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Last plantings

Posted by Guy Barter on 17 Jun 2008 at 06:24 PM

Planting-out is nearly done with celery, celeriac and tomatoes going out last night.  This followed planting of summer and early autumn cabbages, cauliflowers and calabrese as an intercrop in between where the winter cabbages, sprouting broccoli and kales will be planted at the end of the month. The cool, moist weather is helping plants get going.

True, leeks and some cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli remain, but these are easy to plant in comparison. 

Sowing too is tailing off, with the fortnightly salad sowings down to 1.5m rows as salads don’t compete well in late summer with the fruit and Mediterranean type vegetables I expect at that time – aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers tomatoes and sweet corn.

The last sowing of sweet corn was made last week to join the three preceding sowings.  Despite my best efforts to get a succession of crops the April transplanted crop is being over-taken by the early May sowing – plants seeded directly do much better than transplanted ones. 

Sweet corn grows slowly at first so there is time to slip in an intercrop between the rows of corn, sowing small salads such as rocket and radish sown direct and planting plug plants of lettuce set between the corn in the same pattern as dots on the five side of dice.

I much prefer sowing to planting, but planting does give you time to knock out the first flush of weeds which is very important on light soils which seems to favour annual weeds.

Peas especially have accumulated a heavy burden of weeds.  Thin emergence of some crops had reduced the shading effect of the crop allowing weeds to thrive.  After careful hand weeding the peas were given netting supports and the broad beans were staked.  The uneven emergence of the broad bean crop had also left gaps in which weeds thrived so yet more hand weeding was needed.  However the last sowing of peas and the first sowing of French beans were ready for hoeing and are good thick crops that will soon compete well with the weeds. The overwintered peas are cleared away and the October sown beans are nearly finished.  Clearing legumes frees up nets that are much needed to cover other crops.

Plagues of pigeons scoff any green stuff that they can reach and deer have stripped any uncovered French beans.  And now rabbits have been reported on the allotment site.  Fortunately rabbits are fairly easy to trap.  Deer and pigeons have to be kept out by netting.  Netting is running short as soft fruit ripens and the plot is covered by vulnerable crops.

At least potatoes are resistant to vermin.  Earlies are cropping well now.  It is always difficult to know when to start lifting early spuds.  If you lift too early you need to dig several plants for a meal, if too late you have big tubers that are past their peak.  As rule-of-thumb lifting when the plants are in flower is about right and a double check is that the tubers are approximately hen’s egg size.   Last week three plants made one  light meal, this week six plants have been sufficient for several rather greedy meals, and next week four plants will be sufficient and by the end of the month two plants.

Beneath the potatoes the soil is getting dry.  Another rule-of-thumb is that if you can feel moisture there is still something there for the plants (clay soils can feel moist but the water is unavailable to the plant by the way).  Well, the soil feels slightly moist but will be bone dry within a week or two, so, as usual, it is likely that by July heavy and repeated watering will be needed.  We get annoying letters from concerned bodies exhorting allotment holders not to water.  Unfortunately the crops on the sandy soils prevalent in this dry district depend on summer rainfall for success and if this does not fall in sufficient quantities, reduced yields, quality and even failure are likely unless watering is given.  Therefore we have to water in summer. Perhaps we can get the council to drill a borehole to save mains water.  In the meantime, when you have to lug all water in watering cans you make very sure that every splash counts and goes exactly where it is needed.

It is difficult to water an allotment thoroughly with just watering cans, so in all but very wet years such 2007, yields of late crops on our sandy land will be about 60 percent of what might be expected on more moisture retentive soils.  Therefore to avoid excess damage watering must start now as if the soil dries it will be impossible to wet it again before severe damage occurs.

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