Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Eliminating nettles and ground elder to make a new grassed garden without digging



Ready - steady - wait… wait even longer - go
I still started too soon!

Project director
Ground Elder   Bishop weed 
Do not be too keen to begin any new weed control project until the weed is sufficiently luxuriant to drink up your Roundup (glyphosate). It is totally useless to zap your perennial weed as soon as it pops its little head out of the ground.
I have waited until early May. It would have been even better to have waited until June!
It is hugely detrimental to the success of herbicide based weed control to cultivate the soil before spraying and a complete waste of your energy and usually counter productive to cultivate afterwards too. The weed must be intact when you spray.

I have a new project. Many of you know that two years ago I took over maintaining Cathi’s garden. No not the mowing nor putting up netting to contain her hens. Although I cut her side of our shared hedge I have previously shied away from the 20 foot high 100 yard long over-grown hedge that borders the road. Not cut for ten years it was badly overgrown. 

I do not take much credit for cutting the hedge down to six foot high. That honour falls to Peter Williams who brought his chainsaw and worked his eight hour way along it. With a little help from my son I dragged the heavy prunings into the garden. 
Two months later Pete and myself had a wonderful day burning a huge bonfire and as I have previously reported gained fourteen barrow loads of wonderful soil enhancing charcoal. For myself - sorry Cathi.

To facilitate easy of mowing I had in the previous year sprayed off a four foot strip of lawn at the base of the hedge within Cathi’s garden. I  continue to plant and develop a mainly herbaceous mixed flower border in place of the dead turf. No digging of course!
On the roadside of the hedge a seven foot wide strip had had no maintenance at all. A further four foot was roughly mown by Mike from across the road. 
Needless to say that within the base of the hedge and on the outside of the garden it was full of perennial weed. It was mainly ground elder and nettles that gained five foot high every summer.

A further detail relevant to the project was that there were sections of the hedge where elms had died several years before when infected by Dutch elm disease. In classical fashion when elms grow beyond shrub size and start to become trees the bark beetle brings in the deadly fungus. There were several large gaps in the newly cut back hedge. Peter and I plugged the gaps with beech and yew and left some dead elm trunks to support climbers that would give rapid screening.

First spray.
Impatient I could wait no longer and sprayed in early May with my knapsack sprayer. Ground elder is a difficult weed and one application will not be anywhere near enough to eliminate it. My experience on the village plot suggests that it will take at least a year and probably eighteen months before the ground elder is completely eliminated.
Nettles are not terribly well controlled with glyphosate and I wanted to try MCPA. I did a little ‘trial’ and sprayed a section with just MCPA and the rest with a glyphosate/MCPA mix which I have previously found to be a very effective combination against other perennial weeds.
MCPA alone will not kill grasses and gardeners use it to eliminate weed and keep any turf. I have other fish to fry and this detail was not significant to this particular project. Not only was there virtually no grass but I want in due course to replace any coarse grass with a finer grass mixture.

Both recipes quickly knocked back the nettles. (It was the MCPA ‘wot did it’ ). A month later  the tops of  all the weeds were completely killed back by the glyphosate/MCPA mixture but the MCPA-only had not done very well against the ground elder. 

I did not expect that. I do know how effective MCPA is against nettles and many other perennial weeds. Different weeds vary in their sensitivity to herbicides and for the rest of this project I will just stick to glyphosate.

When the afore mentioned  month had elapsed after my first spray although growth had been  slightly checked with the MCPA-only treatment it now had an even greater receptive leaf area to weedkiller.  I sprayed it with glyphosate-only. It was too soon to spray the successful other section.

This meant that two months after starting both sections in the comparison that yesterday at the end of June both had received exactly the same total amount of herbicide (one in the single double dose and the other in two separate doses).
The two treatments  are now out of ‘sync’ and this morning the now regenerating  once sprayed area has been sprayed again with glyphosate. It took 20 minutes.  

The total time spent spraying since the start of the project is under two hours.

Technical details
The commercial glyphosate was the normal 360gm/litre strength diluted at 1 part in 50. The MCPA was Agritox, also 1 in 50. I sprayed just short of run off on a very still morning. I took me one hour to apply the first spray.

