October

The good folk of Veryan never fail to come up with the goods for Veryan Show. I dashed down to the village hall on the Friday evening with my few entries as I was off early the next morning delivering my daughter to her University, her first year. Now, as a Mum with an only daughter that event is a magazine article in itself!! But, back to the Friday night before the Show. The hall was busy with early entrants setting themselves up and taking real pride in their exhibits. There was a great atmosphere and a bit of a laugh as one naughty boy entered the smallest onions I have ever seen in the globe section – yes, with his friend’s name on them! My tomatoes refused to stand up, lolling on the plate as if they were completely unaware of the importance of the occasion, serves them right, they only got third.

My pride and joy of course was my pumpkin. He wasn’t as large as last year but he managed to sneak first prize, so yah boo to my friend Ian who was dismissive and disparaging in the early part of the season. But now I have something to live up to and if we do get a good summer (we are due one I think) the race will be on for next year. Because of my enforced absence on the day I was unable to see all the final entries but if the Friday night was anything to go by everybody should be very proud of that Show and long may it survive and prosper and grateful thanks to all the hard work of the committee.

The weather for the show was great, yet again, but over this summer is not worthy of mention or taking space in this column. However, one thing I have noticed is that although crops have survived the rain, especially those in raised beds with better drainage, they do not have the flavour that I have come to expect. I can only put that down to lack of sunshine, particularly for the corn, beans and strawberries. The corn however has improved with the late onset of September sunshine.

All the questions I have received recently have nearly all been dominated by people looking for advice for deterring slugs and snails. There are so many so called remedies on the market and even my highly recommended organic control has had to be replenished regularly as it washed away. But the hostas I sprayed with a garlic mix have survived well. The mix was finally five fat cloves of garlic boiled in roughly two pints of water and then diluted again with twice as much water as solution. I sprayed once a week and have had very little damage. I wouldn’t recommend it for edible crops I am sure they would be taste tainted.

The other major problem mentioned has been outdoor citrus. I have looked after an orangery in St Mawes for over five years. The owner has four 5ft citrus trees, three lemons and one orange. When I first arrived they were covered in black sticky goo from the invasion of scale insect. I spent a long time cleaning them with a dilution of methylated spirit which cleaned off the sticky stuff and killed the scale. They were then put out in spring for the gentle rain which seems to deal with scale insect better than anything. We used to bring them inside in the winter from about October to February but the scale always returned despite careful care and ventilation. The care included the use of winter and summer specially formulated citrus food.

We tried all sorts of remedies but now have the situation fully under control and the trees stay outdoors all year round, protected from harsh winds in the winter and fed on Epsom salt solution in the summer. Although our growing season is short for citrus we have managed to bear fruit. If you cannot give good outdoor protection in the winter then the next best alternative is a fully ventilated greenhouse with the doors and windows open as much as possible.

I was recently asked what was wrong with a poor little box tree which was presented to me with its root ball dry and silvery transparent leaves. It had been planted last spring watered well and sat out with all its friends to make a new hedge in what one would have thought were perfect conditions this wet summer and in semi shade which box prefer. But I think this was a great example of how we can see it is wet outside but still this box had clearly died of drought (silvery leaves the clue here). The soil in which it was planted is fairly thin, on almost cliff face ground and exceptionally well drained.

Therefore even with the summer deluges the ground was not holding water and the newly planted box, trying to get a foothold couldn’t get enough water quickly enough. I often mention watering hedges and there is an example of why. Similarly I removed a huge hebe from my garden, about 12ft circumference and it was bone dry beneath, the water just couldn’t get in through the foliage canopy. As if that was not enough, remember that the rains that can get into the soil will have leached substantial goodness from well drained soils and so will need to be replenished with good garden compost and green manures.

There is plenty to be doing again this month:

Plant up winter and spring containers
Plant new trees and shrubs, the soil is still warm and they will put their energies into root not top growth. Bare root trees will be available from early November and are much cheaper.
Move large shrubs now and keep watered in
Take hardwood cuttings of trees and shrubs such as roses, olearia, weigela, forsythia. Take a shoot which has grown this year from as near the bottom of the stem as possible (good for root growth), trim the shoot to 6-18” long depending on the type of plant and the distance between leaf joints, bury all but the top third in the ground and this time next year you will have a brand new plant. Leave all the buds on the stem as those buds buried below ground will get the hint that they should be roots not shoots.
Prune blackcurrants now by removing some of the older stems down to ground level or low down where you can see a side shoot developing. Use the stems as cuttings if they are healthy.

Lets hope for more glorious autumn sunshine so that we feel enthused to tidy up the borders, enjoy the berries and colourful leaves and prepare to make what I suspect may be gallons of pumpkin soup!

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