CLUBROOT IN BRASSICAS




Clubroot is a serious disease that can affect crops from the brassica family. It is a fungal (although more correctly known as a slime mould) infection which attacks the plant through the soil via its root hairs. In a short period of time this will lead to massive swelling, distortion and severely retarded growth. Worst still, the fungus produces cysts that will remain in the soil until a suitable host comes available to re-infect, starting the cycle again.

The biggest problem is that these cysts can live in the soil for up to 20 years and are easily spread. In fact, just walking from an infected area onto a clean patch of land will infect your soil. Be aware that club root disease will also easily contaminate your soil if it is brought in on infected plants, so do not accept brassica seedlings where the source is not known to be clean.

Club root can infect whenever the soil is moist and warm, so be aware that most new infections will tend to occur from mid-summer until late autumn.

Symptoms of Club Root

The first sign is a characteristic wilting of your plants, especially in dry weather. These infected plants will fail to develop properly and often the crop will fail. As mentioned before, by examining the roots you will notice unusual distortions and swellings.

Organic Control of Club Root

The first thing that you should know is that – at least in Great Britain – there is no available chemical control for Club Root, so if you do have clubroot in your soil then you are going to be stuck with it. Even so, it is still possible to grow brassica crops successfully with some careful cultivation techniques.

Firstly, it is important to practice good hygiene. When your brassica crops have been harvested, finished carefully remove all the roots but DO NOT compost them, treat them either as household waste or burn them in an incinerator. Remember that the brassica family also includes radishes and mustard, so do not use a mustard green manure on your land and remove radishes that have gone over and again burn them, do not compost them. This will help to reduce the number of clubroot fungal spores and cysts left lying in the soil.

Keep down susceptible weeds like shepherd’s purse, charlock, and wild radish as this will also help to control the club roots life cycle.

Start your brassicas off in modules using fresh, sterilized compost to which a small amount of lime has been added, then pot them up to between 3 inch or 5 inch pots before planting out. This allows the plant to develop a good root system prior to a possible infection.

Club root can be reduced, but not eliminated in open ground, by improving drainage and raising the soil pH by liming. On acid soils, lime at the rate of 500g per sq m (15oz per sq yd), with lighter dressings of 270g per sq m (8oz per sq yd) in future years. Before planting, you may wish to try digging a decent sized hole- at least 1ft deep - and then dusting the sides and base of the hole with lime before planting your seedlings.

Consider using club root resistant brassica varieties, but remember - this is resistance and not total immunity.

Clubroot Resistant Varieties
Brussels sprouts ‘Crispus’
Cauliflower ‘Clapton’
Cauliflower ‘Clarify’
Cabbage ‘Kilaton’
Cabbage ‘Kilaxly’
Cabbage ‘Kilazol’


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BEES AND BIODIVERSITY



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Our native bees and honey bees are responsible for pollinating the majority of flowering plants in this country, which in turn, produce many of our crops. In fact many of our fruits, vegetable and nut crops rely solely on insect pollination and it's believed that at least 1/3rd of our diet is directly dependant on the relationship of flowers and their pollination by bees.

In the spring of 2008 around one third of honey bees were lost in the UK, and while it’s not entirely clear what had caused this massive population drop, if such loses continue it will have a devastating effect on the countries crop production. Such figures have also brought to light the importance of native English bumble bees to crop pollination should honey bee populations eventually crash.


There used to be about 27 species of native bee within the UK, but with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower-rich pasture land was lost to us when it was turned over to edible crops. As a result of this, two species of our native bees have already become extinct while general native bee populations are in decline. If - at the every least - native bumble bee populations can be sustained, then at least there is some hope for the future of UK crop production. However for a more 'fruitfull' future, steps will need to be taken to allow more land to return back into its natural 'wildflower' state, and for pesticide use to be more closely regulated.

