Frequently Asked Questions

Fruits & berries

Need to know what the best growing conditions are for a Fig tree

A native of Persia, the fig has long been a coveted fruit. It was grown in Britain by the Romans along with the vine. Cardinal Pole introduced 'White Marseille' to Lambeth Palace in 1525 and his trees are still flourishing. The flavour of fresh figs compares with any tropical fruit, although this succulent crop is decidedly easier to grow. A restricted root run is preferable for fruiting trees.

The most popular variety for successful fruiting in the UK today  is Brown Turkey. These fruit trees are among the easiest of the fruit trees that can be grown. They grow happily in both the ground or containers, making them perfect for all kinds of gardeners.

The best soil for growing fig trees would be loamy soil that has plenty of organic matter Be sure the area gets plenty of moisture BUT make sure that your soil is not waterlogged!

You can get two crops per season, but that is usually only achieved by growing it in a sheltered location with plenty of sun - preferably inside. However figs are reasonably hardy and can survive easily outside, but will usually only produce one crop.A few varieties may be grown as bushes in the open and because of this ripen their wood earlier and survive frost quite well. A small commercial fig orchard was still operating in the 1950's in West Suffolk, where the soil was heavy and the winters quite cold. There was minimal winter damage, even at -4°F during the arctic winter of 1946/47 (36°F of frost).

A point to remember is tthat you'll get two sets of figs. One lot that ripens to eat in the season they blossom, but a starnge phenomenon of fig trees is that they also produce small imature fruit that overwinter and then mature the following season.

Planting tip: dig a hole about 3' square and 3' deep. Line the sides with concrete paving slabs (or similar) and put in some rubble at the bottom. This is done to restrict root growth which encourages your fig tree to produce more fruit. Fill the in ground "container" with good quality loam soil. Don't overdo the nitrogen feed, but keep the soil well fertilized with an annual top dressing e.g. blood, fish & bone. Pruning is minimal - the biggest problem is keeping the size proportion down - it likes to expand!

Grown in a sheltered south facing spot it will reward you with years of fine fruit. If you obtain the tree in winter, keep it in a cold greenhouse or conservatory and plant it out when the weather gets a bit better - around March (hopefully!)

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What is the best way to protect young apple trees that are grown from pips over a winter period

It depends on what you mean by "young". If they are seedlings grown from a pip, then their first winter would benefit from a few months in a cold greenhouse/ polytunnel or coldframe. Although this is not totally necessary - unless the winter is particularly hard. Apple trees are considered a native plant in the UK.

Older plants are hardy in the UK and will not require much more than staking for the first few years of their life.

Note that seedlings grown from pips are genetically varied - none will come true to type (a bit like humans really!). You can get throwbacks, useless croppers or just duds. HOWEVER on the bright side ALL of the 7,000 plus known varieties on earth have come from the pips of cross pollinated apple trees. So, if you're lucky, the pip you germinate could be a new best variety ever grown! Unfortunately it is a gamble - you could try for a lifetime and get nothing worthwhile, although some excellent varieties have been produced accidentally in the wild (from discarded apple cores) and on occasion a first timer could hit the jackpot.

It is for this reason that known varieties are grafted on to rootstocks to multiply their numbers - so that they grow true to their type. What pip germinated plants are sometimes good for is to provide a rootstock for a known scion from another known variety apple tree, although you will not be able to forecast the homegrown rootstock's growth characteristics.

Why did the leaves on my blackcurrant bush go yellow and I have had no fruit this year

Yellowing leaves on plants are commonly caused by these problems:

1      Too much water

2      Too little water

3      Lack of Nitrogen

4      Lack of sunlight for photosynthesis

5      In fruit bearing plants (blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries etc.) a virus

1. If the plant is waterlogged, then the leaves turn a sickly yellow colour and often become limp

2. When the plant is too dry then the leaves will again turn yellow, but this time they are more crisp and often brown around the edges.

3. Lack of sunlight will make leaves yellow, but if the plant is outside this is seldom the cause.

4. A Ribes virus - a serious problem with little cure but the removal and destruction of the plant effected.

If the plant is young (about a year old) then the chances are it will recover for the next season if the causes are 1 - 4 above. If it is an established plant then the cause may be more serious and permanent.

If you have a Ribes virus, then whilst it is a less common cause of yellowing, it can effect plants in that way.

The disease was first described in the Netherlands in1904 by Ritzema Bos, but undoubtedly occurred before this, and presently is reported from all coun-tries where blackcurrant is grown commercially, withthe exception of the Americas. 

As its name suggests,the disease reflects the change in plant habit, mostly in the leaf appearance, that is suggestive of 'reversion' to a primitive wild plant type.  Compared to leaves of healthy plants, those of reverted plants are narrower, show a decreased number of main veins, have larger but fewer marginal serrations, and have a basal sinus that is less lobed.  These virus symptoms are usually presented as a pronounced yellowing of the leaves.

In nature, the causal agent of the disease is transmitted between plants by the blackcurrantgall mite, Cecidophyopsisribis, but not through seed. Experimentally, it can be transmitted between infectible Ribes plants by grafting.

First ceck if your plants are not too wet or waterlogged (a real possibility in a wet season). Whether they are too dry (sometimes a problem with pot grown specimens). If the cause is too much water, then the Nitrogen level in the soil may be low due to the effect of leaching.

Yellowing of leaves is often a sign of a plant growing in impoverished soil with an insufficient supply of Nitrogen

If you do not suspect impoverished soil (for whatever reason) with accompanying low Nitrogen levels (feed with pelleted chicken manure if this is the case). Or dryness, then the last resort world be to suspect a Ribes virus.

I need to plant up some strawberry runners but I've run out of hair pins (the old fashioned kind) to hold the runners down. I need quite a substantial guage to hold them becuase they keep popping out of the new planting hole

Ah yes the old hair-pins that all the girls had when I was in school!

It's not too late to pot up strawberries. In fact early August can be a good time. The old gardeners used to call it the "August spring" because at this time of the year crops can get a second breath and go through a growth spurt, which can be handy for cuttings and of course other things that need to root - like strawberry runners.

Whilst old fashioned hair-pins are almost perfect for the job, the other thing you can use is old electrical cabling. Strip out the red and black wires (don't strip the plastic coat off them, because it's not a clever thing to have too much copper around your plants). Cut them into approx 3 inch lengths and bend them over into an "U" shape. That should do the job nicely for you. If your soil/ compost is a bit loose then increase the lengths. In some ways these are more versatile that hair-pins.

How do I prune raspberries?

Summer-fruiting raspberries behave like blackberries, fruiting on one-year-old canes that are cut out by pruning after harvest. Use new growth young canes (about 8 per plant) to take the place of the fruited ones.

Autumn-fruiting varieties, however, are cut to the ground in late winter to make way for new canes that will grow from the base and fruit the same year.

See our Raspberry Fact-File at http://aeronvale-allotments.org.uk/raspberry_growing.htm

  What is the average size of an UK allotment?
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