Skip navigation.

Spud Grubber's Blog

Guy Barter

  • Date Joined: 15 Jan 2007

Recent Comments

  • When the allotment is frozen in early winter

    Guy Barter on 27 Nov 2010 at 02:11 PM

    Winter is truly here, and except for desultory digging, bonfires and clearance there is little to do.  In truth I cannot yet summon up much enthusiasm for these tasks, and have retreated to the seed catalogues to plan for next year.



  • Wet early winter weekend on the allotment

    Guy Barter on 13 Nov 2010 at 09:09 AM

    After a week of rain, the soil is saturated and unworkable for now. Air and soil temperatures remain on the warm side for the season and winter crops continue to improve.



  • First winter weekend on the allotment

    Guy Barter on 06 Nov 2010 at 03:03 PM

    Unusually mild weather means that crops are still growing slowly.  The soil remains workable after moderate rainfall and conditions are in fact perfect for sowing and planting.



  • Last autumn weekend on the allotment

    Guy Barter on 29 Oct 2010 at 05:09 PM

    Soil is almost fully recharged with water and remains workable for now. Mild weather after recent frosts is allowing crops to continue to grow, although very slowly. 



  • Allotment this weekend now that frosts are here

    Guy Barter on 23 Oct 2010 at 05:32 PM

    Very sharp frosts have finally brought the growing season to an end.   Soil remains workable but the number of weekends when no ground work is possible will now increase.  This means that the ground must be got ready before winter rains saturate the soil and mid winter freezes lock up the ground.



  • What to do in the allotment this weekend in mid October

    Guy Barter on 15 Oct 2010 at 01:21 PM


    The weather has been very good for late crops, with warmth, sunshine and moist soils, without frosts, excess rain, autumn gales or dull days.  Clearly this must change in the next few weeks and vulnerable corps will need gathering, winter crops made ready for four months of chill, wet and wind and the ground brought into good condition to carry out next year's cropping plan


  • What to do on the allotment as mid-autumn approaches

    Guy Barter on 09 Oct 2010 at 11:43 AM

    Heavy rain has brought soils up to full capacity in many cases, hindering soil preparation for autumn sowing and planting. On the other hand mild weather with some sun has kept late summer crops productive, although at low levels.


  • What to do on the allotment in early autumn

    Guy Barter on 01 Oct 2010 at 02:09 PM

    Mild rainy weather will promote more leaf disease but with crops coming to an end it is not serious, and in any case there are few remedies open to gardeners.  At some stage cold weather will arrive bringing all the tender crops to an end and finally closing the allotment cycle for 2010. In the meantime, little remains to do but gather crops and clear land to prepare for next year.  



  • What to do in the allotment now it is truly autumnal

    Guy Barter on 24 Sep 2010 at 02:03 PM

    Despite rain the soil has dried under the influence of breezy days and plenty of sunshine, so that watering has had to be resumed.  The soil remains quite dry and it is unlikely that the current rain will restore moisture sufficiently for many crops to finish their growing for this year.  With plenty of light for the season and mild nights growth has been good where soil moisture is adequate.



  • Allotment this weekend in early autumn

    Guy Barter on 17 Sep 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Suddenly night temperatures are beginning to dip below 10C, so that tender crops will be at risk within a week or two.  Rain has kept the soil moist and watering is only required for celery and other thirsty crops.



  • Allotment things to do at the end of summer

    Guy Barter on 11 Sep 2010 at 09:16 AM

    Rain has wetted the top soil enough for good growth while nights remain warm and days sunny.  It won’t last of course, and very soon growth will fall away to very low levels.  Already the flood of summer veg has slowed and it is now or never for many crops.



  • What to do on the allotment in early September

    Guy Barter on 02 Sep 2010 at 02:12 PM

    Colder and dewy nights have led to reduced watering need and pest problems.  It is even too cold at night for blight, although once mild moist nights return disease could break out afresh.



  • What to do on the allotment for August Bank Holiday

    Guy Barter on 27 Aug 2010 at 02:34 PM

    The season is running out fast and little remains to do but gather the crops, and protect those maturing now and to be gathered in autumn and winter from pests and diseases.  There is certainly no need to water for a fortnight at least.



  • Is there anything to do in the allotment this weekend except harvesting?

    Guy Barter on 21 Aug 2010 at 06:42 PM

    Recent showery weather and associated watering have given the plot new life, with stalled growth suddenly resuming often with rather lush foliage as the crops can suddenly access plant nutrients that have been beyond their reach for weeks. Whether this will translate into higher yields remains to be seen, but the signs are good.


  • What to do in the allotment while summer lasts

    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.



  • Late summer things to do on the allotment:

    Guy Barter on 05 Aug 2010 at 05:39 PM

    Rain, at last.  Not enough to do much good, but by rushing round the plot with watering cans to top-up the dampened soil many crops have been well watered.  With few weeks of growing weather left with the sun getting lower, nights lengthening and lower night temperatures likely, crops are best kept growing - in September I can rest.



  • Finding something to do on the allotment this weekend

    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.


  • What to do in the allotment this weekend?

    Guy Barter on 23 Jul 2010 at 01:24 PM

    What to do in the allotment this weekend?  Very, very little with any luck!  The plants are in the ground, they have been watered, there is plenty of light and warmth and anything ready has been gathered for the weekend meals – I am looking forward to relaxing with a juicy pork steak on a pile of buttered new potatoes accompanied by courgettes, French and broad beans and calabrese.



  • Allotment this weekend in mid-July

    Guy Barter on 16 Jul 2010 at 11:43 AM

    At last some rain – not enough to replenish the soil but enough to take some stress off plants and make sowing and planting easier.  However the damp conditions pose a real threat of fungus diseases. 

    • Preventing potato and tomato blight by protecting plants with copper fungicide is vital as on any allotment discarded potatoes from last year carry disease over and are beginning to pose a threat to this year’s crops


  • Drought stricken allotment this weekend

    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.



  • What do to do on the allotment as summer weather arrives

    Guy Barter on 21 May 2010 at 12:22 PM

    The soil is no losing water faster than rain can replenish it.  On the other hand night time temperatures are high enough for good growth.  The trick now is to get the ground covered in leaves to use the soil moisture and the increasingly abundant sunshine to make useful produce.



  • What to do on the allotment after frosts in May

    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.



  • What to do in the allotment this weekend as summer approaches

    Guy Barter on 07 May 2010 at 05:35 PM

    Frosts this week scorched emerging potatoes around the plots.  Experienced gardeners covered vulnerable foliage with straw or a little earth to protect their plants.  However the damage is not very serious and there will be few crop failures.  By mid-May the risk if frost will be very slight and no cold nights appear to be forecast.  Some rain is expected, but it seems unlikely to be up to the useful downpour of last weekend.  Watering will be needed of vulnerable transplants and seedbeds this weekend.



  • What to do on the allotment - first weekend in May

    Guy Barter on 01 May 2010 at 08:21 AM

    Rain is forecast at last and very welcome it will be, although the amount forecast decreases hour by hour. 



  • What to do in the allotment this weekend(being a week behind because of Cardiff Flower Show)

    Guy Barter on 23 Apr 2010 at 12:28 PM

    A change in the weather is predicted for this weekend with an end to the anxiety about cold nights, with potential frosts burning the emerging spuds and flowering fruit bushes.  The cold nights have held growth back and unless protected by fleece growth has been slow. Although there has been no rain for a while the soil is moist and no watering is required yet, except for certain newly planted transplants.  All the same, some April showers would be nice – none are forecast however.



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

    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.



  • Allotment jobs for this weekend

    Guy Barter on 09 Apr 2010 at 09:36 AM

    Soil is warming now and the need for fleece is falling away fast.  From now on the soil will, most weeks, lose more moisture than is replenished by rain, so digging and other soil disturbance is best minimised until October comes around again.  Frosts can still be expected so tender crops cannot go out yet.  Soft fruit is coming into flower, a very exciting but also rather anxious time.  If a sharp frost is expected fleece stands ready to be draped over vulnerable currant bushes.  Happily leaves are expanding fast on my plants (they were chosen for their propensity to leaf before flower) and the leaves provide good protection unless we have a real stinger of a frost.  This actually happened two years ago and the gooseberry crop amounted to six berries from six plants...



  • Easter weekend in the allotments

    Guy Barter on 03 Apr 2010 at 09:37 AM


    Easter weekend in the allotments

  • Allotment last weekend in March:

    Guy Barter on 27 Mar 2010 at 03:24 PM

    Spring is here - weed seeds are germinating which a sure sign that the soil temperatures are above 6-7C at last.  Naturally, this being Britain there will be plenty of stinging frosts, lashings of hail and driving rain before June arrives but they won't last long and hardy crops will grow through these.  Sowing and planting can now begin in earnest.

    - Despite rains, soils are drying out and final cultivations after clearing spent crops are being done quickly.  Cultivations in April tend to lose precious moisture and must be avoided where possible.  Digging is omitted where possible with the soil being lightly stirred with mattock and rake, just enough to take out compaction, remove weeds and leave enough loose soil to sow seeds and plant out transplants


  • Allotment this weekend in March:

    Guy Barter on 19 Mar 2010 at 03:32 PM

    Many seeds are now in the ground, under fleece of course this early in the spring; broad beans, carrots, leeks, lettuces, parsnips, peas, radish, rocket, salad onions, spinach and turnips.  Most of the onion sets and all the shallots are planted.  
    Gardeners with wet clay soils might have to wait a few weeks before sowing, perhaps until mid-April, but on light sandy soils in the south germination is underway and emergence should happen this weekend for peas and beans sown two weeks ago. 
    Subsequent, follow on sowings appear to be on course to be made in mid-April.  Some seeds, leeks  and parsnips for example, are embarking on a 12 month 'grow', and this time next year, all being well, they will be coming to an end. Before then much will have to be done:



  • Weekend Allotment Tasks

    Guy Barter on 12 Mar 2010 at 01:53 PM

    After a week without significant rain the soil is in good condition for raking down into seedbeds and sowing.  Almost all the digging is now done, but with a quarter of the plot put down to crops for winter and over-wintering for spring cropping there is still much clearing and subsequent cultivation to do before the end of April. 

    The soil is still a little colder than I would like, about 5C rather than the desirable 7C, but by mid-March the risk of seeds rotting in the ground is much reduced and the forecast is for day temperatures to rise above 10C at last.


  • Allotment this weekend:

    Guy Barter on 26 Feb 2010 at 02:01 PM

    After recent heavy rain it is going to be hard to finish digging, or prepare  seedbeds.  On the other hand temperatures in the South have risen sufficiently to make spring imminent and few days of sunny, windy weather could dry out and warm the soil significantly.  This being so…



  • Allotment this weekend - what to do:

    Guy Barter on 19 Feb 2010 at 05:15 PM

    The dry weather last weekend meant that the winter digging and rotovating is almost up-to-date, but the soil temperature is still about 4C; it risky to sow outdoors until soil temperatures reach 7C.  However there is still plenty to do – allotment gardening is after all very much to do with preparation:



  • Weekend on the allotment

    Guy Barter on 12 Feb 2010 at 05:26 PM

    Farmers hereabout have started tilling their fields.  The cold winds and lack of prolonged rain have let the sandy soil dry down to a workable moisture level.  The rotovator could be in use tomorrow if the grey clouds hold off and yet don’t thin so much that the soil freezes overnight.

    • This means that the few remaining un-spread mini-piles of manure need to be pulled about and levelled with a heavy rake.  This can serve as a welcome periodic break from the back-breaking task of manipulating a rather powerful and headstrong rotovator


  • On the allotment this weekend

    Guy Barter on 05 Feb 2010 at 09:50 AM

    Last weekend frost hardened the soil; this is ideal for fruit pruning.  Soft fruit pruning was finished with the winter trimming of gooseberries and the cutting back to ground level of the autumn fruiting raspberries.  Last year crops were enormous – the productive potential of soft fruit is amazing.  I have a gap for another hybrid berry – I find these so easy to grow compared to raspberries.



