Pick and choose your jobs with care

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NO matter how much you plan to stay ahead of the game, there comes a time in the season when the demands of a garden start to catch up with you.

The only sane way around this problem is to prioritise – what is essential at a given moment, what is not.

The engine room of my garden is undoubtedly the greenhouse and it would be so easy to spend the whole day working in there but swift action is required outdoors daily with pests homing in on soft fruit and vegetable growth.

Fail to cast your eyes over the gooseberry bushes for just three days and the leaves can be stripped bare by sawfly larvae.

At the beginning of a week, your currant bushes can be rich in vigorous green stems but before it’s through the tip of each may be curling inwards and yellowing.

Examine underneath and you find it sticky to the touch and white, discarded skins in evidence – an aphid colony no less. Ignore it and the honeydew they excrete encourages sooty mould. Oh dear!

Organic growing is about having forceps nearby to hand-pick caterpillars, and pinching the tips out of affected currants.

And if you have the time, prevent live, wriggly items in your raspberries at a later date by catching the beetle responsible in action on the flowers now.

Everything outdoors is growing apace. The hedges, the lawns, the weeds, and this just happens to coincide with opportunities to propagate shrubs, heathers, herbs, alpines, etc.

All you need is a simple cold frame with a gritty rooting medium. Aim to take a few cuttings each day, immersing them in water for a couple of hours so they go into the compost fully charged.

The lawns cannot wait to be cut but the hedges will have to because a blackbird, dunnock and songthrush are still nesting there. Also take time out to admire floral treats such as poppy Patty’s Plum.

A greenhouse adds another dimension to gardening but comes with a cost in terms of time. How satisfying it is to start seeds off early, even without heating, propagate all manner of plants from cuttings and grow a few edible types that would struggle to survive outdoors.

The age-old advice that still holds good is to consider the size you want and how much you can afford to pay – then double both figures.

If either space or finances are limited, still go for the biggest you can fit in or consider the less expensive option of a poly-tunnel because there never seems to be enough space.

In this garden which extends just beyond one quarter acre, the greenhouse contents are just beginning to seriously compete with the outdoor scene for precious time.

A twice-daily watering of plants and soaking the flagged floor to increase moisture/reduce temperature is high on the agenda. Thankfully, there is an automatic ventilation system just in case the gardener sleeps in.

Tomato plants, thriving in bottomless pots and spaced out along the border, demand the removal of side shoots and a sharp midday tap of their supports to encourage fertilisation.

Vines on either side of the house are showing the potential for a bumper crop and we’ve already stopped the growth on all side shoots one leaf joint beyond each embryo bunch.

But there is more to do. Fruitless laterals continue to appear daily and if they were left they’d compete for nutrients and cause the congestion that leads to mildew.

They must be removed.

No matter which potting compost you finally settle the tomato plants into, there is going to be a need for supplementary feeding at some stage.

This should not start before the first trusses have set but be guided by any slight discolouration of the older leaves.

At last we’re beginning to get more room under glass as all the bedding and vegetable subjects, that up until recently were at risk had they been turned out into the garden, have finally gone.

They comprise runner beans, sweetcorn, courgettes, et al, and in their absence we can collapse more greenhouse staging and plant the opposite border with peppers, sweet potatoes, aubergine and peanuts. Preparation involves broadcasting well-decayed organic material from the compost heap, adding used potting compost and digging it all into the surface layer.

THE peanut, aka monkey nut, earth nut or ground nut, is a plant and, therefore, has a botanical name – Arachis hypogaea.

Although it sounds like a novelty crop, it is of worldwide economic importance.

The plants are not too difficult to grow indoors, as generations of school gardening club members will attest.

It begins by cracking the shells to allow water absorption while the nuts remain inside.

Soak them in a bowl of water overnight then plant them in cuttings compost enriched with vermiculite, sand or perlite. Placed in an enclosed propagator with a temperature circa 15 Celsius, they will germinate within three weeks. I have ten young plants this year and eagerly anticipate the journey from germination to digging the crop.

First up is the green top growth which can reach 30cm, with leaflets in pairs. The flowers appear in clusters of 5 or 7, are yellow, small and not too significant but what happens next is.

As they fade and small pods appear, the stems bend towards the soil and lengthen. The pods are forced into the earth where they enlarge and ripen. Imagine the excitement, not to mention educational value, when eager youngsters who first soaked the plump shells now get to dig and taste the crop.

Footnote: Alnwick Garden Club meets in the Town Hall next Tuesday (31st) at 7.30pm for the final time this session.