Friday, 29 June 2012

Dealing with the bindweed.(Calistegia sepium)

I do not like carpets on allotments because of the preservative chemicals that they have in them. However, the permaculturists say that you should always try to make something good out of a disadvantage.

There are a great many old decrepit carpets on the new allotment that I am going to use to cover the bindweed Convolvulus sepium - but I doubt very much if I will eradicate it.

Looking at various websites it seems that the rhizomes rarely go down further than 30 cm.  I don't doubt that the majority of the rhizomes rarely go down further than this depth but there are always the one or two that do.  Digging them out is the most effective method of control so this is what I am doing.  I am using my faithful bread tray sieve to sieve out all the little pieces.  Convolvulus sepium can regenerate from the smallest of rhizomes and it seems the aerial stems as well.  If you cover the surface stems they seem to change into thick rhizomes and continue to grow using food generated by leaves and stems that are not covered.

So, I am going to go over the whole allotment double digging to ensure that as much of the bindweed is removed as is possible.  I am putting the rhizomes into an old growing medium bag and then storing this in the  shed to make sure they dry off as much as possible.

A continuing difficulty will be the bindweed that is in the shared paths.  I am in a mind to follow the bindweed rhizomes under the paths in order to keep them off the allotment.  When I have done this I could replace the topsoil with stones that I am sieving out of the soil when I sieve for bindweed. Topsoil could go on the allotment and bindweed in the plastic bag while stones restore the level of the path.

The soul destroying information that the seed can remain viable for 39 years and can germinate even when 105 cm below the surface of the soil does not engender any confidence that I can get rid of this plant quickly.  Has this plant any respect for the RHS seed sowing advice?

Hey, isn't this what gardening is all about?

Overcoming problems is an integral part of gardening.  Crafting a weed free soil from one which is very poor or has innate problems must be an major achievement in gardening.

So back to the Convolvulus sepium - sepium means of the hedge.  I have a large hawthorn Crataegus monogyna ( monogyna means one seeded) hedge on one side of the allotment and the bindweed is entangled throughout it.

Keeping the bottom of the hedge tidy and free from weeds by hoeing and raking out is the only way that the bindweed is going to be discouraged from this part of the allotment.  I am going to put my sheds up against the hedge and this might prevent it from invading the allotment.  A forlorn hope but as Pope says "hope springs eternal."  A saying designed for gardeners.

It seems that you have to dry out bindweed for about 48 hours before it is safe to compost or bury it. Drying out large amounts of rhizome is quite difficult to do, but I will make the attempt.  I will bury as much as I can of the dried bindweed, however it must be done very carefully more than 60 cm below the surface of the soil.  I would rather cover the rhizomes in the trench with turf or some other difficult to penetrate compost such as leaves but I do not have these at the moment.  I may well cover them with the woody brush from the hedge when I cut it back off the allotment.  There is also a big gooseberry that is not producing any fruit so that will go into the trench too.

I will cover everything first with the sieved subsoil and then the sieved topsoil and hope for the best. The whole area will be covered with the pigeon manure and old carpets  and left to its own devices until next Spring.  

Then I have the problem of what do I do with the carpets when I have finished with them.  As is my wont I might just bury them.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Mid June and the allotment is finally full

All the first sowing of celery went to seed so I have taken it out and put it onto the compost heap. In its place is a line of lettuce.  I also put in a line of asparagus peas Tetragonolobus purpureus, which I have not grown before.  I hope that this is a little more successful than the Ocra Abelmoschus esculentus, was last year.

I weeded and hoed between all of the rows on the top half of the allotment  then  fed everything with comfrey liquid fertiliser.  The enviromesh was  taken off the carrots, partially, and they were weeded and watered with comfrey.  The climbing French beans "Trail of Tears" is finally beginning to grow.  The problem  with the cold weather was that the beans could not grow fast enough to compensate for the damage that the slugs and snails were doing. With just a little more warmth they will shoot up the supports and produce some beans.

I have six lines of peas.  I don't know why but there it is.  Two lines of Douce Provenance, one line of Oskar, two lines of Early Onward and one line of Hurst Green Shaft.  It was the only way that I could get a succession of peas. Last year I tried to get a succession and they all came at the same time.  

