Category Archives: Edible garden

Summer pruning the espallier apples

Earlier in the year I posted a ‘how-to’ on training espallier apple trees and in that post some summer training and pruning is mentioned. I’ve just done it:

Espallier apple in summer

Espallier apple in summer

What I did:

1. I tied in the new laterals to the diagonal canes. These will be lowered to horizontal this winter.

2. I cut side shoots back to a few leaves. These will be shortened further in the winter.

3. I replaced the cane frame because I still haven’t been given the wires I’ve been promised since these trees were first planted! Given each horizontal tier of branches represents a year, and the first year’s efforts were destroyed by hungry goats you can figure out how many years it has been. I can’t do it myself since it’s particularly beloved brickwork. Resigned sigh…


How to Train an Espallier Apple Tree

Espalliered apple trees are a beautiful and fairly compact way to grow apples in the garden. They need the support of a system of wires or similar  (you’ll notice in the pics mine are getting by on a cane framework at the moment – I’ve been nagging for the wires to appear for ages… ) but they don’t have to be against a wall – they make an attractive divider in the garden. If you are going for a wall, South and West facing walls are best. On North facing walls the trees don’t get enough sun and on East facing walls the early morning sun can melt frosted flowers too quickly, damaging them more than if they’d had the chance to slowly warm as they would on a West wall.

When buying your trees you need them to be on a dwarfing root stock and it’s best to mention to the nursery that you are planning an espallier – I didn’t and their initial form had to be overcome somewhat. A maiden whip (single stem) is a good starting point. Also you need your flowers to be fertilised, so if you are growing more than one ensure they are from compatible pollinating groups and if only growing one tree you need a self-fertile variety. When choosing a variety avoid any tip bearing trees – you need spur-bearing varieties. You can espallier prune pear trees, but stone fruit trees (cherry, plum etc) perform better with fan training.

Prune your apple trees in late winter/early spring using clean, sharp tools and angle any cuts so that water will not sit on them. Always cut to a bud that’s facing in a useful direction – not into the wall or the main stem for example.

I’ll start with a pruning diagram and then explain step-by-step. If you have a new tree, or one that is younger than mine you simply complete the steps until you run out of branches!

Espallier pruning diagram

Espallier Pruning

1. Decide at what level you want your next tier of horizontal branches. I’ll be going for four layers on this tree. Three or four is a good number, most won’t manage more because of the dwarfing root stock. You can have just one for a ‘stepover’ tree.

2. Making the new tier of branches. Cut the main growing stem above the third bud above your desired branch level and tie to the support. These three buds will form the new main stem and the two branches. If this is to be the uppermost tier, cut above two buds as you won’t need a new upright stem.

Espallier pruning the top tier

Making the next tier

Throughout the next year – tie the new lateral shoots to canes at 45 degrees to the horizontal as they grow.

3. The New Laterals. Lower the new lateral shoots to the horizontal wire (gently!) and tie them in. Cut these branches back by a couple of inches to an upward facing bud.

In late summer – cut back shoots that have arisen from the laterals and the stem to 3 or 4 leaves.

4. The established laterals. Cut back the shoots you trimmed in the summer further to one or two buds. Also entirely remove any crowded or awkwardly placed shoots. Trim the tip of the lateral back by a couple of inches to an upward facing bud if the tree is still growing into its space, or further if it’s filled its allotted space. Replace all ties.

Don’t skip the summer pruning – if you do it all at once in winter you may force your tree into biennial bearing and then you’ll miss out every other year until you can coax it back to annual bearing.

And that’s it!

Pruned tree


Edited to add: I did my summer pruning and photographed it.

Alien potatoes

Today I harvested my ‘Arran Victory’ potatoes and they are the most bizarre blue colour. Straight from the ground they look fairly normal:

Arran victory harvest

Arran Victory

But once they’ve been scrubbed they look most odd:

Arran victory

Potatoes from the planet Zorg. Or something.

I roasted them with their skins on and they were nice and floury in the middle. and had a good flavour. Unfortunately they lost the blue colour in the parboil.

The harvest was not bad, though there are very few large potatoes, which may be the variety.  I grew them in re-usable potato bags and given it uses much less space than open ground I’ll definitely do it this way again. If you want to supply your entire family’s potato needs for a year, it’s not the solution, but for a few meals of home grown blue weirdos it’s a good way to go.


The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – August 2012

The Good

Tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines

Today’s haul from the greenhouse

The dark toms are ‘Black Russian’, the round red tomatoey ones are ‘Alicante’ and I can’t remember what the tiny yellow ones are. I’m hoping there’ll be enough tomorrow for me to snaffle some for a Spag Bol. My aubs are coming out small as usual, and the cukes… well, see below.

