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Drought stricken allotment this weekend

Posted by Guy Barter on 09 Jul 2010 at 02:33 PM

When you work for the RHS, summers are a tad frantic.  I am finally getting back on top of the plot (in both senses) after Chelsea and subsequent flower shows.   However I should be able to snatch a few minutes this weekend for a holding action to get past Tatton and then hopefully normal service can be resumed.  The very dry weather has had a devastating effect on crops – watering cans only do so much on sandy soil, even though manuring has been done liberally.  In many cases a third of the yield potential of crops will be lost.


• Dry soil now drives allotment decisions – under the circumstances of such dry soil, it is clear that some crops scheduled for late summer are no longer viable or are only feasible at reduced levels.  There is a limit to how much watering can be done when using dip tanks.  Crops will be more widely spaced rather than leaving areas unsown or unplanted, and as always planting and sowing will be done in trenches to aid watering.


• Harvesting – early summer crops are still yielding very well on the remains of the winter’s moisture held in the soil; calabrese, broad beans and peas are the mainstay.  The first courgettes and French beans are maturing, and of course early potatoes, salads and baby beets and carrots are available.


• Soft fruit gathering is in full swing and will be followed by summer pruning of cane fruits and gooseberries.  Nets will be redeployed later to protect winter vegetable crops.


• Crops that have especially pleased so far are kohl rabi ‘Ballot’ which has been flavoursome and crisp – more has been sown in modules for the autumn.  Sugar snap pea ‘Quartz’ has excellent flavour and a heavy yield.  It is too late to sow more now, but enough of this pea seed remains to try over-wintering it.  It is round seeded and round seeded peas can be very hardy.


• Watering is of course key – it would take at least five inches of rain to replenish the soil now – this is highly unlikely to happen before December, so watering is required for best results as the soil gives up the last of the winter rain stored within the earth.  The soil is soaked every 10 days in July wetting just the soil at the base of the crops.  To aid this all crops are grown in shallow trenches.


• Plants in flower; broad and French beans, courgettes, peas, sweet corn and tomatoes, have priority for watering when flowering commences and again ten later.


• Even the deep rooted carrots and parsnips have needed a good soak – once a month should do for them. They were weeded at the same time – carrot fly populations dip at the end of June, so the insect proof mesh could be fairly safely removed for weeding.


• Runner beans don’t do well in this dry warm south-eastern district, no matter how much water you throw at them, until September, so the main crop of these won’t be sown until next week carrying on ground that previously held over-wintered onions.


• Over-wintered onions were devastated by white rot disease – I inadvertently planted them in a hot spot for disease.  There is good and bad news here – the bad is that I lost 60% of my crop (ditto over-wintered garlic and shallots), but the good is that the root secretions form the crop might have induced the resting sclerotia to germinate and as each and every onion complete with roots was carefully extracted with a trowel there might not have been any addition to infectivity in the soil and perhaps a decrease.


• Despite the dryness onions and shallots have also picked up downy mildew for which there is no remedy but to remove the worse affected leaves.  This and the dry soil (onions have very shallow roots) will diminish the yield to a marked extent.


• To make up for a rather thin onion crop, extra leeks will be planted over the next two weeks on land from which the early potatoes have been lifted.  Happily we now have an insecticide to deal with leek moth that is very damaging here:


•   In my absence on holiday in early June slugs devastated my broccoli for over-wintering, and I had to start again.  After heroic levels of liquid feeding and other tricks to boost growth I now have plenty of transplants ready to go out this weekend.  I was surprised to find local nurseries did not offer satisfactory plants. This will complete the cabbage patch.  As ever in summer they plants will be puddle in – a hole taken out by trowel to hold the transplant and then repeatedly filled with dilute liquid fertiliser solution until the hole is filled with wet soil after which the plant is firmed in and a collar to exclude the cabbage root fly, now at peak population levels, is positioned.


• Crops for autumn also need attention.  I have kept a strip of soil covered with black plastic for these as it is easy to find yourself too short of ground until crops can be cleared.  This has now been uncovered and is being sown with coriander, dill, parsley and chicories (these will be transplanted as bare root plants around the plot in August).  Basil plants have been set out and more ae being sown for late cropping.  Florence fennel plants, sown this week, are being raised in biodegradeable pots.  French beans (a mainstay of autumn cropping) have been sown under fleece to exclude the bean seed fly – devastating on light soil in this area.


• With many crops being cleared in the next six weeks there will be many opportunities for replanting – courgette plants are already growing in biodegradeable pots but there is still just time sow more and there is plenty of time to raise French and runner beans in celltrays and small pots respectively to fill any spare ground.


• Leafy salads again become very welcome in September ( one get tired of them in the height of summer I find) and are being sown now in cell trays.


• When it rains potato and tomato blight will devastate so spraying with fungicide is being done very 14 days.






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