It’s that time of year again, time to review successes and failures, reflect on how to improve next time round and turn thoughts to planning for next year. One year clearing the plot was delayed by the lack of really frosty weather. I had a predicament as the weather was deteriorating in that it was wet and windy. “What’s the problem?” said Derek as we enjoyed a pre lunch stroll, “Leave it, as leaving it bare will just cause the soil to be spoiled as the goodness is leeched out of it.” He was right of course so I limited myself to removing the weeds, especially the grass as it tends to grow strong roots during the winter months with no obvious top growth. The first beds to clear will be those first used next year: the ones for onions and shallots and broad beans. Further priorities would be peas and early potato beds if the opportunity arises. All these will be covered by weed suppressant or a leaf mulch.
I am busy collecting things, egg shells to spread on the carrot bed to discourage slugs and snails, egg boxes to support chitting potatoes in February and manure from the stable which I will cover and turn. The compost heap is also due for an overhaul, stock piling that ready to use and turning the rest. There is always something to do!
During late November I have often looked skywards while on the allotment and seen the wonderful sight of a skein of Canadian Geese. They exercise their military style fly past bound for wherever it is they migrate to, if indeed they do. Perhaps these gregarious birds are just enjoying an end of autumn get together. Their chevron formation is a wonder of nature, with a constantly changing leadership, the shape being perpetually refreshed and restored as the geese effortlessly switch places with seemingly choreographed precision. Beautiful!
The end of November signals the end of autumn and beginning of winter, it is time to shut up shop and stay in the warm, weeding and carrying out other maintenance tasks when the sun shine beckons you out.
Codling Moth trap
Codling Moth Trap
A Codling Moth trap works. Here you can see the collection of sorry looking males caught in May by a sticky paper when they thought they could smell a female and they had got lucky. NOT!
Pink Fir Apple Potatoes
Pink Fir Apple Potatoes
When I first planted Pink Fir Apple Potatoes I was surprised that they were so successful because they did not chit, seeming to be dead for weeks when others were steaming ahead. They died back much later than I expected for a salad potato, and I then discovered why: they are a Maincrop variety. But look at the results, this is just one root and I counted 25 potatoes, all well worth using.
Nadine Potato with unwelcome visitor
One year I took this picture, it shows the possible consequences of leaving potatoes in the ground too long. These subterranean slugs do their dastardly work in cognito. Where? - In cognito. Catch them in the act, however, like this one, and they are no more.
This shows the consequences of partial germination of sweetcorn. 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.
The Courgettes and Cucumbers did very well this year. As I had just planted them I watered them during the dry spell and they really liked it, together with the manure I put below them. One year I found a great recipe for Caponata which is a Sicilian dish requiring Aubergines. I substituted courgettes with great results. They are also a tasty addition to roasted vegetables. The fresh cucumbers are so juicy and tasty and make a great addition to a salad. Superb!
Peas and Beans
Peas and Beans
Both Peas and Broad Beans were not very successful this year as both died back when the very dry period struck and I could not envisage watering them as it takes so long to water plants properly by hand.
French Beans: Blauhilde
A wigwam of climbing French usually gives us a continuous supply and continuity is completed by establishing another wigwam a bit later in a different spot. I had two separate supplies, with the Blauhilde and Neckar Gold varieties.
I planted Borlotti beans and harvested them when they were mature, shelling the pods and using the bean themselves instead steaming them whole when small like French Beans. When I did this a few years ago they were mushy. However, inspired by Derek’s recommendation I grew them on and used them in meals as you would the ones from the tin. Except they were fresh and tasted better as a result. Brilliant! I particularly liked the home made baked bean stew recipe with sausages. They came out sweet without adding any sugar or molasses.
Germination was brilliant. Unfortunately some vanished and since they were in the area not covered with eggshells I think it was gastropods that did the damage. Dawn agrees that they eat the very young seedlings. Instead of just surrounding the bed with eggshells I am collecting them all winter this time and will spread them all over the carrot bed next year. Also I used to sow early varieties and they had little competition as gastropod food when they germinated. I have started to sow Autumn King as well – with great success.
