Monday, 10 October 2011

Cobnuts to you!

This is the first year (yr 2) that I've had a small harvest of cobnuts/filberts from my trees. The trees are Kentish Cob and Purple Filbert. I'm not sure why I felt driven to install these two in my garden when my neighbour has an overgrown hazel hedge that showers the road and pavement with hazel-nuts that I could collect, but they've filled a spot on the North side of a big conifer hedge and appear to be quite happy there. As garden trees they are well behaved and attractive, with the bonus that they produce a bit of late winter interest with their long catkins.

Purple Filbert / Cobnut
I've not quite figured out what I'm supposed to do with the handful of cobnuts I've harvested this year. I tried them "green and sweet", but I didn't warm to that particular delicacy.

I tried following the "microwave nut roasting" recipe, but they went somewhat mushy rather than roasted. Maybe I should have dried them out first. I'll try actually slow-roasting them in an actual oven next time.

My talent at cracking nuts without the aid of a nutcracker has also been called into question. Kitchen scissors with a notch in them - danger Will Robinson, danger! - did not work out so well. Squashing them as you would garlic under a big flat knife resulted in, yes, squashed nuts. Finally, I tried tapping them firmly with a heavy pestle. After several further smooshings, I adjusted to the right amount of pressure to crack the shell without pummelling the nut.

Verdict so far - promising, but I haven't cracked them yet.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Vegetables to sow or plant in September

The weather turned distinctly autumnal today. It's sunny/cloudy, chilly, rainy, and windy. I still plan to sow a few vegetable seeds this month that are destined to be planted in raised beds or my new "over-wintering bed" which has a cold-frame mounted on it.

Raised beds with Enviromesh to protect brassicas and lettuce, and 4ftx4ft coldframe
Vegetables I'll sow this month:
Cauliflower All The Year Round for earlier crop in spring, I'll plant some out and keep some in pots in the coldframe to hedge my bets.
Spring Onions for stir frying, I'm not so keen on them raw, or at least, not so keen on their after-effects.
Pak choi, some winters I've been able to harvest full-size pak choi in December.
Lettuce Winter Gem, these I'm going to split between enviromesh hoops and the cold frame and see which does best
I've also sown Winter Tares, White and Red Clover in the beds that will probably be empty over winter, to protect the soil.

Veg to plant this month:
Spring cabbages Pixie and Spring Hero sown last month

Calabrese (unknown type) I bought a tray from the garden centre for £2,99 (I was only supposed to go and buy birdseed!) as my calabrese crop got pigeoned when I wasn't paying attention. This lot were planted straight out under enviromesh netting which keeps the cabbage white butterflies and the wood pigeons off 'em.

Depending on how the Japanese onions are looking they may get planted late-on this month too.

New strawberry beds, September 2011

I've also just planted out new strawberry beds this year. I took a year off from strawberries last year, and I missed them. I only intended to have two beds but of course, there was a muliti-strawberry plant offer on.

Instead of my all-time-favourite-flavoured strawberry Honeoye, I've got 3 I haven't grown before: Marshmello, Marshmarvel and Amelia. Three beds are planted up, with the strawberries a bit too close together in a row, but I'm hoping that only planting a single row down the middle will make up for that.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Growing Peaches in Yorkshire

Much to the surprise of many people, I've had a lot of success growing peaches outside all-year-round in Yorkshire.  I haven't been brave enough to plant any out directly in the garden, but the 3 in pots are doing so well, that the doughnut shaped peach "Saturn" and dwarf "Redwing" may have accidentally fallen into an online shopping cart the other day. Oh dear, there's going to have to be some shuffling around on the patio.

Here's a run down of how to get delicious, incredibly juicy, fuzzy peaches like the ones from my tree in the picture below.  We grow-your-own types are well known for saying "there's nothing like a freshly picked ..."  about everything we grow, but really, really, there is nothing like a sun-warm peach picked fully ripe and eaten right there next to the tree (take a kitchen towel).

