Gardening Diary September Week Four

In the Vegetable Garden

I have on several occasions advocated sowing turnips, mustard or other seeds for green manuring. These should be dug in when about 15 cm (6”) high, and some will probably be at this stage now. We are in the digging season, when land is becoming vacant with the removal of summer crops, and now is a very good time to take stock of failures and to see what can be done to improve the situation for the future.

Lack of lime is likely to be one inhibiting factor, which can be rectified by application now, although might be better postponed until winter, so that it can work into the soil with the winter weather.

The action of lime in the soil is complex. Lime provides calcium, which is an essential plane food. It also reacts with certain other elements in the soil, setting free plant nutrients which would otherwise be unavailable. It improves the texture of certain types of soil, notably heavy clay. It is a strong deterrent to slugs, leatherjackets and other insect pests, and it provides some measure of control over certain plant diseases, such as club root.

Chalk and limestone soils are normally well supplied with lime. Others, such as clay and peat, can be seriously short of it. But even on chalk and limestone, if the [SEPTEMBER: week4] soil is sufficiently deep, a lime deficiency can develop after years of cropping. The lime in the soil is leached (washed away) by rain. It is best to check for lime content at least once every three years.

Guesswork is rather too uncertain. It is better to buy a lime-testing kit and follow the simple instructions. The range of soils is from very acid to alkaline. All soils on the acid side of neutral can benefit from an application of lime. However, spreading lime on an alkaline soil may be positively harmful.

Never apply lime and fertilizer (either organic or chemical) at the same time. If you are going to dig in farmyard manure now, leave the soil for at least six weeks and preferably two or three months before dressing with lime.

Check on your crop rotations, and plan liming according to your overall system. Brassicas are particularly partial to lime. However, potatoes do not like it, so do not lime land which is to produce a crop of potatoes next year. Strawberries and some other fruits show a similar adverse reaction to lime, while asparagus can hardly manage without it.

Of the several types of lime available, hydrated lime acts most quickly and is the type most generally used by home growers. Ground limestone is slower in action, but it is quite satisfactory if ample time for absorption can be allowed.

The rate of application for hydrated lime varies according to the type of soil and its acidity; it can range from 120 g per sq m (4 oz per sq yd) on a nearly neutral sandy soil to 600 g per sqm on a heavy clay. A good standard dressing is 480 g per sq m (1 lb per sq yd). Spread the lime evenly over the soil and allow rain to wash it in. If finely powdered, be careful not to let it drift over on to growing crops, as it can burn the foliage.

When making preparations for the coming winter, check on any crops which will have to withstand the severe weather. Brassicas are rather shallow-rooted, and the taller ones, such as sprouts, sprouting broccoli, cauliflower and most types of kale, carry a fairly heavy superstructure. Fortify them by earthing-up the stems a little, especially if they are growing in an exposed position. Leeks will also benefit from earthing-up, as this increases the length of the white stem. Do this when the soil is fairly dry. Early varieties of leeks are ready for harvesting now, but the most valuable are the later ones, which are for use in the winter when other vegetables are scarce.

Be prepared for the first frosts. In coastal districts you may escape until the end of mid-autumn, but in most areas the first frost may be expected before the end of early autumn. Get cloches over any tender crops that are still in the open and cannot be moved into the greenhouse.

If you enjoy parsley with winter dishes, cut down the foliage now and cover the plants with a cloche, forking in a little rotted farmyard manure or garden compost around them. Mint also responds to the same treatment. The last outdoor tomatoes will now be ripening. If frost threatens, take them indoors to ripen on a windowsill. Use the green fruit for pickles and chutney. Any maincrop onions still in the ground should be harvested quickly. Haricot,

French, broad and dwarf beans left for seed should be pulled and hung upside-down in a shed to finish ripening. This should take a few weeks.

IN THE FRUIT GARDEN

Unproductive and over-vigorous apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums can now be root pruned. Where apple trees are grown on less vigorous stocks, this problem is unlikely to occur. Root pruning consists of digging a circular trench, about 45 cm (18”) wide and in a 1 m (3’) radius of the tree trunk. Cut back all thick roots, replant, and then stake and tie the trees. Older trees are best root pruned over a period of two years, trenching half a circle in each year. Maintain your routine of harvesting, and regularly inspect the fruit in store. Be on the lookout for rotting fruit, and for any signs of mice or other vermin. Strong smelling substances such as paraffin, disinfectants, paints or creosote should not be kept near to fruit in store, because of tainting the flavour, and possible health hazards.

