August 9

Six reasons to take leaves off fruit and veg

Phew, it is hot. Again! And absolutely no rain in these parts for all of July and now 9 days into August. I don’t water my garden and it is yellow (the grass) and droopy (the plants) and I may have some losses this winter but if they can’t survive this weather, I can’t really grow them as this will not be the last time we have this heat and drought.

The veg plots, however, I do water – you have to grow food if you have planted it. I watched Charles Dowding’s film about taking leaves off plants and thought how useful it was.

To summarise, here are the six reasons for removing leaves:

  1. To harvest. This happens with plants like lettuce, kale and spinach where the leaves are the harvest that we are after. Taking some off each plant and leaving the growing leaves – those at the heart of the plant – is a sustainable way to harvest and means the plant keeps on growing, producing more leaves for you.
  2. To remove dead and dying leaves. These are slug fodder and so removing these helps keep the growing area free of slugs and snails meaning less damage to your veg.
  3. To allow the sun to get to the fruit. This is particularly useful for fruit that needs the sun to ripen such as melons, squash and tomatoes.
  4. Allow for better air circulation. Tomato plants can get very leafy and then trap moisture around the leaves and then get blight, a disease carried in the air at certain humidity and temperatures. One way to reduce this is to reduce the number of leaves and this ca be done by taking away the bottom ones up to the truss that is ripening. They look at bit bare at the bottom with all the leaves at the top but those are the growing one. I do this for cucumbers as well.
  5. Reduced leaves around the root area allows for easier watering. As the leaves are not present to provide shading and keep the moisture in the soil, good mulching is required.
  6. It allows you to observe your plants and interact with them. It reveals the weeds (!) and means that you can pull them out, reducing competition for resources and preventing them seeding. When I pulled the lower leaves away on my cabbages, which are under fleece, I realised that they were underwatered and so did something about it.

I am just waiting for the melons to ripen now. How about you?

July 22

Why we mulch – reason no.1

I write this in the heatwave where several places in Britain reached 40°C today. Down at the allotment the jobs have been water, water, water, pick and repeat. Now is the time when I am really appreciating all the mulch I have used. See this post here for the compost I am using as mulch.

If you don’t mulch, the water just creates a run off and the path (and weeds) get a good watering but not the plant. You can see it in the photo and it means that every time I water, the water will just run off the soil on this pathway.

You can see a thin layer of mulch and then the sandier soil and stones under it on the run-off path.

However, if you mulch thickly, the mulch absorbs the water and traps it underneath, providing water to the plant and no where else!

Watch a short video of newly planted red cabbage (Kalibos) being watered with a whole watering can of water and no run-off at all. This was the second can on that patch and will last the plants up to a week depending on the sunshine and wind meaning I can spend more time picking.

Water, water, pick, pick.

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July 13

The Treeline: The last forest and the future of life on earth by Ben Rawlence

The trees are on the move. They shouldn’t be.

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This is a book that looks at the visible elements of global warming by visiting the boreal forest or the treeline which is the growing limit of trees in cold areas. In some places this line is a couple of metres thick and in others it is kilometers. The boreal forest is the less sexy of the forests – think of the attention on the Amazon rainforest but is the true lung of the world.

. . . the boreal is the planetary engine regulating patterns of wind, rainfall, climate and ocean circulation in the northern hemisphere.

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Only a small number of trees make up the treeline – 3 conifers and 3 broadleaves all of which have evolved to withstand the cold. The Scots pine in Scotland, Spruce in Alaska, birch in Scandinavia, larch in Siberia and, to a lesser extent, poplar in Canada and Rowan in Greenland. But as the book makes clear, we also evolved from the forest landscapes – think of our opposable thumbs – and so it is not just the trees that are losing their way of lives but also the people who live and work in these cold lands. For example, the Sami in Finland and Russia where there is less and less space for the reindeer to roam as the ice disappears or doesn’t appear. The languages, cultures and traditions are being clung on to but many have developed other lives in conurbations rather than spending their time out on the snow and ice.

The book argues that we are between times. There is the past where we discovered how we came to be and how we fit into the grand scheme. We haven’t yet worked out how to be in the now or in the future where the past does not fit and this is unsettling

Rawlence’s solution is to reconnect with nature, in particular move to forest school for everything where nature is the classroom. He believes we need to become entangled with other living things to see their value to the planet and to ourselves so that we are thinking like a forest and can not cut down the trees or continue with global warming. If we think of other cultures who are entangled with other living things, not necessarily those connected to boreal forests such as the aborigines in Australia or the tribes that live in the rainforest, their respect and use of the land and animals is very different to ours. They take what they need, have respect for the land and all living things where we take what we want with no seeming end to it and see ourselves as the top of the pyramid of living things. As I sit and write this review in the second heatwave of the year and it is only the start of July, I wonder how long it will take us to get to that point and what crisis will deliver us there.

