Time to do battle with the enemy

By Richard Wright

Friday, April 11, 2014

 

Time to do battle with the enemy

Spinach roots and, right, the leaves in a bowl of water.

GARDENING

SPRING is midway through but for pests, diseases and weeds, life is just beginning, worse luck.

Pests can quickly get out of control — one or two aphids can soon become tens or hundreds of thousands — but that’s a 'delight’ to be experienced in the weeks ahead.

However, weeds are very much pests of the present and the best way to keep them in check is manual control — good old-fashioned hoeing.

To prepare the ground for that, a two or three-inch-deep layer of chippings, mulch or a proprietary application of Miracle-Gro moisture control decorative pine bark or Levington water-saving decorative bark will effectively deter annual weed growth in the first place.

Perennial weeds with deep taproots, such as dandelions, or horizontal roots, such as ground elder or nettles, can be dug up using a hand fork or sprayed with a weedkiller containing glyphosate, such as Weedol Rootkill Plus or any Roundup product, which will kill the roots as well as the top growth.

Now is also the time to think about the annual war of the roses.

The fresh leaf of roses are a beautiful precursor of colour to follow but that can be ruined by mildew, rust and, especially, blackspot.

It is important to spray with a fungicide at the first sign of disease attack, before it takes hold so now is the time to get going.

FungusClear Ultra is one of the best fungicides for protecting ornamental plants and will also give protection against insect pests, if you wish to go that way in place of more organic solutions.

It is a really busy time now for preparing and planting vegetables and flowers, and paying attention to those that have just finished.

The most important time for bulbs is after they have finished flowering — this is when they are building up their strength and producing their flower buds for next year’s display. Deadhead daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs as the flowers fade. Pull off the seed heads, leaving the stems and leaves to die down naturally. It may be tempting to remove the foliage or tie it into neat knots but the bulbs need the leaves to feed them, which can be aided by the application of fertiliser.

A vegetable from the global village

ONE of the really nice things about gardening and, in particular, writing this column is I am given all sorts of little gifts – oddities from around the world.

Today, the world is a much smaller place and there are few things you cannot obtain from either the major seed people or niche suppliers.

Yacon is one such.

It is one of those things you will see on Saturday morning cookery shows.

If you are watching your weight, like a sweet tuber with a texture of water chestnut and want an attractive plant, which will hold its own at the back of borders, then Yacon could be the one for you. I was kindly introduced to Yacon by landscape designer Phillippa Lambert, who I was in touch with about walled kitchen gardens and she mentioned the tuber.

Within a flash, a pair of tubers were in the CP fridge for the family to try, whisked there by her husband, Steve.

So far, we have only had it in a salad with a little lemon juice. My teen daughters found it 'interesting and unusual’ by the way. But, despite the lukewarm reception, I will certainly give it a go when the plants are ready.

Yacon is a large plant from South America, distantly related to sunflowers, and it has huge, attractive fuzzy green leaves. It has very pretty little yellow flowers at the top of each stalk.

A final interesting point about it is the type of sugar in the tubers is inulin — the same as in Jerusalem artichokes — and for which most people don’t have a digestive enzyme — so it has almost no calorific value whatsoever, despite its sweetness.

By the by, I have just weeded my Jerusalem artichoke patch — and what a pain!

The tubers, which were planted at a depth of about six inches, have the tendency to push themselves closer to the surface as they divide, making it almost impossible to weed the bed without either spearing with fork or slicing with trowel.

The good news is that it really does not matter.

Most will survive division — and if you know anything about how prolific they are, once you have them, there will always be plenty to go around.

And, like Yacon, because most of what you put into your system comes out, they too have a certain wind-creating ability.

Hence the greengrocers’ age-old 'hearty jokes’ comments — when the vegetable was a more common sight in shops.

Not too late to plant

THREE weeks’ ago now a very pleased and proud neighbouring allotment holder, Dorothy Dye, bounded over to tell me her potatoes were well and truly 'showing’.

She had exploited a brief weather window and got hers in the ground early while mine have now only reached the stage hers were at then.

But it is not too late to get them in the ground, which has now warmed up nicely after the winter and early spring deluge.

I know I go on about it, but the nurseries which have cottoned on to selling any amount of seed potatoes by weight — which means you can buy one if that’s the spud 'u’ like — are simply the best. I just wish they would all do it rather than dealing in pre-packs.

TOPICAL TIPS

HOES only work well if they have a sharp blade, a fact often ignored. I have an old, broken, sharpening stone which is no good for larger implements but is ideal for sharpening a small-bladed hoe.

A useful tip for 'weeding out’ spinach or leaf-beet, which has either sprung up in the wrong place or needs to be removed because it is running to seed, is to chop it off leaving some of the root, and place it in a bucket or bowl of water.

That will mean you can continue to harvest the leaves for a few more days.

It also saves taking up an awful lot of room in the refrigerator.

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