Monday, 19 November 2012

Autumn Digging

 The pattern of this year has been rain, rain, rain, rain, SUNNY GARDENING DAY, rain, rain, rain, so this weekend a rare bit of sunshine prompted us to get out and get on with the vegetable plot.  Having said that, a spell of unforecasted rain made an appearance part way through anyway.  The emergency gardening routine we have settled into this year means we have to get a lot done at one go, so I decided to dig up one-third of the carrots and all the measly parsnips so I could clear and dig over the parsnip bed for the winter.  The parsnips really are measly, though I suspect I could sell them in a supermarket as "miniature vegetables" and easily make my money back!  Given the size of the parsnips, I wonder how big the carrots would have got if we had decent weather?
 There are still some carrots in, but all that is left now for the winter table is a collection of pencil-thin leeks and the purple sprouting broccoli among the weeds, as you can see here.  I like to get most of the hard digging over before Christmas as our coldest weather tends to be in January and February, when the ground is often frozen.  In particular, I want to have space to put the garlic in early in the new year, so a lot of digging was done this weekend.
 Here's a sample.   This bed was weeded and worked over a month ago, but the constant rain has compressed the soil again so I forked it over.  Working a clay soil is hard, each of the clods you can see weighs almost a bag of sugar.  But this soil is in good shape compared to this...
which was last dug over and planted in June, just before the monsoon.  This is what our soil looks like when it is saturated and compressed.  The only way to tackle this is to give it a rough dig with a spade to break up the clay clods a bit, let it dry (not sure how this is going to happen!) and let the winter frosts break the lumps down.  At present, the winter is looking like it may be a cold one, so I do want to get as much digging done in the next month as possible - I'm about two-thirds done now, crossing fingers and hoping for some more clear weather!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Autumn Colour

 Despite the appalling weather this year (and yes, we've had lots more rain since my last post) I have managed to create some colour round the house.  I have a number of different colours of pansies around the house, but these are particularly fine and cheerful.
 If you're not familiar with this flower, it's an autumn crocus.  I bought a couple of bulbs several years ago, I got one flower, then nothing, then one flower again and so on.  This year, however, they have been magnificent, flowering for the last couple of weeks.
 Sadly the wind and rain have knocked them about a bit, but they do give a great splash of colour.  And with absolutely no effort on my part.
 In my "summer" tubs I planted a few dahlias, all of which failed to do anything at all, except this one, which has just decided to flower, in October!  If we get below zero temperatures this weekend, this flower will be coming indoors in a vase.
 All in all, my pots outside the door are doing well.  The Rudbeckia are going strong, the lobelia is still flowering, after 3 months and the Tom Thumb nasturtium I planted at the bottom of the rambling rose to cover the bare base and shade its roots from the burning sun (?!) has scrambled up the plant beautifully.  Even my sweet peas have been flowering in recent weeks, only 2-3 months late!
 Vegetable have not had a good year, I picked the best of the beetroot, which was not very good, most of them are smaller than golf balls.  But the carrots are excellent and the parsnips are looking good too. Another good picking of autumn raspberries was also had this week.
 My solitary Spartan apple - both this and the Blenheim Orange flowered well but were decimated by the weather, each producing a single fruit only.  There's always next year.
With the fine days few and far between and usually coinciding with a day I have to work, it has been difficult getting out to the plot.  Working on waterlogged soil is never a good idea either.  But I have made a start, these two beds have been dug out and re-bordered.  After three years of rain on a sloping plot, the soil  in these beds had moved down, as you can just see by the height of the pile on the right compared to further up.  In fact, the soil had actually moved one foot out of the far bed and taken over some of the path.  So the wooden edges are an attempt to keep it where it should be.  Lots more work to do, let's hope for some good weather to do it in...

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Carrotty Success!

