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Garden Produce

There are several advantages when growing your own fruit and vegetables, the obvious being the cost savings. However, the greater varieties you can grow, the freshness of the produce, the control of how their grow (organically if you so choose), and the fact that it is a healthy and rewarding pastime, could be argued as being a greater advantage!

Garden Fruit
Pomology - the science of fruit growing
Fruit - the mature ovary of flowering plants

Top or Tree Fruit:
Apple, pear, plums, gages, damsons, cherry, peaches, nectarines, figs, apricots.
Soft Fruit:
Strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, gooseberry, blackberry & hybrids, currants.

Garden Vegetables
The main crops grown in the garden or allotment:

Salad crops - cucumber & lettuce
Legumes - peas & beans
Roots - carrots, beetroot, turnips & parsnips
Brassicas - cabbage, brussels sprouts & cauliflower
Leeks & Onion

The Soil and Aspect

To help avoid disappointment when growing plants for food, there are several factors that need careful consideration before selecting and preparing the site:

Aspect - will affect the light and warmth; south or west facing is best.
Shade - reduces growth rate; keep away from trees, hedges and tall shrubs.
Drainage - influences plant development; if inadequate will cause crop failure.
Soil Type - influences drainage, plant germination & development; loam is essential.
Soil Depth - influences plant development, drought resistance & nutrient reservoir.
Soil pH - influences plant development & soil based diseases; pH 6.5 - 7 is best.
Shelter - influences plant development.
Irrigation - maximizes crop vigour and yields.
Frost Pocket - damage to spring growth and blossom.
Replant Problems - crop failure due to soil-borne P&D & deficiencies; rotate crops.
Perennial Weeds - will effect plant development; by smothering & competition.

Growing Fruit

Planting: Fruit trees or bushes are available bare-rooted or containerized. Winter, late autumn, or early spring is the time of year for bare-rooted plants. Remove the soil for the planting hole and ensure it's wider and deeper than the root system. Fork over the base. Mix compost and a handful of a bonemeal with the excavated soil to make up a planting mixture. Add a layer of the mix into the base of the hole. If planting against a wall or fence, allow at least a gap of 15cm, and angle the plant towards the wall/fence. Free standing trees will need staking, which should be driven in at the side of the hole facing the prevailing wind, prior to back-filling the excavated soil mix. Place the tree into the hole, space the roots evenly, and add the mix around the roots. As you cover the roots, give the plant a gentle shake up and down and firm the soil with the heel to ensure good root contact. Water well.

Containerized trees are planted much the same way, except the roots are not disturbed, and the trees or bushes can be planted any time of the year. Water the plants thoroughly prior to planting. The stake is inserted after planting to avoid damaging the roots - drive-in the stake at an angle to point into the prevailing wind.

With regards to tree stakes, use short stakes as this will allow the tree to grow sturdier. Remember to check all tree-ties annually and slacken as the tree thickens.

Pruning: The objective is to produce an open 'goblet' shape to your trees. Over a few years, an un-pruned tree will become diseased and tangled, with resulting poor fruit quality. The time of year to prune:
Apple & Pear trees - winter for shape and summer for fruit.
Plum & Cherry trees - spring for shape and after harvest for fruit.

At this point, if you haven't done so already, it would help to refer to Pruning Principles for more information.

Most trees available for purchase are normally two years old, with the leader already 'stopped'. The tree will then require training over the following two years: Reduce the branch leaders by half the first year after purchase, and reduce laterals by half the following year.

The open shape required for fruit trees.
The subsequent pruning of apples and pears will be to encourage fruiting and keep the tree open. The normal rule of thumb is to reduce selected leaders by about half their length and laterals down to about 5 buds. Bear in mind - if you prune out completely branches with fruit spurs you will reduce the yield. Having said that, it may become necessary to remove entire branches in order to restore an open shape.

Plum and cherry trees must only be pruned when wounds can heal quickly to help reduce infection of Silver Leaf. This is why they are pruned during the growing season. Once the main framework has been formed little structural pruning will be needed - follow the normal pruning principles and reduce a few leaders and laterals as and when required for shape.

Raspberry canes that fruit during autumn produce the fruit on new wood - prune the old canes to ground level in February. Summer fruiting raspberries produce their fruit on old wood - prune canes to ground level after fruiting and tie the current seasons canes in to fruit next year.

Blackberry, Loganberry etc. fruit on old wood - prune the stems that produced the fruit to ground level after cropping and tie-in the current seasons stems to fruit the next year.

Gooseberry, Red-currant and White-currant fruit on spurs and as such are pruned in the same way as apple trees.

Blackcurrant bushes fruit best on one to two year old wood so the aim once the bush has established is to prune to ground level the older thicker stems.