The time to make a difference and stop the decline in native bee populations is long overdue, and with front and back gardens accounting for approximately 1 million hectares, even a slight change in the selections of ornamental plants that we grow, could have an enormous effect on our dwindling bee populations. The problem with native bumble bees is that they are unable to store large amounts of honey and this requires them to feed from a continual supply of nectar rich flowers. Without a constant supply, the honey resources within the nest can become quickly depleted and leaving the bees and their larvae to starve to death. As Albert Einstein observed ‘...No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man...’

Biodiversity Begins with a B is a darkly comic look at the importance of bees to our natural environment. It features the voice of Scots comedian Phil Kay and encourages people to take a few simple actions to help support the variety of living things around us.

You can help biodiversity by:

* Featuring the film on your website or blog (video embed code below)

* Sharing the film via social networks like Facebook and Twitter

* Sharing the film internally within your organisation

If you’d like more information about biodiversity, the Scottish Natural Heritage website (http://www.snh.gov.uk) and the Convention on Biological Diversity website (http://www.cbd.int/) are fantastic resources.

Many thanks for your support.

Simon Eade

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HOW TO CONTROL CODLING MOTH ON APPLES




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The codling moth is well known as a common and worldwide pest of apples. Unfortunately, this name is a little misleading as it is actually the caterpillar of the codling moth that does all the damage.

The adult moths are most active on warm nights during the months of June and July but even so, these moths are small and inconspicuous and are unlikely to be noticed. The female moths lay their eggs individually on the fruits and leaves of the apple tree which then hatch out into caterpillars a couple of weeks later. Once free of the egg, the codling moth caterpillar will immediately turn it attention to locating and tunnelling into the nearest developing fruit.

SYMPTOMS

Put simply, the caterpillars tunnel extensively in to the flesh of maturing apples, making them inedible. Unfortunately, by the time that you realise your apple crop has codling moth – the damage has – most probably - already been done.

CONTROL

It is difficult to control codling moth using chemicals as the timing of your chemical application will need to be accurate enough to catch the caterpillars after they hatch from the eggs, but before they enter the fruits. In fact on larger apple trees chemical spraying may be ‘fruitless’, just because the area of the tree makes it inaccessible for effective spray coverage.

If you are still planning to spray for codling moth then you would need to do so in two stages. The first application is made after the apple tree has blossomed, then a second application three weeks later. WARNING! Make sure that your chemical is suitable for use on edible crops before you apply!

A far safer method is to use pheromone traps, but these are only effective to a point! There are two types; the first has a pheromone that only attracts the male codling moth. This type of trap has a sticky base that prevents the male moth from flying away once it has landed. In turn this stops the trapped male from fertilising any female codling moths.

The second type is far more effective, attracting both male and female codling moths to the trap. They are lured by a pheromone which tricks them into thinking they are about to have a sexual encounter. However the trap is not there to prevent them from flying off - it has a more diabolical plan in store! The base of the trap is full of a virus that is known to kill the codling moth larvae. The moth leaves frustrated, but now it is full of the virus which it then passes on to other moths when it finally manages have a successful sexual encounter.

This eventually leads to the contamination of eggs laid by the virus infected female moths, as well as the site around them. The larvae are killed by eating the virus left on the redundant egg case or on nearby foliage.

Unfortunately, codling moth pheromone traps are not terribly effective in the grand scheme of things. In fact research has shown that one viral pheromone trap is only likely to infect 5% of the population of codling moths in an area of 1 hectare. However, by monitoring sticky traps in conjunction with chemical control, you can get a far more accurate timing in which to spray for codling moth caterpillars, therefore reducing the need for wasteful and indiscriminate chemical spraying.

Alternatively -and this will need to be in place by July - consider using greace bands or even try tying sack-cloth or corrugated cardboard around the branches and tree trunks of your apple tree. This will act as a barrier method in preventing codling moth caterpillars reaching the maturing apples. However this is unlikely to reduce the number of egg-laying females codling moths in the following seasons as they can easily fly in from adjacent untreated trees.

