Wednesday, 24 October 2012

What a bad year for plums.

In fact, a terrible year for plums.

I have a client with several plum trees in their walled garden, and normally they supply me with plenty of fruit (it's all right, I have permission to pick!) but this year I have been woefully plum-free.

This has been the problem:

Plenty of fruit set, plenty of fruit growing, but then they all succumbed to the festering brown pustule rot. I believe it is properly called "Brown Rot",  but festering brown pustule rot gives you a much better idea of the problem.

First they go brown and puffy, then the whitish pustules appear, then they shrivel up into mummified prunes. Having, of course, spread the disease all around themselves.

It seems to affect plums, apples and pears,  and there is no treatment other than constant vigilance, and removing any infected fruit as soon as you see them. Oh, and don't compost them, whatever you do - otherwise you'll just spread the infection all round the garden. Burn or bin them.

Clearly, I didn't get to these ones in time - but then, I am only there once a week, and I have a large area of garden to patrol, not just the fruit walls. Unfortunately this is one of those jobs where the responsibility has to hang with the owner, who is able to check on a daily basis.

Personally, I think we can help the plants by keeping the branches uncongested, which I achieve by pruning them gently pretty much every year - I take out crossing branches, and any that are too close together, aiming to get a nice even framework. I am also scrupulous at removing any rotters as I find them, and in clearing up the mess underneath the fruit trees each week. Even ordinary fallen fruit gets cleared away - it just encourages the wasps etc, and no, I don't believe that wasps are sensible enough to target the sacrificial fallen fruits! I prefer to clear them all away as often as possible.

Finally, it's always worth a quick check in autumn, to gently remove any mummified fruits that were missed during the summer.

It's such a shame, I love plums... I assume it's been particularly bad this year due to the general coolness of the weather, and the amount of rain we have had, as wet weather helps the spores to spread, and helps the fungus to multiply once it has spread.

So, not much we can do about this year, other than to keep our fingers crossed for better weather next year!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bread and cheese again....

...ho hum: thick, wet, cold fog has enveloped the south of England again today, and it's too wet for me to work.


Days like these are particularly maddening: I wish it would just rain, and get it over with. As it is, I keep looking out of the window and thinking "I could be out there working" but as soon as I  venture outside, I realise that it is thoroughly unpleasant, and I may as well be indoors, studying.

To make it worse, I have started with a new client this week - or at least, I should have been, had it not been for the weather.  You might remember that I have lost a garden recently:  I've been working temporarily for some people who are shortly moving, and wanted their garden kept presentable,  but hopefully this new client will become my regular replacement.

I do hate taking on a new client, then not being able to work. I feel as though I've let them down... I want to make a good impression... and I want to get started on their garden, there's lots to do.

Oh well, such is life.

Later this week I am taking an afternoon off to go down to Abbotsbury Gardens, down near Weymouth:  they have illuminations in the garden for a short period each autumn and, having missed it last year, I have decided to make the effort to go and see it this year.

So now I am torn - hoping the weather is good for a long drive, but also hoping the weather is bad, otherwise I will be consumed with guilt for taking time off when I could be working.

Ah, the trials and tribulations of being a gardener!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dubbin: apparently, no it doesn't work!

As per yesterday's post, I have done a little more research on the subject of waterproofing my leather work boots, and although I found any number of forums full of people smugly saying "oh yes, I've used dubbin for years" I also came up with this:

It's a website selling dubbin - and if you read it, the product description actually states "It is very good at keeping leather healthy and good for many uses, but does not repel water."


I also found a few sites recommending not dubbin at all, but beeswax.

So I dug out the tin of beeswax that came with my expensive Ducal furniture (20 years old but still looking good) and used some of it on one pair of boots.

I've done another pair with vaseline,  as that seemed to be better than the (useless) dubbin.

I've left both pairs for it to soak in overnight, as recommended. Apparently that might be part of my problem, I tend to apply the dubbin just before I leave for work, and it seems as though it needs a little time to work its way in. Although Pappy's Dubbin does clearly say that it doesn't repel water, so it might not matter how long I left it to soak in.

We'll come back to this issue in a few days.... 


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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dubbin: does it actually work?

All this year I've been having problems with my boots leaking, leaving me with wet socks.

