When crops are ready they need to be harvested quickly and this is particularly important where beans are concerned. Leave a bean on the vine and it soon gets tough and is no good for the 'pot'. Left on the plant it does what it is designed to do and produces seeds. This results in the plant putting all its energies into seed production and ceasing to produce those tender, young beans we so enjoy. So a daily rummage amongst the dense foliage is necessary to prevent these old beans forming.
The same can be said of the courgettes. Pick them small and young and the plant continues in its quest of producing more and more courgettes. Miss one amongst the foliage and a large marrow will be formed. Many of the young tender ones will shrivel and die as the plant concentrates all its efforts on feeding the large one.
So the daily walk about the plot involves lots of seek and search techniques but the rewards are bountiful harvests of young, tasty food.
This harvesting regime leaves less time for those not-so-attractive chores of weeding and digging. But don't ignore the weed seedlings that quickly colonise these empty spaces, as they will soon run riot. Attack these newly-emerging young weeds with the hoe before they start their quest to set more seeds.
This period of crop collection brings many surpluses of food and, while some can be stored or frozen, much has to be used swiftly. This then becomes a period when allotmenteers can share their excess crops and many transactions occur where crops are swapped with others. Despite the size of a full-sized allotment, it is not possible to grow the complete range of vegetables that are available. The majority of the plot is used for my favourite vegetables but, like most allotmenteers, I like to try a few unusual ones. These unusual vegetables are often shared with your fellow plot holders making this a good time to experience some new tastes during meal times. If they are to your liking then these packets of seeds may be on your shopping list for next year. If they are not among your favourites then they will be tasted but never seen again. This is the advantage of being a gardener on an allotment you often get access to a wide range of vegetables but always grown by your own fair hand, or someone else's.
While rummaging among the crops to find the harvests, keep a look out for pests and most importantly for those insects that our allies. This is the time of year when pests have access to plenty of feeding places and rapidly increase their populations. But, as the food source grows for our allies, so these grow in population too. Among these allies one of the most voracious aphid eaters, the lady bird, will appear. This odd-looking beetle-type insect is a beautiful creature with its bright red body and predominant black spots. The adult are easy to identify but its larvae are not so attractive and can be easily confused with a pest. These grey crocodile-looking larvae with a mottled effect are not as pretty as the adults but nevertheless their total diet is the aphid which it consumes in large amounts. For about three weeks they scoff large quantities of these sap-sucking aphids before changing into the beautiful adults and continuing their aphid-eating days.
Beware though, as there is an invasive species of this insect in our midst - the harlequin lady bird has arrived from Europe and this feeds on our native one. Watch out for this larger species with a large area of black on its body. Why is it that nature introduces an alien to our normal quiet garden and this preys on our tranquil allies? Is this an indication that our climate is changing?
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.