Peach Tree Avalon Pride in full fruit
What variety of peach:
If you have space for only one peach in a pot (you'll find more space once you get started!) my recommendation is Avalon Pride simply because it's the only peach leaf curl resistant variety. I've left Avalon Pride outside all year round, completely un-sprayed for 2 years, and it's shown no sign of being touched by the horrible peach leaf curl fungus (see below for more about peach leaf curl). In the same location other peaches and nectarines, even though sprayed with copper fungicide (organic-permitted), have all been affected either slightly, or quite badly.

If you really only have room for a dwarf peach, I've been growing a very happy little peach called Bonanza, which produces full size juicy peaches on a pretty, dwarf, mop-head tree. This November new peach arrivals will be Redwing, which has some leaf curl resistance, and Saturn - a flat white-fleshed asian peach. I'll let you know how the other peaches get on next year and whether I'd recommend either of them!

My Peach Tree Suppliers:
I bought the three peaches I've written about here as bare root trees:
Thompson & Morgan - Avalon Pride, Bonanza
Blackmoor Fruit Nurseries - Avalon Pride

Where to grow them:
Peaches in the North are really best grown near a sunny south-facing wall. I don't grow them as fans, as I've no suitable place to plant them. Instead I grow them as free standing bushes in containers. You don't have to go for a dwarf variety to grow a peach in a pot. I've got 2 Avalon Pride trees, growing happily in 2 large airpot containers. They've not outgrown their welcome and since they are quite precocious and will probably bear a small crop the summer after you plant them, and a good crop the year after that, it's worth the chance that some day they'll get a bit too big and need cutting back. During the summer put your potted peach in the sunniest spot you've got.

Peaches are fairly hardy and like blueberries, need a period of chilling over winter in order to break dormancy properly in spring. All of my peaches growing in pots have survived -8C winters, but they are grown close to the house wall. House walls produce a warmer microclimate. Extremely low temperatures can damage flower buds (in the region of about -15C), but I've never had that problem. So, keep your peach near to a South wall if you can and wrap up in horticultural fleece only if the weather is likely to be particularly severe.

Another advantage of growing peaches in pots is that they're less likely to get waterlogged - peaches don't like to have their roots in waterlogged soil for any length of time.

Watering peach trees in pots
The only disadvantage of growing in pots is that the tree is reliant on you for a regular water and nutrient supply. In summer they may need to be watered every day. When you water give the peach a good soak so that water gets all the way down to the bottom of the pot. As a rough guide about an inch of water on top of the compost will soak down around 6 inches. Irregular watering will cause peach pits or fruits to split and the fruit may spoil quickly on the tree. If you can, give them a good drink in the morning before you go to work.

Feeding your peach
Peaches are quite hungry trees and crop better with a plentiful supply of nitrogen. In spring apply a good handful of fish, blood and bone fertiliser lightly ruffled into the top inch of soil, then cover with a inch of compost or other organic mulch. In autumn after the fruits are harvested, lightly work some bonemeal into the mulch. Bonemeal helps to harden the plant up in time for winter.  After the fruits have set and are about the size of a big marble, feed with an organic liquid tomato food every couple of weeks until harvesting starts.

Nectarine Blossom and newly emerging leaves in March - Nectarine Flavour Top
Making sure you get a good fruit set
Peaches flower early in the year, sometimes as early as late February, but generally in my garden in the first week or two of March. You could bring them indoors into a cold greenhouse or a cool conservatory, but pots can be heavy and awkward to move, and the peaches then have to cope with the rather extreme temperature changes that occur under glass. I find it best to keep them against the house and cover them with fleece if the weather forecast says it's likely to drop below 2C when the flower buds are opening.