A different approach to this blog post.
The project has just started. Heaven knows how it will finish! I am intending to create a feature composed of bulbs, wild flowers and garden annuals and herbaceous perennials set in fine fescue grass. My normal ‘naturalistic’ methods exclude grass so it will be a new experience for me. I intend to report at appropriate intervals in future posts. You will be able to synchronise your future reading by clicking in my theme column

The priority for this Summer is to completely kill the weed although it might take a little longer. The fact that the weed looks completely dead now gives the wrong impression. It will be sprouting again soon!
If you have a similar overgrown area it is an excellent time to start now on the first of July.

Addendum. Glyphosate will kill both nettles and ground elder. Ground elder will take much longer to be eliminated than nettles. Once all the persistent vegetative parts of the ground elder are killed it will be gone for ever unless allowed to spread in from adjacent land or reintroduced by careless planting. Nettles will return from seed if the cleaned plot is neglected.

Picture post. The project’s pictorial progress

From inside the garden you can see the height of the hedge last summer. Although the project was not yet planned I had started to cut back some trees.

Peter’s prunings  to be burnt 

The next week we gapped up with yew and beech where the hedge had been killed by Dutch elm disease. This Spring the new plants have needed generous watering. The dead wood has been left in for temporary screening and to support climbing plants 
Peter always leaves his projects tidy. You can’t imagine the debris we cleared. At this stage in late January there is no indication of the dormant bishop weed (ground elder) and nettles. This is the first time that anyone has enjoyed the snowdrops in the last ten years. They will be back even stronger next year. As a surprise for Cathi and planning for the future I had planted some native daffodils ‘in the green’. 
I had rescued the native daffodils from the hedgerow across the road. They had been deposited there by recent roadworks that had disturbed the grass verge 
Although not ideal to transplant daffodils in the green they will fare better than being  totally smothered by a hedge

Mid April. Still too early to start and should I spray I would have to avoid the daffodils

Early May was a little early to spray. The weed would be more receptive a few weeks later. I sprayed anyway. See how the weed infiltrates the hedge. Careful downward direction of the spray head ensures there will be zero damage to the hedge. 
View from inside the garden just before first spray
Two weeks after spraying with glyphosate/MCPA  the weeds are looking sick. The nettles have been killed by both treatments but where the spray was just MCPA ( the area in the middle) the ground elder has scarcely blinked   
A month after spraying  (it was then early June) the MCPA-only bishop weed was starting to recover. As a consequence I sprayed it with glyphosate. It was still too early to respray the glyphosate sprayed area where the weed was still not yet re-sprouting

July 1st the roles are reversed and the two treatments are out of step. After two months the glyphosate/MCPA mix needs its first respray (with glyphosate only this time!) Although the area sprayed with MCPA and glyphosate on separate occasions  looks dead it is not. It will re-sprout very soon!

Progress of the hedge at the end of June. The sweet peas are doing very well and will cover the dead wood. By late August they will be over. Plenty of time to respray any ground elder I have missed

The conifers were completely overgrown last year by the hedge and were completely suppressed and dying. Early last Summer I had opened them up to the light. They are now not only visible but thriving. 
Oh dear, the hedge now needs trimming!
I actually grow variegated ground elder in Bolton Percy cemetery garden. This picture of it brightening up a heavily shaded cemetery was taken in London on the occasion of London Squares Open Gardens

You can read about how I cleared the village plot of ground elder here
The story of preparing charcoal from the prunings is here

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Ichtyoselmis macrantha but it once was a dicentra!


You might prefer to call it Chinese Bleeding Heart 

….or even Chinese Goldfish Plant or the Chinese Fishtail Plant

What a thrill when the first shoot emerges  

The original collector in Hupeh in China noted that it was found in a very dark wood! If you have a very dark wood with deep black organic summer-moist soil you might like to try it! If your garden is like mine it might be very difficult to grow. As the holder of the National Dicentra Collection I am obliged to at least try and against all odds and by the skin of my teeth have managed to keep it for the last thirty years. First in Bolton Percy on a pH 7 neutral soil and now at  Seaton Ross at pH 6.5.
In both cases it has been in heavy shade under a tree. Unfortunately the constant moisture it craves can be in short supply under a tree in our low rainfall area. 


