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As the days grow longer the cold grows stronger

Posted by Guy Barter on 20 Feb 2008 at 07:09 PM

As the days grow longer the cold grows stronger as we allotment growers say and so it has been recently with vicious frosts overnight that make the broad bean and onion plants look a little sick.  However they soon bounce back as the sun comes up.

To help them along nitrogen-rich compound fertiliser (15:15:15 - remember that the formulae in Britain, but not most other countries, apply to elemental nitrogen, but to oxygen compounds of phosphorus and potassium and oxygen has no nutrient value so the useful content is really something like 15:6:12) was applied at 70g every square metre to the onions to suppress flowering and 30g to the beans to pick up growth until the soil is warm enough for them to make their own nitrogen.

I have a fair stock of fertiliser, but with fertiliser prices soaring due to the cost of oil and demand for fertilisers propelled upwards by the booming cereals market I have bought enough for the next twelve months on my first visit of the year to the allotment trading hut.

As well as getting in stocks of fertiliser I have replenished my cane stocks - I intend to grow plenty of climbing beans this year.

And all my seeds have now arrived.  While recovering from an ill-advised oyster breakfast on Saturday I diverted myself from turbulence below by sorting out my burgeoning seed box arranging packets in order of sowing date with dividers for each month.  As ever I have tried to get as many of the new introductions as feasible - I feel I owe it the RHS members to find out about these, or so I rationalise my mania.

The first batch are in my sowing-box, with labels, several pencils, a spare knife, trowel, scissors to open packets and onion hoe, so that I can swing into action as soon as conditions permit.

Another major task has also been accomplished.  Our elderly estate car, essential to move the rotovator and other bulky equipment and supplies, has passed its MOT with only a minor cash transfusion.

To save rotovator fuel some undug land was been tilled by non-inversion methods.  Here a long-handled fork is inserted every 30cm and levered backwards to remove compaction and leave a rough surface that will dry out quickly and allow rain to soak in.  Once it is dry enough the three prong cultivator and wooden rake will break it down to a tilth for sowing.  Weeds were removed along with crop debris in late autumn and any survivors spot treated with glyphosate-based weedkiller so burial or removal of weeds is not necessary.

At this time of year an allotment holder's thoughts turn to his vegetable store.  Here the potatoes are perfectly free of blight despite last year's epidemic of foliage blight.  Prompt removal of diseased foliage and careful lifting seems to have done the trick.  Baked ‘Ambo' spuds are the current favourite; the tubers are whoppers and have a dry, tasty texture and flavour that goes well with winter casseroles rich in leeks and root vegetables and with the very sweet late cabbages.  Other crops in store include storing cabbages, both white and red, and grey/blue squashes.

These supplement the last few root vegetables and the much more abundant leeks - in fact the leeks are a truly bumper crop due to the excellent (for a vegetable grower) wet summer. Leek and (bought) aubergine filling, with lots of ginger, and baked potatoes with some yoghurt on top, is the current favourite supper dish.

On the allotment clearance project, the bramble thicket is now a mere remnant and the disgraceful pile of old metal, rotten plastic and broken glass unearthed from the vegetation has been transferred, involving co-operative effort by allotment holders, to a skip, kindly provided by the council, for removal.  A few careful fires to get rid of the cut down thicket and it will be ready to mark out and let to some intrepid gardeners.

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