Pruning them prunes

Pruning them prunes

You have most probably never heard of Masanobu Fukuoka. Other than the rather unfortunate western pronunciation of his surname, he will most probably slip out of your short term memory quite quickly.

Well, let me introduce him to you. Born in 1913 in Japan, he is celebrated as a philosopher and creator of many natural farming techniques. He was a simple farmer, but his love of the land and of the way nature works, made him a proponent of no-till farming, no-herbicide cultivation and natural farming. One of his philosophies is called “do-nothing farming”, but is not the sitting-on-the-stoep-drinking-beer kind.

He believed that there is a difference between nature and non-intervention. When he left his citrus trees unpruned, they did exceptionally well in the beginning, as the balance between growth of roots and verge was re-established. However, soon enough, entanglement and insect attacks crippled and eventually killed his trees.

He found that if fruit trees are grown from a seedling and not pruned at all, they grow into a natural shape and maintains this shape, which leads to higher yields as well as healthier trees.

Pruning fruit trees

Pruning fruit trees

Enter reality.

My fruit trees have not grown into natural shapes and have a tendency to over-extend themselves and to break branches when they bear fruit. For this reason I have to prune.

Pruning boosts the budding process as well as the bearing of good quality fruit. If done well, entanglement is minimised and you can get to the fruit with ease. Furthermore, since I am genetically endowed with a ladder built it (according to my mother I was made on a long weekend), it is not only more comfortable to move under pruned trees, but it also keeps the smaller folk from stripping the trees before I got enough to cook my jam with. (Selfish, but nice).

And then, as I love my mulches and compost, I take these cuttings and put them through the mulcher. Interestingly, one of the best sources of organic food for trees is wood. So sad that the winter batch of poodle puppies chewed off the electrical wire of my mulcher. Ai, the work never stops…Correct Pruning Cut

Stay frosty

I read an article once about the “frost line” which is apparently a date-line drawn by the expected date of first frost.

We were just moving to Bashewa at the time, and I really wanted to prepare myself for the highveld garden. For the two decades we stayed in Pretoria proper (townies/ stadsjapies), I were intrigued when my annuals turned into perennials. Next to Waterkloof we had a day or two of frost every three years!

And then I saw that the first expected frost in Bashewa was 15 April, whilst in Pretoria it was 15 May. Wow. A whole month difference? No, I said to myself. Impossible.

Frost!

Frost!

But it turned out to be right. Here we are on the 25th and we have already had three nights of frost.

As I battled through last winter, amazed at the disappearance of my veggie seedlings (roughly at the same time of the appearance of strange rabbit-like footprints :)), intrigued by the sudden death of my summer plants, I learned to respect the frost.

But then, munching my first apple from my tree this year, I thought of the beneficial effect of the very same frost on some trees.

As I love growing berry plants, I know that they also love frost.

So, as we slice through the escarpment mist-banks driving towards town, we are blessed with the crisp frost scenes of early morning. As it dwindles away the closer we get to Pretoria, we no longer reminisce about warmer days lost. Now we look forward to plump berries and succulent apples.

But this weekend I have some work to do – start removing the frostbitten vegetation of the last week! To the compost heap, of course!

The Humble Cosmos

At this time of the year, don’t you just love driving down Garstfontein Rd, with all these little fellows bowing their heads at you?
Cosmos bipinnatus
Perhaps you did not know, but the humble cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a visitor to our country, even our continent. These days people are making a big fuss about the purple fields of the incredibly invasive pom-pom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum), without realising that the nice docile little cosmos is as un-South African a visitor.

But then, my dad told me, a weed is any plant not growing where you want it to.

You can buy Cosmos seeds at your local nursery, and add a wonderful autumn display to your waning late-summer garden. However, learn this from nature – the leave structure of the cosmos is made to interlock when they are growing in fields. Otherwise the plant is top-heavy and prone to lie down. So, plant them in a close enough grouping, the larger the grouping the better, and the group will support itself.

Cosmos is also wonderful butterfly and bee attractor.

For those “stop-and-smell-the-roses” types, you can stop next to the road and pick some for the vase, as they make good cut flowers. If you feed them with a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of Jik per liter of water, they will give you at least a week plus two days. Not bad, at the price of flowers these days!

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