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What to do in the allotment while summer lasts

Posted by Guy Barter on 13 Aug 2010 at 09:39 AM

We are back to normal summer weather with showers and cool nights. Suddenly frogs, toads and slow worms are present. The slow worms shelter beneath perforated black plastic weed control sheets taken off early crops and laid over the daffodil bed at the end of the plot to clear it of weeds. No doubt warmth and dryness appeal to reptiles. Frogs live under the well-watered climbing bean wigwams and are on the move at dusk when watering is now being done, as the evenings shorten. Toads lived beneath the onion mulching sheets and crawled off into the brassicas as the onions were lifted.


• Potatoes are beginning to be gathered and onions are all lifted. As feared the yields are down by about 30%. This means my stocks of potato sacks and onion boxes are ample to store the rather light crops and not as much of the storage shed needs to be cleared to store these. This is a change after several barn-busting wet years. At the moment apples are still looking plentiful and there will be plenty of space to store this particular abundance.


• Although cool season crops are not looking so plentiful this year warmth loving pumpkins and squash are doing better than usual with numerous fruits swelling. These too have been given a serious soak in the recent rainy spells and the mid-day wilting that was an unlovely feature of these crops earlier this month has now ceased.


• Showery weather has allowed vigorous watering with many parched crops give excellent soaks. The Ferline outdoor partially blight resistant beefsteak toms developed blossom end rot, caused by lack of calcium flow through the plant and typical of lack of soil moisture. Watering efforts have been redoubled for these.


• These and other tomatoes receive regular copper sprays in the current showery weather. Blightwatch has sent no warnings but in sheltered lush well-watered allotments blight can get a foothold even if overall meteorological conditions are apparently unfavourable. Once in, it can exploit any rainy spell with ease. There are always in fact some rather feeble gardeners on allotment sites whose ill-tended plots act as reservoirs of blight for everyone else's crops so the infection pressure can be intense and careful spraying essential.


• Sub Arctic Plenty, a very early bush tomato is in full crop, but the even heavier yielding bush tom The Amateur is ripening fast. Black Russian in not far behind but the be-droughted Ferline seems to be heading for a September crop. On the other hand with the help of copper they can be induced to hang on into October even in the face of serious blight pressure.


• Courgettes have been satisfactory with a new cultivar Precioza, impressing greatly with no virus or mildew – my early courgettes commonly succumb badly to these, but not this year. It has an open easy-to-pick habit. Follow-on courgettes sown in June in anticipation of losses and planted out this month (on ground vacated by the onions and peas) have taken off (with a little help from watering cans of Miracle-Gro) and will soon come into crop leading to even more abundance, quite possibly until October.


• Beans too are abundant. Broad beans sown in June have done very well and are in crop and later ones in flower, with moderate but useful yields. Climbing French beans are in full crop and some of the dwarf ones have gone over already and will be gathered and used, shelled, for haricot vert. With the arrival of wet weather and cool nights the runner beans are setting, although generous watering may have something to do with it. Follow-on runner beans, sown in July, have been planted out beneath wigwams and are being watered and fed in the hope of cropping until October.


• There is a French bean trial at Wisley at the moment. My current favourite, Maxi, is performing well. It has the very useful habit of producing long beans held above the foliage, making it easy to gather and free of soil contamination, slug damage and sclerotinia. It will be interesting to see if other cultivars can match it. At the moment the rather similar Irago has my eye as a potential 2011 crop. It was trialled originally in 1993 but somehow, despite being in charge of this trial, I had forgotten how good it was!


• Blackfly and red spider mite on the beans will need spraying again with SB Plant Invigorator or 2in1 oil. The rain will help keep their numbers down but another spell of hot weather could lead to damage.


• More French beans have been sown this week and the crops now in the ground will produce beans until the frosts come in October. That is the end of bean sowing for 2010.


• Brussels sprouts were watered this week in the rain, to wash in the top-dressing of chicken manure pellets sprinkled at their base. They had gone blue with drought and are a good 30cm shorter than usual – not necessarily a bad thing as tall ones tend to topple and the buttons on these sturdy plants are close together and numerous. Caterpillars of the large cabbage white have arrived on the brassicas. With luck the rain will have killed them but if not the second application of natural pyrethrins will be applied this weekend. White fly and aphids however remain sparse.


• The arrival of a little rain means slugs. To pre-empt them vulnerable crops such as potatoes, brassicas and salads have been treated with iron phosphate slug pellets. One might hesitate to treat with metaldehyde, but the even more benign iron phosphate is clearly the best option now. If the weather gets wetter nematodes will be a good choice.


• Rain has also boosted weeds. Carrots were weeded this week and then generously watered, folllowed by rain, and then another watering – the parched soil is now damp to depth and the roots should grow for another two weeks at least.


• Parsnips were also drought stricken, although less weedy, and also had a triple watering. They have lost some leaves to powdery mildew and SB Plant Invigorator or 2in1 oil will be applied in the hope the manufacturer's claims that they disrupt the fungus and/or enhance plant resistance are well-founded.


• Rain and watering seems to have saved the sweet corn with the first cobs forming and follow on crops coming into flower, including some female flowers. Jays rob the cobs without mercy, but can be thwarted by covering each cob with a plastic bag. They are not called bird-brains for nothing.


• Patio peppers are grown as cloche crops. These little plants are yielding abundant little green peppers suitable for cooking. They have now been fleeced to keep them growing until October. Some aubergines accompany them as an experiment – they really need a greenhouse and even fleece is not warm enough for the best crops. The grafted ones, bought at great expense from Wisley, are very good indeed, free of verticillium wilt as advertised and might even repay their cost. The jury is still out on the purported verticillium wilt resistant seedling Giotto. There are clear signs of wilt and not much crop. To be fair they are a bit behind the grafted ones and may come right yet.


• The odd salad or brassica plant has succumbed to pest or disease and gapping-up with spare plants cannot be delayed if they are to have hope of catching up.


• Time is pressing now and I have abandoned the idea of transplanting another late row of leeks, and instead will concentrate on getting the last few other transplants out (not to mention watering the numerous leeks already planted). Florence fennel growing strongly near the back door in biodegradable pots, is looking at me in a particularity reproachful way. The first dwarf French beans have now been pulled and composted and their site fed and watered ready to receive the fennel.


• All this double-cropping with three crops every two years takes a severe toll on the soil and crops on some parts of the plot clearly do not respond as they should to watering and feeding. This is as sure sign of lack of soil structure and biological activity. This land has been allotment for over 70 years and although there have been fallow spells (ie 2m deep in weeds) the land, deeply infertile heathland to begin with, has been very heavily cropped year after year and needs careful and quite expensive attention. The remedy is rotted organic matter and I am being careful to plan for these areas to come vacant this winter to allow remedial work with hand-digging to incorporate ample manure and compost. I have also to be careful not to plant up the area adjacent to the allotment road so that there is a tipping area for the compost centre lorry to visit in November.










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