Grow veg

Allotment planting progress – letting the children leave home….

Planting while the going is good

Surreal spring

The problem with writing a blog about the allotment is that if I spend too much time growing the plants and going down to the allotment to plant them, I don’t get around to writing about what I’ve been doing. This is especially true when the sun keeps shining.

What a bizarre, roller coaster spring it’s been since I last wrote an allotment post. Against a backdrop of this dreadful virus and the havoc it’s wrought on lives and livelihoods, we’ve had weeks of unprecedented glorious spring sunshine, very late frosts, a few gales, more weeks of glorious sunshine and now more gales and, finally, some rain.  Which gives me time to write at last!

Cabbage family

The plot wasn’t a pretty sight in March and was still saturated after months of rain. I keep some beds covered in winter to stop them getting weedy (I’ve discussed this more in a previous post), and this one was relatively dry when I first uncovered it so I was able to get on straight away. I added lime for the first time in a while as the soil is clay and tends to be acidic. I’ve seen signs of club root on my brassicas in recent years and adjusting the pH (acidity level) should help with that. I let that settle in for a couple of months, cleared the bindweed off (at least it came up early this year) and planted my brassicas.

The elaborate structure covered with enviromesh insect-proof netting is designed to keep pigeons, cabbage white butterflies and whitefly off my plants while letting me get in there to weed without having to move it off. This is important because cabbage white butterflies can spot unprotected cabbage family plants from miles away and will be on there laying eggs the second they see their chance.

Roots

It’s been a good year for these so far despite the lack of rain. I always soak the drills before I sow and often use grass clippings as a mulch to start with as they help to keep the soil moist. I’ve also been down there regularly to water until the seedlings were growing well. As well as my usual carrots, beetroot and parsnips (which barely germinated as all my seed was from last year) I’m growing chard, spinach, parsley, spring onions and turnips in here. I made a second sowing of some things a few weeks after the first and they’ve also come up reasonably well, though not quite as impressively as the first ones did.

The netting in the last but one picture is covering the turnips, which were being attacked by flea beetle. These tiny black beetles nibble small holes all over the leaves of cabbage family plants (turnips and radishes are brassicas). They appear in spring, then they lay eggs and disappear. The larvae eat plant roots but aren’t usually a problem and the plants should grow on fine as long as they aren’t too badly damaged by the first infestation when they’re still small. The beetles can reappear later in summer on fully grown plants.

At the end of the bed, where there’s some shade from a currant bush, I’ve also planted some lettuces. Shade and watering can help to stop lettuces bolting quickly in hot, dry weather, so I’m hoping this position will help to keep them going for a while. I’ve also sown more at home to replace these when they do either get eaten, run out of steam or bolt.

Tender veg

Small and vulnerable now, but these should soon start to grow

With those very late frosts finally over and warmth back again, it was time for the tender veg. Some of these plants had looked big in the greenhouse, but they looked very small and vulnerable once they were planted out. The biggest dread is slugs, of course, which is where the dry weather is a bonus as there haven’t been many around. The runner beans always make me laugh as you plant them next to a cane for them to climb and they invariably head off in a different direction and try to climb something else. This time I’ve added net to my cane support so they can chose their spot. The canes were old and far too short, but I haven’t been able to buy new ones so I was a bit stuck this year.

Far too many squash plants

Squash sowing got a little out of hand this year and I ended up with a lot of plants. No problem, I’ve fitted them all in at reasonable distances from each other and will be directing their growth (that is the plan) so they head off in different directions and should all have enough space. After planting I put a large white label by each plant so I can see where the roots are later on when I want to water and give them a liquid feed.

Strawberries

I planted this bed last year with three varieties: ‘Sweet Colossus’, ‘Marshmello’ and ‘Mara de bois’, which is a smaller, later fruiting, perpetual variety (like autumn raspberries you get a smaller crop over a longer period rather than a huge crop within a couple of weeks in June). Unfortunately ‘Mara de bois’ didn’t establish well so almost all of the plants now are the other two varieties which have got rather mixed up with the runners I kept last year. They’ve done well and with all this sun are absolutely delicious. I’ve had three of these large punnets crammed full so far.

Still to come

The only things left to plant are the sweet corn, onions and leeks. I’ve prepped the bed and started to plant, and I’m hoping there’ll be enough room to squeeze in another row of beetroot and some Florence fennel – something I’ve never grown before.

One final thought

Bosch Universal grass cut 18-26 grass trimmer

At this allotment site we are lucky enough to have a shed full of mowers that we can borrow. Unfortunately, under the current rules no-one is allowed to use them because sharing tools has been banned. I managed to buy this strimmer quite early on and it’s been fantastic. I’ve used a lot of different strimmers and used to be involved in testing them in my job, and I can honestly say this is one of the best I’ve used. The battery lasts for at least 20 minutes and charges quickly, the trimmer is light and with the two handles is comfortable to hold, plus you can sweep the head across flat grass. The length of the shaft is adjustable for people of different heights, it has automatic line feed so you don’t have to keep bumping it and the head angle can be altered (with your foot as you work!) so you can cut the bed edges as well as the top. All for a little over £100.

Highly recommended!

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