April showers are certainly coming our way and some heavy downpours have already fallen on my allotment. The rain did perk up those early plantings and I don’t care how much you water a plant it never seems to refresh them as much as the real thing. So the season, at present, is back on track and the sowing and planting grows in momentum day after day.
The allotment does not have much poking above ground at the moment and green shoots are few and far between. Below the surface, on the other hand, it is a different matter as most of the seed potatoes have found their new home in my soil. The onion sets have also joined their hidden ranks and are busily making growth beneath the surface.
This does not mean the plot is completely devoid of any colour and the garlic has put on a spurt of dark green spiky growth. There are a few cabbages beneath a fleece cloche and the broad beans have their roots deep in their richly-prepared bed and are showing signs of renewed growth. The first barrier has been erected on the plot as my canes are put up to support the sweet peas. These hardy plants are placed at the base of each cane and they will need my regular help to climb these high-rise supports. People ask why I grow flowers on my plot as you can't eat them, but they have their uses as they attract predators of aphids and also bring in the pollinators. Besides, they add a riot of colour to the predominantly green oasis of vegetables and my wife is a very happy person when I bring these scent-creating bouquets home. I thinks she enjoys these offerings more than my fresh vegetables, as they take less preparation.
My wormeries have been housed in my greenhouse all winter and the munching worms have continued to convert all my household waste into a great rich compost. They are not fussy eaters and enjoy all sorts of vegetable and fruit offcuts as well as discarded tea bags. They also like dry paper products and they happily munch through my shredded documents, making them doubly secure. As they move from chamber to chamber they leave behind this super compost and I harvest this to enhance my potting compost and to use as rich mulch around my plants. They are now ready to be evicted to a semi-shaded area for the summer and the border in the greenhouse can be reclaimed to get ready for my summer harvests of tomatoes and peppers.
You all know of my passion for that hard-working bee! There has been much concern in recent years of the decline in the bee population and gardeners, more than most, notice this decline. They have been attacked from many quarters including disease in their hives. There was a further research out last week that points out that a particular group of pesticides are having a disastrous effect on the hive’s production of queen bees. These are essential to the starting up of new nests and a reduction in the number of queen bees means far fewer nests. All gardeners are aware of the effect pesticides can have on the helpful insect population and there is a growing trend not to use any and let nature balance itself out.
There has been an estimated cost of £1.5 billion to replace pollinators by using hand pollinators. Are we going to have thousands of people dressed in black and yellow striped jumpers wielding a camel hair paint brush flitting from blossom to blossom? I don’t think so. So let’s start behaving rationally and protect this valuable insect from further decline.
Reports were not all negative last week - a fly that looks like a cross between a bee and a fly has been spotted in many gardens. This menacing-looking insect has a long slender tongue and seeks nectar, so will this be our salvation to the declining bee population?
Me, I am taking another precautionary measure and am sowing some varieties of self-pollinating runner beans this year. I tried a variety called Moonlight last year and this gave an excellent crop despite the wet summer in the west. So is this the solution to the reduction in pollinating insects? I sincerely hope not.
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My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton
Terry Walton is a regular contributor to The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and has written a book called My Life on a Hillside Allotment, published by Bantam Press. Buy this book at a discount from the Saga Bookshop.