The Bad

Sickly yellow cucumber

Do you think it’s catching?

I think this is because of the Red Spider Mites the plant has, but it might also have downy mildew (not powdery though, that was last year) and I guess it’s possible that the plants are out of nutrients, despite me feeding them. The newer leaves and cukes are looking fairly unaffected. Apparently the yellow ones are partly edible, partly a bit on the bitter side, which is probably my boss’s polite way of saying ‘it was gross, we threw it away’!

The Beautiful

Cotinus 'Grace' with raindrops

A bejewelled Cotinus ‘Grace’ this morning.

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – July 2012

The Good

Cor, get a look at my melons!

Melon 'Emir'

I have seven!

They’re Melon ‘Emir’ and I’m so looking forward to them ripening. I really hope I get to bring at least one home with me! This is the second year I’ve grown them and they’re no more difficult than cucumbers. I’m limiting each plant to 2 and it looks like I may have got over enthusiastic with the thinning – hence having an odd number of fruit. Oops.

The Bad

My long-reach hedgtrimmer is poorly. When I try to start it the poor wee beastie just goes chugga-chugga-huff. I’ve cleaned the spark plug and changed the air filter (which was surprisingly grubby) and have thus reached the limits of my mechanical knowledge. It’ll have to go off to someone who knows about these things while I wait anxiously for it’s return so that I can do the tops of the hedges.

The Beautiful

An unknown Penstemon catches some rays:

Penstemon in sun

Good Books – Vegtastic reads

For me, a book about veg gardening is at least half about sepia tinted dreams of wholesome productivity and tasty food, and half practicality. I envy gardeners who do it for a living and seem to have endless capacity for gardening outside work. But I come home from gardening all day and then play computer games, read books, argue with strangers on the internet and occasionally do crafty things (knitting mostly) or write stuff. I don’t do much gardening. So my little veg patch, which consists of three 4’x6′ beds and a herb border, is perfect for me. I may daydream about full size allotments but, let’s be honest, I just couldn’t hack it while I work as a gardener too.

So what do I use to feed these dreams…?

The Kings Seed catalogue is a favourite. I pore over it every year, choosing enough seeds to fill a giant veg plot. These days I’m savvy enough not to buy all those seeds and to remember that I don’t like cabbage very much even though it’s pretty and that a single variety of carrot will be plenty.

There are two books in particular that have walked the parsnip strewn path with me and held my hand.

Organic Kitchen and Garden

Organic Kitchen and Garden by Ysanne Spevack and Michael & Christine Lavelle

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone taking up gardening, even if they’re not planning on taking an organic approach. There is a big section on gardening basics using organic methods, including a section on the ornamental garden and a one on the kitchen garden, then there are three ‘directories’ of vegetables, fruit and herbs which are arranged encyclopedia-style with each veg having an entry on how to grow, harvest and store it. The back half of the book is ‘The Organic Kitchen’ and gives advice on going organic plus well over a hundred and fifty pages of recipes, arranged by season.

Food from your Garden

Food From Your Garden – Reader’s Digest

This book from the 1970s is both useful and unintentionally hilarious. It assumes you have a full size allotment and there are such corkers as ‘A row (of swedes) 20ft long should provide about 30lb of roots – ample to last most families through the winter.’ Oh how I laughed. A winter of swede with everything is such a delightful prospect. Amusement aside this book is a classic, covering a huge variety of fruit and vegetables. If you want to grow medlars or asparagus peas, you can find out how with this book. It has a page or two on each vegetable, describing how to grow it in detail and in properly old fashioned style and also includes some recipes. Granted some of these are distinctly of their time (anyone for brocolli vinaigrette? anyone…?) but there are occasional gems and at the very least they provide a starting point for when you’re going ‘well, now I’ve grown Celeriac, what the hell do I do with it?’ If you spot this book in your local charity shop BUY IT.

I use these two books together, often comparing and contrasting the advice; one old fashioned ‘the proper way’ and one more modern and organic. Then I have a think about it and decide to do what I was going to do anyway.

There are also a couple of books that deserve honourable mentions …

The Allotment Month-by-Month by Alan Buckingham – I bought this a little while back and don’t use it all that often. However if I were being better about making the most of my tiny plot it would help me ensure bare soil was a rarity. It is certainly a useful way of arranging the advice – by month, rather than by type of veg, which means you can turn straight to ideas for what to plant now, or which pests you should be looking out for. Its ‘veg encyclopedia’ pages are a bit sparser then the other two books, perhaps aimed at a slightly more basic level.

