Last Thursday mid-summer’s day crept in almost unnoticed in the Welsh valleys. After three days of summer, the longest day dawned with heavy rain and high winds and that evening at 7pm my lounge lights were switched on. It was dark and those heavy, menacing clouds filled the sky. This was the day the daylight peaked and, from now on, the evenings start drawing in. What a daunting prospect for yet another poor summer.
This is the start for many of the holiday season and I guess there will be an exodus to sunnier climes to escape the rain. There is one bright spot for gardeners who are going on holiday; there won't be too many days when your neighbours have to water your plants. I rarely go away during the summer months, because before I go there is a lot of work to ensure that all those weeds have been despatched from the plot so that the plants can grow without competition in my absence. I also have a good look around to make sure there are no colonies of pests taking up residence on my crops and having the run of a free feed in my absence. These tasks completed, at least the plants will survive a couple of weeks without too much attention. Give them a good feed before youI go to keep them in tip-top shape.
The beans and salad crops need regular cropping in your absence and, as a bribe to one of my neighbouring plot holders, the gift of picking them continually is payment for that watchful eye and for the task of watering and feeding the greenhouse inhabitants. It is better for these rapidly-maturing crops to be picked and consumed, as if they form seed on the plant they will see their days as done and their mission in life complete. So, with them harvested, there will be a steady supply of young beans ready for you on your return. On an allotment there is rarely an issue with a few days' holiday as there is a caring, sharing attitude that means each of us looks out for the other.
The one vegetable that has thrived in these cool, wet times has been the potato. They have grown a mass of green foliage and many are covered with a mass of flowers. This is a good sign that beneath the soil a good crop of tubers is also maturing. There is nothing more exciting on the plot than lifting a potato haulm and watching those marble-ike tubers fall to the surface of the soil. If the crop is not what you expect, then only one potato has been sacrificed so a patient wait of a week or two longer will be required.
The advantage of lifting a few potatoes is that there will be some lovely rich, crumbly ground ready early enough to get another harvest of some more of your favourite vegetables from this same patch of ground. Salad crops are quick maturing and are ideal for this area, but there is still long enough for peas or courgettes to be grown for an autumn harvest. Good, fertile soil will reap more than one harvest per year, so all that good preparation during spring will reap dividends.
Despite the rain, the fluttering cabbage white butterflies are on the prowl and looking for a home and a ready-made meal for their offspring. To prevent them getting at my leaf greens, a net support above the brassicas will keep them from this ideal spot to lay their clusters of eggs. These frustrated butterflies can smell the brassicas but can't get at them and fly off in disgust to find another home for these offspring. Make sure no leaves are touching the net or they will still manage to lay their eggs and the emerging caterpillars will be at home in this protected area.
I was reading last week about an allotment holder who had won many millions on the lottery and was still growing his own vegetables. It only goes to show that money can't buy everything and the pleasures of growing vegetables exceeds all that money can buy. What a heart-warming story, but it comes as no surprise to happy gardeners that the best things in life are free!
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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.