Nursery notes – February 15th

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As I write this, dawn is breaking across the marshes, shining silver in glistening reflections from the recent heavy rains. It looks as though we will get some sunshine today –  bright and cheerful for a change and a real harbinger of spring just around the corner we can all look forward to.

The recent weather has held up many jobs on the nursery and I’m sure its the same for you in your gardens. One we all need to catch up with soon is protecting peaches and nectarines with a copper spray to help prevent peach leaf curl, which can distort the young leaves and turn them a red colour. Prevention is always best in gardening and if you do not like to spray then using a lean to cover as a roof to keep the rain off the branches will also help. A cover will also give the blossom some protection against any late frosts, do remember to leave the ends open during the day so that bees can get in to pollinate the blossom. You will also need to hand tickle the flowers as they open every few days with a small brush or rabbits tail to ensure the crop ‘sets’.

Apricot
 trees
 do not get peach leaf curl but they will still benefit from a cover to protect the blossom and offer some extra help with pollination if there are not many bees about.
There are some new varieties of peach coming out which are resistant to peach leaf curl. One we released last year ‘Frost’, is thoroughly tried and tested, and well worth considering if you are looking to buy this season.

Pruning of the pip fruits should be finished or nearly finished and if you have any apples or pears still to do then best to get them done soonest. It is too early to prune any stone fruits such as plums yet,so it will be best to wait another few weeks for these.

Feeding fruit. Top dressing fruit trees now with a mulch and some slow release fertiliser will allow the rain to take this into the soil over the next few weeks. This will boost the trees just when they need it after a long cold winter.

Planting bare root fruit trees and soft fruit such as currants or Raspberries is ideal now as the soil will soon start to warm up, giving the plants an excellent start to the year.We suggest incorporating a mycorrhizal fungi such as ‘Tree Boost’, too, which will set them up well. Check any recently planted trees and their ties to ensure they are still firmly in the ground if you have had any strong winds recently.But take special care if the soil is still waterlogged.

Remember, our advice is free – if you need help just call – mail or tweet !

Trees do not grow in wriggly tin !

I had a call recently from a customer regarding a tree that did not seem to want to grow, “it just sits there – with its leaves all green but looking bored”.

On my visit a few days later I could see the tree was a couple of years old, planted by the previous owner in a lawn with grass right up to the trunk (not a good start) and the grass, which was rather patchy at best and full of moss, looked  pale and feeble. Further discussion with the client revealed that they had bought the property only six months before and were now looking to develop the garden for fruit and vegetables, some further investigation was needed.

So with spade in hand we dug up the tree carefully, the poor thing had made no progress with new roots to establish itself in the ground, so we dug further.

In an area the size of a normal planting hole (2ft x 2ft) we found 18 bricks some wriggly tin and a layer of compacted clinker, under that a set of footings for what may have been an old ‘outhouse’, by this time the hole had enlarged to 4ft square. The only thing we did not find was any soil of any type for the tree to grow in.

With the best will in the world its not fair to ask a tree to grow in those conditions and I wonder what the original ‘tree planter’ was thinking would happen – or is it just a case of lack of knowledge? Had that person been given the right advice before, would they have done the work to prepare the ground for the tree to prosper.

The remedy for this site came in the form of  large yellow digger and a trailer ,which carted away 15 tons of the old rubble and brickwork,to be replaced by drainage and topsoil. There, in due course we will plant another tree – or two !

Grapevine Planting / pruning – a quick guide

This is a brief post with a link to the full article, hopefully it may explain a few of the ways to grow a grapevine.

www.readsnursery.co.uk/grapevine-care/

GRAPEVINE CULTIVATION

There is a grape variety to suit most situations and they can be grown indoors, outdoors or in a pot for fruit production or decorative purposes.

Planting Outdoors

Grapevines are happy to grow in a wide range of soil types providing they are deep and free draining with a pH of around 6.5-7.0. Drainage is very important and attention must be given to this issue if the soil is poor draining .

Grapes need is a sunny sheltered aspect. Water is very important to a vine and even an established vine will need additional water in the growing season. It must be emphasised again – water logging in winter is a major contributing factor to the failure of a vine.