First flowers in mid May 
Every year my heart bleeds when cold dehydrating winds tear the fresh soft yellow  gorgeous green growth on my dicentra. It is extremely important that young leaves are protected. I have given them my most appropriate site but they always  suffer and never achieve their potential delicate 45cm high. They only dane to flower at all if the previous season was kind.
There is something about woods and companion plants that ichtyoselmis craves. You will see from my pictures that mine has ‘run’ with its probing long rhizomes as much as ten feet in and among other woodland plants. It has taken fifteen years and the shoots are very sparse. 
It might be wind protection, perhaps woodland mycorrhiza or merely the presence of nurse plants that it needs. I don’t know. I note in pictures of one of its woodland habitats in Sichuan that like my own plant it enjoys companions in nature in dense forest shade.

A week later

Will the bees get a chance to pollinate in this windy weather?
They have now been in flower for fourteen days - this is longer than normal. Does this indicate there has been no pollination?

Note how they like to have companions
On the plus side my fishy named plant is extremely hardy. It did not suffer at all in our 2010 Winter when temperatures were -20 centigrade for several weeks. In contrast a very sharp late frost might blacken soft new growth in May. 
The soft growth on my ‘real’ Bleeding Hearts, Lamprocapnos  spectabilis - I still call them dicentras - gets caught by frost every year and this year my plants have really been badly checked by an ill timed -4 centigrade frost in late April. Lamprocapnos likes protection from wind and cold  too!

Dicentra macrantha - please indulge me namewise - is a very difficult plant. Most ads on the net prove to be ‘out of stock’. They are not easy to propagate unless timing of division is precise and you have resource to a greenhouse. Not like ordinary Dicentra formosa when in late Winter you just chuck a few rhizomes in a pot! They do set seed and as I write now in mid May I hope to take pictures next month to show you! With luck I might get a couple of pods and a dozen seeds. They might even germinate. I seem to remember my existing plant came from a rare seed sowing success. As a natural species  - they are not named cultivars - seedlings come true.

Early June. It looks like my best crop of seed ever
Do you know any places where Ichtyoselmis grows?

I remember I saw a remarkable huge clump in a woodland glade at Kew Garden thirty years ago. I doubt that it is there now. On my recent visit I failed to find it. In the right conditions it probably grows very well and might even be invasive. There must be several gardens on the warm wet UK west coast and in Ireland where they thrive. Please let me know if you have seen them. Best of all you might grow them yourself.

I was sent a copy of an old thesis on dicentra that has given me very useful botanic information over the years 
Notes on Dicentra macrantha
Can I find a better place for my plant?

Writing a post concentrates the mind! I now think there is a better place in my garden that was unavailable when I originally planted. It’s at the top of the garden next to Cathi’s fence and under the shade of an old cherry tree and near a young birch. It is protected on the windward side by shrub and bamboo planting and across the road is a wind proof high hedge. In a slight depression the site captures Summer moisture. Being sandy it’s very well drained in Winter! I think I will try it!
I hate to disturb my established plant. Perhaps those anticipated seeds will germinate to give me new plants? I think I will have to bite the bull and take the cherry by the horns. It will be a very deep spadeful of soil from under one of the dicentra tufts. I think it will be in September, it will be dormant by then. 
Come to think of it at the other side of the fence it’s darker, more protected and moister. As most readers know I am Cathi’s gardener now. I have planted Dicentra spectabilis in this dark corner and it is really thriving. If the whats-its-name’s rhizomes spread under the fence they will be ideal companions. Perhaps by then I will  be in the ground too.

A better place?
Please excuse my mischief if I suggest that if you are a digger-overer of borders there is no point in growing Dicentra macrantha. My established plant is not growing where it was originally placed. Those wandering rhizomes do not like spades! 
On second thoughts there may be places in Ireland where a chop with a spade is the best way of propagation!

Update even before first publication!

After yet another windy dehydrating early June day of protecting my flowering ichtyoselmis with folded garden chairs to get my pictures something snapped. No not the delicate shoots - it was me!

A wing and a prayer
I decided to lift and divide part of my plant. I would sacrifice a small clump! As mentioned the plant has weakly dispersed itself around and forking out a portion would not disturb the section that was flowering. I tried as far as possible to keep the long rhizomes attached to the soil. With varying success I managed to get a few small clumps. Some portions collapsed to loosen and reveal the long thin naked rhizomes. I potted them all into my favourite compost. I got six pots of propagules.
The pots were  immediately placed after heavy watering under my slatted greenhouse bench - it gives about 75% shade.
Now on 21st of June I am pleased to report that they are thriving and are making some strong new shoots.
I think Cathi is going to get her new plant ten years earlier than expected!

