May 9

The third year of no-mow May

I have a small patch of grass that I look after outside my house that doesn’t belong to me but I have cut it for the last 22 years. Three years ago I heard about no-mow May and decided that would be what I would do with it. I do cut around the outside of the patch so that it looks ‘gardened’ and not just abandoned as we have had people park their cars on it before.

This year I have looked at the range of plants/weeds growing in it just to try and get some idea of the variety, so here it is.

In the section of grass that has only been left for one year we have a much smaller range of plants: only two types of grass and Cat’s ear so length of time does increase diversity.

If you know what any of these are – especially the ones I have not named – do let me know.

May 8

The wildlife plot April 2023

April is a time of showers and sunshine, sometimes quite windy and sometimes warmer, others colder. I think we had it all this April and the wildlife responded to it by being visible sometimes and not others. Probably as it should be at this time of year. We did have some sightings of insects I have not really been aware of before and some old friends back again such as this buff tailed bumble bee on the grape hyacinth. I love how furry they look.

This month they have also been on the Skimmia, Lithodora and the early geraniums when it has been sunny. They are always the first bumble bees that I see and the most prolific on the plot.

The newcomer, to me, was the Hawthorn fly. There were swarms of them on the plot and down the path between the wildlife plot and my plot and are quite distinctive. They are all black and hover, settling occasionally on flowers and then darting away (very difficult to photograph) and have long legs that drag behind them as they fly and hover. These give them quite a distinctive shape in the air.

The first photo is a little bit blurry but I have included it so that you can see the long back legs. Here they are settled on one of Dave’s brassicas that he has left to flower. Leaving your veg to flower is a really easy way to invite wildlife onto your plot. Hawthorn flies are particularly keen on hawthorn (!) which is in the hedge at the back of the allotment plot, but are also very good pollinators of fruit trees, apples, cherries and some pears which are in full blossom now. With the planting of the native hedging around the plots a couple of years ago, we should be seeing more of these over the next few years if it is allowed to flower.

I think the one in the photo must be a male because it has a large head and large eyes. Apparently the female has a small head and tiny eyes.

All the blogs that I have read about these flies suggests that they are normally seen around the 25th of April – I think we started to see them about the 20th – and they live for about a week. They are certainly not around as I write this. Strong winds can blow them over rivers and streams and this causes fish that feed on floating insects to rise and this is why fish hooks are made to look like them. No trout or grayling in the pond though.

The next thing I found on the plot was a moth sheltering in a patch where I had left weeds to grow – a good enough reason to leave small patches of weeds in out of the way places on our plots. I have no idea what it is and I can’t identify it online so will ask in the moth facebook group. (Update: Someone on the allotment Facebook group identified the moth as a Silver Y – yes it has little white Ys on its wings.) I do, however, know ladybirds and the sunshine brings them out from the cracks and crevices of the manure spread on my veg plot.

And finally, the holly blue which do not just like holly but also like dogwoods, Spindle and Bramble all of which we have on the plot.

What have you seen lately?

May 6

How do I know when it is ready to prick out/transplant/plant out?

We get the best of questions on our veg course at the allotments because we take so much for granted. One of the excellent things about working with adults is that they will ask the questions around the areas that you don’t explain. It is a really good question. Over time, experience will tell you that the plant is too small, too big or just right for the size of container you are growing it in. But, there are other things that you can judge by.

Roots and size of plant.

We sow the majority of our seedlings in modules for a variety of reasons. We know a plant is ready to go out when we start to see the roots coming out of the bottom of the modules.

The celariac below is just about right and ready to be planted out. Look at the size of the plants, the amount of roots coming out and when I pop one of the modules out, the roots in the compost. The plants are not touching each other and you can still see the sides of the modules unlike the lettuce seedlings in the previous pictures.

So, what about vegetables grown in pots? Well, the same principles can be used. Below is one of my tomato plants that could be planted out in my polytunnel now. It is a reasonable size in the pot and the roots are just starting to peep out of the drainage holes.

And finally. How do we know when to prick out seedlings?

Well, here the smaller the better. They only need their seed leaves. This means that their roots are not too big and difficult to get ino the holes we dib for them, we are also less likely to tear the roots as we tease them out. This will all reduce the transplant shock.

Brussel sprout seedlings ready to be pricked out. They are not big!

But don’t just take my word for it. In this article by Charles Dowding, scroll down and you will see a section on transplanting. Charles seems to judge his by the amount of time they have been in the modules – about 4 weeks. Dates on your plant labels help here. He is also trialling planting out when the plants are even smaller this year to see if that has an impact on growth. Tricky with all this rain and not too much sunshine.

Keep on asking those questions.