Thursday, September 24, 2020
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Anne’s Patch: The waiting game

The digging’s been done, and by gum there’s been a lot of digging, rotavating, forking and more digging. That’s clay soil for you, writes Anne Akers.

It’s a very dry spring and all that soil preparation has been hard, dusty work.

On the upside,  weeding has been easy. Weeds are always best dealt with when they are tiny two-leaved barely-rooted affairs, which can be easily hoed. Slugs and snails aren’t too keen on these dry conditions, fortunately for them, not so much for us, the rains have arrived and it’s been slug city.

Slugs and snails are the bane of the gardener’s life, munching their way through the fleshy stalks and leaves of our favourite flowers and vegetables.

Advice on how to get rid of them is abundant, but sadly there is little evidence that the favourite beer traps, copper bands, egg shells and other non-toxic solutions work, says the Royal Horticultural Society.

Pellets work, organic pellets less so, and nematodes do the job, though they are eye-wateringly expensive. You can plant the equivalent of slug caviar, like marigolds, their favourite to munch. The idea is they fill their little sluggy bellies with so much marigold that they can’t face your lettuce and brassicas. You can also encourage slug-eaters like toads, frogs, hedgehogs and some birds.

June is the time for lots of growing and some harvesting. Asparagus has already been cut, those weird-looking spears, which require a sharp knife to harvest. Some gooseberries are also ripe, though I’m leaving mine a while. They’ll go straight to jamming, I may spare a few for crumble.

I’ve cut a few lettuce which I started off in the greenhouse and have already planted more. I’ve learned from previous years that it’s best to plant little and often, which isn’t easy when the seed is not much bigger than dust.

Netting remains a firm feature on the lot, covering the growing sprouts, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage. Wood pigeons love to nibble on brassica tops, as well as stamping over the smaller plants with their huge feet. Of course the nets won’t keep out mice, who love peas, or butterfly, whose caterpillars like to chomp their way through all that greenery. You can get powers and poisons to get rid of them, but personally I don’t like to, I just pick them off, or accept that I’m sharing with them.

Now that there’s no chance of any frost, it’s time to plant out tomatoes, sweetcorn, squash. After a very warm, sunny May, we had frost, which nipped the tops of any potatoes that were showing leaves, there were a few tears on the allotment that day, I can tell you. Apart from Irish Jim, he’s a very experienced potato grower and wouldn’t dream of planting his potatoes until the risk of frost is over. Our potatoes have recovered, though, we were lucky. There’s the lesson for next year, don’t plant too early!

While everyone’s looking forward to summer and whatever form of holiday we can enjoy, allotmenteers are thinking of autumn and winter. I planted out autumn and winter squash along with gherkins ready for later in the year. Ahh, it’ll soon be Christmas…!

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