Where planted against a wall leave a gap of 18 inches /45 cm to keep the roots away from the dry spot at the base of the wall, using a cane to tie the vine to for additional support while it is establishing.

Wires will need fixing to the wall for support every 12-15 inches /30cm,use spacers to keep the wire away from the wall creating an air gap.

Planting Indoors

There are differing opinions regarding vines for the greenhouse. It really does not matter if grape is planted outside the greenhouse and fed inside or if it is planted inside. The advantage to outside planting is that the plant requires less water but an inside planted vine has the advantage of an earlier start into growth. A strong support system will be required .

Planting In Pots

The ideal growing medium for grapes in pots is John Innes No3. Plant in a wide bottomed pot as this adds to the stability and it will not blow over as easily. Remember to crock the pot well and place in a good sunny spot. Winter protection will be needed either by placing in a cold greenhouse or wrapping the pot to protect the root ball.

Pruning

This can be described as an extremely complex subject, but it actually isn’t, pruning vines is a very simple logical process.

There are two main methods for home gardeners to consider; drawn here for simplicity of explanation, there is also a video – here.

Spur Pruning for European ( vitis vinifera) greenhouse grapevines such as Black Hamburgh and Muscat Alexandria also used when growing over a pergola perhaps.

Full article and sketches available via the link above.

A quick guide to fruit tree rootstocks

Rootstocks and their effects on tree size.

Apple rootstocks

Nearly all commercial apple trees are grafted or budded onto rootstocks, which determine the size of the eventual tree. Knowing which rootstock is needed, and matching it to the soil and the size you want, enable a tree to be productive and healthy.

Most of the important rootstocks for apples were derived from material collected by East Malling Research Station, UK, in the early 1900s. Researchers collected and characterised the stocks developed by growers during the preceding centuries in Europe. Each one was given a number, preceded by M.

In 1917 The Malling Research Station joined forces with the John Innes Institute at Merton to breed some aphid-resistant rootstocks: the MM101-115 series.

A later development has been the cleaning up of some of these stocks (in conjunction with the Long Ashton research station) to produce virus-free stocks. These are prefixed by the letters EMLA (East Malling – Long Ashton).

In the notes below, M denotes a Malling rootstock, MM denotes a Malling-Merton hybrid.

M27 – Very small indeed, around half the size of M9. Tree needs full support. Fruit size reduced slightly. Moribund in wet soils. Very little pruning is required once the tree is full size (around 5ft/1.5m high; producing perhaps 20 apples a year). It’s OK in pots.

M9 – The best known dwarfing rootstock. It is a cross between a French tree, “Jaune de Metz”, and the “Paradise” apple of ancient Persia. It is known as the “Paradise” stock of Europe. It fruits when very young, is fairly hardy, tolerant of wet but not drought, and compatible with all apple scions. It has to be staked strongly, its roots are slightly brittle, and it is about 8-9ft/2.4-2.7m tall at maturity on an ideal soil.

M26 – A cross of M9 and M16. Used in irrigated orchards on well-drained solis. Fruits early in its life, needs permanent staking, hardy. Susceptible to crown rot and fireblight. M26 is not so good in wet, clay soils where it is rather moribund. Produces burr knots – the beginnings of little aerial roots – which attract pests and which can compromise the tree. These can be sliced off carefully in the garden situation. Planting deeper (so less rootstock is exposed) helps solve the problem commercially. Reaches about 8-10ft/2.4-3m if unpruned. OK in pots.

MM106 – A hydbid of Northern Spy (English dessert apple) and English Broadleaf. Well anchored, fruits early in its life, few suckers, fruit matures late, trees have a long season, OK in pots with less vigorous varieties. Susceptible to crown and root rot. Recommended as a substitute for M26 in wet, cold soil as a little more vigorous. Semidwarf. 9-11ft/2.7-3.3m high. Resistant to woolly aphid.

MM111 – Northern Spy hybrid. About 75% of full size; too large for small gardens. Prone to burr knots. 10-12ft/3-3.6m. Semi-dwarfing or half-standard. Resistant to woolly aphid.

M2 – Very similar in size and vigour to MM111. Not quite so vigorous as M25.

