Gardening Diary October Week Four


This week I start lifting chicory for forcing. The thought of undertaking such an apparently advanced operation sometimes deters gardeners, but it is really quite easy. Prepare a barrel, deep box or other container by filling it to a depth of 45-60 cm (18-24”) with sifted soil, peat or compost. Place in a frostproof shed, cellar or cupboard. Dig up a few chicory roots, say half a dozen. Trim off the green tops to within about 1.3 cm (2”) of the crown of the root. Place the roots upright in the soil in the container, so that the crowns are only just covered or uncovered completely. Cover the container with a sack or mat to exclude all light and keep the soil just moist, although not over-watered. The shoots, or chicons, will soon start to grow and will be ready when 12 or 15 cm (5 or 6”) high. If kept in a temperature of 10-13°C (50-55°F) expect to harvest about three weeks later.

The depth of soil in the containers will depend on the size of the roots, which should by this time be about the size of parsnips—say 30 cm (12”) long and 5 or 7.5 cm (2 or 3”) in diameter at the top. The tips of the roots can be trimmed off to give a final length of about 20 cm (8”). Pack them into the container quite closely, even touching each other.

Some gardeners lift their entire crop of chicory at one time, trim off the leaves and store the roots in sand, placing them in horizontal layers in the storage boxes, but chicory roots are quite hardy, and I prefer to lift them a few at a time as required. Both the common Witloof chicory and the Red Verona variety can be forced in this way. Red Verona chicory, with its white shoots tinged with crimson, makes an interesting addition to the winter salad bowl, but the roots are smaller and tend to be forked, and the shoots do not form such compact chicons. Do not lift or try to force Sugar-loaf chicory. This should be left in the garden for use as a substitute for lettuce. It is very hardy, but only the white and well-protected heart should be used. The outer leaves tend to be rather coarse and bitter.

Although some older gardening books recommend lifting endive plants and blanching them in dark containers or cupboards, this is not really necessary. Winter endive will stand any frost it is likely to encounter before the New Year and, in any case, it will be covered with boxes, flowerpots or some other cover for blanching, and the covering will also provide some protection. Gardeners who have cloches to spare will probably allocate one or two to late crops of endive. However, the technique of blanching indoors is quite simple. Lift a few roots, transplant them into boxes r and keep the boxes in a dark, cool place (not a heated room or greenhouse). Blanching takes two or three weeks in autumn and winter.

Recent entries in this diary have dealt with the alternative methods of digging and manuring plots from which summer crops have been removed, but there is a school of thought that maintains that digging is unnecessary. Instead, the surface of the soil is covered in autumn or early winter with a layer of well-rotted compost or decaying farmyard manure 7.5 cm (3”) or so deep. This layer is drawn down into the soil and converted into humus by the action of earthworms and other inhabitants of the soil. The advocates of the non-digging principle say that digging destroys some of these, and also the network of natural channels which the worms produce.

Lazy gardeners, among whom I number myself between irregular spurts of activity, will be glad to subscribe to this theory and so avoid much heavy work with the spade. On Highland crofts the plots which have been cultivated like this are traditionally and appropriately known as lazy-beds, although on the crofts this is done to raise the good soil above the level of the peat. Gardeners enamoured with this style of gardening make their lazy-beds so that every part of the plot is accessible from the surrounding paths without the necessity of setting even one foot on the soil. All surface cultivation is done from the paths, and if the beds are raised high enough above path level the indolent gardener may even work sitting down!

Conventional gardeners say that digging is of even more benefit to the soil than the action of earthworms and other creatures, which may be killed off by a really thorough digging. Controversy continues. Why not try a lazy-bed or two this autumn and compare the results with those from plots cultivated in the orthodox manner? Certainly the annual application of compost subsequently undisturbed will create a very fertile layer of topsoil.

One of the rules to be observed when clearing the garden in autumn is to ensure that no odd plants are left to survive the winter along path edges or in uncultivated corners. Such plants can act as winter hosts to diseases and parasites which may cause a lot of trouble next year. In uprooting them and consigning them to the compost heap, a little botanical knowledge can be very useful, for not only cultivated plants but their wild relations can harbour the same pests. Thus the pests and diseases of brassicas may overwinter not only on stray brassica plants but on any plants of the Cruciferae family, to which brassicas belong. One common cruciferous weed is shepherd’s purse, so pay special attention to eradicating it.


Now, and for some months to come, take the opportunity to plant some of those fruits for which you have been preparing the ground. Early planting gives crops a chance to become established while the ground is still warm. Thorough cultivation, manuring and feeding of the soil before planting is sound practice. Add lime if needed, but allow an interval of several weeks between this and manuring.

Stone fruits, such as apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums, need to have more lime than most fruits to help when ‘stoning’ time comes in summer. Ground limestone should be applied as necessary to bring the pH to around 6.5, and kept at or just below that level. Liming and the application of fertilizers should not, of course, be carried out at the same time.

Fruit trees in grass need more generous feeding than those in cultivated soil. Apply, any time now, about 15-30 g per sq m of sulphate of potash to healthy established trees in grass, but use only the lower amount for trees in clean cultivated ground.

Large, old trees that have made little growth can be encouraged into activity by judicious pruning, feeding, and ‘spiling’—making a series of 60 cm (2’) deep holes, with a crowbar or similar implement, about 30 cm (1’) apart in the ground in the region of the feeding roots. The main concentration of holes should be below and at the outermost extremities of the branches. Fill these holes to the top with a rich soil or compost similar to John Innes potting compost No. 3.

The pruning of such trees to rejuvenate them should consist of the removal of really old shoots and even one or two branches so that crowding is reduced, the centre thinned out, and space made for new growth. Dead and diseased shoots should be removed as a matter of course. Top dressing in a wide circle round the trees following fertilizing will also help but need not be done until the spring.


Lack of light is as serious an impediment as low temperatures to the cultivation of autumn and winter crops, and the effect of short days can be intensified by the winter cloud cover. Gardeners who want to make maximum use of their green-houses therefore need to consider artificial lighting as well as heating. Electric light bulbs with the conventional tungsten filament are freq-uently used in greenhouses but are not very efficient, as they give out more heat than light. Fluorescent lamps are much more satisfactory, although more expensive to install. Mercury vapour lamps, with their blue-green glow, are much favoured as they produce ultra-violet light, which plants find beneficial. Consult the horticultural expert of your local electricity board before making a new installation.


14. October 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Kitchen Gardens, Tips and Advice, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Diary October Week Four


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