  • This weekend on the allotment

    Guy Barter on 29 Jan 2010 at 01:12 PM

    Last weekend the spade was used to very good effect so that now just two digging jobs remain:

    • Leek seedbed – leeks are readily sown outdoors from early March in this district so a perfectly level, crumbly seed bed can be made now and this is best achieved by careful digging. 


  • What I would have done this weekend

    Guy Barter on 25 Jan 2010 at 03:29 PM

    This what I would have done on the allotment this weekend had the weather been sufficiently inspiring to tempt me away from the many long overdue DIY tasks abou the house:



  • This weekend

    Guy Barter on 15 Jan 2010 at 05:28 PM

    People have asked what are you going to do in your allotment this weekend?  Since, where no snow actually lingers, it is covered with 5cm of mud on 5cm of frozen soil the answer is very little.

    None of the produce will get any better from now on so it is dig and use root crops (carrots, celeriac, parsnips, long beetroot, Swedes and scorzonera) as fast as we need them (a few days supply is covered against frost with cardboard and pallets). The state of dearth and desperation required to start lifting Jerusalem artichokes has not yet been reached.  A square metre of these are grown for that unhappy day in February when there is nothing else left


  • Digging deep

    Guy Barter on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:33 AM

    Frozen ground means manure shifting time.  Cultivations are best left to the New Year on sandy soils as they slump if left loose and exposed to winter rains becoming what is technically called 'sad'.   A lorry-load of composted horse  manure was bought off a local manufacturer.  The owner assures me that he takes the greatest care to keep weedkiller contaminated manure out of his supply chain, but no one is perfect, so the propagator was cranked up to full heat and beans sown in the prescribed way.  After three weeks all is clear and the weedkiller-free manure can now be spread.


  • Burning up in Surrey

    Guy Barter on 01 Jul 2009 at 05:21 PM

    Sandy soils in the south-east are very hot and dry now with plants potentially under great stress.  To avoid this watering is being done on a ten day cycle giving a good drenching to really saturate the top 25cm.  Thirsty celery, celeriac and runner beans are done on a five day cycle.  There is no need to water more often, although misguided plot holders water more frequently, their efforts are often in vain or worse due to lack of deep soaking or excessive wetting.

    Without sprinklers the easiest way to water is to grow summer crops in shallow trenches and fill these with water.  This gets water to where it is needed, and nowhere else, quickly


  • Planted up at last

    Guy Barter on 22 Jun 2009 at 04:20 PM

    After six weeks of devoting every spare minute to sowing and planting and keeping the young plants alive, it is at last over, the allotment is fully planted. There are few oddments to do such as some module-raised Swedes to plant next week, but with a splurge of planting, autumn cauliflowers including romanesco, purple cape winter cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli the last of the significant planting was done this weekend.  The final sowing was a short row of Florence fennel.

    From now on it is just a matter of replacing spent crops, a much more leisurely activity.  Early potatoes have been variable – the ‘Accent ‘(February planted) under fleece got rather weedy as the weeds grew unexpectedly fast beneath the fleece and got ahead of the potatoes and yield suffered, but ones in pots were good.  However pot grown potatoes never taste as good to me as soil raised ones.  ‘Lady Christl’ planted in open ground (early March) has yielded abundant crops of tasty scab free tubers.  The ground cleared is now ready for winter leek planting.  Deep grooves have been drawn in the soil, fertiliser applied to the base and once weeds have germinated and been eliminated by a contact weedkiller the leeks will be planted in the bottom of the drills as the grooves are officially called.  Further weed germination should be much less and the leeks should need little weeding


  • There is not day to lose.

    Guy Barter on 27 May 2009 at 12:24 PM

    Now that duties at Chelsea are over, the allotment can get some attention.  My favourite part of allotment gardening is raising new plants each year.  Every sunny place in the back garden near a tap or water butt is covered in young plants and tray by tray these are scooped up and conveyed to the plot and carefully planted one-by-one.

    Sowing seeds direct in the ground is a lot quicker, but they have to fight their way through the weeds that are so damaging on sandy soils.  Transplants on the other hand are put out later, giving a interval to eliminate weeds.  On bare ground weeds are lightly hoed or treated with contact weedkillers.  The occasional bindweed or creeping butter cup is spot treated with a glyphosate weedkiller in a handy ready-to-use pack.  After recent wet summers horsetails have staged a comeback.  Normally frequent hoeing and heavy smothering crops keep horsetail at negligible levels, so it is back to repeated hoeing to beat this weed back down


  • Dry, wet, dry, wet

    Guy Barter on 26 May 2009 at 12:51 PM

    The spring has been very kind so far. Two weeks ago we had a useful bit of rain that helped wash the newly planted Brussels sprouts plants into the ground.  Before that we had some dry weather that provided an opportunity to wipe out weeds and sow more seeds.  When the rains came, the seeds, especially peas and beans, burst through the soil.

    Last week it was warm and dry again, (just right for Chelsea Flower Show) and ideal for another go at the weeds with hoe and gloved hand.  More seeds were sown and the squashes, peppers, pumpkins and tomatoes were set out.  Now the rains have returned to wash them in too and ease the emergence of the seeds


  • Plant making

    Guy Barter on 07 May 2009 at 08:17 AM

    Recent dry, sunny weather allowed the slugs and the first wave of weeds to be tackled.  Subsequent rain restored soil moisture leading to ideal seed bed conditions.  The downside was that weeds germinated in hundreds, but just in time the weather turned dry and vigorous raking again polished then off.  The chickweed, annual meadow grass, shepherd’s purse and fat hen that predominated earlier have now been replaced by annual nettles and cleavers, with the dreaded galinsoga just beggining to show.  All die well when raked as seedlings. 

    My sheet of black plastic have been out on loan to new allotmenteers to keep their undug areas clean.  The sheets are coming back now and covering the bare areas that will be planted up with tender crops such as courgettes and sweet cown as soon as frosts no longer threaten


  • First and Last Crops

    Guy Barter on 05 May 2009 at 09:32 AM

    The first of the 2009 has arrived on the dinner plate – spinach ‘Napoli’ sown in March as a thick row was gathered by cutting off plants at ground level leaving  a plant every 20cm to grow larger for the next cutting.

    My sandy soil can make leaf crops very gritty, so at least 3 washes are needed to get spinach ready for the table but with the patio plants beginning to need frequent watering the washings were put to good use


  • Peas and broad beans

    Guy Barter on 21 Apr 2009 at 08:07 AM

    Peas and broad beans are the mainstay of mid-summer supplies.  The over-wintered mange-tout ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ peas did not do well.  Instead of ripping them out, broad beans were ‘stitched’ into the surviving peas.  As they get different pests and diseases the ailing peas won’t affect beans as they would peas.  There are enough pea plants to take a very light picking if all goes well.

    The stitched in beans have emerged very well and will follow the early crop of over-wintered beans and the rather more numerous beans that were sown early to fill in the many gaps in the over-wintered beans after mice had done their worst


  • Roots rooting

    Guy Barter on 20 Apr 2009 at 03:08 PM

    Getting crops established in the most demanding but also the most interesting time of year for allotment holders.  This year (so far) has been brilliant, especially compared to the wet and chill of last spring.

    Carrots are up and growing well.  Many years re-sowing is needed, and in fact I once had to sow six times before the crop was properly established, by which time it was July and the crop’s yield potential severely reduced.  Early finger carrots, ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’, are now very well developed and the next sowings of ‘St Valary’ and ‘Campestra’ have emerged.  The former has emerged rather patchily suggesting poor quality seed, an all too common occurrence with non-commercial cultivars where seed production is less stringent than is ideal.  If the gaps are serious I usually just dib in a few seeds of beetroot to fill in the gaps.  Unlike other crops, carrots do not transplant well.  Having said that, another allotment holder transplanted his carrots last year and they did quite well.  Whether this was ignorance on his part or whether this is common practice in his native India I cannot now ask him as he has left the district. 


  • Wet Easter Shopping

    Guy Barter on 14 Apr 2009 at 09:25 AM

    Getting crops in the ground and growing is the critical task now.  To do well crops need plenty of leaf in June/July when the sun and temperatures are highest, days are long, and in this dry district they need roots deep in the soil extracting moisture.  Unless established in April they are in a poor position to take advantage of summer weather.

    The red onion sets were planted out through black groundcover membrane to avoid the need to weed.  Foolishly I had not noticed that the packs only contained 50 sets this year instead of the usual 75 (same price of course), and I had a shortfall.  To fill in the gap some onion ‘Hyton’ seedlings were bought from the Wisley plant centre


  • Spud planting

    Guy Barter on 08 Apr 2009 at 08:23 AM

    With the ‘Accent’ early potatoes emerging beneath fleece and polythene it was time to plant the rest of the earlies and second earlies.

    First early ‘Lady Christl’ was set out in two rows at 50cm centres, allowing 30cm between tubers.  The ‘Accent’ should crop in June. ‘Lady Christl’ in June/July and then it will be the turn of the second earlies


  • Weed bothering

    Guy Barter on 01 Apr 2009 at 08:51 AM

    There is real warmth in the sun now.  After raking and stirring the soil to harry the slugs last week, weed seeds germinated and the uncropped ground began to green.  Another raking laid waste the weeds.  Their silvery stems were exposed to sun and drying.  As a bonus the twice raked ground is in perfect condition for sowing and planting.

    Although the last set of sowings are now through they are not yet far enough advanced for the next successional sowing of lettuces, radishes and broad beans.


  • Slug bothering

    Guy Barter on 23 Mar 2009 at 05:40 PM

    Slugs are vulnerable when the soil is dry and the weather sunny.  To knock back their numbers, previously rotovated or dug land was stirred with rake, cultivator or hoe to expose the slugs to drying air and sun.  With luck a useful number will succumb to drying.  It is the smallest ones that will suffer most and these are those that do most damage and are least susceptible to slug  controls. Soil moisture losses will, I trust, be replenished by the rain forecast later this week.

    Dry March weather is also ideal to clear away spent winter crops ready for the second batch of rotovating next month


  • Seed raising

    Guy Barter on 19 Mar 2009 at 11:56 AM

    Seeds sown in the heated propagator are germinating freely now.  As the propagator lid cuts out a lot of light the plants are whisked out of the propagator and stood out on in bright cool place. My way of growing brassicas for next winter is to germinate them in pots of 50:50 vermiculite and multipupose potting media and priick out one seedling per 7cm pot of multipurpose potting media as soon as the seedlings can be handled. I like a coldframe for the growing on as this is very bright but cool giving sturdy plants in time to set out in June. At the moment I have sown: 

    • Brussels sprouts, ‘Maximus’, ‘Diablo’ and ‘Revenge’ for early, Christmas and late respectively
    • Calabrese ‘Fiesta’ for summer cropping
    • Cabbage ‘Hispi’ for summer
    • Cauliflower ‘Clapham’ for summer – it is clubroot resistant

     As these come out of the propagator the red and white storing cabbages and go in – the idea is to grow enormous heads that will store well next winter.  It is so convenient to have these hanging in the garage ready for a quick winter salad or casserole. As well as brassicas, the propagator is filled with: 


  • Warming soil at last

    Guy Barter on 16 Mar 2009 at 01:44 PM

    With warming soil at last, the newly rotovated and fertilised soil was raked level and marked out for winter brassicas.  The winter brassica plot was marked out, with pegs, for three rows of Brussels sprouts, one row of purple sprouting broccoli, one row of winter savoys, one of red storing cabbage, one of swedes, one of January King cabbage, half a row each of white storing cabbage and autumn cabbage and finally a mixed row of kale, purple cape broccoli and spring cauliflowers. 

