Allotment Journal: Weekly update….. updates

After a dry, hot June we finally got some much needed rain at the beginning of July. Being a fair weather gardener I only ventured to the allotment a couple of times during that week. Last week the weather became more settled and I returned to find everything had flourished.

The corn looked amazing, both tassels and silks have formed, and the plants are close to three foot tall.

IMG_1590

However, there was something I didn’t expect to see…. yes, yet more aphids.. who knew they liked corn tassels?! I need to research what impact this may have….. thinking it may lead to pollination issues and a potentially reduced crop if I don’t intervene… I’ll have to manually fertilise the silks with the unaffected tassels to ensure successful pollination…. if it’s not one thing it’s another! Thankfully my right hand predator, the lady bird, is already on the case!

IMG_1531

The borlotti beans have grown really well, the wigwams are covered in foliage and there are plenty of flowers. The daily aphid culling certainly seems to have paid off. Lady birds and spiders are now all over the plants helping to keep the number of aphids at bay.

IMG_1595

The plants look incredibly healthy and are beginning to form baby beans. With all legumes, it’s important to make sure the plants are kept well watered at this stage to help pod development.

IMG_1727

 

The experimental beetroots plants have grown sufficiently to check up on their developed.

The three beetroots on the left are experimental beetroots, all started at home in modules. They were transplanted to the allotment when the seedlings were about three weeks old and about a couple of inches tall. The beetroot on the right is a beetroot grown from seed in situ. They are all Boltardy.

IMG_1482

The experiment wasn’t a complete success. Yes, we have something that resembles a beetroot, but they are misshapen and the tap root failed to form properly. You can clearly see this if you compare them. The beetroot on the right has uniform bulbous tap root with a long tail. Rather than producing a long tail, the module plants developed masses of thin fibrous roots, rather like an onion. Also, the bulbous part of the tap root on all three experimental plants are more elongated than round. Obviously the root systems were damaged during transplantation and this has impacted proper root formation.

On the plus side, we have loads! The plants were sufficiently large enough to sustain slug and snail attack. We are yet to cook the beetroots and taste them. I will keep you posted.

The onion and shallot sets that we planted in mid April were showing signs of being ready. The foliage had started to yellow and flop.

Talking to a fellow allotmenteer he said that this year has been his best ever year for growing onions and he was wondering when to dig them up… he was concerned about white rot.. yikes… I hadn’t even considered that. So I decided to harvest the Longer shallot, a pink banana shaped shallot.

This year I have regularly watered both the shallots and onions to help swell the bulbs.

IMG_0321

And it seems to have worked. We have a fabulous crop of good sized, firm, great tasting shallots.

Here they are drying out on my outside table at home.

IMG_1628

After a very slow and unpromising start (they’ve survived strong coastal winds, snail and slug attacks, not to mention those pesky aphids, they deserve to survive!), the runner bean plants have finally shown a bit of a growth spurt.

IMG_1666

And we harvested our first ever runner bean! There are more on the way… hopefully.

IMG_1485

We also harvested all the first early potatoes, the Vales Emerald and The Premier.

IMG_0654

 

The Vales Emerald produced a good crop of potatoes, 7 to 9 potatoes on each plant. The Premier didn’t live up to its name, only 3 to 5 potatoes per plant. Both varieties proved to be fairly floury, they exploded and broke up when boiled. I started off boiling 6 potatoes and ended up with 5! One had completely gone to mush during the cooking process….. Scratched head! They are both supposed to be waxy, firm potatoes.  This could be due to increased levels of dry matter due to the weather conditions or early planting, I need to investigate. Anyway, a slight change of supper plan, they made the perfect roasting potato! They both have a great flavour.

The Mikado oriental spinach plants that I grew at home have transplanted well. Given the poor success rate of sowing seeds in situ, we have one plant from about 60 seeds sown, we will definitely repeat this process next year.

IMG_1462

After the rain, I was horrified to discover that all the poppy seedlings on plot 2 had been eaten by slugs and snails..

IMG_1379

Left with just a skeleton!

Fortunately the poppy seedlings on the other two plots were untouched and still growing…. these are the poppy plants on the orchard plot… I promptly surrounded them with more organic pet friendly slug bait pellets.

IMG_1671

Failing to regularly pick the sweet peas has allowed them to go to seed. New flowers are forming but now on rather short stems so sadly our sweet pea season may be nearing an end.

IMG_1477

We plan to save these seeds and sow them in situ in the autumn and then again in the spring. This seems to produce strong plants early in the season and then throughout the summer. Sweet peas don’t transfer well as they don’t like root disturbance.

This is Cosmos Purity grown from seed by Sal. It’s growing in the orchard plot flower border and looks beautiful.

IMG_1732

And finally, our Guinee rose is flowering again….

IMG_1696

And smells heavenly…

 

Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

It’s been another beautifully sunny week, and still no rain to speak of. The temperatures here on the south coast have reached the mid twenties, making it way too hot to work during the day. We’ve taken to going to the allotment either  early in the morning or late afternoon when the temperatures are much cooler. It’s especially pleasing when we get those refreshing coastal breezes. Bliss!

IMG_0849

The number of butterflies visiting the allotment is increasing. This is great news as these insects help pollinate the many crops we currently have on the go. We planted flower borders on all of our plots especially to attract pollinating insects such as butterflies and bees. Above is a Large Skipper butterfly, it’s actually quite small. This one is feeding on the Munstead lavender that we planted on plot two The Skippers seem to LOVE lavender.