To get a succession of vegetables you can do several things:

  • Use early and main crop varieties.  
  • Sow the seed at Monthly intervals - as far as I can see, if you so at smaller time intervals they all come at the same time.  
  • Think about  aspect - a north facing slope will slow the growth of some vegetables. 
  • Give protection in the form of cloches or poly tunnel to accelerate the growth of plants
Even doing all of these things you will get some plants catching up earlier sowings.  I am getting some overlapping with my lettuce succession.  I did sow the seeds at about two weekly intervals and this seems to be  much too small a time period particularly if you have to eat a whole line of plants before going onto the next.  

Strawberries have all produced a good crop of fruits that will ripen soon. No red ones yet but it is not Wimbledon week yet.  

The brassicas are suffering from cabbage root fly this year. I have hoed them all up so that they can send out adventitious roots  and this usually helps them a lot.  They all got fed with comfrey liquid fertiliser and the weeds  were hoed out.  I am leaving the nets on them until the end of June.  I can't have pigeon damage too. The slugs have decimated the kale and broccoli.  I have put a cloche over the survivors to see if I can bring them on a little.  Once they are over 20cm the slugs and snails seem to leave them alone.  

The runners are going up the cane supports as are the climbing French bean "Cobra" . They will be producing beans at the end of June given some warm weather.  

Sweet peas came into flower during the first week of June and are now starting to produce a lot of flowers.  I will have to cut some before the end of the week.  Not a difficult job - in fact quite pleasant. 

Still a lot of jobs to do but on top of it at the moment.   

Friday, 1 June 2012

Allotment photographs May 2012: Finished planting ...almost.

Remember this blog is mainly to remind me what I did in the allotment and in no way is it a "this is how you do it".  It is how I do it and, if it helps anyone else that that is a great pleasure.  Also it is a completely "organic" allotment which means I only add fertilizers that were once living and do not use any pesticides or herbicides.

As the weather slowly warmed through May, it meant that the vegetable seedlings that were languishing in the cold greenhouse could be planted out in the allotment.  Looking back at  photographs from a year ago, the plants are about three weeks behind last year's.

  Due to planting and keeping the allotment weed free, the comfrey has been allowed to get big and flower.  This is the wild comfrey and will set seeds and colonise the whole allotment.  They are not a pain to remove unless they are left long enough for them to develop their deep tap root.  Most of them were cut down today and put into the green bins to rot down into the rich black liquid manure but some were left because they were covered in bumble bees.  Most of them were Bombus lucorum  and Bombus terrestris.  The nettles were cut down as well but  small tortoise shell butterflies have been flying around them and possibly laying eggs so most of them were left to grow on.

I found an apple tree that was grafted onto M27 root stock and could not resist buying it.  It is a good apple tree and the fruit last for a long time.  And for the life of me, I cannot remember what it is called. I hope I left the label on it.

It has quite a lot of fruit on it which will be thinned out later in the year.
Vine up against the pallet
I am going to train the vine up and along the pallet.  It was cut back hard in the autumn and I am hoping it will give some good grapes this year. It is in a hole because I have raised the rest of the bed by adding compost, turf and manure.  I did not want to move the vine so I just put slab curbing around it and left it growing at the same level.  I have put some of the large stones from the bed around the stem.  This keeps the weeds down and reflects some light up onto the vine.
I have cut the vine back very hard this year.  Only one of the stems will be allowed to grow on and be trained in.  The Victoria rhubarb has been producing some great petioles this year.  They have been a bit thinner than usual but this has to be down to the very cold April weather. I put a large amount of manure on the rhubarb as a mulch and they seem to like that.

