I haven’t been up to the allotment much in the past few weeks. A combination of health issues, work and visitors have conspired – although I have sown quite a bit for planting out later. The weekend before last though, which was warm and sunny, saw FIL and I wander up there to attempt to make some progress.
While FIL got stuck in to the last-but-one bit of digging left to do, I planted a dozen chitted seed potatoes – ‘Swift’. After reading various blogs where people talked about planting potatoes by just digging individual holes with a trowel rather than the traditional trench approach, I decided to follow suit. Anything for an easy life! I know there is a wire worm problem on the site, and many people have given up growing potatoes altogether, but the general consensus seems to be that the bigger problem is the slugs which burrow in to the tubers via the tiny holes made by the wireworm and munch their way through leaving a hollowed out shell. People who still grow potatoes have been experimenting with putting a small number of organic slug pellets in with each tuber, although my immediate plot neighbour, who has a magnificent full sized plot, says he has no problems at all. So, in the spirit of experimentation I planted half with slug pellets and half without. I then panicked about whether I had planted them too early and shrouded them in fleece. Just in case…
At least with the fleece you can see that something has happened – I also planted half a dozen Jerusalem Artichokes on the far right of the rhubarb. Nothing to see now, but hopefully later in the year there will be a thick hedge of lovely foliage and, later still, delicious knobbly tubers to dig up and roast or mash. If we all eat them, we will all bear the consequences – not for nothing are they called Fartychokes…
I’d been doing a lot of thinking about how to protect my (hopefully lush and plentiful) crops from pigeons, Cabbage White, carrot root fly etc. I am trying to keep the allotment set-up costs to a minimum, but I do know enough to realise that I wll be totally downhearted if I skip the protection in favour of a more attractive plot (I want to interplant annuals with my veg but they won’t be seen if I cover the beds with mesh) only to lose large quantities of veg to the various pests that plague the site. Some losses are inevitable, but I’d like to minimise them. I had vague memories of seeing someone construct a cloche by creating hoops from lengths of garden hose with bamboo inserted to give some rigidity. I have lots of bamboo – can harvest as much as I want, in fact – and since I also had some lengths of old hose lying around I thought I would experiment a little. I wanted to be able to vary the covering rather than fix one – plastic or mesh – to the framework, and although my first thoughts were to build a self-contained cloche that I could move around at will I realised that perhaps a series of moveable hoops that I could then use to cover all or part of a bed could be more flexible. After playing around a little I came up with the remarkable edifice below ;-)
In a bid to make everything as re-usable as possible – for which read that I expected total failure and wanted to be able to salvage something – I used cable ties to fasten the bamboo strengthening struts to the hoops. The hose itself was very soft, so I inserted lengths of bamboo to give a rigid top and then two more lengths either side to form the sides. I then covered it with fleece, held down with stones – after doing my very first sowing on the plot. A row each of Parsnip ‘Cobham Improved’ and Parsnip ‘Countess’, both inter sown with radishes to mark the rows and give a catch crop, together with a wider drill broadcast-sown with Carrot ‘Early Nantes 5’. I used the method described by Sue@Green Lane Allotments to sow the parsnips, lining a shallow drill with multi purpose compost and sowing clusters of 3-4 seeds every 10cm/4″ (with radishes in between). My cloche then got put in place and covered in fleece – later this will get replaced with enviromesh. I subsequently found the instructions on line to building the Geoff Hamilton Cloche, so I’m not completely nuts. However, I have run out of odd pieces of hose to use, and don’t want to cut up the other useful length I have, so I am still searching for the perfect answer to crop protection, of which more later.
My last act was to plant the three broad bean plants that had survived the early winter sowing – Broad Bean ‘Express’ – and surround them with twiggy birch prunings to ward off the pigeons. I left FIL digging away…
Bless him, by last Sunday he had completed the potato bed, so yesterday I went up to the plot to plant up more potatoes and broad beans and generally check on progress. A mixed experience.