This week we planted some cosmos, grown by Sal,  in the orchard plots flower border. Again this plant should help attract pollen loving insects whilst adding a cheery splash of vibrant colour. I love cosmos, it has tall delicate fern like foliage and large pretty flowers.

IMG_0719

And the poppy experiment is gong well, so far. We planted 15 small poppy plants, a few on each plot. I grew these plants at home in modules from the seeds I saved last year, these seeds came from our one and only poppy! My theory is the poppy seeds are germinating naturally in situ but the snails and slugs are devouring the tender leaves as they emerge in late spring, leaving us ‘poppiless’!

IMG_0744

To protect these seedlings against snail and slug attack we scattered organic, pet friendly, slug pellets around them. So far this seems to be working, the plants are growing well and have almost doubled in size within a week and a bit.  We’re not sure if they will actually flower as it’s fairly late in the season for poppies, but you never know. I’ll keep you posted.

This week I planted some of my Amposta, a sweet red onion, seedlings.  About 30 of them. Some on plot one and some on the orchard plot. It will be interesting to see how they do. I may be a little late with them. The red baron onion seeds I sowed earlier in the year are now beginning to form a decent sized bulb. I think we may end up with the equivalent of spring onions from the Amposta crop. They won’t over winter well, so will need to be picked sometime in the autumn.

IMG_0440

I planted some dill. I grew these plants from seed. They are fairly vigorous.

IMG_0687

I initially filled a space on plot one, in the bed where the angelica is growing, they looked marvellous, only to discover they are NOT great companions. Everything I read said DO NOT PLANT with angelica. They are both from the same family, apiaceae, and they cross pollinate easily. This cross pollination will compromise the flavour of both plants, apparently. So I moved them the very next day, to the orchard plot, some next to the rhubarb ( next to the upright Glaskins Perpetual) and some in an onion bed. After reading about aphids we also decided to plant some dill next to the Borlotti beans on plot two.

I have grown quite a few kale plants this year. I always like to grow a few more than required, just in case! In the past we have lost a number of seedlings to cabbage white butterfly caterpillars and snails and slugs. We planted 12 plants, a mixture of Sutherland Kale, Jagallo Nero, Red Russian and Cavolo Nero, in the brassica bed on plot one. But I had more of each variety.

IMG_0868

I came up with a cunning plan…. we have space in the middle of the legume wig-wams. I’ve probably broken all the crop rotation rules but hey! We’ve managed to plant another 8 kale plants…. we’re probably going to be sick of the stuff!

IMG_0728

These structures will protect the kale from the birds, pigeons do love a brassica!, but obviously they are not protected from cabbage white butterflies laying their eggs. This shouldn’t be a problem, I shall keep and eye on that, butterfly eggs and caterpillars are easy enough to sort out. I doubt very much we will over winter these kale plants.

The beetroot module experiment also seems to be going well……. we have a lot of foliage.

IMG_0776

These are all a variety called Boltardy, Sal’s favourite beetroot. Whilst we have a lot of healthy foliage growth, I’m a little concerned that the roots are not forming properly. This could be due to damage caused during transplantation. We will let them grow for another couple of weeks and see what happens.

I have sowed more beetroot in modules…. a majority being the Albino White beetroot. Ha! I plan to plant these out when the seedlings are about an inch tall and see if this makes any difference to the root formation. It may just be that beetroot has to be grown in situ. To avoid disappointment, I sowed masses of Boltardy on plot one. Hopefully, between the module experiment and this latest sowing on plot one, we’ll get something.

I planted some Mikado oriental spinach plants that I grew at home. All the seeds we have sown in situ have been a disaster. The seeds germinate and we see young seedlings emerge only for them to be eaten by slugs and snails. We’ve managed to grow only one plant successfully in situ!

IMG_0436

Mikado is an excellent plant. It has delicious tasting, tender leaves and it’s less likely to bolt in hot temperatures, unlike spinach which is such a temperamental plant! I’ve only managed to grow ONE spinach plant, a variety called Renegade. It’s on plot two with the courgettes. I’m waiting for it to bolt!

The weekly feeding of the sweet corn with organic seaweed fertiliser certainly seems to be helping the plants development. The plants have become a much darker green, and they are starting to produce a second, and in a few cases, a third stem.

IMG_0756

And finally, the raspberries are ripening and they are delicious. What a treat.

IMG_0848

 

Posted in Allotment Journal

Aphids!

These tiny soft pear shaped insects are fast becoming the pest of the year. Apart from the odd black fly infestation on the globe artichokes, aphids haven’t really posed much of problem for us in the past. This year, however, aphids are out in force , there are colonies of them spread throughout all the plots on the entire allotment and they are on everything including nettles.

Indications of their arrival started a few of weeks ago, we saw ants marching up and down legume stems, leaves and pea pods started to curl and contort, yellow flecks emerged on the parsnips foliage and we noticed shiny, sticky leaves on brambles and nettles. Aaarrrggghhh!

Aphids on the the underside of a bean leaf.