    These are or will soon be, sown in pots for planting out in May and June, but in the meantime the spaces between the rows, which vary from 90cm between the sprouts, to 45cm for swedes and cabbages can be sown with small quick-growing intercrops that will use the vacant space until the brassica leaves meet over the rows in July: Read More...

  • It is all in the preparation

    Guy Barter on 17 Feb 2009 at 06:31 PM

    With winter finally loosening its grasp, sowing and planting time is very close – in fact on my light sandy soil here in the south I can often sow from late February.  However, unless there is a spell of tropical weather soon the soil is unlikely to be warm or dry enough this February.



  • Winter roots

    Guy Barter on 08 Dec 2008 at 08:33 PM

     Root crops, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other crops have all been gathered and stored a frost free shed.  Yields have been truly excellent – a wet summer is a very good summer for sandland gardeners in dry southern districts.  However, lack of warmth has meant that the storage potential of some of the pumpkin and squash crop is not very good as they have just not fully ripened, but as I only need one a month until March I have plenty.

    In mild southern districts there is no need to lift and store beetroot, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swedes and all are now covered with a double layer of fleece or black plastic over cardboard for extra insulation.  Roots are good; especially celeriac, parsnips, and swedes which relish wet cool weather.  Unfortunately I was late making a carrot fly proof enclosure and the crop spent rather too long under fleece.  The high humidity encouraged sclerotinia and other fungal foliar disease damaging foliage and limiting root size.  I have already bought timber to make an enclosure for next year, although it has to be said that the fleece covering has proved very much more effective that the usual 60cm tall barrier – my plans are running to a 70cm high enclosure roofed with fleece…

    The early crop for next year, ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’ are already sown beneath fleece (with slug protection) for a May/June crop, and enough seed remains for a February sowing for June pulling, followed by ‘Nelson’ for summer cropping.

    For autumn and winter crops I was a little disappointed with ‘Campestra’ carrots, an open-pollinated berlicum type, but the long thin sweet imperator ‘Columbia’ did very well and I will try these again.  The ‘Chantanay’ carrots, free with one of Her Loveliness’s mail-order garment catalogues, were pleasing so I will go for a named cultivar in 2009.   Interestingly another freebie packet, the long ‘New Red Intermediate’, sown in June as I mislaid the packet, performed very well.  I am not usually very keen on these non-commercial cultivars but I do like very large carrots for winter, so perhaps these are worth persisting with.  In the meantime the catalogues will be scrutinised for better winter carrots.

    Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ is usually agreed to be the best parsnip available but, inexplicably, has never done really well for me on my light ground, although it does well in the Wisley trials with similar soil.  A cultivar new to me, ‘White King’ from was also sown this year and has done very well, but I am still unsure that it is better than ‘Arrow’. The open-seeded cultivar ‘Arrow’ is consistently good on sand, but poor on clay.  I have saved my own ‘Arrow’ seed so that should do for 2009. The seed heads are in a bag in the shed drying and waiting to be threshed.  Next I shall select five top quality roots from this year’s crop to allow to seed for 2010.  These roots are planted in the wild area of my back garden as, in flower, they are rather attractive in an unruly way and support an amazing number of insects.

    Broad beans were sown rather late in mid-November – I like a November sowing but people who sowed in October have large seedlings already while mine are only now emerging and being decimated by mousey marauders (who are in for a nasty surprise).  A long cold spell now could cause me trouble, but a cold spell in February might damage others earlier more forward crops.  

    Hardy round-seeded peas on the other hand are doing well.  Or at least the mange-tout ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ is.  The round-seeded shelling pea ‘Douce Provence’ seems to be substandard with a poor emergence and may have to be resown in February. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ is standard commercial cultivar and high quality seed is widely available, but ‘Douce Provence’ is only grown by amateurs and there is not the same motivation to provide the best quality seed.

    A modest crop of over-wintered onion sets have been planted and are growing well through white fronted opaque polythene.  Shallots and garlic have been planted through black polythene.  I have decided that I very much like shallots and more bulbs are on order.

    The first digging of the winter has been done on ill-drained areas throwing the soil into ridges to aid drainage, expose clods to frost and facilitate early planting next year.  These wet areas have caused much trouble in recent springs, not drying out until early summer and then setting hard.

    Almost all other uncropped ground is covered, either with black plastic to kill the autumn flush of weeds or with cover crops of mustard or Italian ryegrass to suppress weeds and scavenge nutrients.  All will be rotovated in February.


  • Late summer abundance

    Guy Barter on 29 Sep 2008 at 08:47 AM

    Warmth and sun make ‘allotmenteering’ a pleasure at the moment and it is tempting to indulge in unattractive gloating over the late summer abundance.

    Turnips were reported on national media last week to, according to supermarkets, be increasingly popular on account of their low cost compared to other foods.  One suspects that the increase was from a very low base as turnips are a minor crop; the media always omit the crucial information


  • Tomatoes at last

    Guy Barter on 26 Sep 2008 at 07:51 AM

    It has been a long wait and expensive in fungicide, but at last the outdoor tomatoes can be gathered by the bucketful; the slightly blight-tolerant ‘Ferline’, a moderate sized beefsteak cultivar, is the heaviest cropper by far with masses of bright red, tasty succulent fruits, but my favourite is ‘Russian Black’, really a chocolate-maroon sort of colour, with a tangy, salty fresh flavour to its massive ribbed fruits.   Wide spacing and a weed suppressing paper mulch have kept airflow up around the plants and backed up with fungicide the crop is disease free.  The cold nights are causing metabolic disorders so the crop will only last two weeks or so.

    While waiting for the last crops to mature, maintenance tasks can be done before the soil gets wet and heavy to work.  As a start the edges were cleaned up.  Normally a carefully directed spray of glyphosate is used to maintain the grass edges but with the summer wind and rain this has not been possible, so it is back to the old way with edging iron and line to make crisp satisfying straight edges. The first steps for the big end of season clear-up have been taken


  • Potato Digging

    Guy Barter on 09 Sep 2008 at 10:53 PM

    The last of the second earlies were dug in the rain this weekend. You can do that on sandy soil. There are few days in the year when the soil is too wet to work. The damp tubers were left to dry in an open fronted shed beneath plenty of newspaper to exclude light.

    After the ground was cleared it was levelled with landscaping rake, trod firm, raked again and sown with Italian ryegrass and raked again to cover the seed and trodden again to firm the seed in. The grass should germinate in a few days and by March will be a leafy sward ready to incorporate after protecting the soil all winter.


  • Covering up

    Guy Barter on 03 Sep 2008 at 07:31 AM

    No point in sowing or planting new veg crops now of course so it is time to sow cover crops. Sandy soil should never be left uncovered if at all possible.  Cover crops will suppress weeds, scavenge nutrients left over from the manures and fertilisers used this year and protect the soil from battering under winter rain.

    My favourite cover crop is Italian ryegrass – a vigorous annual forage grass that, in these mild southern districts, will grow all winter.  I also have some caliente mustard and finally some T&M mixed green manures.  Naturally these are pest free and even pigeons turn up their noses at these crops. The mustard is first as its larger seeds grow quickly smothering weeds that are still germinating in warm moist soil.

    As the spuds come out the ground is raked level, seed broadcast, raked in and the ground trodden very firm.  Last year, as is usual in this district, the soil was too dry and dusty for good results but this year the moist ground is in perfect condition.  Recent last minute sowing of pak choi, turnips and salads germinated in two days, so the cover crops should be up very fast.

    Second-early potatoes have matured.  I mostly grow these rather than maincrops because, here, in a dry year potatoes just run out of water and die in late summer and second earlies at least fulfil their yield potential by then.  I am trying out some new second-earlies this year.  ‘Vivaldi’ behaved like a first early and had a high early yield of smooth, white creamy tubes, but it won’t replace my favourite earlies, ‘Accent’ and ‘Lady Christl’. The first batch of Cosmos, a typical Dutch supermarket white cultivar ideal for pre-packing, and for my purposes drought resistant, tolerant of diseases and pests, very high yielding and good quality, was lifted and stored.  Next out was ‘Bonnie’, a potato new to me, white with pink eyes, that yielded less than Cosmos but had a high proportion of big round ‘bakers’.   Baked potatoes, with baked apples, are an autumn favourite of mine.  Of the continental cultivars tried last year, only ‘Red Laure’ impressed me enough to repeat and it has grown much better this year in the absence of blight.

    The next batch of spuds have already died back and are ready for lifting and in fact the early maincrop ‘Ambo’ and ‘Robinta’ are maturing fast.  The late ‘Cara’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ are still going strong.  This greatly eases the blight spraying chore with what may well be the last spray given to all but the very latest spuds.

    Tomatoes will still need regular blight protection but they are grown in a compact batch next to the shed, in which I keep a mini-sprayer permanently charged with fungicide with which to mist the plants very carefully whenever the weather is wet and warm.  At last the outdoor beefsteaks ‘Ferline’ are ripening meaning that I can now gather all the ingredients for ratatouille.

    This summer I have done little cooking as such but feasted on whatever choice morsels of meat or fish that can be quickly and lightly cooked were on offer (or more usually approaching the end of their shelf-life) in the local supermarket and heaps of briskly steamed or boiled veg and plenty of salads.  This happy situation will soon end as autumn begins so I am trying to make the most of summer produce while I can.


  • Good week for biodiversity.

    Guy Barter on 25 Aug 2008 at 03:35 PM

    It has been a good week for biodiversity.  While cleaning and sorting onions into those for late winter storage, ones to use before December and the rest to use as soon as possible, I saw, through the corner of my eye, a rather dirty onion get up and walk off.  On inspection this unusual onion was a toad which had made a home in the cold frame where the onions are ripening. It crawled off into the herbaceous borders.

    Then when lifting the mulching sheet as the last of the broad beans were cleared a slow worm slipped quietly from beneath the sheet into the adjacent strawberry bed. In fact there now appear to be slow worms under all my many mulching sheets - I have seen more slow worms this week than ever before


  • Harvesting; where to begin?

    Guy Barter on 20 Aug 2008 at 10:33 AM

    At last allotment work is easing off and the plot is mostly up to date.  I have to say I am relieved – it has been a bit hectic harvesting and replanting at the same time.

    With only six weeks or so of growing weather left, plants must not run short of nutrients.    However everything looks mighty lush and only some weak, newly planted or pigeon damaged plants need feeding. Brassicas checked by pigeons, have had a second dose of calcium nitrate to boost growth and keep the soil alkaline.  Where grow is not quite as it should be sulphate of ammonia has been applied, dissolved in water and placed at the base of affected plants with a watering can, to crops destined for autumn harvest; beans, beetroot, celery, courgettes and various salads and also in moderation to celeriac and leeks for winter harvest.  Ground cleared of summer crops and due to be resown or replanted has received a boost of dried poultry manure pellets


  • Pungent wheels

    Guy Barter on 08 Aug 2008 at 10:11 PM

    People are even more reluctant than usual to ride in my car now carting home the alliums is in full swing.  Last year my garlic, onions and shallots were so disappointing that an emergency leek planting session had to be undertaken to have enough alliums for the winter.  Not so this year, although I have still planted an improbable number of leeks.

    The spring planted onion sets and shallots have fallen over and dried off – they have come home now, to ripen in the coldframe, to make room for the last of the leeks. They were grown through white faced black polythene salvaged from the ‘Taste of Autumn’ Wisley event.  This kept down the weeds and reflected light back up into the foliage.  I have been a bit sceptical about this white polythene but I really think it has benefitted this sun-loving crop.  With no need to weed and hoe there is no need to space plants widely or in rows.  Therefore the onion crop was set out at a high density with about 10cm between plants.  The onions are on the small side of course but there are a very great many of them, all about 6 - 8cm in diameter which is fine for home use.  On the other hand the white kept the soil cooler delaying maturity by two weeks compared to black polythene, but I think the yield is better under white.