 I have been trying to grow carrots for over 10 years, with no success.  Our wet, clay soil is not conducive to the process, and despite trying lots of methods to prevent it, the dreaded carrot fly always decimated the crop.  Last year I tried a "variety pack" of seeds, most of which were supposedly carrot fly resistant, in a last ditch attempt to crack the problem.  The local carrot flies  have no respect for "resistant" crops it seems, and munched their way through them regardless!  But one variety - Autumn King- showed promised so I decided to try again this year.
 Autumn King is, as its name suggests, an autumn variety, so is sown late (end of June); this avoids the peak season for the dreaded carrot fly.  The advantage here, with our wet soil, is by that time the soil has warmed up so it benefits the carrots doubly.  However, with the dreadful weather this year I hedged my bets and sowed them in early July under a cloche which had been in place for a couple of weeks to dry/warm the soil.  It paid off handsomely.  I pulled some thinnings this week, plus a couple of bigger roots just to see.  So far, so good, only one carrot had carrot fly.  Very tasty too, so if you have a similar climate/pest problems to me, you may want to try this variey.
 Still got runner beans coming...
And the autumn raspberries are doing well.  Once again, we've had more rain but the weather is not as bad as it was most of the summer so I hope to get out to do some more digging soon.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Mampkin Experiment

 The weather this year has been dreadful all through the seasons, so earlier this year I did a first sowing of marrows and pumpkins using saved seed from last year's crop.  It was so cold and wet I didn't think they would survive and wanted to keep my bought seed for a second sowing.

To my surprise they germinated reasonably well so having given up on having decent weather I decided to use the seedlings, not expecting to get much crop anyway.  They have actually done quite well, and we have now gathered the main crop, as you can see.  What you can also see is that they have hybridised.  The marrow at the top of the picture looks like it has crossed with a courgette, while the one at the bottom looks like it has come true to the original seed variety.
This one is even more interesting - it grew on what looked like a pumpkin plant but appears to be a cross between a marrow and a pumpkin - a Mampkin.  I have a few of these, all pear-shaped fruit.  

All of these taste good, very marrow like.  The Mampkins are more marrow than pumpkin, I think.  An interesting experiment, I will revert to bought seed next year and hope we have a better gardening year so I get proper marrows and pumpkins.

P.S. The mouse living in my kitchen has now been relocated to its true habitat in the woodland outside.  I recommend the humane mouse trap from B&Q (£3.98), it took several nights but eventually the mouse ventured inside and was caught - in compensation it got a hearty meal of peanut butter.  The cat, not interested in actually catching the mouse, woke me up and then sat on the stairs at a safe distance to observe the human mouse catcher at work.  So I took the trap across the river and with two shakes the mouse was out of the box, a quick look up at its captor/host for recent weeks and then scampered off into the undergrowth.  A happy ending for both parties.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Some Dry Weather - Finally!

 We've just had some good weather for a change, so it's been full speed ahead on the allotment.  Above is one of this year's potato beds, now those are out I've been weeding and digging over.  More on these beds next time as I have plans for this area...
We did get a few tomatoes, though this year was pretty disastrous for them. These plants are now gone, as well.
 My second sowing of beetroot and carrots has been surprisingly successful.  These were sown under a cloche in early July and are coming on well.  I checked the carrots yesterday and they are filling out a bit so in a few weeks I'll be able to eat the thinnings, which is something to look forward to.  The beetroot are not going to be huge, but they will make satisfactory small globes and I may be able to pickle some.
 The parsnips are also growing on well despite the cold and wet, so we will have a good crop of these this year.
 The apples are late this year - this is Worcester Pearmain which is not ready yet.
 I did manage to pick most of these red Katy apples yesteray, they are smaller than they should be, have a fair bit of scab but actually taste pretty good, which was a nice surprise!  Not a good year for apples, or most fruit really.
 This is one of my problem areas that undoubtedly earns me black marks with the allotment Gestapo and the council.  There are weeds in this bed, but there are also spinach plants which I have allowed to go to seed in the hope I might be able to collect it, plus the artichokes have migrated into here from their bed next door.  This bed should have had courgettes in it but since all but one of them died and I realised what the artichokes were up to, I decided to leave it for this year.  I will need to dig up the artichokes and move them back to where they should be, once I have prepared the soil more to their liking.  I have a number of areas which need major surgery after three wet summers in a row, so this will be a theme of future posts.

 Last week I picked the last of the peas, a very poor crop this year, they don't like monsoon rain.
But here's something to look forward to - the autumn raspberries are doing very well and we could have a good crop if the weather doesn't deteriorate too much.

