September is a great time of year, when many crops are in full swing. At the moment we are picking raspberries, blackberries, and courgettes and cucumbers. We are still enjoying the early potatoes, the maincrop should be a good size, owing to them surviving the drought and the recent copious rain. The crop of French beans has been OK Ė I have been picking every few days which means that they have been a tasty size: 10-15cm. There are only a few but enough for two. Beetroot and parsley survived but are stunted. The apples on the little tree are small, plentiful & tasty. Parsnips also survived but the outlook does not look too promising as they too just hung on to life.
These require little attention except vigilance to keep picking them, otherwise they turn into marrows and the plant, having done its job and produced the seeds, stops growing. If you think that it is a good thing and like stuffing marrows then let it happen. I prefer them to be small.
Early last month I removed enough soil to create a hole for a small flower pot, filled the pot with the soil and pinned down the little strawberry plant. Later this month, once they are firmly rooted I will sever the runner from the parent plant and I will be able to easily move the new strawberry plant to a suitable position, probably on the next available plot down the allotment. As with all crops it is important not to overdo it by retaining strawberries in one place. It is important for crop rotation to keep them away from beds previously used for potatoes as they share some diseases which may be built up in the soil and transferred.
I let nettles grow wherever I can, for they are very beneficial. One evening I found a dead magpie in one of the nettle buckets, so I threw the contents away, not wanting that near my food. I then gathered the nettles using a gloved hand and set up another brew. Nettle rash is caused by formic acid and may be relieved by rubbing with sorrel or rhubarb. Nettle juice will be ready to use in about two weeks In the meantime the stench will remind you to stir it now and again. The companion planting guru Louise Riotte, who died in 1998, recommended their use in speeding up fermentation in the compost heap, so I throw everything in the bucket, including roots, and add the residue at the bottom of the bucket to the compost bin. Like comfrey, nettles have a similar carbon Ė nitrogen ratio to farmyard manure. It is also beneficial for neighbouring plants, because its roots generate beneficial elements in the soil. The Nettle is said to strengthen plants, make them more resistant to insect damage, and give herbs more pungency.
The sweetcorn suffered in the drought as I had only just planted it out when the dry spell arrived. I did water it but it struggled nevertheless and the plants are probably too small to produce anything worth eating. In previous years I protected the cobs from being eaten by other hungry mouths than ours. Early last September, for example, I had spent a whole day at the allotment and just before finishing I walked to the base of the plot and was hit by a blast of Hitchcock horror. Not ďThe BirdsĒ, although there are echoes of it when one looks up into the large tree at the end of the allotment where hordes of Magpies congregate. Some of the corn cobs had been stripped. My mind raced. This early? It canít be. Quickly I chose a plump one and pulled back the covering to reveal the golden contents, pressed a thumbnail into a kernel and milky juice came out. Voila.
Yet another ďIíve been meaning toĒ hit me between the eyes. A quick survey showed the damage was limited to three cobs, but I would have to act if the ďIíve been meaning toĒ was not to become ďI wish I hadĒ. Within seconds I had excitedly harvested four cobs and was on the way home to drop them in boiling water for four minutes and share the bright yellow contents with the family. Beautiful. It is really true about getting them in the pan fast, it does make a difference. Something to do with the sweetness turning to starch, I believe. Then I dragged my weary frame back to the allotment to erect fortifications. I shifted the fence surrounding the broad beans to the side of the bed where I harvest the courgettes. Itís only about ĺmetre high so I can lean over it. On the other side I put the two fences which had supported peas, both about a metre high. From each side I draped netting, the top of the corn stalks providing the apex. Job done. Dave shouted over that his corn had been raided, and he had watched Magpies stripping the kernels away. I always thought it was squirrels.
If you can remember to do so a simpler way to protect them is to plant them in a circle and when the time comes tie the tops together to form a tepee shape around which to drape the netting. Unfortunately I did do thid this year, when a crop does not seem likely.
Iíve never had much luck with Spinach. Iíve tried a number of different kinds, but mostly they bolted at any hint of dry weather. I think Medania was ok but I planted that before going over to mainly organic seeds. I have a vague recollection that Matador was quite successful and I am not sure why I donít grow it. I then tried Giant American which bolted before it germinated and New Zealand which was very prolific but horrible. Anyway the one in this picture is Perpetual which has a reasonable flavour if picked small. Not a true spinach but Leaf beet I think. I have also successfully grown the genuine French Monster of Viroflay.
Potatoes with Cutworm damage
The earlies (Colleen) have all gone but I am still busy digging out the second earlies, Ambo. They are superb roasted, a relatively new combination of Desiree and Cara. No need to parboil, put into hot fat or oil for half an hour turning occasionally with a spatula. If there is any hint of blight I will have them out in a jiffy. The damage in the picture has been caused by cutworms. They seemed to prefer the flavour of the Lady Cristyl because they did not touch the Nadine in the next bed. I killed a lot when I was digging but I must have missed a few. I am harvesting the potatoes as I need them but will shortly dig the lot out and store them in paper sacks. I will choose a dry day so they will quickly dry out on top of the soil. It is important to dig out even the little ones or they can cause problems by mingling with next yearís crops. I still have a row of the red Arran Victory to dig out, so named as it was developed on the Scottish island to celebrate victory in 1918.
