Raspberry ‘Ruby Beauty’® is a dwarf variety that is claimed to grow to just 120cm (36”) – the perfect size for a patio pot, or a sunny place in even the smallest veggie plot. I’ve decided to put this to the test and see just how well they get on when planted in the ground vs. containers. This weekend I spent a few minutes planting my raspberries with some help from my Deputy Gardener. She’s quite new to all this but was keen to get involved!
We chose a large ceramic container and filled it with John Innes No.3. This is a loam based compost that makes a good choice when planting mature shrubs in containers. It has more ‘body’ to it than peat based multi-purpose composts, offering better drainage and stability. It also contains higher levels of nutrients, making it well suited to plants that will be growing in the same container over a long period. I also mixed in a few handfuls of slow release granular fertiliser to help the plant establish and keep it well fed into next spring.
The other plant was destined for the vegetable plot. I found a nice sunny, sheltered position, sandwiched between some older raspberry canes and the strawberry patch. There were quite a few weeds but my helpful assistant soon sorted that out (she’s closer to the ground than I am!!).
The soil is quite light and fertile in this part of the garden – just perfect for raspberry growing. In fact, the other raspberries have gone mad, sending up suckers all over the place! I shouldn’t complain as we have had a really good crop this year, and there are still more fruits to pick. Hopefully, Raspberry ‘Ruby Beauty’® will be just as productive next summer.
Growing your own crops is so satisfying, not forgetting about all the health benefits of eating fresh vegetables too. We spend a lot of time caring for our crops, protecting them from frosts, fighting off pests and disease and generally nurturing them until they are ready to harvest. However, knowing when to harvest your crop is an even bigger challenge. Pick them too soon and they may taste terrible; leave them too late and they are past their best! So how do you know if they’re ripe yet?
Most soft fruits, tomatoes and peppers change colour on ripening, signalling that they are ready to pick. Courgettes can be cut when they reach the desired size, and many salad leaves can be cut as and when required, without too much cause for concern. But other crops can leave you feeling uncertain.
Here are some tips on knowing when to harvest your fruit and veg.
Many of our favourite vegetables are roots or tubers that are produced beneath the soil. But, how do you know what’s going on down there?
Onions and garlic – Around June and July, the leaves of onions and garlic will begin to yellow as the bulbs mature. Harvest them a week or two after the leaves die back. Choose a dry day to loosen them from the ground with a fork. After lifting the bulbs, you will need to leave them on the soil surface for a day or two until they have fully dried in the sun. Once dry, remove the top foliage and store them in a well ventilated, dry position.
Potatoes – As the tubers mature, potato stems and leaves will yellow and die back. This is a useful indicator that your crop is ready but you don’t need to wait for this to happen. Potatoes can be harvested earlier. Loosen the soil with your fingers and dibble around the roots to explore what is down there. If you can feel tubers of the size that you want then go ahead and harvest them. If the tubers are still too small for your liking then leave them for a few more weeks.
Sweetcorn – Sweetcorn will let you know when the cobs are ready! When the silky tassels at the end of each corn turn brown, peel back the outer sheath and insert a thumbnail into a kernel. The cobs can be harvested when the juice is a milky colour. If the liquid is clear then the cob needs a little longer, but if doughy then the crop is over overripe.
Fruits can be just as tricky. Here are some of the fruits that often raise concern when it comes to harvesting.
Medlar – The fruits of medlar are unpalatable immediately after picking, but you can use them if made into jellies or wine. Leave medlar fruits on the tree until late autumn and harvest them in dry weather when the stalk parts easily from the branch. To eat them raw they will need to be stored for 2 or 3 weeks on slatted trays until the flesh has become soft and brown. This process is called ‘bletting’ where the flesh becomes soft and brown, but not rotten.
Mulberries – If you are lucky enough to have a mulberry then the fruits are best harvested by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground. The ripe fruits will drop from the tree and can be easily gathered up from the sheet.
Pears – Unlike apples which can be eaten on the day of harvest, pears require a period of storage finish ripening them off the tree. If allowed to fully ripen on the tree, the core will begin to break down becoming soft and mushy, so they are best harvested slightly under-ripe. Most varieties are ready to pick if the fruits part easily from the tree when given a gentle twist or tilted horizontally. Finish ripening them on slats in a cool, dry place. The early varieties will be ready in just a week or two while later varieties can take months to fully ripen.
I’m very pleased with this pair of Raspberry ‘Ruby Beauty’® plants that found their way to my desk today. I wasn’t expecting them so it was a lovely surprise! This compact little variety is the latest thing in Raspberries. It’s a dwarf variety that’s supposed to grow to just 3 feet high so they will be perfect on my patio. Better still, they are totally thornless which makes them even more appealing.
They arrived looking bushy and healthy so I have very high hopes for them! My raspberry plants are growing in 3 litre containers which is a nice size of plant – small enough to establish quickly, but also large enough to bear a decent crop next year. Thompson & Morgan also sell them in the smaller 9cm pots if you want a cheaper option, and don’t mind waiting an extra season for the plants to catch up in size.
