With the season continuing to fluctuate from hot sunny days to then heavy thundery showers, it's no wonder that crops are constantly trying to work out what month it is. One minute they are perspiring, then a day later they are dripping wet and shivering after a good soaking from the heavens. A late start galvanised them into giving bumper harvests but in their headlong rush to please me they are having a short season.
Hidden behind the sheer green wall of my climbing bean crops are my onions. They are exhibiting the end of season blues. The tops are no longer standing proud and erect but are drooping in all directions. Most of this green goodness has been ploughed back into those swelling bulbs, which are now quite large. I don’t force my tops over but let them drop naturally. The only helping hand I provide is to lay these ‘floppy’ tops so that the pale bulbs are not shielded from the sun and can acquire a late tan and speed up the drying process. It won’t be long before these roots are carefully lifted from the soil and the onions placed to finish their drying process in the September sun. Well that’s the plan, but only nature can guarantee this sunshine.
The August nights are getting shorter and there are many heavy dews on my hillside allotment. These coat the leaves of the large courgettes with a fine misty dampness. It does not take long for this to encourage a fine grey mould to fur their leaves. This is a classic cause of powdery mildew. After many years of just removing badly affected leaves, I was told to spray them with a special organic mix. This comprises nine parts water and one part milk. It appears that this mildew thrives in a slightly acid condition and the milk solution makes the surface of the leaves slightly alkaline. Job done and it appears to be working on most of the leaves. It only goes to show that you are never too old to learn some new tricks in the world of gardening.
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Many weeks ago I was patiently popping pots into the soil around my strawberry plants and fixing their new little runners into these pots of compost. They soon took root and made sturdy little plants. Once they are firmly rooted, and growing on strongly, they are separated from their ‘mother’ with the cutting of the cord and placed in a seed tray. These are ready to be planted out in their new home and to make a new bed for next year. This area has been well prepared with plenty of compost and improved with a coating of well rotted manure. It is also important to make it free of the roots of any weeds as these are very difficult remove from the strawberry bed once the plants are established. A word of caution, that I learnt many years ago, is never make a new strawberry bed where you have grown potatoes this year. They do not make good bed mates. I don’t understand the science of this behaviour but it is not good practice. Plant these new strawberries with the crown just above the surface and firm in.
It is not only the allotment that has had a late start this season but those of you who forage the hedgerows for those ‘freebie’ fruits, for tarts, jams and wine making, will also have noticed that the elderberries and blackberries are a few weeks behind their schedule. So it is with hopes and expectations that my sorties to the hedgerows near the allotments will yield a rush of these late crops to supplement my home-grown harvests.
It is never dull working hand-in-glove with nature, and gardening teaches you the value of patience and adaptability. You always have to be the super optimist and learn that each day will bring another challenge. If you have bought a gardening book in recent years you may begin to wonder why the instructions are being skewed and the planting and harvesting dates are not what are expected. There must be a great opportunity to write a new book on how to garden in these unpredictable years!
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