This time last year everything was flourishing. This year though we are off to a slow start owing to the very dry but cold April conditions. Transplanting has been difficult because of the frosts and germination delayed by the dryness. Never mind, nature has a habit of catching up. This time last year the early potatoes were mounded right up whereas this year they have only just started poking through. Despite the adverse conditions the white onion/shallot bed is looking quite well established - little green shoot topped soldiers so far not attacked by anything. I left enough room between the rows to hoe them off but didn’t need to as the weeds could easily be hand weeded round the sets. I rolled back the netting & have replaced it for a little while longer to stop the birds pulling out the bulbs. The Broad Beans were looking positively full of life inside their bottle cloches. I removed them – keeping an eye on the weather. If a warm spell is forecast leaving them in might lead to scorching & the warmth is a beneficial welcome to the outside world.
In terms of planting it is the prime time during May. The last of the frosts will be over by June, so anything not frost hardy may need to be protected until then. I have planted such seeds (eg Courgettes and Cucumbers, Florence Fennel, and French Beans) either under plastic bottles or inside in pots, or both so I have some insurance against the crop failing because of the weather or attack by gastropods or other pests. This also means I can fill in where plants are missing.
The timings for May are a bit conservative, I will probably get cracking with most of it very soon and take a bit of a risk with the possibility of late frosts. Corn does not like cold winds either and my allotment plot is quite exposed, so it is worth keeping an eye on the weather and responding accordingly.
Here is a video which shows a fox on our allotment:
1 seed under plastic bottle with support in place
Wigwam and/or fence or trellis
Mr Majestyk, French Marigold
Having previously tried a few times to grow them in situ without success I raise French Marigolds singly in pots. These are Mr Majestyk, aren’t they a delight? I collect the seed year on year and sow them in early May to plant out once they are ready. All the other flowers: Californian Poppy, Pot Marigold, Sunflowers, and Poached Egg plants are self seeding, mostly in great numbers. This is something to look forward to next month, although some little poached eggs are already showing.
Sweetcorn growing inside
I sowed these in the greenhouse in individual pots, as you can see above, slightly more than I need – 25 – so far 15 have germinated. I mulched beds for them with manure, following the recent wet spell. They will be ready to plant out in mid to late May. They will eventually be planted up with the courgettes and outdoor cucumbers as they complement each other so well. Corn is a bit problematic. I was very happy with Jubilee (Mr Fothergill’s) which I picked off the stand in a garden centre years ago. They were fantastic. Since then I have struggled with organic seeds, Golden Jubilee had a disappointing flavour. This year I am givingGolden Bantam another try. One year I learned the hard way about the importance of planting only the same variety together when I ran out of seeds and bought another type. The two varieties cross fertilised which ruined the flavour.
In fact pollination is, or can be a problem, which is why it is recommended that they are planted in blocks rather than in rows. The plants self fertilise, but for pollination to take place the pollen from the male tassels at the tip of the plants have to make contact with the tassels at the top of the female bit which is the cob that you eat. Every single one of the tassels on the female cob has to be contacted or no new seeds (the tasty bit) will form. This is why sometimes there are gaps in the cob: it is the result of some parts of the cob not being fertilised. To try to avoid this you help the plants as much as possible by planting them in concentrations or blocks rather than strung out in rows. If like me you have a bedded system it is best to use two adjacent beds even if they need to be halved so that you use the ends of two beds for corn and the other ends for other crops. As a further refinement to aid ease of netting against the crop being eaten I have started to set the plants in circles of five or six plants so I can tie the tops together when the time comes.
As with the sweetcorn I have planted these indoors in individual pots, slightly more than needed, at the same time as the corn. You only need to end up with about three of each type, I tend to plant four or five in pots to be sure of getting the three. Even with three at the height of the season I am giving them away. It is very important to keep picking them small even if they are composted. I usually grow three varieties, a yellow and two green. I have planted Goldy . The green ones are Striato di Napoli, which is long and striped, and the similar Romanesco The outdoor cucumber is Marketer which is a French seed. I think it is the equivalent of Marketmore over here. I have grown them all for years with very pleasing results, except one year the taste of the cucumber was awful and I decided that it must have “reverted” which is something to do with the way the strain has been developed.
Climbing French Bean Blauhilde
These are also very responsive to temperature, and will not grow unless conditions are right. Once the temperature is high enough they grow with great abandon. They could be said to be temperaturamental. I will plant these in situ under bottle cloches with some planted in the greenhouse in pots to fill in any gaps. I grow climbers and the bush variety. My favourite climber is purple while on the wigwam, but turns green with a purple tinge when steamed: Blauhilde. I tried Barlotta one year but we were unimpressed as they turned mushy when cooked even slightly. My friend Derek told me to let them go to seed and collect the beans to eat. We did this and we were very pleased with the results, just like the dried ones but tastier, beautiful in salads and stews. The dwarf ones I grow are The Prince and Pros Gitana. Both are tasty and stringless, but they are quite different in texture and flavour. I tend to grow more as the peas die back, putting them straight in the ground under a plastic bottle, one seed per ‘station’. At the end of the season I collect the seeds to maintain my stocks for the following year.
Codling Moth Trap
The Codling moth larvae leave a trail of destruction though an apple tree. Apples become riddled with the evidence of having provided temporary accommodation and sustenance to the little blighters. The adults are nocturnal fliers, apparently, so they are rarely seen. However, they emerge in late May and in the following two months they land on the fruit to lay their eggs which burrow into the apple near the stalk to the centre of the core where they have a feast for four weeks or so before doing a moonlight. Unfortunately this reduces the attraction of the fruit although it does not render it unusable the apples will not store, they have to be used up quickly.