On reflection my plan to divide them when dormant in September was perhaps flawed. I might have not even been able to find them! In addition the fact that my sandy soil tends to collapse away might have excessively disturbed the dormant rhizomes.

Really promising in late June

Yesterday I collected some seeds

Lovely black shiny seeds note the lovely white elaiosomes. There are more seeds than I anticipated. They perhaps needed a further ten days to fully ripen

Despite the horrible weather the flowers got pollinated. I caught a glimpse of a bumble bee as she flew by. The brave worker must have later returned for some nectar. I took just one pod on the longest day of the year. It was just six weeks after flowers had appeared. They are not quite ready but I have sowed them anyway. If they germinate it will be probably in Spring. Some seeds such as certain primulas germinate straight away if still ‘green’. Who knows my dicentra might surprise me but it is very unlikely.
I love those little white elaiosomes on the shiny black seeds. Common to most dicentra they attract ants who collect the seeds and disperse them. I love too the term myrmecochory that describes this phenomenon when a seed contains a tiny package of food to entice and reward the ant for this service. 
I don’t want the ants to pinch future viable seed and will watch my remaining pods carefully until they are ripe.

I have written before about myrmecochory


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A congress of Corvids

A rook is a crow in a crowd

I am a jackdaw and barely get a mention

I am a Jay and he reveals all my secrets

I am a magpie and he keeps stum about my thieving
Rooks live and congregate together in large groups. Like  other corvids - crows, magpies, jays, jackdaws and ravens they are very intelligent birds. They have as much neurological nous as those other animal geniuses, the cetaceans and the great apes. Indeed their ability to use tools might be greater than that of a monkey and I imagine a corvid looks down on them in distain.
In telling their stories I will more or less group them together. In intelligence there are variations between species and although clever individuals will out think their relations they all provide an insight into theory of mind. Serious estimations compare corvid intelligence with that of a four year old child. Some sources say seven!

A murder of crows
It is sometimes suggested that their intelligence has developed from living together in complex communities. They have excellent facial recognition and indeed can recognise and remember we humans too. They will remember a disservice and bare a grudge - perhaps a man with a gun. They will  also remember and greet a friend, even bring him a present, after no contact in years.
It is said that crows can communicate their displeasure with an enemy. A murder of crows is a most apt expression.

Crow crosses
It might seem inconsistent with the theory that intelligence might evolve from a need to cohabit in large groups when solitary corvids are equally clever. I wonder how much hybridisation has contributed to the shared intelligence between these animal Einsteins. 

There are fascinating examples of crow hybridisation.

The carrion crow and the hooded crow are virtually genetically identical. In eight million DNA positions on their genomes variable code could equally apply to either species. Only in eighty three places is the code diagnostic for one bird or the other. Mind boggling when you consider that some of the differences between them are not insignificant. 

An American bird breeder advertises his hybrid ravens as a means to circumvent the US laws against domesticating native species. They apparently make wonderful loving and caring companions. 
(How on earth do you properly define a native species and why are American birds thought more worthy than our own?) 

Two years ago Cathi revived an expiring tiny sparrow that had been thrown out of his nest. Pimples is a happy little fellow that now flies freely in her home. No doubt he has outlived his thrusting brothers and sisters.

Stone the crows!
I frequently nearly crash my car when dumb pheasants  wander into the road. Not so with corvids. They steelily look you in the eye as they pick at some carrion and flit away at the very last moment. Even if you wanted to, you would fail to hit them. It is ironic and arrogant  that magpies and crows are classified as vermin and can be shot on a whim.

Eating crow
Crows have been observed watching the traffic lights turn to red to take a serving of ‘road kill’. As the lights turn back to green they hop away to await the next course.
Japanese corvids exploit the traffic in a different way when cars shell their nuts that they drop in the road.

As the crow flies
They seem to have got cars ‘sorted’. An American professor has befriended the corvids that he studies. They recognise his car as he drives to the research site and fly in parallel with the driving seat as if they belonged to Air Force One! 
Cathi tells me that a crow used to follow Harry’s bike to school every day. I can just imagine it slip streaming the back of his ears. The crow would fly home and pick his mother’s pegs off the line.

I can’t imagine Harry on a bike
Although trivial, personal stories are best. Cathi remembers as a child in Africa when a corvid regularly mimicked her baby sister crying and her mother would come running. What was really clever was that the crow was not merely mimicking but was having fun as it cawed away at her mother’s ire.

