Will I have to water, won’t I have to water? Rain so far has usefully wetted the ground, but more is forecast and with luck it will top up the soil at just the right moment as seeds are emerging, lettuces hearting up, spuds initiating their tubers and peas and beans are in full flower. Enough rain now could lead to bumper crops without me having to lay hands on watering can.
Rain also leads to disease. Potato blight was rampant last year and the strain that predominates here in the south-east, officially called “blue-13 A2 blight”, is worryingly more dangerous than previous types, infecting more quickly, producing more spores and has adapted to overcome resistance genes and most fungicides. To be on the safe side Dithane (mancozeb) was applied to the potatoes to protect the stems that will soon be inaccessible beneath the foliage canopy. Dithane (and copper fungicide) kills blight in a number of ways and blight has been unable to overcome it despite decades of use.
Unfortunately there is nothing allowed for gardeners to protect their onions from downy mildew. Downy mildew, like blight, needs warm most conditions and has become very widespread, so that many allotment holders have given up on onions. Wet warm weather is forecast for this week and therefore high alert for any sign of infection so that infected leaves can be immediately cut out. Unfortunately on an allotment site there are so many onions, that disease pressure can be very high.
Conditions under fleece are ideal for blight so the fleece used to protect earlies from frost has been removed and laid aside ready to go over the crops of peppers and chillis. One of our Wisley volunteers put me onto a nursery only a short distance from home, which amazingly had escaped my notice, and I called round and bought a couple of trays of plants. The owner plaintively told me that his aubergines and peppers cost a fortune to grow and I am not surprised as they are superb strong plants in 10cm pots. Even at £1-40 each I could not have grown plants of that quality at that price in my greenhouse. It is worth paying for good plants of slow-growing aubergines and peppers to get a head start for their very short growing season.
Other crops are easier to raise at home. Sweet corn plants sown indoors in late April in module trays now 10cm tall, were set out to join the ones sown direct in the ground in blocks of 16 plants in early May that are now 5cm tall. Then for the third crop another black was sown. Space was then marked out and set aside for the next and last sowing around June 10. This warm, dry district is ideal for sweetcorn and four sowings in succession should provide weeks of sweetcorn for my late summer barbecues. Strictly several cultivars of varying speeds of maturity should be sown, but the cost and complexity are too much, so I just use ‘Swift’, a very sweet but very tender cultivar that has done very well for me in recent years.
Dwarf French beans are also very well suited to my garden and a double row of plants raised in module trays was set out to precede the crop sown direct in the ground that is just emerging now. As the direct sown ones stand a very good chance of catching up the transplants the transplants have been ‘fleeced’ to boost their growth and the new emerged ones left uncovered to slow them down. Plants sown direct in the ground usually do better than transplants, but of course are at greater risk from weather, pests and diseases.
Mange-tout peas and salads are beginning to come in now, with broad beans, baby carrots and early potatoes not far behind. I have had enough rhubarb for this year, and am gazing with anticipation at the heavy crops of gooseberries and strawberries that are swelling beneath their nets; any day now.