Extreme weather allotment growing

This is not a post I ever expected to be writing in July! But I’ve spoken to several allotment holders this week who are battling floods or who have, like us, lost trees to the gale force winds we’re experiencing.

It’s unusual, in our area, to have 40mph winds in the supposed height of summer. Trees are in full leaf and that turns them into vast leafy sails – a wind that would blow through them in November blows them over in July. It’s not just the wind that’s caused the problem on plot #103: the erstwhile allotment holder who planted our apple and pear trees ringed them around with thick plastic barriers. While they have managed to get some roots past this wall, they still have a much smaller root system than they should. This root truncation, plus the winds, plus the rain that has washed soil away from roots and stopped the compacting that usually happens in high summer have all added up to serious root rock in both our apple trees – we’ve had to prune them drastically to stop them rocking into our shed! They may not survive the pruning but the shed certainly wasn’t going to survive playing Newton’s cradle with fruit trees, and it’s a sad fact that these trees are at the end of their lives anyway: poorly rooted and badly pruned fruit trees are prone to many diseases and our apples have quite a few of them!

Heavy rain also washes soil out of containers so today I’ve gone round and checked the second early potatoes that we have in planters and sure enough, some of the Carlingfords are above soil level. This is not good, as potatoes that go green are toxic to the human system, but it’s also easily rectifiable. Once they are covered again, and the light is excluded for between 10-14 days, these spuds will revert to healthy white flesh. You don’t have to cover potatoes with soil: you can use grass clippings, rhubarb leaves, wood chippings or any other kind of mulch that is fully light-excluding.

Frogs seem to be loving the horrible cold and damp weather though, and everywhere I went today I had to persuade young froglets to vacate their location so that I could weed and harvest.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 2 Comments

Allotment potatoes

We’re having mixed results with our spuds. One of the big problems with taking over an allotment is that you never know what’s been done with the soil before you get it, and if it’s been overgrown for a while, there’s a natural tendency to assume the soil will be compacted, neglected and full of weed seeds – and that’s usually true.

The surprises, in other words, are rarely good ones. And this proved true on plot #103. Our first lifting of Rocket potatoes produced a harvest that was just pathetic, while our container grown Estima were brilliant. Quite what is wrong with a broad swathe of our soil is unclear: we know where the firepit was and that there had been a wholesale burning of plastics there are some point in the past, so we weren’t expecting any spuds of that section of the plot (nor would we eat them if we got them, they were planted purely to try and break up the baked soil and start to bring life back to it) but that didn’t turn out to be the problem section … which is weird. Remediation will begin with digging over, planting a green manure and digging it in, and then planning next year's crop rotation to try and get some kind of safe harvest off both problem areas.

On the other hand, the rest of the planting looks fantastic whatever’s going on underneath. One of the reasons I committed to edible landscaping is the sheer beauty it delivers: borders that look as good as anything you see at Chelsea (in my humble opinion) but that you can cut or dig up and eat – what can be better than that?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, July 5, 2012 0 Comments

Greenhouse pollinating

This tomato flower is double. That’s odd. The pollination will be interesting although I wanted to nip it off, I was overruled by OH who wants to see what happens. Once again I’m reminded that a little botany is a useful thing. Every year I end up posting something about how to pollinate greenhouse crops and every year, I try to remember that there were two years in a row when we had no (repeat no, zero, zilch and nada) aubergines because I didn’t understand that they needed to be hand pollinated.

So … everything botanical wants to reproduce. Most plants need a partner to do this, but the dating agency (as it were) varies – some plants use the air, some use insects, some prefer birds … all that kind of biological stuff. Some plants do both sides of the deal themselves – male and female flowers that self pollinate: corn and cucumbers, for example.

There are plants that are difficult to pollinate – I’ve always had an issue with aubergines except when living in the South of France, and I assume that its because when the pollen is ripe, there aren’t many North-ish European native pollinating insects around to do the job. Peppers do self pollinate, but benefit from some help. Use a paintbrush and moisten the tip before finding an open flower and brushing the stamens – if the pollen is ripe it will stick to the brush. Just move the brush to another flower on the same plant and keep doing that for every open flower – it can double or treble the amount of peppers you get from each plant, if you are diligent about it.

This tomato flower is a single, which is what one would expect – it’s on the same plant as the double, which is not what one would expect. Nature is odd, sometimes!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 2, 2012 2 Comments

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