Mother crow

I am a juvenile crow and follow the Green Crow Code
I was recently enchanted by a letter in the New Scientist from Rod Cripps. I quote
“We have a local family of Australian Magpies. One morning a chick ran out into the road. Mother magpie immediately rushed out and grabbed the youngster by the neck feathers, dragged it back to the side of the road and vocally severely chastised her!”
What a fascinating story which encapsulates several corvid characteristics. Like humans they have a very long childhood because they have so much to learn. They clearly are able to communicate such information. In addition they do not just rote learn but can solve problems too.

Crow feats
In an Aesop fable a crow raises the water level in a pitcher to drink by dropping stones in the water. This has been experimentally verified when water levels have been similarly raised up in a beaker. When no stones were provided the crow flew off and brought back his own.
On another occasion a floating tasty caterpillar morsel was similarly elevated.  Apparently when offered potentially floating ballast the crows have the wit to refuse it.

I am only a simple sparrow and can’t read the instructions
I just use my head
It is well known that  some corvids fashion twigs to extract insects from nooks and crannies. They have learned from their parents the relevant pruning. Apparently designs vary with the birds geographical distribution  - a sign of learned behaviour and a high level of thinking they share with the great apes. One clever crow fashioned a suitable hooked tool by twisting wire.

Cashing the cache at the crow bar
Jays have prodigious memories with regard to storing their food. They remember hundreds of sites and when to return before different foods ‘go off’ in the larder. They have well honed skills of deception when they know potential thieves are watching. Sometimes they will go back later to recache elsewhere. Jays that themselves have thieved are the most cunning cachers.

Sense of fun - crowing over the dogs
They have a rather cruel humour. A blog correspondent related the story of his daft dogs in his walled garden. The crows would goad the dogs and taunt them to chase. They would fly close to the ground and at the last minute would swoop vertically. The dazed dogs hit the wall. This was repeated ad nauseum and the dogs never learned!


He is called ‘Floppy Wing’ and was rescued, apparently shot, almost comatose and unable to fly. Cathi fed it her life giving glucose based elixir and it was nourished in her field with the hens unable to fly for several weeks. Eventually with a huge effort it launched itself in the air and ascended a small garden tree. After several months it made its way down the hedgerow to rejoin its friends in the rookery. Corvids aid injured relatives and acknowledge and perhaps mourn dead ones. For many years Floppy regularly appeared in our gardens still mainly walking.

Floppy and friend
Scare crow
I looked out of our conservatory and there were a thousand crows feeding on grubs in the farm field. I stealthily sneaked out ever so quietly with my camera. No joy their lookouts immediately spotted me and immediately flew away. I did not want it, but it was such a feeling of power that all these intelligent birds thought me a threat.

He’s been shooting a line
Pimplette


Monday, 8 June 2015

Unorthodox ways with Brussels Sprouts

If I have any remaining reputation I might lose it today. I confess to cruel exploitation of sprouts and being not quite normal. 
I do claim to achieve nearly six months supply of greens with about one hundred and twenty individual portions from a single sowing of twenty F1 hybrid Montgomery plants! I love them so much I eat plentiful plate portions. Four times the delicate amounts that guests take when we entertain. I wonder why? They do come back for seconds! 

When I think about it, my total yield is small  - about six  large individual portions per plant. That’s actually not very much but I do pick my greens very selectively cutting out yellow and brown blemishes while I am still on the vegetable patch. When they go inside they go straight into the steamer. As a none digger and normally a none composter all my sprout debris goes straight on the ground. The earthworms love me. Yah-boo to slugs and snails, I have very few and if they are eating my discarded detritus - as nature intended - good luck to them.

Move over Mark Willis and Sue Garrett! You will never grow sprouts like mine! You won’t want to! I am unable to take your beautiful pictures of pristine delectable vegetables. I am afraid mine are never as healthy as yours. I really admire you. It’s just that I don’t have your energy, expertise and patience, 
People never  admire my vegetable plot and visitors never comment as they walk swiftly by. As soon as my veg looks anything that might be worthy of a picture they tend to go in the pan.

