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November.

We had a cold night in the Middle of October that took the Leaves on my Jerusalem Artichokes, so armed with a stout pair of Secateurs and some Loppers, I finally cut the tops down for the end of season as they had finished growing. Then I spent quite a while, sitting in the Sun, chopping the thick stems up into short lengths ready for the Compost Heap.

Not many people grow either type of Artichoke it seems, neither the Globe, nor Jerusalem Artichoke, but liking to grow unusual vegetables, I grow both. Jerusalem Artichokes are definitely a root vegetable for Winter Harvesting as they will happily sit underground and be ready for eating until they start shooting again in the Spring. I donít make much of an effort to replant each year and just let them grow from bits left in the same patch that were missed when they were harvested. You shouldnít do that with pretty much anything else, but Artichokes donít have many pests or diseases affecting them, (apart from the occasional bit of Slug damage) and they are undemanding as a crop. So, a quick tidy up of the patch in early Spring, and some Manure roughly raked in, is all they need to produce a new crop each year. Perhaps more people might grow them if their tops werenít so imposing as they stand some 7, or 8 feet in height when mature, although I do know of a few people who use them as Windbreaks! You can get an idea of their size from the Picture with a Fork standing in front of them. Their height, perhaps, comes from the fact that they are distantly related to Sun Flowers and they have a little Flower on top that is typical of a Helianthus with their full name being Helianthus Tuberosus.

Although I have cut the tops down on the Jerusalem Artichokes I havenít actually dug up a root yet to eat. However, I did dig up a root of one of my Yacon Plants that is another distant relative with the same type of yellow flower. The Yacon plants have grown very well this year and put on a lot more growth than normal, both the tops, standing some 5 feet high, and the Tuberous Roots. The picture doesnít really do them justice as it was last years and the Tubers are much better developed this time. Unlike Jerusalem Artichokes you have to replant each year, but you can start new plants off in the spring from the Crowns saved from the previous years plants. The crowns do need to be kept frost free over winter in much the same way as you would Dahlias, but other than that they are not difficult. Like the Artichokes, I cut their tops down after the first Frost and leave the Tubers in the Ground for a while until I am ready for them. However, they do not keep as well in the ground as the Artichokes and will rot if it is wet. They will, on the other hand, keep well in the Fridge, but do have a strong and unusual smell, in my opinion, of crushed Stinging Nettles.

On a different subject Ė some weeks ago I took a number of cuttings from my Black Currants and Gooseberries and some ďSlips,Ē that were growing in the wrong place, from my Sea Kale plants. Normally, I take Hardwood Cuttings from the Fruit and Slips from the Sea Kale over winter while they are dormant. I hoped that taking them in the growing season they would root more quickly, and I am pleased to say that they did. By mid October most of them were rooting nicely so that they could be potted up in, a mixture of spent compost and my homemade compost, and recycled pots. They werenít well rooted, but were definitely on the way and I am expecting that putting them in the Greenhouse will bring them on a bit and help them to build better roots so that when Spring comes they will be away! Last year, as usual, I took Hardwood Cuttings at the end of the growing season rather than Semi Ripe and they took all Winter and part of the Spring before they were showing any signs of roots at all and really wanted some of the Summer as well before they were ready for planting out.