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HOW TO GROW GIANT CABBAGES




There is something almost magical about growing giant vegetables, and for those few who chose to do so, their techniques are often shrouded in secrecy. However, while there are undoubtedly a number of hard earned family secrets that you will never get to know about, the one thing that you can't do with out is the seed. And not just any seed. The seed for growing giant vegetables would have been specially selected - often from a long line of show winners - from a lineage that can date back as far as the 19th century. The simple fact is that with out the right seed your attempt at growing giant vegetablkes is likely to fail. However, should you be able to get your hands on the real worlds equivalent of 'Magic Beans' then you are welcome to try my cultivation tips for the perfect giant cabbage.

When growing giant cabbages you will need to sow your seed quite early on in the year – around about the beginning of February – in order to achieve some proper giant-sized cabbages come the autumn. You will also need to start them off under protection in order to achieve a quick germination; otherwise their growing season won’t be long enough for them to reach their optimum size. Fill the tray to overflowing with John Innes ‘Seed and Cutting’ compost then lift the tray up and tap it down on the bench twice to consolidate the compost. Use a level, flat piece of wood to level off the compost by sliding it along the edges of the seed tray and finally use a flat board to lightly flatten and level the compost Do not compact the compost as this will drive all of the air out of it which in turn can reduce root growth

One seed tray will take about 25 seeds but space the seed out individually so that each germinated seedling will have the optimum amount of space to develop. Lightly cover the seed over with the same compost, but this time pass the compost through a fine garden sieve. Sit your prepared tray into a second – slightly larger - tray holding no more than an inch or so of water. Allow the water to be naturally absorbed into the compost until all of it is moist – you may need to add more water to the bottom tray in order to achieve this. You will know when the compost it saturated with water as the surface of the compost will change from a light brown to a dark brown colour.

After covering the seed with the fine compost give the surface a spray of water through a hand sprayer. This will ensure that the seed are not disturbed and keeps them at the same depth that you sowed them. At this point you can cover the seed tray with glass until the first seedlings emerge or give the surface a light spray of water on a daily basis or if it looks like the surface compost is likely to dry out.

Place the seed tray in a propagator to germinate or leave on the bench if your greenhouse is heated to a minimum of 50°F.

After the seedlings have germinated and showing two strong seedling leaves, transplant the seedlings into individual small pots or modules.

With giant cabbages, they must be looked after in order to achieve their optimum size and quality. Right up until they are planted outside, they will need to be re-potted on to a larger sized pot on a regular basis – at least until the weather has settled sufficiently to plant them out with out the risk of damage from late frosts.

You also need to make sure that you spend adequate time in hardening off giant cabbage plants. Put them outside too early and you will not only risk physical damage to them but you can also cause a check to their growth. Start off by placing them in a ventilated cold frame during the day but remember to bring them back in over night. After a week or so - and when overnight temperature stabilize – you can eventually start to leave them out overnight in the cold frame. After another week they should be able to leave the cold frame altogether and be placed out into a sheltered area.

When it comes to planting you giant cabbages out into their final position, it is all about preparation Plant them in a well manured plot that ideally is free from club root disease. If you do have clubroot you can still achieve some really commendable heads by saturating the planting hole with a dilution of Armillatox made to the makers recommended strength. Before planting, liberally dust the hole with lime.

To get really the large heads on your giant cabbages you must give them ample room for development, it’s no use at all planting them out a foot apart and eighteen inches between the rows, as they will not be able to achieve a large enough size. Ideally and for the really big sized heads, they need to be at least a metre apart and likewise between the rows. When they are planted out initially this sort of spacing will look a bit ridiculous and your young plants will appear lost on the soil when your giant cabbages really start growing in earnest, you’ll be struggling to work your way in between them.

GROWING TIPS. One of the key things to growing giant cabbages is plenty of Nitrogen, they need it in order to produce the huge amounts of large sized leaves. Regularly use a high nitrogen liquid feed, particularly during the initial stages to start the plants on the road to giantdom. Regular watering is just as important, particularly if you are growing over a hot summer. Forget to feed and water and your crop of giant cabbage will end up as just another crop of greens.

