Tuesday, July 26, 2022

July at the Allotment

Gracious, it has been a week since those dog days of oppressive heat and unforgiving sun, where N and I took to hanging damp towels in front of open windows and, at the worst points, putting even damper towels over our heads. We may have looked all kinds of ridiculous but, as we never left the house past 10am, no one was any the wiser. 

Do you know what has been absolutely loving this heat? The sunflowers. Yes, they have finally taken off from the thin spindly, slug bitten things that they were and are shooting skywards (you can see a video of their progress on my Instagram feed (pretty much the only social media I engage with now. Does Blogging count as social media? It feels too measured for that. Anyway, back to the point...). All they needed, it seemed, was a solid dose of Mediterranean temperatures to set them on the right course. It's quite reassuring to see, although I have been researching emergency florists just in case. 

The courgettes have recovered from a similar case of slug attack too. They were nice and healthy when they went out; a day later they were stripped of all but one leaf. It's incredibly frustrating but other plot holders tell me I'm not alone - slug levels have been off the slimy record and we're all grasping at coffee grounds (the one I have had most success with), copper tape and wool pellets. There are slow worms on the site but it seems there aren't enough of them. I really must get my pond dug and frogspawn transplanted when the time is right. 

I'm reluctant to bring in hedgehogs as there are badgers here, and badgers eat hedgehogs (true and disgusting) and I don't think I could bear to be responsible for that kind of massacre. 

BUT, there are signs of balance. I've seen more ladybirds on the plot this year, keeping aphids under control with no intervention from me. Chives have seen off the white and black fly from the beans. I keep a shallow dish filled with water to encourage birds down. Crickets scatter as I walk, so I know they're around picking off pests. 

As usual, my low boredom threshold for weeding means that there are "wild flowers" galore, so the bees and butterflies are out in number, which is just fun to sit and watch. It also means that the ever present bindweed is really flourishing in parts, but I like to let that get to a decent length and then pull it out of the ground like spaghetti from a carbonara. 

The potatoes are nearly ready, I think. I'll be lifting a few at the weekend to check. The beetroot are slow but that's my fault for the late sowing which has meant the ground has been too dry to plant them out. The raspberries are mainly autumn fruiting but a few are already ripe, albeit small through lack of rain. These I pick as I go, handy snacks rather than a crop I make plans for. 

The Japanese wineberries are also looking ready to burst from their strange, sticky cases. They made a superb jam last year, but I'm not sure I'll have time to make jam again. Too much to do in the run up to September. Maybe a flavoured gin that can quietly steep while I'm busy and then be handed out to everyone who helped with the wedding? 

I like that idea. I also think gin will needed. 

In August, I'm going to order in a heck-tonne (an official measurement) of topsoil and compost so I can finish off the last 3 beds in the no-dig fashion. N has, reasonably, pointed out that digging through the accumulated nonsense - accumulated by previous plot tenant - absolutely breaks me, takes months and actually depletes the soil in the long term. He is not wrong, which is annoying. And I find that, in my 4th year of plot ownership, my enthusiasm for digging up that nonsense has decreased considerably. The arthritis makes progress slow and dispiriting, so better to try another method than involves no more than cardboard and a hefty topping of topsoil. Which I asked for for my birthday. 

Hey, some girls like diamonds, some like earth. 

The brassicas are HUGE now, having recovered from their dodgy start. N built me a new cage for them from bits of the fallen fruit cage, scaffolding netting and drainage tubing. They now have even more room to shoot up. Extra bonus: the netting is yellow and the pipes blue, so it’s a very colourful cage. 

I managed to put my back out slightly, lugging a half-full water butt into a new position. Annoying as it meant my planned 2 hours at the plot were curtailed by 40 mins so I could go home and lie down till the agony passed (it did) but also, hurrah for another water butt! 

This year is the driest I’ve seen the allotment. We haven’t had a decent rainfall for months. The canal level is low and a hosepipe ban is lurking just around the corner. Of lot of plants, under stress through lack of water, are throwing seed out early. The clay soil is crazed with deep cracks where it’s shrinking back on itself. 

There have been a few half-hearted attempts from the sky to throw some rain in our direction, but mostly it evaporates in the sky, or gets lost somewhere around Wales. Trying to weed or plant anything is like chipping away at plaster, so I have a number of plants in pots, waiting for the right time to go in. So we just have to hope August is a little kinder. 

At home, the garden is just about coping. We've lost more plants to the local fox family coming in and scent marking their way around (goodbye thyme, dwarf acer, ferns) than we have to weather conditions. Although the honeysuckle has never really enjoyed life here. The lettuces did lay down and die but the tomatoes are loving this, even though we are using grey water to keep them refreshed. 

Let's just hope they don't taste unusually fragrant when we come to harvest them. 

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