What an end to last week. The winds howled down my valley and all those tender plants had to hang on for dear life to their young leaves. Torrential rain cascaded from the sky and gardening was not on the daily activity list. What's happening this year to our climate? The winter was a record dry one and drought orders were issued across many parts of the country. The ink had not long dried on those orders before an April with record rainfall followed. Then the end of last week one of the lowest depressions in weather history for June was recorded. I know this is a special year for this country but I would rather the records be broken in the games, not on my allotment.
To add to one of the worst periods of gardening I have experienced in my fifty-plus years, my mobile telephone text beeps and the message from Blight Watch showed on my screen saying blight conditions are present in my area. All this moisture is depositing spores from the wet air, and it is a nervous time for potato and tomato growers. I have examined my potatoes and fortunately there is no sign of those black patches that are the tell-tale signs of this devastating disease. Again, this is the earliest I have ever known blight be present as it is usually during the damp August nights when this is at its peak. If it were to strike now then potatoes would stand no chance of producing any worthwhile tubers. Gardening is a worry whatever the month.
In my greenhouse I have to be careful with my watering regime as the temperatures are cool and too much water can bring dire consequences. Tomato stems soon fall foul of tomato blackleg if they are too wet and the plant will display those giveaway signs of yellowing leaves spreading quickly up the plant. If this occurs, there is no salvation for the crop and they are gone. The same applies to cucumbers and I only water these at the base and very sparingly. The windows are also shut at present to try to produce a little warmth for those heat-loving plants.
I have two courgette plants filling their pots that are desperate for freedom out in the plot. No chance of that at present, while those strong winds blow as their leaves would soon be stripped from these delicate plants. These are normally happily growing away by the beginning of June so no early crops of courgettes this year.
The only thing enjoying these rains on my plot are those slugs and snails who are having a field day in these perfect conditions for them to slither freely about. I am organic and I have watered my soil with Nematodes which actively seek out soil-borne slugs and feed on them. However the surface-dwelling ones I am attacking with organic pellets based on Aluminium Sulphate which kills the slug but will not harm the local wildlife. Yet another war I have to win!
Being unable to sow out on the open plot has not deterred me from keeping a constant supply of salad sowings on the move. In my greenhouse I am sowing radish and spring onions in discarded florists buckets and, in small modules, my succession of lettuce crops. Finally in small pots there are sowings of beetroot seed ready to plant out when they are in first leaf state. So the weather does bring all activity to a halt.
Little do we gardeners realise some of the dangers lurking in some of the activities we take for granted throughout our growing years. With Legionnaires' disease making the news at present it is highlighted that handling compost can be a source of this disease. We have all handled this common gardening material without a thought to any problem. It is common sense to wear gloves while handling compost and, it goes without saying, we should thoroughly wash our hands after gardening activities. Another simple precaution is to avoid breathing in the dust when opening bags of compost.
The risks are low but we are all aware of risks in our fun hobby but never be off your guard!
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My Life On A Hillside Allotment
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.