Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Avalon Pride Peach Tree

May. It's that time of year when you feel as if you've put a lot of effort into your kitchen garden - and it's not paying off yet - as there isn't an awful lot to harvest. It's too early.

But look at these. They are very small peach fruitlets left over from thinning our Avalon Pride peach tree.

It's been quite a journey for us all. The tree went in two seasons ago (in autumn 2007). The first year it was hit badly by frost, and despite being sold as 'peach leaf curl resistant' it got peach leaf curl too.

I sprayed with Bordeaux mixture the first year, didn't want to do it again if it could be avoided, as this is no longer recommended for organic fruit growing. So I decided to start growing garlic around it. I'd heard garlic is a natural antiseptic and that it would keep fungal diseases like peach leaf curl away. So far we're in luck.

Peach trees are said to flower very early in the year, and that presented us with another challenge. It gets quite windy down on our allotment plot, and it's almost impossible to keep decent frost protection in place on a small tree. Also, as regular readers will know, our plot is some distance away from the house and I can't go down there every day, so even if I did use frost protection, I couldn't take it off regularly to allow pollinating insects to get at the flowers. I have heard that some people use paintbrushes to pollinate peaches. But if you ask me, life really IS too short...

So this spring, we decided to let our peach tree fend for itself. It survived the frost. I don't exactly know whether this was due to the weather alone, or the fact that the tree is now older and taller - (and therefore less susceptible to frost). We now have some frost protection in the shape of a Cherry Plum hedge, (cherry plums were once used as a wind break for orchards) so that might have been a factor.

As far as pollination goes, this is supposed to be tricky too. The reason is the same - the early flowering - there aren't so many pollinating insects about. But this year on our allotment our rosemary bush flowered really early too - and I noticed a lot of bee activity early on.

So, as you can see - we ended up with quite a number of fruitlets - some of which I have removed to enable the other peaches to grow strongly and well. There were about twenty five fruitlets on the tree, and I've removed about ten. I hope this was the right thing to do, so far I've not found anybody who is growing an Avalon Pride Peach Tree in the U.K. I'd be glad to hear from readers if they know someone I can swap notes with...

So - looks like all we need now is a hot summer....and for the vandals to stay away.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

What to have for tea (not)

We interrupt this blog to bring you an important Public Service announcement...

Greenpeace say:

Rice is daily food for half of the world's population. Genetically modified (GM) rice, on the other hand, is a threat to our agriculture, our biodiversity and a possible risk to our health.
At present, GM rice is not grown commercially anywhere in the world. But
Bayer, the German chemical giant, has genetically manipulated rice to withstand higher doses of a toxic pesticide called glufosinate, which is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned from Europe.

In just a few weeks, the European Union will decide whether or not this GM rice can enter EU countries, appear on supermarket shelves and end up on our dinner plates. If the EU approves the import of Bayer GM rice, farmers in the US and elsewhere may soon start planting it.

If you feel able to sign the Greenpeace petition, go to this page.

A working mum's allotment

Our allotment is pretty but functional. (Although at times like bank holidays we're really glad to be there, instead of sitting in a traffic jam, for example). The bottom line is: we need to produce organic fruit and vegetables that we actually EAT.
We're into our third year now. It's taken a while to get the plot up and running. It was derelict when we took it on. The first picture in this series was taken today. The second shows the plot back in early Spring before the leaves appeared.

Time to take stock of what we've produced so far. Which techniques have saved time and money. What went well. And where we need to improve.
So let's call our reality check 'JOYS AND CONCERNS'. Starting with some JOYS:
1. I haven't bought a single lettuce so far this year, and have been eating them since early March. I've got into the habit of succession sowing and know more about the different types that will see us through the cold seasons as well as the summer. Perhaps we are never going to have to buy any ever again!
I eat quite a bit of salad, and today's supermarket visit revealed that organically grown salad leaves are at least £1.50 per bag. So that probably saves us about £6 a week on lettuce alone.

2. The Giant Winter Spinach was great, it's just finished so will sow more of that again later this year.
3. The mini pond and the tadpoles are coming along - so I'm not planning to buy organic slug pellets this year, I'm hoping they'll do the job for me.

4. The comfrey patches are thriving. I make three cuts a year, and use it to make compost and to fertilise. I'm hoping that with this and home made compost we won't need to buy anything in any more to add to the compost or enrich the soil. That saves money and effort on transport.

. 6. We've made an effort over the past year to focus on bee friendly plants. These poached egg plants are just the ticket (Limanthes Douglasii). They look really pretty and self-seed - so I won't need to sow them again next year. The Rosemary was useful for bees early in the season and even our sage is flowering (I've just heard you can eat the flowers in a salad, so I'll try that.)

. 7. The asparagus looks fine. We won't be able to start harvesting it until next year, but at that time it will fill the hungry gap in May - when there aren't many vegetables available.

.8. We aim to mulch on a regular basis and try to do so when the soil is warm and it has been raining. (Last weekend it rained a lot, so I was out mulching). There are at least two reasons why this seems to save us time, labour and effort in the long run. Firstly we don't have to water so much. And secondly mulch acts as a weed suppressant so we don't have to weed so much either.
Both of these things are important to us as we don't have much time, and our allotment is quite a journey, so we can't just pop down every evening to check on things.
In this picture you should be able to see three kinds of mulches. We use cocoa shells and/or Strulch (mineralised straw) for crops and wood chip (with cardboard underneath) for the paths. Both of these materials are fairly pricey but Strulch goes a long way. The wood chip is sometimes available free on site. This picture, along with the next one, takes us to some of our:
1. Any sort of frost protection tends to blow off. Not being able to go down to the plot as often as we'd like we sometimes get hit by frost damage. These early potatoes will recover, but they're not a pretty sight right now:
2. Still on the subject of potatoes, I'm really not sure whether main crop potatoes are worth the trouble. You need to be so careful to get all of them out of the ground properly and it is so much work to carry them home.
3. I'm still not fond of broad beans! They just don't seem to work for us. Slugs, mice...