In other gardening, I finally got round to pruning my rambling rose and planted some autumn pansies.  Still need to tidy up the garlic yet, it's dried out nicely in the house, well out of reach of the mouse which has taken up residence in my kitchen!  I have plans for that mouse, hope to catch it tonight and take it back to where it came from....  

Friday, 24 August 2012

Rossendale Council - the Sequel

Following my last blog post on the subject of the letter I received from Rossendale Council, the Lancashire Telegraph got in touch about running the story.  It took them a few days to get some information out of the Council as they generally avoid answering phones, as I mentioned last time.  I did get an email from the chap at the Council who had gone on holiday after sending the letters, eventually, though it was fairly general and nondescipt.   He did try hard to play nice, still, no apology, no clarification and no answers to my questions.  No surprise there.

But yesterday the Telegraph finally got a response from the Council on the subject.  Apparently, this inspection was 'run of the mill'.  Hmm, not sure you can describe the first inspection since 2003 as 'run of the mill', but OK, let's move on to the next statement.  Letters were sent to 4 people.  Now that was interesting, so yesterday afternoon I had a brief wander round the allotment site to look for uncultivated plots or those which had fewer vegetables growing on them than I did (for the record, I had 11 types of fruit or vegetables not counting the apple trees).  I stopped counting at 9 un- or undercultivated plots.  Some of these plots are completely uncultivated and covered in plastic, others have a couple of things growing but a good selection of weeds as well.  NONE of them had as much growing as I did.  I actually didn't go round all the plots and I wouldn't want to criticise other gardeners as this has been a terrible gardening year, I've lost a lot of plants and so have many others.  That was one of my points to the Council, it's unfair to judge people in such an appalling season.  But 9 and only 4 letters?

On reading the paper this morning I was interested to find this statement from the Council: "The (allotment) society and council are concerned about plots that have fallen into disrepair or look like they have been unworked.  In these instances the council agrees with the society which plot owners to write to requesting that the plot is worked."  Oh dear.  So if anyone from the Council is reading this, and I know that you have read my last post, let me just leave you with this thought.  If there are at least 9 other plots worked less than mine, just what selection criteria were used to decide to send a letter to me and 3 others?  I do hope the selection criteria were lawful, and in line with the Council's statutory obligations.  For example, I do hope the fact that I have chosen not to join the allotment society (it's not obligatory) was not one of those criteria, though I can think of a few other possible explanations as well.  

That's my final word on the subject for now, on with the gardening!

 This is a patch of weeds interspersed with cabbages, and it neatly encapsulates the problem many gardeners have had this year.  We've not had dry soil here since May 2011, and it means that the weeds and the grass just keep on growing.  This bed was weeded when we netted it two weeks ago, and in that time the weeds have outpaced the cabbages.
 So yesterday it was time to get the chickweed, docks, grass, rosebay willowherb and other assorted unwanted plants out.  Not an easy job as the net is below head height so you end up bent over the whole time!  We have naughty pair of woodpigeons on the plot who have been helping themselves to our fruit and veg this summer, and they had stripped all the cabbages to some extent.  Netting them has not only protected them from the cabbage butterflies but also from the birds.  At top and left are purple sprouting broccoli plants which I also managed to germinate successfully during the monsoons.
 Last year I grew a few green peppers for the first time and decided to have another go this year.  The weather has been worse than last year and they have spent a lot of time under cover to try to keep them warm, but there are two little peppers formed as you can see in this photo.
 It's also been a bad year for peas and beans, but we finally have the first runner beans set.  The variety is White Emergo, I have been growing this for some years now and it always does fairly well, though I did lose a few plants early on.
 The marrows are one crop which have done extremely well, they seem to like the wet conditions.  I have about 8 now set, and put tiles underneath them just to prevent rotting from the wet ground, we had torrential rain here earlier this week, which resulted in flash floods, so anything I can do to keep the fruits a bit drier will help.
Now this is interesting.  It should be a pumpkin.  This year I used some saved seed from previous pumpkins rather than bought seed as the weather was atrocious and I didn't want to risk wasting the seeds early in the season.  To my surprise they germinated, grew into standard pumpkin-like plants and have now flowered.  But this fruit, while light green and pumpkin-like on the surface, seems to have developed an elongated shape more like a marrow instead of being round.  I have another one just the same, so I'm wondering if the marrows and pumpkins crossed last year when flowering?  I will post further pictures of what I am tentatively naming my "mampkin" as it develops, will be interesting to see what it turns into eventually.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