Attack weeds at every opportunity; weeds undisturbed in autumn will provide winter cover for various pests and diseases, and will be very difficult to eradicate the following spring. Straw-berry and other beds must never become smothered by weeds, so keep the hoe going and pull out and compost all but the most persistent undesirables. Nettles, docks and spreading perennials such as thistles are best burned or carted away.

Loganberry tip cuttings can still be taken and inserted in sandy compost or soil under frames or cloches. Mulberry cuttings about 30 cm (1’) long and taken with a heel should be inserted in sandy soil in a sheltered position. They should root by next spring.

IN THE GREENHOUSE

Greenhouse grapes will now be well on with ripening and ready for picking. In fact, the early varieties may be over. Adequate ventilation and moisture are still essential if you are to have a good crop. However, if nights are cool, be sure to close the ventilators to prevent damage to the fruit.

Melons will also be ripening and ready for harvest. As the melon crops finish, be sure to clean out the bed completely and burn any old haulms, as they can harbour the serious pest red spider mite over the winter.

Continue harvesting aubergines, capsicums and tomatoes as they become ripe.

Step-by-step Guide to growing Leeks

One of the finest vegetables, the leek is easy to grow, useful, and very versatile. The blanched, elongated bulb at the base of the leaves makes a tasty fresh vegetable, either on its own or in stews and casseroles. The rich green leaf tops are excellent for flavouring soups. Besides being tasty, leeks are also nutritious; they are rich in vitamin A.

A member of the onion family, leeks are much easier than onions to grow. They are very tolerant of soil conditions, growing in any soil which is not waterlogged, and, unlike onions, they are generally free from pests and diseases. Most varieties are perfectly hardy and can remain in the ground through winter weather until needed. You can, by sowing early under glass, have leeks for harvesting in autumn, but it is really during winter and early spring that they are most welcome. Other garden vegetables are scarce at this time, and those in the shops are expensive.

There are long and short varieties of leeks available; the short, or ‘pot’ leeks are very popular in the north of England and Scotland, where they are often grown for exhibition work. Pot leeks are thick and stumpy, rather than tall, and have circumferences of up to 37.5 cm (15”).

Of the long leeks, broad flag varieties (sometimes called London leeks) are not frost hardy, and should be lifted before heavy winter weather sets in.

Suitable site and soil

Although leeks are tolerant of a wide range of soil types, they grow best on a moist, light soil that has been heavily manured for a previous crop. Freshly manured soil is not suitable, because leeks grown in very rich soil will be tough and coarse, with too much leaf growth. If the soil is in need of organic matter, it is best to dig in well-rotted garden compost, leafmould or peat mixed with hop manure just before planting. If the soil is deficient in potash, apply a fertilizer rich in potash (fertilizers used for tomatoes are suitable).

In crop rotation, leeks follow lettuce, cabbage or peas, but it is not a good idea to plant them immediately after lifting early potatoes though this is often done. This is because the soil will be too loose and disturbed, and leeks do best on a firm soil.

Apart from considerations, the choice of situation in the vegetable plot may be influenced by the fact that leeks are generally left in the ground to be dug up as required throughout the winter, and can remain in the ground for a year or more. If you use a strict rotation system, you should bear this in mind, unless you have reserved a plot for semi-permanent crops like asparagus or artichokes, and there is some free space for your leeks. Do not grow leeks in the same place year after year, or there will be an increased risk of pests and diseases.

Sowing

Sowing in winter under glass is necessary if you want leeks ready for summer and autumn exhibition, but for normal household consumption wait until early to mid-spring depending on weather, when they can be sown outdoors. They can either be sown in a seed-bed for transplanting the following summer, or sown in their permanent positions. If sown in a seed-bed, you have the additional bother of transplanting. Against this must be balanced the facts that if they are sown in their permanent position, they will take up a lot of space for a very long time before producing results.