    There was virtually no bolting suggesting I could have planted a fortnight earlier for a bigger crop.

    In the coldframe they join the over-wintered crop, which being planted much more widely are very much bigger, although the crop per square metre is smaller than for the closely planted spring onions.  ‘Setton’ and ‘Sturon’ were the main spring planted onions and cropped very well as usual and were joined by newcomer ‘Stur BC20’ which seems just as good although it is hard to say if it is better.  A new red onion ‘Red Supreme’ seemed to have the edge on good old ‘Red Baron’.  A white onion ‘Snowball’ also did well, but is so pungent as to be almost unusable.  Perhaps it will come at you less fiercely after storage.

    Official onion trials suggest some good newcomers for 2009: ‘Reddawn’ and ‘Red Emperor’ are reported to be very promising and two sets with good disease resistance may be available to gardeners soon.  By some fluke of dry weather in June onion downy mildew was less damaging this year but is a scourge against which the gardener has no defence.

    As ever ‘Senshyu Semi-Globe Yellow’ and ‘Radar’ were reliable over-winter and the red ‘Electric’ is completely reliable unlike older over-wintered reds.

    A wide range of shallot cultivars were grown from onion-sized ‘Red Sun’ and ‘Hative de Niort’ to funny little ones whose label I have yet to uncover from beneath the black landscape fabric mulch through which all the over-wintered onions, shallots and garlic were grown.  Some of these shallots were set out in spring to replace onions that failed over winter and have filled in the gaps productively.

    To harvest the onions and shallots the sheet is lifted and those bulbs that don’t come way with the sheet are gathered up.  I was pleased with myself for planting beans, courgettes and pumpkins into the maturing onion crop to get an early start but of course I cannot now lift the sheet and each onion has to be laboriously inched out without disturbing the following crop.

    Garlic has all been gathered with ‘Early Wight’ and ‘Solent Wight’ making a heavy crop despite the severe rust disease and ‘Moldavian Wight’ being very much smaller, but supposedly tastier. I am not sure about that.


  • Bean (and pea) feast

    Guy Barter on 08 Aug 2008 at 09:34 PM

    Peas and beans are the mainstay of my midsummer allotment crops; Pea ‘Ambassador’ grown for shelling produces two pods per node on tall leafy plants that put up a good fight against weeds.  The pods this year area little short – it is always much better to have 10 peas in a pod than 6, as shelling is so much easier.  ‘Balmoral’  has longer pods and lots of them but on shorter plants that compete less well with weeds. However, the edible podded snap pea ‘Cascadia’ is the most productive pea, which again grows tall and leafy, is delicious and I could grow only one pea this would be it.

    Peas are not very high yielding.  Official yield figures for peas are about 400g every square metre and broad beans are much the same, while dwarf French beans yield nearly double at about 750g and I would guess that edible-podded peas approach dwarf French beans (no official figures are available).  Climbing French beans probably crop a little more heavily but nowhere near as much as the 2000g produced by a good crop of runner beans.

    Like the pea season,  the broad bean season is on its last legs.  The main crop of ‘Witkiem Manita’ sown in March is nearly finished, the follow on crop of small seeded ‘Scorpio’ has been gathered and the final sowing of ‘Witkiem Manita’ has set a good crop and is just going over mature.   Scorpio has very tasty small beans, but I still think the bigger, more vigorous, ‘Witkiem Manita’ gives the best results overall.  If my eyes don’t deceive me this is the bean used for the August supermarket crops of broad beans and I hope to get similarly good results at this difficult season.  Old books recommend ‘The Sutton’ for this period but I was deeply unimpressed by its late performance last year, although it gave fair results from an over-wintered crop.

    The  French beans raised indoors in April have been gathered.  The direct sown beans from early May are almost over and the May sown is in flower now, while the June sown crop are 20cm tall but have yet to flower. As dwarf French beans are much the same in my view I just bought one big bag of 'Scuba' with some purple 'Royalty' for pretty.

     To follow them July-sown yellow and purple climbing French beans are climbing their wigwams and to follow these late sown runner beans have reached the top of their canes

    Both peas and broad beans are being cleared away now with time for a second crop before winter.  It is well to have plenty of plants on hand to follow on, and my stock of cell trays has been re-sown with courgettes, cucumbers, beetroot, calabrese, cauliflowers, herbs, kohl rabi, oriental greens, and salads ready to go out into the newly cleared ground.

    In the meantime courgette, French bean and runner bean seeds have been dibbled with a length of 25mm dowel through the holes in the landscape fabric through which broad beans have been grown.  It is amazing how well seeds germinate under this treatment as long as they have some slug control applied at the same time.  Without cultivation the soil has lost no moisture and the soil compacted by the dibber and the subsequent consolidation of the soil over the seeds by a clenched, gloved fist leads to rapid germination and growth, while the landscape fabric keeps the ground weedfree.  If all goes well, and remains deer-free, these will be cropped in October.  A covering of fleece boosts temperatures by a couple of degrees and excludes deer, which happily appear insufficiently enterprising to push aside the fleece.


  • Summer came and went

    Guy Barter on 08 Aug 2008 at 09:31 PM
    The fleeting spell of hot weather after Tatton Park Flower Show made all the difference to my allotment..

    For weeks careful watering and feeding to ‘push’ tender crops has been needed to make sure they develop enough roots and leaves to take advantage of summer when it arrives

    Sweet potatoes under their low polythene tunnel have gone from weedy plants covering a tea tray’s worth of ground to cover over a square metre.  In fact they are in danger of over-heating so the tunnel was pulled back and water applied to the landscape fabric mulch through which they are being grown.  They got a really good soak and this might do them for the year; until mid August anyway.  Abundant water can lead to lots of leaf and rather watery tubers, so they are being grown hard for smaller, but tastier tubers.

    Tomatoes have gone from thin and willowy to thick, dark green plants with large trusses of fruit.  Sweet corn from pallid and wispy to dark green and luxuriant.  Climbing french beans have arrived at the top of their canes putting on a spurt of growth.  Dwarf French beans are in full crop.  Cucumbers have burst out of their fleece tunnel.  Peppers have formed a heavy burden of fruit in their fleece tunnel.  Unfortunately courgettes the size of my little finger when I left were only fit for the compost pit.

    My numerous pumpkins and squashes have grown from plants you could almost fit under a bucket to sprawling monsters making their move on the nearby soft fruit

    As usual in high summer one other, much less welcome plant has shown its appreciation of the hot weather; Galinsoga AKA gallant soldier or kew weed. This extremely virulent South American weed loves heat, is not at all put off by dry soils and whole regiments of it have sprung up, especially in the root and brassica crops.  It had to go, but at least the weather was fine for a crawling though dusty crops pulling this stubborn weed out one by one.


  • It won’t last.

    Guy Barter on 12 Jul 2008 at 07:55 AM

     It won’t last.  The wet weather last year and this is a temporary aberration I learned when visiting the Changing Climate Dome at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

    The scientists from the Met Office, who are available for questions and give talks in this dome, tell me that the lovely wet weather that is essential for good crops on my dry sandy soil is due to La Niña. This is the opposite of El Niño which was apparently responsible for the hot, dry weather in 2006.

    They are climatic features in the equatorial regions of the Pacific Ocean off south America that involve oscillations for water temperature with La Niña being associated with colder water and El Niño with warmer.  The effects of these are, astonishingly, felt throughout the world.

    Worryingly, the Met Office scientists say that although this year will be cooler than 2006 because of La Niña, it will still be one of the warmest years on record.  When El Niño comes around again, as it surely will, we can expect heatwaves and excellent tomato and melon crops, but the peas, brassicas and salads will need heavy watering to do well.

    I am going back to the flower show today and I will have a lot more questions on climate change for the Met Office people.


  • Plant Care

    Guy Barter on 04 Jul 2008 at 07:51 AM

    Now that all but a few of the allotment crops are established, it is time to think of plant care.  It is very important that the leaf area expands quickly as July is a make or break month with long days and the sun high in the sky so that plants can do an enormous amount of growing this month.  August is not quite as good and by September things slow down markedly.

    Weeds in rows have been kept down by the Dutch hoe up and down the rows, followed by the onion hoe between the plants.  Uncropped areas such as paths have been treated with the new weedkiller called ‘Resolva’ – it contains glyphosate that will kill all weeds and diquat.  Diquat will only kill annual weeds but within 24 hours you can see where you have been and don’t have to wait 10 days to see any missed plants as you do with ordinary glyphosate.

    For widely spaced plants such as tomatoes and Brussels sprouts each plant is surrounded by a low, 5cm high earth bank and water poured into the ‘pond’.  The water is fortified with a couple of teaspoons equivalent of nitrogen fertiliser in every watering can.  Sulphate of ammonia is used for most crops, but for brassicas this acidifying fertiliser is unsuitable as it may promote clubroot.  Calcium nitrate is used for brassicas as it will help to reduce clubroot disease due to its basic or alkaline character.

    More closely spaced crops are grown in shallow 7cm deep trenches and during weeding these get filled in.  With the onion hoe their banks are restored and again water and fertiliser added.

    Although the soil is fundamentally fertile my judgement is that generous watering and feeding at this stage is very worthwhile.


  • Double cropping

    Guy Barter on 25 Jun 2008 at 10:46 PM

    The very best land, much in demand by commercial growers of vegetables, fruit and salads, is sometimes called ‘double cropping’ land because it is supposed to grow two crops a year.  Allotments are very seldom to be found on double-cropping land; they are almost always on land no one else wants.  

    However, by spending money on manure, fertiliser and lime, allotment holders transform their plots into double-cropping land.   

    Over-wintered broad beans are an essential part of my double-cropping.  These are now over and have been pulled up through the holes in the black plastic mulch that has kept them weed-free since the autumn and consigned to the compost pit.  A tottering 2m pile of rotting vegetation stands over the 1m deep pit – all will rot down to fill the pit with rich compost by September.

    Through the black plastic, plants of winter squash are set out using a bulb-planter to plant each transplant raised in a 5cm degradable pots.  The soil is firmed round the pot and it is puddled in with several soaking of liquid fertiliser solution. It is a little on the late side to be setting out squash plants but the plants are strong, there is little damage to the roots by this method of transplanting and liquid fertiliser will get them off to a good start.  Some nitrogen will remain from the beans and some of the preceding potatoes’ heavy manuring and feeding will also remain.  I have high hopes.

    The over-wintered ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ peas are long-gone now and their place taken by a row of ‘Crown Prince’ squashes, and the subsequent March-sown ‘Misty’ has given three pickings and is now consigned to the compost.  ‘Misty’ might not be the heaviest cropping pea but by sowing two packets I have had a good crop of very tasty peas and it has proved impressively tolerant of wet soil and rain.  In its place has been sown a row of runner beans ‘Polestar’ for the simple reason that deer ate the first sowing of ‘Enorma’ and ‘Polestar’ was one of the few packets left in Wisley plant centre.

    More opportunities for double-cropping are imminent; garlic and shallots are drying off and will soon be ready to lift, a succession of broad beans and peas are scheduled to be harvested before August and the early potatoes will all be gone by mid July.

    Waiting in the standing area are celltrays of leeks, basil, coriander, parsley and other herbs.  More biodegradable pots have been sown with courgettes and cucumbers, while celltrays have been sown with Florence fennel, calabrese, cauliflowers, Chinese cabbage, kohl rabi and lettuces.  Packets of beetroot, French beans, dwarf runner beans, radish, rocket, turnips and finger carrots have been held back for the double cropping areas.  All these should go in before mid-July to get a double crop for the autumn.


  • Last plantings

    Guy Barter on 17 Jun 2008 at 06:24 PM

    Planting-out is nearly done with celery, celeriac and tomatoes going out last night.  This followed planting of summer and early autumn cabbages, cauliflowers and calabrese as an intercrop in between where the winter cabbages, sprouting broccoli and kales will be planted at the end of the month. The cool, moist weather is helping plants get going.

