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Time is running out

Posted by Guy Barter on 29 Jun 2007 at 11:26 PM

Cool, wet conditions are playing havoc with warm weather crops.  The Italian plotholders plant their allotments with peppers, aubergines and cowpeas.  These all look yellow and stunted.  I point out that good, sensible British cabbages, leeks, parsnips, peas and potatoes thrive under these conditions, go well with roast dinners and that it is folly to plant only things unsuited to the climate.  The moaning continues unabated however. 

Storms have wandered around the district for the last few days.  The back garden has been only lightly wetted, but the allotments wre well soaked from a downpour packing seedbeds tight and flattening potato foliage.  Wet summers are very good for my sandy soil in this dry district, where drought stress kicks in after a only a few, hot, rainless days, but I might think quite differently if I had a heavy clay soil, and had not made the stiff, wet soil into raised beds. 

The wet weather continues to hamper spraying but mancozeb (Dithane 945) has been applied to tomatoes and potatoes to counter blight that must surely break out any day given the conditions.  The blight often goes back under the canopy of the potatoes to lurk in infected stems when the weather turns dry only to break out with deadly force when the cool dewy autumn weather begins.  I am trying to spray the potato stems to protect against this. 

My spuds are a delight.  ‘Lady Christl' now produces large tubers after a most welcome initial harvest of smallish ones.  Big enough, in fact, to have as baked potatoes, when they have the sweetest flavour.  However it is the ‘Red Laure', a French salad potato from Tuckers Seeds, that is the top performer at the moment.  Yields are excellent, with numerous small red elongated tubers.  Cooked in a single layer in a lidded pan on the stove top, with a little oil and salt, they come out crisp skinned, strong earthy potato flavour, with firm flesh.  When Her Loveliness returns in the evening, cross and tired, from her office in the Metropolis, she takes a plate of these, with the mayonnaise jar, to eat while listening to The Archers, returning later in a more amiable mood for her main, admittedly light, dinner. 

Peas are still maturing in abundance.  ‘Onward', an old favourite is cropping now for shelling, ‘Ambassador' a new shelling cultivar that caught my eye in the Wisley trials is a real winner with a much bigger yield than ‘Onward' and one that I shall grow more of, ‘Cascadia', has produced rather light crops of sweet, fat, edible pods.  This is the best sugar-snap pea I have grown in a long time and will be on my ‘must-grow' list for 2008, only I will sow a lot more next time.  Best of all, my spraying to prevent pea moth seems to have been effective with no unpleasant surprises on the dinner plate... 

‘Witkiem Major' broad beans are cropping abundantly, but they are getting a bit stodgy now.  I quite like them like this and I usually freeze a few kilos for winter stews.  I like to use them as a less heavy supplement to dried beans in cassoulets.  A small follow-on batch have just finished flowering and a big sowing of ‘The Sutton' dwarf broad beans are in full flower, so more beans should follow. 

French beans are coming into full flower and the direct sown ones have caught up transplanted ones sown indoors.  This is tiresome but often happens!  Of the newly sown ones one packet has come up fully, but only few plants have come up of the other packet.  The quality of French bean seed seems questionable, yet other packets from the same firm have been reliable. I will now have to resow the gaps with another packet. 

These are wonderful times on the allotment, with abundant crops reaching maturity.  It really inspires me to make one final push in early July to get the last seeds and plants in the ground, turn round finished crops and then finally sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labours. 

This week has seen a splurge of sowing into modules and cell trays to have plenty of plants to fill land as it falls vacant: 

  • Beetroot - there is still time to sow more in situ, but as they do grow well from modules I might as well, and it is not really constrained by rotation considerations.  And I love beetroot soup and roast beetroot in autumn and winter.  Leafy beets, chard and spinach beet leave me quite unmoved and have no place in my garden.
  • Calabrese - They are tricky to fit into the rotation of my clubroot infested ground.  But sown now, these are an essential autumn vegetable and so very much easier to grow than cauliflowers.  Cauliflowers, of superb quality, are anyway ridiculously cheap to buy.
  • Chinese cabbage - I cannot work up much enthusiasm for those slimy, tasteless Chinese vegetables and greens that are a magnet for caterpillars, flea beetle and clubroot disease, but I cannot resist a few Chinese cabbage for salads and stir fries either.  They are also tricky to fit into the rotation on my clubroot infested ground.
  • Courgettes:  These grow very fast in late summer and crop nicely when the earlier sowings succumb to mildew in September.
  • Endive and chicories; these look much better than they taste in my opinion.  I grow a few. They are extremely easy and trouble free. The Italians grow great amounts of endive for use as cooked vegetable, but I cannot understand why.
  • Florence fennel has no rotational constraints either so, being delicious and long lasting, is the ideal fill-in crop, but I do think it not worth sowing in July, although others disagree.
  • French and runner beans: With big seeds these grow very fast in late summer and make a most welcome crop in September and October.
  • Herbs - Plenty of basil, coriander, dill, oregano, and parsley are valuable in late summer and much will often persist into winter.
  • Kohl Rabi and Turnips - Quick growing roots of these are very welcome in late September and October to fill the gap between summer produce and the winter vegetables.  Not many are needed though as they yield heavily and are very filling.
  • Lettuces - little and often until August is my practice with lettuce.  
  • Swedes and sprouting broccoli - These winter veg can put on a fair old clip in late summer and are useful to fill-in any failures.
  • Sweet corn - one last big sowing.  My October sweet corn were fantastic last year, but if this cool weather continues, I will cover them with fleece during their early stages to boost growth.  Module trays of sweet corn are germinated in the propagator that has been re-activated in this cold weather. 

In two weeks I shall not bother to plant or sow many more crops.  I will have plenty, more than I can eat in fact, and instead I will switch to sowing switch to green manures. 


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