With fathers day in mind I remember my kids saying to me 'be cool dad'! I often wondered what that meant but last week I found out what those words meant to me. I arrived at the allotments on an early June morning and it was indeed 'cool', it was barely eight degrees Centigrade on my hillside allotments. Although the temperature soon began to rise as the sun peered over the mountain and shone on my plot, there was a cool easterly wind coming down the valley and this is rare occurrence at this time of year. Had I not checked the calendar I would not have been surprised to have seen a snow flake or two floating around in the air.
These cool conditions suit some of the crops and the potatoes and cabbages are happy in it, but other inhabitants of my plot are far from content. The foliage of my rapidly-growing sweet peas is more than happy but on close inspection there is a high degree of bud drop. These cold night temperatures are fooling the plants into not making flowers and so the buds just fall off. This is not good for my plan to pick large bunches of highly scented blooms to present to my wife when I am late home after an extended period of watering on the plot.
A glance around the onion bed also reveals the stress this wide variation in temperatures is having on my swelling onions. Here and there amongst the rows I spot a seed head forming at the top of the spiky foliage of these crops. This is a sure sign that the onions are not a happy lot and they have changed their preferred quest of making big onion bulbs by using its energy to produce seed heads. Nip these seed heads out as soon as they are spotted and a smaller onion may survive and be of some use in the kitchen.
The direction of the prevailing wind is a disadvantage for the west side of the country. This wind, having travelled over most of the country, is very dry and steals the moisture from my soil. The watering can is back in action! At this time of the year I normally benefit from a westerly wind coming off of the Atlantic and it is usually laden with lots of moisture which deposits plenty of showers on my hill side. The other upside is that it is warmer.
With Wimbledon underway this makes my mind wander to those favourites of strawberries and cream. True to form, my plants are turning out a crop of these red, juicy berries right on schedule. It is not only me who enjoys the pleasures of this tasty crop, there, lurking in my hedgerows, are the birds led mainly by the blackbird. So to ensure only I have the benefit of my crop, some hastily-erected protection is needed. A few lengths of plastic water pipe bent into arcs and pushed in the ground supports the fine mesh netting that is draped over it. Just a tip for anyone using fine netting, don’t try using it while wearing a shirt with buttons up the front. This netting seems to catch around each and every button and it is one devil of a job to release it. A simple job takes an age and is most frustrating when being spied on from the hedgerows by those waiting birds!
I read that the humble mole had top billing in many newspapers last week. Apparently its population has soared to over forty million. Who counts these? This burrowing little 'cutie' is causing farmers and commercial growers a lot of grief up and down the country. Their large molehills and constant tunnelling is damaging crops and making pasture land unsuitable for grazing. This rarely-seen little creature works diligently beneath the surface of the soil seeking out its food source. Fortunately there are none in close proximity to my allotments but I remember as a lad going to the fields and collecting buckets of this finely broken-up soil for my father to grow his chrysanthemums in. This was the equivalent to the John Innes of the 1960s and, more importantly, it was free!
Every creature has a role in the life of a gardener although sometimes it is not seen as beneficial. I am told there are even some slugs that carry out a useful function in the garden but to date I have failed to spot that use.
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.