Winter pruning

Last Sunday (January 19th) we did some winter pruning on our cordoned apple and pear trees. We’re gradually getting the hang of this, and they’ve certainly fruited well these last two years, but they have had spurts of very strong growth and I was worried they would be blown off the wall in high winds.

The principles of winter pruning are fairly straightforward (see below); reality requires a bit of interpretation and approximation as you can see from the video of our efforts.

The wisdom is to prune the leader (the main upwards growing shoot) in the winter when it reaches the top wire. Our problem has been that getting to the top wire requires a ladder and tricky positioning, so I’ve avoided it.

However, with leader stems now coming away from the wire, it was definitely time … Mark and I worked together: never go on a high ladder alone! Balancing loppers, secateurs, pruning sealant as well as yourself is very risky! Our aim was to try to re-shape the six cordons, cutting back the leaders but also unbalanced side growth and forward side growth. So here are the key principles

1. Always prune to a bud – and in the case of our cordons, prune to slightly backward or sidewise facing buds, NOT forward facing ones.

2. Make a clean diagonal cut away from the bud so that moisture doesn’t collect around the bud.

3. Prune out any dead, diseased or damaged (DDD) branches.

4. In winter, prune the leader down to the top wire and tidy any front facing shoots.

5. In summer, prune to reduce growth and ensure air gets to the fruit.

6. Paint over larger pruning cuts with sealant – it’s like a thick glue which covers the ‘wound’ and protects it from nasties – bacteria, insects, fungal infections.

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Our ninth harvest supper – back in October

We held our ninth harvest supper back on October 17th, but I’ve only just got around to resurrecting our blog! It was a good harvest in 2019 but again quite an early one: the climbing beans were well over by the time we had our supper, the tomatoes had finished, the cavalo nero had been invaded by beasties but we did have onions (harvested earlier in the summer), courgettes and chard! And our apple and pear trees yet again produced lovely fruit from September, with pears ripening off the tree in October. So our menu was as follows:

Elspeth’s Anglo-French onion soup (it uses white wine and marmite)

Jenny’s delicious pear and Wensleydale soup

Madeleine’s courgette and puy lentil moussaka

Linden’s fantastic cavalo nero, chard, apple, pear, raisin salad

Elspeth’s French Chard Tart

Linda’s fabulous crunchy apple crumble with ice-cream from Estey

Can’t believe this is our 9th harvest supper!

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End of season and autumn ornamentals

 

Suddenly last week, the cold weather hit us with temperatures falling to 3C. The previous week or two, leaves had already begun to fall in earnest with some strong winds. Then the clocks went back, the nights now come earlier and tonight it’s Bonfire Night – all signs we’re into Autumn for real. It has felt a little unreal up till now … and even today, the temperatures were back up to double figures.

LRSP 2018 crazy cosmosWe’ve had very little rain and warm days with – relatively – lots of sunshine and blue skies. We even had to water the London Rd Station gardens from a hosepipe last week while two of our three water butts are out of action: one leaking, another needing serious cleaning. Watering in November? That’s unheard of … by now in the year, we are often trying to save plants from over-soggy soil and putting up warning signs in the compost area about slippery steps. And our pretty pink cosmos has been blooming in the tree pit, having refused to flower earlier in the summer because of the drought.

With this year’s harvest more or less complete – amazingly there are still beans and bright orange flowers on our runner bean plants – we turned our attention to the neglected shady triangle. This area at the south end of the station is really tricky; it’s dry shade. Much of the year it’s under a thick leaf canopy from the sycamore trees alongside, and their roots have clearly grown under the tarmac path into the garden we’ve been trying to develop. We worked hard on the soil there back in 2011 – I say ‘soil’, much of it was originally rubble and sand. We’ve deposited years and years of compost on the garden, but still it has a tendency to dry out. With hot weather this year, we concentrated our attention on keeping the edible crops watered and left the shady area to fend for itself. Up until now –  when we tried to dig in cyclamen and pansies, we found the soil very hard to break through.

