Itís always a mixed year with successes and failures but this year the drought has caused major problems. I have been watering the larger plants I put in during this month: Courgettes, French beans and Cucumbers. But you canít water everything and many earlier sowings are struggling to survive. The early potatoes are wonderful but the lack of rainfall means they are quite small. Broad beans and Peas are sparse as a result of the drought. Carrots are few and far between too but the parsnips which I planted from last yearís seed are flourishing. One gooseberry bush was decimated by the sawfly. The other bush was also affected but I managed to rescue it from complete devastation. The redcurrant bushes are netted against the pigeons nd the crop bountiful. Beetroot, chard, are doing hanging on. The white onions and shallots are modest and maturing early because of the lack of water.
July is usually a wonderful month, and a very busy one if all the produce is to be harvested. Fruit like raspberries should come thick and fast and will have to be picked on a daily basis. The strawberries are finished. The redcurrants are netted against the pigeons and are begging to be picked. Hopefully we will be picking vegetables like French beans and courgettes and cucumbers later in the month. If these are not picked they will produce seed and give up the will to live, even in a normal year, so failure to spend time picking is a double whammy, you lose the present and future produce. It is important to engage a friend to cover for you if you go on holiday otherwise you face the disappointment of more than just weeds on your return. What better than to spend the early evening gathering in the crops and then preparing them for the freshest and tastiest dinner you can imagine.(see Basil and Doyle in the recipe section) No time for planting now, although salad crops will still be a worthwhile digression to maintain the supply through to the first frosts. In case June plantings have not been made, I have included June's table below.
This is the time for picking: peas, broad beans, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, and digging those succulent early potatoes. Oh my aching back! Kate said she had never realised that strawberries could have so much flavour and Kay was typically on the mark when she said that there is a depth of flavour which is absent from those bought from the shops. This is true of all the allotment fare. The legumes are great steamed for a few minutes, if they actually reach the pan.
People say they donít like Broad Beans, but thatís because they have had commercial ones that were allowed to grow too large. Pick them small, twice or thrice the size of a pea, and they melt in the mouth. A great delicacy.
The legumes are great steamed for a few minutes, peas are succulent for example.
I am still picking and planting radishes, spring onions and lettuce leaves. A typical salad includes a variety of leaves, including endive, nasturtium, wild rocket and soon nasturtium flowers will give a splash of colour.
I am removing strawberry "runners". I am still finding offending slugs under the orange halves and I check carefully under the plants for slugs if any have been attacked. I normally lose very few, and this time there has been an acceptable sharing of the crop. As soon as I see damage I search for the culprit until it is found and destroyed. Of course I clear the adjoining area when the fruit began to ripen. Also, the little white slugs normally need to be extracted from between the lettuce leaves. They donít have big appetites, but they do render the leaves unusable unless you like them Ďholier than thouí. As with the strawberries, the bigger ones tend to locate themselves at soil level under the plant unless you put orange halves out under which they gather.
My shallots are still growing. Itís a not such a good crop this year as they are a bit small owing to the lack of rain at the crucial time when they should have been Ďfattening upí. At some stage I will clear the soil away from the bulbs. (This needs to be done when the soil is dry, after a few days of hot weather: not as now)! They are so tasty when roasted. Many sauces use them, like the classic Beurre Blanc which goes so well with fish and they are essential for the lip smacking Coq au Vin. They are a great addition to roasted veg accompanied by linguine or other favoured pasta. They also taste great when pickled, if you have enough to spare. I cheat, and reuse the liquid from the malt vinegar based commercial ones. I keep promising myself that I must develop my own version.
Courgette struggling to survive
The courgettes and the cucumbers plants are developing. Courgettes always grow too big when youíre not looking so the only way to outsmart them is to pick them rather too small, but this is not a problem yet as there arenít even any flowers forming. They certainly are big on flavour, enhancing a salad if chopped in raw and making a great pasta meal with home made pesto sauce. Iíll ask Basil and Doyle to give us the recipe next month when thereís always a glut. I pick the cucumbers small too. Iíll give the courgettes and cucumbers an occasional feed with diluted nettle juice, together with the french beans. Nettle Juice is made by letting nettles grow where they are doing no harm, pulling them out when large enough and covering with water in a bucket. Two weeks later after a few stirs now and again it is very beneficial unless applied neat, in which case it is lethal.
In the belief that the carrot seedlings have been devoured by gastropods in recent years, I have taken precautions again this year. I used egg shells as a preventative and orange halves as an attractive half way house to their demise at my hands. This does not always work if the gastropods are too active when the plants are tiny. I collected masses of them but I think it's the snails which cause the damage. Seemingly they are not as attracted to the oranges as the slugs nor deterred by the shells.
Iím always late with leeks. I start them off in pots although as they are leeks they would probably go better in a bucket. I transplant them into the space freed up by the digging of the early potatoes. So Iíll be transplanting them this month if they grow big enough. I find this is not too much of a disadvantage because vegetables are seasonal, and I tend to eat the leeks when most other vegetables are finished. My later transplanting means they donít grow too large, I prefer them to be smaller as I think they are tastier. When I transplant the leeks I dib 6Ē (15cm) deep holes 8Ē (20cm) apart using a piece of tree branch I keep for the purpose. Before dropping the plants into the hole I use my thumb nail to trim the roots to 2-3Ē (5-8cm) and, if the longest leaf is very long I trim this back to the length of the next longest. Finally I carefully fill the hole with water, and as with all transplants, keep filling until the water does not clear quickly. One time I thought Iíd give them a boost by using nettle juice, and this was before I realised that it needs to be greatly diluted. Nettle juice absolutely stinks. The following day the newly transplanted leek bed looked like World War III. Soil all over the place, with bits of leek plants sticking out here and there: leaves, roots and even bits I didnít recognise. I stood there aghast
These are doing well. They might bolt in a severe dry spell, so I will try to keep them well watered. I look forward to eating them as they taste so good.
Look at this lovely chard, itís from a previous year. This year I have some small seedlings which I planted out recently. They are struggling in the heat.
Damage to Corn
Damage to Corn
Allotments, by definition, are left to the wildlife for extended periods during which they often run amok for no apparent reason. Itís one thing to lose crops like gooseberries and peas to pigeons. And birds have sometimes eaten every last red currant, which is why I try to net them early. But this damage was a bit disheartening as it is not for food. Fortunately this years's corn is doing well.
Destruction on the plot is an occupational hazard. One year this hole was dug for no apparent reason and my transplanted Oregano plant, raised from seed over two years was ď untimely rippedĒ from the soil, again with no particular purpose but, presumably ďplayĒ. Perseverance is the key and I now have numerous self seeding oregano plants.