Tilehurst Horticultural Association 

Talk Reviews 2013 / 2014

Nettles, Comfrey and Food Preservation! Richard Sandford

A full house welcomed our speaker, Richard Sandford, on the 24th April.  Richard has been a chef and a vegetable gardener.  He sold his business to investigate and grow foods, organically, that help to beat cancer.   He preserves home grown vegetables and fruit. There are several ways of preserving, drying, in alcohol, bottling, canning and salt.  Different vegetables need different methods of preserving.  In order to preserve, heat must be used to kill the bacteria and this is why the jars are cooked in some way and the contents sealed to avoid deterioration. Bottling was first carried out in 1842 by John Kilner. There are different jars available but Richard finds those from a German company, Weck, are the best, www.weckonline.com/en/.  Several methods are used to heat the preserves including pressure cooker and water baths. There is e-coli in some vegetables, such as broad beans and sweetcorn, so these items are cooked at a much higher temperature, i.e. 121 degrees, in order to kill the bacteria.  

Drying is another method of preserving.  A dehydrating machine, which is a series of trays over a heat base, is used and this method helps to preserve colour because the items are dried quickly.  This method is good for drying herbs for teas etc.  Chillies, tomatoes and peppers can also be dried.  A steam juicer is used to extract juice from a variety of fruit and vegetables. The fruit juices make an excellent cordial.  Tomatoes are good for cancer and Richard picks and processes in various ways over 300 kg. per year.  

Protein is obtained from beans, such as haricot, which are grown and dried.

Richard gardens organically and does not use any chemicals.  He uses organic sprays and covers vegetables such as brassica with netting to avoid attack by pests.   He washes blackfly off with water and they eventually do not return. Slugs cling to the undersides of planks and these are knifed to eliminate them.  Comfrey and Nettles are used to make a liquid feed, which takes about 6 weeks to be ready.  A water butt is filled very tightly with the comfrey or nettle, stamped down, water added which results in a strong feed with needs diluting and then used with every watering.   Wood ash also makes a good liquid feed in about two weeks, using ½ wood ash and ½ water.  This creates a strong liquid and is useful for fruit ripening.

Richard’s property, Lower Lovett Farm, at Knowle Hill is open under the NGS on 20 July 2014 between1 and 5 pm.  This is unusual as it is a vegetable farm and not a flower garden.  Teas etc. will be available. 

The Origins of Garden Flowers - Michael Keith-Lucas
In his fact-filled talk on 27th March, Michael Keith-Lucas took us through the history of the cultivation of the flowers we see in our gardens today in the UK. 

Probably the earliest flowers brought into our gardens from the wild were primroses and cowslips, followed by plants used in herbal medicines and food, e.g. foxgloves, mint & thyme.   

The Romans introduced fruit trees and many vegetables, together with Mediterranean herbs. Their courtyard gardens were formal, ornamental gardens, but also included plants to eat.  Much of the knowledge they brought with them, however, was lost, apart from that retained in the monasteries.  The monks then developed plants such as poppies and paeonies and examples of the plants they cultivated can be seen in their decorated manuscripts. 

Dr. Keith-Lucas explained how the Moors in Southern Spain then brought Islamic gardens and plants from the Near East into Europe, and pilgrimages then brought them to the North.  The Crusades to the Holy Land brought us delphiniums and hollyhocks, whilst spices were introduced through trading with the Far East.  After the fall of Constantinople, Turkish influence came to Europe.  Tulips were smuggled out to Holland where they were developed into our modern-day tulips.

It was the 16th century before plants from Central America reached Europe, and the 17th century before we saw any from North America.  South African plants in vivid colours arrived in the early 1700s along with those from China and Australia.

The rose is regarded as the quintessential English flower, but until 1840 when the first tea rose was brought back from China, there were only rambling roses in the UK.  Tea roses were not bred in Britain until the 1860s.  The late 19th century also saw the introduction of plants from Japan, in particular an influx of flowering cherries.

The early 20th century is considered to be the Golden Age of plant hunters, when they were sponsored to go to places such as the Himalayas specifically to collect plants.  Post-1930 is the period of hybridisation, when flowers from different parts of the world were cross-pollinated in the UK.  An example of this is the azaleas at Exbury Gardens, which were hybridised in the 1950s.

Michael finished his enjoyable talk by speculating on whether, in the future, plants will be selectively designed to order.

The Small Greenhouse 
and Vegetables - Ray Broughton

A full house welcomed Ray Broughton to our January talk.  Ray is always popular and is very knowledgeable over a wide range of subjects.  

