Allotment Diary For 2008
By Kim Westcott
This afternoon I managed to drag myself away from the sofa to check on the plots and take some photographs for this site.There is not a great deal growing at the moment except for the weeds and looking around there is a lot of work to do. The festive season and bad weather have both prevented me from coming down here and having a good tidy up!
I have been working 'plot 43' organically since 2002 and was the first of the two. It is in a lovely position tucked away in the corner of the allotment site. It is a very sheltered spot as the trees growing nearby protect it from the prevailing winds. The soil is in excellent condition and I have just finished making twelve no-dig vegetable beds. It also has flower and herb beds and a lovely grassed area surrounded by a scented flower border which makes a heavenly place to sit and relax in the summer!
I leased this second plot - 'plot 38' at the beginning of 2007 after realising I had no room to do everything I wanted to do! It has an established fruit garden that the previous tenant left for me and an extra shed. The soil is in a reasonable condition but is not as secluded as my other plot. I have plenty of space now and am hoping to add a greenhouse this year.
Today I have sown my first lot of seeds for 2008. A packet of early leek seeds 'Autumn Mammoth - Tornado' were sown in a seed tray and put into an electric propagator. Leeks need a long growing season so I start them off as soon as possible. The seeds need a soil temperature of at least 45°F to germinate so at this time of year an electric propagator or heated greenhouse is needed. Hopefully they will be ready to plant out in April and ready to harvest in July or August.
This morning I collected my seed potatoes from the allotment trading shed and put them in the conservatory to chit.
Chitting is the process of sprouting seed potatoes indoors to encourage strong, sturdy shoots (chits) to grow before they are planted in the ground. It is not essential to do this but it benefits the potatoes by giving them a flying start. In late winter the seed potatoes are placed 'rose' end facing upwards into shallow boxes or trays, I use egg boxes which are perfect for the job. They should be kept in a light airy place to encourage the shoots to develop ready for planting out from late February.
The varieties I have chosen this year are Charlotte and Sante. Charlotte is a second early salad type potato with long, waxy tubers and is delicious as a 'new potato'. Sante is my maincrop choice. This oval potato has a high yield and makes a tasty 'all rounder' in the kitchen. I have grown both of these varieties before and have found that they have very good resistance against the dreaded blight which can devastate a whole crop.
Sweet Peas were sown in root trainers today and left in the unheated conservatory to germinate. They will be ready for planting out on the allotment in April giving me their first flowers by the end of May. This year I have chosen to grow a Grandiflora cultivar 'Old Fashioned Mix'. These Sweet Peas have small, delicate flowers with a very strong scent. They are one of my favourite annuals and make lovely cut flowers filling the house with their wonderful perfume.
The sun shone for a while today so I took this photograph of the purple sprouting broccoli which has started to produce its flowering shoots. The seed was sown in modules in April and the plants were planted out in the ground in June. The plant starts to send out spears in late winter and continues shooting until mid-spring. These spears are snapped off at around 6" long when the flowers are still in bud and eaten cooked. It is one of the most reliable and nutritious of the spring crops.
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May I just say, the weather has been terrible. In the last week we have had gales, torrential rain, frost and warm sunshine! Needless to say the allotments are still saturated making it impossible to work on them. However, a break in the bad weather today allowed me to coppice some young Hazel trees growing in my 'mini-wood' alongside plot 43. These trees were outgrowing their allotted space and needed thinning.
Coppicing is an ancient and highly sustainable form of woodland management that produces a constant supply of wood without the need to replant. It also benefits the woodland by allowing the daylight to reach the floor making an important habitat for mammals, insects and wildflowers. It also extends the life of the tree.
Coppicing involves periodically cutting trees down to a stool at ground level in the winter. Left to regrow, the stool will then send up a number of quick growing stems in the Spring. These stems or poles are then harvested and used for many different purposes depending on the species of the tree and the age at which the poles were cut. Most native trees can be coppiced. Coppicing my Hazel trees will eventually provide me with straight, pliable stakes useful in the garden.
Today I have sown three different types of lettuce. These are Little Gem, Red Salad Bowl and Oak Leaf. Because lettuce dislikes root disturbance I have sown the seeds into biodegradable peat pots as these can be planted out into the bed. The roots will grow through the sides and base of the pots and into the surrounding ground. The lettuce will grow on in the conservatory until planting out under a cloche in March, and they will be ready for harvesting in May or June. In order to ensure a regular succession I shall be sowing lettuce seed every month.