Last Winter, I also took some Fig Cuttings and I kept them in an empty bed before they were later moved into my Cold Frame. Again some weeks ago I happily discovered that about 30 had put on some roots. They werenít particularly well rooted, but again, after sending some to Work, I put potted the rest and put them in my Greenhouse where they will also stay over Winter.
Talking to other Plot Holders about my success with all of the various cuttings, a couple of the Ladies expressed an interest in having Fig Trees. I explained that they are one of the few Fruit Trees that lend themselves to growing in pots as they like their roots restricted to encourage fruiting. So, one of the 2 ladies decided that was what she would do and the other decided to plant a tree in her Allotment and train it Espalier style. Neither of them could wait for the Spring Plant Sale and my cuttings, so they bought a tree each from the local Garden Centre. Both were surprised at how cheap they were compared to more traditional English Fruit Trees. I pointed out that generally, Fig trees arenít grafted whereas most other Fruit Trees are and that was part of the price difference. It also occurred to me that with the changing Climate and supposedly milder winters and warmer Summers, we should perhaps be encouraging people to plant more Mediterranean type fruits, especially as some of our traditional Fruits like Plums in particular, are going to struggle because they donít like warm, dry weather.
It wasnít that many years ago that people were ridiculed for planting Vineyards in the UK, although supposedly the Romans had them, and now they are fairly common. I donít see why the same canít happen with Figs. Apparently, a long time ago, around 1745, a commercial Fig Orchard of some 100 trees was planted at Tarring, near Worthing, Sussex, and Tourists used to regularly visit it. In its Heyday, in the late 1800ís, some 1200 Figs a day were sent to Covent Garden Market in London during the months of August through October. The Orchard fell into disuse though, is now in private hands and is closed to the public.
In the 1950ís a fruit farmer called Justin Brooke made an experimental plantation and did a lot of research into growing Fig harvests in the UK. Unfortunately, he wasnít very positive with his results and this may have deterred others. Although Figs have been grown for hundreds of years in England, it seems that there are no commercial operations, or even modern orchards, anywhere at the moment. I donít know what really has prevented this especially in more recent times with our milder weather, as I have no real problems with my trees and they donít seem to have any pests unlike Apples for instance. Yes, Birds and wasps may spoil a few, but they donít strip a tree like they do with Cherries. As I say they are relatively easy to propagate from Cuttings, like Grape Vines, so I donít think it would take much expense to plant an Orchard of a few hundred trees. The Figs need to be picked by hand, but so do many things and the Supermarkets do already sell Punnets of imported Figs these days so there would be an instant marketing potential.
However, a few years ago someone at the local Garden Centre told me that a disease was running through some Fig Orchards on the Continent at the time and that had led to a shortage of Fig Trees being imported. Whatever the problem was, the Garden Centre has now got a couple of dozen young trees in stock and if the problem did come over to this country, my trees have been OK. Indeed, of the two trees that are fruiting, I have done well with my pickings from one tree in particular, much better than the other one and I have a third, well trained tree, that has not fruited yet. However, this year I am pleased to say that it has now got embryo fruit on for the first time. They will be no good for this year, but it should mean that it will start fruiting next year. As with most trees the yield gets better as they grow and mature. I guess that from the 2 fruiting trees I have picked over 30 or 40 fruits this season. All of my Fig trees are relatively small being no more than 5, or 6 feet in height, but I remember that in years gone by, we used to get over 200 Figs a season from my mothers much bigger tree.

One job that I had been meaning to do for some time, was to sort out the small flower bed that I have on my Allotment. It was a bed that I put in a couple of years ago and then didnít really give much attention to, just letting the plants, ďget on with it.Ē Consequently it weeded up quite badly with Squitch getting a hold and growing through one of the Herbaceous Perennials. So, the only thing to do was to strip out the whole bed, removing everything and carefully digging it, going through all the soil with a finger tip search for the white Squitch roots. As everything was going dormant, by the time I tackled the bed I was able to pull the plants apart quite ruthlessly to get out the offending, sharply pointed roots. It might have been better uprooting the plants just before they started into growth in the Spring, but I decided to sort the bed out while there was nothing much else pressing to be done on my Allotment.

I am replanting the bed with Herbaceous Perennials that I have obtained for free by digging and dividing some things from my garden at home. The bed was always meant to be for cut flowers and I did well with Alstroemerias and Chrysanthmums, but my Gladiola were never very successful. I have a rampant, but lovely, blue, Michaelmass Daisy, or Aster, by my Greenhouse in my back garden, so that is one candidate. I also have a rather lovely Rudbeckia Goldstrum and bright pink Phlox that will divide up nicely to provide a few more plants and will give me some different cut flowers. Another candidate will be a rather nice and colourful Helenium, or Sneezeweed, which, got its common name from the fact that it was used in making Snuff because it causes people to sneeze. It is not a native coming from the Americas, but is a very wildlife friendly plant as it is a good food source for some Butterflies.
Hopefully, all of the plants will get their roots down over winter and settle in before Spring comes, so that they will be able to grow away and give me some flowers in the first season after planting. They are all easy to grow plants that should bulk up quickly, so in a couple of years I may well have to start digging them up and dividing them to reduce their size. That should give me some more free plants to pot and add to any future Spring Plant Sales/Fundraisers that we might have!


 

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