I am always rather reflective in September. Despite the dahlias and asters and the elegant cannas there are always the signs that the season is changing. Summer stuff is looking tired, particularly those plants that got away so well in June only to be drizzled on in August. Who invented drizzle? It’s useless for the garden, mucks up a days sailing or golf and makes holiday makers miserable.
The cutting down of the herbaceous border will have to start soon and you feel that another season is starting and Christmas isn’t far away. None of that is meant to sound depressing it’s just the change of a season and I think I had rather hoped for a better August than we have enjoyed. But I am still wearing flip flops and going without a coat so it’s not all bad!
The excitement in my life last month was the arrival of my 15 Rhode Island Reds. I am not going to go on about it here because the good folk of Veryan have heard nothing else for a month, but their arrival has already contributed hugely to the compost heaps and to my consumption of omelettes!
The excitement this month is St Just in Roseland Annual Parish Show where I am honoured to be judging and Veryan and District Autumn Show. That’s where I have to put my money where my mouth is and exhibit with the great, the good and the down right unbeatable. Last month I judged at St Ewe and its worth popping along to all these local shows particularly if they are before the one where you are exhibiting. You get a keen feel for the standards for the year and once again St Ewe has come up trumps. Not only is knowledge therefore power but we should all be supporting the local shows and encouraging our children to become involved too. The children’s classes are always well supported but we need to keep those children growing for exhibition so that the village shows survive. It genuinely is not about winning but about taking part. (Although I know of one man in Veryan who may disagree!) I have had huge encouragement from the more experienced veg growers who will readily pass on life long tips if you have an interest. The moral is to exhibit enthusiasm as well as produce.
Now, I have talked about blight in the past. When it arrives, generally around end June early July it is an airborne fungus, invisible to the naked eye and one damp night with a low breeze can spread it like wild fire, literally. Once you see the effects, usually first on the potatoes, it’s too late. Within twenty four hours the whole crop is affected. It was a bit later arriving here this year and all my crops escaped it as the potatoes were already being lifted. It didn’t matter as the spuds were grown and it doesn’t affect their flavour, hence the reason I never grow main crop and commercial growers here have to spray as a preventative measure. Tomatoes undercover will be the next to go, particularly if the greenhouse or tunnel has been left open overnight. Again no cure and you can get more resistant varieties, but by closing my tunnels at night, once again, I have avoided it but have to open tunnels early to keep the air circulation and resist the mildew – if its not one thing its another particularly if you avoid using chemicals.
Mildew appears as little white spots on the leaves and is often accompanied by redspider mite that you cannot see with the naked eye. As soon as I see the little white spots on the leaves I take off the leaf and put it for burning – not composting! I do water the whole plant from top to bottom as this seems to help with both problems. Cucumbers like a humid atmosphere but tomatoes do not so, if grown in the same house, air circulation is the answer. This has kept the problem under control and I have a good crop of cucumbers and the melons will be the best crop I have ever had. There is no change in conditions for the melons from previous years but I have changed the variety to Sweetheart and I can only presume this is the difference. No mildew, no disease at all.
Several people have enquired about mottled leaves on their tomatoes. This is generally a deficiency in the compost and is usually a manganese deficiency best resolved by a proprietary tomato food. Lower leaves with this problem are usually old and can be removed anyway. I take off lower leaves up to the next ripening trust as this lets in light too for ripening.
All plants take up essential nutrients from their roots. So any plant that is continually growing in the same spot or tub will eventually exhaust its supply of nutrients. Hence we need to replace food in the soil with good compost. The essential nutrients fall into two groups:
Macronutrients: Nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur and silicon.
Micronutrients: Chlorine, iron, boron, manganese, sodium, zinc, copper, nickel,
These are further divided into mobile and immobile nutrients. A plant will always supply more nutrients to its younger leaves so when nutrients are lacking the older ones will show it first. When a nutrient is less mobile the younger leaves will show it is lacking because the nutrient cannot or will not get up to them but stays in the old leaves. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are mobile and the others have varying degrees of mobility.
Now I suspect that you have no desire to know what each of these nutrients do andthat really is a science lesson, but it might be helpful to spot those that may be missing in a plant in your garden. And here is a selection of the most common deficiencies that you may be able to spot, the list of excesses is much longer and, unless you have grossly overfed, which is not common in a garden but may occur in patches where other things have gone on in that area over the years.
Nitrogen: light green leaves, possibly yellow, stunted growth, poor fruit develop-ment.
Phosphorous: purple discolouration on leaves stunted growth and little or no plant development.
Potassium: older leaves turn yellow round the edges and die, irregular fruit development.
Calcium: reduced growth or death of growing tips, blossom end rot in tomatoes poor fruit development.
Magnesium: yellowing of old leaves between the leaf veins, spreading to younger leaves.
Sulphur: yellowing of young leaves spreading to whole plant. Can be confused with nitrogen deficiency but occurs on new growth.
Iron: distinct white or yellow patches between veins of young leaves.
Manganese: older leaves have brown spots surrounded by a chlorotic, yellow, circle
Zinc: reduced leaf size and yellowing between the veins on young leaves.
Boron: Death of growing points and deformation of leaves together with discolouration.
Once you have recovered from the local shows the rest of September really is a very busy month. Yes, there must be time for reflection on the successes and failures of the growing season but there is some back breaking stuff to do too, over hauling borders for a start!
There is still time to take cuttings of pelargoniums, fuchsias, marguerites and abutilon.
Now is a good time to plant new perennials for next year and also to divide existing clumps that have become too large. Collecting seeds is an inexpensive way to provide new plants for next year collect and keep in brown bags or envelopes and don’t forget to label them. I was recently presented with a fabulous collection of seeds from a local who had brought them with him from his previous garden. I am planting and cataloguing where possible but it doesn’t help when they are not labelled – you know who you are!!!
Rose cuttings can be taken now too but there is no rush as this can be done until December and it is probably more important to plant new bulbs, plant hyacinths for forcing and to continue with the harvest so that nothing is wasted.
So I wish you all good luck in the Shows and I am sure you will join me in thanking the Show committees who do vast amounts of work in organising one of the best days out of the year!