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Dry, wet, dry, wet

Posted by Guy Barter on 26 May 2009 at 12:51 PM

The spring has been very kind so far. Two weeks ago we had a useful bit of rain that helped wash the newly planted Brussels sprouts plants into the ground.  Before that we had some dry weather that provided an opportunity to wipe out weeds and sow more seeds.  When the rains came, the seeds, especially peas and beans, burst through the soil.

Last week it was warm and dry again, (just right for Chelsea Flower Show) and ideal for another go at the weeds with hoe and gloved hand.  More seeds were sown and the squashes, peppers, pumpkins and tomatoes were set out.  Now the rains have returned to wash them in too and ease the emergence of the seeds.

Just in time too, as the first sowings of broad beans are now in full flower and broad beans need moist soil to set a crop.  In fact to be sure they have enough moisture the rain has been supplemented with heavy watering.  Watering mature crops should be all or nothing – anything less is a waste of time and water.  As usual the broad beans were infested with blackfly which had to be eliminated with an insecticide applied at dusk to limit the risk to the numerous bumblebees working the crop.

On checking the weed situation in the April-sown carrots by lifting their fleece covering, I was surprised to see they had greying stressed leaves indicating insufficient water.  Carrots are not a crop that needs much watering but somehow, perhaps due to heavy-handed weeding and thinning or because they are growing on a raised bed (a recipe for drought on sandy soil) they were severely stressed.  The March-sown carrots alongside were fine, suggesting that their longer roots were accessing moisture.  A thorough soak was applied to all carrots and the rains will have washed it in further.  The ground should be fertile enough as it was very heavily manured last year. The temptation to pep the carrots up with some nitrogen fertiliser was resisted as lush tops can lead to disease, especially sclerotinia that caused heavy losses last year.

Other hungry crops such as spring onions, leeks in their seedbed, newly planted brassicas and beetroot were top-dressed with dried chicken manure pellets and these will now be washed in and start their worthy work.

The potatoes were earthed up after the last rain so that moist soil was scooped into the ridge. As growmore had been spread beforehand the soil in the ridge is deeply fertile.  No fertiliser was applied to the early spuds as they will soon be lifted. Another ridging was given just before last night’s rain so rather dry soil was scooped up.  Again fertiliser, chicken manure pellets this time, were incorporated into the ridge.  This building up the ridge to cover the swelling tubers so they don’t get spoilt by sunlight and blight later in the summer is hard work but does destroy great numbers of weeds.  Once the crop canopy closes over the rows, as it will within the week, the weeds will be suppressed for several months.

With wet, warm nights the risk of blight begins and the next task to the apply Dithane to the potatoes aiming to protect the lower leaves and stems before the crop canopy meets in the rows.

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