M25 – Full size tree; avoid unless you have a large space in which to grow it. Very vigorous; typically 12-15ft high; can be bigger depending on variety; large, heavy, spreading tree.

SEEDLING TREES – OWN ROOTS

Trees grown from pips are usually M111 size or larger and extremely hardy. Some decorative crabs on their own roots are about the size of MM106 but others (especially native English green-fruited crabs) are enormous.

Cherry rootstocks

Colt – Semi vigorous – 13-16ft/4-5m. Fully compatible with all varieties, Considered very productive until the arrival of Gisela; still good for bush and half-standard cherries on thin soils.

Gisela 5. – Dwarf, 40% of height of Colt. Ideal for commercial orchards, gardens and patio pots.The best garden choice for Cherry Trees.

Pear rootstocks

Compatibility – it should be noted that there are many incompatible varieties when grafted onto Quince (especially Quince C). In these instances a suitable interstock should be used such as Beurre Hardy or Doyenne du Comice. The latter will also impart some resistance to Fireblight.

Pyrus communis (Seedling pear) – Very vigorous. More suitable for half standard and especially standard trees.

Quince ‘A’ – Semi Dwarf. The ideal rootstock for bush trees.

Quince ‘C’ – Dwarf and slightly earlier into cropping.

Pyrodwarf – Limited availability as yet  but this one is proving more compatible with Perry pears and others

Rootstocks for Plums, Gages, Damsons & Mirabelles

Brompton – Vigorous, very suitable for standards, does not sucker and fully compatible with all varieties unlike its predecessors such as Myrobalan.

St. Julien ‘A’ – Semi vigorous. This is fully compatible with all plums, damsons, gages, peaches, nectarines and apricots and many ornamental prunus species. Good yield influence. Not suitable for poorly drained soils.

Pixy – Dwarf and ideal for size containment in the garden. On very strong soils it still has commercial use for strong growing, shy cropping varieties such as Marjories, Avalon and Excalibur. Not recommended for Victoria.

50 Best Independent Nurseries / Garden Centres

I have to post this one , sorry if its blowing my own trumpet but hey , we work hard for this.

The Independent‘ lists Reads Nursery in the 50 best independent garden centres and nurseries. We are in there with some great people and we love it. Thank you.

 

16. Reads Nursery

Small family-run business offering a huge selection of plants and fruit trees most of which they have propagated themselves. Pride themselves on environmentally-friendly methods – recycled boxes for delivery, peat-free compost and predators against pests.

Where: Buy online and collect or arrange delivery from the farm in Bungay, Suffolk (01986 895555; readsnursery.co.uk)

Serious Asparagus.

Growing Asparagus -

The asparagus plant is grown as a perennial vegetable in the UK and can yield for 15 years, it is essential to get the planting and  preparation right.

The plant is composed of ferns, crown and a root system.

The crown is a collection of rhizomes and lateral roots that initiate new ferns.

Spears, which are the harvested portion of the asparagus plant, are immature ferns. Thus, if the spear is not harvested, it develops into a large fern, which manufactures and stores energy in the crown for next year’s crop.

Asparagus is a dioecious plant, which means that there are separate male and female plants. Male asparagus plants produce more spears than female plants do which is why they are planted commercially. Female asparagus plants produce numerous bright, red, berrylike fruits with seeds that can become volunteer weeds in the garden or field.

Preparing the asparagus bed is important, attention should be given to choosing the best planting site possible. Like most vegetables, asparagus will not tolerate wet, soggy soil.

Choose a well-drained field, or use raised beds to promote drainage.

Asparagus will perform best on sandy, light-textured soils. The crowns should be planted in the spring as early as the soil in the garden can be worked.

Late March or early April is a good time in most areas, do not be tempted to plant earlier than the weather permits, wait until the soil warms up.

Separate crowns by size and plant similar-sized crowns together; this encourages uniform growth. If crowns cannot be planted immediately, store them in a refrigerator.

Planting;

Make a 8-inch-deep furrow using a garden hoe or spade, well rotted manure can be spread in the furrow. This is covered with an inch of soil, and the crowns are spaced 12  inches apart in the furrow on a slight ridge , this will put the crown 6 inches below soil level. Beware of shallow planting as this will give you lots of thin spears -plant too deep and you will get very fat spears but not many of them.