Last winter I wore the last of my wonderful plastic boots - they stopped making them after one year, but they were brilliant, made with the lower part of solid moulded plastic, ie completely waterproof, fur lined for super warmth, and with a steel instep so you could still use a spade without hurting the underside of your foot.

They even fastened with velcro!

But after a month or so of wear, they cracked at that point where the foot bends. I sent back the first pair and received a replacement: they also went in the same place, then they were withdrawn. I found some for sale on Ebay, bought them, wore them until they cracked: I even found some amazing waterproof gluey stuff which would hold the cracks together for another couple of weeks before cracking again.

Sadly, regretfully, I finally threw away the last pair, and I am hoping to find something similar but better for this coming winter.  They are now selling "fashion" versions of these boots everywhere, but of course they lack the steel insole, the furry lining, and I bet they wouldn't stand up to any degree of hard use.

In the meantime I have been back to "summer" leather boots, but it's been such a wet year that I've had as much trouble with wet socks through the summer as I normally do in winter.  I find that the leather boots are fine for an hour or two, as they soak up the water,  then it works through and I get wet socks. Usually, in a normal summer, the worst that happens is that by lunchtime my boots are at the "soaked" stage, so I wear a different pair for the afternoon, letting them dry out alternately.

But this summer, it's been too wet, and I've been getting wet toes.

I tried Nikwax: applied it exactly as per the instructions, tried the one for leather, and the one for nu-buck, as I don't actually know which type of leather my boots are made of.

Neither of them made any difference at all.

So I bought some old-fashioned Dubbin from the old-fashioned shoe shop (average price of shoes for gents: £170. And we are so not talking Jimmy Choo here) and applied that as per instructions.

I found that for the first hour or so, the water "beaded" on the surface, which was excellent: but by mid-morning it was soaking through again, leading to wet socks. Plus I would have to re-apply the dubbin every day. This was a bit of a disappointment, on both counts.

The other day I tried dubbin on one boot, and cheap old vaseline on the other. Here we are, one hour into the test, both feet looking identical:

As you can see, excellent "beading" but the fabric of the boot is darkening.

And by lunchtime I had one wet sock - on the dubbin-ed foot.  So on balance, vaseline is possibly slightly more effective, and a tiny, tiny fraction of the price.

If anyone can tell me a better way to way to waterproof these leather boots, please, please comment!

Mind you, I have to say that I've never had such soft, supple boots....


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Thursday, 4 October 2012

"We'll read to you, as you disappear,"

...said Prue, one of my Botany crew.

I was up to my ankles in squelchy mud at the time, and sinking.   It's good to know that my fellow Botanists are a caring, sharing, bunch, willing to go that extra mile to ensure the comfort and safety of their colleagues.

It didn't look that bad when I stepped off the path onto the mud - left - and two of the others had already walked across it in perfect safety.

In retrospect, my mistake was in standing still... and you know how it is, once you start to sink, trying to lift one foot just makes the other one sink even faster.

Luckily Morag, from firm ground, extended a helping hand to steady me while I rocked first one foot, then the other, free, with disgusting slurping noises (from the mud, not from my feet).

Meanwhile Prue and Stephanie were calmly discussing how fast I would sink. Stephanie kindly suggested that the last they would see of me would be my hand-lens, held high above my head, Excalibur style.

Mike and Rob were too busy laughing at the expression on my face to offer any help.
I tell you this just to let you know that even during a quiet mid-week botany outing, danger still lurks around every corner.

This week we were in Sydlings Copse, yet another BBOWT nature reserve, just north of Oxford. I am constantly amazed how, just off a busy road, there can be a dear little nature reserve, carefully fenced and maintained, and with a staggering variety of habitats.

We found a number of common weeds wildflowers, some of them new to us, some of them now getting quite familiar.  We also encountered the ponies, who were very curious about our books and hand-lenses, and kept checking to see if they had somehow become edible...

Unluckily for us, we also encountered one of the wardens, who told one of the crew off for picking a specimen in order to look at it more closely.  Normally we would all agree with this stance, but in an area being deliberately grazed by ponies? Hmmmm... and if you're going to be picky, BBOWT, it's high time the feet of those ponies had some attention from the farrier, they are desperately in need of a trim. So there.

