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Despite the cold start - the allotment is going strong!

Posted: Wednesday 10th August 2016 by My-Wild-Garden

Despite the cold start, periods of seemingly endless rain and invasions by slugs, the allotment has come up trumps once again.

Somehow I’ve ended up with plenty of broad beans, numerous potatoes and more courgettes than I can shake a stick at, the latter growing in profusion on the ‘hot heap’ created from layers of fresh manure, cardboard and weeds earlier in the year.

The seemingly sickly sweet peas are putting on a great show, the chick peas are doing well and even the runner beans I had all but given up on are climbing their poles and producing pods, which just goes to prove that it’s never wise to underestimate the determination of plants to grow, whatever Mother Nature has to throw at them!

The beer traps have attracted several slugs away from tender young plants and remain my favourite alternative to slug pellets, which I’m not keen on using just in case affected molluscs are picked up by birds, hedgehogs, slowworms and toads.

Over in the fruit section my bushes are groaning under the weight of blackcurrants and red currants, which means I can afford to lose a few to a cheeky blackbird who squawks with indignation every time I approach, and I’ve made several pots of jam from this year’s raspberry crop. The blackberries are a bit later than usual this year – so far I’ve picked three - but judging by the number of green fruits there should be a good harvest later on.

While the allotment has produced plenty of fruit and vegetables to feed my family, it’s also proved to be fertile ground for an array of weeds, especially bind weed, or convolvulus, which I’ve been busy pulling up whenever I get the opportunity. Apparently the Anglo-Saxons’ name for August was ‘weod monath’, or weed month, as this was the time when these ‘plants in the wrong places’ grew most rapidly.

In recent weeks the race has been on to remove all the undesirables before they have the chance to self-seed – and I keep reminding myself of the old adage ‘one year’s seeds, seven years’ weeds’ whenever my resolve starts to weaken. I suppose I could save myself a bit of time by using weed killers, but doing without means I know what’s in my soil and reduces the possibility of plants being affected by drifting chemicals.

In some places I’ve been digging over unused patches of ground before sowing the entire area with green manures such as phacelia and fenugreek in an attempt to protect the soil from stray weed seeds and provide some organic matter to dig in later in the autumn to improve the structure of the soil. I've also sown lettuce and rocket with the same objective, although I’ll probably eat a few of the leaves in salads too before incorporating what remains later on. 

Interestingly I’ve noticed how it’s hard work cultivating the ground in some places and easier in others, which I’m attributing to my assiduousness, or otherwise, in adding manure, compost and leaf mould earlier in the year.

Those patches that haven’t benefited from organic additions are drier and harder to dig, and sometimes contain earthworms that have twisted themselves into knots to reduce the surface area of bodies that are touching the soil in order to conserve what moisture remains.

This state of semi-hibernation, known as ‘aestivating’, can also occur when the ground gets too cold.
Hopefully all my digging, along with the rain in early August, will prompt the earthworms to uncoil themselves and continue their welcome work in aerating my soil.

While August provides plenty of opportunities for harvesting, it’s also a good time to be collecting materials to boost the compost heap and improve the soil. Stinging nettles, comfrey and grass cuttings are great additions to the heap and I’m continuing to collect spent coffee grounds from coffee shops and Waitrose to spread over bare areas of ground. Within weeks these grounds will be writhing with thin red brandling worms that will help incorporate the tiny grains into the soil.

Working on the allotment can be hard work in the heat of August, whereas visiting other people’s gardens is enjoyable, raises money for good causes, can be a source of good ideas and is a great opportunity to eat cake. This year I’ve been noticing the presence of lots of bumble and honey bees, so much so that I’m compiling a list of flowers they especially go for.

Antirrhinum, cosmos and buddleja seem to be popular with bumble bees and I’ve spotted honeybees on sunflowers, Verbena bonariensis and borage. Both types of bee seem to enjoy visiting the Phacelia tanacetifolia, much of which has gone to seed and will shortly be used for new sowings.

August is a lovely month on the allotment, with plenty to harvest, lots of work to be done and ample opportunities to watch the wildlife it attracts. Up above the swifts and swallows are performing their aerial displays while feasting on insects, with bats taking their place as the light fades.

Make the most of the days ahead as autumn is just around the corner.
 

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