Allotment Update – Coping with a Predictably Unpredictable English Summer

The mid-may heatwave lulled us into a false sense of security. When the weather turned (and boy did it turn), the weeks of cold, wet miserable days took their toll. To begin with, the allotment lapped up the well-needed hydration, but you can have too much of a good thing, and after a while some of our plants began to look positively depressed. Thankfully, we seem to have come out the other side – and long may it continue.

There have been in’s-and-out’s and successes and failures on our plot since the last update. In spite of the black fly drama, we had a bumper broad bean harvest, resulting in some new recipes and a new-found love of broad bean hummus. It was with a small but grateful tear in my eye that we pulled up the spent plants and committed their withered stalks to the compost bin, where they will continue to do good (cue Elton singing the Circle of Life).

One the point of failures, our Kohlrabi succumbed to the wet conditions and began to burst open. We salvaged only three of the nine plants, but I’ve bolstered the meagre harvest with beetroot (donated by one of our neighbours) and carrots to make a quick pickle (recipe to come soon).

The thing I’m personally most excited about is our tomatoes. Having survived the cold, damp and windy weeks, our cherry tomato troughs are going strong and a throng of little green tomatoes are growing fatter every day. Things are also going well in the greenhouse. The extra cherry tomatoes I planted in old milk bottles are also laden with fruit, and the two full-size tomato plants couldn’t be looking any healthier. The same can’t be said for our pepper plants which have been ravaged by marauding slugs, but one remains unscathed and has been relocated to an elevated position. Unless the slugs round these parts have grappling hooks, it should be safe.

Back outside, we’ve not seen a strawberry in weeks, and our raspberry plants have yet to kick into gear, so our daughter has been forced to look elsewhere for her fruity fix. She’s always been a fan of apples and now delights in plucking not-quite-ready-to-eat apples from our tree (which has developed a worrying lean and needs to be staked pronto). Despite being cheek-invertingly sour, she will happily munch through them until nothing but the stalk remains. She’s an odd one, but at least they’re good for her.

It wouldn’t be an allotment update without mentioning our six, feathered residents, who we are pleased to say have settled in nicely and are still safe and sound in their custom-made coop. The electric fence appears to be doing a good job of keeping Mr (or Mrs) fox out, aided by the many metres of mesh and solar-powered floodlights (sniper tower to come later). We are also very pleased to announce that we have eggs! Our suspicion (we don’t watch them lay – that would be weird) is that only one of our chickens, Patsy, is responsible, pumping out a rather impressive egg per day on average. Not bad for a bird that’s supposed to lay 3 a week tops. Unfortunately, the others are going to have to get their arses into gear as this doesn’t quite make us self-sufficient on the egg front quite yet. Especially as the eggs, while cute, are little bigger than a quail’s egg. That’s what you get for choosing a comedy breed I guess.

We also have a few new arrivals on the plot. Carrots, leeks, red onions, cabbages and brussels sprouts are all in the ground and doing well. One of the nicest things about growing on an allotment rather than in your one garden is being surrounded by nice people with similar interests. Many of those new plants were donated to us, and in turn we’ve given away our spare tomatoes, butternut squash, cabbages and kohlrabi. We’ve also received lots of chicken advice – one of the reasons why we put up an electric fence so quickly and meshed over the roof of the coop. The horror stories we’ve now heard about foxes made us realise that our initial efforts were woefully inadequate.

Other notable mentions are our pumpkins, which are getting bigger by the day and spreading out their tendrils greedily, our rhubarb, beetroot and radicchio. All of which are going strong.

Finally, flowers. Not my area of expertise, but Lesley and Tess are cultivating beds of pretty things that I am unable to name. The exception being sweet peas, which Tess has been carefully tending to and is now being rewarded with a kaleidoscope of fragrant blooms for her efforts. This success may be down to having cultivated them in pots prior to planting, as the seeds we’ve sown haven’t done very well at all. We suspect it’s due to the manure we used to feed our beds at the start of the season, which while good for the established plants, wasn’t broken up enough for seeds to break through, and has possibly made the soil a little too acidic. You live and learn.

So all in all things are going well. There’s the usual non-plant-related activities to keep me entertained, like putting down wooden stake edging to add a little perminace to our beds, and we’ve also laid down turf (scavenged from my father) by the apple tree to make a picnic area. With a little luck, the next one of these updates will feature plump red tomatoes and more eggs than we know what to do with. We’ll keep you posted!


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