Time to take stock and prepare for the coming year

Fragrant ripe apples.
Fragrant ripe apples.

The fruit garden is a year-round labour of love, rewarding us with early strawberries, gooseberries, late raspberries, or apples, but there’s always a little more to it than picking the fruits then leaving the plants to God and good neighbours until next year.

Rooted strawberry runners are being potted up at present then we can tidy the bed, weeding, removing old leaves and laying organic mulch.

These young plants will be placed on the greenhouse bench and grown on for early fruiting next year.

The gooseberry bushes would soon become a thicket of growth if we simply let them.

Annual pruning is essential during winter to facilitate easy access for picking and to allow a free circulation of air.

This is to guard against mildew which can ruin both plant and crop at the height of season.

I delay the pruning until just before bud burst at the point of spring because bullfinches always and sparrows occasionally, target them.

It’s best to aim for a goblet shape when pruning.

This can be achieved with a young bush by surrounding it with canes radiating outwards from the base.

Tie selected stems to it for a year or two until the form is established.

By late November, the autumn cropping raspberries will have run out of steam and any time afterwards every one is chopped to ground level.

Then just before the worst frosts arrive, hand-weeding followed by surface mulch will set things up for next year.

We avoid digging or mechanical activity in this area as raspberry roots grow close to the surface.

Just for good measure, the apple trees, whose fruits are now in store, will receive their definitive pruning once the leaves have fallen.

Way back in July all lateral growths were shortened to 15cms in order to encourage fruit buds. Once we have a clear view of their plump outline the aim is to leave two on each short spur of growth.

As in all aspects of gardening you get out of it what you put in.

Each of these essential fruit-oriented tasks comes after the harvest has gone but there is a constant reminder of the end product each time we walk into the garage or open the freezer.

First there is the distinctive fragrance of ripening apples in store, closely followed by the sight of bags containing everything from peas to plums.