We are in an area which suffers yearly with potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) and once you have had this terrible potato disease in your allotment or garden then it seems like it is with you permanently! There are still some copper based products that haven’t been taken off the market yet that have some control with regular applications, but if you are against chemical control or want to try another method then this is a way I have found around the problem.
Lifting last year’s earlies
I did this as an experiment a couple of years ago and also successfully last year and have set my stall out to do so again this year. It is as simple as this. There are some very good quality first early potato sets available and T&M does a good range of varieties of these. They need no longer produce the small papery skinned types of years ago, which many of us remember from our younger days coming in to shops before the maincrops. Nowadays varieties such as Rocket, Pentland Javelin and Arran Pilot can produce large tubers comparable with the maincrops and the best bit of all is they mature and are ready for lifting before the dreaded blight strikes!
Early salad spuds ‘Rocket’
I prefer the variety ‘Rocket’ myself. I have found that, in our area and my type of soil, this grows perfectly – it shows some resistance to slugs and produces nice large tubers. I am also trying Pentland Javelin this year, as this has some resistance to eelworm, which we do get among the spuds sometimes down the allotment. Last year I tried Rocket and Arran Pilot, which both matured ready to lift before blight arrived and again produced some really nice sized spuds. The two varieties I have bought for this year are set out in trays to start the chitting process, there is debate over whether the process of chitting is really required and from new growers of what chitting exactly is. It is simply the process of letting shoots grow before planting out and this can happen naturally, like when you find a potato in your veg cupboard that has fallen to one side and been there a while and has a shoot appearing from it. This is what chitting describes, albeit gardeners make them produce these by placing the tubers in egg trays or similar as in the picture. I find it does help with earlies but is not really required for maincrops – potatoes grown commercially are not chitted.
I have also started off some onion seed in the greenhouse, Bedfordshire Champion & Ailsa Craig. I start these off early to try and produce some nice large onions to keep through the winter. Kelsae is one variety many choose to grow as large as possible and these are very good for size and showing, but I find possibly due to the large size, they are very poor keepers and what I grow usually lasts over winter until the following year. I do though as a back up and fail-safe alternative grow some from sets every year. I find Red Baron produces rock hard tennis ball sized onions that are excellent keepers.
The allotment has been winter dug to help kill pests and help break down the large clumps and is now ready for 2014.
Allotment prepared for 2014
A short update regarding a couple of plants which are still surviving the winter now in to February.
Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice Mixed’ F1 Hybrid & Petunia ‘Easy Wave’
I have 2 plants which are still alive outside now into February. One is a zonal geranium (pelargonium) and the other, which is not just one, but a number of plants of petunia. These are in various locations around the back garden, the geranium is in a clay pot on the front wall. Neither have had any special protection, other than the geranium has a wall for protection from one side, it has got a bit straggly now. Normally I would have taken this in the greenhouse late autumn for cutting material, but the longer it has lasted, the more curious I am to see how much more it can survive. The petunias actually look quite green and healthy.
To be honest, it has not been a severe winter yet, we have had a fair number of frosts around here and some bad enough to leave car windscreens in need of a defrosting before setting off for work, but not the prolonged deep frosts that usually put paid to bedders well before now. Last year wasn’t too tough a winter either, but we did get a few early severe frosts around November/December that finished off many borderline plants outside.
The pictures here are of a zonal geranium (pelargonium) which has been outside since late spring 2013, and petunia plants which are dotted around the garden in various containers.
I will update further on their progress through the winter months.
Zonal geranium (pelargonium)
Another growing season draws to an end, well just about. I have been down the allotment this morning and I am still getting crops from beetroot, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and turnip. The beetroot we have decided we like in a slightly different way, instead of cooking and pickling in jars we now roast in the oven as you would potato or parsnip. This produces a sweet and very tasty vegetable which we much prefer to the vinegar soaked method. In fact all of the above have been used today on the Sunday roast.
I have taken all the French and runner bean foliage down from the wigwam structures in a bit of a tidy up this morning, the wigwams are made from half inch steel bars 8’ long! These came to the company where I work as strengtheners in packing cases and were then thrown in the skip for scrap. They can stay in position all year round, will not rot, are too heavy to blow over and the best bit of all were completely free! Luckily my allotment is just across the road from the warehouse where I work.
