Sowing early potatoes this time last year
Experienced allotmenteer Dave Fox will explain what's happening on his allotment as the growing season progresses. Get stuck in as we sow, nurture, harvest and eat.
Prepare seed beds. Sow some of potatoes, parsnips, onions, broad beans. Weeding. Look round the forest garden and do the final pruning of the fruit trees. Take produce home with you (please bring bags). Expect rhubarb, potatoes & greens, at least.
Sessions are limited to six people on a first come, first served basis. There is no charge. Please contact us to confirm your attendance. Note: If the weather forecast is very wet, please get in touch on the evening beforehand and we will reschedule.
Come dressed suitably for the weather and expect to get your hands dirty! It can be cold and windy on the exposed allotment site and it's also possible to get sunburnt (well maybe not in March) so please wear appropriate clothing and maybe a hat. Stout boots or wellies are the best choice of footwear. Tools and gardening gloves will be provided.
If you would like us to cover something specific, please tell Dave in advance.
Please follow these directions to Trumpington allotments.
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No GYO sessions were held because I was very poorly. Getting better now
Mulch destined for the forest garden.
Preparing to prune a two-year old apple tree
Harvesting and clearing climbing beans
Mature celeriac interplanted with spring cabbage seedlings
Pruning pear tree
Harvest of marrows and winter squash
Adding mulch in the Forest Garden
Moving leafmould to the Forest Garden
Planting fruit trees
Sowing broad beans
Prizewinning veg at the Cambridge Food, Garden and Produce Festival, Sept 17/18 2011
We cut the comfrey for the last time this year, adding the leaves to the mulch beds and a large bin to make liquid feed. We could cut and use the leaves yet again in a month or so, but the plants will grow stronger and earlier next season if we allow them to regrow then die back naturally. Let's not be too greedy.
The mulch beds have proved to be a real labour-saver! Composting in-situ requires much less barrowing of weeds back and forth to a compost bin. The only real disadvantage seems to be that slugs and snails love the mulch - it's cooler and moister. Trying to regard this problem as a solution, I've found that it's now easy to locate those pesky molluscs during a midnight hunt.
The 'Bedfordshire Prize' cucumbers are growing well, trained up canes to save space and keep the fruit off the ground. Ceri brought several more varieties of cucumber to show us.
Four varieties of cucumber
We tied up the cordon (indeterminate) tomato plants, and saw the difference between these and bush (determine) varieties. There are pros and cons of the two types. Cordon tomatoes require much care (staking, removal of side shoots, and eventually removal of the growing tip) but they yield clean fruit with no pest damage. Bush tomatoes need little care and crop early, but the ripening fruit tends to suffer in damp weather, from slugs, snails and soil-splash.
We dug lots of potatoes. Picasso look great but Marfona are scabby this year: I've never seen it so bad. I did not use manure at planting time (I'm scared of a repeat of the aminopyralid weedkiller contamination) which would have increased acidity and reduced scab. What else could we use to create a more acid growing environment for the spuds?
We weeded a bed of Brussels sprouts, which hopefully will form part of Christmas dinner.
Weeding the Brussels sprouts
We cut comfrey green manure, station-sowed fennel with radish between to mark the rows, and dug some potatoes.
We looked at examples of succession cropping: calabrese seedlings planted in the gaps amongst over-wintered onions, and tomatoes and peppers planted amongst maturing spring cabbages. This technique saves space and confuses pests. Lettuces planted amongst strawberries did not fare so well, possibly I got the timing wrong.
I have plenty of green leaf coriander this year, without sowing any - it self-seeded over the last two years. I also have Swiss chard which sowed itself, slightly inconveniently, amongst the maincrop onions. I'm harvesting chard leaves frequently to stop them shading the onions. Overall, a relaxed attitude to seeding crop plants is yielding plenty of freebies! It helps to be able to identify the seedlings of course.
We hoed between the rows of potatoes and earthed them up. Unusually the hard frost in mid-May destroyed four potato plants in one bed, the seed tuber having completely rotted away. The other potatoes are OK though: the foliage was lost, but the tubers underground are sound with good root growth and new leaves are already growing well, so there'll be a crop. There's a lot of energy stored in a seed potato tuber.