    True, leeks and some cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli remain, but these are easy to plant in comparison. 


  • Dodgy muck

    Guy Barter on 13 Jun 2008 at 01:59 PM

    With record numbers of enquiries to the RHS gardening advisers about weedkiller damage to potatoes that often appear to be linked to manure contaminated with the pasture weedkiller aminopyralid, my heart has been in my mouth that I too might have bought dodgy muck.  But so far so good – all looks well and the spuds in particular are bold strong plants that appear to have benefited from the manure far more than from the lavish fertiliser usually used.  If you have had the misfortune to inadvertantly buy in contaminated manure, we would very much like to hear about it - when and where you bought it, what crops are affected and if you have been able to trace the contamination to the source - please email us at and put 'dodgy muck' in the subject line.

    Of the early potatoes, ‘Accent’, my long-standing favourite, is the most advanced and can be dug and is as ever delicious.  ‘Vanessa’ is not far behind but ‘Premiere’ is still recovering from frost damage and won’t be ready until next week.  It is amazing how things creep up on you – I went off to work at BBC Gardeners' World Live at Birmingham on Saturday after having to scratch round to find a few lettuces for my tea, and returned to find spuds ready to dig, broad beans in full crop, the first of the spring sown peas ready and the over-wintered peas nearly over.  Baby turnips, spinach and hybrid summer cabbages are also ready to gather


  • Most Excellent Rain

    Guy Barter on 04 Jun 2008 at 06:59 PM

    Heavy rain has restored the allotment soil to full moisture.  Winkling out spent winter crops revealed bone-dry powdery sand beneath, so it is certain that flowering broad beans and peas were suffering and would set fewer pods and potatoes would not initiate their full cropping potential.  All that has now been remedied by some most excellent rain.

    Brussels sprouts, autumn and winter cabbages and other brassica transplants, raised in small pots to get a head start on clubroot disease, were set out in the perfect planting weather.  The last of the root crops were sown in the newly moist soil; swedes, long beetroot for winter use and a very few (who needs more?) scorzonera and Belgian chicory.  Both, roots and brassicas are potentially very heavy yielding indeed so relatively small areas are needed.  What with adding plenty of lime to planting holes to keep down clubroot disease and placing mats to exclude cabbage root fly around each plant, it is slow work setting out brassica plants.  At least heavy watering has not been needed


  • Will I, won’t I have to water?

    Guy Barter on 25 May 2008 at 12:37 PM

    Will I have to water, won’t I have to water?  Rain so far has usefully wetted the ground, but more is forecast and with luck it will top up the soil at just the right moment as seeds are emerging, lettuces hearting up, spuds initiating their tubers and peas and beans are in full flower.  Enough rain now could lead to bumper crops without me having to lay hands on watering can.

    Rain also leads to disease.  Potato blight was rampant last year and the strain that predominates here in the south-east, officially called “blue-13 A2 blight”, is worryingly more dangerous than previous types, infecting more quickly, producing more spores and has adapted to overcome resistance genes and most fungicides. To be on the safe side Dithane (mancozeb) was applied to the potatoes to protect the stems that will soon be inaccessible beneath the foliage canopy.  Dithane (and copper fungicide) kills blight in a number of ways and blight has been unable to overcome it despite decades of use


  • Nasty little frosts

    Guy Barter on 23 May 2008 at 05:28 PM

    Colder weather has led to nasty little ground frosts that have nipped the spuds.  Only the ‘Charlotte’ has been badly affected, where about half the plants are unlikely to come to anything now.  The others should all recover soon.

    Perversely, salads begin to mature when the weather turns chilly with the lettuces and cabbages bought as plants in March are hearting up and radishes and salad onions reaching a usable size.  Warming lettuce soup might be their fate


  • Trouble in the bean patch

    Guy Barter on 19 May 2008 at 07:49 AM

    I had a weekend away last week, and before I went everything was watered, fed, hoed, netted, earthed up, planted or sown as required and left to get on with it while I enjoyed the amazing summery weather on the Isle of Wight.  Well, I cannot go any further away at this time of year – too busy.

    On returning, I found a forest of brassica transplants ready to go out, but the ground unfit to receive them.  As the brassica patch is already bearing the 'intercrop' of salads these had to be tidied up with weeds removed and the plants thinned.  Then the brassica rows were drawn out as 25cm wide flat bottomed drills, between the intercrop rows, with a mattock and the soil made intensely alkaline with a stiff dressing of garden lime and calcium cyanamide (Perlka) to deter clubroot disease.  Because alkaline soil locks up boron, extra was applied by dissolving household borax in hot water (it won’t dissolve in cold water), and watering it onto the drills.  The chemicals were them cultivated into the soil at the base of the drill.  Perlka is a bit fierce on the roots so it will be left for a few days (it should be left at least 10 days but time presses) before planting out.  All this should have been done weeks ago but the soil has been too wet to traverse.  Birds have already been tearing into the lettuces and deer could polish off the beetroot in a night.  Obviously it would be folly to put out the precious brassica transplants undefended. Although we have spent the winter mending the perimeter fences the deer could outflank us along the railway whenever they wish.  The netting stockpile was therefore brought out and erected over the cabbage patch


  • Tide turned

    Guy Barter on 09 May 2008 at 11:15 PM

    At last the tide has turned and I can now sow at will in good weather and with warm moist soils – perfect.

    Carrots for winter harvest were sown this weekend.  For rotational reasons they are not grown on my raised beds this year but in open ground.  This sandy soil is ideal for carrots, but it is also ideal for carrot fly and annual weeds.  The weeds have been allowed to germinate and then killed before sowing.  A narrow, 90cm bed was drawn out with line and hoe and rows pressed crossways into the soil 15mm deep with a lath of timber.  The firm soil at the base of the drill ensure plenty of moisture and a firm grip for the seedling root.  The bed was loosened with a fork before sowing to eliminate any compaction that might lead to forked roots.  This bed is fertile because masses of compost was rotovated in last year so the only fertiliser used was the usual 15g per square metre of sulphate of potash.  Such a narrow bed is very easy to reach into for weeding.  Carrot foliage is too feathery to inconvenience weeds with shade so much laborious weeding is usually required and anything to speed up this task is worthwhile


  • Spuds in

    Guy Barter on 28 Apr 2008 at 08:17 AM

    All the spuds are now in the ground.  A deep groove or drill was pulled in the finely cultivated soil with a mattock, a light dressing of sulphate of potash (20g per square metre equivalent) and chicken manure pellets (100g per square metre equivalent) was dusted along the bottom of the drill and covered with a sweep of a three prong cultivator.  Tubers were placed over this fertile strip every 35-45cm depending on the size of tuber and number of sprouted eyes and covered with 8cm of soil.  Placing the fertiliser in the drill saves fertiliser and money and helps reduce weed problems.

    Many allotment growers have taken to making huge ridges at planting time, but I prefer to leave the soil more or less flat and draw up the ridge over several weeks as the spuds grow killing weeds as I go and at some stage sprinkling general fertiliser over the entire plot so that this too is mixed into the ridge making a fertile finely divided environment for roots and tubers to form.  I don’t suppose it matters much which method is used as long as the tubers are not set too deep (>15cm)


  • Deeply stirred

    Guy Barter on 17 Apr 2008 at 05:12 PM

    At last the weather has turned around enough to get cultivations finished.  Two days without rain, and with a light breeze, is sufficient in these lengthening days and increased warmth from the sun, to dry the soil enough to consider rotovating.

    I rushed home from work, oiled, greased the machine, having to my shame put it away dirty, used old coat hangers to re-attach the bits that were hanging off (until I can get to the local dealership) and headed to the allotment. The potato ground was ‘milled’ into a fine mould with the manure thoroughly mixed in.  Now that the drills can be drawn and ridges easily made, the seed tubers sprouting in my garden shed can be planted


  • Things are beginning to slip

    Guy Barter on 03 Apr 2008 at 10:22 PM

    Things are beginning to slip.  With rain every weekend I am not keeping up with the planting schedule.

    On Saturday morning the weather was spring-like and I planted out my stock of bought-in lettuces and cabbages under a fleece tent with slug pellet protection (iron phosphate low toxicity ones naturally). Slugs are at plague level


  • A perfect weekend

    Guy Barter on 25 Mar 2008 at 07:53 PM

    A perfect weekend - for the office, and with great good luck I was dispensing gardening advice to the multitudes at Wisley this weekend as the wintry showers swept across Surrey.  Usually, days are balmy when I am working.

    Even so 'cabin fever' struck after three days indoors and I did squelch round the allotment emptying the last compost pit


  • Waiting for the sun

    Guy Barter on 17 Mar 2008 at 11:35 PM

    The rotovator got its first outing a week ago.  Where big plastic sheets had kept the rain off, all went fairly well with the soil dryish and all the weeds killed by smothering.  But where manure had been spread the rotovator struggled.  The truth is I had been too previous and the soil was too wet for effective cultivation where soggy lumps of dung were present - I had expected it to be difficult, but it was in fact impossible.  The manure was very lumpy and also had blocks of silage mixed it.  The best that could be said is that the manure was very well chopped up and mixed into the top 10cm of the soil.  The rotovator would not go deeper.  This leaves me in a dilemma.  Do I make the best of a poor job; or should I finish the job off with hand tools or come back in April when the manure has rotted more and risk losing valuable growing time and soil moisture?  Go back in April I expect.  At least the base dressing of poultry pellets were spread at a 200g every square metre (half this where manure has been applied or where carrots and peas are to be grown) and 20g of sulphate of potash per square metre.  Almost complete lack of wind made spreading very easy.

    A third of the plot is still covered with winter crops; cabbages, Brussels, leeks, Swedes and other roots.  I will have to rotovate this in April ready for late crops sown and planted in May and June


  • Cultivation time approaches

    Guy Barter on 05 Mar 2008 at 07:38 AM

    Cultivation time approaches - but the soil was a tad too wet after rain on Friday to rotovate this weekend.  No matter; plenty of time yet.

    The rotovator was dragged out and checked.  Completely uncharacteristically
    I cleaned it up and changed the engine oil before putting it away last year, so it was just a matter of a penetrating-oil spray to all moving parts and cables and replacing the transmission oil as there is an annoying minor leak in the rotor bearing so it has to be drained if left unused for a long period.  The old petrol was replaced with fresh unleaded and all is ready to go


  • First sowings for 2008

    Guy Barter on 26 Feb 2008 at 09:31 PM

    Dry soil halves the work and a recent run of dry weather has left the ground easily workable.  The remnants of last year’s sweet corn were carefully hand dug incorporating a light sprinkling of compost.  This is for a planting of raspberries, but as the raspberries will take a year to reach a sensible size, there is scope for a crop of March planted onion sets between them and the nearby row of loganberries. Leaves, weeds and other debris from beneath the soft fruit were raked out and incorporated while digging to add organic matter and save the trouble of conveying them to the compost pit.

    The strawberry bed dug over the winter and left as a ridge was raked level.  Raspberries were to have gone in here too, but the level of bindweed infestation is too high for a successful long term crop.  To clean the soil up a crop of broad beans will be taken. The ridge was raked level removing yet more bindweed and 15g per square metre of sulphate of potash sprinkled evenly over the bed, along with a modest amount, 100g every square metre, of dried poultry manure pellets.  A sheet of black landscape fabric, with holes every 25cm, was secured over the bed and ‘Witkiem Manita’ broad beans seeds sown through the sheet, two beans to every hole.   With luck the bindweed will die a lingering death beneath the sheet or if not, can be treated with glyphosate weedkiller in late summer, ready for some  fruit planting in the autumn.  Weed control is the most tiresome part of allotment growing and  the landscape fabric will save hours of weeding


  • As the days grow longer the cold grows stronger

    Guy Barter on 20 Feb 2008 at 07:09 PM

    As the days grow longer the cold grows stronger as we allotment growers say and so it has been recently with vicious frosts overnight that make the broad bean and onion plants look a little sick.  However they soon bounce back as the sun comes up.

