Saturday, 16 June 2012

Summer Reading

The long light evenings of Summer always seem to me to be a good time to catch up on reading. What better opportunity is there when gardening tasks are done than to sit down with a good and informative book? Time to discover more, new techniques perhaps, for with gardening there is always something new to learn. So here is a gardening book update – not new (for I always have a pile of books on my desk waiting to be included) but each of the three titles is worthy of re-visiting if you already have it on your shelf. Links are provided for you to purchase online at reduced prices.

‘No Nettles Required’ by plant ecologist and university lecturer, Ken Thompson, is sub-titled ‘the truth about wildlife gardening’. It’s highly informative and written as a series of very readable chatty essays – and just the right size to slip into a pocket if you are headed for the beach or other holiday venue and wish you were still at home in your garden! KT quite rightly states that “encouraging wildlife is entirely compatible with ordinary gardening, costs next to nothing and is entirely effortless. Don’t leave home without it. Published in 2007 by Transworld Publishers, buy it here.

‘Making the most of your Glorious Glut’ is more recent, but one that has been awaiting a suitable slot – and of course Summer is the perfect time for “cooking, storing, freezing, drying and preserving your garden produce”. On far too many occasions we just do not know what to do with all we grow. Indeed, it was a gift of a bag of runner beans that inspired the author, Jackie Sherman, to write this book. There are dozens of tasty meals – warm salads seem perfect for the wet June days we are experiencing as I write. Variations on a theme and unusual recipes will prevent your partner and offspring from commenting “not again!” JS covers storage methods, preserves, dried fruit and beg, sauces and spreads, drinks, and, on the recipe front, starters and salads, side dishes, main meals, desserts, bread and cakes. She also offers tips on actually reducing gluts and planning what you sow and grow according to harvesting times. Published in 2011 by Green Books, buy it here.

‘The Herb Garden’ is one of those books that you never tire of re-reading, if you are passionate about herbs. I was reminded that I had at least two copies sitting on my bookshelf when the author, Sarah Garland (whom I had never met) unexpectedly turned up at the end of our drive to buy eggs and started asking about keeping chickens! We got talking about gardens, as one does when gardeners get together; and the fact we were both authors emerged as we chatted. Looking at SG’s book again, I realised why I so love it, for it is a complete (and scholarly) illustrated guide to growing scented, culinary and medicinal herbs in beautiful garden settings.  The history of herb gardens is included plus plans for creating a number of topic-related herb plots with instructions for constructing different features.  Cultivation is attended to as well, plus a catalogue of over 250 herbal plants; and an excellent index. Published by Frances Lincoln in 1984 (hardback) and 2003 (paperback), it is sadly no longer in print but second-hand copies are readily available online.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Advantages of Grafted Vegetables

Grafted tomato 'Lipso'

I have to admit when first learning some while back of the existence of Dobies grafted vegetable plants to being a little dubious. Not being a horticulturalist left me wondering what they were and why I should introduce them into our garden and greenhouse. What was (is) so special about grafting vegetables. Grafting as a technique has of course existed for ages – fruit growing springs particularly to mind where, for instance, a specific variety of pear, plum or apple is grafted onto a ‘wild’ and stronger rootstock.

Grafted pepper 'Chelsea F1'
Put simply, grafting is a technique whereby a shoot or twig is inserted into a slit on the trunk or stem of a living plant, receiving sap from the host until the two fuse and become one. Widely used by commercial growers, this technique of grafting top quality vegetables onto a more vigorous 'rootstock' has been shown to provide the following benefits: an increase in yield, more vigorous plants; earlier cropping and for longer; can be grown in the greenhouse (with little or no heating), or outdoors; an have an excellent resistance to soil borne diseases plus a greater tolerance to nutritional diseases.

Grafted chilli 'Fireflame F1'
Dobies (and their parent company, Suttons Seeds) are flying the flag: they are proud to be British by racing ahead of the rest in the gardening industry with vegetables which have been grown and grafted in the UK. And this year, the grafted tomatoes will use an improved grafting technique which will lead to even earlier and bigger crops, with fruit beginning lower on the stems and at least one extra truss per plant! Also available are grafted aubergines, peppers, squash, chillis, cucumbers and peppers.

Grafted mini cucumber
'Passandra F1'
Once you have your grafted plants, they should be potted on as soon as possible into 10cm (4") pots using a good quality moist proprietary compost. Set the plants so that the top of the root ball is level with the compost surface.  Once potted give a thorough watering but thereafter take care to avoid over watering.  Grow on in a light, humid position at temperatures of approx 16-18°C  (60-65°). After a couple of weeks when the roots have filled the pots, they are ready for planting in their final positions.  The root systems of these plants have great vigour and should be given plenty of room if the plants are to achieve their full potential;  a deep pot no smaller than 30cm (12") is best for growing under glass. When planting always ensure that the graft union is kept above the soil level to prevent the scion rooting into the soil and reducing the plants resistance to soil borne diseases. 

Grafted tomato 'Orangino'
With tomatoes, the side shoots which appear at the leaf joints should be pinched out when they are about 2.5cm (1") in length.  Under greenhouse conditions grafted tomatoes are capable of setting and maturing six to eight trusses depending on the size of the fruits.   Once the fruits start to set, a quality tomato fertilizer should be applied twice a week. The greenhouse should be lightly shaded to avoid exposure to strong sunlight and in hot sunny weather damp down the floor to increase humidity; great care should be taken to prevent the plants drying out, moderate regular watering being the best practice. down the floor to increase humidity. 

Check the Dobies catalogue to read more about these heavier-cropping vegetables (pages 42-45). But due to the nature of these plants, no more will be available in 2012 – but make a note to check the 2013 catalogue when it becomes available. I meanwhile have been asked to trial a new grafted tomato variety not yet on the market; progress report in due course. Right now, the young plants are growing away strongly in the greenhouse.