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Graham Porter Gardening: Getting compost right and pruning apples

THIS month’s questions have nothing to do with the strange summer weather or the dry spring or the cold winter, but reflect the sort of gardening issues that we all experience from time to time.

THIS month’s questions have nothing to do with the strange summer weather or the dry spring or the cold winter, but reflect the sort of gardening issues that we all experience from time to time.

Mr Appleyard, from Shepley, has a problem that I am sure we have all experienced at one time or another in our gardening life – a dead compost heap, where all the life that we have seen working so hard over the years, suddenly disappears.

Like all decomposition processes, small-scale domestic green waste composting in the UK requires certain conditions to help the various organisms do their job and if we, inadvertently, change those conditions, some or all of the organisms will die out.

Small scale domestic composting relies on brandling worms, various fungal organisms, woodlice, slugs and, to a much less extent, bacteria.

For the most part these require a mixed organic environment that is aerobic and slightly alkaline.

In industrial scale composting, that helps to dispose of any green waste we might choose to take to the local authority waste recycling centres, it is bacteria that do most of the work and they can cope in a more acidic environment.

I suspect that Mr Appleyard has been adding too many grass cuttings at once and these have made the heap anaerobic and acidic.

Grass cuttings should be mixed with carbon-based material such as torn-up cardboard, shredded paper or dry, woody garden waste before being added to the heap and you can add a light dressing of garden lime two or three times during the summer to help ensure an alkaline environment.

Mrs Roberts, from Huddersfield, would like to know how best to prune established apple trees to ensure that she can get the best out of the trees.

There are two key times of year for pruning apples, no matter what their size, style of growing or variety.

Summer pruning can be done from late July through until September and this involves cutting back new shoots to three or four buds – this allows light and air into the crown of the tree to help ripen the developing fruit and stops that tree from wasting valuable energy on new growth that can be used in fruit development – if you are too heavy-handed with this you will reduce the amount of photosynthesis and so reduce the amount of carbohydrate (sugars and starches) production that is so vital for fruit development.

Winter pruning can be carried out from November until February and involves removing badly placed, diseased and crossing branches, weak and non-productive shoots and, depending on the style of growing, opening up the centre of the tree to improve air circulation that helps to reduce the incidence of apple scab.

The RHS Fruit and Vegetable Gardening book by Michael Pollock, published by Dorling Kindersley (ISBN 0-7513-3683-1) explains this complex process in much greater detail, but the basic principles are as I have explained above.

If you have any questions or queries that you want help with or gardening related subjects that you would like to discuss, why not write to me at Graham’s Gardening Questions, Features Department, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Pennine Business Park, Longbow Close, Bradley Road, Huddersfield, HD2 1GQ.

 

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