There aren't many insect about at that time of year in Yorkshire, so I hand pollinate the flower every day or every other day, by gently sweeping a small soft paintbrush over the flowers. Peaches are self fertile so you can just brush over all the flowers on one peach without having to worry about having two different sets of pollen.
Fruit thining

Yes it's heartbreaking to cut off those tiny fuzzy peaches before they get a chance to grow, but you'll have to trust me on this - steal yourself and thin out the fruit to only 1 peach every 6 inches. Yes,  every 6 inches, no "spares." Avalon pride seems to get a lot of funky-looking twin peaches, so I thin those out first to warm myself up to the idea. Thin out at about marble sized, then again golf-ball sized. You'll have much bigger and better peaches by thinning them out.

Peach Problems - Peach leaf curl
Peach leaf curl is a horrible-looking fungal infection that occurs anywhere where peaches are grown in cool damp conditions. It infects leaves just as they are emerging, so there's no point trying to control it once you've seen it. Infected leaves curl and form large dark red lumpy sections, and eventually are shed early by the tree. Extensive infections weaken the tree, may cause twigs to die bag and will seriously affect the harvest.

If you can't keep your peach tree inside and dry, the most effective things I've found, in order, are:
1. 'Full' natural resistance  - Avalon Pride - no sign of curl so far
2. Slight natural resistance, plus organic-approved copper fungicide (e.g. Bordeaux mixture) spray in February -  Nectarine Flavour Top only one or two leaves showed curl. Several other peaches and nectarines show slight resistance
3. Spray in February and wishful thinking, Bonanza had a few leaves curled, dwarf nectarine Nectarella showed about 50% leaves curled and a few twigs died back, Peregrine peach was about 75% covered (then a tree surgeon dropped a big old branch on it and that was the end of it!) :(

Other things that I've found don't make a difference are covering with fleece (but still necessary for protecting flowers from frosty weather), and picking off affected leaves - you might as well leave them on, the tree will drop them when it's ready. Don't let peach leaf curl put you off, if you don't want to spray at all, give Avalon Pride a go.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Heavenly pink roses

I love David Austen's English roses. Today 3 new roses arrived. 2 x Gentle Hermione, and 1 Skylark. I bought Gentle Hermione for a friend in Lancashire 2 Christmases ago, after reading that the petals were "particularly resistant to rain," a quality to be much appreciated on that side of the Pennines. She loves the scent and I've finally decided that I have to have a pair of my own. I think I'm going to plant one in a pot and train it up a 1.5m obelisk so that I can have the flowers at perfect smelling height.

Skylark I bought on it's reputation for having a wonderful strong myrhh scent. Once the sun's been on them tomorrow (with any luck) I'll find out what myrhh smells like.
David Austen Rose Gentle Hermione
Above, Gentle Hermione has been a winner in Lancashire. I'll find her a home somewhere this weekend.

David Austen Rose Skylark

Skylark - new addition, looking forward to sampling the scent tomorrow!(update: strong spicy scent with a hint of aniseed, scent seems to carry well)

David Austen Rose Queen of Sweden

Queen of Sweden has been completely healthy in my Yorkshire garden for 3 years, not a sign of anything more than a slight munching by some tiny caterpillar. Very upright growth, which is nice in a flower bed, planted with geraniums in front. Lovely sweet and quite strong scent that I'd call a tingly, sugary, rose. Well over 4ft tall this year. After some very high winds in late spring she's had to be tied up to keep her regal upright shape. I'll prune back hard this winter.

David Austen Rose Brother Cadfael
Very large peony shaped roses that smell absolutely heavenly. A rich sherbetish, and very strong rose scent. I can't decide whether this or Munstead Wood is my favourite rose scent. The flowers are the most lovely glowing pink. They don't stand up so well to summer rain, but given a dry spell this is a stunning rose. Tends to get a bit of rust late in the season in my garden.

David Austen Rose Wildeve
I grow Wildeve in a large pot, the rounded shape looks good in a pot. Wildeve has a lovely clean fresh tea rose scent. Lots of nice, small, dark green leaves keep it interesting even when it's having a little rest between blooming. Generally very healthy in my garden.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


A woodpecker visited our garden for the first time. The woodpecker shares the fat balls with no-birdy.

