A sense of urgency as season starts to change

As these cooler, shorter days begin to impact on garden plants, there's a sense of urgency creeping into the daily routine.

Sunday, 1st October 2017, 4:22 pm
Apple harvesting has begun. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Potatoes and onions should be up, dried and stored by now, dessert apples inspected daily for ripeness, and greenhouse grapes for soundness.

Whilst enjoying late flowering displays in the open borders, we’re monitoring the weather, with bringing late chrysanthemums under cover in mind.

And should we find that the grass is dry, we’ll seize the moment and mow the lawns.

We harvested the bulk of Discovery apples recently. Hold the apple and tilt the palm upward. If it does release with a click, leave it for another day. This variety is always the first ready and deliciously sweet, but does not last long in store.

It is followed by James Grieve, which is also self-fertile and a heavy cropper, but deteriorates within two months of picking. Braeburn is much better for long-term storing. The large, solid fruits will not ripen until deepest October, when they’re picked and stored in the cold garage.

Had time permitted us to thin-out grape bunches at an earlier stage, the rotting problem would be less severe. Because fruit is tightly bunched together in an environment of moist air and cool nights, daily inspection and removal of affected grapes is essential.

Thinning begins when they’re the size of peas and hard so less damage is done. Holding a twig with a forked end in one hand and pointed hairdressing scissors in the other, reduce the fruit by a third. This allows space for the development of fewer, bigger grapes.

Soft-leaved, tender plants, such as the streptocarpus collection that flowered all summer, are beginning to complain about the cooler, damp atmosphere. This is a sign to ease back on watering, otherwise the leaves will start to rot.

At this stage of the season I remove spent blooms, keep plants on the dry side and transfer one of each cultivar to the conservatory. Standing in comfort with good light, the collection is preserved.

I operate a ‘belt and braces’ policy. The propagating box has housed 10 leaf cuttings of each variety since late July. Now well-rooted, with shoots showing, they’re ready for potting-up and transferring to a warm, light place.

The unheated greenhouse is always the destination for early border chrysanthemums still in bud outdoors when the weather goes downhill. They’re lifted with the largest root-ball possible and thoroughly watered-in on transfer to their new home.

Meanwhile, leaf lettuce seed, sown into cell trays, will be growing on steadily. Once the chrysanthemums have finished blooming, they’ll be lifted, pruned, and planted in boxes for cutting production.

Organic ‘Fish, Blood and Bone’ fertiliser is forked into the border, lettuce planted, and fresh pickings are available daily through the darkest weeks. Lettuce is tolerant of cold, and if push comes to shove, you can cover it with fleece. Far better this than leave a marvellous facility empty over winter.