Confession time, this has not been my best allotment year. The adjustment to the bigger plot, three months without my hardworking sidekick (Jillian, Destroyer of all Weeds) was tough just at the point that I should have been thinking about Spring planting, and the mysterious case of the beetroots that won’t grow have all contributed to less than bountiful harvests. We did get broad beans and mange tout (and irises, finally), the rose garden/pond area and the flower bed are beautiful and we did really well with the self seeded ‘wildflower’ area. But summer crops have been weird, we’re in August and I’ve had seven courgettes, seven crookneck squash and no patty pans. I did get my first tomato, on my birthday no less but even the toms are behind. My succession planting has been woeful and I feel like all I’ve done is watering, weeding and fretting about how not well I’m doing.
All of this is a distortion of the actual situation. The plot looks good, I had a decent crop of blueberries and pears, I have 14 half litre jars of rhubarb compote in the cupboard (Ma has 9 tubs in the freezer and there are three rhubarb crumbles ready to go in my freezer!), the gooseberries did die (mildew) but we know this is an issue with these gooseberries, I’m beginning to think we should be treating them as an every three year crop, but we have a plan to move them in the autumn, which should help. The summer raspberries weren’t good but we sort of knew that might be an issue and have made a decision to pivot to autumn raspberries anyway. We did have good crops of mange tout and broad beans, there have been some beetroot, the carrots have been amazing (even Ma is coming around to eating my carroty favourites!), as the 32-ish pots of pesto spread between mine and my mum’s freezer will testify. I’ve officially stopped making it for the year. There are three beds of tomatoes that are starting to come ripe, the french beans are about to start and there are cucumbers starting too, so while I’m not drowning in produce, we have a bit and that’s good enough.
If my summer planning was rubbish, my autumn planning has been great, because I cheated and ordered in plants! I have no regrets, sometimes you have to know what you can do and fudge the rest. I have two beds (about 35 in total) of really good looking leeks, two beds of cauliflowers (so far they are producing very small heads!), 20 kale plants that are all thriving and I have two orders of cabbages (20 in total coming for Oct to April harvesting). The chard we sowed is finally coming up so hopefully that will be another crop I can add to winter eating.
If I can find some time, I still have hopes of florence fennel, pak choi and swede this month as well as extra coriander in September.
My real ‘triumph’ this year has been the squash. Right now, in the first bed, I count about 15 uchiki kuri, a burgess buttercup (first viable bb I’ve managed to grow!), a crown prince (maybe it could be a cross), at least four butternuts and a pumpkin or two. I’ve also learnt a lesson about how I shouldn’t plant, fast winter squash like uchiki kuri with slow ones like butternuts in the same bed. The kuris are nearly done and the butternuts are having a growth spurt! In the second bed I have about three burgess buttercups and about four georgia candy roasters, I love these squash, while I do want to grow winter squash that are more manageable for our one person households, I like big squash and I cannot lie!
We should be well provisioned with storage squash for winter.
One of the interesting things about this allotment year is how willing we are to change stuff, the plans for next year involve moving beds about on the new half and after some discussion this year, dividing the squash beds. Ma finds these beds too wide to weed and I struggle. Bindweed is a real issue on the new half, sure we have it on the old half but only in patches and it is one of the reasons that we’re moving the gooseberries, but it’s everywhere in the new half (the paths, the gardens and all of the raised beds). We had a plan to raise the height of the beds this year, in the hope that the extra layer of compost would stop it coming up but we do need to get in and pull up the stuff that is persistent. For the paths, we’ll do what we did at the bottom, woodchip and weeding, it’ll be a bit more work because we don’t want to use weed fabric but it works and it helps condition the heavy clay soil.
So on the work list for autumn is moving the compost area to the back and creating a ‘weed’ compost bin, raising all of the new beds I built this year up a plank, and filling with compost, dividing one of the squash beds in half lengthwise and putting arches in between the beds for the squash to grow up, dividing the second squash bed into three and maybe adding an extra bed or two where the compost area currently is, moving the two beds next to the garden area to make way for a patio, re-locating the blackcurrants, moving the bed they are in and planting yellow raspberries in it, getting rid of the summer raspberries and planting more autumn raspberries there (I know it’s not advised but I’m doing it anyway), moving the gooseberry bushes into a bed and thoroughly digging out as much bindweed as possible then manuring the area and planting a two new rhubarb crowns, one from Dionne and one from one of ours that needs splitting. I don’t think it’ll all be done this winter. But it’s interesting to me, how much more willing I am to change structure and how much more willing Ma is to suggest it. We are more confident about what we need the plot to be so we can grow the way we need to!
So this month is our month, there are many tomato and toast dinners in my future, if I can just keep up with the water and the weeds!