    To help them along nitrogen-rich compound fertiliser (15:15:15 - remember that the formulae in Britain, but not most other countries, apply to elemental nitrogen, but to oxygen compounds of phosphorus and potassium and oxygen has no nutrient value so the useful content is really something like 15:6:12) was applied at 70g every square metre to the onions to suppress flowering and 30g to the beans to pick up growth until the soil is warm enough for them to make their own nitrogen


  • Frozen at last

    Guy Barter on 03 Feb 2008 at 11:42 PM

    A good freeze at last. With the ground solid, the black polythene sheets keeping rain off the manure heap, were pulled off the manure heap and used to cover the 120 most weed infested square metres of the plot. The weeds should now begin to rot beneath the polythene and rain will be excluded so that rotovating can soon begin. Conditions could not have been better; all the water and manure-derived slime on the sheets had frozen solid and either fell off or added enough weight to stop the sheets flapping in the slight breeze. Logs and blocks were used to anchor the sheets in case of any more gales.

    Manure was then barrowed out to the plot intended for the new asparagus bed. There is light at the end of the 'manure tunnel' – twenty more barrow loads should see the heap spread and rotovating can begin


  • Ah, muck spreading

    Guy Barter on 27 Jan 2008 at 09:56 PM

    Ah, muck spreading; staggering along with a creaking barrow of heavy manure on wet, slippery soil. There is nothing quite like it. The manure is rotting well and full of brandling worms. The local robin follows me round with great enthusiasm.

    Still the potato ground is covered, and I have plenty of muck left to add a half dressing to the pea and bean patch. Usually I go for a barrow load every 1.5m, but for these crops that need little feeding I shall stretch it out to 3m


  • Winter greens and bonfires

    Guy Barter on 23 Jan 2008 at 08:27 PM

    I have taken a break from the allotment for a few weeks, except for harvesting. Winter veg are still in full swing, with very satisfactory Brussels sprouts and Savoy cabbages.

    Her loveliness has invented some 'innovative' recipes to combine her two favourite foods (after chocolate) – pasta and Brussels sprouts. I have to admit that they are surprisingly tasty although not perhaps fit for entertaining company


  • Here we go again

    Guy Barter on 25 Nov 2007 at 09:45 AM

    Here we go again. The last of the autumn planting is done with garlic and shallots joining broad beans, onions and peas in a broad expanse of crops that will grow over winter for early summer harvest. These will be quickly followed by a second crop thereby fulfilling my aspiration to grow three crops every two years. The cropping plan for 2008 is under way.

    Most of the debris, stakes and other artefacts from last summer’s crops are gathered up and that that remains is only there because it is more convenient to pick these up and carry them to the compost bins and service area under the trees as part of round trip that returns with compost and manure taken out to the cropping area


  • Winter begins

    Guy Barter on 19 Nov 2007 at 09:16 AM

    After a week of frosts the summer crops are finally finished. Last weekend I picked a whole carrier bag of runner beans, from the July sowing, in top conditions, but this weekend I pulled up the entire browned, frosted row, consigned the haulm to the compost pit and recovered the canes for use next year.

    Turnips have grown mightily in the mild autumn weather and despite their reputation for strong taste and woody flavour have been very acceptable when glazed or made into soup. A colleague suggested raising some in module trays from seed to maturity when they are the same size as a large radish. The resulting mini-turnips were especially fine textured and mild flavoured. An excellent vegetable for a small space


  • Peas and beans again

    Guy Barter on 02 Nov 2007 at 01:14 PM

    Perfect autumn weather of sun, light rains and breezes left the soil in perfect condition for sowing peas and beans to grow over-winter.

    Pea 'Oregon Sugar Pod' was sown in a triple row aiming for a plant every 9cm. The soil was raked over and pressed, but left uncovered so prowling foxes can deter mice form taking up residence. When the peas emerge a fleece covering to exclude those pesky birds as well as give a little extra protection will be put in place


  • Runner beans and Brussels sprouts

    Guy Barter on 22 Oct 2007 at 08:58 AM

    This is a curious time of year when summer crops still produce, although much singed by recent over-night frosts and winter crops, their flavour enhanced by the cold, are ready to gather.  

    This weekend courgettes, runner beans and tomatoes were picked and so were Brussels sprouts and celery and parsnips are lifted as well.  Brussels sprout ‘Maximus' has proved early and very heavy cropping for this first part of the sprout season.  The wet summer has been ideal for sprouts; they usually go blue and stunted from summer drought in this district unless heavily watered.  I have 35 sprout plants so I calculate we need to consume two plants a week - a tall order despite her loveliness's remarkable appetite for this vegetable. Celery ‘Loretta' has produced good heads but it has matured faster than I can use it and many of the outer stalks are ‘pithy' and past their best - celery soup is clearly imminent. 


  • The end is nigh

    Guy Barter on 14 Oct 2007 at 07:47 PM

    Time to face it - the last squeak of summer is gone.  Aubergines, cucumbers, peas and peppers were cleared this weekend.  There are still a few tomatoes, but with the recent warm, dewy nights blight is taking them before they ripen.  Bringing green ones indoors is no good - they already contain the seeds of their own destruction, so to speak.

    Courgettes, French and runner beans are on their last legs -a week or two at most, unless frost stricken before


  • Great Autumn Clear-Up

    Guy Barter on 07 Oct 2007 at 09:30 PM

    The great autumn clear-up begins.  French and runner beans are largely gone now.  Pumpkins and squash are spent and the fruit gathered in.  The haulms, as the stems are officially called, have been  raked up along with the weeds that have begun to thrive as the haulm dies back letting in light to the enfeebled weeds.  

    As the compost pits are full and the dislodged weeds are mixed with soil, it as quick to dig in the waste materials as compost them in a temporary heap. A strip of black plastic laid across the pumpkin bed as a path was lifted.  The weed free soil was excavated to make a trench halfway across the plot 25cm deep and 40cm wide.  The trench was filled with weeds and debris and half the plot methodically dug burying the weeds and wastes.  When the end of the plot is reached the trench will be opened on the other side and the remainder dug.  Weeds and crop debris from elsewhere in the allotment are brought to the trench for disposal as are the outer leaves and unwanted roots from leeks and celery.  The cabbage patch was weeded as the weeds lurking beneath the cabbages show their ugly heads.  Many of the cabbages are storing cultivars with both red and white heads, so clearing weeds and dead foliage will make for easier cutting later in the month when the heads are taken into store for the winter. 


  • Thieves, robbers and crooks

    Guy Barter on 01 Oct 2007 at 08:33 AM

    I want thieves, robbers and crooks, - in a word, weeds.  With the warm moist soil rich in plant foods the greedy, grasping roots of weeds will gather these costly materials and store them as plant matter.  Unlike the soluble soil nutrients, plant matter won't be washed, by winter rains, out of my thin sandy soil into the ground water and rivers.  I am pleased to say that cleared areas of the plot are greening up fast with a massive flush of weeds.  Naturally, I don't want to let them set seed but with winter just round the corner there is little chance of that. 

    Eventually they will be smothered by a thick layer of organic matter to be rotovated in during the spring.  Unfortunately the communal compost heap is much depleted my activities last winter and with foot and mouth disease in the district my chances of getting manure delivered are, for the moment, slim.  The allotment site is very close to affected farms.  I am looking into stable manure at the moment. 


  • Spud Grubbing

    Guy Barter on 24 Sep 2007 at 04:46 PM

    The last of the potatoes are gathered in.  ‘Fleur Pecher', a French maincrop with pink-red skin gave a fair yield of blemish free tubers.  Slugs seem to have left it alone and there were no rots. 

    ‘Bleu D'Auvergne', another French maincrop with pale purple skin came in well too.  Not a heavy yield, but you don't expect heavy crops of these unusual cultivars. 


  • Bean harvest

    Guy Barter on 17 Sep 2007 at 01:52 PM

    Haricot beans ‘Brown Dutch' were dry and ‘strawy' enough to pull up by the roots and take home to hang on a string in the sun.  Here they will dry and ripen protected from birds and squirrels by the watchful local moggies until ready to thresh out the seeds for storing for winter soups and stews. 

    Once the beans were recovered large weeds, which were rather numerous in the bean patch, were pulled up and the soil raked over with a home-made ‘mulcher'.  This is three pronged cultivator with a wire attached to the prongs to sever weed roots and loosen soil without inverting the surface layer.  The idea is to kill all weeds but leave any weed seeds on the surface to germinate rather than bury them and make them dormant to be a problem in future crops.  The weeds will be dug in as ‘fertiliser' next spring. 


  • Gathering potatoes

    Guy Barter on 10 Sep 2007 at 01:14 PM

    Gathering potatoes 

    Dry soil, wind and bright sun make for perfect potato lifting weather.  The spuds are eased out of the soil using a five pronged fork found in a junk shop that is ideal for the task in my light sandy soil .  Where the ridges have been covered with black plastic after foliage removal last month the soil is much looser and more friable than the ridges left uncovered where the soil has dried to a hard crust making lifting very demanding on my delicate back.  However, the dry soil means that I can dispense with the drying period usually recommended before storing tubers. 


  • Harvest time

    Guy Barter on 04 Sep 2007 at 10:44 AM

    Vegetables have been taking a backseat this week, while I deal with fruit.  Gathering apples, pears, raspberries and plums, collecting wild blackberries and cutting back strawberries and raspberries, and winkling bindweed out of currant and gooseberry plantations are very pleasant summer tasks. 

    To be truthful, I have had enough of veg growing for a while and am happy to gather the abundant crops of courgettes, French and runner beans, peppers, sweetcorn and more modest crops of tomatoes and aubergines.  There are a few summer cabbages and a little salad remaining as well. 


  • Late summer slow-down

    Guy Barter on 28 Aug 2007 at 08:51 AM

    The expected slow-down in late summer growth is setting in now. As days get shorter, nights cooler and the sun is lower in the sky growth falls off, getting slower and slower until in about 12 weeks it stops almost entirely until spring.  It is not a nice thought, but it is no good dwelling on it as the veg grower must make the best use of what summer remains.  

    My hoeing and weeding last weekend was followed by several days of rain.  But instead of the remaining weeds recovering, as they woud have a few weeks ago, and growing vigorously they have hardly moved and were given a second going over in the bright sunshine yesterday. 


  • Tomatoes, leeks, potatoes and cabbage

    Guy Barter on 21 Aug 2007 at 09:33 PM

    More rain, more spraying but the blight seems to be held in check for now.  The ‘Ferline' tomatoes are ripening and I picked the first ripe tomato from the allotment.  I am still puzzled by the lack of growth and suspect that potato cyst nematode, always common on allotments, might be involved.  To help overcome it I have drawn earth around the stems of some tomatoes to see if that will grow more roots.  The ‘earthing-up' also helps deal with weeds. 

    There is no sign of the late summer slowdown of growth yet and weeds are still growing vigorously.  A hoeing and weeding session cleaned up the plot on Saturday morning.  With more rain forecast hoed-up weeds were laboriously picked up and removed to the compost pits to prevent recovery in subsequent wet spells. But all the bending made my back twinge so I was glad that we had visitors for the rest of the weekend so I could have a break.   


  • Easy times

    Guy Barter on 13 Aug 2007 at 10:27 AM

    Easy times are here at last.  Picking and gathering beetroot, cabbage, courgettes, cucumbers, green peppers, French beans, lettuces, radishes, runner beans, salad onions and second-early potatoes is the main task. 

