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Finding something to do on the allotment this weekend

Posted by Guy Barter on 31 Jul 2010 at 04:20 PM

There is nothing much to do now but wait. It is that funny interim period when the early summer crops of peas, broad beans and salads have been used up and the late summer aubergines, melons, tomatoes and peppers, are not quite ready. However oodles of soft fruit are being picked and processed. In the meantime calabrese, courgettes cucumbers and French beans fill the gap. Autumn and winter crops are growing fast. But the whole lot depends on water and rain, and there is no rain.

Most of the soil moisture left over from winter has been used up by plants now and no really significant rain has fallen since early June and very little since April. Rain that falls in summer evaporates before it can soak in. This means watering is the main task plodding round the plot with two cans carefully wetting the soil at the base of each plant to a depth of about 25cm.

As crops finish planting out goes on. Cell trays full of basil, chicories, dwarf French beans, kohl rabi, lettuce and parsley wait for space - the last of the onions have fallen over and are nearly ready to be lifted, dried and stored. As soon as these are safely in, the ground will be spread with fertiliser and raked over before planting out in shallow, easy-to-water, trenches. With success dependant on watering only the bare minimum is planted to ease the watering task.

These last onions are the red ones grown on the best soil on the plot and unlike the disappointing preceding crops are almost satisfactory because they were generously watered in June.

Early potatoes too were watered (as a rule neither onions nor potatoes are watered in my garden) in June just as the tubers were swelling, but even this has not hastened bulking up. In the last few years the earlies have been so abundant that they have been left to become maincrops for storage, but not this year. They are petering out as intended and the second earlies, mostly Charlotte, are beginning to mature. Only Anya, a salad spud, has actually matured and now needs to be lifted and stored.

Leeks have followed the early potatoes and these have established remarkably quickly. It is unclear why this has been so successful. Trimming of roots and leaves in the traditional way is omitted as being senseless, no dibbing is done and no holes are made and they are watered in with liquid fertiliser solution after planting in the conventional way in the bottom of an 8cm deep easy-to-water trench. There is still time to set out a few more for April, and given the inadequate onion crop another row might be welcome. Happily the seedbed is still well-populated with strong ‘Toledo’ seedlings.

Sowing is real last minute stuff now, and although some winter mooli radish, lettuce for autumn and herbs have been sown this week, sowing is almost over for this year with the exception of salad onions in mid August for next April, spring cabbage to be sown next week and again in mid-August and lettuces and spinach for over-wintering in early September. The seed box is back in an old fridge safe from vermin. At this season bulb and soft fruit catalogues begin to arrive. I am overstocked with red currants, but lack a white currant - some editing of the currant plot is required. My blackberries have done quite well, but expansion of the row is inhibited by a poorly performing gooseberry. This will be for the chop and two more blackberries will be ordered.

A plot has been manured and rigorous weed control undertaken for a strawberry planting this autumn and plants need ordering now.

The shaded area under the trees at the end of the plot is not of great use, and it is usually planted with bulbs for cut flowers. A 10kg bag of mixed narcissi went in last year and some other bulbs need to be chosen and ordered for planting from September.

Weeds come up abundantly where watering is undertaken (but hardly at all elsewhere). Hand weeding around the base of tomatoes, courgettes and other plants is becoming necessary. The ponds at the base of the plants that are filled with water when watering are renewed at the same time and fertiliser spread at the base of plants.

Most pests and diseases have been dealt with after a week of spraying, and the next duty is to apply fertiliser (top-dress) all crops that might benefit. With only six weeks of really good growing weather left this summer, plants should not run short of nutrients. The main top dressing method this year is to add sulphate of ammonia to the watering cans (a couple of teaspoons worth per can) when watering. This way the fertiliser goes only where it is needed, the minimum amount of this expensive and rather questionable material from the point of view of sustainability used to replace nutrients that are readily washed out when watering such sandy soil and it is quickly available to the plants. Crops treated include; cabbages, celery, celeriac, courgettes, cucumber, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, French beans, leeks, lettuce, melons, ornamental gourds, peppers, turnips, runner beans and swedes. Over wintered broccoli is left unfed and barely watered as robust plants are wanted, ditto over-wintered cauliflowers and it is folly to top-dress pumpkins and squash as mass of leaves and shoot soon take over, with no great increase in cropping.

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