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Main Photo - Clappers.grit.com

WHAT IS DAMPING OFF DISEASE?





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Damping off is one of the most common and troublesome types of horticultural diseases. It can affect all types of seedlings, but is most problematic on fast growing ornamental seedlings such as antirrhinums, lobelias, nemesias, petunias, salvias and stocks, or vegetable seedlings like cabbages, cress, lettuces, tomatoes, peas and beans.

Symptoms can be varied but without treatment all result in plant death. Often, young seedlings are seen rapidly collapsing in small - roughly circular - patches, or the seedlings may just become progressively weaker with shrivelled stems. Sometimes, the root system simply rots away. In larger seedlings, and even young plants, you may also witness leaf spotting or other discoloration, and sometimes grey mould displayed on the stems or leaves.

There are a number of organisms that cause damping off, which is why the symptoms are varied. The most common ones that cause dying out in patches are the fungi Pythium and Rhizoctonia solani, surviving as spores in the soil. Stem lesions are often caused by soil-borne species of Alternaria and leaf spots are generally associated with soil-borne Phyllosticta and Pseudomonas fungi. The grey mould that is often seen accompanying damping off is caused by Botrytis cinerea.

Treatment is difficult in the garden environment. Though some chemical controls have been employed in commercial practices, they are not yet available for use on a small scale. For the amateur or small-scale grower hygiene at all stages of propagation is essential. If your seedlings are prone to damping off then only use cleaned and disinfected pots and seed trays, and make sure that greenhouse benches are sterile. Mains water and a proprietary sterilised seed compost, which is moist but not over wet, should also be used. Don't assume all bought compost is sterile, as most is not.

Small quantities of compost for seed sowing can be sterilised by 'cooking' in an oven at 150C for an hour or so. Be aware that care should be taken when using water other than tap water as this may be another source of fungal infection. All storage tanks should be regularly cleaned and disinfected regularly, and preference should always be given to tap water on susceptible plants.

Avoid stressing plants and seedlings by preventing waterlogging and high humidity as this will make them more vulnerable and prone to attack. Sow seed thinly and prick out as soon as possible. Also, handle the seedlings by their leaves, and not the stems. Do not re-use compost that has been affected by damping off disease and if only part of the seed tray has shown symptoms remove all the affected seedlings - including a barrier of a few extra seedlings - and the affected compost. Water with Cheshunt Compound or similar fungicide to help prevent any further spread. Cheshunt Compound can also be used as a soil drench prior to seed sowing as a preventative measure, but this will not completely eradicate all problems. It can only be used as a preventative aid.

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CHITTING POTATOES





Chitting (sometimes known as sprouting) potatoes is one of those practices handed down through the generations that appears to encapsulate the mysteries of gardening. It's one of the jobs that gardeners will do without question but when you ask them why they do it - most of them won't have an answer.

Compared to the potatoes natural habitat of 'sub-tropical' South America, the English climate isn't perhaps the first place you would think to grow these staple crops, but with centuries of selective breeding the modern potato now does very well in our soils. There is one problem that still remains and that is our comparatively short growing season, and this is where the art of chitting potatoes comes in.

While our soil temperature remain below about 10 degrees Celsius not much will happen as the potato - a modified storage organ - is in a state of natural dormancy. Left to their own devices, by the time the soil has warmed up sufficiently to break the dormancy period and begin the new season growth, the majority of potato plants won't be ready to crop until the late summer or even autumn.

The reality of this growth cycle means that we need to 'force' the seed potatoes into growth artificially by introducing light and heat - normally provided by a warm, well lit room. This stimulates the production of new shoots and kick starts the potato out of it normal dormancy. This will also reduce the time until cropping from anywhere between 1 and 2 months.

