January 23, 2009 In the Garden

• Garlic should be harvested now if the tops have fallen over. Don’t leave it too long as they can start rotting. Clean the bulbs up and dry them thoroughly before storing in a dark but well ventilated area. Long plaits of garlic look very stylish but mesh onion bags will also do as long as you don’t pack the bulbs in too closely. Stored well, they will last the full year though they can lose some potency and most of their special healing properties apparently evaporate after six months.
• Gaps in the ornamental garden can be plugged with annuals but make sure you water the little plants in well and remove all flowers and buds when you plant them so they put their energies into getting established and not into flowering and setting seed. Stay on top of the summer weeds and do not let them go to seed.
• We don’t encourage watering in the ornamental garden or on lawns, but sometimes it is necessary to water the vegetable garden. Keeping moisture levels up is a great deal easier than trying to soak gardens which are dry as a bone. The rains this week will have helped – keep onto it and lay mulch as appropriate.
• You may need to cover tomatoes with bird netting to keep the pesky blackbirds from beating you to them as they ripen. Keep an eye out for equally pesky sparrows eating the male flowers of corn. They can wreck the pollination and this results in patchy cobs. Drape netting over the corn at the vulnerable stage. Mark would like to repatriate all blackbirds and sparrows back to their homelands.
• If you have a very small garden and are looking for things to do, stop your pumpkin vines from setting flowers and fruit ad infinitum. Keep it down to a few pumpkins per runner and pinch off subsequent flowers. Pumpkin tendrils can be eaten like spinach and are very tasty. The flowers can be stuffed in the same manner as courgette flowers.
• Don’t delay on pruning your flowering cherry trees. As plums finish fruiting, you can give these a summer prune also. Really organised gardeners prune the raspberries as fruiting finishes, taking off all the long canes which carried fruit this summer but this is not an urgent task. Keep grape laterals trimmed back to six leaves beyond the bunches of fruit which will have formed by now. Look out for mealie bugs (woolly aphids) and if you notice this white infestation starting, you will need to get a spray of oil on. Fresh grape leaves can be used to make dolmades (rolled around a rice and minced lamb mixture in the Greek or Turkish style).
• Before the motor mower came the push mower and in 1841 Jane Loudon wrote (in The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden, no less): A substitute for mowing with the scythe has recently been introduced in the form of a mowing machine which requires far less skill and exertion than the scythe, and answers perfectly where the surface of the soil to be mowed is perfectly smooth and firm, the grass of even quality, and the machine only used in dry weather. It is particularly adapted for amateurs, affording an excellent exercise to the arms and every part of the body; but it is proper to observe that many gardeners are prejudiced against it.