Onions with onion fly damage
I planted three rows of salad onions so we will be able to crop them in early spring. The picture shows the damage caused to some onions by white rot and onion root fly, both of which are endemic on allotments but which don't tend to ruin the whole crop.
Strangely one year the borlotti beans did not climb the wigwams and stayed close to the ground. On such small plants only a few beans formed although these few swelled up nicely and were soon ready to be picked. I wondered what was going on until I happened to glance at the packet: DwarfBorlotti Beans. What a waste of time and space. You would have to consign acres to the plants to get enough. As it is the space taken up by the climbers is large compared to the output. Unlike French Beans you allow Borlotti to mature as you want the seed inside the pod. French Beans keep coming as long as you keep picking them, but as you donít pick Borlotti they take up far more space compared to output. The packet of Dwarf Borlotti were dispatched into the bin. The first year I sowed Borlotti beans I ate them as French Beans and they were disappointingly mushy. This picture is from a previous year when they did climb up the sticks, unlike this year when they were ravaged by rampaging gastropods while I was away. One or two survivors are climbing skywards.
Blackcurrants are ready for pruning and propagating once the last of the fruit is harvested. I cut out about one third of the wood, choosing those branches which have borne fruit this year. To propagate I take a healthy cutting of this yearís growth of about 25cm long, just below a bud at the bottom and just above the bud at the top. The new plant will grow from the base so unlike gooseberries and redcurrants, I will leave the lower buds intact. I will insert the base of the cuttings in a v shape in the soil (formed by inserting a spade and moving it slightly), so that just over one half of the cutting is below ground. As with all transplants I press down the soil around the base and water them in. Gooseberries and redcurrants may be propagated in a similar way later in the year. They require patience since they do take a few years to reach the point when they produce a decent crop. These pictures are from a previous year and the cuttings have developed successfully into fully fruiting bushes.
Broad Bean seed pods
Many varieties of vegetables offer the possibility of collecting seeds.
Welsh onions, leeks and coriander produce seed heads which also can be shaken into a paper bag when the seeds are ready to detach. I enjoy sorting the seeds from the surrounding shell which breaks up into tiny almost weightless fragments. It is an activity for the evening time when the dayís work is finished, and combines well with listening to music. The final gentle blowing away of the light chaff is particularly satisfying. Mrs dmp attacks my legs with the vacuum cleaner if I complete this process inside the house.
Legumes are also worth collecting. When the crop becomes sparse I leave the last ones on the stem to reach maturity and dry out, finally picking them on a dry day and storing them for next year when they are fully dry. I have had success with broad beans, french beans and peas. Rather than just save money on new seed this allows me to expand my range of types, so that I am constantly learning and exploring their tastes. I have already gathered the broad beans but we are still gathering the climbing and dwarf French varieties to eat.
The same thing applies to runner beans, although, not being partial to what I regard as their rather coarse texture, I do not grow them myself. Neville, unfortunately no longer with us, always saved his seed. One year he forgot and was mortified when he realized it. Itís actually easily done because you need to choose your moment, when the pods are ready and the weather has been dry. Anyway when he came to clear the stalks he found a lot of dried beans at the base of the supports and put them in his pocket. The following spring he had a lovely surprise when he put his hand in his pocket, for he had forgotten them again. The punchline should be he forgot to plant them, but they were successfully planted when the time came, to preserve the line of the Neville Runner Bean.
F1 hybrids donít lend themselves to being used, as they are hybrids they can revert to their constituents with odd results, so I usually try to avoid buying them in the first place. I think you can use them, itís just that they are not stable. I know the feeling!
I leave the flowers and wild rocket to self seed, not to mention lettuces and chard, something which they are rather too adept at doing, but I know what the flowers and coriander look like so when they self seed I leave it alone whenever I can. Coriander does not like to be moved, though.
Raspberry with fruitworm damage
This is the work of the raspberry fruit worm. So far the little blighters have not affected the crop greatly, so I just discard any marked fruit. The others are brimming with taste so I suppose you canít blame the worm for tucking in and there is plenty for everybody. If I come across any worms, and I rarely do, I squash them. They are light green miniature caterpillars which wriggle when touched. Unfortunately, as yet I have not had the camera with me at the time of discovery.
Hops and Jerusalem Artichokes
The Hops are doing well. Unfortunately unlike in this picture from a previous year, they are at a low elevation, the structure having been snapped when a guy rope was slipped off from its position. The crop is forming beautifully and will soon be ready to harvest, despite being near ground level.