To Rossendale Council, With Love

 This week I got a letter from someone at Rossendale Council whose job title is "Amenities Officer", whatever that is.  In it he stated that my allotment plots had "not been worked in some time" and that they were being "overgrown with weeds".  Now for those not familiar with this small corner of Lancashire, Rossendale is a little valley which rejoiced in having the official title of "Worst Council in the Country" not too long ago.  It has improved slightly since then, but not much (making national headlines last year for its waste collection proposals which could best be described as "do it yourself").  The council has taken no interest in the allotments apart from collecting our money for some years, and the last time letters like this were sent out was about 8 years ago, by someone who later admitted she knew nothing about gardening.
So if we want to keep our plot, we are required to contact the said "Amenities Officer" and promise to improve, be good, that kind of thing. Being fair incandescent with rage, I did so immediately by telephone (voicemail engaged) and then email only to find the said "Amenities Officer" (who shall remain nameless, I do have some heart, you know) had sent the letters and promptly buggered off on holiday.  That's Rossendale Council for you, if in doubt, don't answer the phone and ideally don't be there at all.

I don't have any faith that the "Amenities Officer" knows one end of a potato plant from the other, so this post is dedicated to Rossendale Council.  Here is a collection of photos, all date stamped to prove a point, from my plot which has apparently "not been worked in some time".  At the top is the harvest of Cosmos potatoes, an early maincrop which does well for us, being fairly blight resistant , the only damage they get is the occasional slug hole.  Directly above is my garlic harvest, not as good as last year but after 3 months of solid rain better than I could expect.

Just as I finished digging this up yesterday (it's now under a cloche on the plot to dry), a group of walkers passed by and peered over the wall.  "That's a busy lady" one said, to which I replied "No I'm not, according to the council my plot isn't being worked".  They tutted, rolled their eyes "What do they know?".  We then had an interesting discussion about artichokes, mine have been very poor this year and have also created havoc by escaping into the next bed.  According to one of the walkers, this was discussed on Gardeners' Question Time recently and apparently everyone's had a bad time with artichokes this year, so it's not just me.
The brassicas got hit by pigeons the day before I was planning to net them, but since doing so they have recovered speedily.  You will notice there are weeds in the photo, now this is a crime according to the Amenities Officer, but I might point out that we have had the wettest June/July in 100 years and given that fact it can be difficult to get out to weed given the short gaps between downpours generally occur when I'm working.  Today, for example, it is currently raining again.
 With all the rain, the pea crop has been poor but I managed to pick these. Also managed to cut the grass and do some weeding (are you reading this, Amenities Officer?) but given that I have a day job and don't have a weed-related OCD condition like some, there are still weeds on my plot.  Tsk, Tsk.
 Although getting off to a slow start, the lettuce has done well this summer.  I weeded this two weeks ago, but with all the rain they come back straight away.  It's a never ending task.
While the first beetroot sowing failed, the second (on the right here) went in under a cloche in early July to keep it drier and warmer and these beetroot are now doing well. Next to them are autumn carrots which are also looking pretty good.
 This is the last crop of rhubarb for this year.  I must split it this winter, I also need to dig up and replant the strawberry bed - some plants are now past it and it's 5 years since I put them in.  Also, there are now a lot of weeds in there which it is impossible to remove without taking the plants up as well, so that's a job for the autumn  if it ever stops raining.  I've never seen weather like it, our soil was last dry in  May 2011, can you believe that?  We've had over a year of constant rain!
My final photo is dedicated to the Amenities Officer.  This is a Weed, a Very Big Weed.  A criminal offence, no less.  I allow one of these to grow on my plot each year, just the one.  Why? Because it provides valuable food for hoverflies (you can see one in the photo) and other insects with its pollen, and then food for cinnabar moth larvae on the leaves.  I have a patch of nettles for the same wildlife-related reason, and weeds around the trees where I cannot cultivate (not fruit trees, these are regular trees which belong to the council).  My plot is sloping and on three levels, it will never be the "perfect plot", it will never be weed or grass free, I have no intention of covering it with paving and gravel and polytunnels like many others on the allotments.  I do, however, have toads and frogs and moths and butterflies bees and lots of other beneficial yet endangered insects, oh and I manage to grow lots of fruit and vegetables as well.

