Friday, 17 January 2014

Veg Growers group - pruning soft fruit and taking cuttings

Smallholding, especially the vegetable growing part of it, can be a lonely occupation.
Luckily I like my own company, but I also like the option of spending time with other people when I choose to.
We have two immediate neighbours, then its a mile in one direction to the next house and its across the river to the neighbours on the other side. I have realised that if I want to meet more people and make more contacts, I need to be proactive. I can't rely on people coming to me and I can't rely on a lifetime of acquaintances, as we have moved away from our roots and even from our secondary roots.

The Fenland Smallholders Club has been an invaluable source of contacts and acquaintances. Sue and I have become very involved and have been on the committee for a year now. But it only meets once a month and members are spread all over Fenland. Meetings are on Sundays during daylight hours, which stops a lot of people from attending, and are held in a rather cold village hall. Don't get me wrong, the club is excellent in what it does, but I recently had a vision of how it could reach out further. I'm not sure everybody quite understood my vision, so I took the bull by the horns and organised things myself.

And so it was that the Fenland Smallholders Veg Growers group arose.
My idea is to spend time with like-minded people, round each others' smallholdings, learning from each other, socialising, chatting, eating and drinking.

Mission accomplished
This is why I refer to our get togethers
as gatherings and not meetings
The group has now been going for two months. At our second meeting we had a dozen people turn up, which is just about a perfect number. Any more and hosting would become more than onerous and the feel of our gatherings would change for the worse.

I have written an account of the day on the Veg Growers blog so I won't repeat it here, bar to say that I am very, very pleased with how it went.

Anyway, last week we met at a beautifully located smallholding backing on to the Nene Washes. We were treated to a demonstration of how to take cuttings from soft fruits.

Steve demonstrates how to propagate a blackberry by layering

I always remember old gardening programs being about getting something for nothing, propagating from seeds and cuttings, making your own compost and so on. These days there has been a horrible tendency towards encouraging gardener consumerism - garden centre sweeps - mirrors, clocks, sculptures, unnecessary landscaping, van loads of plants.

But those early programs don't seem to have rubbed off on me. Pruning only happens when a branch has been mortally wounded, primarily due to fear and a lack of understanding of the principles. And I've never got my head round taking cuttings, despite knowing that this is the way forward.

So, back to the Veg Growers, it was great to actually be shown, in the flesh, how to take cuttings. Books and the internet are helpful, especially YouTube, but there is no substitute for being able to see the real thing and ask questions. I returned to Swallow Farm ready to dive into my soft fruit bushes - not literally, of course!

Sunday was compost turning day so my new found skills had to wait till Monday. My fruit bushes and canes are now two to three years old so some were in need of a prune before it got too late. Late on Sunday night I spent several hours watching Youtube videos on pruning soft fruits bushes

So on Monday morning, a fine winters day, I waded into the currant bushes, secateurs at the ready!
I pruned out what was obvious and tried to take a few cuttings. There wasn't too much material suitable for cuttings, but I managed to get a few. Now that I'm pruning them properly, I hope that fruit and growth will be more prolific next year.

Next came the gooseberries. I have green ones, red ones and yellow ones. But they're all spiky. Very spiky. To make matters worse, the low branches, which I should have pruned out, had bowed down to the ground and given rise to a profusion of suckers, all of which needed gingerly taking out before I could proceed towards the desired goblet shape for gooseberry bushes.

Spurred on by my new found skills, I sorted out the raspberries and blackberries (and various strains) too. Now I just need to get those cuttings into the ground and be patient. In a year or two I will be arriving at the back door, my arms fully laden with berries and currants.

The blackcurrant, whitecurrant, redcurrant and gooseberry bushes of the future.

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