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Plot #59

Soft Fruit Re-Vamp, phase two

One job I definitely wanted to get done this winter was to finish the reorganisation of the soft-fruit section of plot #59.

Last Thursday was a glorious late winter / early spring day (which is a bit of a worry, as it was only the 6th of February), with clear skies, cool breezes, and a splash of sunshine to warm my back, as I worked on reorganising our soft fruit section.

As is probably the case for most novice allotmenteers, when Jo and I started working the plot six years ago we (okay, I) launched right in with a ‘more is more’ mentality, trying to cram as many plants as we (again, I) possibly could into what we (yes, alright, I) thought would be a reasonable amount of space.

Six years (plus an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Horticulture, and three years’ experience as a working gardener) on, I’m a whole lot wiser to the need to provide two kinds of sufficient space:

  1. Space for Plants to Grow Into
  2. Space for Us to Work In

The majority of plants require their fair share of light (and air, and water, and minerals) if they are to thrive and grow; especially if they need that additional energy boost to produce fruit for us to eat.

Pack them in too tightly and they’ll try to grow as quickly as they can to reach that light, with stronger-growing specimens out-growing and shading their neighbours, sometimes leaving them straggly and stretched. Plus, all that vegetative growth takes energy away from fruit production, which means fewer edibles for us.

Speaking of whom: we gardeners need to have enough room to move and manoeuvre between the plants. We have to be able to pass by, stand, reach and work safely, whether we’re harvesting, pruning, dealing with pest, disease or weather damage, or just inspecting the plants to make sure they’re in good health.

All of which lengthy preamble is to explain why I came to spend a rather superb afternoon reorganising our soft fruit section, to address a few issues caused by too-close planting in years gone by.

I started by removing a row of rhubarb. This is phase two of a re-planting that I started last year, lifting and dividing four of our eight huge crowns that had been in-situ since year two and were producing far more stems than we could sensibly make good use of.

Last year I re-planted three healthy sections – no idea what the variety is, we inherited it with the plot and all we know is that it usually comes in late, grows through to October and produces stems that are easily as thick as my wrist – and added a chunk of ‘Timperley Early’ that had been lifted from the allotment at work.

Job one this time around was to scrape off the surface mulch of wood-chip and peel back the weed membrane sheet through which the rhubarb has been growing. You can see from the clear, if a tad compacted, state of the soil around the crowns just how effective the cover-and-mulch technique is for keeping the weeds down:

Four huge rhubarb crowns revealed in all their glory…

Each of those four crowns was divided and dug out, with a few healthy, viable sections – as long as there is a good strong bud or two up top and a chunk of root matter below, there’s a very good chance of rhubarb re-establishing itself within a season or two – distributed to a couple of fellow plot holders, and the rest chopped up for composting.

A before and after shot, showing the impressive size of one of the crowns and the number of divisions (new plants!) I was able to cut

The next stage of the job was to put the membrane back in place, and then relocate two redcurrant plants. They were just too close to a huge gooseberry bush on one side, and our mature Japanese wineberry on the other. Both of these spiky neighbours had turned redcurrant harvesting into an extreme sport in the last couple of years, and so moving them was definitely the best option. Again, this creates more room for me to safely work on them, and the bushes next to them.

As I knew I’d be damaging the redcurrants’ root system during transit, I cut back the top-growth quite hard, just leaving a couple of main stems and their sub-stems on each plant. (Please excuse the blurriness of the pic below, but sometimes my phone’s auto-focus doesn’t oblige, and it’s hard to see the results with the sun on the phone screen…)

Two reduced and relocated redcurrants, which will hopefully reestablish nicely

After that, I added a couple of well-rooted young blackcurrant plants that I’d taken as cuttings two years ago (method: take a section of new-growth blackcurrant stem, trim the bottom end just below a leaf node and the top to around 12″, insert around a quarter of the bottom end into the soil, wait for roots and new top-growth to develop) to an existing row of blackcurrant bushes. I also relocated a small gooseberry that I’m training as a standard from behind a rather thuggish jostaberry that had most definitely been shading the gooseberry out.

Here are a couple of shots of the re-vamped fruit section, one from the front(ish – I’ve missed out the raspberry support structure) and one from the back (raspberry supports just about visible, top-left corner):

An afternoon’s work has left me with enough space (thinking about it sensibly) for three new soft fruit bushes. Here’s our current soft fruit (and hopefully nut) inventory, please do feel free to suggest or recommend interesting additions via the comments below.

  • Blackcurrant (unknown variety) x10
  • Redcurrant (‘Rovada’) x4
  • Whitecurrant x1
  • Yellowcurrant x1
  • Gooseberry (unknown, green) x3 bush, x1 standard
  • Gooseberry (unknown, red) x1
  • Raspberry ‘Joan J’ x5
  • Raspberry ‘All Gold’ x5
  • Raspberry ‘Glen Coe’ x3
  • Rhubarb (unknown) x3
  • Rhubarb ‘Timperley Early’ x1
  • Rhubarb ‘Victoria’ x1
  • Strawberry ‘Malwina’ x12
  • Lingonberry x3
  • Japanese wineberry x1 (plus numerous rooted cuttings)
  • Jostaberry x2
  • Aronia x1
  • Blueberry (at home, in pots) x3
  • Hazelnut (collected seedlings) x2

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