Codling Moth Trap Close Up
Codling Moth Trap
The traps contain pheromone which is similar in smell to the substance secreted by the females to attract the males. When the frisky little devils enter the trap they stick to a piece of sticky paper and trouble you no more. It is obviously a bit hit and miss, but a great reduction in damage is sufficient to enable you to get a decent crop of fruit. I imagine that the effect of the trap increases as the years go on, although the essential parts: the pheromone and the sticky paper have to be renewed. Earwigs eat the larvae so they are useful in helping to combat this nuisance.
Quite a few flowers have formed. I transplanted a number of runners from last year into a new bed to keep the progression going. The flowers will become the fruit. Most of my plants are Mara des Bois, which in general do not require the straw bed as they bush up and keep the fruit off the ground. Straw undrneath can be counterproductive since it gets wet and is an ideal stomping ground for slugs. Slugwatch must begin, I will clear the area of debris and search for any in the vicinity. Although time consuming, this method works, I had very little slug damage to the crop last year
Potatoes showing through
Potatoes showing through
The earlies broke through recently and as they develop I wil earth them up. Sometimes the foliage of the earlies is too far advanced to be covered in this way so I have the back up of some ragged old fleece which does a good temporary overnight job of protecting the haulms, although if fleece touches the tops of the plants they will be slightly affected. Frost blackens the growing tips but in the cases I have seen this only retards growth rather than killing off the plant.
These have outgrown their bottle cloches but normally they would be close to flowering. Once the beans start to form it is the time to pinch out the growing tips, 8cm or so to discourage blackfly. I didn’t bother for two years and had little trouble, remarkable on an allotment where every disease known to humanity (and probably a few more) spread like wildfire. I think this is because the poached egg plants attract ladybirds and hoverflies which regard the blackfly eggs as a tasty morsel. When it is very dry the blackfly flourish and I have to pinch out the growing tips.
Broadbean with serrations
Broadbean under Weevil attack
Interestingly the one bean plant which was not within a plastic bottle cover had a serrated edge to its leaves. This is caused by the Pea and Bean Weevil which feeds on the growing tips of the plants. It can have a big effect on young plants but is less of a problem as they mature. It is a tiny brown insect a little larger than an ant. If not on the plant itself they can be found in the soil at the base and squashed. A bad infestation may be tackled by inserting the head of the plant into a bag and shaking : the plant, not you, you silly person!
I will plant these indoors in compost in individual pots, slightly more than I need. When they get too big for the pot I upgrade them to a larger one of about 15cm. I will prepare beds for them to be planted out in May once the chance of frosts has gone. There is no point in being too early as if they are kept inside too long the plants are weakened by growing too leggy (with long stems and too little foliage) and they only sulk outside in cold weather. In dry weather it is worth planting directly into the soil for there will be little likelihood of slug damage. Direct planting in wet conditions doesn’t work for me since as soon as the plants stick their heads out the slugs take them out with ruthless efficiency. I have not actually witnessed the carnage but I have seen the evidence of no lettuces on too many occasions, while miraculously the plants seem to grow to plan when it is very dry. An alternative to planting in small pots is to plant them in a small tray and then plant them out when they outgrow it. I find this works ok if the plants are each protected by a bottle cloche. At the moment I am using those outgrown by broad beans to protect young lettuce and beetroot seedlings. Those protecting the peas will be transferred to protect french beans when the time comes. It still needs a lot of bottles. Milk bottles are biodegradable and don’t last as long as those from sparkling mineral water.007A
I mostly just allow the Coriander to grow wherever it seeds itself, but some years I have raised it individually in pots and planted them out, soil and all. They don't like to be moved but they don't mind this presumably because it does not actually disrupt the seedling in any way. In fact they are very temperamental and despite a rather exotic reputation in the kitchen they respond very negatively to hot dry weather, and go to seed very quickly.
Here are the hop shoots which will soon be big enough to attach themselves to the structure. You can just make them out, protruding from the poached egg plants below. I usually rebuild it and raise it up. I attach a few windmills to the top to discourage birds from perching there and casting their white matter over my lovely crop later in the year.
Horsetail; The Creature from the Deep
Horsetail does grow on my allotment but not to any great degree. It tends to flourish in uncultivated places and once it gains a hold is very difficult to shift since it sends out rhizome roots in all directions including downwards. It seems the only way to eradicate the weed is to put the land over to grass for 10 years and mow it regularly. This is not really practicable on an allotment, although I wonder if those who object to my interplanting of flowers on my plots would object to this so vehemently.
The above picture shows a different type of growth from the ferny frond usually produced by the same horsetail plants. This Neanderthal beacon like projection contains spoors which are borne like dust on the wind to generate new little horsetail plants. As well as propagating itself from its rhizome roots when split, this alternative to seeds is produced at this early stage of the year. I wouldn’t think it is quite to be feared as much as that emerging from the deep as it can presumably be pulled out in its early days, unlike that which rises from the deep. Nevertheless it is the scariest thing that I have seen emerging from my allotment.
Later in the month I will plant plenty of Basil and other herbs in large pots of compost inside before pricking them out into small individual pots. When large enough I will transplant most of them onto the allotment, and others planted up into large pots make great presents for friends.
This is the chives which has overwintered and is flowering beautifully. It is in the middle of the carrots which will hopefully emerge soon. I have now covered them with mesh soon to ward of the carrot fly.