EARLY SUMMER ON THE ALLOTMENT
This is June so it must be summer, I think. To take advantage of every dry day it is necessary to monitor weather forecasts and get on the land in between showers. For those gardeners still in full time employment and having difficulty getting onto the allotment I can only sympathise. It is hard enough to keep on top of planting and sowing, but weeding also needs attention.
Some crops such as sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins, winter cabbage, kale and chrysanthemums do not get planted till early June so there is plenty of time to sow a green manure and get it dug in before planting. This weather has been great for my green manures. Mustard quickly reached the flowering stage, so it has now been trampled down, chopped and dug in. This will be my last sowing of mustard as it is liable to infection with clubroot, so in future I will use clover or other plants for green manuring. One patch of clovers is growing strongly, but not yet in flower so I will give it another couple of weeks to grow before it gets dug in.
The wet weather does seem to favour my cabbages, Brussels sprouts and Kale. Spring cabbage April has been cropping since the end of May and as it is still hearting up will go on for another few weeks. Summer cabbage Golden Acre is growing strongly and winter cabbage January King has now been planted. These, plus Kale and sprouts Wellington have all been given full protection from slugs (pellets), rootfly (mats) and pigeons and cabbage white butterfly (netting), so hopefully growth should be reasonable if my four year rotation has sorted out the clubroot.
Compost for planting and sowing
Gardeners are being discouraged from using peat composts, and for really good reasons, but compost suppliers should try a lot harder to provide us with a suitable alternative. I have been using B&Q Verve which only has 58% peat. What a disaster. It drains very poorly creating a wet stagnant medium which rots plants and seeds. There is not enough air space for drainage. From a sowing of forty French beans only ten germinated. Aronia transplants, grape vine transplants, cabbage and nemesia transplants have all been at deaths door, till I uprooted them and put them into my home made compost based on the John Innes mixture. This has a lot of soil in it and only 25% peat, but it can grow plants. The old formula or a variation based on its principles makes a very good growing medium. It was 7 parts loam, 3 parts peat, 2 parts sand or course grit and some base fertiliser and ground chalk to keep the pH acidity levels nearly neutral.
Sweet corn Plants were raised from seed sown at the end of March on a windowsill. After potting up, the young plants were ready to plant and about a foot tall. They were planted into a freshly dug green manure (mustard) crop in early June. Hope they get a better summer than last year when pollination set was miserable due to lack of warmth.
Cape gooseberries Young home raised plants were also planted in early June on soil which had a green manure crop of mustard dug in. As the weather is still cold and wet I am protecting them with some old glass windows till they get established and I see a return to summer weather.
Chrysanthemums will also benefit from my green manuring efforts. I am growing a new batch of spray flowering plants which do not need disbudding. They all got planted in mid June.
Fruit crops Started to pick my first strawberries at the end of May. I have the early variety Mae under a polythene tunnel. Red and blackcurrants, gooseberries, saskatoons and raspberries are all showing heavy crops to come. Outdoor sweet cherry Cherokee has lost half of its crop in a June drop, probably due to cold weather and lack of sunshine. I have protected the rest of the crop from birds with a net. They just need a return of summer weather to ripen them up.
Grape Solaris is growing strongly on a south fence, though no sign of flowers this year. I can wait another year and keep hoping that this could be my global warming winner. You have to dream.
Allotment plot vacancies The last three poor years with too much rain and not enough sunshine has tested quite a few allotment holders. Turnover has been high and we have now virtually used up our waiting list, so if any other keen gardener wants to live the good life we would like to hear from you at City Road. We open for visitors both Saturday and Sunday from 11am to noon.
Allotment life is very hard work, but the exercise, fresh air, social environment and an abundance of great fruit, vegetables and flowers gives immense satisfaction.
Plant of the week
Flag Iris has always been one of my early summer favourites. The flowers are big, colourful and most are scented. There are many brilliant varieties to choose from and they are very easy to grow. They are happy in a dry sunny area, don’t need a rich soil, and just lift and replant the clumps every three or four years. I start of new plantings with a bit of decent soil and compost to get them established, and then leave them alone.