Forgive me, I’ve hardly blogged about the plot this summer. Recent weather aside (it’s a wet and windy Saturday afternoon as I write this), it’s a been a glorious summer and to be honest with you, we’ve just been so busy enjoying it down 18a. After a unseasonable cool start to the season full of worry whether we would ever get any kind of crop going, we approach the end of the growing season with a bumper crop of unexpected allotment loveliness. After a rather crappy first 6 months of 2013 for myself personally, the allotment and the abundance of nature there have helped me overcome my blues and banish my little rain clouds. So what’s been going on down 18a? Well let’s see…
The rhubarb ruled the back beds. For the first year we forced some beautiful pale pink stems as an early spring treat to top our porridge…
Later on our crown of ‘Victoria’ rhubarb reigned with the most amazing dead straight, thick stems, some an inch thick. The rhubarb days of spring were full of crumbles, cakes and amazing pink jams.
Our first glut was of Radishes, and for some time it felt like it might be all we’d be eating as the growing season slowly crept to a start. It became radishes with everything! Particularly enjoying them stir fried.
Every year I pick a vegetable to grow that I’ve always had trouble to grow, my vegetable achilles heel! This year it was the pea. I’ve never been able to get peas to grow right, they’ve always flopped, rotted or got mildew too quick, this year they were to be my ‘Rookie Vegetable Growing Challenge’. Having manured and compost trenched the legume bed the previous autumn they had good conditions to get them to a flying start. Getting them to climb and not be nibbled by the pesky pigeons was a challenge but soon enough our ‘Alderman’ peas grew majestically to over 6ft tall with long full pods of juicy peas. Some we picked and ate raw as a sweet snack down the plot, but in the end we had over 2kg to harvest! Just don’t talk to me about pea Moth larvae *shudder*.
Other successful legumes were the beautiful and tasty ‘Shiraz’ Mange Tout which we are still picking now. They keep their colour when stir fried and have made colourful and tasty additions to stir fries and raw in salads.
The companion plantings of Calendula, my favourites, have been flowering their hearts out for weeks, still going with regular dead heading. As a companion planting they have worked like a treat to reduce the blackfly on the Broad beans and the whitefly on the Brassicas. Although this only seems to work when planted very close and from what we’ve found, it is essential to keep the calendula flowering for it to have an effect.
A bumper crop of garlic was had, although many we were unable to dry to store due to damage caused by according to the RHS a relatively new pest, the Allium leaf miners. We suffer with this dreadfully on all our Allium crops causing in the garlics the skin around the cloves becoming exposed in the ground, leading to white rot and other nasties. But on the plus side we had some amazing wet garlic from those we could not dry! One variety seems to suffer with this pest the most is the ‘Early Purple Wight’ so think we will try not growing this Variety in future.
After last season pitiful crop of potatoes this season we meant spud business! This year instead of planting the potatoes in the trench way we decided to try planting them like a bulb. This method has been very good. We decided to plant our seed potatoes between St Patricks Day and Easter (Con the old Irish plot potato growing guru swears by this) despite the weather. We chose a dry bright day in between cooler weather and covered the bed with cardboard until the weather improved. This seems to have paid off. We’ve had some amazing potatoes and probably the best yield we’ve had to date. This year we grew heritage varieties, Red Duke of York, Salad Blue, Highland Burgundy, Shetland Blacks and Pink Fir Apple. The Pink Fir Apple are still in the ground but we’ve been enjoying those we’ve harvested like the brilliant pinkish Red Duke of Yorks below.
Everyone was saying it, “it’s the best soft fruit season in years”, and they were right. We’ve had some bountiful berries this season. A little later than usual, but worth the wait, the strawberries have been fabulous. After initial fights with netting and rat and ant thievings we managed to harvest many a strawberry. We’ve had them on breakfasts, paired with rhubarb for crumbles and have made the brightest and sweetest strawberry jam ever. Definitely saving a jar for the allotment show!
The blackcurrants too have been bountiful. We’ve been picking them for back aching weeks! The pigeons have managed to break through the netting a little but we’ve still had a good glut to speak of. I’ve made jam, bottled them, made fairy cakes and we even like them raw on our breakfast cereal with greek yoghurt. Oh and we had a fabulously sharp sorbet too.
The Chillies have been a surprise outdoor success this year. Growing these small black variety called ‘Chenzo‘ they’ve been churning out more small black chillies than the pair of us can handle. We’re no chilli heads, more a chilli wusses but these have a medium-hot heat of 45,000 SHU and have been cultivated to suit the British climate. They have a good aromatic heat to them.
And it’s all been for the bees. Every flower I grow I grow for our fuzzy friends. We’ve had huge numbers of bumblebees on the plot, not to mention hoverflies and solitary bees. However despite a hive locally very few honeybees.
The ladybirds however have been noticeably absent for much of the season. Especially the all in important late spring, early summer months to help keep the aphids in check. They took their time but the ladies arrived fashionably late in the end.
The Chard has been triffid like, and though not pictured here, the Swiss Chard has been a favourite of ours for tea. Making a tasty alternative to spinach in a Spanakopita pie.
The Carrots and Parsnips are suffering with an attack of willow aphid, but I have high hopes they will recover. We enjoyed some of these baby ‘Purple Haze’ carrots with a veggie sausage and mash, with homegrown mash of course!
And of course there’s still plenty to look forward to yet. Even though the weather this weekend might feel a bit autumn-like we’ve still got a few more good growing weeks to come yet. Although the fruit trees suffered yet again with the late frosts of May causing iffy pollination, we still have a few apples on or cordon trees to look forward to, oh, and two conference pears!
And of course there’s still pumpkins, squashes, autumn salad crops, sweet bell peppers, aubergines, tomatillos, beetroot, Pink Fir Apple potatoes, parsnips, raspberries, blackberries, turnips, kale, courgettes, borlotti beans, french beans, spinach and more radishes still to come. Bountiful indeed.