Tender vols 1&2 by Nigel Slater – these are cookery books rather than growing books (Vol 1 covers veg and Vol 2 fruit) but he writes so lovingly about the habits of his subject in garden and kitchen it is seriously enjoyable reading. He gives basic growing instructions, general tips on what the veg or fruit likes to be cooked with (which is invaluable for constructing my own grub I find) and then some yummy recipes.

Do you have favourite veg books? Please share them – you can never have too many books!

A vision of failure

When I set up my veg patch I was sure it was going to be absolutely chemical free* but I have failed:

Slug pellets

It’s because I’d like to succesfully grow beans. Last year I planted three lots of beans. I could probably do better at keeping the snail pubs topped up and regularly cleaned out. I could go on obsessive night time hunts with a torch, but I don’t. But there are so many snails here I swear you could knock down our house and build a new one just from snail shells.

So I gave in to the lure of easy blue blobs. And I don’t believe the ‘certified for organic use’ thingy on the label for a minute. But then I also don’t buy the idea that dosing your soil with sulphur is ok because it’s ‘organic’, if you need to do it fine, just don’t try telling me it’s organic. I don’t garden exclusively organically, although it would be nice, and so that’s more a plea for the word to mean something useful, rather than some UR GARDEN MUST BE UBER PURE OR UR DOIN IT RONG kindof thing.

Anyway, it makes me a little sad and feels like a minor failure to give in on this. Sigh…

P.S I don’t think anyone else should feel bad about using blue blobs, or other chemicals if they choose to. I very much believe that in life we draw our own lines around what we can/will do and that’s no-one’s business but ours. For example I use cruelty-free cosmetics but eat meat. These are my choices, yours may be different and that’s cool.

*well apart from the chemicals naturally present in soil, plants etc. We need another word for ‘extra-added-bad-chemical’ because there’s nothing wrong with chemicals per se. I’m chemical, you’re chemical, we’re all chemical (alchemical).

Oh what a mess!

It being Easter last weekend I finally spent some time in my own garden. It took a while for the garden gnomes to recognise me and put away their spears and poky sticks.

This is the view of my little veggie patch:

Veg garden spring 2012

The veg patch itself, and surrounding herb beds are doing ok. Parsnips and leeks are just germinating and the garlic is making a bid for freedom. Borage (oh I may live to regret this) is growing happily in the herb bed where I sprinkled seed last Autumn and this weekend I got broad beans (Dreadnought) and pea (Lincoln) in the ground, along with some chamomile seeds. The orange bags in the front of the picture are potato growing bags and I’ve put 5 ‘Aran Victory’ in each one. Unfortunately I forgot to mix in the water retaining gel I bought especially for the purpose! ‘Aran Victory’ are a main-crop potato I haven’t tried before. I always go with main-crop varieties because MrK and I both prefer potatoes roasted or baked to boiled salad potatoes.

Aside from the veg patch, however, the back garden is a mess. Right next to the veggies is a spot I’ll be making into a flower bed, which is currently the dumping ground of choice:

messy garden spring 2012

This area doesn’t get a huge amount of sun but it would be nice to have some perennial flowers suitable for cutting and I’m not sure these two things are compatible. More thought required! Any ideas, O wise and knowledgeable readers?

Beyond the arch is yet more mess:

Back garden spring 2012

At least the front garden is well-behaved. I don’t think I ever posted about it but the front garden mostly consists of gravelled parking space with a border along the front of the house. It’s designed to be fairly low maintenance and simply pretty in shades of purple and pink.

Front garden 01

Front garden 02

A miniature lilac, Syringa ‘Josee’, Ceonothus ‘Blue Sapphire’ with small dark leaves, Hebe ‘Red Edge’ and a Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ form the shrubby backbone of the border with extra colour from the Convolvulus cneorum, Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’, masses of bright pink Geranium oxonianum ‘A.T.Johnson’ and some unnamed pink tulips.I’ll try to remember to take some pics when the geranium is in flower as it always gives me a smile when I get home.

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful – August 2011

My monthly round up comes a few days early as we’re going on holiday in a couple of days and I’m not certain there will be net access to reply to comments.

The Good

MrK and I finished the bark paths round the veggie patch. Hurrah! There’s still plenty to do and I’m planning on doing a post soon on my home garden, what I’ve done to it, where it’s going and the godawful mess it’s in at the moment.

The Bad

My cucumbers have powdery mildew. Sob! And they’ve got it badly, though it looks like I’ll still have got a reasonable harvest by the end of the season.

The Beautiful

Autumn’s coming…


I harvested my very first melon this week:

The variety is Sweetheart F1 and it was deliciously sweet, juicy and tasty. My employers were away this week so I took it home and MrK and I munched it. It’s a hard life, I tell you.