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Spud Grubber's Blog

Guy Barter

  • Date Joined: 15 Jan 2007

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Things are beginning to slip

Posted by Guy Barter on 03 Apr 2008 at 10:22 PM

Things are beginning to slip.  With rain every weekend I am not keeping up with the planting schedule.

On Saturday morning the weather was spring-like and I planted out my stock of bought-in lettuces and cabbages under a fleece tent with slug pellet protection (iron phosphate low toxicity ones naturally). Slugs are at plague levels

The last of the celeriac was cleared away and some non-inversion tillage was practised.  A sturdy steel handled fork was inserted and levered back to loosen the soil and then the plot was scratched up with a three prong cultivator, all without treading on the wet soil.  Without inversion few weed seeds will be brought to the surface. A complete absence of weeds, due to assiduous weeding in autumn and a thick cover of celeriac foliage, made this easy work.

My neighbour is one of those misguided people who make a bean trench (research shows no benefit) and because beans are very important to him his bean trench is very, very broad, long and deep.  It is also one-third full of water. After the rains the ditches are running and the water table is close to the surface.  Non-inversion tillage allows me to get some cultivating done without waiting for the soil to dry enough for the rotovator and saves petrol, while avoiding the slow work of proper digging.

I felt constrained to work on my allotment in the rain later in the day.  Having spent all winter spreading the outsize delivery of manure and clearing overgrown plots I have not spent enough time clearing up my allotment. In the rain I picked up, carried and put down all the things lying about looking untidy or just in the wrong place.  I don’t think I can be called a fastidious gardener but I don’t like squalor.

The Jerusalem artichokes were very much in wrong place on the second-best land so these were painstakingly removed and replanted in the worst soil on the plot.  They are so tough they will grow anywhere, especially if the ground has been recently manured.  My stock of spare plants for the back garden was also planted out in the poor soil – good treatment is wasted on ornamental plants.  They actually like hardship - compared to the lavish, unstinting care given to my veg.  All the best land is now ready for veg growing. We just cannot face another Jerusalem artichoke so what could not be palmed off on 'friends' was added to the bonfire.  Let that warn me about over-production.

There is a dire need for a bonfire but the kindling is just too wet. Those wizened Brussels sprout stems are just going to have to sit there a little longer.

By Sunday evening the soil had drained and parsnips were finally sown.  To catch up the seeds were mixed with a moist mix or vermiculite and multipurpose compost and kept in a warm place in a plastic bag.  As soon as the rootlets emerged the mix was sown, a teaspoons worth every 10cm in a drill or groove 20mm deep.   After a light covering of soil and a gentle firming with the back of the rake the whole lot were covered with fleece. This flying start should make up for some of the delay in sowing.

Intercrops between the eventual position of the Swedes and winter cabbages were also sown.  Beetroot 'Solo' and cos lettuces 'Pinares' and 'Little Gem' were sown.  
There is not a lot of produce left to eat now, leeks and purple sprouting mostly, and as soon as the soil dries a major clearance will get under way.


Digger said:

hello guy that is a very good method of germinating the parsnips, i will definately give that method a try. I have had trouble germinating them before,but that method sounds good

on 03 Apr 2008 at 11:32 PM

Guy Barter said:

It is a funny thing; when I save my own parsnip seed they come up like mustard and cress, but bought seed is often unreliable.  This year I invested in professional quality seed direct from the breeder:


on 04 Apr 2008 at 08:18 AM

Phot's-Moll said:

Do you save seeds of other veg? I

t's something I'm keen to do. So far, I've had good results from fenugreek, basil and runner beans, (plus lots of flowers. Some seeds, such as 'baby leaf' salads, I use so much of, it would be well worth saving the seeds from. I think some things will, over time, adapt to local conditions?

on 05 Apr 2008 at 09:29 PM

Guy Barter said:

I don't save much seeds, partly because I have not time and partly because in my job I find it useful to grow many different cultivars, especially new ones, in order to best advise gardeners.

However, I do keep the family stock of purple-podded peas (pretty but taste of timber) going and also Brown Dutch haricot beans because you have to shell them anyway.

More and more people save their own seeds, mainly I think to have more control over where their food comes from - I appreciate the sentiment, but often they are paying the price in loss of yield.

Their is evidence that seeds do adapt to local environments - Thanet (E. Kent) cauliflower growers have their own seed programme for this specialised area of England.

on 06 Apr 2008 at 11:06 AM

Digger said:

Why do some seed companies "drop" certain cultivars,? Carrot new red intermediate has been really good on the show bench,but some of the bigger seed companies no longer supply it, as a rule i don't save seed, I was told that if we all kept seed over from our own harvest, eventually the cultivar will be corrupted?

on 06 Apr 2008 at 11:57 AM

Guy Barter said:

I reckon cultivars are dropped because:

  • It is good marketing practice to have a steady supply of new things to generate interest and there is a limit to catalogue sizes, although this might not apply as web seed sites develop.
  • Seed is no longer grown. It is very expensive to keep the parent lines of F1 hybrids going, so as soon as sales fall off the seed is deleted.
  • Cultivars get outclassed. If seed is not produced for commercial users there may be barriers such as Plant Breeders Rights to prevent general seed merchants raising stocks.
  • Seed is unavailable - only a limited amount of seed is grown. The retailers of seeds don't grow their own seeds but buy it from wholesalers who commission growers in countries with a suitable climate and cheap labour such as India and Kenya. If the supply breaks down due to poor crops or other buyers making a better offer it cannot be soild and another cultivar may have to be substituted.
There is no reason why a skilled grower cannot select the best plants, say carrots, grow these for seed taking due precautions against cross-pollination and then gather the seeds. It is a lot of faff but five plants would give most people enough seed for years. Just store it in sachets in your deep-freeze when it should remain viable for a very long time. Bring out a sachet or two per year. In time your individual choice of parents might result in a slightly different carrot so that you could call it 'New Red Intermediate - Digger's Selected' if you like although you could not sell it unless you can get it onto the Recommended List.

Guy Barter

on 07 Apr 2008 at 11:01 AM

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on 18 Apr 2008 at 03:51 PM