Sprout and broccoli seedlings in early May. Ready for planting.
The world is not really ready to hear how I sow my brassica seeds. Sown in unwashed standard plastic seed trays filled fairly high with my already dampened lovely silty garden soil, the roughly scattered  thirty or so seeds are scrabbled in with my fingers. My various brassicas are sown mainly in April in my unheated greenhouse. I never use silly propagators that create excessive humidity and force soft plant growth susceptible to damping off which is a disease I never experience.
(It is NOT my advice to you to use garden soil rather than compost for indoor propagation, especially if there is clubroot in your garden. It’s just that my own soil is surprisingly suitable).

When I plant sometime in May, our local weather systems invariably mean the Spring soil surface is desperately dry. I take a generous hole for each plant and apply to each hole at least a half a gallon of water before planting straight from my seed tray. When planted the plants are still in a small depression so I can water. Otherwise water runs away on my hydrophobic soil.
If I don’t forget I miserly scatter a couple of dozen slug pellets to the complete planting area - around but away from individual plants. If I am sufficiently aware I scatter the slug pellets the evening before. I prefer to plant with dead slugs around rather then live ones!
I usually thinly scatter some YaraMila fertiliser - or similar. On very rare occasions I might work half a trowel-full of dolomitic limestone into the hole. I have no idea whether this lime does any good but it does supply calcium and magnesium and raises pH in the starting root zone.

That damned enviromesh

That wonderful enviromesh  I plant two plants at each station and thin out later. Two chances with any slugs!

Covering with enviromesh is mandatory. Because of the damned pigeons! - or more usually the collared doves. Lovely birds, but they can’t have my plants! 
Harry, fount of all wisdom, knew almost everything about birds. His lovely pictures grace this blog in my ornithological posts! He once told me that collared doves did not eat green shoots! Harry was not a gardener, hated most vegetables and never ate his greens! What a triumph to prove him wrong. It was perhaps they only time I was right!

I graduated from fleece to stiffer almost everlasting enviromesh three years ago. I leave the large 5x2 metre sheets intact and use bricks to both raise and hold down the sheets. This means my plants are planted in blocks which I like to do for other reasons too. Unfortunately the ‘pigeons’ get greedier each year and continue eating further into early Summer! Previously I only needed to raise my cover a brick high. Now it’s quite a castle before I dare take away the protection! 
And these days they are now starting to nibble the old plants January to March. In a normal Spring my sprouts outgrow this damage but this year we had so many cold dry windy days this did not happen. My sprouting broccoli suffered most. Indeed if we did not eat sprout sprouts (sic) as you will hear about later, we would have had very few greens for the table.

Sorry I have no picture of Summer sprout plants. Sprouting broccoli anyone?

Pests and diseases - with special reference to ‘yellows’

Many gardeners tell me they don’t grow brassicas because they are a dirty crop. They are right. Unless like commercial growers they do a lot of spraying. Although I have no personal issues with spraying or eating purchased sprayed vegetables I rarely spray my brassicas. Life is too short and what is the odd whitefly or aphid between friends?
 (Fortunately brassica whitefly is NOT the insect that attacks indoor plants).

I conceived this post as a short one about brussels sprouts yellows. Sorry it has grown like Topsy. 
Unfortunately last year I failed to order my seeds of variety Montgomery from Mole Seeds. I discovered Mole Seeds two years ago and now unashamedly promote them! Lazily I bought instead a different F1 hybrid from a local garden centre - with sprouts it must be a F1 hybrid. Unlike my Monty it proved to be susceptible to yellows.
The yellow coronet thrilled me
When I examined my sprout plants on a sunny early December day and found them with a beautiful golden coronet of yellow dying leaves I was delighted! For blogging purposes please understand. I thought I had a  good story.
The story revolves around the fact that in normal circumstances the fungal disease which is the cause of the problem only kills expendable leaves. Not the green head and not the developing sprouts. In biological terms what is going on?

Fighting a pathogen comes at a cost to a plant as it has to expend it’s resources in the conflict. Old leaves in low light intensities and low temperatures are of limited value. The best strategy is to lose the skirmish in order to win the war. The plant conserves its resources in the green leafy rosette at the top and in the sprouts on the thick stems. After all the actual sprouts are the buds where accumulated food is stored on this biennial plant.

