We are now well into October, and a good time to think about the successes and failures in the allotment. It’s only 4 months since I took over the plot and so missed out on the spring planting period. Most of the summer I was playing catch-up. The ground hadn’t been cultivated for a long time so it took quite a while to turn over the soil and remove weeds and the worst of the stones. It was interesting to note that one corner had far more stones and flints in it than the rest of the plot. Either it had been used as a dumping ground but more likely it was just a local variation.
In the past gardening experts used to recommend double digging. This effectively meant turning over two spade depths of soil and burying the top spadeful underneath. Current thinking is that this is unnecessary and potentially detrimental – and not only to your back! Most vegetables are relatively shallow rooted and will not penetrate much below one spade depth. If you are planting more deep-rooted vegetables such as leeks you clearly have to make sure that he soil is cultivated deep enough to allow the roots to spread and grow. The danger of double digging is that you can bury the more fertile topsoil under a layer of sterile sub-soil. I am planning on growing carrots and parsnips next year, and am considering a couple of raised beds. That way there will be sufficient soil depth for the longest roots, and at the same time put up a barrier against the dreaded carrot root fly.
In the event the three rows of potatoes I planted yielded around 75 pounds at harvest time. Not bad considering the ground was dug over in haste with no time to add any soil conditioner to what was virgin earth. We escaped the worst of the potato blight which has been the scourge of commercial growers this year and damaged earlier planting by some of the other allotment holders. The blight may have been caused by the wet weather in June. Certainly by the time July came round we were more concerned by drought and this could have been a blessing in disguise. By the end of June my potatoes were only just coming through the surface.
While we escaped the worst effects of potato blight some tubers were distorted by stones overlooked while I was clearing the ground.
By the time I finished harvesting the maincrop of King Edwards there were some losses to slugs, but also a lot of tubers had been attacked by wireworms. These are the larval form of the click beetle. Again I appear to have got away more lightly than some of my neighbours, again possibly because I was late in planting. There is no effective pesticide against wireworms. According to the very informative RHS website wireworm damage is most prevalent in newly cultivated soil and will very much diminish within two years. No effective pesticides are currently available for use by allotment or home gardeners, so it is essential to avoid growing potatoes in the same ground as the previous year.
Plantings of runner beans and climbing french beans were possible three weeks behind schedule, but even so cropped well and we had plenty left over for the freezer. I learned the hard way that there is no point in trying to beat the season with french beans. They simply rot in the ground. Leeks were planted on schedule, and we are already enjoying the benefits in the kitchen.
Courgettes are impossible to get wrong so like everybody else we had a short season but over-abundance. Many of these were converted into courgette chutney, which goes extremely well with cold meat or cheddar cheese (not necessarily on the same plate). You can see the receipt I used on a previous posting about what to do with surplus.
I brought a lot of dahlia tubers from our previous home and planted them down at the allotment as I had nowhere else to put them. These have done well in spite of the lack of soil preparation, and have provided a steady flow of cut flowers for the home. They are also very much appreciated by foraging bees! I will be digging them all up once the first frosts have cut down the foliage, and have promised my neighbours next year first refusal of any spares.
The winter brassicas are coming on well. Purple sprouting broccoli has always been a family favourite, and I have also planted some “sweetheart” cabbages for early spring next year. Last week I sprinkled on a top-dressing of Growmore fertiliser. This will give them a boost just as they start to sprout.
So much for this year’s first attempts at running an allotment. Four months ago I took over a rough piece of ground and we now have a good supply of freezer veggies with the winter harvest yet to come. Not to mention a circle of new friends and introduction to a new community. The other benefits are no less meaningful, and come for free.
One further word of advice – choose next year’s varieties and place your orders with reputable suppliers as early as possible. You will find that many popular varieties sell out quickly, and you don’t want to have to settle for second best.