Just recently I had a flashback to my childhood days and had one of those connection moments where I realised a subconscious link was happening.
In the attic that was my playground as a very young boy, I remembered that my sister and I had various toys from Britain’s Ltd. I of course had toy soldiers but we also had farm animals and the Britain’s Floral
garden. Although I think it was intended for my sister I commandeered it on a regular basis and as well as creating battlefield scenarios with the various walls and divides I also took great delight in creating pristine imaginary gardens from the immaculate scored felted cardboard lawns, playing card size crazy paving and the hard brown plastic rectangular beds that were filled with soft rubber vegetables and flowers that you inserted using a single pinned miniature fork into the respondent holes to create immediate pop up flora .Add to that the gleaming white plastic greenhouse, pond features, garden furniture and the overhanging floppy rubber trees and my early designer instincts were fueled.
I was outside the other day when I realised I’d copied some of the Britains Floral garden elements into my present garden layout and have to say I was taken aback. The low walls that surround the house and mark out the boundaries between areas were particularly reminiscent of the Roy Selwyn-Smith models and even my ‘blue’ greenhouse had similar scaled dimensions.The big difference and where the mental jump occurred was the realisation that in Britains Floral Garden there were no weeds, nothing really grew , nothing needed divided, there were no pests or diseases.What I was staring at outside was nothing like a Britains Floral Garden. The reality of modern day, grown up gardening was a far cry from the sterile, plastic, manicured miniature version that was suspended in toy time with perfect eternal aesthetics. I now knew where the dream came from. Toys in the attic. http://www.brightontoymuseum.co.uk/index/Category:Britains_Floral_Garden
My garden is a daunting, demanding, ever engaging test of will with every day providing another challenge.
This weekend the orchard came to my attention and the plum and cherry trees that had gone uncared for over the last years and that couldn’t be pruned in the winter came on my radar.I thought they were plums and cherries but when I later discovered the “tree map” 3 of the 10 trees turned out to be a damson, a bluegage and a greegage. By pure accident I had decided to prune them at exactly the right time as when I guiltily googled the “do’s and dont’s” re pruning later I found out the perfect time was mid summer. I hit all the trees pretty hard as they were shading out swathes of light and especially from the apple hedge which is infested with wooly aphid https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=724
I’m hoping that by opening the canopies up and clearing all the nettles, sticky willow and other weeds at the base that have consumed the hedge it’ll let in air, sunlight and most importantly predators to curb the aphid population. Our new Stihl brush-cutter/ strimmer is proving a useful tool as there’s too much undergrowth and cover that I can’t get to with the mower and that’s acting as a refuge for an expanding tribe of rabbits that are munching their way through my plots and perennials.The rabbits are causing more damage than aphids just now and my airgun is useless and more of a scarer than an effective weapon against them. I can hear them sniggering in the long grass as I take aim over the garden wall parapet and let fly a useless pellet towards the distant horizon. Liam is quite happy at my many failed attempts as he has designated himself wildlife guardian and frowns on any violence towards anything but spiders and vine weevil. I have to admit that if I did somehow manage to hit one I’d be racked with guilt. I need to bring in a less sensitive man with a proper gun to despatch them so they can disappear and my conscience is only tarnished rather
With the garden split into a number of areas, the orchard, furthest away from the studio, tends to be neglected and this year I decided on a blitz. The apples were pruned hard in the winter and have nearly all managed to bear fruit as well as throw out tons of new water shoots that need to be brought under control in the summer pruning sessions.The pears are disappointing and one that I thought had been hit by Pear midge looks like it’s now been a victim of Jack Frost. All the fruits are blackened but as there’s no maggots inside as you get with the Midge it looks like a weather issue rather than an insect problem. The other pear trees are bare and I have them in the sights of my secateurs as a clever prune in the next weeks could sort them out for next year.
Out of the 5 cherry trees 2 are pretty decently laden with fruit, one has been hit by black aphids and is dripping with honeydew that the bees and wasps are loving and the other 2 are just disappointing and haven’t delivered.Again judicious pruning in the next weeks cutting back the new growth and training water shoots should pay back next year. The couple of trees that are dotted with cherries have had to be covered to stop birds ransacking them. A couple of 8m square nets arrived in the post a few days ago and were duly slung over the trees. Strangely the first and only bird that we inadvertently trapped and then released was a green woodpecker who was moving too frantically for Rab to get a photo
The plums are also mixed with the branches of one tree in particular breaking up under the weight of fruit. I had to cut off a lot of split limbs and really launch at the cuts to open it up. I’ll have to remove a lot of green plums as there’s no way the tree can bring that much fruit and if I’m going to get a decent crop then I need to thin them out and not be greedy.The rest of the trees were out of control and I had to be brutal with the saw. I remembered my old forestry training and made sure I dressed all the cuts with anti fungicidal sealant and washed all the cutting tools in disinfectant between trees so not to spread disease.
