How to Grow: Damsons
16th January 2020
Firstly what are damsons? Well, they are a sort of plum but not one you would want to pluck from the tree and eat. They are tart rather than sweet. They need to be cooked and are perfect for jams, pies, wine and Damson Gin (like Sloe Gin only nicer!)
So why bother with them and not plump for a nice Victoria Plum? The answer is that they are a hardy tree and so will fruit in situations where a plum tree may struggle. You can even choose a dwarf damson which will allow you to have the tree in a small garden. Or even grow it in a container such as the Vigoroot Potato / Tomato planter.
The trouble with growing trees in pots is that the tree will eventually become pot bound. Once fruit trees become pot bound they produce less fruit. The advantage of growing in Vigoroot is that the roots are air pruned, so the tree will never get pot bound and the improved root structure encourages the tree to produce more fruit. So, provided it is given enough food and water it should produce a bumper crop every year.
When to plant damsons
Damson trees often come "bare-rooted" which means that there is no soil around the roots. Plant them from late autumn to early winter as trees generally shut down and become dormant in winter. So this is the best time for them to be planted as it means that their growth is not interrupted.
Pot grown (with soil around the roots) can be planted at any time.
Where to Plant
Most trees like full sunlight, south facing perfection. Damsons are less fussy so provided you can shelter it from being too wind blown and get the soil right it will give you fruit.
Damsons need a good, nitrogen rich soil with a high pH of above 6. So it is worth testing your soil with a simple kit from the garden centre before you plant.
If your soil needs adjustment then dig a big hole, if not then just big enough for your roots to fit in without being cramped. If your soil needs adjustment then you may need to add bonemeal to the base of your hole and mix in compost as you are refilling the hole. Test again and if your pH is still below 6 then mix in some lime to get the conditions just right.
In early spring scatter 75 grams per square yard of general purpose fertilser such as blood, fish & bone around your tree.
For best results its a good idea to retest your soil every 3 to 4 years and add some lime around the plant if needed to keep the pH up to around 6.
Caring for your Damson Tree
They need to be kept moist. Especially bareroot trees as they may suffer a little root damage when they are lifted. To help with this place a Tree Mat around the base of the tree to reduce water loss and to protect the tree from weeds. In dry weather water well, especially in the early years until it has become fully established.
A new tree will not produce fruit for the first 2 to 3 years until it has become established.
Damson trees need little pruning. They will generate some twiggy growth which can be cut back when the tree becomes too congested but it doesn't have to be done every year.
Like other plums, damsons should only be pruned from late spring to early autumn (April to September). Pruning during the winter increases the chance of the tree becoming infected with silver leaf fungus.
Damsons are self-fertile, so you don’t need to plant more than one. However, like all self-fertile trees it is likely to produce a much better crop if cross-pollinated by another tree. So if you want to add a plum tree then this will help your damson crop. Make sure you choose one that flowers at the same time though.
New sustainable gardening tools
Harvest in late August – September. The fruits quickly become soft when picked so make sure you have your plans in place for how you will use them before you pick.
Silver Leaf Fungus - The fungus infects the wood through wounds - mainly caused by pruning - and causes a silvering of the leaves followed by death of the branch. Avoid it by pruning only in summer when there are far less spores around and wounds will heal quicker. Remove any infected branches and leaves as soon as you see them.
Frost & Wind damage - losing blossom to frost or high winds will severely affect the crop. You can prevent this by using a Fruit Tree Net When bad weather is forecast, fit the net over the tree and wrap any excess around the trunk. Remove it once the blossom has set in Spring, to allow for pollination. You can then put it on again to provide chemical free pest protection until your crop is ready to pick.
Trunk damage - Another common problem for young trees is damage to the trunk from mowers and strimmers. This can be prevented by using the Tree Mat as detailed above to suppress plant growth close to the tree. You can also use a StrimGuard to wrap around the tree whilst you are strimming or mowing.
12th January 2020
Haxnicks Bamboo Scoop
A garden scoop is one of the most useful things to have in the garden. Yet, many gardeners get by without one. They scoop compost out with a whatever is to hand. A handy trowel maybe? It works but as it has no sides it holds very little it makes pot filling much longer than it could be. The alternative is to pick up the bag of compost and tip it. Cue compost all over the floor and an aching back at home time! So, i say even though you can get by without a garden scoop make 2020 the year you treat yourself to a Bamboo Scoop!
The new Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is made from the same tough material as the Bamboo pots. If treated nicely (don't leave it down the side of the shed in the rain all winter!) It will last 5 years +. After use it is fully compostable. Just break into pieces to speed the process and add to your compost heap. See exactly how, and learn more about the material in this video. If you have a trusty plastic one then do keep using it until it gives up the ghost. But when it comes to replacing it, the more sustainable Haxnicks Bamboo scoop is the way to go.
Bamboo Plant Markers
Another first from Haxnicks. The first sustainable Bamboo Plant Markers. There's purpose needs no explanation but I'd just add they are compostable just like the rest of the Bamboo range and free of BPAs and petroleum based plastics. And they will help you remember where you planted your carrots. Because, lets face it, although you are 'sure' you will remember - if you are like me, you never will!
Grow at Home: Cauliflower
5th January 2020
Cauliflower can be a tricker crop than many to succeed with, but the effort is well rewarded, with beautiful white or purple heads (also known as curds) that taste delicious and leave the shop bought versions behind.
Soil and Aspect
Cauliflowers need a well-consolidated soil which is deep, fertile and moisture retentive, so best to dig several months before planting, incorporating well-rotted manure or garden compost. Alternatively plant after a crop of nitrogen-fixing green manure.
Best planted in an open sunny site, it is important to avoid frost pockets if growing winter varieties.
Sow the seeds of summer varieties in a cool greenhouse in mid-winter for an early crop. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough and harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out in rows 50cm apart with protection in early spring.
Autumn and Winter varieties can be sown outdoors in the late spring. Sow thinly in nursery beds before planting in a permanent site. Thin to 5cm apart and transplant seedlings when they are 10cm tall and bearing 5 to 6 leaves - take care in lifting them. Remember to water in well.
Depending on the variety the final spacing should be 60-70 cm apart.
After planting, mulch the crop with garden compost - quick to produce in a Rollmix Composter.
Water in dry periods with occasional feed and cover with netting to protect from birds - Giant Easy Net Tunnel will help shade from the sun too.
Fold the leaves up around the head to protect from rain and frost. Then use collars around the stems to protect from cabbage root fly.
Harvesting and Storage
Start harvesting when the heads are small so that not all of the crop is taken at the same time. Florets separate or turn brown when they are too mature. So better to opt for smaller specimens than leave it too late.
Cauliflowers can be stored on the stem, hung upside down in a cool dark place for up to three weeks - mist occasionally.
Pests and Diseases
Cauliflowers are susceptible to the issues as cabbages - pick up some tips in our Spring Cabbages Blog.