The first half of his talk was about the Small Greenhouse, giving pointers to siting, insulation and changes to the design of greenhouses.  Greenhouses are called such as the Victorians kept ferns in them and so they were called "green" rather than "glass" houses.

The design of greenhouses today is geared to saving of heat, so the bottom of the greenhouse is no longer glass but insulated aluminium.  Glass panels no longer overlap but are nested into plastic runners so that the glass sits tight on each piece with no gaps.  There are wider doors to enable carry in and out trays of plants without tilting them or knocking knuckles.  Sloping sides give better light.  Siting is also important in that the greenhouse should not be in a frost pocket. 

Ray went on to cover some of the problems encountered with bugs and diseases in the greenhouse.  Use white vinegar to kill mealy bugs, top of full fat milk to kill aphids, whitefly etc. and thrip are attracted to blue sticky papers during February and March.  Blossom end rot is due to a calcium deficiency.  During a Beaumont period cover tomatoes with fleece to stop blight. 

Plants should only be fed from the top.  If fed from the bottom, the feed stays in the tray rather than being soaked up by the plant.  The best plastic pots to use are those with two sets of holes, on different levels, as they drain better.  Pots with a flat bottom do not drain properly.  Finally do not keep your hose pipe in the greenhouse as it leaches plasticiser into the air and kills seedlings.

After the break, Ray went onto talk about Vegetable growing.  The first pointers were to protecting the crop.  Use Tagetes to kill aphids, but do not dead head as it is the dead
flower head that is the effective part.  Alyssium prevents onion/leek smut and do not grow runner beans up a wigwam as this encourages mites. 

Rhubarb will be more productive if it is dug up in October, divided and left above ground, then plant again in February.  It likes the cold, will grow quickly and will not flower.  Grow leeks in 2” diameter water pipe, 2” in the ground, 6” to 10” above ground.  This gives a good blanch and the leeks do not get rust, smut or moth.  
Red flowered runner beans are not self- pollinating and rely on insects.  So if the weather is not right there are few insects, low pollination and fewer beans.  White flowered beans are self-pollinating and, therefore, give a much better crop.  

Block planting is very effective and takes up less room. Ray uses blocks of 1.2m x 1.5m, which gives sufficient yield to feed a family of six.  Raised beds are also good to grow vegetables, 6” deep is usually sufficient.  If using a deep raised bed, half fill the bed with rubble, so that the soil depth is a maximum of 12”.

All in all, a very informative evening.

Autumn Colour in the Garden - Anthony Powell

In our last talk of 2013 on 28th November, Anthony Powell paid a return visit to the THA and gave us helpful information on how to keep our garden going with interest through the autumn. His talk was accompanied by slides and a variety of foliage to illustrate and provide inspiration.

He described the chemical reaction which occurs to give autumn 
leaf colour, caused by a combination of warm & sunny days, cool nights, and moisture.  This leaf colour can be enhanced by plants which are still in flower, such as nerines, autumn crocus, dahlias & chrysanthemums, together with trees and shrubs which carry coloured berries.

Anthony also described ways of “borrowing” the colour 
provided by neighbouring landscapes to enhance that within your own garden and ways to use the contrast of different colours. Additionally we can utilise the effect of those trees such as acers which give early colour when other trees are still green and those of different heights such as shrubs and climbing plants, to extend the season of autumn colours.

His talk will, no doubt, encourage us to think of the 
autumn effect when choosing plants for our gardens. 

Growing Vegetables - Paul Templeton

Our first talk for the autumn was given by Paul Templeton on Thursday 31 October 2013.  Paul commenced by saying that good vegetables need good soils and that soil formation is of utmost importance.  The soil needs to have good heart and much mulching to get the best yields.

Paul's main message was DO NOT DIG.  By digging you destroy the top soil and bring to the surface the poorer under-soil.  He also stated that manure and vegetables do not mix, as by adding manure you are increasing the risk of illness from the content of the manure ie salmonella poisoning.

Most people of the world do not use a fork or spade to cultivate their ground, when producing food.  They use a hoe to cultivate the top soil and to keep the weeds down as they need to make the most of the soil as they grow to live.

Paul does not dig, nor does he water, but grows sufficient vegetables in his 7 acres to supply shops.   He covers the soil with straw to keep down the weeds and to keep the moisture in the soil, and plants through the straw.  Paul sets seeds in trays and plants out into the fields when the plants are of the right size.

Paul gave a very amusing talk but whether we, the gardeners, have the courage to stop digging is another matter.


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