IMG_0422

 

White Fly on nettles

 

IMG_0717

Aphids can arrive as early as the spring, but typically reach peak numbers in the summer, just as most crops are growing and flourishing. Aphids come in a variety of colours, green, black, brown and white, some winged, some without wings. There are a staggering 4,000 + species of aphids, many of which are monophagous, they feed only from one plant species. But there are also some species of aphids, such as the green peach aphid, that feed on various different types of plant species. Each species has it’s own life cycle, too many to mention, but the lifespan of most aphid species is reasonably short, just 20 to 40 days. Aphids certainly make up for their short lifespan by something they all definitely have in common, they are all prolific breeders. Aphid numbers can double every three to four days. This poses a major problem for gardeners and farmers alike

Aphids are a destructive pest, piercing and then sucking sap from a plant using two sharp long stylets which are enclosed in a sheath called a labium. Aphids extract sap from the phloem vessels of the plant. This is the part of the plant that transports soluble organic material, in particular sucrose, made during photosynthesis. Essentially the aphids are tapping directly into the plants energy source. Aphids need nitrogen, but the phloem juices have a high sugar content. The aphid therefore has to consume a huge amount of phloem juice to get sufficient nutrition. Excess sugar is excreted by the aphid on the surface of the plant, leaving a sweet sticky residue called honeydew.

There are a number of issues with aphids feeding on plants like this, aphids transmit plant viruses and the sticky honeydew they excrete can attract sooty moulds. Additionally, large numbers of aphids can weaken the plant by depleting the plants food supply and can stunt growth when feeding on the plants tender, new growing shoots and leaves.

Given the large number of aphid species, there are many variations of the reproduction cycle but the following diagram, which I’ve shamefully stolen from Biomedcentral’s website, sums up the general reproduction cycle pretty well.

 

1471-213X-3-7-1

 

Aphids breed both sexually and asexually. In the autumn the female aphid lays eggs on a tree or a shrub. These eggs have a very thick shell that can withstand extreme temperatures. Aphids overwinter in egg form. In March, wingless female nymphs hatch from these eggs. These nymphs feed on the host plant that they’ve hatched on. When they reach adulthood they start to reproduce without the need for mating. This process is called parthenogenesis. The aphid produces live young, all of which are females, smaller but identical replicas of the mother aphid and astonishingly these young aphids are already pregnant at birth.  After a week or so the young female aphids are mature enough to start reproducing parthenogenetically themselves. Aphids can produce 5 to 10 live young a day over a period of 30 days. If you start doing the maths you can see why plants get rapidly covered in aphids. 

As the numbers of aphids increase over the summer the plant may become over populated. Smothered in aphids all competing for food, the plant may become weakened as the aphids drain it of sap, or give it some hideous virus. In order to survive it’s time for the aphids to move on and find a new food source. Hormones trigger the production of winged female aphids. These winged aphids take flight but they are not strong flyers. They get carried by the wind and drift to a new plant and form a new colony. The winged aphids start to reproduce parthenogenetically, once again producing wingless females, and so the cycle goes on.

In the autumn, as temperatures begin to drop, the light levels start to diminish and food sources becomes more scarce changes start to happen to the reproduction cycle. The female aphids start to produce both female and male young parthenogenetically. The male aphids are identical to the mother but have one less chromosome. These aphids can be winged or wingless depending on the species. The male and female aphids mate and the female lay eggs that overwinter, completing the life cycle.

Aphids have a close relationship with black ants. Aphids are soft and rather static as they typically have their snout stuck in a plant for a majority of their life. This makes aphids an easy target for a number of predators including ladybirds, birds, crab spiders ( and we had one of those on the sweet peas, dammit!) and lacewings.

Ants and aphids have developed a ‘mutual’ relationship. Ants provide the aphids with protection against most of these predators, enhancing the aphids chances of survival. In return, the sugar hungry ants harvest the honeydew excreted by the aphids, sugar is a major food source for ants.

Research from The Imperial College London, Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Reading, shows that there are chemicals on ants tiny feet that tranquillise and subdue colonies of aphids. The research showed that chemicals secreted by the ants makes aphids slow to disperse, even from dead leaves. Aphids dispersed more quickly from areas not touched by ants. So essentially the ants are ‘drugging’ the aphids in order to keep them herded and to ensure a constant food supply.

It’s also thought that chemicals produced in glands of ants can sabotage the growth of aphid wings. But in addition to this it’s been known for ants to bite the wings off aphids so they can’t get away. This all seems so wrong…. ants are bruts.

So once the ants have their ‘herd’ of aphids in place they go to great lengths to protect them. Ant attended colonies are definitely bigger than ant free colonies. When it rains the ants may move the aphids to a more sheltered spot! Ants have been known to carry aphids to new host plants.  In the autumn, some honey ants even carry the aphid eggs back to the ant nest to overwinter underground. In the spring the ants place the eggs back to hatch. Quite extraordinary.

Well despite all this, we still have an aphid epidemic on our hands and as we garden organically tackling this pest is proving rather challenging. So far, I have been inspecting all the legumes daily, squashing any aphids I see. I’m rather like a monkey grooming its mate. I’ve become obsessed.

The aphids tend to congregate underneath leaves or on stems close to growing tips.

IMG_0417

IMG_0425

Whilst this method is time consuming, it has proved fairly successful, we are definitely keeping the numbers at bay and the legumes are growing.

The peas on plot one have sadly got Pea Enation Mosaic Virus. The leaves have started to turn yellow and the pea pods are curling. Not pretty. So far the peas on plot two are okay.. fingers crossed it stays that way.