There are other advantages to breaking the dormancy by chitting as modern early cultivars will crop far earlier and more heavily. You can help the process further by rubbing off all but the four strongest sprouts so that the tuber's energy is diverted into a few really strong shoots that will form the new potatoes as early as possible. Second early and maincrop potatoes also benefit from chitting but they don't need a thinning out of the sprouts. Chitting late cropping varieties will result in them producing their foliage earlier and hopefully produce new potatoes before being hit with infections of potato blight or problems with summer droughts. Again, they will mature earlier and can be gathered before slugs do too much damage the tubers.

Image credit - http://hortophile.files.wordpress.com/
You can buy seed potatoes from as early as January but it is probably better to wait until the beginning or middle of February before you begin chitting potatoes. Put the seed potatoes into a box where they can be supported in an upright position - cardboard egg boxes are ideal for this – and place them indoors into a light and airy position. During this time they will require a cool temperature of a little over 10 degrees Celsius. Position them so that the end which has the most eyes (dormant sprouts) are uppermost and the 'stalk' end where they were severed from the parent plant is at the bottom. The new sprouts will form in a couple of weeks and - as mentioned before - its good practice to remove the weaker sprouts leaving four of the strongest to continue. As a general rule of thumb it will normally take about six weeks to chit a batch of potatoes.

If the weather is unsuitable at the time of planting then you can remove all of the sprouts and start again. Also, if you have positioned some of your potatoes upside down, and the potatoes sprout from the wrong end, simply rub off the sprouts and turn the potato the right way up. Keep them where they are while the shoots are developing and they can stay there until they are ready for planting later on in March.

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ORGANIC CONTROL OF ASPARAGUS RUST





Rust diseases are among the most destructive of all plant diseases and asparagus rust - caused by the fungus Puccinia asparagi - can occur wherever the plant is grown causing early defoliation. If left uncontrolled this can result in a progressive loss of yeild year after year.

Although asparagus rust is not yet a major problem on commercial asparagus crops, it is becoming increasingly problematic on asparagus grown by the independent and hardworking private gardener – particularly on allotments. In fact, the risk of asparagus rust is taken so seriously that it is considered as a threat to asparagus production in this country - although it has yet to reach epidemic proportions.

Symptoms:The first signs of infection will occur during the summer. This is recognised by the production of rust-coloured pustiles – often in enormous numbers – which develop near the top of the feathery stems. This is followed by a darker brown streaking found lower down on the stems. In extreme cases this infection can cause the premature death of the entire stem. Unfortunately, plants affected by rust are also more susceptible to Fusarium crown and root rot.

Treatment:Morning dew is important to the spread of this disease – especially during the summer months – so even before you plant out your asparagus beds cultural control must be one of the major deciding factor of whether you crop will be susceptible to this disease.

1. With this in mind, avoid damp and poorly ventilated sites for asparagus beds.

2. Plant your asparagus in well-spaced rows oriented in the direction of prevailing winds to maximize air movement and to help with the drying out soaked plants after rain.

3. Then – should your asparagus crop become infected – cut back and burn any feathery shoots that begin to show signs of infection.

4. As an asparagus crop is not usually cut until its third year of production, avoid leaving plant debris around in young beds as this can allow the spores of the asparagus rust infection to build up in the soil. If this happens then next seasons young buds can become infected as they emerge from the soil.

5. Also consider planting rust-resistant varieties of asparagus, such as Jersey Giant or Martha Washington.

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MAJORELLE GARDENS – MOROCCO




If like me you live in the south eastern corner of England, it is easy to become spoiled by the sheer number and range of top rated gardens. Although the county of Kent was historically known as the garden of England - due mainly to its once large swathes of fruit production - the title can still justifiably stand on its private gardens and landscapes alone. In fact, within less than an hour’s drive, you can reach the likes of Kew, Wisley and that contentious garden of gardens – Sissinghurst!

