There are celebrations of Apple Day (October 5) up and down the country, so now is a good time to identify any mystery apples in your garden. Take along the apple on its stalk and a bit of the stem with some leaves. If the experts can name it for you, ask them about the best time for the pollination of the flowers and when to pick and eat the fruit, as well as the most effective method of storage —you’ll then be able to make the best of your crop. The East of England Apples and Orchards Project (www.applesandorchards.org.uk) is always on the lookout for lost varieties hiding in local back gardens.
Plant out new strawberries now. Carefully cut the runners off your old stock and dig them up making sure that the roots are protected by a ball of soil. Remove all dead or damaged leaves and then replant in their new positions as soon as possible, so that the vulnerable roots don’t dry out. Plant them on a ridge rather than in a hollow, where water will collect and rot the crowns, and at the correct depth for your variety. Remove your old strawberry plants, together with their straw mulch. You can add it all to the compost heap, unless there is any sign of disease. Where the plants have been in the ground for two or three years, the soil may now be compacted. As we use a ‘no-dig’ method, we take a large digging fork to the prongs’ full depth, pulling back on the handle to lift the earth. Continue to use the fork in this way every 6in in every direction until all the bed is dug. Water and frost can then get into the earth during the winter. Finally, we like to spread the newly dug ground with compost to feed the soil and help keep the weeds down.
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Ponds of any size are a major benefit in organic gardening. Frogs and toads, seen as the commonest inhabitants, don’t actually live in the water all the year round except at breeding time, but they’ll feed on garden slugs during the growing season. A pond is home to a diverse range of insects, too, many of which are useful predators of your pests, so even a small stretch of water in the corner of your garden will be a help. For problems with algae or blanket weed, we’ve found that using Aquaplankton (www.aquaplankton.com) deals with both very effectively. It contains a natural mineral, ground to a fine powder, that’s spread on the water’s surface. As we’re particularly busy in the spring, we find that any treatment at this time of year is just as effective.
Stakes, used either for support or for marking the ends of rows, will rot at ground level if they’re left in the earth and can be inconvenient and expensive to replace. If you invest in steel post holders, as used in fencing, you’ll be able to extend the useful life of your broken stakes. Use the repair type that will slot down the side of your stake and make sure you’ve cut off any of the lower rot first.
Philip Maddison is head gardener at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire (www.harringtonhallgardens.co.uk)