The unseasonably gloriously warm sunny weather sadly came to an end this week, and there has been a dramatic change in the weather pattern. Temperatures plummeted, literally overnight, falling from the mid 20’s down to a chilly 16 degrees celsius. Rain has also arrived, in bucket loads! Gardening in cold wet weather has never really appealed to me, one has to ask the question why?! So my visits to the allotment will most probably become less frequent over the coming months, just popping along when there’s a spell of dry weather.
Fortunately there’s not a lot to do at the allotment. The only crops that we have left growing include leeks, parsnips, kale and also the french bean and runner bean wig-wams. The beans are well and truly over but I’m slightly obsessed with saving seed, so I’ve left the overgrown bean pods to dry out and then I’l harvest the seed. The leeks, kale and parsnips will all over winter well. In fact they will all benefit from a period of cold weather, it will help improve their flavour.
On my last visit I had an overwhelming desire to dig up a parsnip. During each visit I look at them longing to know what is happening underground. It’s far to early to start harvesting as there hasn’t been a frost yet, they will probably taste bitter, but I’m rather impatient. Parsnips need a good spell of cold weather before harvesting. Colder temperatures activate enzymes that causes starch to convert into sugars, making the vegetable taste much sweeter.
I sowed the parsnip seeds way back in mid April. I used a method that I found in a gardening magazine. They suggested creating a hole, with a dibber, and filling the hole with a mixture of compost and grit. I placed 3 to 5 parsnip seeds in each hole and covered with more of the composty/gritty mixture.
The seeds were terribly slow to germinate, it took over a month. Germination rates were extremely poor too. I sowed more seeds towards the end of May and this time germination was reasonably quick. Increased soil temperatures had obviously improved the germination rate.
Over the next few months the parsnips continued to grow at quite a pace, producing an enormous amount of foliage.
However, it wasn’t all be plain sailing, there have been a few obstacles along the way. Aphids, slugs and snails and on my last visit and new problem. I discovered that a large amount of the foliage had formed brown, thin papery patches.
I was talking to my allotment neighbour Darrin, and a similar thing had happened to him last year. He said have a look underneath the leaf and it suddenly became apparent what was causing the damage.
Lots of tiny caterpillars, they were no more than a centimetre long.
Despite being small, they certainly demonstrated a voracious appetite, stripping leaves at quite a rate.
I had to do a little research when I got home; neither Darrin nor I had any idea what type of caterpillar this was. After surfing the internet for some considerable time, trust me there’s not a lot about this, I came to the conclusion it’s most likely to be a parsnip moth caterpillar. Rather odd because they usually feed on wild parsnips.
Anyway, without knowing what it was at the time, I took drastic steps and I pruned the parsnips, removing all the infected foliage.
I was left with something that resembled a rather bad haircut! So unsightly but I hope it pays off. We’ll see on our next visit…
Anyway I dug up a parsnip and this is what it looked like
Not perfect in any way, but not quite as bad as I had feared. The main root is fairly straight, but there is clearly some forking, creating a ‘parsnip man’ with two arms and few extra hairy roots. The forking probably resulted from the soil not being fine enough. If the root hits an obstacle it tends to grow around it. Now we need to wait for that all important frost to arrive before we dig up any more.
On the orchard plot, the fruit trees are beginning to shed their leaves. The large pear tree has suffered from scab this year so it’s important that we rake up all the scabby sooty diseased pear leaves from the ground. This is to try and prevent the pear scab spores from infecting the pear tree again next year. These leaves will be destroyed.
And finally, it’s almost time to start planting garlic bulbs. This year we intend to mainly grow a softneck variety called Early Purple White. We’ve had the most success with this particular variety over the past couple of years. It produces good sized, delicious tasting, bulbs that store really well.