So there you have it, my "not been worked in some time" plot.  I could use some stronger language but  think "Stick that in your pipe and smoke it" does the job nicely.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Surveying the Damage...

 So, after the wettest June on record, following a wet winter and two wet summers, it was time to survey the damage.  While my broad beans did well as they were pollinated before the deluge, not everything else has done.  I was worried about my parsnips, which have a  habit of failing when it's too wet.  I was so worried that at one point I covered them with a cloche, which may have done the trick as I have a bed full of parsnips, albeit full of weeds as well.
 As for the tomatoes, well it's fairly disastrous.  Some of them have root rot, the brick in the picture is propping up one affected plant.  The cloches have been on and off the tomatoes in an attempt to keep them warm and dry, and allow pollination.  I do have some fruit, the later flowering ones are covered in blooms and look reasonably healthy, so who knows...
I started these beetroot (front) and carrots (back) under a cloche too a few weeks ago.  They have germinated quite well, so now they're in the fresh air and growing on.  The earlier beetroot sowing had patchy germination due to the rain and cold.  The cloches have been an essential tool this year though I really didn't have enough to cover everything I wanted to.  They will need to be replaced now - after torrential rain, hail and punishing winds they are now suffering badly, with tears and gaps.
This is my sole surviving courgette, the only one that made it through the rain, low temperatures and slug predations.
 The soft fruit is dreadful too.  Here is the first picking of redcurrants, a paltry few pounds of fruit, small and sparse.
Here you can see what the redcurrants should look like (left) compared with what I mostly have (right) - straggly partial bunches of fruit.  You would think birds, wouldn't you, though we don't have a big problem with birds on the plot.  But the gooseberries are the same, and they, like the redcurrants, had masses of blossom at the start.  I suspect that some didn't set, some got eaten by snails and some was simply blasted off by the wind, hail and rain.  The blackcurrants are much better, as are the whitecurrants and red gooseberries so it's very strange.
 The strawberries and rasberries have also struggled, the rasberries being particularly poor and suitable only for cooking.
Here are the blackcurrants and redcurrants bagged up for the freezer.  The redcurrants are destined to make fruit cordial, so they go in the bag as they are, I couldn't face stripping the tiny berries from the stalks!  Raspberries and damaged strawberries get made into cordial straight away.
 The grass has had a really good year, growing  up to 4 feet in height, as you can see.  Weeds everywhere, it will take months to get under control.  This morning I weeded the lettuce bed, hundreds of weeds needed removing.
It's been a great year for slugs and snails, here is a snail at the top of a redcurrant branch.  We used to have a lot of slugs, but the snail population has grown massively in the last few years, we have lots of species, including a few very stripy ones like this one.  They've had a great time eating my vegetables and fruit.
 The apples have also been hard hit, this is Katy which is normally groaning with fruit by this time, I reckon it's around 50% down this year, the Spartan only has one left, the Blenheim has lost a lot of its fruit and only the Worcester Pearmain has a decent quantity left on.  I couldn't find a single plum on the tree when I looked this morning.  Again, I suspect the weather did rather more "thinning" of the fruit than I wanted.
As for the strawberries, many have rotted in the wet, others eaten by slugs so we have a poor crop this year.

The lettuce has done well under a cloche for most of the time, the potatoes look good, the marrows and pumpkins are belatedly growing on now, the peas are behind but flowering well and the brassicas, though few in number, are looking healthy, so it's not all bad.  But I can honestly say that this has been the worst weather and most difficult year for growing fruit and veg I've ever known.  If you're a commercial grower though, it must be just disastrous.

While we have been drowning, on the other side of the pond there has been an extremely dry summer!  What a strange, strange year!