Saturday, 31 March 2012

Battle plans - pea and bean weevil.

I grew peas and broad beans for the first time last year and in terms of taste and freshness these crops demonstrated most to me the benefits of growing your own.  I'd previously overlooked broad beans remembering the rather shrivelled leathery skins and metallic taste of school dinners fame.  Whilst there's nothing wrong with frozen peas for the table, eating these sweet little capsules straight from the pod can't be beaten and reminded of my Grandad's garden as a child; then, as now, I think I think more than half were eaten before they reached the kitchen. 

Unfortunately, it's not just humans who find these vegetables tasty and on my plot it's necessary to net the young plants in particular to fend off pigeons and later on in the season action needs to be taken to remove black fly which are attracted to the tender growing tips.  However, a big problem for me is that my plants are weakened by attacks from the pea and bean weevil which I felt dramatically reduced vigour and the productivity of my plants. They exist in the soil at first then emerge to feed on the leaves. Common advice is that these pests can make the plants look unsightly (cutting quite regular little notches in the edges of the leaves) but that the plants recover and only the most intense attacks can prove terminal. 

Nevertheless, I want to take some direct action (chemical free) in the aim of defeating this enemy and have discovered the following advice.  Although they are quite quick, it is possible to capture these creatures and some suggest that you place a container of water or a piece of sticky card under the plants to
catch them when you shake the plants and make them fall off the leaves.  Another suggestion I found on the Internet was to make up a nicotine solution to use as a spray: boil up 3/4 pound of cigarette ends in a gallon of water for 30 minutes and dilute this solution 1:1 before spraying.  This recipe came with some strong advice about storing this liquid carefully and did not mention its potential effects to other beneficial insects.  I'd hate to disrupt the burgeoning ladybird population on my plot so I may consider the nicotine plan as back up position and try the manual removal techniques first.

I'd be interested if anyone has any opinions on these tactics or any other ideas how I can maximise my pea and broad bean supply this year?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Potato plans 2012

This weekend saw my first potatoes of the year go into the ground. I have set aside around a sixth of my plot to grow potatoes (about 6x6 yards) which I estimate I can fill with eight rows of a few different varieties. I don't think you can beat fresh new potatoes especially with home grown salad in the summer months so this is what I will be devoting most of the space to with a few rows given over to enjoy later in the season.

For the Summer crops I'm planting four rows of Rocket (two rows of 12 tubers planted now and two more in a few weeks time to stagger harvesting). At this time I'll also plant one row of Anya (14/16 tubers) a particularly tasty salad type. A short while later I'll plant a row each of Charlotte (10) , Desiree (10) and King Edward (10) .

I will give the later varieties a bit more space to develop than the early ones but the planting procedure is roughly the same. I dig a trench and nestle the chitted tubers about 6-8 inches below the surface. I did spread a few sacks of manure over this ground during the winter but before I back fill the trench to cover the tubers I'll sprinkle some composted litter from my hens on the spoil which will hopefully give the plants a boost. The first 2 rows at least will no doubt break through the surface before the risk of frost has passed. Whilst I will 'earth up' the rows to cover the foliage when they break through, this will provide some protection but I will use a sheet of fleece to cover them completely if frost is forecast after they have completely emerged.

Frost won't be the only challenge though and later on in the season (July onwards) I'll be keeping an eye out for any signs of blight (brown and yellow patches on the leaves on my plants or neighbouring plot holders') so I can remove the foliage and save the crop beneath. Fingers crossed that won't be necessary and that the foliage can be left to develop the tubers until it withers naturally. There's also the danger from pests such as Wireworm which will take the opportunity of eating at my crop before I get the chance. A trick I've heard about which I'll use try to reduce the numbers is to place half a cut potato on the surface, wait for the Wireworms to take up residence in this bait then remove them from harm's way (harm to my crops that is).

These are my potato plans, I'll just have to see how they'll turn out. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Make do and mend.

One of the most enjoyable things for me about having an allotment is that things only need to be functional; what matters is if things serve a purpose, looking good comes second. This means I have been able to indulge in another passion of mine, re-using or recycling things. When I've finished with something or when something breaks, before throwing it away I'm definitely one of those people who thinks carefully about whether there is another use for it or if it can be saved. In that sense the off-cuts of wood, bits of chicken wire, sheets of plastic from packaging and other similar items contained in my garage that "I may find a use for one day" are evidence that I am somewhat of a hoarder.
Another thing I tend to do is keep my eye out for things other people no longer want but which are useful to me. Both from my local 'Freecycle' group (an on-line community where people can advertise unwanted items to potential new owners, with the aim of reducing waste going to land-fill in particular) but also things that people have discarded or 'fly tipped' by the roadside. As well as feeling satisfaction at re-using or recycling things it also means my hobby costs less.

Now I should give you some examples: the tyres you see here were found thrown in a hedgerow but I'll use these for containers/raised beds. The black plastic membrane was given to me by a friend who had it left over after having a garden landscaped. The wire is just some of a bundle I found discarded in a lay-by among a pile of other rubbish (which looked like the remnants of a building project)and the corrugated plastic sheets were left over off-cuts from a project at my Dad's workplace which he passed to me as he thought they were too good to waste and he new I 'might be able to use them'. A few minutes work turned these sheets and lengths of wire into these cloches, perfect for sowing some salads and parsnips under later today.

Among the items I have been kindly given from local 'Freecyclers' are two black plastic compost bins. One of these was missing a lid so it now has an old green dustbin lid which by chance happened to fit. I was also given a set of tools, garden netting and the wheelbarrow by someone who was moving to a smaller property and my three water butts all came from people who no longer wanted them but wanted to pass them on to someone else to use. These butts are filled by guttering on my shed which is grey on one side and black on the other as this was what I could find, cost nothing and didn't need to match as they perform the job perfectly.

Thanks for reading.