IMG_0550

There are other ways to try and control aphids without using chemical insecticides. Firstly you could try to encourage predators such as ladybirds to visit. This can be done by planting any of the following close to the plants you are tying to keep aphid free, dill, mint, fennel, yarrow and dandelions ( By the way, the Italian red rib dandelion is a delicious addition to salads, seeds are available from the fabulous Nicky’s Nursery).

IMG_0617

Grow beautiful flowers such as cosmos, dahlia’s, and zinnias. The aphids may be attracted to these plants opposed to the vegetables! Then again.. it is an epidemic.

Spray the plants with water to knock the aphids off the plants.

Plant garlic or onions, aphids are not keen on the potent smell. You could even spray the vegetable plants with homemade garlic spray, providing you don’t mind the smell yourself!

Try and lure ants away from the aphid infested plant by placing a lovely pot of honey at the base of the plant. This should expose the aphids to more natural predators such as the ladybirds… and keep the ants happy!

 

Posted in Pests

Weekly Journal: Plot update

Goodness, I’m sorry this post is so late, it’s been a rather busy and exhausting week and a bit…. I’ve been juggling my time between looking after the allotment and potting on all the rapidly growing seedlings at home. Also we’ve not had any decent rainfall for some time so all the newly planted seedlings have needed daily watering. AND there is also been an infestation of aphids to deal with…. deepest joy!

The weather has been beautiful, it’s been gloriously warm and sunny. The seedlings are flourishing and the flowers are in full bloom. It really is a delightful time of year.

So what have I been up to all the allotment apart from watering, weeding and wilting. I planted out some kale plants, Sutherland Kale, Red Russian Kale, Cavolo Nero and Jagallo Nero.

Image

Last week I made a ‘make shift’ brassica cage from tree stakes only to be given some fabulous metal hoops from our neighbour Darrin. So much easier to use, so of course they promptly went in and I covered them in netting to protect the brassica plants from the birds. Thank you very much Darrin, I’m really pleased with them.

I also gave the pear tree a prune after discovering it had a bit of canker. You can see the bark of this branch has split and started to peel. This opening in the bark makes the tree susceptible to further infection. I shall be writing a post about canker shortly, it’s not good!

Image

 

I pruned all the diseased branches, which I shall burn. I also removed any leaves with sooty black fungal patches.. indications of scab. I shall also burn these leaves.

Image

It’s not a well tree! But the good news is we still have pears and they are growing. This time last year we had just 5 pears left… so whilst not perfect we’ve made a bit of progress.

Image

I’m determined to nurse this tree back to health. I’ve been told by another plot holder the pears are delicious.

Aphids! I’ve found them everywhere. Possibly a contender for the pest of the year?!

They are on the parsnips and we now have Parsnip Yellow Fleck Virus, PYSV. I shall write a separate post about that joyous disease.

Image

 

My beloved Champion of England peas, the Borlotti beans and ‘John’s’ runner beans, seen below.

Image

 

The BBC recently aired a piece, about the wonders of aphids, during their Spring Watch series….. ‘what remarkable creatures’ they said! They went on to say, ‘aphids don’t have to mate to reproduce, a female can produce up to 10 ‘clone’ beings a day’…. that is indeed wondrous, however, not if you’re a gardener, it’s a serious problem. One aphid today, 10 tomorrow, 100 the following day, a 1000 the next! BUT the problem is, it’s not just the one aphid it is?

Seeing black ants running up and down the stems of legume plants is an indication aphids have arrived and are hiding somewhere, under the plants leaves or on the growing tips. Black ants protect aphids against predators, such as ladybirds, in return for honey dew secreted by the aphids. It’s a hideous codependent relationship!

This aphid killing machine is snoozing, hopefully after enjoying a large aphidy feast!

Image

 

I have spent ages going over every plant daily,  like a woman possessed, determined not to lose our crops. Sorry animal lovers, I usually hate killing anything, but I have turned into an aphid ‘serial killer’, squashing them as soon as I see them to try and keep the numbers down. It’s a rather messy business and not for the squeamish, like me! The worst job of the week, but it has to be done.

I was looking at our sweetcorn and they were all looking rather yellowy green. Our allotment neighbour Darrin is growing exactly the same variety, Swift F1. He planted his out a couple of weeks earlier than us. His plants are the darkest of dark greens. Scratches head wondering why! Darrin suggested it may be due to the lack of nutrition in the soil. Darrin has chickens and constantly loads up his plot with home made compost and manure from the chickens. We try to do the same but currently we’re just not producing enough compost, despite having loads on the go, it takes a good year or so!

We planted the sweetcorn seedlings in compost but I think he’s right.  I had initially put it down to transplant shock, but have decided it’s down to lack of nutrients. I can’t do much about the quality of the soil this year but to help improve the plants nutrition I will feed  the seedlings weekly with an organic seaweed fertiliser. This is a mild fertiliser yet should help plant development. The plants have already responded, they have darkened in colour are beginning to grow well.

Image

We took home some produce this week… yay!

Image

Image

 

All delicious, and the sweet peas were beautifully fragrant.

 

And the lavender is truly magnificent this year, a blaze of colour welcomes us to plot two.