However, we’ve persevered. We’ve planted a lot of brightly coloured cyclamen which seem to do well in dryish shade. The RHS website says they like humus-rich soil (tick – that’s compost and leaves) and should be mulched with leaf mould when the leaves die down (we have plenty of that too). We also planted some tough old perennials with varied foliage which should withstand the difficult conditions: Alchemilla mollis, which self-seeds endlessly in my garden; spreading campanula (I think it’s Campanula porteschlagiana, such a grand name for what around here counts as weed that grows in walls); some pot bound liriope and several hypericum, which had taken up residence in my garden and needed a larger stage. The Fatsia japonica  and Mahonia japonica which we planted back in 2011 have grown solidly, along with the Aucuba japonica which we got as tiny window box plants about five years ago and are now well established. It looks like the ‘japonica’ shrubs are the ones that do well in this difficult plot, but it’s been great to see that the native woodland Pulmonaria, transplanted from mineral-rich soil in Wales, are also doing well and have self-seeded in various places. I’m sure there are all kinds of other plant-bombs in there just waiting for a bit more rain to help them push up through the toughened soil.

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Our eighth harvest supper

 

LRSP Harvest supper 2018Our final harvest this year in mid October included two varieties of pear, four types of apple, plums, yellow courgettes, runner and green beans, tomatoes, onions, an abundance of curly kale, cavalo nero and chard, and lots of different herbs.

Our menu for our harvest supper comprised Wensleydale soup, onion soup, three cheese three leaf lasagne, vegan veggie pie, Lebanese green beans, cheese with plum chutney, apples and pears, blackberry and apple crumble with ice-cream – everything made with at least one ingredient from the LRSP garden.

Our eighth harvest supper was probably our biggest ever with thirteen people sitting round the table, including three new members who joined us two weeks ago, and two of the original members who helped set the garden up in 2011 and remember planting the apple trees. And just to remind ourselves of how it was back in 2011, we watched Madeleine’s first video ….

 

 

 

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Crawley Beauty comes into her own …

Six years ago we planted out mini-orchard of seven fruit trees in our tiny community garden at London Rd Station. Four of the fruit trees were old Sussex varieties of apple: Crawley Beauty, Tinsley Quince, Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin. Our cordoned trees have done really well but Crawley Beauty, the only cooking apple and late fruiting, always seemed the runt of the litter. Slightly more in the shade, it has taken her all this time to fruit confidently. This year, however, she has produced the best apples.

We planted our apple trees in raised beds. They are cordoned to restrain growth but all the same, they’ve required quite a lot of summer pruning in the last few weeks. Crawley Beauty and Tinsley Quince in the first bed seem to be doing best this year. We’re not quite sure why: perhaps because they had a bit of shade in the heat of June and July, perhaps because that’s where we always started our watering, or perhaps because that bed got the benefit of more compost mulch? The next two – Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin – have produced smaller fruit this year and have more evidence of insect damage. It may also be that they had the biggest growth spurt back in the early years, and I haven’t been able to prune the extensive leaders on either of them.

I’ve already harvested some apples as the fruit have started to fall even though they are supposed to be harvested in late September and even early October. Despite insect damage around the core, they make a great apple cake. Just a case of cutting out the damaged bits … My recipe is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Kentish Apple Cake and uses 500g of chopped apple, more than any other ingredient. With whole meal flour and reduced sugar, sweetness provided by raisins and the apples, it’s as near to a ‘healthy’ cake as you can get … served up, of course, with crème fraîche!

This will be one for our 2018 harvest supper. We’ll probably also need to reprise our three leaf, three cheese lasagna as cavalo nero, kale and chard have all done well. Our courgettes and beans didn’t do so well this year, perhaps because of lack of water, and our onion crop was small too, though probably enough to make onion soup. Pears, on the other hand, are looking great – some are already being ripened in a garage – and hopefully, will be work well in a proposed Pear and Stilton soup.

