A blaze of blossom. Blackthorn trees, growing on the boundary of Choice Allotments.
This has to be my favourite time of year, when nature emerges from it’s winter dormancy and literally bursts into life. We’re rewarded with the most beautiful display of young leaves and blossom, the bustling activity of the butterflies and bees and the birds are busy making their nests.
April was an incredibly dry month. The Met Office statistics reported that Herstmonceux, East Sussex, just 10 miles from where our allotment is, had just 9mm of rain during the entire month. The average for this area in April is usually 62mm of rainfall. The average number of hours of sunshine was 43% higher than the typical average for April. We experienced some lovely warmth during the day, with temperatures soaring to a high of 25 degrees centigrade on April 15th. However, night time temperatures were cool, meaning air temperatures were roughly in line with the average for this time of the month. The combination of warm days and cool nights helped to prolong the length of time the blossom remained on the trees, creating quite a spectacle.
Our blossoming fruit trees….
Cherry blossom, and a busy pollinating bee. Orchard plot
Pear blossom. Plot 4
Pear blossom. Orchard plot
Fruit is already forming on the large pear tree on the orchard plot. This tree produces the most delicious sweet red pears. We’ve been nursing it back to health and we’re hoping for a decent crop of pears this year.
Pear tree. Orchard plot.
We’re keeping a close eye on the the pear tree for signs of rust. Last year we cut out all of the diseased wood and removed all the infected leaves, including those that fell to the ground. We pruned the tree further to allow better air circulation. We also sprayed the tree with organic seaweed fertiliser to help provide the tree with some essential nutrients. So far the young leaves are perfectly healthy, but only time will tell.
Pear tree leaves. Orchard plot
Yellow gage blossom. Orchard plot
Quince tree. Orchard plot
Last year we planted three varieties of rhubarb on the orchard plot, Timperley Early, Victoria and Glaskins Perpetual. These plants are only a couple of years old, so we were very surprised to see this happening to the Victoria rhubarb plant
Victoria rhubarb, an emerging flower head. Orchard plot
At first we thought it was a large leaf, but as it grew it became apparent the plant was about the flower.
Rhubarb flower head.
Emerging rhubarb flower.
It’s important to cut the flower heads off as soon as they appear so the plant can direct it’s energy into stalk and leaf production rather than setting seed. Cut the flower stem as close to the base as possible. Excess stem left on the plant will begin to die and rot, which may harm the health of the plant.
We’ve found a lovely surprise on plot4. There are loads of current bushes, of some variety, we’re unsure if they are redcurrent or blackcurrent. We’ve given them a good feed of organic chicken manure pellets and we will wait an see what emerges later this year.
Mystery current bushes in flower.
On plot 2 we decided to plant some fruit trees. We chose gooseberries as these are fairly difficult to find in the shops and there’s nothing nicer than gooseberry fool, or gooseberry crumble with lashings of custard.
We planted two different varieties. Invicta, a traditional green gooseberry that produces high yields of good sized high quality fruit. It’s a fairly vigorous variety with good resistance to mildew and late spring frosts.
The second variety we chose is Hinnonmaki Red. This gooseberry bush produces a high yield of bright red berries that are sweet and aromatic. Again this plant is fairly vigorous, and has a good resistance to mildew.
As these gooseberry bushes are rather vigorous we spaced them 4ft apart.
Invicta gooseberry bush, plot 2.
We also chose to plant 20 raspberry canes. We wanted to plant the same variety that we put on the orchard plot last year, Malling Jewel. Malling Jewel raspberries are the most delicious raspberries I’ve ever tasted. Sadly the Malling Jewel variety was unavailable this year, so we opted for Malling Admiral as an alternative.
Malling Admiral has spine free canes with high disease resistance, which is rather important when growing plants on an allotment. It’s a moderate to fairly heavy cropper of firm red berries that have good flavour. The berries are usually ready for picking from early to late July into August.
At the moment it rather looks like we’ve stuck sticks in the ground, but as spring progresses they should come to life.
Malling Admiral raspberry canes, plot 2
At this time to year there’s very little going on at the allotment vegetable wise. We only have a couple of crops currently on the go. We have the garlic that we planted early last November.
Garlic plants, orchard plot.
We noticed that our garlic plants have the first signs of rust.
Every year, during May, we get garlic rust, sadly it’s a hazard of growing garlic at the allotment. Garlic rust is caused by a fungus called Puccinia Allii. The spores from this fungus become airborne and they’re easily spread by the wind.
Garlic rust can become so severe it will stunt the growth rate of the plant, resulting in the plant producing small undeveloped bulbs. We’ve found that the best course of action is to cut off the infected leaves, this should give the plant those few extra weeks required for the garlic bulb to reach maturity. The advantage of planting garlic in the autumn is the plant should be fairly close to maturity by the time rust appears in the spring.
Peas are one of the earliest crops of the season. We sowed some Champion of England seeds in deep root trainers in early March. As there are low levels of daylight at this time of year, I decided to grow them outside in a propagator. I’ve found that plants grown indoors at that time of year become rather etiolated and weak. Growing the pea plants outside worked really well, the plants were strong and healthy.
Champion of England pea plants.
We planted these pea plants on plot one, using an A-frame support structure.
Champion of England pea plants, plot 1
On the other plots we’ve constructed some wig-wams to support the rest of the legumes we plan to grow. We’re using a combination of 8ft and 7ft poles, and using 6 canes per wig-wam.
This year we plan to grow
Runner beans: Firestorm, a red flowered, self fertile variety, and a traditional variety called Enorma
French beans: two green bean varieties, Cobra and Blauhilde, and a purple bean called Cosse de Violette.
Borlotti beans, Lingua di Fuoco (meaning tongue of flame). The seeds inside the pods are dried and stored for use through out the year.
And for fun, we’ve sowed something a bit different. The Real Seed Catalogue sells a very rare runner bean seed called Greek Gigantes. It comes from the mountains in the Northern part of Greece, where it has been grown for hundreds of years for it’s enormous buttery beans seeds, rather than grown for it’s pod. Think butter bean! I’m a bit of a convert to pulses so I thought why not give this a go this year. The seeds are huge, about an inch long. We’ll grow just 6 plants and see what happens… thinking 10ft bamboo canes and a ladder may be required!
Legume ‘wig-wam’ structures, orchard plot. These are 8ft poles, used for growing the runner beans.
We’ve decided not to grow any potatoes this year, however potato plants are currently popping up all over the place like weeds. These plants have grown from the potatoes we left behind in the ground last year…. it’s inevitable that potatoes get left behind in the ground, it’s now just a matter of digging them out as they emerge!
Unwanted potato plants growing from potatoes left behind from last years crop.
We’ve still not dug up the flowering kale yet, the bees are loving it…..
Flowering kale, plot 1. The yellow flowers of the Cavolo Nero and the while flowers of the Jagallo Nero
However, so are the aphids!
These aphids have bred and multiplied smothering the Russian Red kale flower head.
As the winter months were relatively mild it’s highly likely the aphid will be a bit of a pest this year. So it’ll be important to regularly check plants and remove these unwanted visitors. Some aphids carry viruses and can infect crops such as peas and parsnips, which may severely impact cropping yields.
And finally, we left a very small patch of the green manure, Phacelia Tanacetifloia, to grow on plot 1, and it’s flowering!