Image

 

Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Plot update

Last week was a bit of a scorcher and with long daylight hours and me watering like a crazy thing the seedlings are coming along pretty well. The seedlings I have on the go at home are also thriving. Now to find a home for them!

We harvested the garlic as it was covered in rust and looking rather yellow. And I’m yellowist!

Image

The Purple white variety produced really good sized bulbs, whilst the Germidor and Iberian Whites were smaller. We experimented this year with modules of garlic. The soil at the allotment is heavy clay and garlic hates to be water logged. We planted cloves at the allotment in October in a combination of compost, soil and sandy grit. At the same time we planted modules at home in compost. The garlic in the modules grew really well and looked incredibly healthy. We planted these modules at the allotment in late winter. The modules never really caught up with the garlic planted in situ, the garlic bulbs, including Purple Whites,  were smaller. Maybe if we didn’t have such a bad case of rust we could have left them in the ground to develop further. 

Image

Another experiment, this time with growing beetroot in modules.

Image

Beetroot is one of those vegetables that should be grown in situ so we haven’t tried this before. The problem we have with growing beetroot at the allotment is the snails and slugs love to eat their way through the newly sprouted beetroot leaves. The seedlings usually last about a day, there one minute, gone the next. I’ve seen a couple of people at the allotment grow beetroot in modules and plant out the seedlings when they are a couple of inches tall, so i thought I would give it a go. I sowed Boltardy and Touchstone Gold and it took about three weeks for the seedlings to reach a couple of inches. We planted the seedlings where the garlic had been. Now to see if transplanting them will impact the actual root development. i’ll keep you posted.

Barry, a fellow allotmenteer very kindly gave us some of his leek seedlings. Mine have been an absolute disaster this year, I’ve sown some more but they are way behind, they resemble grass at the moment,  so it was good to actually get some in. Barry has been growing vegetables for years and he gave me firm instructions on how to plant them. Dig a deep trench. Use a dibber to make a good deep hole. Top and tail the leeks, i.e. cut off about a third of the foliage and trim the roots; this invigorates the root system. Place the trimmed leeks in the hole and water. The water should collect some soil thus covering the roots.  I usually do all of this apart from diggind the trench… and this is why…

Image

It looks rather ugly! Great mounds of lumpy clay soil, totally hideous and at the front of the pretty orchard plot. The only advantage of this method is it helps ‘blanche’ or earth up the leek stems, so we should get more white bits! Personally I’m not all that bothered about that, but I know Sal will be pleased, she always mentions there is never enough white bits on our leeks. And hopefully Barry will be happy too. Can’t wait to dig in that trench… just sayin’!

In previous years we have been unable to eat the globe artichokes because aphids have settled on them and hundreds of them literally moved in to the globe itself. We tried putting fleece over them last year as Carole Klein from Gardeners World suggested, but that failed. Globe artichoke and aphid soup… Mmmm my favourite! But this year Sal came up with an inspired idea, it’s genius. She noticed that the aphids gathered under the globe itself and settled in the shelter of the leaves close to the globe.

Image

She removed the leaves directly under the globe and then removed…….. okay squashed, all the aphids. With no where to settle the globes have remained aphid free. The loss of leaves hasn’t impacted the growth rate of the globes, in fact these are the biggest and healthiest globe artichokes we have ever had. 

Image

We’re now looking forward to enjoying aphid free globe artichokes this year and for many years to come.

It’s time to plant out the brassicas but they are susceptible to attack from birds and also the pest of 2013, the cabbage white butterfly. So it’s really important to protect them with netting. Last year I constructed some ‘very allotment’ contraption from an old fruit cage, bamboo sticks, garden ties, string and a bit of old sticky backed plastic…. actually not that very last bit, that was Blue Peter! This year I’m making it look a bit prettier… it’s all relative!

Image

The wonderful Barry came over to help me bash the posts into the ground. Apparently our rubber mallet wasn’t the right tool, and with that he produced his iron mallet! Not sure it made much difference as the soil is like concrete at the moment, we desperately need some rain, but it was so kind of him to come over an help this ‘damsel in distress’. This week I plan to finish constructing it so I can get some more kale plants in. 

We have our first courgettes emerging…

Image

Some raspberries are forming….

Image

And finally Discovery Apple tree update… the apples are growing rather nicely! Excited

Image 

 

 

Posted in Allotment Journal, Garlic

Pear scab and rust!

I’ve been thrilled that we still have pears on the trees this year, and there’s quite a few of them. However, I have noticed something rather untoward, some black patches are forming on the fruit. This is not a good sign, it’s a strong indication that the tree is still plagued with a fungal micro-organisim called Venturia Pirina, or pear scab!

Last year we failed to harvest a single pear. The majority of the fruit fell from the tree during ‘June Drop’, with the exception of 5 pears…. and they all ended up looking like this

Image

Poached pear anyone?!?!

There were also signs of pear rust on the leaves.

Image

 

This tree was obviously in poor health and it was clear some drastic action was needed to nurse it back to health. We have an organic approach to gardening, so the question we asked ourselves is what can we do? We thought of two things initially

Good air circulation is vital to help prevent air-bourne diseases from spreading and multiplying. Mould and fungal spores thrive in a damp, closed environment. When we acquired the plot it was obvious the fruit trees hadn’t been pruned for some time. We therefore gave them a good summer prune, removing around 25% of the canopy including many of the inner lateral branches. This opened up the tree helping improve air circulation.

