Saturday, 6 August 2011

what is eating my onion tops?

I arrived at the allotment to see that the tops of my onions, healthy last time I looked at them, have all been eaten at the tops - cropped no less! What caused it? I googled the question to find that everything from rabbits to deer, pigeons to slugs, caterpillars to unidentified bugs, have all been blamed. We have certainly had deer on the allotment before, but they do leave rather obvious footprints, especially when the ground is as soft as it is now after the recent heavy rain. And rabbits cannot fail but leave rather obvious droppings everywhere - and there were none. And pigeons to my knowledge have never attacked my garlic or onions before.
So I split a few of what remains of my own onion leaves down towards the base - guess what - SLUGS!!!!  Plus the odd startled earwigs, who on being exposed scuttled further down into the sheaths away from harm.
One thing occurs to me - by eating the tops in this way, water has ingressed into the leaves and must be finding its way down towards the bulbs - and will surely cause them to rot - so I think I shall harvest these as soon as I can - we are expecting a few dry and warm days now so that will be ideal for drying off the bulbs on the soil surface before taking them home and storing them somewhere dry and airy - our garden shed is ideal!

Now how's that for red cabbages!? My husband has a super recipe for cooking them and they are then frozen down for winter use when not much else is available.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Strawberries and virus disease

Since my last post I made it back to the allotment and dug up the old row of strawberry plants. These all went straight onto the compost heap, except for 4 plants that have shown signs of growth distortion this summer, and bore no ripe fruit (the fruit failed to swell). I feel sure they have suffered from a viral infection, but goodness alone knows which one. I have found a list of 21 such infections online, on a site which offers lots of other good information about strawberry cultivation. 
To be on the safe side I put the affected plants complete with their root balls into an old plastic compost sack which I have sealed and I will dispose of them at the local recycling and rubbish disposal centre next time I go there. 

If anyone recognizes this infection please let me know.

It was too hot to do any more work up there. Next visit I must tidy up the other strawberry rows and plant up a new row with runners to replace the removed plants.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

compost and weeds

I've been up at the allotment again for a long session - still so much to do!
I wrote about weeds and seeds last time. As I walked around the other plots today I couldn't help noticing just how many are overtaken by weeds - and all in seed, causing no end of further problems - remember - one year's seeding, seven years weeding. It is so important to stay on top of them, using the hints and tips I gave last time. At the very least remove all those that are shedding their seeds to the wind and blowing across all your neighbours' plots! Golden rule - Never let weeds flower!
Today I cleared the cabbage patch - we have been eating wonderful cabbages over the last few weeks - and then covered the area with a liberal quantity of horse manure. It is not well rotted - quite a way to go in fact - but over the winter the worms and slugs and other bugs will do their work on it ready for a light forking over next year before planting potatoes there - as part of my crop rotation.
And then I emptied one of the compost bins and spread the wonderful crumbly rich compost (picture left) over any spare soil I could find around the plot - mulching the beans, in between the beetroots and radishes and courgettes, top dressing the asparagus bed etc. There were altogether about 5 wheelbarrow loads. And it won't take me long to fill the bin again - it has already received all those poppy plants from the other day and as I continue to harvest potatoes, there will be all the tops from those to add - and any weeds I pull up from day to day - and by this time next year I will have another quantity of compost to spread again!

My next job will be to remove the oldest strawberry row. It has cropped for 4 years and the fruit is getting smaller - so I will dig them all up and start a new row with runners from the other plants, and spread manure liberally around them before the winter sets in. Strawberries should be rotated in the same way as other crops. 

Photo right is of one of the poppies I missed the other day - but the seed head (fruit) hasn't ripened yet so it is not doing any harm. I must cut it off before it matures and starts scattering the seeds everywhere!
I do love them on the plot - and they encourage many bees and hoverflies - essential for pollinating and setting the peas and beans.

By the way, my wooden compost bins have slatted sides that can lift out to make removal of compost easier, and a thick "duvet" to cover the rotting plant material to keep the temperature up in the bin - essential for killing any weed seeds etc.and for optimum rotting potential.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Reaping rewards on the allotment - One year's seeding - seven years weeding

Autumn seems to have come early this year - but then we had our summer in the South of England in April and May and the weather has been wet and dull for much of the time since, until this week. 
And just when there is so much to do on the allotment, the temperature has soared to 28 or 30 degrees, especially up there where there is no shade at all.
My first and urgent job today was to carefully remove all the poppy heads, especially those that have ripened and are full of seeds, carefully collecting those into a bucket for storage and disposal elsewhere - not sure where yet. Anyone want a field full of oriental poppies that will appear year after year into perpetuity?!
One year's seeding is seven years weeding, and that is a wise old adage true not only of the poppy, but of many other weeds - chickweed, dandelion, teasels, groundsel, ragwort, scarlet pimpernel and many others. And once weeds like dandelions take a hold in numbers and get their deep perennial taproots down into the ground that spells double the problem. So keep on top of those weeds before they seed!!
Other plotters often ask me how I keep on top of the weeds, and that is one vital ploy. But there are other useful tricks:
1. Rotate a potato crop around the plot. The cultivation of these cleans up even the trickiest soil - by smothering everything else in sight as the plants grow, but also by means of the cultivation necessary - the digging, pulling out perennial weeds along the way, the planting, drawing up the ridges, digging up the plants for harvest, etc.
2. Do not rotavate the plot with a mechanical digger!! Yes I mean that! If you cannot manage digging by hand each year, then have raised plots of such a width that you don't have to walk over the soil at any time. Then a light forking over as necessary suffices. My observation of other plots that have been well and truly rotavated mechanically is that millions of weeds come up in no time at all and unless these are quickly removed, the plot is out of control in no time at all!
3. Plants crops a little closer than the recommended spacing - smaller crops result but more weeds are smothered.
4. If you have some bare ground between crops,either sow some "green manure" seeds like alfafa that are dug in before they seed, or cover with some old carpet or black polythene or, even better, lots of manure if you can get hold of it (unless you intend to grow root crops such as carrots on the plot afterwards - they won't like that.
That's enough for today - next time up there I need to do some harvesting, sowing, and emptying the bin that's full of ready- to- spread compost - so that I can start filling it up again!