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Easter weekend in the allotments

Posted by Guy Barter on 03 Apr 2010 at 09:37 AM

 

Easter weekend in the allotments


After wet, cold rain the soil is still very sticky and hard to work. Seeds already sown are only just emerging and many, parsnips for example, are still lingering just below soil level. Good growing weather has yet to arrive. However by mid-April conditions generally improve markedly.



  • With better weather likely soon it is time to get potatoes in the ground. There is no big mystery to this – spuds are just placed in fertile soil with about 7-10cm of soil over the tuber (7cm over little seed tubers, more over whoppers).

 

 My method is to use a heavy hoe to draw out a deep (15cm) groove, officially called a drill, in the soil, add general fertiliser to the bottom of the drill, mix it into the soil with a three prong cultivator and plant the tubers in the base of the drill.  The idea is that the drill will get filled in and a ridge formed as the plants grow and are hoed to kill weeds but the tubers will remain in deeper damp soil - in this district there can be very little summer rain and although a watering can be given just before the foliage closes over the rows the potatoes must essentially grow on what is in the soil.  Gardeners in wetter districts can plant 'on the flat' or even in ridges.

The amount of fertiliser might surprise some gardeners – I use the YARA potato fertiliser calculator (http://www.fertiliser-recommendations.co.uk/yara_potatoes.asp), taking account of the very heavy winter addition of composted horse manure (5kg per square metre), set to medium-nitrogen preceding crops and ignore the potassium and phosphorus parts. I reckon that if I add general fertiliser (contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, sometimes called NPK, in a balanced ratio) to meet the nitrogen requirements the other nutrients will look after themselves. The calculator suggests that 16g of nitrogen are needed each square metre. As chicken manure pellets contain about 4-5% nitrogen it looks like 3-400g of fertiliser will be needed for each square metre. About 100g per metre run of row is applied at planting and the remainder in two lots when the earth is drawn around the growing stems (earthing -up) in May/June. This heavy feeding will result in lush foliage in June/July when the soil is still moist, the days long and sun high in the sky. This will cause numerous tubers to set and quickly swell leading to plenty of big 'bakers' and an early harvest so the tubers will be safe in store before blight and slugs do their evil deeds. The spuds will take a couple of weeks to come up by which time night frosts will be rare, although we have experienced wipe-outs from early May frosts, so watchfulness is required.

 

The potatoes have been kept in the light in shallow trays to sprout (chit) these sprouts are rather short as Her Loveliness has set her face against seed tubers in the warmth of the house and they have had to sprout in the chilly garage. This does not matter; most are longer than 10mm and some are 25mm, so the benefits of sprouting (chitting) have been largely realised; early tuber formation, early maturity and a high early yield before slugs and blight can harm the crop. Less than 10mm does not much matter, and longer than 25mm is not a problem although great care is needed to avoid breaking off the sprouts. And of course it is quite possible to plant unchitted seed tubers. Space tubers about 20-30cm apart – bigger tubers further apart, smaller ones closer and you can cut tubers into pieces, each with an eye or growing point if you have been sold large seed tubers. Plant in rows 70cm apart or for earlies, 60cm.


  • Although the soil is too sticky to sow, other planting is also going ahead with heat-treated onion sets ( these cultivars or varieties, are vulnerable to chilling which can initiate flowering, 'bolting', and are planted later than other sets). Also red onions are vulnerable to bolting so these are being planted now. Sets are just pushed into the soil so only the tip shows. Cover with fleece if birds start tugging them out. In weedy gardens plant through black landscape fabric – onions cannot compete with weeds and weeding can be onerous.


  • Asparagus crowns (little plants that are mostly roots) are planted now – mine were raised from seed in 9cm pots last year but some are still available from retail outlets. I take out the usual 15cm groove, mix in 100g of general fertiliser per metre run of groove along the base of the groove, and plant the crowns only just below the soil. The vigorous and repeated hoeing they will inevitably need will cover them more deeply later.


  • So far it seems that only one batch of seed, Carrot 'Nairobi',  has failed – as soon as the soil dries up more batches will be sown. However plenty of other carrots have emerged to secure early supplies.


  • Of the other seeds and seedlings only peas under fleece have made sufficient growth for it to be time for a follow-on crop so there is succession of supplies with no gluts or shortages.  Research suggests that this should be done when the preceding crop reaches 5cm high. Second-early 'Jaguar' has been sown. Unsurprisingly for a fertile, well-manured plot the YARA pea and bean fertiliser calculator shows no fertiliser is required for peas and beans. Sadly, there is no calculator for other vegetables.


  • Mistake of the month so far is forgetting to apply slug controls to seedbeds. Often mature crops shrug off slug damage but seedlings and newly planted transplants can be killed outright. Slugs have munched off numerous lettuce seedlings. Other lettuce seedlings have been moved with the trowel to 'gap-up' (fill in gaps) the ragged rows. Ferric phosphate based slug pellets have been applied exactly as specified by the manufacturers. My policy is to use these low toxicity pellets and trust that, as is usually the case, that there will be no need to resort to the highly potent, but environmentally less benign metaldehyde pellets: http://www.getpelletwise.co.uk/


  • Mistake of last month has just come to light – yet again I have absent-mindedly rotovated my horseradish patch. Knowing my propensity for this, a reserve patch had been established in the back garden, but it is annoying.



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