Top fruit trees and bushes will have been grafted onto rood-stock to help reduce their ultimate size, but will still require a fair amount of space to grow at their best. There are several restricted ways of growing top fruit in order to fit them into less space. Cordon, Espalier, Fan and Pillar, are the titles given to such methods. Basically, the laterals and sub-laterals are reduced to three to five buds every spring to stop the branches growing and produce fruit instead. For example:

Cordon - the main leader retained and tied-in to grow at 30°, all laterals reduced to five buds. Used for growing along walls and fences.
Espalier - the main leader retained, selected laterals tied-in to grow horizontally and the sub-laterals reduced to three or four buds. Used for walls and fences.
Fan - the main leader retained, selected laterals tied-in to grow out in a fan shape and the sub-laterals reduced to three or four buds. Used for walls and fences.
Pillar - the main leader retained to grow upright, all laterals reduced to five buds. Used for growing in pots and containers as a decorative feature.

Growing Vegetables

Cultivation: The correct site is important to get the best results, as will a system of crop rotation - the grouping of vegetables with similar needs will enable the best use of nutrients and prevent a build-up of soil borne pests & diseases. Divide the area into three plots and rotate the crop grown in each plot each year:

Year 1: Crops that require a neutral, rich, freshly cultivated & manured soil. Dig-in compost/manure in autumn/winter. Remainder - legumes, alliums, marrows, salads, spinach, sweet corn.

Year 2: Pre-season base-dressing of bonemeal. Root vegetables - carrots, beetroot, parsnip, including - potatoes & radish.

Year 3: Require alkaline conditions - lime if necessary. Pre-season base-dressing of bonemeal. Brassicas - cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnip, swede.

Give the soil a thorough dig-over during late autumn/early winter - incorporate organic matter to the plot that grew brassicas, ready for the legumes, onions etc. In early spring the soil will need further cultivating to remove any large clods and produce a suitable tilth. Timing is vital - the soil must not be wet and sticky - the top couple of centimeters should be dry but moist underneath. Using a fork, lightly turn the soil breaking the clods with the back of the fork, removing perennial weeds completely as you go (far easier whilst the plot is empty), annual weeds can be ‘turned in’ providing their not in seed. Once clumps of soil no bigger than a golf ball have formed, the area will be suitable for planting - delay planting brassicas till soil has settled for a week. Apply a base dressing depending on the crop to be grown and fork-in.
Further cultivation will be necessary prior to seed-sowing. Rake over the plot with a pushing and pulling action. Use the face of the rake to further break-up the clumps of soil. The final tilth should have a fine crumb, with clumps no larger than a pea. Apply a base dressing and fork-in.

As plants are developing, beware of pests and disease and be ready to control early - left unchecked, your crop can succumb in no time!
There are four methods we can use in the control of P&D:
• Cultural; proper soil cultivation's, crop rotation, growing the plants correctly, good garden hygiene, companion planting, using 'resistant' cultivars - ‘Autumn King’ carrots (good carrot fly resistance), ‘Widgeon’ brussels sprouts and ‘Pent land Crown’ potatoes (overall disease resistance).
• Physical; removing infected material or pests completely, eg digging-up and burning badly infected of infested plants or removing localized attacks.
• Chemical; applying pesticides and fungicides.
• Biological; using predatory or parasitic insects.

Lavender is a good plant to grow near vegetables.

We must also be vigilant to control weeds amongst the developing crops. This well
reduce competition and remove hosts for pests. There are three methods of weed control:
Cultural; proper soil cultivation's, clearing surrounding areas, mulching.
Physical; regular hoeing, hand-weeding.
Chemical; applying herbicides.

Adequate water will be required throughout the season to maintain growth & quality, maximize yields, and aid harvesting. As crops vary in their demand for water, aim to maintain the correct soil moisture content to suit the crop grown. For example; runner beans, cauliflowers and potatoes have a greater demand for water than onions, carrots and brussels sprouts. Insufficient irrigation during the summer dramatically affect crop quality and yield. The consequences of dry soil can be disastrous - that's apart from the death of the plants! Your crop will flower and rapidly run to seed (bolting), or stop growing and then resume when the soil becomes moist (checking), tomatoes split when dry soil suddenly becomes moist or wet.

Improving the soil organic content, ensuring the soil is completely moist before sowing or transplanting and applying a mulch at the correct time (mid spring), will help ensure the best possible start to the season. From then onwards it will be a matter of supplementing the soil moisture deficit according to rainfall during the summer months. Timing is crucial - the rooting zone should not be allowed to dry-out completely. Slow & steady irrigation at the base will have far better results than sudden & fast irrigation from above. Sprinklers, hose-pipes and watering-cans should therefore be used with care in order to adequately bring the soil back to a sufficient moisture level and avoid scorch or rotting problems. As the irrigation is slow and steady, better results are achieved using a seep-hose.