Monday, 18 May 2009

What to do in your garden in May

There's lots to do, and not much time to post (due to the fact that I've been away out on the plot actually DOING IT - instead of writing about it!

Still - I'm enclosing this link from Garden Organic which features a month by month break down on what we should all be doing (if we weren't hampered by weather that's colder than we feel it should be) - difficulties in rousing ourselves in the rain...and so on...

I find this page on the Garden Organic site is a great one to come back to, as it reminds me of planting windows, things I might have missed...

Apparently the weather is set to improve for Wednesday and I'm really glad, as I've got a traffic jam in the greenhouse in the courtyard due to the weather - can't move anything out until it warms up and don't want to do the next batch of planting until warmth will ensure my seeds germinate. Still - I'll be in touch with an update in the next few days...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Greenpeace Digs In

Sometimes we lose our way in life. Since I left Greenpeace Germany back in 1993 I've really missed working with the team of committed individuals I knew then.

Someone asked me quite sternly today why I had never mentioned my Greenpeace past. My friend's argument was - the things I learned and experienced in Greenpeace teams, are highly relevant to all sorts of campaigns and debates taking place now. Thanks for the prompt, M. I've turned over a new leaf - I'll be talking (and writing) about it again.

Fifteen years on, and Greenpeace is still connecting things up in my life. Climate Change. Allotments. Just look at this video. Makes me come over all emotional. 42,000 people supporting - but we need 100, 000. So follow the Airplot example, fellow fruit and veg growers.

We're GOING to win - we're GOING to win - we're GOING to win...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Organic heritage lettuce outperforms commercial counterparts

I love the organisation Garden Organic - I really do. (And I'm not getting paid to write this, either). People at G.O. have been such a support and inspiration for me, since I joined, and got into veg growing, just four years ago. I suppose I'm still a beginner, compared to many. At any rate I'm still learning lots. About life. Still making mistakes. Oh, and I'm learning about lettuce too.

Apart from a brief fling with 'Winter Density' - as far as lettuces are concerned so far I've stuck solidly to my Little Gems. They're the right size for a quick lunch.
But there are lots of other varieties out there to try. Charlotte at Garden Organic sent me these lovely photos. This one is called the 'George Richardson' lettuce - in honour of it's owner, who donated the seed to Garden Organic's Heritage Seed library after his death in 1997. Mr. Richardson had been growing the variety and saving its seed for over 60 years.
Garden Organic gives us a bit of background on this one, too. They say that:

'A collection of heritage lettuce varieties has outperformed their commercial counterparts in new findings by the UK’s leading organic growing charity.In research trials carried out by Garden Organic, funded by the EU, the charity found that twelve heirloom accessions from its Heritage Seed Library collection performed better than the next best commercial standard by showing greater ability at withstanding poor weather conditions and downy mildew, as well as the scrutiny of taste tests.

Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, which has been protecting endangered vegetables under threat from extinction since the 1970s has a collection of over 800 vegetable varieties of which seed can no longer be bought. In this latest research, part of a EC-funded project aiming to stimulate the use of the genetic resources of European leafy vegetables, the organisation took lettuces from its own collection and trialled them against several commercially available ‘standard’ varieties to see which would show most promise against a range of criteria.

Despite the commercial lettuces being bred to withstand certain types of disease and weather conditions, a recurring top contender proved to be an heirloom Cos lettuce variety known as ‘George Richardson’. The lettuce, which was named after its owner, was donated to Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library after his death in 1997. Richardson had been growing the variety and saving its seed for over 60 years.

During the trials, in which infection levels of downy mildew (the most damaging disease to lettuce) were recorded, George Richardson was given a rating of 7.5 on a 1-9 scale, where 1 =100% infection and 9 = 0% infection. Only one other commercial variety narrowly beat this – the variety Kitare - with a score of 8. George Richardson also performed outstandingly on the taste panel, coming out well on top, with an average pleasantness score of 4.6 on a 1-5 scale, Kitare, incidentally scored only 2.

Convincingly, George Richardson also withstood frosts well, showing almost no damage to its leaves after a minus –5C frost.And it wasn’t just George Richardson, other lettuce varieties from the charity’s collection also did well including Bunyard’s Matchless, Bronze Arrow and Rouge D’Hiver.

Phil Sumption, Research Officer at Garden Organic, said,

“The research results were surprising and clearly showed the potential of heritage or landrace varieties. With climate change we need varieties that are robust and those from our Heritage Seed Library performed well under severe weather and disease pressure. Garden Organic is confident that there is potential for re-introducing some of the varieties or using them in breeding programmes in the future.”Ironically, last year’s particularly poor, wet weather, in which the charity’s Heritage Seed Library lettuces performed so well, almost led Garden Organic’s researchers to abandon the trials. However persistence paid off and the charity will now build upon the findings from this research by getting growers to trial the promising varieties by growing them on commercial holdings.

For more information on Garden Organic’s research please visit this link.