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Covering up

Posted by Guy Barter on 03 Sep 2008 at 07:31 AM

No point in sowing or planting new veg crops now of course so it is time to sow cover crops. Sandy soil should never be left uncovered if at all possible.  Cover crops will suppress weeds, scavenge nutrients left over from the manures and fertilisers used this year and protect the soil from battering under winter rain.

My favourite cover crop is Italian ryegrass – a vigorous annual forage grass that, in these mild southern districts, will grow all winter.  I also have some caliente mustard and finally some T&M mixed green manures.  Naturally these are pest free and even pigeons turn up their noses at these crops. The mustard is first as its larger seeds grow quickly smothering weeds that are still germinating in warm moist soil.

As the spuds come out the ground is raked level, seed broadcast, raked in and the ground trodden very firm.  Last year, as is usual in this district, the soil was too dry and dusty for good results but this year the moist ground is in perfect condition.  Recent last minute sowing of pak choi, turnips and salads germinated in two days, so the cover crops should be up very fast.

Second-early potatoes have matured.  I mostly grow these rather than maincrops because, here, in a dry year potatoes just run out of water and die in late summer and second earlies at least fulfil their yield potential by then.  I am trying out some new second-earlies this year.  ‘Vivaldi’ behaved like a first early and had a high early yield of smooth, white creamy tubes, but it won’t replace my favourite earlies, ‘Accent’ and ‘Lady Christl’. The first batch of Cosmos, a typical Dutch supermarket white cultivar ideal for pre-packing, and for my purposes drought resistant, tolerant of diseases and pests, very high yielding and good quality, was lifted and stored.  Next out was ‘Bonnie’, a potato new to me, white with pink eyes, that yielded less than Cosmos but had a high proportion of big round ‘bakers’.   Baked potatoes, with baked apples, are an autumn favourite of mine.  Of the continental cultivars tried last year, only ‘Red Laure’ impressed me enough to repeat and it has grown much better this year in the absence of blight.

The next batch of spuds have already died back and are ready for lifting and in fact the early maincrop ‘Ambo’ and ‘Robinta’ are maturing fast.  The late ‘Cara’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ are still going strong.  This greatly eases the blight spraying chore with what may well be the last spray given to all but the very latest spuds.

Tomatoes will still need regular blight protection but they are grown in a compact batch next to the shed, in which I keep a mini-sprayer permanently charged with fungicide with which to mist the plants very carefully whenever the weather is wet and warm.  At last the outdoor beefsteaks ‘Ferline’ are ripening meaning that I can now gather all the ingredients for ratatouille.

This summer I have done little cooking as such but feasted on whatever choice morsels of meat or fish that can be quickly and lightly cooked were on offer (or more usually approaching the end of their shelf-life) in the local supermarket and heaps of briskly steamed or boiled veg and plenty of salads.  This happy situation will soon end as autumn begins so I am trying to make the most of summer produce while I can.


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