Making the most of the lovely weather I went down to the allotment today to sow my first rows of early peas, 'Feltham First' under cloches. Peas like a moisture retentive soil so they were sown into a bed prepared with plenty of well rotted manure. A cloche was placed over the bed a few weeks before sowing to warm and dry the ground as peas will not germinate in cold wet soil. The cloche will remain in place to protect the plants in their first stages of growth. The peas should be ready for picking at the beginning of June.
Today aubergines, 'Moneymaker F1 Hybrid' and sweet pepper, 'Californian Wonder' were sown individually in pots and put into the electric propagator to germinate. These plants have been started early in heat as they can take five months to mature. It will be necessary to repot in stages until the plants are ready to be moved to their permanent site in a sunny, sheltered position on the allotment after the danger of frost has gone.
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These spring cabbages were sown in modules last July and planted out into their permanent positions in September. They were spaced 6" apart so alternate plants can be cut and eaten as 'spring greens' in April, leaving the remainder in the ground to heart up ready for harvesting in May. Today I have given the plants a nitrogenous top dressing, this encourages rapid growth as the weather gets warmer. I have found it necessary to grow these cabbages under netting to protect them from Wood Pidgeons who, if allowed, will strip the plants completely!
These broad beans were sown straight in the ground last November in a sheltered position. The plants have come through the winter well and are already flowering. An autumn sowing makes tough plants in the spring which makes them less attractive to pests and diseases. It also produces one of the earliest cops of the season with the beans ready to harvest in late May or early June.
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I went down to the allotments this morning to take a photograph of the snow at around 8.00am and by 9.30am it had all melted without a trace! The bad weather has again prevented me from working on my plots.
Today runner beans, 'Celebration' were sown into root trainers. These will grow on in the conservatory and then be planted out beside their supports in mid May when all danger of frost is past. The pods will be ready for picking in July.
The fine weather we have been having has warmed and dried out the soil nicely so I was able to sow beetroot, 'Detroit Globe' and parsnip, 'White Spear' directly into the ground today. Maincrop potatoes, 'Sante' were also planted in trenches.
Today two rows of carrots 'Early Market Horn' were sown thinly into the ground. These carrots will be grown under a micromesh cloche to protect them from the carrot fly until ready for pulling in July. The female carrot fly is attracted to the smell of the carrots foliage and lays her eggs in small clusters nearby. The larvae then tunnel into the roots eventually making them inedible. The first signs of this fly attacking a crop would be a reddish discolouration of the leaves which wilt in hot weather. I find growing carrots under a fine mesh cloche gives them the best protection from these serious pests. A 30" high barrier erected around the bed of carrots can also give considerable protection. As this is a topless enclosure it makes it easier for weeding and harvesting.
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Summer cabbage 'Primo', purple sprouting broccoli 'Early Purple' and leaf beet 'Bright Lights' were all planted out today. I have covered these plants with netting for protection against birds and butterflies. The seeds were sown in modules in April and grown on in the conservatory.
Today the runner beans, tomatoes, aubergines, and peppers that were started off in the conservatory were planted out into the ground. I have delayed planting these tender plants until it has become warmer and the danger of frost is past.
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Today four Kale 'Jersey walking stick' plants were planted out into the vegetable garden. I have grown this unusual vegetable from seed which was sown in modules in May. The seed catalogue tells me that these plants will reach up to three metres in their second year! When fully grown the stout stems can be cut, dried and polished to make a walking stick. I am looking foward to trying it myself. This Kale has been commercially grown in Jersey for hundreds of years and fields of these 'giant cabbages' were not an uncommon sight. Unfortunately nowadays this industry has all but disappeared.
These Japanese overwintering onions were grown from sets planted last September. Sets are immature onion bulbs that have been specially grown for planting into the soil. The leaves of these onions are turning yellow and starting to fall over which means they will soon be ready for harvesting and drying. I have been pulling the bulbs fresh as soon as they reach a reasonable size for use in the kitchen as Japanese onions are not suitable for long storage.
These are the 'Feltham First' peas that were sown into the ground in Febuary and started off under a cloche. Thanks to the heavy rain I have had a bumper crop of these lovely sweet tasting peas this year.
Here are some runner beans growing from roots left in the ground last year. It must have been a mild winter for them to have survived outside as although runner beans are perennial plants in their native countries of tropical America they are usually grown as annuals in Britain due to their tenderness to frost.
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This photograph shows an interesting and cheap way of protecting soft fruit. I use old net curtains pegged over the bushes to protect the ripening fruit from cheeky birds. It looks an eerie sight at dusk!
These are the sweet peas that were sown in root trainers back in January. I have been picking these beautiful flowers for several weeks now. It is important to pick or deadhead the blooms regularly as this allows the plant to concentrate its energies on producing further flowers, rather than the seed pods.