Each row should be no less than 3 feet apart and ideally set at 5ft, so the ferns can close the canopy and shade weeds out during the summer. If rows are spaced too close together, spear size may be reduced.

Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil, and as the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrow through the summer.

Plants that are stressed by drought can become weak and susceptible to insect, disease and weed pressure. Gardeners and growers should be prepared to irrigate new asparagus plantings for the first two or three seasons after establishment. Drought stress after harvest can reduce yields for the following season.

Weed control is the most challenging aspect for successful asparagus production.  Organic mulches such as straw or compost can be applied 4 to 6 inches thick to suppress weeds or growing a green manure in the path can help. Use of a hoe is not recommended for obvious reasons. Salt has long been used as a weed suppressant and some still like this method, however , it can cause long term problems with the soil structure and where rain washes out he salt into surrounding areas.

Diseases;

Selecting a site with good drainage and optimal pH (6.2 -6.8 ) will prevent many asparagus diseases. Crown rot, a potentially devastating disease, can be caused by over harvesting, growing in acidic and waterlogged soils, and excessive pest problems.

Cercospora needle blight is often seen as reddish brown, elliptical lesions on the ferns. These lesions are followed by death of the foliage.

 

The yield of asparagus spears in the spring is directly related to the previous year’s fern growth. Asparagus can be harvested for a limited time (two weeks) the second year after planting crowns (three years from seed transplants). Over harvesting one year can weaken the plant and decrease yields the following year. Three years after planting the crowns, asparagus can be harvested for five to eight weeks. Each year, during the first several years of production, yields will increase if the planting is managed properly.

Average yields 2.5kg per 100 square feet. (On commercial plantations locally we have achieved 6.5- 8 tonnes per hectare)

Asparagus spears are best harvested by cutting them off with a knife near ground level. Most people prefer to snap the asparagus spears when they reach 7 to 9 inches in length in cool weather (less than 70 degrees F), and the spear tip is tight or 5 to 7 inches in warmer weather (more than 70 degrees). Cutting will break the spear cleanly at a tender point.

To preserve freshness, harvest during the morning or evening. Expect to harvest every one to three days as temperatures increase. Spring freezes will not harm the crowns or subsequent harvests but can damage emerging spears. Thus, emerged spears may be harvested before a predicted freeze.

Asparagus has a short shelf life and may be plunged in cold water after harvest and immediately refrigerated (36 degrees F) to maintain quality.

After harvest, the asparagus planting should be fertilized with composted manure or a compound fertiliser to stimulate summer and autumn fern growth. Frost will desiccate the ferns, and they can then be cut in late autumn or early winter, removing all the old ferns and destroying them will help prevent disease build up. We mulch the crowns to protect them from low-temperature injury. The mulch can be raked to the row middles the following spring (early April), and spears will emerge for another harvest season.

Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and dietary fibre, it is also rich in soluble fibre, known to have a protective effect against degenerative heart diseases. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium and a  high folic acid content . Asparagus is also low in fat and sodium.It is also a source of iron.

There are many cultivars to choose from with attributes relating to season and size of spear and colour. Flavours also differ, modern commercial cultivars will yield better and with higher quality than many older choices.

Asparagus

Of Truffles and Men

The announcement recently that truffle production has dropped to a mere 25 tonnes should be quite astounding. Given that the price is €1000-1500  per kilo at the moment you would think every man and his hound (or truffle pig) would be out there hunting the little smelly things.

A short century ago the harvest was 1000 tonnes, quite a dramatic drop off . Now we have celebrity chefs using truffle oils and ‘shavings’ on all things edible – yet there are so few of them .Plantations are constantly receiving EU grants ( not available in the UK) to boost production .

Curious to say the least, you could speculate that there is some sculduggery going on, you could say I am very cynical.

So in the time honoured manner of joining those you cannot beat, and following several years of research into the soil analysis of Truffle plantations we will be offering our expertise to aid the reversal of this trend. Aiming to offer advice on site choice , production, types of tree and suitability to your area on a commercial basis.

 

Truffle Plantations Ltd