It was a few years ago when this particular time of year gave me an idea on attempting to grow a particular plant! Seeing bunches of Mistletoe (Viscum album) in various shops and market stalls I got to thinking on how to go about growing your own and what is involved in this. I did have some idea that Apple trees can be a host and also that it is like a type of parasitic plant but other than that I had absolutely no idea on how to go about attempting to grow it. So I did what most people do these days to suss out a bit of information and that was to look it up on the internet.
Well it turned out that the seeds had to be fairly fresh and they had to be pressed on to a host tree. The seeds themselves, once separated from the berry, are covered in a thick slimy gel type of substance and the reasoning behind this is that in the wild, birds would eat the berries and then wipe their beaks on a branch. The sticky substance ensures the seeds stay put until germination takes place after which 2 green shoots, which to me have the appearance of some alien like probe, work their way out of the seed, bend around digging in to the bark of the host tree, thereby setting off the parasitic requirements required to flourish as a plant.
This is pretty much how it stays for almost the first year, I kept checking on it for growth and suspecting it was perhaps dying off but the shoots remained green. After a period of months, there was a green sprout which unfolded 2 leaves on each seed, again this was a very slow process and was pretty much all that happened in the 2nd year. They do speed up a little, the second photo shows how they are currently this year the amount of shoots are now expanding and the amount of leaves growing in number so that it is now starting to resemble a bunch of mistletoe, but will it have berries? I am told it needs to be a female plant for that to happen and early on there is no way of telling, so fingers pretty much crossed on that subject.
Also it needs to be said that as mentioned before this is a parasitic plant so some people may not be very keen on unleashing it on to a branch of their favourite apple tree, I don’t think it will kill it as that would be defeating the object of living together in harmony! But it is said to weaken the tree, then again there should be plenty of people, friends or family willing to be recipients of bunches at Christmas time which in turn reduces the load on the host, it is after all the amount and size of the bunches that would affect the growth of a host tree.
Lastly, the obligatory warning that the seeds & leaves can be poisonous! So be careful when handling and don’t leave any lying around where children and pets play. Having said that, to me this was a fascinating thing to try and grow and to observe still growing now, taking almost no effort and what is more no compost, propagator or heat required! How many seeds can you say that about!
We are in an area which suffers yearly with potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) and once you have had this terrible potato disease in your allotment or garden then it seems like it is with you permanently! There are still some copper based products that haven’t been taken off the market yet that have some control with regular applications, but if you are against chemical control or want to try another method then this is a way I have found around the problem.
Lifting last year’s earlies
I did this as an experiment a couple of years ago and also successfully last year and have set my stall out to do so again this year. It is as simple as this. There are some very good quality first early potato sets available and T&M does a good range of varieties of these. They need no longer produce the small papery skinned types of years ago, which many of us remember from our younger days coming in to shops before the maincrops. Nowadays varieties such as Rocket, Pentland Javelin and Arran Pilot can produce large tubers comparable with the maincrops and the best bit of all is they mature and are ready for lifting before the dreaded blight strikes!
Early salad spuds ‘Rocket’
I prefer the variety ‘Rocket’ myself. I have found that, in our area and my type of soil, this grows perfectly – it shows some resistance to slugs and produces nice large tubers. I am also trying Pentland Javelin this year, as this has some resistance to eelworm, which we do get among the spuds sometimes down the allotment. Last year I tried Rocket and Arran Pilot, which both matured ready to lift before blight arrived and again produced some really nice sized spuds. The two varieties I have bought for this year are set out in trays to start the chitting process, there is debate over whether the process of chitting is really required and from new growers of what chitting exactly is. It is simply the process of letting shoots grow before planting out and this can happen naturally, like when you find a potato in your veg cupboard that has fallen to one side and been there a while and has a shoot appearing from it. This is what chitting describes, albeit gardeners make them produce these by placing the tubers in egg trays or similar as in the picture. I find it does help with earlies but is not really required for maincrops – potatoes grown commercially are not chitted.
I have also started off some onion seed in the greenhouse, Bedfordshire Champion & Ailsa Craig. I start these off early to try and produce some nice large onions to keep through the winter. Kelsae is one variety many choose to grow as large as possible and these are very good for size and showing, but I find possibly due to the large size, they are very poor keepers and what I grow usually lasts over winter until the following year. I do though as a back up and fail-safe alternative grow some from sets every year. I find Red Baron produces rock hard tennis ball sized onions that are excellent keepers.
The allotment has been winter dug to help kill pests and help break down the large clumps and is now ready for 2014.
