It has been very wet, with extensive flooding, which has made working and improving the soil almost impossible. However, because the allotment is essential exercise, I’ve been busy with other projects!
Blueberries can be tricky because they are ericaceous meaning they are lime haters and like acidic soil. As I have heavy clay (alkaline) here, the bushes cannot be planted directly into the ground as it may kill them and they certainly won’t fruit. They also don’t like the hard Thames tap water, so rain water needs to be collected and used.
In 2017, I placed the young bushes in old large plastic recycling boxes and used ericaceous compost. They have grown quite well and cropped last year. I have three varieties that are supposed to flower and fruit at different times; Spartan (July), Gold Traube (August) and Dixi (September). However, all three cropped at roughly the same time, and I suspect that after three years, they have outgrown their nursery. So there is a major rehousing project underway.
This plastic lined trench is about 6 cubic meters in volume and is being filled with pine forest spoil, composted vegetables and annual weeds and wood chippings. The whole mix will settle and create an acidic mulch. This is a lot of effort! If you want to try Blueberries I recommend starting them off in a large garden pot. They make attractive bushes so won’t look out of place amongst your roses.
Some of the tomatoes have germinated really quickly so they have been taken out of the heated propagator and carefully transplanted into pots and placed on a windowsill in the Conservatory. If they were left on the heat they would become weak and leggy or overly long. The aubergines are struggling in the standard, roughly chopped compost. So I have bought some seed potting compost that has a much finer till and, with a small mix of vermiculite to aid moisture retention, I am going to try again.
Crop Rotation and Raised Beds:
The construction of the raised beds continues apace to support a five year crop rotation that I have previously used since I have the luxury of the space. There is a huge amount of information on crop rotation and it is not as complicated as it sounds. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has a great online resource that I continually refer to. Here is some more information on three and four year rotations:
Rotation helps to control weeds, goes a long way to prevent nutrient depletion in the soil and reduces pests and diseases. Crops are grouped in families that broadly share the same needs.
Here is a summary of the three year system:
Year One: Peas, Beans and Fruiting Vegetables. These vegetables store nitrogen in nodules, that look a little like grainy sea salt, on their roots. The roots are left in the soil to support ......
Year Two: Brassicas. This family of plants are nitrogen hungry so benefit from following on from the peas and beans. They are also susceptible to fungal diseases like Clubroot, which can cause serious longterm problems in a plot, so moving them on helps alleviate this issue.
Year Three: Roots, Onions and Leaves: These crops aren’t too fussy about the nitrogen level in the soil so can occupy a site that previously bore brassicas.
There are two fundamental challenges to successful and productive growing; what to grow and, more importantly, when to grow it. My advice is to keep it simple and grow only what you like to eat.
My family don’t like Broad Beans, which is a shame because it is a really early and easy crop to grow. Conversely, we eat a lot of onions, so one whole bed is normally allocated to spring sowing.
Here is a list of all the crops I am going to try this year:
It is more extensive because I have the luxury of Lockdown time and it means I have more to tell you about the upcoming successes and inevitable failures. The first disappointment to report is that the overwintering onions, planted last Autumn, have virtually disappeared. There may be three culprits. The overly wet weather hasn’t helped but I rather suspect the damage belongs to a flock of marauding pigeons. I also discovered that field mice have made a home under one of the paving slabs supporting the fruit. Having an allotment is always a game of give and take. I am trying to encourage wildlife so this means no poisons or traps.
The pond liners have arrived! The ground works are complete so now is the time to capture some of that rainfall. I have been repairing the fruit cage drystone (made of broken, recycled concrete slabs) wall. These Common Froglets have been over-wintering in the gaps in the structure. Incidentally, if you can’t tell a frog from a toad, frogs hop and toads crawl. More about making a wildlife pond next month.
Angus is a Senior First Officer and Resilient Pilot Mentor with a passion in Wellbeing, CRM and TEM. This is the second in a series of blogs from Angus, to read more click here. To find out more about Angus, and our other pilot mentors, please visit our 'supported' page