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What to do on the allotment this weekend (if I were not at Cardiff Flower Show)

Posted by Guy Barter on 16 Apr 2010 at 12:34 PM

Dry winds and sunny weather have brought soil moisture levels very low and the ground is in very good condition for hoeing, planting and sowing.


• Although crops grow slowly with the prevailing cold nights ( there was stinger overnight in Cardiff this week) weeds race ahead and ground awaiting sowing and planting is hoed over, covered in black plastic or sprayed off with glyphosate based weedkiller.


• Fleece is gardener’s secret weapon when the usual sunny dry windy spring days and cold nights delay crops.  The fleece catches a little warmth, more importantly protects seedlings from winds and raises the night time temperature a few degrees.  Cloches would be better but are too expensive to leave on allotments and apt to be blown away in gusty conditions.


• Over-wintered peas look better than the over-wintered beans at the moment – a most unusual situation.  To bring the spring sown beans on to fill in any shortfall, half have been covered with fleece which should advance cropping by a week or two.


• The parsnips and early carrots are now up with very few misses and can be carefully hoed.  The second sowing of carrots has gone in and with luck will emerge in late April, when the late carrots for use next winter will be sown.  The fleece covering the early carrots and parsnips has been replaced with insect proof mesh and shifted to the early potatoes now poking through.


• Many gardeners here in Cardiff report that their soil is still too wet and cold to sow.  Fortunately there is still time ot sow parsnips, although ideally they should be sown in April and plenty of time to sow carrots.  They crop well even from June sowings.


• The early spuds were covered with clear polythene stretched over the shallow trenches in the base of which potatoes were planted so they have been growing in a kind of primitive greenhouse.   Frost is not much checked by clear plastic the potatoes are now protected by a sandwich of fleece under clear polythene.  As soon as I dare, probably in two weeks the clear plastic will be removed and the fleece will remain until June.


• Potatoes must absolutely never have their tops damaged by frost.  I have read and always thought that they would recover from frost, until mine were badly frosted three years ago.  The subsequent yield was pitiful.  Therefore I glance quickly and often from soil to sky to weather web page, ready to rush allotmentwards to cover any emerging shoots with a little soil as soon as frost threatens.   However the really serious danger will come in early May when the plants will be too big to cover with soil and frosted foliage will cause maximum damage.  Protection by covering with old curtains, fleece or newspaper is the only remedy. 


• For this reason I am not too worried that a third of the potato area still supports some broccoli, heading and sprouting, and planting will be delayed for a week or two until the these crops are cleared.  These late planted tubers should be at little danger. In the meantime the seed tubers are gently chitting (growing little shoots) in the garage so they will still be in a good position to grow away rapidly and crop early.


• The same goes for the soft fruit that is now coming into full flower, but leaves are now expanding and these shield the buds from the spring radiant frost, where the warmth is radiated out into space.


• The transplants have finally started growing well in the propagating area.  Better, I think, to have slow but sturdy growth in coldframes, or even under fleece in the garden than weak spindly growth on windowsills or even warm greenhouses.


• Peat-free media can be trickier to handle than peat-based.  One tray of calabrese looked very weak as though their roots were being poisoned by excess nutrients.  I watered them thoroughly to flush away any soluble material and then watered with Miracle-Gro to apply a measured safe amount of fertiliser, which seems to have done the trick.


Finally, anyone coming to Cardiff Flower Show can find the advice team in Floral Marquee 2.  To provide local knowledge we have got support from Ivor Mace, a gardener famed for his exhibition vegetables both in Wales and nationally.  We look forward to seeing you.



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