Allotment prepared for 2014
A short update regarding a couple of plants which are still surviving the winter now in to February.
Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice Mixed’ F1 Hybrid & Petunia ‘Easy Wave’
I have 2 plants which are still alive outside now into February. One is a zonal geranium (pelargonium) and the other, which is not just one, but a number of plants of petunia. These are in various locations around the back garden, the geranium is in a clay pot on the front wall. Neither have had any special protection, other than the geranium has a wall for protection from one side, it has got a bit straggly now. Normally I would have taken this in the greenhouse late autumn for cutting material, but the longer it has lasted, the more curious I am to see how much more it can survive. The petunias actually look quite green and healthy.
To be honest, it has not been a severe winter yet, we have had a fair number of frosts around here and some bad enough to leave car windscreens in need of a defrosting before setting off for work, but not the prolonged deep frosts that usually put paid to bedders well before now. Last year wasn’t too tough a winter either, but we did get a few early severe frosts around November/December that finished off many borderline plants outside.
The pictures here are of a zonal geranium (pelargonium) which has been outside since late spring 2013, and petunia plants which are dotted around the garden in various containers.
I will update further on their progress through the winter months.
Zonal geranium (pelargonium)
Another growing season draws to an end, well just about. I have been down the allotment this morning and I am still getting crops from beetroot, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and turnip. The beetroot we have decided we like in a slightly different way, instead of cooking and pickling in jars we now roast in the oven as you would potato or parsnip. This produces a sweet and very tasty vegetable which we much prefer to the vinegar soaked method. In fact all of the above have been used today on the Sunday roast.
I have taken all the French and runner bean foliage down from the wigwam structures in a bit of a tidy up this morning, the wigwams are made from half inch steel bars 8’ long! These came to the company where I work as strengtheners in packing cases and were then thrown in the skip for scrap. They can stay in position all year round, will not rot, are too heavy to blow over and the best bit of all were completely free! Luckily my allotment is just across the road from the warehouse where I work.
I have been very impressed with the chard variety ‘Bright Lights’ which some of us were given to trial. I have cut some this morning and they are still cropping well, the coloured varieties seem much less prone to bolting or running to seed and both the leaves and succulent stems can be cooked and eaten. I am also looking forward to seeing if it does emerge again in the spring as promised to provide more fresh greens just when needed, this will have a well deserved row of its own in the allotment next year. Other vegetables which have also performed well this year are beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and onion Bedfordshire Champion.
Chard Bright Lights
One topical crop as it gets towards the end of October is the pumpkin! I grew T&M variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant down the allotment this year. I prefer the large varieties as I try to grow a couple of big pumpkins to carve for Halloween, the grandkids enjoy seeing one lit up on the back and I always try to attempt the scariest face possible when carving with the obligatory pointy teeth and mean eyes! But this year I went for a completely different approach and tried a kids’ favourite cartoon character. The result? Well, the grandkids absolutely loved it.
My carved pumpkin
I can’t say I like anything at all about the dark drab dull winter months, I am very much a summer person and absolutely love the sunshine on my face while gardening, however having said that! it is now well over a month from the shortest day and each day has a little more light to it so I will soon be able to visit the allotment during week days once again after work to start the preparation work.
There are still a few goodies left down the allotment, a row of leeks, parsnips and turnips, all good for a warming winter stew but soon I will once again start digging it over from one end to the other a few rows at a time until I have that satisfaction of looking over a freshly dug weed free allotment, that will not last for long though, potato sets are already on sale and first of all (March/April) the early spuds will be going in, in fact as it is an area that does suffer from blight I decided last year to only grow earlies to beat the blight and was I glad that I took that decision! with it being the wettest summer for a very long time and with even the undercover tomato’s down there being affected it turned out to be really good move which I am also going to do again this year.
Goodies from the allotment
On the home front the disappearance of the snow that fell during early January has revealed Snowdrops and Aconites not just poking up but flowering! After their shoots must have been frozen for a week or so, then again they do say that a layer of snow also provides some insulation and I would think that must have been the case here.
A witch hazel Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Jelena’ has been flowering since Christmas and when I thought about capturing it for the blog it was getting a bit dusky but with the flash and the darkish background I think it has come out pretty well also the detail in the flowers appears to be more enhanced.
Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’ – still going strong
A few mistletoe berries that I pressed on to the bark of apple trees in my garden have been growing slowly, last year they just put out a couple of green shoots that dug in to the bark but I had a look the other day and they are definitely putting on proper growth now!
Mistletoe on my apple tree
Things are moving! Spring is around the corner, now where is my warm sunshine!