The reshaping has been drastic and I know the trees will survive although next year will need a lot of work on the water-shoots that will be sent out as instinctive survival behaviour. It may take 2 years to get a crop from some of them and that’s after a lot of TLC from my secateurs.
I learned so much about fruit trees this weekend and discovering the ‘orchard map’ made things a lot easier to deal with and understand what I have down there in the rows. It should have been looked after a lot better than it has since it was originally planted in 2009 and it’s only since Simone set up a small table and chair set we have spent more time down there getting away from the phones and the computer screens. Just the other day we had lunch together in the orchard and with the big hedges blanking out the big blustering South Westerly and reducing it to the sound of a loud ocean it was truly idyllic.It’s a great place to escape to and it should play a more important part in our drive to self sufficiency. Hopefully the new focus I got in the last days will pay dividends in the coming years.
I’ve still got a hell of a lot to learn and fights to fight. I discovered the pyramid caterpillars yesterday; wee bastards that create a pyramid cocoon to protect them from birds and then parachute into the apple tree canopy to defoliate a tree. Add them to the various moths and beetles, scabs and fungi and it’s a never ending war where the use of chemical weapons is a betrayal of spirit.
I was told that when diseases and insects attack it just takes a while for the natural balance to recover and for predators to emerge to take advantage of the food source. Interestingly enough in the last week or so I’ve seen an abundance of hoverflies on the local scene and as natural predators of aphids I welcome their appearance. I’ve bought in some allies and today was delivered 25 ladybirds who tonight will be parachuted into various places in the garden to begin their new occupation. I’m hoping that the new arrivals will breed quickly enough to help me out and God knows there’s enough food for them out there.
The problem is ants.
Now sit tight here. This isn’t ‘fake news’ and for those of you who aren’t gardening types this could win you a pub quiz prize or at the very least get a raised eyebrow and a moment’s silence as your mate’s bow down to your incredible natural knowledge.
Ants farm aphids.
Yes. Correct. Ants farm aphids.
Although ants do no harm to leaves, root systems or any part of a plant they do tuck away aphid eggs over winter and release the grown up mini monsters onto plants aphids love. The aphids gorge away secreting honeydew that ants love and thrive on and in return the ants kill any predators to protect their source of honeydew. That includes ladybirds, hoverflies and other insects. Ants are, in short aphid security and if you have a plant, as I do with 2 honeysuckle bushes infested with blackfly. you can find them patrolling the leaves seeking out aphid predators as they get their fix of honeydew.I knew they were clever but when did ants get into farming!?
And so now if I find an aphid infested plant I keep an eye open for the presence of ants and if I find them I drop a natural bomb on the trails that takes them out the loop before I parachute in any ladybirds.
The bird feeders I stocked up over the last winter have paid off and the avian population is acting as my RAF when it comes down to whittling away at the caterpillar population. Nematodes seem to have sorted out slugs and vine wevil but I still need some attachments of 7th Cavalry to deal with the blackfly and various aphids that I know will be teeming in the next weeks.
I lost all my turnips to grey cabbage aphid and perhaps ( crosses himself hopelessly) Cabbage Root Fly. 2 months waiting and thinning, feeding and nurturing and a bunch of sad stumps are attached to the greenery. I can only be disappointed and move on, rotating the plant types and hope for the best.
Onions have been fantastic in the main but the garlic ; even though planted in a “clean” bed has succumbed to “red rust”. The bulbs can be eaten but can’t be stored for long.
Carrots- great, Brussels sprouts and other brassica s holding up, salads wonderful and most everything else is moving on.
The greenhouse has ups and downs. Blossom End Rot on the tomatoes from bad watering technique lost me a bunch of toms but as with the plums there’s enough to fill the gaps and let’s go for quality not quantity.
Chillis and peppers are going to deliver and the cucumbers and courgettes are fab! We could just do with more space as it literally is a jungle in there.
There’s still more seed to sow as the season unbelievably moves into the second half plus extra time.There are a lot more perils and disappointments to be coped with.
We had a huge bonfire yesterday as the winter prunings and the new cuts became too much too handle. Getting rid of diseased branches and other material best off in the flames was a cleansing experience and a welcome pint in the Tyneside the perfect end to a day. It’s a never ending battle but as some of you know so worthwhile when you are sitting at table eating food you grew from seed and know exactly how it got there.
This week we will mostly be eating strawberries 🙂