Today a row of First Early dwarf peas 'Kelvedon Wonder' were sown into the ground. This should give me a nice crop ready for picking in September. I grow early peas late so that they are not in flower when the pea moth is laying its eggs. The moth lays its eggs from early to mid summer on pea flowers, the larvae then burrow into the pods and feed on the peas inside making them unusable. I find sowing peas at this time always escapes damage.
Today I finished digging my maincrop potatoes. Once again potato blight has swept through the allotments ruining the crops. Blight is a serious fungal disease that spreads rapidly amongst the plants in warm damp weather from June onwards. The symptoms first appear on the leaves as dark blotches on the upper surface with a white mould underneath. The disease travels downwards blackening the stems and infecting the tubers. The plant then collapses and dies.
I first noticed blight around three weeks ago and cut off all the foliage and stems to prevent further infection. Unfortunately, the potatoes had not grown to their full size when the disease struck so I have been digging 'marbles' which will not store. Tomatoes also suffer from this airborne menace and I have had to destroy these plants too.
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Today a row of perpetual spinach was sown into the ground. Spinach is a quick growing crop and will provide me with a useful harvest of iron rich greens through the winter.
Here are the peppers that were sown indoors back in Febuary and planted out under a greenhouse cloche in May. The fruits are begining to change colour and will become red when fully mature. Although quite edible when green, I am leaving these remaining fruits on the plants to ripen as this gives them a sweeter flavour. Peppers are tropical plants that need warmth and in their 'house' they have done well.
These chillis were started off in an electric propagator in Febuary and grown on in pots in my new greenhouse. They have produced a large number of fruits which are being left on the plants to develop their ripe colour and heat. When fully mature I will pick the chillis and store them dry in an airtight container.
Today two small rows of Oriental brassicas were sown into the ground. This year I have chosen purple mustard and mizuna to give me interesting tasting leaves for salads and stir fries in winter. I find later sowings of these greens do better making larger, healthier plants. They are also less prone to flea beetle attack as this pest is less active in autumn and winter. Flea beetles are small, shiny, black beetles that jump when disturbed. They love to devour all brassica seedlings peppering the leaves with lots of holes that get bigger as the plant grows. A severe attack can check growth and kill young plants.
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Today a row of winter hardy spring onions 'White Lisbon' was sown into the ground. These onions will be grown over winter ready for harvesting in April or May.
Today several cleared vegetable beds were sown with Grazing rye as a green manure. Green manures are specially selected plants that are grown to benefit the soil. I have chosen Grazing rye as it has an extensive root system that will improve my soil by opening it up, helping with drainage. It will grow over the winter months and protect the soil from heavy rain. The foliage will be cut down when the plants are beginning to mature in early spring and left on the surface as a mulch until the ground is needed. Green manures can also be dug in. The plants decompose and release nutrients into the soil ready for the following crops to use.
Spring cabbage plants 'Myatts Offenham Compacta' that were sown in modules back in July were planted out into the ground today. The plants were spaced at around 6" apart in their rows and alternate plants will be cut from April onwards as 'spring greens', these are simply the leaves of the unhearted cabbage. The remaining plants that will be 12" apart will grow on and heart up for later use in May or June.
Today Japanese onion sets were planted into the ground. These sets will grow into small plants for overwintering. In the springtime when the weather begins to warm up they will shoot away and produce bulbs by June.
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Today Phacelia was sown into the ground as a green manure. Although really an annual plant this will survive most winters if the plants are small. They will protect the bare soil from the rain which can damage the structure and wash away plant foods and a covering of this green manure will also help smother weed growth. I will cut the plants down in early spring before they flower and leave them on the surface as a mulch. When in flower Phacelia is a useful plant in the vegetable garden as it produces a mass of beautiful flowers which the bees and hoverflies adore.
Winter tares were sown in rows today. This green manure is a member of the Legume family and is an excellent nitrogen fixer which will benefit the Brassicas and leeks that I plan to plant after it the following year. Winter tares are hardy plants but will not tolerate heavy soils.The plants will be cut down in the spring and the roots left in the ground to decompose.
Today garlic was planted out into a prepared bed. The bulbs were broken up and the cloves placed pointed end up into 2inch deep holes 4 inhes apart each way. The cloves should be covered with soil hiding them from curious birds who will pull them out of the ground. Garlic can be planted in the spring but an autumn planting is best as most cultivars need 1-2 months of cold weather when the soil is below 10°C to produce good sized bulbs. Garlic is easy to grow and is very useful in the kitchen. It is also very good for you and has abilities to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
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© Kim Westcott 2008