Summer Sun Cherry Tree

This has to be my favourite cherry so far. Summer sun produces big, very dark maroon-purple cherries, which are both firm and very juicy.

I grow Summer Sun on the Gisela 5 rootstock. Officially, Gisela 5 produces a tree that can be kept to around 8ft or so, but in order to keep the tree small enough to fit inside our free-standing fruit cage (constructed from bits and pieces of interlocking aluminium tubing and plastic corners), I'm training it into a weeping form.

Summer Sun on Gisela 5 can be grown in large ordinary pots, but I'm giving airpots a go. Airpots (there are a couple of types, I've got both) should in theory stop the trees getting rootbound and mean that I can keep growing them in the same pot for 3 or 4 years. Summer Sun lives in the tarmac orchard.

Name: Summer Sun / Gisela 5
Type: Mid-season large black cherry
Planted: Autumn 2010
Tree form: 2yr old bare root bush
Location: Tarmac Orchard, 80 litre Air Pot
Cropping history: 2011: in its first summer I harvested around 20 perfect, beautiful, mouthwatering cherries.

I dream of pluots

It's probably time to admit that I have a problem. A fruit tree problem. If there's a fruit tree that I might possibly, just maybe, manage to get through winter and harvest some fruit from, I'll buy it and try it. Some purchases turn out better than others (I have not as yet been deluged with guavas or pawpaws). This, I think, was one of the good ones.
This beautiful little plum is really a pluot called flavour king. If you haven't heard of pluots it's a plum crossed with an apricot whose offspring is then crossed again with a plum. There are dozens of pluots available in the US, but only one in the UK, so far. So I only have one, so far. And another due to arrive in November. It's the same kind. Is it strange that I bought it as a back-up in case this one has some kind of problem? Probably a little, but I've grown quite fond of this nice little tree. And I like to ask people "would you like a pluot?" Strange again, yes, I know.

Anyway, "how has the pluot fared as a garden fruit tree?", you ask. "Should I buy one so that I too may offer pluots to my friends?" you wonder. Read on and decide if you should make room for a pluot on your plot.

Our pluot is planted in a flower-bed in an improved clay-based soil. At the very beginning of spring the pluot is covered in pretty, pure white, perfect little 5-petalled flowers.   The growth is neat, nicely spaced, with the branches tending to grow at about 45 degrees, rather than shooting up vertically like many plums. So far it's stayed compact and at 4 year's old it's about 5'6". It doesn't need any pruning or training.

US sites recommend planting pluots along with different types of pluots for better pollinization. Since we can only get flavour king here it needs an early flowering plum (like Lizzie) or I've found that mirabelles in our garden flower at around about the same time.

The tree has been trouble free so far. Feed it in spring with a balanced organic feed like fish, blood and bone sprinkled around the base and ruffled into the soil. It also gets a treat of wood-ash from the fire (for potash, which aids flowering and fruit production) and a mulch of whatever compost material is to hand early in the year.

Flavour-wise, pluots taste to me like a very rich sweet plum. Certainly much more plummy than apricotish. The flesh is really, really sweet, a little more sour towards the stone, the skin is tart like that of a purple/blue plum.

This pluot was planted in 2009, and so far the harvest has not, I must admit, been awesome. But it's early days, and I'm hoping that in 2012 we'll get more than the dozen or so pluots that I picked this year.

If you're looking for a small, ornamental fruit-bearing tree I'd happily recommend this pluot.

I don't hold out much hope that I'll resist finding a little spot for an aprium (apricot x plum x apricot) if they ever make it to the UK, even though I've never managed to get an Apricot to survive the winter here in Yorkshire. Gardeners are oddly optimistic folk.

Pluot suppliers:
I've only found one supplier in the UK - Thompson & Morgan, click here for Pluot Flavour King
Edit 5th September: oh! oh! Breaking news, suttons have a Flavour Supreme Pluot. Must investigate.