July 10

Compost for seed sowing part 2

I have started a compost for seed sowing trial as I haven’t been happy with seed germination this year. This is my second post regarding the compost so you can see part 1 about how I set it up here.

The seeds have started to germinate and it is interesting to see what has happened because the composts are not all equal.

The seeds in the Westland (pic 1) and Gardener’s (pic 2) compost germinated first and so are slightly bigger than the Sylvagrow (pic 3) and Jack’s Magic (pic 4). The PSB are up as are the chard seeds but in all the composts the chicory has not yet germinated. If my memory serves me correctly, chicory can take a little longer to germinate and it may be a bit too hot at the moment. 28 degrees C in the shade today so much hotter in the greenhouse.

The beans are a no-show at the moment but one is visible in the Gardener’s compost. And finally, the Geums.

They are all doing well but the second picture shows the Sylvagrow multipurpose compost and it dries out quicker than all the other composts and in this hot weather needs two waterings a day. The water also runs out of the pots much more when watering, suggesting that it is not being held onto by the compost. I would say that if I use this compost I will need to put trays underneath to hold onto the water that runs out and allow it to be absorbed throughout the day.

I’ll check in again when I transplant the seedlings which if they continue the same way that they are will not all be on the same day.

July 4

Compost for seed sowing

Sticks thicker than a Sharpie.

I haven’t been pleased with the seed germination rates this year and have also been a little less than positive about the compost I have been using so thought I would undertake a seed sowing trial of composts to see which is the best.

I normally buy Jack’s Magic compost which this year is a new and improved formula. I applaud them for removing the peat but you can’t just add sticks instead. They need to be more composted before they are used. (See photo for one of the sticks found when sowing seeds in the trial.)

I have chosen three types of compost available from Garden Centres where I live and I have bought new packets of seed so that I can be a little more sure that my failures are not just due to older seed.

The Composts

My first is Westland’s Gardener’s Multipurpose Compost which states quite clearly on the front that it has peat in it. I don’t normally choose composts with peat but this is what is available locally so I thought I had just one compost with peat – about 70% judging by the back of the bag. However, meet compost number 2

This bag from Westland of multipurpose compost says nothing about having peat in it. It is only when you turn it over that you see it has about 45% peat in it. I really only wanted one with peat so I should have read what was in it before I bought it.

The third compost is Sylvagrow multipurpose compost which is quite different in texture – almost like flakes rather than fibres. I have used this before and didn’t think it had enough nutrients in it but I am giving it a second go.

The seeds I have are ones I haven’t grown before in terms of variety. Chard – Fire Fresh F1. I have never grown an F1 chard and am not sure that it is necessary but it will be interesting to see how it differs from open pollinated chard. Then there is a chicory – Treviso – as my seeds of this have failed so far along with PSB Rudolph whose seeds I already had unopened but due to expire in September 22. And finally, some dwarf french beans as my first lot I planted over an ants nest. These are called Mistick. All are from Thompson and Morgan apart from Rudolph which is Kings. I sowed the chicory, PSB and chard into a tray and the beans into modules. I also had six plug plants of ‘Totally Tangerine’ Geum which I potted up in the composts to see how they do. Each compost had one strong plant and one that was a bit weaker.

See how the composts differed when the seeds germinated here.

June 29

Gardening book club

A little while ago I went with a friend to her gardening book club. I didn’t know such things existed and of course they are right up my street. Discussing books and gardening. What’s not to love?

We read and discussed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of seasonal eating by Barbara Kingsolver, a book that has been out for a little while but felt quite prescient in today’s times especially if you grow it yourself. I absolutely loved it – and of course the tea and cake – and thought that I would like to join just such a group. I have looked around locally and online and can’t find anything at all like it and being a member of a large allotment association I wondered if it would be a good thing to have on our sites. The only thing is, I would have to set it up and run it and would it be more hassle than it was worth?

We could have it as an in-person group where we meet on either of our local sites in the sheds or on plots in the good weather or we could hold it online and discuss the book in our facebook group or on some other site we set up for that purpose. Or, we could have a meeting and discuss it online so that everyone has access to the discussion.

The other issue is about being able to buy the book. These days I don’t think we can assume that everyone can afford to do so. We don’t want to limit ourselves to books that you can get in the library because good as they are, the gardening section in our local library is not always the most up to date selection. I did wonder whether the allotment association would buy one copy of each book we discuss and then people could borrow it for a week, read it and then pass it on to the next person. It would also mean that the allotments start to build up their own small library of gardening related books.

Oh, what to do?

June 2

The wildlife plot in May 2022

May is possibly the best month for the plants in the wildlife garden. They are all types of green, there is enough moisture to plump them out and start them of growing and it can be quite warm and sunny. Below are some of my favourite photos of the plot this month.

