Monthly Archives: July 2013

Testing sweetcorn for ripeness

Silks turning brown

I posted recently a brief article on the pollination of sweetcorn. Naturally, the next question is how to tell when the cobs are ready to harvest? The first sign to look for is the silks – the bundle of fine threads at the end of the cob – turning brown and beginning to shrivel. With a little experience, one should be able to see, and feel, whether the cob has filled out with plump kernels. However, there is no need for guesswork, as there is quite a good way to test for ripeness.

Peel back the outer husk from the end of the cob. If the kernels are not plump, wrap it back up and leave for a few more days. Sometimes a cob will not be completely filled with kernels; poor pollination is the most probable cause, which is especially likely during dull or wet weather. There is no reason, though, not to still enjoy a partially pollinated cob. Continue reading

Summer pruning of apples and pears

Summer pruning in progress

I am particularly fond of restricted forms of training for fruiting plants. Not only do they allow one to exploit walls, fences, and glasshouses to their full, they make very attractive dividers and enable more varieties to be grown in a given space. Cordons are particularly easy to grow and can be surprisingly productive. A row of oblique cordons – those grown at an angle, typically 45 degrees – takes up little space and can be readily fitted in to even modest gardens. To be fruitful and remain under control, however, requires careful attention to pruning. Continue reading

Pollination of sweetcorn

Polytunnel crop of sweetcorn

Sweetcorn or maize (Zea mays), is likely to be the only cereal crop that the general kitchen gardener will grow. It is a grass, and consequently wind pollinated. Generally, it is a low maintenance crop once established, and can be grown successfully outdoors or under cover. Sweetcorn grows a long stem, which, depending upon variety, is typically five to eight feet tall. Our polytunnel crop this year has grown rather taller than the same variety grown outdoors in the two preceding years. The stem bears some resemblance to bamboo; leaves grow from each node, and the cobs form between leaf and stem several nodes up the stem. Depending upon planting density, one plant can support several cobs, and I would expect to get, on average, 1½ well formed cobs per plant. Continue reading

Great garlic harvest

We have grown garlic for many years, but have always been a little disappointed with the results, with a mediocre yield of mean looking bulbs. Last year, we planted both autumn and spring sorts, but the weather was not favourable and the crop very poor indeed. Onions, shallots, and garlic from the autumn sowing suffered particularly with the wet conditions. Continue reading

Where are the ladybirds?

I posted recently regarding blackfly on our broad beans. There I mentioned my expectation that our healthy population of ladybirds would soon assist in addressing this pest. However, we have not seen a single ladybird this year; not that we have been looking out for them, specifically, but we are usually inundated with them. I fear, then, that the population has much declined this last year, and we may, then, have to resort to a spray of a mild solution of soft soap to control the blackfly. Continue reading

Transplanting leeks

It is rather late to be transplanting leeks, but like everything else this year, I am at least a month behind. Leeks can be sown in a seed bed or seed trays; it seems that the traditional seed bed has somewhat declined in popularity, and I prefer the latter for convenience. However, I then prefer to transplant from small seed trays to larger trays, spacing them properly so that they can develop into strong plants before I move them to their final location. Today, with Dad’s help, we finally moved them into the designated bed. Continue reading

Pressing heather honey

Today I visited Mum and Dad to tackle a job we had been putting off since the end of Autumn last year, when we removed the final supers from the hives. We had harvested some honey earlier in the season that was extracted in the normal way. However, the last supers, which were only partially filled, contained a large proportion of heather honey. Our location near the western boundary of the New Forest is sufficiently close that the bees, which can travel several miles to forage, can access the heather that grows there in profusion. Continue reading

A few chores on the hottest day of the year so far

Today was the hottest of the year so far, so not the ideal time to be working on the paths. However, CT and Riitta had weeded the paths in the fruit cage and covered all of the short runs with weed suppressing membrane, leaving the two long runs to finish. If left for too long, these would be full of weed growth once again, so getting these covered was a priority. Continue reading

Chestnut sapling damaged

Damaged chestnut sapling

Whilst inspecting the bee hives today, we noticed that one of the nut trees planted recently had been savaged, with all of the young growth eaten. Given the height and nature of the damage, it seems almost certain that deer are the culprits. Something will need to be done to try to exclude them from this future orchard site. There is certainly no point in planting further trees until the deer can be effectively excluded. It is not obvious where they are gaining entry, as we have a particularly large and thick privet hedge running along the open side, yet we have in the past seen deer force their way through the hedge. The chestnut may regrow reasonable shoots, in which case we will keep it, otherwise it will be replaced. Some chicken wire was placed temporarily around the tree to deter further damage. Interestingly, the walnut, planted at the same time, was not touched. It is always so disappointing when plants are lost to pests, especially permanent planting such as fruit and nut trees.