early spring, a time will come when, after a period of drying winds, it will be possible to lift those roots and clods with a fork, shake out with ease any crumbs of soil still adhering and carry the lightened roots to the bonfire. Rake over the surface, and the job is done.
So do not attempt to clean up the plot now—dig deep and leave rough. And it is quite exhilarating to discover how quickly you can tackle what appears to be a really formidable task.
If you were not able to getsown last week, do it this week. In fact, you can try and put them in any time up to the first week of December, although the later you sow the greater the risk.
We are now coming on to the main season of Brussels sprouts. New varieties make it possible to start picking in early autumn, but most gardeners concentrate on the maincrop varieties, which are at their best when other vegetables are becoming scarcer. When picking sprouts, start at the bottom of the stem and work upwards. Once the bottom buttons have been removed, those at the top will grow quickly, thus giving a succession of pickings. Remove any yellow leaves and any sprouts that are forming a loose rosette of leaves instead of hard buttons.
On frosty nights, remember to cover with sacks or mats any cloches and frames under which crops are growing.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
Gardeners who want to try something different might consider growing grapes, figs and mulberries. All three can be planted outdoors when the leaves have fallen. Indoor vines, however, are best planted in early or mid-winter.
A mulberry tree can be trained against a wall; this takes less space than a free-standing tree, but allow a minimum of 5 m (16ft) spread.
The roots of a fig tree should be restrained or the tree will make a considerable amount of growth at the expense of cropping. It can be planted in a concrete box, or the planting hole lined with large stones or paving slabs, at sides and bottom, although this latter method is not as effective. Wall-grown figs in cold districts can be protected by tying spruce boughs over them.
One way of increasing grape vines is from 20-25 cm (8-10”) longtaken in mid-winter. Mulberries are raised from cuttings 30 cm (12”) long, taken now. The pencil-thick cuttings are taken with a small heel and a cut just above a bud at the top of each cutting, then placed in sandy soil, under cold frames. They root quite quickly, but should not be moved until the spring, better still in the following autumn.
Gooseberries, apart from possibly a light cutting back, are best left unpruned until early March in case of bird damage.
However, if you can provide bird protection, by all means prune them now, provided the leaves are off. All autumn-fruiting raspberries which have finished fruiting can now have the fruited canes cut down to ground level. If you leave the cutting out of canes until spring this will result in crowding and increase the danger of young growths being infected by cane spotting and other fungal rot diseases. Summer-fruiting raspberries will already have the old fruited canes cut out and most of the weakest new shoots. Any weak canes remaining should be removed, and the remaining strong young growths tied in and retained until the final tip pruning in early spring.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Your greenhouse is now probably giving priority to pot plants taken in at the onset of frost. It is likely enough that they broughtwith them, so pay attention to hygiene, scrubbing down staging and floors from time to time, preferably in the morning, to give the greenhouse time to dry out before night fall. Be sparing with water, and give adequate ventilation except on frosty days. Any pots not needed for immediate use should be scrubbed with soapy water.
The days grow shorter, and often cloud cover is so thick and low that indoors you need a light switched on all day. Plants, too, need light, and lack of light, as much as low temperatures, is the reason why so little growth is made in winter. Gardeners who want to make full use of their greenhouse should certainly consider installing a lighting system. A domestic electric light bulb will do, but fluorescent strip lighting gives much more light and less heat. Greenish-blue mercury vapour tubes, although less bright to your eyes, are a source of ultraviolet light which plants find beneficial.
Fruit which is being grown under glass can be pruned as soon as the leaves have fallen, for example, peaches and nectarines, and apricots. Vine pruning can also be started. Remember that all these fruits will benefit from being given plenty of ventilation at this time of the year.