Rain again

Every time I’ve tried to get to the allotment this week it’s absolutely chucked it down. I am not at all mimsy or piffling, it takes a complete downpour to put me off, but twice now it’s actually been so heavy that my windscreen wipers haven’t been able to cope.

So I’m hoping against hope that this weekend’s showers will be just that. We need to get our broad beans in at plot 103: they will be our first crop on the new plot. In addition, I want to dig over a bit of ground (can’t dignify it by calling it a bed, to be honest) to plant some radicchio de Treviso which are fantastic winter vegetables, at their best after a couple of frosts and beautifully red and furled when so much of the winter harvest is either white or green.

The problem is that even if I can get up there, our clay-rich soil generally has only two states in winter: as impenetrable as terracotta when dry or as heavy lead when wet. Winter seeds planted when wet tend to rot before you’ve got them properly covered.

We still have more than three-quarters of the new plot to dig, which is daunting, and the old plot to tidy up ready to be handed over when our purple sprouting broccoli, parsnips and kale are finished. Whew – makes me want to take a nap!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 28, 2010 2 Comments

Allotment Frost

Even after our first air frost, the ‘flower border’ looks magnificent. Our first frost this year was 20th October – that’s a week earlier than last year. Normally, because 201 is near houses and nicely sheltered, we get a few days more frost free autumn than other allotments at the more exposed end of our site where the flat expanse of school playing field and a more eastern exposure can mean a blighting frost arrives very early. This year though, we all seem to have got it on the same day.

Never mind, frost is part of the allotment deal and while the achocha has been destroyed (they are definitely not frost-hardy) the slugs and snails will also have been caught out, and that’s good news.

Cosmos always amaze me – how can they be so lavish so late in the year? The nasturtiums suffered a blackfly assault early in the summer which could be why they’ve suddenly come on so well at such an unseasonal time: many annual plants that get an early check which they survive will go on to surprise you with a late abundance.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, October 25, 2010 4 Comments

Leek moth

We have been struck by the vile leek moth. Last year we raised 82 perfect leeks on plot 201, and this year we were well on the route to similar success when suddenly every single leek was attacked. It’s a bit of a bugger, because there’s no recovery from late summer leek moth predation.

In the interests of science (rather than harvest, as this year’s crop is definitely a goner) I did some research and found out that:

There are two waves of attack - one in spring and one in late summer, both result from caterpillar behaviour. The second wave (which got to our leeks) is far more damaging than the first one.

The caterpillars start by tunnelling into the leaves, and then down into the stem and bulb, causing large areas of damage which then rots, causing total devastation. The adult moth overwinters in plant debris and the female lays eggs in spring that hatch about a week later. It’s the moths from the spring hatching that then emerge to destroy plants in August and September.

Treatment is simple and preventative – clear away and preferably burn debris after harvesting leeks. Dig over the soil to disturb overwintering moths and pupae. Destroy severely infested plants in spring. Protect remaining plants with fleece. Try not to play out leeks until May (ha!) to avoid the worst of the laying season. Encourage birds, bats, hedgehogs, frogs and beetles who will all variously much away on the moths, caterpillars and overwintering pupae.

And if only I’d known that earlier in the year, I wouldn’t be staring at ninety of these collapsing leeks …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 6 Comments

Allotment autumn catching up

The book is done and with the publishers which is lovely – it won’t be published until March but you can go and look at it on Amazon if you want to - it’s called Minding My Peas and Cucumbers: Quirky Tales of Allotment Life.

Our haul for the day on Sunday was rather nice too: a couple of mini-courgettes (for which you would pay quite a pretty sum in a bijoux greengrocers I suspect), carrots, mooli and kale, apples of various kinds including crab-apples, alpine strawberries and some mint. The various apples will all be turned into jelly, with the mint, the carrots are in a stew with the mooli and the kale was stir-fried for Sunday supper.

As promised, a green manure update. Here’s our mustard manure, just before I cut it down. It’s now strewn across the bed, and should soften and become easier to dig in. That’s the theory, anyway. It was certainly pretty easy to hack it down, and the bulky but hollow stems are clearly going to add substantial fibrous material to the soil into which they are going to be forked. I’m rather sad to realise I’m not going to benefit from this process, as we shall have vacated plot 201 by the time this bed is planted, but I hope it will help the new tenants to get the best from the soil.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, October 18, 2010 2 Comments

Absent through excitement

I'm sorry I'm not here, but I'm in the throes of writing a book - about allotments - to be published next year and that means:

1 - not much time to spend on the blog
2 - not much time to spend on the plot.

I will be back in a fortnight or so, I promise, until then I hope your harvests are high and your plots are fruitful!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 7, 2010 1 Comments

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