SUSSEX APPLE CAKE

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 350g whole meal self-raising flour
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g sultanas or raisins soaked for 1-2 hours in water
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 75g toasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
  • 500g apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • grated zest of lemon
  • 3 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt. Rub in butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in raisins, sugar and nuts. Add chopped apple together with lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the mixture. You need a large mixing bowl to do this – best done with clean hands and/or wooden spoon. When well mixed together, spoon the mixture into cake tin and bake for around 60 – 75 minutes or until firm to the touch. The mixture is very moist so try to check this middle of the cake with a skewer. You can cover the cake with foil to stop the top getting too brown. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack – beware the cake can be crumbly, that’s the risk of lots of apple. It’s delicious, though.

Adapted from Sarah Raven’s recipe for Kentish Apple Cake.

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Cold but growing …

The north wind was blowing today … and it was freezing. We’ve already had a couple of air frosts near London Rd Station and it’s only the beginning of November. After the clocks went back at the end of October, it’s easy to feel that winter is on its way. We’ve been winding down: our last two sessions have mostly taken place in the comfort of the conservatory. We did those ‘autumny’ tasks: cleaning and oiling tools, talking about next year’s seeds and cleaning out pots.

I cleared out the maturing compost bin: I think this is our best compost so far – crumbly and not too soggy. But there wasn’t a lot of it, probably because we’ve had it in the resting compost bin for almost a year now. We’ll need to mulch the shady garden and there’s not a lot left.

We’ve agreed that we’ll continue meeting at least up until Christmas, even if it’s only for an hour or so in and around the garden, and then of course, tea and a natter.

In fact, the garden is still growing: I noticed that the onions are coming up and the chard and beetroot seedlings are doing well. We’ve also still got Verbena bonariensis growing in the tree pit in front of the station.

We’ve removed our perennial – and long-suffering – rhubarb and have divided it: both ‘pieces’ are doing well and are growing on ready for replanting in the spring. Poor rhubarb: remarkably it was growing well in a shady corner in one of our old raised beds by the wall. When we reconstructed the raised bed at the beginning of the year, we decided to build it around the rhubarb – which carried on growing at least half a metre lower than everything else. We’ll now have two rhubarb to plant in the raised raised bed: we’ve been adding old grow bag compost and the compost from our bin to raise the level. A bit of manure, and the rhubarb(s) will feel at home.

 

 

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Harvest Supper 2017

Another great celebratory dinner at the end of September! This year we held our Harvest Supper significantly earlier than usual, reflecting the much earlier harvest. Indeed, for the first time since we started in 2011, we had very little to be harvested in the station garden by the middle of September.  We’ve missed cavalo nero this year, the potatoes in bags were a disappointment and the courgettes didn’t do quite as well as in some years, but the climbing beans were great.

The star produce this year was from our mini-orchard: lots of apples and the most delicious pears. It’s been challenging storing them – some have gone squashy and had to be composted, but most ripened nicely in the dark of my garage.

So our meal this year:

Onion soup, now a perennial as onions are one of our most reliable crops. Diane made lovely wholemeal rolls to go with the soup.

Mark’s fish pie, made with greens and herbs from the garden and if our potato crop had been better and later, it could have included our potatoes. This was a delicious combination of layers of spinach, wild salmon, potato and a grated Provolone topping.

Garden beans (frozen after picking in mid-September) and Madeleine’s baked kohlrabi worked really well as sides or mains for non-fish eaters.

Garden salad – the Greek idea of chopped tomatoes and cucumber with a simple olive oil dressing and some chopped lettuce. The Sweet Million tomatoes having been producing in the greenhouse since the middle of June, and the cucumber plants, also highly productive beteween June and August, rallied mid-September to produce a final few for our supper.

Pear and apple crumble – our pears and our apples – with hints of downland blackberries and a wholemeal and walnut topping. And … a raspberry/blackberry coulis, just made from our fruit simmered down with a bit of honey, whizzed and strained.

Ending with pears with cheese, a great combination really highlighting the flavour of our wonderful pears this year.

This was our seventh harvest supper … hard to believe that the LRSP garden has been going since 2011, still with great enthusiasm.


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