Archive for category Undercover / Protected Cropping
My dream would be to have an orange, lemon and lime grove stretching as far as the eye could see with a few Kaffir lime and other strange citrus dotted around. A dream inspired by a visit to Seville and walking through a magnificent orangery in nearby Cordoba, the dimension of the trees just tall enough to walk under, the colours of the fruit hanging against the shiny dark green leaves and the perfumes from the leaves, fruit and flowers was pure heaven and inspired me to grow citrus.
Further North, however the weather can be too cold and wet in winter to support citrus trees in the ground but just because we haven’t got an ideal climate, soil or conditions it is not going to stop me trying to grow citrus. I have found that we are able to grow some citrus fruit in pots and get a fairly decent harvest (for the size of the trees), these pots can be brought inside in winter bringing with them the scents and smells of an exotic orangery.
A few years ago my mum bought us our first Lemon tree (Citrus Limon) a small 2-3 year old dwarf variety called La Valette which produces pale yellow round aromatic fruit with a thin smooth skin. It bore 3 perfect fruit in its first year and so far fruits every year and sometimes twice, then my nieces, Ruby and Nelly, bought me a Kaffir Lime tree (Citrus Hystrix) for my birthday, a healthy looking brute which produces the wonderfully pungent leaves essential to Thai cooking as well as green gnarly fruit. Next i bought a lemon tree in Italy which is a standard form and produces long fruit with a thick skin (pictured above).
We are just at the beginning with our citrus adventure, not having grown any before, but our limited success so far is encouraging.
Temperature Most citrus need heat which is fine in the summer but should not be subjected to temperatures below 0, although some are said to survive up to -5, (ours have survived -7 with protection outside) to be on the safe side make sure to protect against frost and bring them indoors if it’s not possible to put them in a light frost-free place outside.
Soil a slightly acidic soil that is light, well aerated, well-drained and rich.
Feed with a diluted seaweed folia spray, a special ‘agrumes’ fertiliser or the traditional feed of diluted urine during the growing season. Mulch with well-rotted compost in autumn.
Water Citrus need a good supply of water but should never be left soggy or water-logged. A good soaking every few days in the dry summer, once a week (or when soil has completely dried out) in spring and autumn and rarely in winter, only when the soil is really dried out. Citrus will benefit from a spray of water on the leaves at night in high summer.
Space Re-pot every 2-3 years in Spring.
By growing our citrus trees in pots we can give nature a helping hand and move the small trees around to find the best micro climate for our weather conditions during the year. By putting them beside a south-facing wall in spring and autumn they are outdoors to benefit from the sun and heat on warm days but get the radiated heat from the wall to protect them from temperature dips. In winter we put them in an open cave which gets full low winter sun during the day and keeps some heat during the night to keep frost at bay. In summer they go out into the garden to benefit from full sun, occasionally pulling them into the shade if it gets too hot for a rest. By growing in pots we can also ensure that they have soil specifically tailored to them and a watering regime to suit.
Lemons Lisbon and Eureka and Villafranca are the most hardy and commonly grown. Mayer is recommended for conservatory growing and Citron de Nice is both hardy and resistant to cold. La Valette suitable for pots and fruits all year round, unripe lemons can be used as limes.
As spring approaches it is time to clear the old crops and make way for the new, sowing starts undercover, in my case in the polytunnel, a 50ft double-height plastic tunnel built into a drystone wall on a south facing terrace below the potager.
The plant debris and weeds are first cleared and the earth lightly worked to lighten the top soil, incorporating seaweed manure and bonemeal. For areas that are not to be planted now I cover the soil with leaves, grass cuttings and best of all chopped nettles. This protects the soil and keeps it in great condition ready for sowing later.
The first of the heat loving summer crops are planted directly in the tunnel in mid-March. For the beans I prepare long bean trenches filled with rotted garden compost. Tradition in these parts is to sow the first Haricot of the year on St. Josephs day undercover. This year I sowed a dwarf French bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) Tendergreen from Thomas Etty and behind that the exotic climbing Long Bean (Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis) also known as snake bean, yard long or asparagus bean a wonderful bean that grows to 60cm or more in length. I’ve grown it every year since I got the tunnel and maintain the seeds. Also sown direct into the tunnel in mid march are the cucurbits; courgettes, cucumbers and other gourds. I am careful to make sure only one variety from each sub family of the cucrbits and legumes are sown in the tunnel so that I will be able to collect seed without danger of crossing.
So this year in the tunnel I sowed Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) Burpless Tasty Green, an unusual Hairy Cucumber (Cucucmis Melo) Bari distinct from a regular cucumber in that it is botanically a melon. Achoca (Cyclanthera pedata) Fat Baby this is a small spiny cucumber like gourd that grows to form a hollow shell which is delicious stuffed. A courgette, (cucurbita pepo) Ronde de Nice a lovely round courgette with dense flesh and a gourd. Later in the year, when it is warm enough, the tomatoes, peppers, chillis and peanuts will be planted out that i’ve grown from seed in the house. Coriander gets sown all year round so another few short rows went in to keep us in supply.
Work in the tunnel this spring was made much easier with the help of Laura Beyney, who is here for a week helping out in the garden and learning about edible veg, plus the odd spot of fishing in the Ardeche.
Protection for seedlings makes all the difference when raising your own plants. Making a lean-to-greenhouse doesn’t have to cost much it just need to be positioned to get good winter sun, and protect plants from wind. Rachel made this one out of old bits of wood and the glass came from a massive fish tank but you could stretch horticultural plastic or perspex over a wooden frame.
I think it is great and it has already made my life easier. It is designed to fit standard full size trays and double size trays on the ground with plenty of plant head room as well as slatted shelves to allow water to drain and keep air and light circulating.
The green-house is designed and situated in such a way that it will get the most light in winter when the sun is low and the least amount in summer when the sun is high. It is situated next to a large bush on the west side that adds further protection from midday and afternoon sun and is built against the stone wall of the house so that the heat absorbed by the walls during the day will be radiated back at night and keep any frost at bay. The wooden frame is built onto a concrete plinth on a slight slant so that excess water drains off and the roof and sides vent to keep the inside from getting too hot. The roof has a plastic rather than glass lid incase tiles or other debris drop from the roof. All in all it is just perfect for my needs and a safe place to harden off all my seedling plants and propagate the next batch.