    As ever the hoe is taken round the plot and larger weeds pulled from amongst maturing crops.  The haricot beans, pumpkins and runner beans were carefully rid of some large examples of galinsoga and fat hen.  


  • Hard work officially over for 2007

    Guy Barter on 06 Aug 2007 at 06:43 PM

    That's it; the hard work is officially over for 2007.   

    All significant areas of spare space has been planted up or sown.  This weekend French beans, courgettes and cucumbers were planted out and last minute salads including a little corn salad for winter were sown. 


  • Sun at last

    Guy Barter on 01 Aug 2007 at 12:04 PM

    Even after hoeing in June and then hand-weeding to winkle out survivors nestling in the rows, the wet July weather has brought up yet more weeds, that are growing like, well, weeds.  

    So it is back to work with the hoe.  A little sun and the hoe regains its effectiveness, lost while the soil was wet and hoeing merely moved weeds without killing them. 


  • Trouble in the potatoes

    Guy Barter on 30 Jul 2007 at 10:02 AM

    More rain, more blight and more spraying.  Unfortunately the spraying has not held up the blight and most spuds have been cut back as not being worth continuing with.  Clearly, I did not spray as often and as thoroughly as I could have done, although under current weather conditions I would have been lucky to be blight free. 

    This is not as bad as it seems as the majority of the affected spuds are second earlies that are either finished or coming to an end anyway or ‘Euro' cultivars of spuds that are so ill-adapted to a maritime climate that they are expected to perish from blight at the first opportunity.  Few Continental potato cultivars are grown for this reason, although I cannot resist trying. 


  • Lucky escape

    Guy Barter on 23 Jul 2007 at 08:33 AM

    Heavy rains that saw Wisley close due to flooding did not do great damage to the allotment.  The ditches are not running and paths remain passable.  Lucky local variations in storms perhaps. 

    The seed raised onion 'Golden Bear' was pulled.  The crop was meagre due to downy mildew damage.  The space occupied was weeded thoroughly, ready for light cultivation and planting in September with spring cabbage plants.  The cabbages will grow between sprouting broccoli and leeks, so that the whole lot can be cleared in one go next April ready for May sowings and plantings of courgettes, French beans, sweet corn and tomatoes. In the meantime the space makes an easy access path to weed and tend the leeks.  


  • Courgette glut

    Guy Barter on 17 Jul 2007 at 10:20 PM

    From famine to glut only takes a week with courgettes; already there are more than I can easily handle.  As the aubergines are way behind after the cool, dull recent weather the courgettes double up as aubergines in the kitchen. 

    The main batch of  summer brassicas are coming to an end.  These were interplanted between Brussels sprouts and are now mostly gathered leaving the sprouts to grow away.  The ‘Nautilus' cauliflowers and ‘Fiesta' calabrese  have been especially tasty and high yielding.  The kohl rabi and especially the turnips have been a bit disappointing, mainly I think because they got off to a poor start in dry weather and rather poorly prepared and tended seedbeds. However, I can redeem myself: more mini cabbages, calabrese, kohl rabi and turnips have been sown for autumn cropping to follow the runner and French beans and courgettes when they go over in October.  And on top of these Chinese cabbages are also sown.  These are a magnet for clubroot disease and caterpillars and I am not wild about them, but I like to chance a few. 


  • Goodbye to peas and broad beans

    Guy Barter on 17 Jul 2007 at 01:03 PM

    Finally, my peas and broad beans are nearly at an end. Their eagerly anticipated season is too brief and reminds me that the mid-point of summer has arrived. More than ever I must plan, sow and plant for winter and spring. 

    Pea and bean remains were pulled, raked up and carried by the vast forkful to the compost pits.  These now have a stack of material 1.5 high over the pit.  When their height returns to soil level the compost will be ready to dig out and spread - sometime in February probably.  Home compost making never ruins as sweetly or quickly as composting on television! 


  • Slightly too much rain

    Guy Barter on 11 Jul 2007 at 07:12 PM

    Like many veg growers I really don't like prolonged hot, dry sunny weather, but I have to admit last week was a bit too much of that particular good thing, rain. 

    It is not often that a garden of sandy soil in the south-east where the rainfall is usually less than 650mm, is too wet in mid-summer, but that was the case.  Mostly, I expect my garden to yield about 30 percent less in an ‘average' year, than a garden with a moisture retentive soil.  Sandy ground gives better over-winter and early crops but main season and late crops typically suffer from drought or are just not possible.  The relatively small areas of clay soil on my plot are nearly unworkable at the moment, but when the rain gives over I can get onto the sandy soil areas within a couple of hours. 


  • Onion Refuge

    Guy Barter on 09 Jul 2007 at 09:56 AM

    This weekend I headed off 90 miles to the west to visit my mother in the foothills of Salisbury Plain.  Not only was filial duty involved, but my main crop of onions is grown in her windswept, isolated garden.  With no other onion growers for miles the crop stays free of disease in most years.  

    On getting out of the car the first thing that you notice is how cold inland south western districts are at 400ft above sea level, compared to the near sea-level south-east.  It is immediately two degrees cooler.  And the squelching underfoot shows that the rainfall is 900mm plus compared to less than 700mm in Surrey. 


  • Leeks and onions

    Guy Barter on 01 Jul 2007 at 10:14 PM

    The last of the weeds are finally pulled up. I can get back to planting and sowing. 

    Most of my leeks were raised in cell-trays with three or four plants per tray.  Hybrid seed is expensive and I was not going to chance it in the soil, exposed to the weather.  The last of these, ‘Sultan' were set out this weekend in 10cm deep grooves it the soil.  These drills will be filled in as weeding and watering goes ahead, blanching the leeks.  Then as winter approaches the leeks will be earthed to give long blanched stems.  The leeks will grow in clusters. 


  • Time is running out

    Guy Barter on 29 Jun 2007 at 11:26 PM

    Cool, wet conditions are playing havoc with warm weather crops.  The Italian plotholders plant their allotments with peppers, aubergines and cowpeas.  These all look yellow and stunted.  I point out that good, sensible British cabbages, leeks, parsnips, peas and potatoes thrive under these conditions, go well with roast dinners and that it is folly to plant only things unsuited to the climate.  The moaning continues unabated however. 

    Storms have wandered around the district for the last few days.  The back garden has been only lightly wetted, but the allotments wre well soaked from a downpour packing seedbeds tight and flattening potato foliage.  Wet summers are very good for my sandy soil in this dry district, where drought stress kicks in after a only a few, hot, rainless days, but I might think quite differently if I had a heavy clay soil, and had not made the stiff, wet soil into raised beds. 


  • Weed and Feed

    Guy Barter on 25 Jun 2007 at 09:35 AM

    Long days and the sun high in the sky coupled with warmer temperatures mean that June and July are the crucial months for vegetable growers.  Crops will make a huge proportion of their growth in June/July.  But they can only do this if weeds are not out-competing them, they have been adequately thinned, there are sufficient nutrients in the soil and they are protected from pests and diseases. 

    The outbreak of heavy rain in the south in the last week has left ample water in the soil.  Enough in fact to carry crops through into August. 


  • Turn around time

    Guy Barter on 18 Jun 2007 at 10:47 AM

    Over-wintered broad beans, peas, garlic and onions were gathered this weekend and the space they occupied was turned around for the next crops. 

    The beans and peas were rather weedy so after the plants had been pulled up, debris and weeds raked and all material consigned to the compost pit, the plot was covered with black polythene.  I will come back this area at the end of month, when the weeds should be dead, to sow and plant extensively for autumn harvest.  By this time the first of the spring sown crops can be cleared as well, so there should be a large area to plant and sow. 


  • Back from Hols

    Guy Barter on 12 Jun 2007 at 11:35 AM

    After a holiday in Cornwall, I came back expecting the worst, but in fact things are pretty good.   I ‘mauled' anything remotely big enough to plant into the ground immediately after pouring rain before leaving.  Regretfully, slug pellets had to be applied or I would certainly, under these conditions, come back to find nothing. 

    Swedes, purple sprouting broccoli, autumn cauliflowers and winter cabbages and savoys were planted. Pumpkins and squashes were quickly and easily set out in ground previously kept weed free with plastic mulching sheets. 


  • Chelsea week

    Guy Barter on 21 May 2007 at 01:04 PM

    This week is a busy one with lots of work visits to Chelsea flower show, so allotment activity this weekend aimed at keeping every thing going for the next 6 days. 

    Transplants are being set out as fast as possible, with autumn cauliflowers, autumn and winter cabbages and savoys being planted.  This just leaves Swedes, white storing cabbage, purple cape cauliflowers  and purple sprouting broccoli to be planted in the brassica patch. 


  • Potatoes, beans and peas

    Guy Barter on 17 May 2007 at 09:02 AM

    Allotment gardeners could hardly have asked for a better spring.  Dry, warm weather in April to get seeds in the ground and let me knock out weeds.  While rain in May gets the seedlings off to a flying start and makes life easy for transplants in their first few weeks in the ground.  Now is the time to take advantage of these conditions for the best crops later. 

    Potatoes were dressed with growmore spread over the whole potato plot at 100g per square metre.  The soil between the rows was then drawn in low flat ridges around the rapidly growing potatoes mixing both fertiliser and weeds into the soil.  The growing spuds will root into this fertile damp soil and initiate many tubers in the next few weeks. 


  • All Sown Up

    Guy Barter on 13 May 2007 at 11:38 PM

    With mange-tout peas, spinach and spring onions at their peak it is good-bye at last to winter soups and stews.  No more peeling leeks, scrubbing parsnips and trimming wet, cold, muddy Brussels sprouts.  Instead it is stir-fries, spinach and pasta and, of course, lots of salads. 

    However allotment gardeners might be thinking about next winter.  This one certainly is, and next winter's veg need attention from time to time for the next five months.  Carrots and parsnips were thinned this weekend.  More Brussels sprouts were planted.  With their long picking season sprouts are ideal for home gardens.  Storing red cabbage was planted for October cutting and storage.  The usual lime in the planting holes was used to suppress clubroot disease.  The new clubroot resistant cabbage 'Kilaxy' was planted out, without the lime, for autumn harvest.  


  • Planting out time

    Guy Barter on 07 May 2007 at 02:18 PM

    This weekend transplanting began in earnest.  Sweetcorn raised in modules was planted out in a square pattern marked out last month.  In the intervening period the weeds have grown, but the area was treated with glyphosate weedkiller last weekend and the weeds are clearly on the way out.  As this weedkiller is inactivated by the soil it is quite safe to plant. 

    French bean plants were set out between the sweetcorn plants. 


  • Two weeks

    Guy Barter on 30 Apr 2007 at 11:58 AM

    When you work for the RHS it is very difficult to take holidays in summer, but this year I am going to take two weeks off after Chelsea flower show; my first summer holiday for several years. 

    So not only have I got to get my work in order but the allotment will need to be in state that can be left for two weeks without needing bird protection, watering, weeding, spraying or gathering.  Fortunately the remarkably warm weather means that I can shift much work back into May.  This has the bonus that if it continues dry crops will get their roots out in May while the nights are longish and dewy and there is still much moisture deep in the soil. 


  • First salads

    Guy Barter on 25 Apr 2007 at 10:41 PM

    The first salads from the garden are reaching my plate now, but from the herb patch rather than the salad crops.  Sorrel and chives are abundant and tasty, and these are supplemented with lettuce ‘thinnings' and divine, crunchy mild radishes.  Sorrel in particular is a most valuable crop for early spring.  Sorrel is a perennial and grows anywhere, although my acid soil probably suits it better than most.  In fact it is a common weed in my back garden, although it seems well behaved in the herb garden.  

    Disease almost always ruins my onions if grown on the allotment, so I grow these elsewhere. Allotments are rife with downy mildew spores spewed out from onions inadvertently left in the soil from last year by careless plotholders.  This disease is very damaging in such a low lying boggy site.  