Anyway, we escaped the watchful eye of the warden and wandered through the reserve and down to the stream-side area, which is where I found the quick-mud.

As well as all the "usual suspects" we found Veronica beccabunga - great name, huh? As usual, I don't have a photo of it, you'll have to google it, but it was well worth getting stuck in the mud for.

And guess what else we found: yes! Common Reed! Phragmites australis, to those who know, and we know something interesting about this plant, don't we, boys and girls?

Much laughter from the crew, except for Mike and Stephanie, who hadn't been on the Abbey Fishponds outing.  So I had to explain it to them, and demonstrate the swivelling leaves, while the rest of the gang either laughed or groaned, having had to hear it several times.

But honestly, they swivel! Don't take my word for it, get out there and try it for yourselves!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Holly.... a prickly problem

I used to love holly... ah, Christmas, berries, glossy dark green leaves...... until I had to work with it on a daily basis.

When people think of "evergreens" they think "how nice, it doesn't drop leaves in autumn."

No, it drops leaves all year round, in a steady continuous stream, un-noticed: so that no matter what time of year you work around a holly tree, bush or hedge, there are ALWAYS dead leaves lying around to stab you through your gloves.

As you can probably tell, I've rather gone off holly in recent years.

But I still have to deal with it on a weekly basis, so here today is my tip for the disposal of holly cuttings.

Firstly, don't even think about composting them: they don't rot down, they just get harder and even more prickly.

Burning them is the best option, if you have a bonfire pile: if not, they have to go in the Brown Bin for garden recycling, or down the dump in bags for mass green waste recycling.

But the problem is how to deal with a mass of cuttings: they are so bulky for their weight, not to mention the savage prickly edges.

I have a particular problem with the holly of one of my clients: it's a solid holly hedge immediately outside her kitchen window. The path to the front door runs alongside it, so I have to keep it clipped back for the benefit of the delivery men. And as my client is pretty much housebound now, I have to keep it clipped below the height of the windowsill, so that she can see out.

Sometimes it seems that I am forever clipping this darn thing! I use ordinary garden shears, a couple of times a year, but every few years it starts to get over-large, and the shears won't go through thick branches, so I have to step back and have a real chop at it, and reduce it by a foot or two in all dimensions. This leaves it looking a bit bare and leggy, but it leafs up in no time at all.

Well, this week it was time to have a major chop again - but the problem is the disposal of the bits.

In previous years, my client has burned the bits in the back garden, but unfortunately is no longer able to do so, meaning that now I have to cram them all in the brown bin. To my horror, the brown bin filled up in about ten minutes, with the hedge barely touched: holly forms a matrix which is full of air, ie wasted space, and it's very resistant to being squashed - especially as the height of a wheelie bin makes it awkward to get at the contents.

At this point I should mention that another of my clients, a lady well into her eighties, tells me that she climbs into her brown bin and jumps up and down to compress the contents so she can get more in...I admire her sense of balance, but I'm not quite prepared to do that myself! However, it was a good idea - perhaps I could get more holly in the bin if I could squash it a bit?

So I came up with a compromise: like most senior folk, my client still has her old black plastic dustbin.

I take this with me, start work on the hedge with secateurs, cutting out branches to reduce it by at least a foot.

As I go, I fill it with the holly cuttings: as you can see, it doesn't take that many cuttings to fill it to the top.

Then I apply the "compression unit" ie I put one leg inside the dustbin and squash it all down with my boot, going over and over it until it gives in.

A little like treading the grapes, but rather more carefully.

I have found that a dustbin apparently full (above) will compress down to a layer about 3" thick.

This means I can add more cuttings, compress again, and repeat until I can't get my leg inside the dustbin any more.

At that point I can tip the whole compressed mass into the wheelie bin. Much better! I still managed to fill the wheelie bin,  and there was another compressed dustbins-worth, but this can sit safely in the dustbin until the wheelie bin has been emptied, next week.

And yes, after a whole summer in shorts, my legs really are still that pale and pasty. When I remove my socks, you can see a sort of tan line, but it's nothing like the tan I've had in previous years.

Summer? What summer?

Anyway, there you have it, when faced with monstrous amounts of holly to dispose of, use an old dustbin and just trample it down in instalments. 


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