With all this record rainfall in June I see that water boards are lifting their hosepipe bans in many areas. However it's not only the excessive rainfall that has helped, it is great effort made by its consumers to save water. I don’t believe there has been any great rush by gardeners to get out there and water those lawns which are saturated or to water already swamped plants. In a country where the weather is the most talked about topic of conversation, where would we be without too much rain, grinding to a halt with snow and then getting too dry. Welcome to the British climate!
It is not the rain that is giving me the grief, it is the coolness of these June days. There are certain crops that are suited to facing the cool, such as potatoes, and brassicas but those hothouse babies such as sweetcorn and beans let you know that they are unhappy by the yellowing of their leaves. So I have tried giving them a high potash feed to give them a chance to get a little greenness into their leaves and survive until surely summer will return.
I have a large amount of mulching material ready at the bottom of my plot to conserve moisture around my plants as I was expecting a drier, warmer year but this still stands there ready to be called into action. My wormeries were busy producing this rich mulch through the winter and spring ready for the my beans and sweet peas, so soon I will use it as a surface feed as it is rich in nutrients that will buck up these unhappy residents.
The gardener carries on regardless in the face of adversity and, in all my years at this game, optimism must remain high as pests, weeds and the elements are our continual challenge. Fail and you let your plants down, succeed and the harvests are plentiful and rich.
Many gardeners are influenced by quick and easy crops when they take on an allotment for the first time. Salad crops and radish, in particular, are quick and easy to grow and are ready for the plate in a matter of weeks. But it is not worth growing crops that you do not particularly like. There was a young family a few years ago who were lucky enough to get a plot on our site. They were looking to fill their plot quickly and I was planting out some sprout plants. They asked me if I had a few to spare and I gave them six strong plants which they duly cared for and tended until they in early autumn they were laden with firm sprouts. They came over to my plot with a bag of these which they offered to me. I said I had plenty and there was no need to give me any in return for giving them the plants. It is not that, they said, we do not like sprouts. The moral of this story is only grow those vegetable that you like to eat and don't grow just because gardening books tell you what and how to grow.
The other lesson I have learned down the years is that herbs are not well suited to growing on my allotments. It is not the soil but the fact that my allotments are five miles from where I live. Herbs are one of these impulse crops used in cooking and are best grown near the kitchen door. My wife likes to go out during her culinary periods and snip off various bits of herbs that suit the dish she is cooking. This is no good when I arrive home if I have to go all the way back to the plot for a shopping list of what she needs to prepare that dish.
I am not a great believer in the power of companion planting out on the open plot. The idea of masking the scent of one vegetable from its pests by use of another does not work for me. However in the confines of my greenhouse I find that planting pungent marigold among my greenhouse crops does keep away the white fly. On opening that door of a morning, a strong aroma of marigolds hits my sense of smell, so those little sap-sucking white flies have no idea that their favourite plants are there!
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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.