Gardening Diary SEPTEMBER: week 1
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Until now you have probably been liftingonly as needed for the kitchen, but now is the time to dig them for storing. First cut off the haulm and burn it. Efforts to control potato blight by spraying will have had some effect, but it is unlikely to have been completely successful. Do not put any haulm that has a trace of infection on the heap.
If possible, choose dry weather for harvesting potatoes. Lift carefully, inserting the fork far enough away from the stem to avoid spearing any of the tubers, and also to allow the lifting of the whole root at once. Probe around in the hole to retrieve any tubers that may have come adrift. Any left in the ground are not only a great nuisance the following year when they sprout, but may also spread disease in the. Allow the potatoes to dry on the surface for several hours, then rub off any soil adhering. Collect in hessian (not plastic) sacks or baskets, discarding any that are diseased or damaged, which, if stored, could infect the rest of the crop.
I am fortunate enough to have a dark loft in which to store potatoes. I cover the floor with a layer of dry straw, 15-20 cm (6-8”) deep, heap the potatoes on it, and then cover them with a further layer of straw, 30-60 cm (1-2’) deep. The store thus satisfies the three criteria of being dark, dry and draught-proof. The one other essential is freedom from frost, and in a very severe winter added protection in the form of more straw, sacks or some other covering may be necessary.
Potatoes may also be stored in straw-lined boxes, cellars or cupboards, using the same basic principles. These principles also apply to storing potatoes outdoors in a clamp. Place a thick layer of straw on the ground, make a heap of the potatoes and cover thickly with straw. Then encase the heap in a 15 cm (6”) layer of soil, leaving a ‘chimney’, packed with straw, at the apex for ventilation. Make the soil smooth, so that the rain runs down it, and surround the clamp with a drainage trench to prevent it from becoming waterlogged. The soil from the trench can be used to cover the clamp.
When storing potatoes, keep the varieties separate, so that you can use them in the proper order. Early and second early potatoes do not keep as well as maincrop varieties. The first week of September is quite early to begin digging maincrop potatoes for storing, but when you lift the earlies and second earlies look for signs of insect attack. In some years, particularly during droughts, the tubers are attacked by cutworms and wireworms. If these are present in large numbers, lift all the potatoes as soon as possible. The infestation will only get worse, and the bigger these pests grow, the more they eat. Sometimes they will gnaw their way right into the heart of a tuber, leaving only an outer busk.
Controversy thrives among gardeners as to whether it is advisable to keep one’s own potatoes for seed next year. The conventional advice is to buy fresh seed potatoes each year, in spite of the expense, as being the only safeguard against diseases. Some gardeners, however, maintain that they get a better crop in the second year from their own seed. No doubt the argument will continue. I myself sometimes keep seed, especially from early varieties of potatoes, for planting in the second year, and I think that as a rule no harm is done. But do not chance your luck too far; make two years the limit.
Continue harvesting the abundant seasonal crops of tomatoes,, , beans and . Take only what root vegetables you need for immediate use and leave the main harvest for storage until later. The main onion crop will probably be ripe for harvest now. Bend the drying foliage over parallel to the ground and allow to ripen for a further week or so before lifting. Lift in dry weather. If that is not possible, store temporarily on a raised platform in a well-ventilated shed to dry off.
As crops are harvested and garden plots become vacant, do not allow them to remain so. If the ground is not wanted for anything else, sow with a catch-crop such asor . Sow broad cast, not in rows. Certain varieties of turnips may produce sizeable roots before winter from sowings new and all will provide a crop of greens in early spring. But turnips offer one other advantage. Sown thickly, they seem to suppress couch-grass.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
As strawberry beds finish cropping, burn them over by setting the straw alight. Have a spade handy just in case the flames get out of hand. In built-up areas close to houses, where bonfires are unwelcome, it is better to clip the strawberry leaves off, then rake up the straw. This can be composted, provided the strawberries are healthy.
Keep up with the fruit picking, and check the fruit in store, removing any that are damaged or rotten.
It is important to keep on top of the training of trees growing against walls. As crops of plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries are cleared, the old shoots should be removed and the new ones tied in, to give the new wood a chance to ripen before winter.
With cooler nights and heavier dews, it is wise to be on the look out for slugs on autumn-fruiting strawberries. Baits can be put down as a precaution before damage is done. Put grease bands around fruit trees to prevent winter moths crawling up the trunks and laying eggs. Now is quite a good time to take a look at your requirements for autumn planting. Last month it was the turn of strawberries, gooseberries, currants and raspberries; it is now an opportune moment to consider apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines and blackberries.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
You should still be harvesting good crops of tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as aubergines, peppers, okra and melons. Continue to gather these crops, and, as space becomes available, make sowings of dwarf beans,, carrots and lettuces.