Fiona Sanderson's column: A gardener's guide to growing your own
WHILE the weather is still cold, it's a good time to be turning attention to fruit trees and soft fruit canes. Apples and pears are fruit trees that can take winter pruning, and February is a good time to choose; almost the last moment before the sap has risen and growth has begun again.
This week I've been looking at our existing fruit trees for signs of winter damage, and trimming off the small broken and crossing growths. I was surprised to see that the bark at the base of our youngest and smallest apple tree has been well nibbled.
This is a tree that only went in a few weeks ago, and the teeth marks are very small. I've dealt with rabbits that gnaw at bark, but haven't seen damage from smaller rodents before.
Perhaps that means I've just been lucky! Anyway, that tree, a lovely 'Court Pendu Plat' apple; a variety that has been around since the Romans came to Britain, has now got a 'mouse guard' of flower pots that have had the base cut out. This was the best immediate solution to the problem I could come up with.
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At the other end of the scale, this week we went out to buy a much larger fruit tree than I have ever been accustomed to.
Previously, I've only ever bought 'maidens', the very young trees that are the cheapest, and most ready to train to the shape that you want to grow.
This new tree is a shared purchase with our neighbour; we've agreed to plant the tree between our two gardens and share the fruit.
We were looking for an early variety with excellent flavour and good disease resistance, and agreed on Scrumptious.
Since we are sharing the cost, we could afford to buy a tree that has already made a lot of growth, so that we will be cropping apples much sooner. An extra few pounds spent can avoid waiting two or three more years for the fruit. With an agreed amount to spend in my pocket, I got online to search for a local fruit tree nursery. Nursery prices are quite a bit cheaper than garden centres, and the advantage over buying online is that you can see the tree. Also, it doesn't have to survive the trip through the post!
I was delighted to find Chew Valley Trees had a Scrumptious, on the right rootstock, and at the size we wanted.
Compared with a garden centre price, we got a lot of tree for our money. Buying from a local nursery was well worth while. Even better, it came with a proper tree guard, so the little rodents will be thwarted this time.
Looking for seeds and seed potatoes? Sarah, from the Talbot Road allotment shop has been in touch to say that opening hours are Saturdays and Sundays, from 10.30 until 12, and that the shop is open to all. If potatoes aren't in, they will take advance orders for later collection.