I’ve decided to pot one up and plant the other in the ground as I’m curious to see how they will perform under different circumstances. I’ll keep you posted as they grow …
Perennial weeds are far trickier to deal with than annual weeds. They die back in winter each year before re-emerging the following spring so you need to kill the root in order to kill the plant. Worse still, some weeds such as bindweed can propagate themselves from the tiniest piece of broken root, so it’s really important to clear these weeds thoroughly before you dig over or rotavate the soil.
A sustained attack is usually the most successful course of action. Ideally you can remove them by hand, digging out the roots and all. Alternatively, hoe the tops off immediately when they appear above ground. Be persistent and eventually this will starve the roots and kill the plant.
Of course, for many gardeners, the most reliable method is to use weedkiller. There are a staggering array of different types available to the gardener, so how do you choose the right weedkiller for the job? Once again, it pays to know what type of weed you are tackling. Annual weeds can be quickly and easily killed using a contact action weedkiller. This will kill only the part of the plant that comes into contact with it so you need to be thorough when spraying. This type of herbicide works fast and you will quickly see results.
Perennial weeds on the other hand are best killed using a systemic herbicide such as Glyphosate. These herbicides enter the plant cells when they are sprayed onto foliage. The chemical is gradually transported to the roots where it will slowly kill the weed. Systemic herbicides will take much longer, and may require subsequent applications for particularly persistent weeds, but they are ultimately far more effective at preventing regrowth. Try to be patient when using this type of weedkiller as it can take several weeks for the roots to die, even though the top of the plant may appear dead already.
Once weeds are under control, it’s worth keeping on top of them. A quick tour of the garden with your hoe once a week is far less daunting than waging war against a full army of weeds.
There is one thing that unites us as gardeners – our dislike of weeds! Competing with our carefully tended plants for light, space, water and nutrients, and often more vigorous in growth than our cultivated varieties.
If like me, you are busy with work and family, it’s all too easy to turn your back for five minutes, only to discover that you are growing a beautiful display of dandelions. The veggie plot is covered in bindweed, and goosegrass is forming superb ground cover throughout the flower borders. After sighing despondently I decided that it was time to take back my garden.
There’s one golden rule in the war against weeds – know your enemies! This will help you decide which weapons to choose in your battle against them. Annual weeds, like shepherds purse, hairy bittercress , goosegrass and chickweed will only live for a year. However, they seed prolifically and spread with ease. For this reason, it is best to tackle annual weeds before they have a chance to set seed and multiply. I like to catch them when they are in flower as they are easiest to spot at this stage.
Luckily most annual weeds have quite shallow roots so they are easy to pull out by hand. Larger patches can be quickly dispatched with a hoe which will sever the stem from the roots. This is best done on a sunny and dry day when the stems will quickly shrivel up and die. If the area is otherwise uncultivated then a sheet of permeable black plastic will slow the progress of annual weeds by cutting out light and preventing their growth. This can be a handy technique if you are preparing the area for a crop later in the season.
Of course, for many gardeners, the most reliable method is to use weed killer. More on that in part 2 of my war against weeds blog !
Evergreen shrubs form the backbone of the garden. They provide structure and colour even in the depths of winter when other plants are dormant and bare.
Evergreens offer more than just foliage. Many have attractive flowers such as Rhododendron and Camellia. In fact some even flower during the coldest months, perfuming the cold air with a delicious scent. E.g Sarcococca . Other evergreens provide fruits that are both ornamental and useful as a food source for local wildlife. E.g Holly, Cotoneaster, Pyracantha.
In summer they create a useful backdrop that will set your flowering perennials off to their best advantage. But don’t be fooled by the term ‘evergreen’ – some have brightly coloured variegated foliage that makes them really stand out from the crowd! E.g Euonynous fortunei/ japonicus cultivars, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, Aucuba etc.
From low growing Box hedges to large specimen Camellia’s, there’s an evergreen to suit every garden.
Box and Yew make superb formal evergreens that are perfect creating topiary sculptures, dense formal hedging, parterres, mazes etc – no stately home is complete without them! While Fatsia japonica and Aucuba provide exotic foliage for tropical themed gardens. Pittosporum, Hebe, Viburnum tinus, Lavender and Rosemary are the stalwarts of the Cottage garden.
Evergreens make fabulous hedges too! The much maligned Leyland conifer can be found bordering many gardens throughout the UK. However, Box, Yew, Viburnum, Privet, and Holly make far more attractive evergreen hedges. In challenging coastal areas Grisellina is a good choice for a boundary hedge.
Some evergreens offer aromatic foliage too such as Lavender, Santolina, and Rosemary. Many make superb wall shrubs too – Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, some evergreen Ceanothus varieties and Corokia.
Evergreens bring colour, scent, architecture, privacy, and formality to gardens, as well as attracting wildlife by offering food and shelter. No garden should be without them! Take a look at our choice of top 10 evergreens.