Its been a funny old time for me with the allotment. Illness means I have been forced to rely on others, which is not something I am very good at. Thankfully FIL and TNG have risen to the occasion wonderfully, planting, weeding and picking while I have been stuck at home wondering. Without them the plot would be an utter disaster, but I’ve found it hard not being able to see what is happening, and find my utter failure to do the planned successional sowing irritating to say the least. Thankfully, today I was up to walking up to the plot with TNG, and despite the threatening skies, the rain held off until we got back. I managed to potter around, admire TNG’s wonderful weeding, and generally catch up with where things were at. I even managed to do some Actual Gardening!
Actually I have a small confession. TNG and I may have set out together, but we didn’t reach the plot together. The first thing to distract me and make me pull out my camera was the sea of ripe(ning) grain in the first field we cross. I love the contrast between the threatening sky and the straw coloured crop. A couple of weeks ago this was still all green. What I don’t understand is why walking along we were accompanied by the sound I associate with eating Rice Crispies – snap, crackle, pop… The reaction of the ripening ears to the sun? Something to do with moisture levels? Whatever it was, it was disconcerting.
Then there were the thistles. No idea what kind of thistles, but so pretty.
When I got to the field the plots are sat in, there was yet more distraction in the form of the wildflowers – or weeds – now occupying the unmown areas. I love the fact that apart from wide paths through the young trees the rest is left to get on with it.
Last time I was up here, at the end of May, it was full of wild daisies, the occasional poppy, white campion and what I think is horseshoe vetch.
This time there were emerging cow parsley flowers, which look extraordinary, something yellow (I’ve lost my wildflower book in the chaos of my desk) and something pink.
There were other things too, but this isn’t actually supposed to be about the wild flowers, but about what I found when I eventually made it to the plot.
Lets get that dreaded blight thing out of the way first…
Our potatoes were already extremely disappointing. I put them in nice and early, they started growing really well, attracting admiring looks and even outright praise. Then all growth seemed to just stop. At the time I put it down to a combination of the sudden cold spell combined with the dry spell during which we didn’t water enough. All around me potatoes were overtaking my own paultry specimens, and by the start of June the main potato bed looked like this:
At the time I put the yellowing leaves on several of the ‘Swift’ potato plants down to the lack of water, but I started to wonder about the dreaded b-word. As I had a number of squash and courgette plants that needed space, and as the potatoes looked so dire, I got FIL to start clearing them. We had all assumed that there wouldn’t be any actual potatoes to eat, but as it turns out we have been eating a fair few now. But. By the time I read Kate’s sad tale FIL had brought back tales of neighbouring plot holders with blight. I don’t know if it always works like this, but on either side of me people have sections of really strong healthy looking spud plants right next door to pathetic yellowing plants just like mine. Today I saw how bad it has got. In fear of the blight reaching the tubers, we have removed the top growth on all the remaining plants and will be eating a lot potatoes in the days to come. But not as many as we had hoped, and not for as long. If anyone knows what the advice is on planting things in soil that has had blighty potatoes I would love to hear from you…
On a happier note, despite the bed itself being a disgrace, the “legumes” bed – peas and beans – has been providing us with a bountiful harvest for weeks now. The first lot of broad beans are pretty much over, as are the dwarf peas, but both have delivered several meals of lovely taste sensation, despite, in the case of the peas, many being munched up at the allotment as a “reward” for weeding. The mangetout and sugar snap peas are still going strong, and the French beans will soon be producing too. I think this is the most successful bed so far, in terms of food delivered, though I long for enough space to grow enough broad beans to “have” to make hummus and other more exotic delights.
When I was originally planning how to use the space, I was going to have borders on either side providing flowers for cutting. Chopping and changing bed sizes, wanting room for more squash plants etc. has drastically reduced the number of flowers I have up there, but the front bed with sweet peas , cosmos ‘Dazzler’ and (as yet still small) Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ provides a lovely welcome to the plot.
I love sweet peas. No matter how many we cut and use to fill the house with fragrance, there are always more. Elsewhere there are snapdragons. I went for ‘Orange Wonder’, which are not at all what I envisaged, they turn out to have an awful lot of pink and peach to them, but they brighten the boundary between us and “next door”. These will soon be accompanied by various sunflowers, assuming they don’t get munched to ground level. I also have phacelia, which is actually far too tall to be growing where it is, alongside the raspberries, but its so pretty. Not quite the cutting garden I had dreamt of back in February, but together with the cornflowers I am squeezing in to every gap I can, much better than nothing at all.
All well and good, but you can’t eat flowers – or not these anyway. In theory I will have various marigolds popping up, but they are proving awfully slow. I was glad to see that the first lot of sweetcorn I planted are now growing strongly, though I would have expected them to be rather taller than this by now. The second batch are still miniscule, I don’t know whether they will mature in time, and are part of what has become my ‘Two and a half sisters’ bed.
The glib little sections in my gardening books talk about combining sweetcorn with climbing beans (using the corn as supports) and trailing squashes (as a weed suppressant and to aid moisture retention). It all sounds wonderful in theory, but then I read that it worked for the Native Americans because they harvested all the crops as dried beans/corn, and that actually it can be hard to harvest the beans and corn “fresh” as we tend to want to. And anyway you need a huge mound of compost/manure and a larger area if you want to do it “properly”. But I still like the idea of combining the nitrogen fixing properties of beans with the weed suppressant qualities of squashes. So, I have two blocks of sweetcorn with courgettes planted in the gaps where not enough corn germinated and a block of dwarf French beans as a nod to the Three Sisters idea. As long as I get edibles from it, I’ll be happy!
All in all, with all the help I am getting, and thanks to the amazing resilience of plants – even when almost overwhelmed by weeds – I am pretty happy with the plot. There are cabbages and lettuce to harvest, cauliflower, sprouting broccoli and brussel sprouts growing away strongly, some of the salad onions I had given up on are actually going to be rather good, and I have courgettes and squashes forming. I can live with the failures – potatoes, bolting lettuce, disappearing coriander and parsley, pathetic parsnips – because every now and then I get to deal with something like this in the kitchen:
And my new love? Could apply to the whole adventure of allotmenteering – despite learning today that some people are having their (presumably blight free) potatoes stolen). But actually its this:
I promised myself when I started this little adventure that I would try growing at least one thing that I thought I didn’t like. This year it was beetroot, because MIL loves it and its easy. It turns out that I love beetroot. A slice of freshly cooked Boltardy? Delicious. Raw grated yellow strands of Burpees Golden? Gorgeous. But my current favourite, courtesy of River Cottage Every Day, is beetroot hummus. Beetroot with roasted walnuts, a little garlic, lemon juice and ground cumin. Heaven. And has converted at least two other beetroot haters. Just don’t eat it while wearing white!