What happened to Spring at the allotment this year? Not only Spring, but all the seasons seem to be turning topsy turvey.
By Easter the driest 6 months for I don’t know how many years had been recorded, and that wasn’t the end of it. March and April were characterised by long periods with no rain at all, at the same time we suffered from strong Easterly winds that kept temperatures well down. These continued into May, but then all changed. June came in with a prolonged heatwave, with temperatures soaring up into the 80’s. So just as all the planting in the allotment was starting to get going, what moisture there was in the soil quickly evaporated.
You can’t irrigate 1200 sq ft of vegetable patch by hand, so you have to be selective and water when and where it’s going to be most effective. Also timing is important. Watering in the middle of the day can lead to leaf scorch and evaporation. Much better to water in the evening or early morning. Plants absob moisture just as much through their foliage as through their roots.
It’s also critical to keep the weeds down, and that’s when the hoe comes into play. Running it just below the surface crust breaks up the roots so most will wither in the sun. Breaking up the surface layer of soil helps water penetrate quickly down to the roots of your vegetables where it can be most effective.
Small seedlings have to be given priority. For deeper rooted plants such as the soft fruit you can get away with a good soaking once a week, but you have to be generous. Any seeds still not germinated you have to be careful. Too much water and they will simply rot in the ground. Not enough and the new shoots will dry out and die.
Even so, it’s remarkable how quickly vegetables will catch up as soon as they get a bit of sunshine and warmer weather. Onions that were looking pathetic at the end of April have quickly swollen and 8 weeks later are now reaching showbench proportions. French beans that refused to germinate 6 weeks ago are coming into flower. Runner beans are reaching 7 feet high and the tops should be pinched out so all the energy of the plant goes into producing flowers and crops.
Broad beans sowed before Christmas are finished now. In spite of being battered by gale force winds and occasional driving rain they still cropped well with very little lost. Garlic is drying out waiting to plaited into ropes and we finished digging first early potatoes last week. Early and main crop potatoes are still in the ground and growing well. The heavy rain we had last night should bring them along.
Once again, Summer is failing to live up to early promise. After the mid June heat wave, temperatures have dropped dramatically and there has been little sunshine during the day. Dry periods are interspersed with prolonged down-pours.
Vegetables can thrive in cloudy conditions – indeed a study carried out in Australia concluded that most vegetables grow best in semi-shade. Certainly the seed varieties sold in the UK can give good results over a wide range of weather conditions.
We are already harvesting courgettes, beetroot, spring onions and Swiss chard that were sown this spring, and gooseberries and black currants are not far off ripening.
So we can look forward with some optimism to good results over the next few months. Two rows of leek seedlings were in the ground just before this week’s heavy rain. They should do well and crop well into Spring next year. Likewise the Swiss chard is a good standby green vegetable – similar to perpetual spinach but not quite so bitter.