I now always cover with mesh after one year’s disaster. I read on an “organic” website that a 20” barrier against the carrot fly is sufficient. It may have worked for him but it did not for me. A wonderful crop was decimated. Aaargh!!!
Once again, there was no problem in germinating the parsnips as I watered them in their formative stages. I think we are going to have a reasonable crop, although early development was retarded by the dry weather. We will have some for Christmas day, although we still await a heavy frost which will release sugar from the starches and make them taste so much sweeter.
Red Currant Cuttings
My cuttings from fruit bushes are now very well developed and established. I keep them free of weeds and watered in times of drought. I like to put them at the end of beds in the relatively unproductive places for smaller plants. It seems a waste to put them in rows. I am wrestling with how to develop them into well shaped bushes. At the moment I have them in hedge like groups. One year my lovely crop of red currants was stolen, probably by pigeons initially attracted by the gooseberries. Now I have built frameworks to put netting over it will be easier to protect them in years to come.
We have had a fantastic crop of raspberries, into October although by then they were like the chewing gum on the bedpost, they had lost their flavour. Sometimes Mrs dmp makes a fantastic liqueur by steeping them in vodka. We also make a coulee and freeze the fruity sauce.
The Blackberries were also very successful, we had a supply from August until November.
Another success, including the establishment of runners. I reluctantly removed half a bed of the oldest ones. I don’t like destroying old plants but four or five seasons is plenty and I have new ones to replace them. The space will be given to a different crop as I put new plants established from runners into another bed during November. Keeping the strawberries on the move, as they come to their end, helps to rotate the crops round the plot.
My Asparagus has given up, sadly, unable to compete with the nearby raspberries I foolishly planted. Here’s what to do if you have more sense than me and yours are flourishing: When they turned yellow cut them down. At first I followed the advice to cut the stems to ground level. However, I read somewhere that you should cut them to about 15cm or so in case the asparagus beetle moves in. Then you need to remember to reduce to ground level in the spring, removing any beetles with the extra pieces of woody tube. Although mine had no infestation, and not many fellow allotmenteers grow asparagus, this seems like a sensible precaution which I followed following for a number of years. I most strongly recommend you grow these strange but majestic plants, although doing so is an exercise in deferred satisfaction for it is a couple of years before you can start sampling the delights. I shall buy some new crowns in the new year. If you are just starting out I would follow suit, mine are “Franklim”, and plant them below ground level in a trench. Asparagus needs well drained soil with perennial weeds removed. They are in for a long stay. Plant out in a 20cm deep, 30cm wide trench in April when the ground is not waterlogged. Make a hump across the trench (like a steep camber on a road) rising to 5cm in the centre and spread the roots out on each side of the hump. Cover roots with about 3-4cm of soil and then add more to cover them as they grow. Check for weeds on every visit to eliminate competition. The result is certainly worth waiting for. I have never been able to get beyond steaming them for 3 or 4 minutes because they taste so delicious.
Salad, Slugs and Snails
Slugs and Snails have not been allowed to affect the strawberry crop which was abundant again. Salads crops were successful and I planted out some of the congested seedlings onto another bed which great success. Unfortunately, as always, dry weather caused them to bolt or we might still be enjoying the variety of fresh flavours. Individual plastic bottle cloches and single minded vigilance kept the slugs at bay.
To begin with the fennel showed great promise, far from the disasters of the past, and I kept them watered during dry weather. Everything went swimmingly then a dry spell occurred while we were away somewhere, they bolted, with the usual disastrous result. There is a moral in it, I’m not sure what it is but it isn’t give up!
One year I propagated a few cuttings of new wood from the rosemary bush and here they are resting in the greenhouse over winter. This year I have five new ones in the greenhouse, too.
(Old Hand) Chives
Not only is the Chives flourishing but it is self seeding. So too is the Oregano.
Comfrey needs to be dug out each year to avoid the otherwise inevitable invasion. However useful it is, Comfrey thinks it is destined to rule the world.