I was told about this phenomenon by no lesser person than a former Vice-Principal of Askham Bryan College. Friend, colleague, agriculturist and very keen vegetable grower it had to be true. He told me that the pathogen in question was downy mildew. I have recently searched the net and can find no confirmation. Why should I let a mere detail spoil a good story? I examined my yellow leaves and to me it looked like a different disease, one called ring-spot.
Peter Williams tells me that the tidy gardener can safely remove these yellow leaves. I don’t tend to bother!
If there is a lesson for the vegetable grower it is that there is no need to panic when you suddenly see such yellow leaves. It’s completely natural.
 
You can see that it is ringspot

Scruffy to leave the dead leaves
 The sprouts are undamaged by the disease
Sprouts are always attacked by cabbage white butterfly from early August. I have used many different strategies to kill them including spraying which works very well. In the past I have used that none-u biological control Bacillus thuringensis brought back from my family visits to France. I also bring back a packet for ace vegetable grower former colleague Mike Ashford who is hugely enthusiastic about how effective it is!
Considering I only grow about 20 sprout plants I have reverted to merely squashing the caterpillars and rubbing my thumb over the eggs! I miss some of course but what is the harm of a few holes on my vigorous plants?
Any volunteers to squash them
Whitefly is a bit of a problem. If it builds up too much I have been know in November to set it back with a single spray. 

I have become very tolerant of pest and disease. I had an unfortunate experience several years ago when all of Brenda’s family were with us for Christmas. Brenda’s son Peter who as a cook is a whiz up to Mark Willis’s high standard was helping Brenda prepare the Christmas dinner. Quelle horreur (they live in France) he found several fat aphids in the middle of each of the sprouts. To my humiliation they went straight into the bin! So much for impressing the Mills clan. Young people are so very fussy about food.

Tasty sprouts

What really excites me about sprouts is the long season of picking from a single sowing. My mouth really waters when I think of sprout sprouts towards the end of the season! 
Montgomery is a late variety and we eat our first ‘proper’ sprouts in late November. I don’t want any before then - they are too dirty! I welcome the first hard frost that kills off the whitefly and enhances plant sugars that improve flavour.  We take the biggest sprouts first and the plants continue to grow making more sprouts at the top. By mid January newly grown sprouts are really clean and I have to trim less away when I pick them! I regret to tell you none of my sprouts would find their way into Tesco!

By the end of February when some gardeners would be thinking of throwing their old plants away it gets really exciting. On warmer days the plants make new growth which accelerates as it goes into Spring. The growth might be from sprouts that we failed to eat, perhaps they had been black or brown ones. As the season progresses newly developing shoots come from all over the place and the character of growth changes. Eventually you get developing flowers just like sprouting broccoli. I love them all! The green shoots are my very favourite vegetable! This year it was mid May before I conceded and started to feed daily two or three sprout haulms to Cathi’s rheas. They come running each time they see me.
I just lop the old plants leaving all the roots in the ground. This year I under sowed with broadcast beetroot and leek seed three weeks before their final removal! I don’t normally do this it was just this time to demonstrate ‘proof of principle’. Such are the perks of no dig gardening.

The changing seasonal nature of Roger’s greens
A single February portion A little desperate but delicious when cleaned
 Sprout broccoli mix
March mix 
Cold meat and two veg
Another two weeks and these will be ready in late April
It makes my mouth water
Last boiling in early May. The sprouts have outlasted the sprouting broccoli

They have given good service
The under-sowing has needed plenty of water. The old sprouts have dehydrated the ground
Feeding the rheas

Rhea ration. I might have sneaked another boiling
His favourite food
Nearly all gone
Morals from my ramblings

  1. Never take gardening advice from me!
  2. There are numerous ways to grow vegetables. Methods might depend on your soil and your climate. The most significant guiding factors depend on your personality! Most of a huge range of variations work!
  3. Although I have only hinted, many gardeners not only are so keen that they sow their crops far too early, they also remove them far too soon.
  4. Growing vegetables is a great deal of fun but is not usually economic. Although as a Yorkshireman I pride myself that my produce is worth more than my expenditure for many gardeners this is not true. I know many gardening friends whose costs of production are several times the worth of their produce. Of course I am looking at this the wrong way round. Growing vegetables is a very cheap hobby. Much cheaper than golf!
  5. And the true joy is that your vegetables you grow yourself taste better than any others. The placebo effect is a very strong one!
  6. Today in early June is not too late to sow.
  7. You will only get super delicious sprout sprouts if you grow them yourself.
Links to relevant reading





Mole Seeds - there are so many seeds in their packets, there will be plenty for the following year




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...