January 2020

Karen Sutherland’s regular permaculture tips.

If you have milk-drinkers in the house, try boosting your soil microorganisms with some out-of-date milk, rather than tipping it down the sink. Mix one part milk with five parts water in a bucket, and stir well to combine. It can be added in this form to your compost or to soil to increase microbial activity or watered over crops as a foliar feed. Studies have shown that as little as one millilitre of milk applied on one-square-metre of soil does lead to improved crop yields and that raw milk may be more effective, most likely due to the increased level of microorganisms in the milk. Skim milk can also be used as can whey from cheese-making.

Plant some flowers for the bees in your life! Try to have flowers in your garden all year round, preferably four different flowers at a time, to ensure a range of flowers for both pollinating and beneficial insects alike. Honeybees and native bees need flowers for pollen and nectar, and we depend upon these tiny insects to help produce around 30 per cent of our food. A flowering plant that will cope with planting now is perennial basil, which flowers all year round. Not usually thought of for use in the kitchen, due to its pungentsmelling leaves, its abundant flower spikes attract bees. If you have a honeybee hive at home, having a good supply of flowering plants in your garden not far from the hive will create a haven for young bees starting out on short foraging trips.

Summer is stone-fruit time and once you’ve tasted fruit from homegrown trees you’ll be spoilt for life! Also, in commercial agriculture these are some of the most heavily sprayed fruits, giving you even more reason to grow your own. If you’re not at present in the middle of a frenzy of stone-fruit eating and preserving, make space in your garden now and set a reminder to order some trees in autumn from a good bare-rooted supplier of deciduous fruit trees. Apricots are one of the easiest stone fruits to grow, and are longerlived trees than peaches and nectarines. The variety “Moorpark” is the fruit by which many others are judged, as it has long held the reputation for the tastiest and most luscious fruits, which is also the reason they are not commonly grown commercially; they are not firm so don’t travel well. Thankfully for those with smaller gardens, there are dwarf “Moorpark” trees.

All stone-fruit trees are best pruned in late summer, as soon as they have fruited, when sap is still flowing and cuts can seal over so they will be less affected by fungal diseases. Apricots particularly are susceptible to a disease called gummosis. The main way to prevent this is not to prune in winter and, for larger-sized trees, try to keep pruning cuts small. This means that your trees need to be developed into a multi-branched structure in the first couple of years after planting. Dwarf trees only develop smaller branches, so this is not as much of an issue, but pruning should still be carried out in late summer. If you miss this timeframe, the next best time to prune apricots is in spring, at bud burst, when the flower buds are swelling but haven’t yet opened. This is when the sap is again flowing, so cuts will seal over quickly.

Although most vegetables are recommended to be grown in full sun, our summers are becoming hotter and longer, and weather patterns less stable. Most annual vegetables need to be protected by shading on days of extreme heat, by either shade-cloth or even thin sheets. If you’re growing leafy lettuces in summer in an area that is exposed to full sun, you’ll need to set up a semi-permanent structure to provide shade, to prevent them bolting, or going to seed quickly rather than producing lovely leaves for you. Most shade-cloth is designed to shade people, not plants, so is too dark for more than a day or so of protection. You’ll need to order shade-cloth that is around 30 per cent density, as this permits enough light to reach the plants and allow them to grow. In very hot parts of the country, you could use densities up to but no more than 50 per cent. To allow good ventilation, keep shadecloth off plants with a simple structure. Many nurseries now stock aluminium hoops for using over low-growing crops like lettuces. Attach shade-cloth simply with reusable plastic cable ties or with low gauge wire, poked through the shade-cloth and looped around the hoop. This allows the shade-cloth to be slid up on the side away from the hottest sun, or at night, to allow beneficial insects to come in and do their work. If the weather is suddenly cool, the shade-cloth can also be slid back.

Gall wasp has long been a problem for any citrus grower. These tiny insects are spread by blowing in the wind, and once established on your beloved lemon are extremely difficult to control but can be managed. These insects are only around three millimetres long, and as they are so tiny they can only fly short distances – but can fly the short distance between the gall they have hatched from and younger growth further up the branch, which they target for the next generation to live in. Watch for new swollen sections of branch developing, and remove them by slicing the lump off a branch, or if the gall is 360° around a stem you’ll need to completely remove that affected section, along with any flowers or fruit above it. Trap emerging wasps with yellow sticky papers encased in bird wire to prevent birds being trapped. See Karen Sutherland’s YouTube for a brief video to help.

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