Vegetable Groups:

Brassica Crops:
Brassica is the Genetic name for some of the oldest group of plants grown for food in this country. We normally refer to the Brassicas as providing us with leafy or ‘green’ vegetables such as cabbages, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, but also included in the genus are plants we think of as root crops such as turnip and swede.
The normal method of growing brassicas is to raise the young plants from seed during spring in a seedbed, but the transplants could also be raised in modules or containers under protection (coldframe). The latter method reduces checking establishing plants (which can also lead to bolting) and allowing an early start - therefore extending the season giving rise to heavier yields. Brassicas prefer a deep alkaline and fertile soil. Another requirement is firm soil, so avoid excessive forking of the soil during the spring cultivation and ensure adequate time to settle before transplanting. There are several P&D that affect the crops - particularly cabbage root fly, cabbage white caterpillar and club root.

Onion and related crops:
The Allium Genus are bulbous plants providing us with a variety of culinary and decorative plants. The group includes onions, salad onions, shallots, garlic & leeks.  Fertile, light soil is one of the main conditions required in order to grow this group to a high standard, as is - sunshine and high temperatures. The crop require soil rich in fresh organic matter. If growing within the traditional plot rotational system, would occupy the plot that starts the three year cycle.
Ensure the crop is rotated annually to avoid soil diseases - white rot in particular. Onions, garlic and shallots will succumb to this white fungus that rots infected bulbs at the base. There is no cure and if any plants are infected, the general advice is to avoid growing on the site for several years.

These are the Peas and Beans. The main characteristics of plants within the Leguminosae family is their ability for nitrogen fixation. The roots contain nodules containing the bacteria Rhizobium which converts nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrates. This process releases nitrogen to the soil in a form the plants can use as a nutrient for healthy growth and can therefore be utilized to maintain N levels in the soil. The soil requirements -  enriched with organic matter, moisture retentive, not too acidic, good depth and well drained. Legumes are notoriously thirsty plants and adversely react to a shortage of water. The time to watch out for are as the flowers are forming - a shortage then may cause fewer flowers and poor flower setting - with the result of reduced yields. You will also need to irrigate during dry weather and crop regularly to prevent a premature end to growth. The Black bean aphid can be a major problem. Be vigilant and 'rub away' or spray off with water when noticed - large colonies can quickly build up, feeding on the sap and seriously weakening the plant.

Salad Crops:
Salad crops are relatively quick and easy to grow, but they do have a few specific soil requirements to grow at their best. The soil should ideally be a light to medium loam, well drained, have a good supply of organic matter, be a good depth without too many stones and have a neutral pH.

Since Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to our country from North Carolina during the 16th century the potato has formed the bases of our diet. Native of Peru, Solanum tuberosum is part of the Solanaceae family, with the genus making up the Nightshades - a feature of which is toxicity. The types of potato available:
• Early or First Early -late March lifted June/July - Maris Bard and Pentland Javelin.
• Second Early - plant April lift July/August - Wilja and Great Scott.
• Maincrop - plant late April lift September/October - Pentland Squire and Desirée.

If space is limited it is worthwhile growing early potatoes to lift and use straight away. Sow certified seed potatoes, which will be virus and eelworm free. Seed potatoes should be chitted (sprouted) before sowing to help establish the crop quicker. In February place the seed potatoes in egg-boxes with the rose end (area with the most eyes) uppermost. Keep in a frost-free, cool and light (not sunny) room for about six weeks. They will then be chitted and ready to plant. Potatoes are not too fussy about soil type but it must be lime free - the best crops will result if grown in a fairly light loam. Potatoes are a tender annual and earlies are sown before our frosts have finished. As such they will need frost protection as the crop develops. The tubers are underground so they will be protected but the haulm (vegetative growth) is not. The haulm therefore needs initial frost protection and this is given when earthing-up - as the haulm develops draw surrounding soil with the hoe to raise the ridge and cover the shoots. Earthing-up also encourages adventitious roots and therefore increased tuber formation. Irrigate during dry weather to ensure tubers are well formed.

Slugs, particularly the keeled slug, can cause considerable damage to maincrop potatoes - tunneling into the tubers. Worst attacks occur on heavy soils. Use the normal methods of slug control if necessary and harvest as soon as possible. The Potato Cyst Eelworm can be even more serious as soil infestations can remain active for several years. It gets it’s name from the minute yellow or brown cysts that grow on the roots, resulting in the plants becoming stunted, wilting and normally perishing by July. Rotate annually to avoid a build-up in the soil. Mosaic virus (yellow mottling on the leaves) and leaf roll virus (upward curling, brittle foliage) will detrimentally affect crop quality. The worst disease is Potato Blight - it affects maincrop potatoes causing the tubers to rot in the ground. The foliage will have yellow-brown patches and white-edged spots on the underside before withering and dying. Attacks are worst during damp summers - dig up and burn infected plants. As new potatoes are cropped early, they do not suffer from blight.


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Based in Essex, England About Links Courses Contact
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The Soil The Plant The Wildlife The Seasons Seasonal Planting Planting Combinations
Sense Appeal! Garden Focus WttG Visitors' Gardens Garden Beauty Garden Questions NPTC Courses