Also in the Spring I sprayed all the fruit trees with an organic seaweed fertiliser.. Seaweed fertiliser is full essential trace elements, some of which help improve the tree or plants defence against bacterial infections.

Whilst these actions helped to a degree it certainly hasn’t got rid of the problem so more research was required. Here are my findings.

Pear scab

Pear scab, Venturia Pirina, is a fungal disease caused by the transfer of spores. Infected trees initially develop dark blotches on the upper surface of leaves. These blotches form pockets of spores that multiply, eventually spreading the disease throughout the tree. Severely infected leaves can turn yellow and fall from the tree prematurely.

Spores that have spread to the underside of the leaves infect young developing fruit. Infected fruit develop black blotches on the upper part of the fruit. If you look at the earlier picture, you will see that the pear has become horribly cracked. The reason for this is these dark, roughened patches restrict the ability of the skin to expand. As the fruit grows in size these dark blotches on the skin are unable to grow at the same rate. This causes the fruit to either become mis-shapen, or in extreme cases, the skin eventually splits and large cracks appear.

This fungal disease is most active from mid spring onwards, with the spores thriving in damp, humid, closed in conditions. In severe cases, scab will reduce the vigour of a tree because it may lead to premature leaf fall.

To make matters worse the spores overwinter on the fallen leaves, on stems and branches. In the spring, if the leaves are left on the ground, the overwintered spores can be carried by the wind to newly emerged shoots and leaves. To prevent the risk of re-infection it’s a good practice to rake up the fallen leaves in the Autumn and burn them. Chemical sprays could be used to treat the actual tree stems and branches, but this isn’t an option for us. In the Spring, if blotches start to appear on leaves it’s best to remove the infected leaves immediately to help stem the spread of the disease.

 

Pear Rust, Gymnosporangium Libocedri 

The initial signs of pear rust are usually visible in July and become more active in August and September. The leaves develop patches of bright orange discolouration, these eventually develop into spore-producing structures called pustules. 

Rust will not kill the pear tree as the spores only survive on live tissue. However, the spores feed on the trees nutrients which will ultimately weaken the tree not only for this year but also for the following year.

Pear rust has an interesting life cycle. After feeding on a pear tree the spores transport themselves to a new ‘host’, usually a tree from the Juniper family. Here the pear rust spores will stay and feed for another year, before transporting back to another pear tree. This ensures a steady and plentiful supply of nutrition.

Spores are spread by either the wind or water so good air circulation is essential to help prevent the onset of fungal diseases. To prevent the spread of infection it’s best to carefully remove any infected leaves and burn them. Pear rust spores can remain air-bourne for some considerable distance (up to 6 km) so environments such as allotments will make it very hard to get rid of the problem completely, even if treated.

Very severe cases of rust can impact fruit yield, lead to premature defoliation and it can also cause perennial ‘canker’ like swellings on the branches…. YIKES! Oh goodness, I think we may have some of those on some of the branches! More research required….

Canker

Tree canker is caused by fungus spores entering the trees bark. Initial indications of canker are leafless branches, or branches with shrivelled and contorted leaves…. the bark may become darkened, cracked and rough, and lumps may appear with sticky substances oozing out!

It’s important to remove any canker from the tree as the disease will continue to spread deep into the wood eventually killing the tree. It also creates ‘openings’ in the trees bark making the tree susceptible to other fungal and bacterial infections. Canker will also impact the trees ability to produce a decent crop of fruit.

I’m going to do some more research on canker removal and will follow up with another post.

The good news is, my beloved Discovery apple tree is scab, rust and canker resistant. As if I needed another excuse to get one!

Posted in Fruit, Growing problems

Allotment Journal: Plot Update

It’s stayed pretty dry this week and air temperatures have certainly ramped up, hitting the mid 20’s on a couple of occasions. With very little breeze it’s actually been too hot to work on the plots at times.

I filled the water tanks for the first time this year and inadvertently promptly drained one of them again! Somehow I managed to create a siphon, no idea how, but probably something to do with the nozzle exploding off the hose when I turned it to on. I naturally got completely soaked. Fortunately it was an extremely hot day so I found it rather cooling. I filled the tank to the brim, turned the tap off, had lunch and on my return the water tank was emptier than when I started. Deep joy!

It’s been important to frequently water all the newly planted seedling during this dry spell to help them establish. Their root systems are not sufficiently developed yet so the plants are unable to draw water from lower down in the ground.

This week I planted a few Sutherland Kale plants on plot one. The rest of the brassica’s are still a little too small to sustain the potential slug and snail onslaught so I’m growing them on at home for another couple of weeks.

We also planted a couple of squash plants on the orchard plot. We planted them between the fruit trees to utilise that space.

A Waltham Butternut squash

Image

And a Blue Banana Squash.

The second lot of parsnip seeds I sowed at the end of May are just beginning to germinate

Image

Whilst the germination of the original parsnip seed sowing was extremely poor, just 12 seedlings from 130 seeds, the young plants we do have are doing quite well. Gladiator has proved to be much more successful than the Tender and True variety, at a ratio of 3:1

Image

Everything seems to be flourishing. We picked our first strawberries of the year and it seems to be another bumper year.

Image

The gooseberries are doing well, although we don’t seem to have a very large crop…..probably enough for one crumble. This may be because we failed to prune the bushes last year.

