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Trouble in the bean patch

Posted by Guy Barter on 19 May 2008 at 07:49 AM

I had a weekend away last week, and before I went everything was watered, fed, hoed, netted, earthed up, planted or sown as required and left to get on with it while I enjoyed the amazing summery weather on the Isle of Wight.  Well, I cannot go any further away at this time of year – too busy.

On returning, I found a forest of brassica transplants ready to go out, but the ground unfit to receive them.  As the brassica patch is already bearing the 'intercrop' of salads these had to be tidied up with weeds removed and the plants thinned.  Then the brassica rows were drawn out as 25cm wide flat bottomed drills, between the intercrop rows, with a mattock and the soil made intensely alkaline with a stiff dressing of garden lime and calcium cyanamide (Perlka) to deter clubroot disease.  Because alkaline soil locks up boron, extra was applied by dissolving household borax in hot water (it won’t dissolve in cold water), and watering it onto the drills.  The chemicals were them cultivated into the soil at the base of the drill.  Perlka is a bit fierce on the roots so it will be left for a few days (it should be left at least 10 days but time presses) before planting out.  All this should have been done weeks ago but the soil has been too wet to traverse.  Birds have already been tearing into the lettuces and deer could polish off the beetroot in a night.  Obviously it would be folly to put out the precious brassica transplants undefended. Although we have spent the winter mending the perimeter fences the deer could outflank us along the railway whenever they wish.  The netting stockpile was therefore brought out and erected over the cabbage patch.

The potatoes had shot ahead too and a further earthing-up was given – because it was needed by the earlies, and to kill weeds between the maincrop rows although they had not really grown enough to really need it.  Cold nights this week caused anxiety – it is highly unusual to get frost after mid-May in this district, but a late May frost in 2005 did great damage to the spuds from which they never really recovered.  However, so far, cloudy nights have allowed me to sleep soundly. 

The carrots are up and fairly weed-free.  Even the Chantenay carrots from free seed provided by one of Her Loveliness’s shopping catalogues have grown, and I have had to eat my scoffing words.  I will leave them for another week before thinning and weeding them.

Unfortunately the last sowing of peas and beans has been disappointing.  Sometimes to ensure continuity of supply you have to sow even though the soil is not in best condition.  The broad beans were sown into a fluffy seedbed, but because of the wetness of the soil it was not heavily consolidated.  When the weather turned dry the beans did not absorb enough moisture and many failed to germinate.  The seed bed has been watered and I will ‘sprout’ some seeds and plant the sprouted seeds in the gaps.  Surplus beans will fill in the gaps in the peas.  Here the peas did not have the correct balance of air and moisture and a third of the seeds have not emerged, and on investigation appear to have rotted.  I know the seed is sound because subsequent sowings with the same seed have germinated very well. It may seem odd mixing peas and beans, but it is only in recent centuries that gardeners have become tidy-minded and mixed crops were once common.  With a third of the yield potential lost the next sowing of peas was brought forward by a week.

Dwarf French beans sown, as a small scale test of soil conditions,  two weeks ago are growing well and the rest of the first sowing was made.  The bean seed fly is rife in this district and loves sandy soils.  It does not actually go for beans but devours any tasty organic matter including newly germinating seeds.  I am going to find out if my recent heavy manuring decoys the pests away from my beans or attracts all the flies in the vicinity to feast on my crop.  To even things up a bit the beans have been covered in fleece - I just hope that a brood of flies is not living on the manure under the fleece ready to move on to the beans.



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