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What to do on the allotment after frosts in May

Posted by Guy Barter on 14 May 2010 at 05:51 PM

Cold, dry springs are especially damaging for vegetable growers with seedbeds drying out faster than seeds can germinate and seedlings languishing unable to get their roots down to moisture.  A sure sign of adverse conditions is the remarkable freedom from weeds at the moment – when weeds fail to germinate and grow you know there is trouble.


Many people’s potatoes and tender crops such as courgettes have been cut back by very sharp night frosts this week.  Although the potatoes will mostly regrow yields will be lower and maturity delayed.


Although warmer weather is forecast minimal rain is expected in the South and sowing and planting will be more difficult as a consequence.


• Seedbeds have to be kept watered.  A gentle sprinkling is needed to keep the soil from getting packed and impossible for seedlings to force their way to the surface.  But is it slow work to get enough water into the soil by gentle sprinkling.


• The grooves or drills made in the soil to sow seeds ae filled with water several times before sowing seeds so that the seeds rest on damp soil and will, on germinating, root into moisture and need little watering.


• Brassica plants, especially the Brussels sprouts and storing cabbages, are now big enough to plant.  The trick here is to make a hole deep and wide enough to hold the plant and then fill this hole repeatedly until it is filled by soil washed in by the watering, after which the soil is firmed very hard around the plant – I use both fists.   This is called ‘puddling-in’ and is very effective at getting plants off to a good start.  The water used to puddle-in is half-strength liquid fertiliser.


• Newly planted brassicas are covered with fleece to get them off to a good start and exclude cabbage root fly that are on the wing now.


• Seed beds will need another water, but here fertiliser (growmore at 100g per square metre) recently spread along the rows (called top-dressing) will be sufficient to keep plants growing,


• Clear polythene is being stretched over soil destined to be sown shortly with sweet corn, French and runner beans and courgettes to warm the ground for speedy emergence.  Although farmer’s maize has come up and is growing well in the district, garden seeds of these tender plants are a little too delicate to risk in the soil just yet.


• Neither am I keen to set out courgettes, squash, pumpkins and tomatoes until the soil warms – let them grow in the back garden protected by frames and fleece and lavishly fed and watered.


• Potatoes are all fleeced and/or covered in soil in a largely successful endeavour to keep them frost-free.  They are making next to no growth.  Late sowing planting of some of the crop due to delayed clearance of winter crops has proved fortuitous with these late plantings yet to emerge and safe under the soil.


• Spent winter crops must all now go – the ast thing to do is set out the new brassicas with nearby old crops raddled with pests and diseases.


• The challenge now is to burn the old plants and their unwanted passengers without smoking out adjacent housing estates which can attract the fire brigade who with excessive zeal are reported to remove the allotment gate lock with a gas torch.




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