  • Potato planting

    Guy Barter on 17 Apr 2007 at 05:56 PM

    Potatoes were planted on Saturday - 11 cultivars, six of which I have not grown before.  Conditions were perfect with moist warm friable soil. 

    A shallow trench was drawn out, fertiliser mixed into the soil in the bottom of the trench (chicken manure pellets at 150g per square metre and sulphate of potash at 15g per square metre).  The seed tubers were planted into this and then growmore at 100g per square metre was sprinkled alongside the rows and then raked with soil to make a slight ridge over the original trench.  The spuds will send up shoots through the enriched soil.  The whole surface of the plot was worked in the course of planting, killing all weeds. 


  • Marauding mice

    Guy Barter on 13 Apr 2007 at 10:51 AM

    Marauding mice have invaded my coldframe and scoffed my cos lettuce ‘Parris Island' seedlings and most of the tomato ‘Ferline' seedlings.  The former is the new commercial standard large cos lettuce which I was looking forward to trying and ‘Ferline' is remarkably slow to get potato blight and indeed usually free of the disease if treated with fungicides in late summer.  I rely on it to fill the freezer with tomato sauce.  Their mousey capers have been brought to a swift end and, after an emergency visit to Wisley plant centre, seeds resown.   I am particularly aggrieved as my wild flower meadow is next to my plant raising area and I rather hoped hedgehogs and slowworms would keep down the pests, rather than it serve as reservoir of trouble. 

    I am now ready to start sowing peas again as the preceding crop is 5cm high.  Weeds are a major problem in late sown peas.  The weed seeds have germinated nicely and a good raking of the dry soil surface has polished these off - this will greatly reduce ‘weed pressure' on the subsequent pea crop.  To help with hoeing they are sown in twin rows 30cm apart to allow easy weed elimination.  


  • Growing weather at last

    Guy Barter on 07 Apr 2007 at 03:40 PM

    Wisley is a dangerous place to work - the plant centre is so tempting.  Enthused by the 'growing weather' of recent days I succumbed enough to buy some lettuce plants and after raking in 100g per square metre of growmore, these have been planted under fleece, followed by watering and the merest scattering of slug pellets. 

    Then the carrots, lettuces, parsnips and radishes sown in late February/early March were thinned to one every 5cm - they will be thinned later to their final spacing and given more fertiliser. 


  • Seizing the moment

    Guy Barter on 02 Apr 2007 at 10:47 AM

    Timeliness is everything in allotment gardening, and, I am ashamed to say, early April is sometimes, in wet years, the last chance I have to be timely before things, especially weeds, start to run away with me.

    Fortunately the flooded area has dried out, helped by inserting a fork every 30cm and levering the sodden soil upwards.  After spreading 100g per square metre of dried poultry manure pellets and 20g per square metre of sulphate of potash the area was rotovated.  Unfortunately the driest part was too dry and the machine dug itself in and wettest part was too wet and I dared not cultivate too deep for fear of bringing up raw soil.  The result is that the soil is not in the best condition and crops will suffer in summer.  I should have dug it over in autumn, but I waited too long for a dry spell. Timeliness is sometimes not easy to achieve


  • Sit back and relax

    Guy Barter on 27 Mar 2007 at 08:25 AM

    Now that all the seeds are in the ground, there is not much to do until mid-April when potato planting begins.  My allotment is in a frost pocket so it is very risky to plant spuds before then.  I have had the entire crop blasted by a frost in May and two thirds of the crop lost.

    On Saturday I had a splurge of outdoor seed sowing - the last for a while.  Beetroot, kohl rabi, salad onions, spinach, turnips, rocket, radish and especially lettuce went in.  The trial lettuces were sown along with some ‘Warpath' ( ) and ‘Tom Thumb' ( ).   My outdoor sowings of ‘Little Gem' made in early March grew so well that I think I can take a chance and sow direct in the ground from now on. In fact, all these crops should be very easy to raise from outdoors sowings from now on


  • That peck of March dust

    Guy Barter on 18 Mar 2007 at 03:11 PM

    Last week I went to Bristol to speak on gardening and climate change at a conference.  Coming back on the train across the downs, I watched farmers working their fields.  So dry was the soil that dust rose from tractor wheels and implements.

    I think the saying; 'a peck of March dust is worth a King's ransom' is instantly understandable by gardeners.  Dry soil in March is ideal for preparing seedbeds in good time for the peak sowing and planting time between now and June. If you have to wait until April or May, vital time and soil moisture are likely to be lost, and some soils can bake hard and dry, later in spring


  • Celery and Celeriac

    Guy Barter on 16 Mar 2007 at 09:59 PM

    Celeriac has long been a favourite of mine.  It is easy to grow, yields heavily and keeps all winter.  The downside is that it does need a lot of water in summer.  Fortunately the area of my allotment that floods is just right for celeriac.

    It is good for celery too.  Until recently I was disappointed with my celery, but I seem to have got the knack again.  However, they are just a little woodier than the supermarket ones because I can seldom water them enough for the best results.  I only raise nine plants as they don't keep and have to be used up by November


  • Leeks and sprouts

    Guy Barter on 13 Mar 2007 at 01:38 PM

    I felt a twinge in my back while moving furniture on Saturday, so thought it best to take it easy this weekend. My greenhouse has been lying in pieces since moving house, and since I will need it soon for transplant raising and assembling it is a nice easy stand up job that should help my back, I spent most of the weekend in the sun re-assembling it. I am still not quite sure where to put it, but I think the compost bins and incinerator will have to be moved and the soil levels brought up. The new garden design is still being agreed with Her Loveliness. In the meantime I can clad it with plastic and fleece until its proper position is established.

    My transplants are living in an improvised coldframe of old windows and bales of bark mulch – crude but effective. Germination is accomplished in a large heated propagator by the window in the garage. Once seedlings have germinated they are moved to the coldframe for the maximum light possible. This is unheated but an old carpet is flung over the frame on frosty nights. I am lucky in having some very good local nurseries* from which to buy plants that need a lot of heat to raise – Aubergines, peppers and tomatoes for example. I could easily have spent £30 on fuel in the bitter weather in February if I had tried to raise my own plants


  • Bean and peas

    Guy Barter on 05 Mar 2007 at 12:08 PM

    Wind and sun on Saturday dried the soil out just enough to work and make a seedbed for the peas and broad beans. Legumes are a very important crop for me – they are the best early summer veg and fill the freezer as well. The main sowing is made now as the earlier the sowing the heavier the crop. March sowings follow the over-wintered crops in harvesting so I won't have gaps in supply or gluts.


  • First sowings

    Guy Barter on 26 Feb 2007 at 08:51 AM

    Such rain – I am glad I rotovated last weekend, as the soil is too water-logged to easily work now. The lower part of the allotment is flooded, but the upper part is still dry. The area covered in clear polythene was showing a hint of green and if weeds can germinate so can parsnips.

    So off came the polythene, in went seeds of parsnips, lettuce and early carrots, and a double layer of fleece went over the top. If all goes well, emergence should start in about 20 days; if nothing appears by late March I will resow


  • Potato Chitting

    Guy Barter on 21 Feb 2007 at 06:15 PM

    This week my evening task is putting my seed spuds out to chit in a frost-free (I hope) shed.

    Chitting means that the seed tubers are put in moderate warmth and some light and the buds, officially called eyes, begin to sprout


  • Sooo Cultivated

    Guy Barter on 19 Feb 2007 at 08:52 AM

    After six weeks of waiting, the weather finally came right for rotovating this weekend. My sandy soil is not worth digging in autumn or winter, as it slumps into a cold wet mass, so all cultivating is left until late winter. Although sometimes April is the earliest it can be done if there is a wet spring. I am always slightly uneasy until the soil is cultivated, as my hoard of expensive seeds, fertiliser and sundries cannot be used until the ground is ready.

    Saturday morning breakfast was spent fiddling around with the rotovator, sipping my tea and admiring its whizzy sound and topping-up oil and spraying WD40 on the bits that get stuck if neglected


  • Compost and birdsong

    Guy Barter on 12 Feb 2007 at 11:22 AM

    Frost hardened soils this week let me access four compost bins on a sodden area of my allotment, where the high water table prevents compost pits being used. Two bins were ready for emptying and two are being filled for use in the autumn.  By the time the winter veg are cleared away, the two being filled will be ready to finish by topping off with a thick layer of leaves and a sheet of black polythene. The two that were emptied this weekend will then be filled during the summer and should be ready in Spring 2008.

    The compost was wheeled out onto the plot and left in heaps for spreading later.  Some gardeners relish compost making. Not me, I think it a bit of a chore and do the minimum. No mixing and no careful layering, but I do try and make a mixture of not too much of one thing, although that one thing can be anything from grass mowings to hedge trimmings. So I was very pleased to see how well everything had rotted down, despite my slackness, and how little I had to leave for further rotting


  • Pockets of frost

    Guy Barter on 05 Feb 2007 at 09:40 AM

    Sharp overnight freezes this weekend showed the nature of the local frosts, for the allotment site is a noted frost pocket.

    The allotments are low lying with a high railway embankment at the lowest side thickly wooded with birch and pine. On the opposite side the land, covered in medium density housing, rises slightly and cold air, being heavy, flows down into the plot from where it cannot drain away due to the embankment


  • Frost, snow and gales

    Guy Barter on 29 Jan 2007 at 09:07 AM

    At last the final row of spuds have been dug, apparently unharmed by the cold snap last week, straight into a cardboard box and immediately given to visiting relatives. They are also 'encouraged' to take away carrots, parsnips, celeriac, red cabbage, January King cabbage, savoy cabbage and two blue Crown Prince squashes. I hate having stuff spoil and by March crops still in the ground will go backwards fast.  Better to use everything up before then. If I run short, well, I consider it an opportunity to try supermarket produce I would not normally buy - for comparison with my home-grown veg you understand.

    The cold weather last week has shown up differences in the broad beans.  They have grown very lushly in the extremely mild winter (so far) and looked very vulnerable to cold. I sowed the very winter-hardy 'Aquadulce Claudia' in November and they grew strongly and withstood the frost well. I also had a packet of 'The Sutton' bought to sow in early summer as this dwarf bean is one of the few broad beans worth sowing after April. But it was too dry to sow last summer and rather than having the seeds hanging round until spring, I sowed them in November. They are known to be very hardy and have grown well and stood up the frost and snow. The 'Aquadulce Claudia' has the property of sending up several shoots, but 'The Sutton' sends up fewer shoots so more plants of the latter have to be grown to fill in the allocated space


  • Potato Rescue

    Guy Barter on 22 Jan 2007 at 07:57 AM

    I admit it, I am still digging potatoes. My allotment spud crop last year outgrew my storage facilities. Fortunately with a mild autumn and on my sandy soil the spuds are in good condition. Surprisingly the slugs have left them alone.  Possibly the very dry summer conditions prevented slugs breeding.

    I saw no slugs when I raked up the haulm, but I did see a few tubers, not quite covered in soil, green and signs of rotting from potato blight.  The spores obviously washed down from affected foliage and infected those tubers at the surface and not covered with a protective layer of soil


  • Muck spreading

    Guy Barter on 15 Jan 2007 at 02:08 PM

    Sandy soil is very easy to dig and my allotment soil is so sandy I could almost sell it to builders.  But if you do winter digging in the approved manner it slumps into a solid mass by spring and will need forking over to remove compaction.  Instead I leave cultivating until late winter or early spring and do the whole lot in three afternoons using my little Honda rotovator.

    The annual muck spreading has to happen first though. On our allotment site we have a vast communal heap of organic matter, mostly decayed leaves, prunings and lawn mowings that has festered for at least a year. It looks rough stuff but mixed into the soil it soon breaks down and it is free. The rain has eased off and a brisk wind had dried the soil surface making barrowing relatively light work