We have been hard at work in the fruit and veg garden this month. One of the jobs was to clear the glasshouse of the tomato crop. We had a good crop this year despite the weather. The outdoor crop was wiped out very early by blight, a common problem for us in the south-west. Cultivars grown this year include: Beefeater, Cossack, Cristal, Favoryt, Gardeners Delight, Shirley, Sungold, Sweet Million, Sweet Olive and Tigerella.
The cultivar Favory [ Suttons] is a large beefsteak type. This was the first year that we had grown it. Good flavour, thin skin and heavy crop. It compares well with my favourite beefsteak “Burpee Delicious”.
We saved the seed from the Burpee Delicious grown last year but nearly all the plants went “blind” at the first truss stage. We did wonder if it might have been hormone weed killer damage, although we sent some to Wisley but they did not seem to think so. As a result, none were grown this year but we will need to get some fresh seed next year.
We had little success with “Sweet Olive” [for the third year running] - the plants grow very “thin”, with long internodes and tough skins. Cossack was a cultivar from a commercial catalogue. This grew well, very uniform, round fruits but little flavour and tough skins and a hard bit in the middle – a triumph for modern plant breeding. We checked the roots of the crop for signs of disease. They seemed healthy so we will not need to change the soil this year. Instead all the glasshouse beds have been double dug.
It was then time to cut back the asparagus. We wait until all the foliage has turned yellow, and also raked away this year's mulch to expose the soil so that the birds can feed on any bugs in the soil. This helps to control asparagus beetles as they develop over winter as pupae in the soil.
There were a few foxgloves left in the nursery so we planted them in the veg garden. We grow a number of different flowers in the garden: some for cut flowers and others for companion planting to encourage beneficial insects. They also look nice - sometimes you need a break from vegetables!
Growing green manure is a good way to improve your soil but its not always easy to get it right. At Rosemoor we mainly use them in the winter to protect the soil from the damaging effects of heavy rain and to prevent the lose of valuable nutrients especially nitrogen. Nitrogen is a soluble nutrient and is easily washed out of the soil during the winter.
One of the problems is that if the plants do not establish quickly you can also get a large crop of weeds appearing as well. These can be very difficult to remove without damaging the green manure. Also it’s a lot of extra work. This is a particular problem with Winter Tare, which are often slow to establish if not sown early enough. At Rosemoor our latest sowing date is in mid September. However we had an additional problem this year – pheasants eating the crop, an adventurous rabbit [which scaled the rabbit proof fence around the veg garden] and large numbers of mice! Winter tares cannot stand any grazing at the seedling stage. If “nibbled” off at this stage it will often die out or establish poorly. This leaves bare soil and bare soil means weeds.
We are alerted to a problem by a visitor asking us why we were growing Bitter Cress as a green manure. Bitter Cress and Winter Tares look remarkably similar from a distance. So because we had lost most of the Winter Tares and replaced it with Wavy Bitter Cress we decided to hoe the crop off to clear the ground. However, all was not lost. I was able to use my favourite hoe. It’s a push- pull hoe from Wolf. Every few years someone comes out with a new hoe design but this one beats them all.
The best overwintering green manure for us is Phacelia. It gives maximum benefits with minimum problems. Even though its not hardy, it covers well, with a large amount of foliage produced – ideal for smothering weeds and by the spring it has almost broken down to nothing, which makes incorporating easier.
We have also been finishing off the last of the double digging. It's hard work but looks good when you’ve finished. However, to get the maximum benefit of all your efforts it's important to use “strawy” FYM. We double dig our veg beds every 3-4 years.
The fan trained Plum “Coe's Golden Drop” above has had to be dug out. We have finally given up on it, as it grew well but we could not give it the right conditions to crop well. We are on difficult site for plums in the walled garden, as it is a frost pocket, the soil is naturally too fertile [makes leaf growth instead of fruit growth] and it is prone to water logging in the winter – all things plums hate.
It's also the time of year to sow overwintering broad beans. We sow them in 7cm pots in the nursery and once the seedlings are just sowing they will be planted out, helping with the mouse problem and the wet soil. I’m not sure that much is gained by sowing this early as opposed to sowing in the spring - we only seem to gain a week or two.
We have also been removing the small figs that are left on the trees. Anything smaller than a pea is left – this is the crop for next year. By removing these larger fruits now energy can go into next years crop. No pruning is done at this time of year because may get damage through the winter, so it's better to prune in the spring.
The leek trial is still ongoing at Rosemoor but the cultivar “Snowdon” looks good. A nice big fat old fashioned leek.
Blog by Garry Preston, Fruit and Veg Gardener.