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Hard work officially over for 2007

Posted by Guy Barter on 06 Aug 2007 at 06:43 PM

That's it; the hard work is officially over for 2007.   

All significant areas of spare space has been planted up or sown.  This weekend French beans, courgettes and cucumbers were planted out and last minute salads including a little corn salad for winter were sown. 

The corn salad, just 1.5m of row will be plenty, was sown next to the parsnips.  These were sown under fleece in early spring with some early carrots alongside.  The carrots have long since finished and the corn salad has been sown in their place.  Being next to the parsnips it will be handy for the winter and not get in the way of winter tillage. 

More spent crops were pulled and the ground replanted or resown; broad beans and the second-from-last pea sowing were forked onto the compost pits after stripping off the last few pods and the elephant garlic was eased out of the ground.  The ground was hoed and raked to make ready for sowing and planting. 

Then with planting out of the way the hoe was brought into action.  Dry soil and a brisk hot breeze were ideal for killing weeds.  In most cases the Dutch hoe was propelled through the rows, but in some places the weeds had become rather large and here the invaluable, essential, if heavy Chillington hoe (http://www.chillington.co.uk/northafrica.html) , really a mattock, was brought into use.  The wind dried out the weeds in an hour or two and any heavy debris was raked up and consigned to the compost pits also. 

With such good conditions the whole plot was hoed.  However some notable weed infestations remain, lodged inside thick crops of pumpkins and haricot beans where it will be difficult to remove without seriously damaging the crop.  This will require painstaking work and will be done while harvesting.  In the meantime removing accessible bits with a sharp knife is the short-term remedy and with luck the crop will out compete what remains. 

As usual pests and diseases are causing extra work.  Squirrels have taken a shine to the courgettes.  They have long made growing strawberries and sweetcorn problematic, but have never attacked courgettes before.  Everything is harvested as soon as it can be used, to get them out of reach of the pests.  Mice are still nibbling broad beans and peas.  A young deer has browsed off climbing beans to about 1.2m.  I stick mainly to dwarf beans that can be netted.  Finally pigeons peck at young beetroot, chicory, endive and lettuce leaves so that nets and fleece have to be deployed, slowing up work considerably.  I would like to know what the foxes have been doing?  There are several who roam the allotments. 

Leek moth is being a nuisance.  This pest is spreading through southern England and is established in the allotment site. It builds up its strength in the foliage and then tunnels into the heart of the leek. Derris can be legally applied to control them.  Derris is, in my view, more an article of faith than a valid insecticide.  However, if you use four times as much as you would synthetic insecticides, four times as often and sometimes, in emergencies, both, good control can be achieved of caterpillar pests.  On a more positive note the netting to exclude birds also helps exclude butterflies from the cabbage family crops.  

I have made a note to buy a big roll of insect proof mesh for 2008 (http://www.wondermesh.co.uk/content/view/15/36/).  It is very expensive and yet another impediment to weeding but the ‘pest pressure' this year suggests that I cannot do without it. 

Wet weather has promoted sclerotinia fungus disease in the French beans.  There is nothing that can be done about this disease except try to remove and deeply bury infected material.  However, the Wisley plant disease experts are collecting samples for research so they at least are happy with my misfortune. Tomato ‘Ferline' notably tolerant of blight has stood up to local blight epidemics with the help of Dithane.  I was sufficiently heartened to invest some time and string in tying them in, cutting out infected parts and removing surplus shoots - if this dry weather persists my labour might not be in vain. 

The new clubroot resistant ‘Kilaxy' autumn cabbages (http://www.dobies.co.uk/pd_433447.htm) are star performers this year.  In fact I wonder if low-level, ‘sub-clinical' clubroot, previously kept down by fungicides applied to the transplants, is the reason that other brassicas are not growing as well as I would expect.  I was pleased to see that the breeders are offering clubroot resistant cauliflowers for next year (http://seeds.thompson-morgan.com/uk/en/product/34/1).  The lack of pesticide options now is encouraging breeders to develop resistant cultivars and I expect that in twenty years all veg will be resistant to most of the most severe problems.  However this might involve transgenic technology that some gardeners would be uneasy about. 

Children are often very destructive on our allotment site during school holidays but have been relatively absent this year.  Wet weather perhaps keeps them indoors, while the perimeter ditch has been cleaned up so that it is 2m deep.  However, the best reason is probably that with more plot holders there are fewer occasions when the plots are unattended and the new plot holders are much younger than the old guard.  Children seem to respond well and be more amenable to reason from younger adults, who it has to be said have a much better, less belligerent attitude, towards children than older plot holders.  I am surprised that plotholders have not realised that the pleasure in winding-up older people is always attractive to children - did they not enjoy irritating park keepers when were young.  Perhaps not. I don't think it is that the older more corpulent plot holders are less able to run after and catch malefactors.  

With the warm weather, crops have been ripening fast.  Cabbages, courgettes, French beans and runner, mange-tout peas and salads are plentiful after a week or two of dearth.  Cos lettuce ‘Chandor' has been especially productive with outstanding flavour.  The abundance of French beans has been put to good use in ‘Soupe de pistou' where 500g of beans, chopped into 25mm pieces,  are cooked in water with four diced potatoes and three chopped tomatoes.  When the spuds are cooked some broken spaghetti is added and when the whole lot is done a sauce of three cloves of garlic, a handful of basil and a grilled tomato all pulverised in the blender with some of the liquid from the soup is stirred in and the soup eaten with grated cheese sprinkled on top. Pure taste of late summer. 

I like French beans for my minestrone too. As this is a winter soup for me, I freeze a few kilos of beans for winter.  

However, the hard work being over, the beans are prepared for freezing, while sunning myself in the back garden and sipping a little chilled wine. 

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