'Lazy' gardeners who planted their potatoes later and missed that frost may get an earlier/larger crop. There is no justice.
We replaced the lost potatoes with early bush tomatoes, another solanum for rotation purposes. We'll see how that works out: I've never needed to fill in gaps in my rows of potatoes before!
We took a look at Fiona's plot, a quarter-sized allotment itself neatly divided into four beds. See photo.
Lastly we took a quick look in the (rather warm) community polytunnel. Early carrots have been the best crop so far. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and aubergines are all growing well, but I'm concerned at the lack of pollinating insects. I'm growing flowers in pots to position near the polytunnel doors, hoping that will attract the bees inside.
We planted "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes. Ordinarily we'd add comfrey leaves, but all of this useful green manure was cut and used during the permaculture course practical session last weekend. It will grow back very quickly though.
Then we made a sheet mulch on an area about 4 metres square using layers (from the bottom upwards) of compost, cardboard x 3, soil conditioner, and dry weeds. My intention was to suppress weed growth and add fertility, with a view to planting next year, but we planted a row of potatoes direct into the mulch immediately to see how this works out. 3 layers of dry cardboard is pretty tough to cut through - use a suitable tool when trying this again!
We also sowed dwarf french beans in a new bed, and took a look at established crops of lettuce, strawberries and parnips.
Some of the over-wintered onions look poorly with some drooping, yellowing leaves: I suspect white-rot, having had much trouble with this over the years, but on inspecting the roots of one plant there's no direct evidence yet. I've got an anti white-rot experiment ongoing: an infected bed has been carefully watered with 'soup' made from unused leeks, hoping to fool the spores into germinating in the absence of any live host allium plant.
In the community polytunnel we planted out aubergines and sweet peppers in grow-bags.
We saw that the earlier sowings or parsnip, radish and lettuce have germinated.
We then sowed beetroot, carrot & onion sets.
We also fed the top fruit (pears, medlar, quince) by spreading two natural fertilisers around the base of the trunks. First wood ash, saved dry under an impermeable sheet after a winter bonfire, was added for its soluble potassium content which is needed for flowering and fruiting. Then well-rotted pony manure was added, a general fertiliser which also helps to retain moisture.
After a break we had a look round the community polytunnel, and planted the first tomatoes.
Sowing onion sets and carrot seed
We discussed whether to dig or not to dig - this allotment is being converted to no-dig beds after a decade or so of back-breaking digging! We had a look at the compost bins which I'm rebuilding behind the shed. The compost heap will be smaller because most weeds are now used to mulch (cover) the narrow beds. Mulching conserves nutrients in the soil while inhibiting further weed growth, plus it eliminates the need to move the weeds to the composting area - now I just throw them on the nearest mulch bed. Easy!
We discussed autumn and summer raspberries, and pruned back an old bed of 'Autumn Bliss' which is just showing signs of new growth (ideally this job would have been done a month earlier).
We sowed a bed with alternating blocks of red and green lettuce - hopefully that will be pretty and productive. As these early lettuces are harvested during May and June, I intend to interplant with courgettes or squash.
Another bed was sown with parsnips with radishes intersown: the fast-growing radishes will mark the location of the slow-germinating parsnips, as well as providing a useful mini-crop themselves. In the neighbouring bed all the old parsnips were harvested. These biennials want to make seed in the second year, so they develop a hard core as they convert sugars to lignin (thanks Helen!) and build their flower spike. Therefore parsnips are less sweet at this time of year, but are still usable if you quarter them and cut out the core before cooking.
That bed was immediately planted up with 'Lady Crystl' early salad potatoes which had been carefully chitted, rose-end upwards in egg trays by the window of the outhouse.
My new rotation plan is taking shape: potatoes follow parsnips, which are preceded by lettuce/curcubits. The permanent narrow bed system allows different crop types to be grown in close proximity, in contrast to the traditional 3- or 4-way rotation of large blocks of crop types. We'll see how well that works out...
Pruning autumn raspberries and cutting up the stems for composting