First up is the mint moth. I found it sitting on a Nepeta (catmint) leaf in the sunshine. It is tiny and flies in sunshine and at night and can apparently often be found sitting on mint leaves – I planted a lot more catmints last year so they have done their job.

Mint moth on catmint.

One of the best places at this time of the year is the path behind the shed. It is like a glade with some sunshine but deep shade later on in the day. In the afternoon, the plants seem to glow and if you sit and listen you can hear the birds pecking through the undergrowth. You can see the difference in growth from the 2nd and 3rd photos taken at the start of the month to the 4th which was taken at the end of the month.

It has also been the month of butterflies. There have been the whites and painted ladies but also Speckled Woods.

The Tree Mallow has been in flower all month. It has taken two years to get to this size and the bees and other insects have loved it, including Asian Ladybirds. These pictures are of one of the flowers and a bee covered in pollen and trying to sort itself out.

Finally, we have the chairs in the beds. They are not for sitting on because they have broken. They are here to rot away decoratively and provide some of that man made environment that wildlife has become so adapted to. There is also an old wheelbarrow leaning on the apple tree as if the gardener has forgotten it.

Leaving these elements in the beds is all part of the Permaculture principle of creating no waste. Things aren’t waste if they can be used aesthetically in a flower bed. No trips to the recycling centre and no fires to burn the wood.

May 24

6 ways to make an allotment wildlife friendly

Some people who are new to the allotments stopped and chatted to me when I was in the wildlife garden last week and said they wanted to do more for wildlife on their plot but didn’t have the space. Quite rightly, our committee are only giving out half plots at present because the waiting list is so long and then if you want another half, you can ask.

The wildlife plot is run as a garden so not everything that is on there can be used on half a plot and as the couple said to me, now that they have started to plant their veg, they realise that they have very little space left to make it wildlife friendly. So, this post is in answer to their question about what would be the best thing to do.

  1. If you haven’t got any, plant fruit trees, bushes and plants. The blossom on these is early in the year and is loved by pollinators. Be clever and use your space wisely – planting around the edges, espaliering trees so that they take up the least amount of space. Here are my pink flowered strawberries and a step-over blackberry.

2. Underplant the fruit with flowers that attract pollinators. If you are lucky some will self-seed and before you know it you have lots of flowers. Sometimes I plant in between as well, so my strawberry plants are interplanted with Verbena bonariensis and roses. There is a braeburn apple tree in the last picture, honest!

3. Grow herbs which will be delicious with the fruit and veg you are growing but can also be allowed to flower and provide for all sorts of insects. Chives, rosemary and mint all flower and are loved by pollinators.

Chives flowering under the cherry tree.

4. Leave one of each veg to bolt and flower and then go to seed. This doesn’t take up too much space but provides variety for the insects. For a lot of veg, this will happen in the second year not the year you planted them.

5. Water is an essential element for wildlife but you don’t have to have a pond. I have a metal dish I found on the plot, weighed it down with a stone and keep a bit of water in it.

6. Grow a bit of comfrey – just one or two plants – near a compost heap or in a tucked away space. The cut leaves make a good feed for plants when soaked in water (if a little smelly), can be added to compost heaps to speed up the process and are loved by bees. What’s not to like? It is a really useful plant. Ask around to see if anyone has any roots. You want Bocking 14 which is a sterile plant and will not self-seed. If you get the sort that self-seeds it will take over the plot!

7. Finally, if you ever have any ground that is left waiting for some veg, sow a green manure which will improve the soil and may flower and attract bees and hoverflies. I use phacelia which flowers at the end of April and in May before I plant my brassicas which will probably go in the ground in June. The patch of flowers thrums with insects all day long.

All of these ideas should be secondary to the fruit and veg you grow so plan those first and fit these ideas in afterwards.

May 23

Making compost where you need it

Each autumn I start to run out of space in my compost bins and so make it on the beds. I choose one which needs a bit of oomph and pin down a wire basket. The beds that I put them on this time had had rhubarb on them for about 15 years and I have removed it because they harbour slugs which then crawled out from under the leaves and decimated whatever else I had planted in the bed.

I then fill up the bin which doesn’t take long at that time of year as the summer crops are being removed. I do layer with green, brown and manure, watering in between each layer just because I want this to rot down quickly. The bin was full in November but reduces down to about half 5 – 6 months later. There is usually plenty of nettles and comfrey which act as compost activator and help speed the process up. I don’t chop things up so I am sure if I did that it would be quicker and not quite so rough but I just don’t have the time at the point when I am building them.

Yesterday, I lifted the cage off the compost and spread it out over the bed. it took 5 minutes and there was no wheelbarrowing the compost from one part of the plot to another so was quick and easy. The compost is fairly rough and ready but does the job. I then planted squash plants – some of which have already been chewed by slugs!