Sow the seeds thinly (about 100 seeds to the metre) as germination is usually very good, in drills about 0.5 cm (5”) deep, and cover the seeds with fine sifted soil. If properly stored, the seeds will remain viable for four years so you can keep extra seeds for future use. After covering the seeds, firm the drills down and water if the soil is dry. Drills should be 15 cm (6”) apart in the permanent bed. Germination should take 14-21 days, and thinning should begin as soon as possible, when the plants are not more than thin green shoots, about six weeks from sowing. Thin moderately the first time, as some of the plants may die, and then thin again, when all seems to be going well, so that the plants are about 10 cm (4”) apart.

Planting out

By mid-summer, when they are about as thick as pencils and 20 cm (8”) high, the leeks will be ready for transplanting to the permanent bed. If you can plant during showery weather, the young leeks will get over their planting check much more quickly; otherwise water the seedbed the day before lifting if the soil is dry. To eliminate the bother of sowing, thinning and transplanting, you can buy young leeks from your nurseryman at this stage. Leeks can stand the rigours of transport and once planted will quickly settle in.

There are several methods of planting out leeks, depending partly on soil type and partly on the quality sought. Exhibition leeks are usually grown on the flat, because it suits the special methods used for blanching and is least likely to damage the roots. Unlike those grown for kitchen use, leeks grown for exhibition should never have their roots or leaves cut back when transplanted. You can also grow leeks in shallow trenches, pot holes, or, if the soil is heavy and badly drained, on raised beds.

To plant leeks in holes, use a thick dibber or trowel; make the holes 15 cm (6”) deep, and 15-23 cm (6-9”) apart, depending on what size of leeks you plan to harvest. Many people prefer the taste of the smaller, tender, immature leeks to that of the enormous, prizewinning ones. Make sure the holes are vertical, and move the dibber about from side to side so that they are slightly larger at the top; the holes should be about 5 cm (2”) in diameter. Cut back the roots until they are 2.5 cm (1”) long, and trim the tips of the leaves back slightly. Lower the young leeks into the holes, and gently lill the holes with water. The water will wash enough soil over the base of the plant for it to become established. As you hoe the rows from time to time, the holes will gradually fill up with soil. Leeks grown in this way will not be completely blanched, but the pale green portions seem to impart the best flavour to a soup. If you prefer thoroughly blanched leeks, this can be done quite easily by earthing up. A useful tip to note when planting is that by the time the leeks have reached transplanting size, it will be possible to see which way the leaves arch. They can then be planted so that the leaves of each plant run along the row, instead of at right angles to it, taking up more space, and being liable to injury during cultivation.

Another way of growing leeks is to plant them 25 cm (10”) apart in a trench. This method is particularly good if you have a deep, fertile soil; otherwise it is best to plant on the fiat. The trench should be excavated to a depth of 30 cm (l’)j and if there is more than one trench, they should be at least 75 cm (2’6”) apart. If you try to dig the trenches closer together, the walls of the trench are likely to collapse. Into the bottom of each trench dig about 7.5 cm (3”) of well-rotted garden compost and cover it with about 15 cm (6”) of topsoil. Carefully plant the leeks, perfectly upright, in the bottom of the trench. Then water in as before. Form the remaining soil into flat-topped ridges between the rows. These ridges are excellent places for quick catch crops, such as lettuce or radishes, which will be harvested well before the soil is needed for earthing-up the growing leeks.

Cultivation and care

Water the young plants generously until they are well established. Soon after planting apply liquid manure. If the soil is not adequately rich in fertilizers, nitrate of soda, nitro-chalk or sulphate of ammonia may be applied at the rate of 10 g per metre run (1/3 oz per yard run) about five weeks after planting and watered in; alternatively, apply twice this amount of soot along the row when the plants are well established or liquid feed about once a fortnight through the growing season, instead of giving the single dressing of dry fertilizer.

Hoe between the rows regularly to keep down weeds and also to aerate the soil. Frequent hoeing also creates a dust mulch which helps conserve moisture.

Leaves which grow too long and unmanagable can be cut back slightly, so that they do not trail on the ground. Cut thelong, dark green, outer leaves back by about 5 cm (2”) in early summer, again in mid-summer, and a third time, if necessary, in early autumn. If you are growing leeks for exhibition, however, do not shorten the leaves, unless they are decayed.

01. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Garden Management, Gardening Calendar, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Diary September Week Four

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