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The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Pest-free Potagers...

The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Pest-free Potagers...

At last, summer is here and with it, we hope, the sun! There’s no better time to get out and enjoy your garden as Trevor Bridge explains…

 

 

This is a wonderful time of year for gardening in Poitou-Charentes when we benefit from long, hot sunny days, deep-blue skies and balmy evenings. There should be no risk of frost and flaming June brings average temperatures of 22˚C, rising to 25˚C in July, our hottest month.

Good weather and long days allow us to progress our jobs at this busy time. Midsummer heat-waves enable us to enjoy colourful annuals and roses in our flower borders. Vegetable gardens are flourishing and we’ll be benefiting from our labours, picking armfuls of fresh, delicious produce.

Make the best of your garden by using it as an extension to your home. Position a bench in an area that gets early-morning or late-afternoon sun for somewhere to sit back, relax and enjoy looking at your plants; somewhere to reflect after a hard day’s work.

 

 

 

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WHAT TO DO IN JUNE AND JULY

 

VEGETABLES

Crisp young courgettes are ready for harvesting. Regular picking encourages more courgettes. Delicious peas, broad beans, French beans and summer cabbages are available. You might have salad greens, spring onions, radishes, turnips, carrots or spinach. Pick herbs now and dry or freeze them for later.

Early potatoes are ready and if they go straight from soil to pan, you’ll experience an exquisite flavour. Earth up potatoes regularly to stop tubers near the surface turning green.

Harvest onions, shallots and garlic when their leaves turn yellow and die back. Dry them on the soil surface.

As empty land appears, re-sow salad leaves, spring onions, dwarf beans, radishes and beetroot every three weeks for continual cropping.

To direct energy to the fruit, pinch out tomato side shoots between the main stem and a leaf taking care not to pinch off the fruiting shoot. Pot up the shoots to create new plants. Remove leaves below the lowest fruit trusses to improve air circulation. Bush varieties don’t need pruning.

Nip out growing tips of courgettes and squashes to encourage branching. Train cucumber plants up stakes or wigwams to make the most of your space.

Stop harvesting rhubarb to allow it to build up reserves for next year.

 

 

FLOWERS

Plant summer bedding, hanging baskets and containers now the risk of frost has gone. There’s still time to sow seeds such as calendula, candytuft, nasturtium, nigella, sunflowers, wallflowers, Sweet Williams, campanulas and forget-me-nots

When hardy geraniums and delphiniums stop flowering cut them back to encourage new flowers and foliage. Pinch out fuchsia tips to promote more flowers and a bushy habit. Once they stop flowering prune early summer-flowering shrubs like philadelphus and deutzia.

Pick sweet-peas regularly to promote blooming. Pick lavender flowers to brighten the home, for baking or garnishing food.

Dead head roses. Dead head oriental poppies and cut them back close to ground level after flowering to stimulate new growth. Cut back faded perennials.

Support tall plants such as hollyhocks with stakes and remove rust affected leaves. Tie in and train climbing plants as new shoots grow and prune out overcrowded or dead stems.

 

 

 

ORGANIC PEST & DISEASE CONTROL

The desire to be close to nature attracts many of us to gardening. Tending an organic garden is not only an enjoyable and practical way of caring for the environment but we are able to produce fresh, tasty produce while helping to conserve and improve the area in our care.

The chemical approach, where pesticides and herbicides are essential for controlling so-called pests, where all creatures or plants, except for those grown for crops or display are indiscriminately eradicated, conflicts with the gardener’s harmony with nature. A heavily promoted industry encourages reliance on chemicals which, sadly, has caused dramatic decreases in songbirds, butterflies and other wildlife. Yet yields are not significantly higher and these products are expensive so consequently, many gardeners have reverted back to more sustainable methods.

The key to organic control is having strong, healthy plants that are able to withstand attack. A combination of methods is used to achieve this...

 

CHOICE OF PLANTS 

Select plants suited to your conditions. If your garden is dry choose drought tolerant plants; don’t place ones requiring full-sun in shade. Consider water requirements - we no longer grow runner beans as we find it difficult to provide their favoured damp conditions. The type of soil is also important so, for instance, if your soil is chalky avoid ericaceous plants.

Observe what prospers in neighbours’ gardens. Choose resistant varieties; certain rose varieties are black spot resistant; some carrots do not attract root fly and certain leeks resist rust.

 

 

CARE FOR PLANTS

Inspect regularly, act promptly. Eliminate weak or damaged plants that may attract problems. Remove aphid infested broad bean tips early, cut coral spot infected branches of woody plants regularly and pick blighted camellia blossoms as they appear. Burn affected plant material.

Growing plants in season is best, but early or late sowing can avoid pest attacks. Late sown overwintered broad beans are tougher than spring sown ones and deter aphids. Early potatoes are lifted before blight attacks, early peas miss mildew and early carrots avoid root fly. Thinning can attract onion fly and carrot fly to the scent of plants. Precise sowing or indoor propagation can help alleviate this.

Mulching in spring reduces plant stress by keeping roots cooler, holding moisture and stopping spores splashing onto plants. However, diseases and pests overwinter in mulches so rake them aside in winter.

 

 

CROP ROTATION

This involves growing groups of plants on different plots each year and is one of the most important ways to control pest and disease accumulation. See the April/May 2013 edition of Living for details of this (available online).