Image

 

We have peas

Image

The potatoes have gone completely bonkers. The Pink Fir Apple potatoes, a main crop, have grown very tall and beginning to form flowers.

Image

 

 

The beautiful lilac flowers of the Charlotte potato

Image

The globe artichokes are almost ready

Image

The beetroot is also growing well, just hoping they haven’t been eaten below soil level.

Image

 

 

The onions and shallots on the orchard plot

Image

 

And finally, this year my leeks have been rather disappointing but thankfully fellow allotmenteer Barry has very kindly given us some of his. I shall be planting these in the next few days, of course leaving some room for the few Giant Bulgarian leeks that I have managed to salvage. Sal will be thrilled!

Image

 

 

Posted in Allotment Journal

Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena Vatia

Whilst admiring and smelling the first of our sweet peas, the first to emerge was this beautiful Painted Lady, I got a bit of a shock when I came face to face with something rather alien on one of the flowers. A spider….. but I had never seen a spider quite like this one before. It looked menacing, staring directly at me with its multiple eyes and holding up its front two pairs of rather long legs, ready to attack.

I was intrigued so instantly took a photo and whizzed it off to a gardener friend to see if he could help identify it.

Image

 

I didn’t hear back whilst I was at the allotment and as I’m rather impatient, I did a bit of research when I got home. I discovered it’s a Goldenrod Crab spider.

Goldenrod Crab spiders don’t spin webs, instead they hunt on either yellow or white flowers. Goldenrod crab spiders are themselves either yellow or white and they have the ability to change colour, alternating between white and yellow to blend in with their hunting background. Saying that, the colour transformation is quite a slow process. It can take up to a month for the spider to change from white to yellow, but a relatively rapid conversion from yellow to white, just a week.

When hunting, the Goldenrod Crab spider can remain static for ages, waiting patiently for a nectar loving insect to come along and land on the flower. They are particularly partial to honey bees and butterflies and the camouflaged Goldenrod Crab spider is rather difficult for insects to spot.

When an insect lands on the flower the Goldenrod Crab spider will grab the insect with its powerful front legs and will then inject the insect with venom from its small jaws. With this kind of weaponry the Goldenrod Crab spider can take on insects that are much larger than itself. The spider will then suck the bodily fluids from the poor unfortunate captured insect. What a horrible end!

I’m not quite sure what happened to this spider. Sal picked the sweet peas and popped them in a posy vase. YIKES…..this spider at large!

Image

 

 

Posted in Insects

Allotment Journal: Plot Update Seedlings!

This week has been all about seedlings. I grow virtually all our vegetable plants at home and take them to the allotment once they are large enough to sustain the elements and potential pests…. it’s like creating an instant allotment, simply plant in the ground and add water!

IMG_8246

April through to June are the busiest months of year to sow seeds and grow vegetable plants and I currently have plenty of seedlings on the go. My potting room and balconies are bursting at the seams so it’s good to finally take some to the allotment.

This week we planted the sweetcorn, courgettes and the Bortlotti beans. In addition we sowed more beetroot and spinach at the allotment.

We never seem to have enough sweetcorn so I decided to think big this year.  We have a total of 64 plants, planted in an eight by eight grid; it’s actually more of a cornfield!

IMG_8473

This year we are growing a RHS Merit award winner variety called Swift F1. Darrin, our allotment neighbour, grew this variety last year and it looked spectacular. It was fairly vigorous and most of his plants produced two good sized, rich, sweet tasting cobs. The other advantage of this variety is isolation from other varieties isn’t required. Cross pollination of some super sweet varieties can compromise sweetness, flavour and tenderness. What’s not to like?

IMG_8294

We also planted 5 courgette plants. A dwarf bush courgette called Verde Di Milano from the Real Seed Catalogue. We grew this variety last year with great success. The plants were healthy and prolific , producing around 20 delicious dark green courgettes on each plant.

IMG_8469

And finally we planted the Borlotti beans. This is my third attempt at growing these beans this year. The first lot suffered extreme coastal wind burn and melted. The second lot became etiolated, making it impossible to transport them to the allotment, and finally here are the third batch and they are perfect.

IMG_8243

I don’t mind making mistakes, it’s a great way to learn. I’ve discovered that it’s best to place the beans outside as soon as they have germinated. The improved light levels help slow down the rate of growth, preventing etiolation, and obviously they are placed in a very sheltered spot! The only thing I need to be mindful of is slugs and snails. Despite my balcony being around 100 ft above sea level I still get them. When found, they are unceremoniously thrown over the cliff!

Borlotti beans aren’t great yielders, each plant may only produce around 8 pods if the plant is left untouched and the pods left to dry. With legumes, picking pods encourages the plant to flower again, and hence should produce more pods. I think it’s probably worth picking some pods early in the season and enjoy the fresh beans. The plants should produce new pods and it’s those pods we will allow to dry on the plant later in the season. I’m not sure if this will help improve yields, but it’s worth a try.

At home I have 24 Sutherland Kale plants that are growing well. This is far to many plants for us, but I always work on the basis some will either die or get eaten by snails, slugs or caterpillars! I also have some very young Cavolo Nero and Russian Red Kale. I also have 8 purple sprouting broccoli plants. These will be ready to plant out soon but I need to prepare the brassica bed first. The brassica bed needs a frame and netting especially after last years cabbage white butterfly epidemic.