It started well enough – I was greeted by the clouds of white Blackthorn blossom in the hedge surrounding the allotments. I’d taken the van up so that I could transport the rest of the birch prunings that I hope to use to deter birds and support plants, along with the things to plant up. Ah yes, the potatoes. I’d forgotten them. Chalk one up to CFS Brain Fog – or just general incompetence.
Getting to the plot itself I was looking forward to seeing the rhubarb, had hopes of perhaps being able to pick some. Instead, I found a rather sad looking plant.
I suspect lack of water – and transplant shock. I had meant to build some sort of raised bed around it when we found we couldn’t dig a deep enough hole and ended up planting it on a mound. Lacking the energy to rustle up some wood to build something with let alone actually construct something, and not wanting to spend any money, this has been neglected. Something I need to sort out, and quickly too. Its not dead, but it certainly isn’t happy.
Feeling a little fed up by now, I was then greeted with the new batch of couch grass growing up through the carefully dug beds.
This was the brassica bed, which I had carefully trampled after another dig over ready for planting out cabbages. You can see the cracking too – though I am not so upset by all the poppy seedlings that are appearing. Still, with no potatoes to plant I had extra time for a spot of couch grass extraction! I also spent a happy few minutes removing the heads from the first crop of dandelions growing through the grass paths. Some of the prettier weeds will get to stay, at least for now, and FIL is waging war on the bittercress. For some reason it has become personal, for him.
I had at least managed to remember the next lot of broad beans to plant out – 6 ‘Aquadulce Claudia’. The sticks have certainly kept the pigeons off, although of the first three plants I put in one is clearly the runt of the litter, and probably won’t ever catch up. I may try direct sowing to replace it if it keels over altogether.
I decided to apply myself to the narrow strip that is to become my sunflower bed, because from my seat on the bench the heads should always be turned towards me. More couch grass and dandelion extraction, and the decision to leave a small patch of nettles for the insect life, and I was able to plant up the first of the hardy annuals that I hope will make the plot more attractive and provide some flowers for the house. Half a dozen orange snapdragons, to remind me of my Nan, and provide a low level foil to the yellow and red sunflowers I will be sowing soon for the space behind them. A nice theory anyway, and by this time I needed cheering up.
At this point I decide to peak into the cloche to see what – if anything – was happening. The carrot seed I sowed was old, so I am not sure any will germinate, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any parsnips to have germinated yet, but I had hopes for the radishes.
OK, so here too be weeds, but at least I have my first germination of direct sown seed, which felt quite an important milestone. And I needed some encouragement!
My final act was to wander up the plot to visit the rhubarb plants that mine had grown alongside until I uprooted the poor thing. The sight of this magnificent specimen solidified my determination to coddle ours. We’ve had a new delivery of manure, so a raised bed around it, a good soaking and a good thick mulch with the dark rich stuff should help it hang on to life, and I will need to be kind to it and not expect a vast crop.
While chatting to the curious plot holder working next to the maginificent rhubarb – about his struggles to fill his raised beds with a decent layer of compost, his recent nightmare with shingles, and plans to retire soon – I glimpsed a netted cage protecting a large area of onions and garlic in the plot opposite. What intrigued me was that they had used some nifty connectors to hold together lenghts of bamboo to construct the cage. As I said earlier, I have plenty of bamboo, and has seen the connectors in a gardening catalogue recently and wondered about trying them out.
I particularly like the way that they have only used the – not cheap – connectors at the corners, and have used cable ties to jury rig the rest of the frame together, so reducing the cost. These connectors take various diameters of bamboo, and come with a three year guarantee – I suspect they would last a lot longer than that. I like the idea of constructing cages for my beds from these connectors and lengths of bamboo, and might even use them for the raspberries too, to support the netting that will be needed later. I left feeling a little less discouraged, my head full of plans for more constructions, more juggling of modules full of seedlings needing hardening off, and the welcome sight of new growth on the raspberry canes.