Tomatoes and tomato blight

The current hot weather and last night’s storm have left us expecting to see Phytophthora infestans when we get up to the allotment. It’s the fungus which causes both tomato and potato blight and in both cases the warning signs are the same, brown marks on the leaves which spread quickly and then the tomato fruit will begin to brown and rot away. Underground, if it attacks the potatoes, they too will begin to rot and the blight can spread from one plant to another with astonishing speed.

The fungus is carried by wind and rain and takes a real hold during Mill’s periods which are times of warmth and dampness. It takes around three or sometimes four days of warm and wettish weather to allow the fungus to proliferate, so the first rule to obey during warm times is to water when necessary only and not to spray water on the leaves of tomato or potato plants – water the roots only.

There’s no organic treatment for this kind of blight, so we’ve been having a low level debate about whether to try to prevent/control it or not. We lost all our tomatoes on 235 last year to tomato blight.

To try and treat it, you have to destroy infected plants in their entirety – ripping them out and removing them from the site, preferably burning them to destroy the fungal spores which will otherwise lurk in the soil for years. You can also try to preserve your tomatoes by spraying them with a copper treatment (which is not organic) BEFORE the blight appears. This means that 24 hours into what might become a Mills Period you have to spray … and that’s what we’re debating, because you can always hope that dry weather will slow the progress of the fungus and that by planting with good spacings and removing and destroying any parts of the plant that have blight, you can save your crop – but only if the weather cooperates!

We haven’t reached a decision yet – remain organic and possibly lose our tomatoes or spray with copper and lose my organic principles? Watch this space!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, June 26, 2009 6 Comments

Allotment improvements and longest days

On 21 June, being the longest day, I thought it was a good idea to take some pictures, especially as we put in a mammoth day on the allotment, although I spent a fair bit of it sitting in chair doing nothing, as I’m having to pace myself.

The plot is looking more organised, apart from the top right corner, which I’ve conveniently not included in this picture and which needs strimming and then will be rotavated – no double digging for that bit of plot, as I’m not allowed to dig for quite a while yet!

The celeriac are doing marvellously.
They did look like this when planted out in early May, but the plastic mulch and copious watering now mean that they gladden the heart of anybody (like me) who enjoys summer crops but is totally fixated on winter ones and on getting enough cold weather veggies established to ensure that she never has to run to the supermarket to buy some hideously overpriced and tasteless rubbish just to have food to put on the table.

And so now they look like this ...

We also planted out our Brussels sprouts, which had a bit of a late start this year. We have five red and the rest are ordinary green (don’t ask what happened to the other red ones, Himself will get upset if you do) and I think we have a row to plant up on 235 too, although I’m not sure if they like Brussels sprouts or if they are the ‘ugh, how disgusting’ type of people. Did you know that it’s genetic? Around a third of the population have a gene that makes cruciferous vegetables taste more bitter than to the rest of us, so if your little darling won’t eat Brussels, it’s probably not his or her fault. Anyway, I don’t want to impose a row of Brussels on them if they don’t like them so I shall wait to find out.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 3 Comments

Mid-June Allotment Harvest

Okay, I’m bragging, but we’re thrilled with the haul we’re getting from 201, given that we only took it over in October 2008.

We can’t take credit for the strawberries, because they were in place before we got our plot, but the broad beans, peas, sweet peas, radishes and rhubarb are all products of our labour since last autumn!

The broad beans have been a bit of a disappointment – they aren’t cropping nearly as heavily as the overwintered beans that we planted on 235 because the spring-planted seedlings have been hideously attacked by blackfly. So we’ve learnt our lesson for next year: even if the mice do take a few seeds over the winter, it’s much better to plant them in situ because they don’t get the problem with blackfly that the spring planted ones do.

The peas are delicious though, and so far only one batch has made it to the saucepan, all the others have been eaten straight out of the pod. We are pea gluttons and no mistake.

The rhubarb hasn’t produced heavily this year, which is not surprising given that we only transplanted it in November, but it’s very tasty and didn’t bolt in May like the more established rhubarb on other people’s plots did.

So, time for a recipe?

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding

6 sticks rhubarb, cut into chunks
250 grams strawberries, hulled and halved
250 grams caster sugar in two 125 gram amounts
75 grams butter or margarine
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150 grams plain flour mixed with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150 ml milk

While the oven is getting to 180 C or gas 4, grease a large square baking dish, wash fruit if necessary, and put in a bowl with 125 grams of sugar, stirring until fruit and sugar are well mixed. I like to use lemon verbena sugar for this recipe (just put some lemon verbena leaves in a jar with white caster sugar and store for around a month, shaking every couple of days to get a lovely lemony scent and savour).

Then pour them into the baking dish and spread them out evenly. Beat the rest of the sugar with the fat and add the egg and vanilla before alternating additions of milk and big spoonfuls of flour. Beat until smooth and pour the batter over the fruit. Should cook in around an hour, or when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Lovely with cream or thick yoghurt and equally good hot or cold. This is not a neat and tidy pudding though, so don’t expect it to look posh, even if it tastes scrummy.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, June 19, 2009 1 Comments

Allotment structures: the brassica cage

Now a lot of people will tell you that brassicas are more trouble than they’re worth, but don’t you believe them! It’s glorious to have fresh, tasty winter vegetables when the weather is harsh and the shops are full of overpriced, tasteless, boring veggies.

There are a few problems – getting the soil right and the long growing season to name but two, but the worst, for us, is pests. The Cabbage White butterfly is called that because it loves cabbages, although it has no objection to other brassicas as far as I can see. And it’s not the butterfly that’s the issue, but the caterpillars, which hatch from small eggs laid on the undersides of leaves and which hatch with a ravenous desire to eat your brassicas down to the stump.

You can check the leaves and pick off the eggs, but we’ve never found this effective, and this year, due to me suddenly having major surgery, I’m really glad that we put in the effort (okay, Himself put in the effort) to build a brassica cage. The cage will keep off the pigeons as well as the butterflies, so it’s an all year round device. And it means that we don't have to do the time-consuming 'inspect and remove' thing with the eggs.

And here it is, in its first phase. Himself made the panels at home and lined them with 7 millimetre netting before taking them down to the allotment and assembling it there.

Second phase is a bit like putting together a three dimensional jigsaw that weighs a lot more than we’d expected. There was some cursing and counter-cursing at this point.

Finished article: which is substantial and easy to get around in. We could have got one of those cages made of aluminium poles and netting, but it’s a windy site and over the past year we saw quite a few of those lying on their sides after some of Sussex’s more demanding gales, so we went for something a bit more castle-like! It is portable, to avoid the risks inherent in not rotating crops, but strong enough to withstand weather.

And here it is with Ragged Jack kale in it. On the other side of the plank path we've put dwarf green kale and the other winter crop we’ll put in it will be purple-sprouting broccoli, which has been prone to butterfly infestation on our site, and next year we hope to be organised enough to put cabbages and cauliflowers inside too.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 6 Comments

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