At the allotment the potatoes continue to grow really well. Flowers are now forming on the second earlies. The first early potatoes should be ready to start harvesting in about 3 weeks time.

IMG_8552

And the shallots look fabulous

IMG_8558

The strawberries are just beginning to ripen, but there are new pests at large… slugs and snails. Many of the the ripe strawberries have holes, it’s not the birds….. but pesky slugs and snails. The wet weather has its disadvantages.

IMG_8138

Last years strawberry crop was magnificent but the weather was hot and dry.  Rain provides the perfect environment for slugs and snails to thrive. It seems hard to believe that this tiny slug ate the entire inside of this strawberry!

We garden as organically as we can, and don’t like to use pesticides or slug pellets so we have to accept we are going to encounter pests. Instead I prefer to go on a hunt and found this little lot in and around three strawberry pots. They are fed to the chickens.

IMG_8306

 

And finally, we picked our first bunch of sweetpeas. The scent is heavenly. Summer has arrived!

IMG_8374

Posted in Allotment Journal

Growing beetroot

Image

Beetroot is one of the vegetables we both enjoy to eat, so we always dedicate a LARGE bed to growing some.

Beetroot is really easy to grow. If the soil temperature is warm enough, seeds can be sown as early as March, although we usually wait until April or May. The soil temperature needs to be at least 7C for seeds to germinate.

If the outside temperature is too cold there is a risk the young beetroot seedlings may run to seed. So, if growing beetroot in early spring it’s worth choosing a bolt resistant variety, such as Boltardy, just incase that warm Spring weather takes a turn for the worst. We have also discovered there is no point sowing seeds after the end of July, they just fail to grow. Like spinach, beetroot seeds will fail to germinate if the temperature is too high.

Beetroot seeds look a little like corky granola; they are actually a cluster of seeds. Each cluster contains several seeds so if multiple seeds germinate thinning is essential. When thinning don’t discard the seedlings, the young leaves are edible and can be used like spinach, after all beetroot and spinach are related.

Image

Beetroot seedlings don’t transfer well so it’s important to sow seeds in situ. Beetroot isn’t too fussy about soil type but heavy clay soil will need to be improved to allow for proper drainage and to prevent mis-shapen roots.

Sow seeds in drills about 2.5cm deep, placing the seeds at 10cm intervals. Cover, label and water in well. There should be at least 20cm between rows

Seeds take anywhere from 10 to 14 days to germinate, little seedlings will start to appear.

Image

Beetroot is a fairly low maintenance vegetable. Just ensure seedlings are kept weed free and water well weekly. Hot dry summers can lead to woody roots. A plentiful but inconsistent water supply can lead to the roots splitting. So a good drenching once a week should prevent both of this issues. Soil moisture can easily be retained by using mulch.

Expect to be picking fully matured beetroots 10 to 15 weeks after sowing the seed. To maintain a constant supply it’s worth thinking about successional sowing every couple of weeks, all the way up to the end of July.

Problems? not that many, but slugs and snails have played havoc with our crops in the past. They love to harvest the young tender leaves as they start to emerge from the ground. Whilst this solves the issue of thinning it can be a major issue when they devour the lot! We are ‘organic’ in our approach to gardening fruit and vegetables and don’t use slug pellets or any other types of pesticides come to that. Not only that, there are pesky slugs that live underground and they have been known to eat the roots. If it’s not one thing it’s another! See below, last year my beautiful golden beetroot was destroyed. To make matters worse, a family of woodlice then move into their newly sculptured home…. The cheek of it!!!

Image

To limit the risk of disease and keep the soil healthy always practice good crop rotation.

The varieties of beetroot we are growing this year include:

Boltardy: This is probably one of the best and most favoured varieties of beetroots grown in the UK. It’s a globe beetroot and produces a good crop of deep red roots. It has RHS award of merit. It’s ideal for early sowing as it has a good resistance to bolting.

Touchstone Gold: Supplied by The Real Seed Catalogue. Personally this is one of my favourite varieties. As the name suggests it’s a golden beetroot. It’s fairly vigorous and grows quickly. The roots are sweet and tender.

Chioggia: Another globe beetroot, this one is red with white rings. It’s sweet and tender.

Sanguina: This is also from the Real Seed Catalogue, a deep blood red conical shaped beetroot. It comes from Italy, it should be juicy and sweet. We’ve not grown it before so we will see how it turns out.

Pablo F1 Hybrid: Fast growing, bolt resistant AGM winner. It oozes quality. This variety remains tender even when left in the soil to grow larger roots; you’ll find that most other varieties tend to turn horribly woody if they are left to grow larger.

Jannis: Supplied by MoreVeg. Moreveg claim this to have a very long sowing season, from January/February (under cover) to August. It’s supposed to be bolt resistant and may rival Boltardy in years to come. Good flavour. Will compare this variety to Boltardy and let you know what I think

AND the one I want to grow but have been told I have to grow it at home… don’t ask!……. okay, it’s because it’s NOT red. I know!!!!!

Albino’ White Beetroot: Supplied by The Real Seed Catalogue. Okay, yes this is a bit of a novelty but The RSC note it tastes just the same as the red varieties. However, what’s even better is it’s exceptionally productive and grows quickly! I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Beetroot, Sowing and Growing
Calendar
September 2020
M T W T F S S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930