 

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PREDATORS

Many natural predators, if nurtured, will dramatically reduce the numbers of pests in your garden. Birds eat

masses of slugs, snails, grubs, wireworms, caterpillars and insects. Provide shrubs, hedges and nest boxes for nesting and cover. Bats also eat insects and bat boxes can be purchased for them.

Frogs and toads devour slugs, snails, beetles and insects. Dragonflies eat small insects. Provide a pond in a sunny position with gently sloping sides so birds can drink and bathe; amphibians can then spawn and animals can escape if they fall in. Even a simple bowl can encourage frogs and other wildlife.
Hedgehogs consume slugs and snails so provide a pile of leaves in a quiet corner for hibernation, or a hedgehog house. Ensure they can get into the garden by providing gaps in boundaries. We rescued and cared for two abandoned baby hedgehogs four years ago and they now repay us by keeping slug and snail populations down.

Ladybirds and lacewings eat aphids. Parasitic wasps kill insect pests and beetles eat masses of slugs, snails and vine weevils. There are many other beneficial predators like centipedes and spiders. Log piles, leaf litter or piles of broken crocks and stones are all that is needed to encourage them.
Keep insect populations in balance by avoiding insecticides or insect traps which kill indiscriminately, including beneficial insects which prey on pests. Avoid slug pellets as they kill small birds which eat slugs that have eaten pellets and birds of prey are also put in danger as they eat small birds poisoned by slug pellets.

 

 

HAND PICKING & WATER SPRAYING

Although time consuming, removing pests such as cabbage caterpillars and gooseberry sawfly by hand is effective. We keep on top of Colorado beetle by removing them daily from potato plants.

Spraying plants with water or a light soap solution is an effective treatment to remove aphids and similar species from plants.

 

 

COMPANION PLANTING

This involves planting different plants together to assist in pest control and pollination.

French marigolds emit a strong odour that repels aphids and their flowers attract aphid eating hoverflies.

Marigolds are good with tomatoes and deter carrot fly. The gardener at Château de l’Abrègement advised us that the
simpler flowered ones are better for nematode control and an Ardèche restaurateur served us finely chopped marigold leaves as a lovely garnish for tomatoes.

We grow sage with brassicas. Their strong scents deter each other’s pests.

Nasturtiums planted with cabbages attract caterpillars away from the crop. This is called trap cropping. Mint, sage and rosemary repel cabbage moths. Garlic and chives ward aphids off roses, chrysanthemums, sunflowers and tomatoes. Sow carrots with leeks. Leeks repel carrot fly and carrots
repel onion fly and leek moth.

Planting borage next to strawberries deters detrimental insects and attracts pollinating insects. Borage and dill also attract insects like praying mantis and predatory wasps which eat detrimental insects.

Coriander attracts beneficial hoverflies and helps to repel aphids. Chervil repels aphids off lettuce.

 

 

DETERRENTS AND BARRIERS

Bottle cloches, plastic bottles with their bottom removed, placed over young plants during their establishment deters slugs. Slugs dislike copper piping, sharp grit or broken eggshells. Old squares of carpet fitted snugly around cabbage plant stems discourage cabbage root flies from laying eggs. Horticultural fleece deters carrot fly and flea beetles. Until we used this method our roquette was peppered with flea beetle holes and although we ate it ourselves it was too unsightly to serve to guests.

 

 

 

 

Trevor 's tips

What to do in your garden now

• Hoe weeds regularly during dry weather so the sun shrivels them up.

• Water mornings and late afternoons when cooler to avoid wasting water through evaporation. Avoid wetting leaves to prevent leaf scorch. Don’t allow plants to get dry - soak thoroughly, don’t just splash.

• French beans are an alternative to conventional green manure. Even if you have more than enough to eat, they produce lots of foliage and the roots
fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.

• Sow herbs in pots on your windowsill so you have a fresh constant supply for your cooking. Don’t forget, different herbs require different conditions so take care where you site them.

• Keep a record of successes and failures in a diary for future reference. Note what you plant, when, planting method, distances, and anything learnt.

 

 

 

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GOOD, BETTER, BEST: WATERING

GOOD: WATERING-CAN

Watering-cans come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Large 10 litre plastic ones are great for watering larger areas and tiny ones are good for windowsills. You can even buy tiny roses to fit on old drinks bottles to make your own mini watering-can. Galvanised metal watering-cans, especially old ones, look well in the garden.

 

 

BETTER: HOSE

Delivering more water than watering-cans, hoses are better for larger areas. Adjustable spray-guns allow control of the water so that plants are not damaged and your thumb doesn’t wear out! Reels can be obtained to store hoses neatly.

 

 

 

BEST: IRRIGATION SYSTEM

Micro-drip irrigation pipe systems deliver water directly to where plants need it. Applied slowly, water soaks the roots, rather than running off or evaporating. They save time, reduce water wastage and can be automated. There is less weed growth as water is targeted just to the crop. Sprinkler systems are useful for masses of plants, but they are less directional and can waste water.

 

 


Trevor is a landscape architect who ran a busy practice in the UK for 20 years. He and his wife Jocelyn moved to an ancient fermette in Poitou-Charentes in 2004 where they garden organically and keep bees and hens.