On a Chalk Hillside – October 2023

Published: October 10, 2023

This month:- compost experiments; some fruit and vegetable progress; thoughts on pollination techniques.  But first following on from last month's article, I am just going to finish the path clearing jobs with a shot of the wiggly stakes I use for pushing geraniums, back, and their effect:-


Hopefully you can see that Geranium ‘Patricia' is pushed back from the path by the wiggler, but still looks “natural” rather than trussed, and you cant see the support.  It was still flowering well at that point, though the other hardy geraniums further down the path had gone over – and were cut back to the ground, as you can see from this shot of the compost bin:-


You may be able to see a white sheet under the geranium stalks here?  (or under the vine clippings below?):-


This is a bit of an experiment.  As you know we layer paper and cardboard between our green compost material, but I had acquired some rags of pure cotton sheets, and decided that I would try an experiment and use them in the layering of the compost, as the internet said they would rot down in 8 weeks or so.  These photos are from the second half of July, so I plan to dig down into the compost before publishing this article in October, and letting you know how it has gone. (Update at the end of September – so far they are still intact, they dried out somewhat, even with all the rain we had, so are taking longer than I expected to rot.  I'll keep checking over the winter and let you know.)

One side effect of the very wet summer we had was the difficulty in finding appropriate weather conditions to collect seed from plants when they were ripe.  This meant I set out on dry, sunny mornings with lots of pots/labels etc to try and collect anything that was ready – harvesting from some plants over several visits, if only one or two seed pods were ripe and dry on a particular day.  I find checking plants for ripe seed pods, and collecting seed very calming, as you have to slow down to look carefully, and harvest the pods very slowly so as not to drop any seed.  It also means you notice other details you might have missed as you have your face so close to the ground/plant/flower bed.  I was leaning forward over a border to see if the salvia verticilla seed was ripe, and pulled up sharply – I had almost put my face through a web containing a LARGE spider:-


Strangely, I had only just been reading an article about the influx of Wasp Spiders into the UK earlier that week, and here I found one in my garden looking exactly like the photo I'd seen in the article – including the white ladder-type thing in the web, which is believed to be a stabiliser for the web, and which I've never seen in any other orb spider web.  Now I am an arachnophobe, particularly when they are in the house/shed/potting shed, but can cope with them in the garden – presumably because I think they (or I) can get away!  But I didn't harvest the seed in that part of the border to make sure it didn't move and run towards me….I have managed to save some salvia seed for the HPS seed swap though. 

I managed to undertake the pruning of the summer fruiting raspberries at the right time – in fact just before Monty made it a job for the weekend at the end of August.  My summer fruiting raspberrys are yellow ones that my brother in law gave me – called “from a rectory garden in Rutland” – obviously a well known variety (not!).  The birds don't eat them, so they are grown outside the fruit cage, and had done very well this year giving me the best harvest so far.  I cut down all the canes that had fruited this year to the ground, and discovered that the extremely makeshift structure I'd been growing them up had collapsed, so we had to build a new one to tie in the current year's growth for next year's fruit.  Here the raspberries are pruned without any structure:-


And after some stout posts are bashed in, and wire strung at about knee height, and again at about chest height, in a double row, here is one row of tied in canes:-


Turning to thinking about how my courgettes have been doing this year, by mid-July they looked like this:-


With respect to pollinating techniques, what made me think about it was that my sister said that she was hand pollinating her courgettes after I said that many of my early courgettes were not developing as there were never male and female flowers at exactly the right time (something that usually happens in my experience at the beginning of the season, and rights itself as time passes.)  As I grow a lot of courgette plants, this isn't usually so much of a problem for me, but if you are growing only a couple of plants it is more problematic.  To remind us all, here is a female flower – with the nascent fruit behind it:-


And here is a male plant, just on a long thin stalk:-


You can also see behind the male flower a “failed” fruit – a female courgette that didn't get fertilized rotting away.   My sister said she went out each morning and picked the male flower, stripped off the petals and dumped the whole remainder of the flower into the mouth of a female flower to pollinate it.  I was quite surprised at this, as our Mum used to have a soft little paint brush (1cm) with which she carefully gathered greengage pollen and was therefore able to transfer the pollen to more than one other blossom, and I assumed my sister was doing something similar (it doesn't have to be a brush – a finger, or a biro rubbed on your clothing to make static picks up the pollen and can be transferred to more than one flower). However this year there were a great number of rotted off smaller courgettes throughout July and August – when it was wet – which meant on the one hand I didn't need to water, and on the other, a much lower courgette yield.  Also we had a much higher predation by slugs.

My preferred method of pollination is to encourage lots and lots of pollinators by growing or encouraging wild flowers, or companion planting.  I always have Vipers Bugloss, (); and Teasels (Dipsacus fullonumm), growing in the vegetable garden either alongside, or in the beds.  Indeed, the courgette bed this year had a “hedge” of Vipers Bugloss and Golden Feverfew ( ‘Aureum') along the back and side as you may be able to see from this photo from later June, and is always alive with bees:-


Self sown Red Valerian (), is visible by the gate, and the Eupatorium purpureum flowers in late July and August to the left of this bed providing continuity of nectar/pollen for the pollinators, as you can see below – the teasel is flowering too. 


We have so many bees buzzing round the courgettes and beans that my husband, who is prone to being stung, is loathe to harvest.  Next month I'll talk about the beans I grew, and catch up on some Autumn Gardening Jobs.

Sheila May