So, having arrived at the walled city of Marrakech, my initial experience of the area was of run down French imperialism and significant local poverty. With that in mind I wasn’t expecting too much from my anticipated visit to the Majorelle gardens which turned out no more than a ten minute walk from the cities northern perimeter wall.

Jacques Majorelle was the son of the celebrated Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle, and an artist by profession. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, and later at the Académie Julian in Paris where he became trained in the then fashionable ‘easel in the nature’ – whatever that is!

Suffering from Tuberculosis, he moved to Marrakech in 1919, not just to improve his health but to continue his career as an artist. But it was here, after securing 1.2 acres of land in 1924, that he began his greatest masterpiece – now known as the Majorelle gardens.


The imagery throughout the gardens was inspired by his travels through the Atlas Mountains and southern deserts. More specifically, Jacque Majorelle was struck by the Berber habit of outlining window frames and interior alcoves with a particular shade of deep cobalt blue – a colour which he was later to trademark as ‘Majorelle blue’! Using typical artistic boldness he created a radical backdrop to his idiosyncratic plant collection by painting much of the hard landscaping – including his house and studio – in Majorelle blue. In a single stroke he had fashioned a stunning and unique backdrop to the gardens.

It is easy to become fixated with the blueness of the garden – it is everywhere, but by being everywhere it transforms a garden which is composed of many – and possibly confusing – layers, into a garden of seamless transitions. Even more so, in a climate that can reach temperatures upwards of 40 degrees Celsius, the blue gives the garden both a dramatic cooling and cleansing effect – a welcome relief to the scorching North African heat!

Majorelle is fundamentally influenced by the Islamic style and as you would imagine the garden is composed like a painting, although much of it is based on age old Moroccan principles of irrigation. These ancient techniques help to explain the presence of the sunken boarders, the extending pseudo canal, and the high concentration of ornamental pools and water features found throughout this landscape. But it is so much more to it than that, not only do they help to define the areas within the garden, they also provide irresistible features that draw you along the various pathways to evermore extravagant vistas. Of course, they also act as a device to keep the environment as cool as possible during the baking heat of summer.

As appealing as the use of colour and water are in this place it would be superficial without the superb quality of both the planting schemes and the specimen plants within them. If Jacque Majorelle had got this part of the garden wrong then this place would be little more than an indulgent copy of a cheap Hollywood film set. However it certainly is not, in fact far from it! 


What makes Majorelle a world class garden is that Jacque Majorelle was an obsessive plant hunter, to a point where he would finance his own plant hunting expeditions. His collection of cacti and succulents is outstanding in itself but it is the details that raises this garden yet further. Substandard specimens are just not accepted here, so it is not just a collection of rare and unusual plants; it is a collection of quality and excellence. But there are further layers of detail. Each specimen plant is given the space required so that every one of them can be seen and appreciated as an individual. Their nearest neighbours are frequently of a different colour and architectural shape so that the plant you are looking at does not fall back to become lost in the general background of foliage. 

This effect has been enhanced by covering the ground in a thick layer of terracotta/pink gravel, again to highlight the colour and form of each plant, and all suckered progeny are religiously removed to maintain the clean lines of the parent plant. Maintaining such a strict and ridged regime is not easy and requires constant maintenance form the gardening team. In such a comparatively small garden you may well be surprised to learn that Majorelle runs with a full time team of 12 gardeners - Sissinghurst runs on about 4 and is twice as big!

It is the way that Majorelle manages to deal with its contrasts that make the place so exciting to walk round. Does bamboo fit comfortably with agaves and mammilaria cacti – no? Well they do here. Does a specimen bed work when there is up to 4 metres gap between plants – no? But is does here. Why, because they have not just looked at displaying a selection of plants within a space, they have made the very spaces between the plants a feature of the garden, and this gives Majorelle an almost Zen like quality. Intentional or not, even when the gardens full of visitors you can still get the feeling of being alone and at peace. This is the truth behind the Majorelle gardens and why it should be considered as one of the world’s greatest gardens.

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