Root crops, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other crops have all been gathered and stored a frost free shed. Yields have been truly excellent – a wet summer is a very good summer for sandland gardeners in dry southern districts. However, lack of warmth has meant that the storage potential of some of the pumpkin and squash crop is not very good as they have just not fully ripened, but as I only need one a month until March I have plenty.
In mild southern districts there is no need to lift and store beetroot, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swedes and all are now covered with a double layer of fleece or black plastic over cardboard for extra insulation. Roots are good; especially celeriac, parsnips, and swedes which relish wet cool weather. Unfortunately I was late making a carrot fly proof enclosure and the crop spent rather too long under fleece. The high humidity encouraged sclerotinia and other fungal foliar disease damaging foliage and limiting root size. I have already bought timber to make an enclosure for next year, although it has to be said that the fleece covering has proved very much more effective that the usual 60cm tall barrier – my plans are running to a 70cm high enclosure roofed with fleece…
The early crop for next year, ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’ are already sown beneath fleece (with slug protection) for a May/June crop, and enough seed remains for a February sowing for June pulling, followed by ‘Nelson’ for summer cropping.
For autumn and winter crops I was a little disappointed with ‘Campestra’ carrots, an open-pollinated berlicum type, but the long thin sweet imperator ‘Columbia’ did very well and I will try these again. The ‘Chantanay’ carrots, free with one of Her Loveliness’s mail-order garment catalogues, were pleasing so I will go for a named cultivar in 2009. Interestingly another freebie packet, the long ‘New Red Intermediate’, sown in June as I mislaid the packet, performed very well. I am not usually very keen on these non-commercial cultivars but I do like very large carrots for winter, so perhaps these are worth persisting with. In the meantime the catalogues will be scrutinised for better winter carrots.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ is usually agreed to be the best parsnip available but, inexplicably, has never done really well for me on my light ground, although it does well in the Wisley trials with similar soil. A cultivar new to me, ‘White King’ from was also sown this year and has done very well, but I am still unsure that it is better than ‘Arrow’. The open-seeded cultivar ‘Arrow’ is consistently good on sand, but poor on clay. I have saved my own ‘Arrow’ seed so that should do for 2009. The seed heads are in a bag in the shed drying and waiting to be threshed. Next I shall select five top quality roots from this year’s crop to allow to seed for 2010. These roots are planted in the wild area of my back garden as, in flower, they are rather attractive in an unruly way and support an amazing number of insects.
Broad beans were sown rather late in mid-November – I like a November sowing but people who sowed in October have large seedlings already while mine are only now emerging and being decimated by mousey marauders (who are in for a nasty surprise). A long cold spell now could cause me trouble, but a cold spell in February might damage others earlier more forward crops.
Hardy round-seeded peas on the other hand are doing well. Or at least the mange-tout ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ is. The round-seeded shelling pea ‘Douce Provence’ seems to be substandard with a poor emergence and may have to be resown in February. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ is standard commercial cultivar and high quality seed is widely available, but ‘Douce Provence’ is only grown by amateurs and there is not the same motivation to provide the best quality seed.
A modest crop of over-wintered onion sets have been planted and are growing well through white fronted opaque polythene. Shallots and garlic have been planted through black polythene. I have decided that I very much like shallots and more bulbs are on order.
The first digging of the winter has been done on ill-drained areas throwing the soil into ridges to aid drainage, expose clods to frost and facilitate early planting next year. These wet areas have caused much trouble in recent springs, not drying out until early summer and then setting hard.
Almost all other uncropped ground is covered, either with black plastic to kill the autumn flush of weeds or with cover crops of mustard or Italian ryegrass to suppress weeds and scavenge nutrients. All will be rotovated in February.