Grow veg

Allotment veg: growing and cropping

My allotment plot in July 2020

It’s been a pretty good growing year all things considered. Just as drought was starting to become a real problem in sunny May, the weather changed and both June and much of July brought cooler temperatures and some heavy rain at times. The grass started growing again, and the plants really took off, too.

The photos below are tomato plants, runner beans, courgettes, brassicas and sweetcorn in May, June and July.

Tomatoes

The tomato plants are all blight resistant varieties. If you grow your tomatoes under cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel, or in your back garden where blight spores never reach you, you might never have to worry about it. Anyone like me growing on an allotment, though, especially in the the south east, is going to be regularly affected by late blight so it’s worth knowing about these new resistant varieties.

Firstly, resistance to blight isn’t the same thing as being immune. Resistant varieties can (and do) still get blight, but their genes mean the plants can tolerate it, they can live with it and hold it in check much longer than non-blight resistant plants. In my experience this means that while the plants might start to look diseased and rather sorry for themselves, it doesn’t spread as quickly as usual and you still get to eat your tomatoes rather than losing the lot just as they’re starting to ripen.

When I was the trial garden manager for Which? Gardening magazine I was involved in several trials of blight resistant tomato varieties so I know they cope much better than non-resistant varieties, and most of the older resistant ones, in areas where blight is a problem.

I’m growing ‘Summerlast’ (a miniature patio variety with fruit described as cocktail sized although they seem much bigger than that to me. So far they’ve been quite acidic and not that nice), ‘Cocktail Crush’ (cherry tomatoes, sweet and tasty), ‘Consuelo’ (large cherry, haven’t had many ripe ones yet) and ‘Oh Happy Day’ which I also grew last year. That’s a small beefsteak one, and last year I found it had a really good flavour.

As I also grow potatoes, and usually grow a mix of blight resistant and non blight resistant ones, I’m signed up for the ‘Blight watch’ service (blightwatch.co.uk) which warns you when the conditions for blight are being met in your area (two consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 10°C, and at least six hours of relative humidity (90%)). I’ve had two warning emails in the past month, and I think some of the potatoes might have it, but so far my tomatoes look fine.

The potatoes are less of a problem because if blight does set in, I’ll cut off all the foliage and can leave the potatoes in the ground for a bit before I start lifting them, which usually means it doesn’t get into the tubers.

Beans

I’m growing dwarf french bean ‘Rondo’ because I got a free packet with a magazine. Luckily they’ve turned out to be very good, giving me lots of beans that are tender and tasty. The runner beans are called ‘Firestorm’ and I’ve grown these before. They’re also tender and don’t get stringy until they’re really huge. I hate tough, stringy beans so this is very important!

Why do beans grow curly instead of straight? Fluctuating temperatures or moisture levels in the soil are usually to blame, though some varieties are more prone to it than others.

Courgettes

I’ve got ‘Midnight’, ‘Romanesco’ and ‘Zuccini’. I’ve grown them all before and had seeds left from last year. Do courgettes all taste the same? They’re certainly similar but there are subtle differences. I find that the dark green ones crop well and are quite soft, while the pale green, stripey ones tend to be crisper and nuttier – I like them better. I don’t grow yellow ones any more because I find them too soft and bland, plus you just don’t seem to get as many courgettes.

Brassicas

The brassicas have grown like mad and are now nearly bursting out of the enclosure I built for them with various bits of bamboo, some metal supports and some bendy plastic, all covered with enviromesh. There’s a bit of whitefly which always manages to get in, but it’s not too bad and there are no cabbage white caterpillars! Annoyingly I had no red cabbage seeds this year and thanks to lockdown couldn’t get any in time, but the green cabbages, ‘Summer Jewel’, that were also free with a magazine have hearted up really well so I’ll pick those soon. The autumn calabrese and Friarelli broccoli have been producing lots of spears, though I’m having to pick regularly to stop them bolting (flowering).

Sweetcorn

The sweetcorn kept me awake at night after I’d planted because the plants hadn’t grown well after germinating and then the leaves started to yellow. I thought there would be NO SWEETCORN! Which would have been a big disappointment. But the little darlings battled through and suddenly took off. The most recent picture above was taken only a week or so ago, but they’ve grown more since then and now have tassels (male flowers) at the top so all should be well.

TOP OF THE CROPS

These are the things I’ve been picking most of in recent weeks, as well as dwarf french beans and chard.

Succession

Ideally, if you pick something or it goes over, such as the lettuces which all bolted a little while ago, you’d have something else ready to go in. I have to confess I’m not great at this. Life tends to take over and I don’t get around to sowing anything after spring. I have some lettuce still at home, but I’ll need to sow some more now to keep me going into early autumn. It’s not too late – although it is a bit hot at the moment so I might wait a few days before I sow.

What I have succeeded in is sowing more beetroot (I love beetroot) and some florence fennel.

Any real disasters?

Yes, of course. There always are. The carrots that I sowed in April germinated better than any row of carrots I’ve ever sown before. But they did not grow. I pulled some up a few weeks ago, and this is what they looked like.

Yes, that is a cherry, inserted for scale. These are the smallest carrots I have ever grown.

I don’t know why they didn’t grow. I suspect the soil where I sowed got too dry (even though I was watering fairly frequently), and the enormous red ant nest may have been a factor. I leave ants to nest where they want as a rule, but I suspect their nests can be detrimental to the crops, although other root crops, like the nearby beetroot, were fine. A mystery.

And the slugs were still there.

Where were you when I needed you?

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