I have been very impressed with the chard variety ‘Bright Lights’ which some of us were given to trial. I have cut some this morning and they are still cropping well, the coloured varieties seem much less prone to bolting or running to seed and both the leaves and succulent stems can be cooked and eaten. I am also looking forward to seeing if it does emerge again in the spring as promised to provide more fresh greens just when needed, this will have a well deserved row of its own in the allotment next year. Other vegetables which have also performed well this year are beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and onion Bedfordshire Champion.
Chard Bright Lights
One topical crop as it gets towards the end of October is the pumpkin! I grew T&M variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant down the allotment this year. I prefer the large varieties as I try to grow a couple of big pumpkins to carve for Halloween, the grandkids enjoy seeing one lit up on the back and I always try to attempt the scariest face possible when carving with the obligatory pointy teeth and mean eyes! But this year I went for a completely different approach and tried a kids’ favourite cartoon character. The result? Well, the grandkids absolutely loved it.
My carved pumpkin
I can’t say I like anything at all about the dark drab dull winter months, I am very much a summer person and absolutely love the sunshine on my face while gardening, however having said that! it is now well over a month from the shortest day and each day has a little more light to it so I will soon be able to visit the allotment during week days once again after work to start the preparation work.
There are still a few goodies left down the allotment, a row of leeks, parsnips and turnips, all good for a warming winter stew but soon I will once again start digging it over from one end to the other a few rows at a time until I have that satisfaction of looking over a freshly dug weed free allotment, that will not last for long though, potato sets are already on sale and first of all (March/April) the early spuds will be going in, in fact as it is an area that does suffer from blight I decided last year to only grow earlies to beat the blight and was I glad that I took that decision! with it being the wettest summer for a very long time and with even the undercover tomato’s down there being affected it turned out to be really good move which I am also going to do again this year.
Goodies from the allotment
On the home front the disappearance of the snow that fell during early January has revealed Snowdrops and Aconites not just poking up but flowering! After their shoots must have been frozen for a week or so, then again they do say that a layer of snow also provides some insulation and I would think that must have been the case here.
A witch hazel Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Jelena’ has been flowering since Christmas and when I thought about capturing it for the blog it was getting a bit dusky but with the flash and the darkish background I think it has come out pretty well also the detail in the flowers appears to be more enhanced.
Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’ – still going strong
A few mistletoe berries that I pressed on to the bark of apple trees in my garden have been growing slowly, last year they just put out a couple of green shoots that dug in to the bark but I had a look the other day and they are definitely putting on proper growth now!
Mistletoe on my apple tree
Things are moving! Spring is around the corner, now where is my warm sunshine!
Surveying the damage after the first frost of 2012
It’s mid October and the wife wanted me to go to the allotment this morning to get a few veg for a Sunday roast dinner, there are still a good few plants growing down there although the weather is now turning decidedly chilly! A fine row of large parsnips similarly with a row of leeks, I have a good selection of brassicas and chose a nice cabbage from the cage that protects them from the veracious wood pigeons! But to my surprise when walking up the allotment path this morning there had been a fairly good frost! Now, the allotment is protected on all sides by high hedges and I love this as it affords us a great deal of privacy when gardening, you can be pottering away down there in a world of your own in complete peace and solitude and the astonishing bit is the allotment is only yards from an A road and a mile or so from the M1 but you would never know it, however the high hedges do not seem to protect all of the allotment from the cold weather as we have noticed a good area does seem to be a frost pocket.
The allotment with high hedges on all sides
The frost this morning had put paid to my high hopes of the pumpkins reaching a massive size this year, This may be a bit of a disappointment for the grandkids but at least there are 4 or five of a decent size for carving grotesque faces in to so I may get away with that. Looking over the allotment there was the tell tale sight post frost of glistening limp green foliage on all my pumpkins, squash and courgette plants and so as well as gathering the veg required for Sunday dinner I had to also gather all the pumpkins, courgettes and squash to get them safe at home before further frosts penetrate them, the damaged foliage went on the compost heap and will maybe help feed bigger pumpkins in time for Halloween next year? Yes, ever the optimist a familiar trait as with most gardening folk.
Today’s grow your own bounty from the allotment
About Steve Woodward:
I am 56 yrs young, next monday the 22nd is our 35th wedding anniversary, have 2 children and 3 grandchildren, have an allotment on the Notts/Derbys border. I am RHS trained to level 2 and also passed a course in herbalism, had the allotment for about 20 years that is mainly for veg growing, at home I grow fruit and have a love of anything big leaved exoticy looking jungly type plants. I also help run a gardening forum at www.garden-friends.co.uk