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Leeks and onions

Posted by Guy Barter on 01 Jul 2007 at 10:14 PM

The last of the weeds are finally pulled up. I can get back to planting and sowing. 

Most of my leeks were raised in cell-trays with three or four plants per tray.  Hybrid seed is expensive and I was not going to chance it in the soil, exposed to the weather.  The last of these, ‘Sultan' were set out this weekend in 10cm deep grooves it the soil.  These drills will be filled in as weeding and watering goes ahead, blanching the leeks.  Then as winter approaches the leeks will be earthed to give long blanched stems.  The leeks will grow in clusters. 

 However, late leeks for March and April are the open pollinated cultivar ‘Toledo'.  This inexpensive seed was sown in a seed bed in an area I know to be free of onion white rot disease.   

I am unconvinced of the merit of dibbing-in leeks on my crumbly, dry sandy soil.  The holes fill in very easily, hindering the growth of the crop. I am even less convinced about facilitating planting by dramatically shortening roots and leaves.  This is surely wrong, as the plant needs the roots and leaves to grow.  No such barbarity is inflicted on my leeks.  They are carefully eased out to the seed bed with a trowel, separated, just enough soil removed so they can be handled and immediately firmly planted with a trowel in the usual way in a 10cm deep drill.  After watering in with dilute liquid fertiliser solution they are left to grow.  The drill will gradually get filled in as weeding and watering is done and again soil is eventually drawn up to blanch stems.  More hoeing is needed to draw the soil up compared to dibbing-in transplants, but the hoeing must be done anyway to control weeds and the leeks grow better when transplanted normally. 

Unfortunately it looks as if I will be grateful for more leeks as the onion downy mildew has infected my crops with a vengeance due to the very wet weather.  I have seen this disease fizzle out if really dry weather occurs, but the forecast is unsettled and crop failure is a distinct possibility.  Farmers have access to powerful systemic fungicides, but to avoid resistance problems several fungicides have to be used in rotation. It would be impractical and very costly for gardeners to be provided with and use a range of fungicides, so we just have to hope plant breeders find a way to incorporate a durable resistance in their breeding programmes. 

‘Golden Bear', which purports to tolerate the disease, seems as badly affected as all the other onion cultivars. Curiously, most of the salad onions seem to be holding up well.  These, being thickly sown, often succumb first. 

Several rows of maturing herbs and salads grown near the leeks won't be resown with French beans as planned.  Instead two extra rows of leeks will be planted as soon as the other crops are gathered. 

Savoy cabbages suffered serious mealy cabbage aphid damage and the growing point has aborted in many cases leading to ‘blind' plants with enormous leaves but nothing that can be relied on to produce a decent cabbage head.  Any plant without a convincing bud at its apex has been replaced from the reserve stock of plants. 

One of the packets of climbing French beans sown last month have failed with just 5 plants from 50 seeds sown.  The ones from the other packet are racing ahead and have reached the top of their canes.  More seed, from a new packet, was sown in the gaps. 

A late runner bean sowing has been made.  They usually crop extremely well in autumn when the night are cool and dewy. 

Tomatoes are growing fast and need tying to their stakes every week.  The sudden warming of the weather has benefited them.  My pepper crop is kept warm in a tunnel of fleece.  This was removed for weeding, watering and feeding.  The first fruits have set so ratatouille is not far away now. 

There is a big plantation of that rampant weed, comfrey on my plot and I have cut it for the second time for the compost pit.  There is a lot of folklore about comfrey and some people swear by comfrey liquor, a particularly unpleasant and ineffective fertiliser.  I am unconvinced, but it does make good compost and I like to grow it for the bees which love its flowers. 

The summer brassica crops are heading now.  Not many are grown, six to eight plants of each but they make a useful early crop before the later summer veg arrive.  Once tomatoes, peppers, French and runner beans and courgettes are available, a break is taken from brassicas until the autumn.  Pointed cabbages, ideal for stir fries, are hearting up and the whole plant is pulled up to harvest these, with the unwanted portion going straight into the compost pits.   As these were ‘intercrops' grown between Brussels sprout plants their removal will be gratefully received by the sprouts that were getting a bit hemmed in.  The turnips and kohl rabi have already gone, the central head of calabrese has been cut, and once the side-shoots are done they will go too. 

My ‘impulse buy' of ‘Nautilus' cauliflowers from Wisley plant centre has headed very well.  I only bought six plants as they tend to head simultaneously.  In fact one plant produced a miserable curd the size of my thumb early on, but recently I have had a satisfactory cauliflower a week, with two more to go. 

Clubroot disease of the cabbage crops appears to be held in check, despite the very wet soil, by the heavy use of lime practised this year.  Clubroot thrives when the soil is wet and my allotment is heavily infested with spores in the soil. I have had some complete clubroot disasters on this part of my plot in the past.  However, the lack of disease so far has emboldened me to consider planting out some more winter cabbages and spring broccoli and cauliflowers to replace the failing onions if necessary.


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