All the potatoes are growing well.  If nothing else grows, it seems that I can grow potatoes.  I think that they might be affected later in the season by blight because it has been quite wet.  If this continues throughout the summer then we will definitely get blight.  I ridged them up quite high during the cold April weather to protect them from frosts.  I don't think we had any frosts but the wind was very cold and from the north east.  As you can see, it did not affect them except to slow their growth down.  All this growth has occurred in the past week or so.
Kestrel potatoes
The raspberries have produced a lot of flowers and they are attracting the bumble bees.  Should get a good crop of berries off them.  These are Glen Prosen which crop in July and August.  At the other end are the 'old' raspberries I was given when I first had the allotment.  I don't know their name but they produce sweet small raspberries during July and August.  The canes have grown over 6 feet tall and were whipping about in the wind so I cut them down to about the top of the supports.  I could have curved them over and attached them to the top of the supports but I will have enough raspberries in any case.  
Raspberries Glen Prosen
I planted the tomato Latah very early.  They are in ring culture pots on cow manure.  Latah is supposed to be a very early fruiting tomato and the flowers are on them already.  They have done well to get through the very cold April weather.  Latah are a very scraggy bush tomato so I am not expecting beautiful plants. I am hoping that the cow manure will give them a little heat as it decomposes.
Latah tomatoes
I planted out the left over tomatoes that I could not fit into the greenhouse.  They might produce some tomatoes later in the summer.  I am not really expecting them to do very much and the area they are covering will probably get covered by the pumpkins.  I have put the cucumbers in an old cold frame.  Some of the glazing is still there but I have covered the sides with an old fleece to protect them where the pains of glass are missing.  I have put some old wire frames into the cold frame for the cucumbers to climb up because they seem to produce much better cucumbers from climbing plants. The outdoor cucumbers, I usually let crawl over the ground without supports.
Left over tomatoes
I have finally got all the leeks in.  There are several varieties Oarsman, Mammoth Blanched' Musselburgh and Bleu de Solaise.  Some of them are under the enviromesh.
All the other alliums are under the enviromesh to try to protect them from the onion miner fly (Phytomyza gymnostoma ).  I still think that  the fly has got to them but it should not be laying eggs now and I could remove the mesh.  The mesh does give them a little protection from the elements so I will leave the mesh on for a while.  I can water and feed through the mesh so I will only remove it to weed.  I looked closely at the onions today and there were a few that were looking a little worse for ware.  Also some of the leeks look decidedly off colour.
Enviromesh over the alliums

Garlic, shallots and Vision onion

I have planted the sweet corn, pumpkins, squash and marrow but they are still a little small.  They will grow very quickly now that the weather has warmed up. Five squashes and one marrow will be more than adequate for me. I am only growing the marrow for the competition because I don't really like eating them any more.  Marrow was the only one of the Cucurbita that I could successfully grow outside. As the climate has warmed, I can grow more of them outside without too much worry.  The only real problem they have is with slugs and snails.
Squash and marrow
I think that I have reduced the slug and snail population to a degree that the squash and pumpkins can survive without getting eaten.


I have put in four pumpkins quite close together.  I might have to thin these out.  They will easily cover this area of the bed... and more.  Just as long as they don't shade out any of the other vegetables, I will not worry where they go.
Sweet Corn
The sweet corn is doing much better than last year.  It has doubled in size just in a few days.  It is on a north facing slope on the bed and I was wondering if this was going to affect it adversely.  I have planted squashes between the sweet corn plants and I might put some of the 'Trail of Tears' beans around them to see if I can get the three sisters to grow together.  Usually the beans grow a lot quicker than the sweet corn and it is not very successful, however I will pinch out the growing tips of the beans this year to make them bush and slow their growth down a little.  Some might say that the corn is too close together.  These plants are about nine inches apart.  I have planted sweet corn this close together for several years now.  They are planted with inoculated charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi and this seems to work well giving them a good boost.  Although I have considered thinning the sweet corn plants out, they will be left as they are just to show that you can get big cobs even when they are this close together.  I will emphasize this is the way that I do it although the  books say 30-45cm.appart.
Courgette and marrow
Four courgettes are more than enough the way they produce fruit.  They are growing remarkably quickly because they were sown at the same time as the squash and pumpkins.  The bits around the corgettes are not weeds but cuttings off the thyme.  I have just given it a short back and sides to keep its lovely bushy appearance.  This gave me far too much to take home and use so I left the sweepings under the courgettes.
The sweet peas have grown a lot in the last few weeks and now some of them are flowering. Honeymoon was the first to flower with White Supreme coming a close second.  They will all be flowering in the next week or so.  
Honeymoon and White Supreme
Gladiolus between the sweet peas
I am trying some gladioli this year.  I want to get some really good flowering spikes for cutting.  I am going to get some Alstroemeria pelegrina later in the year and put them out some where on the allotment.  I have to be careful though because they do tend to spread.  
There are 11 varieties and they all look more or less like this at the moment.   I took the first bunch of sweet peas off them today June 5th.  There are buds on all the plants now so soon they will be giving a great display.  
Keeping the slugs and snails off the climbing french beans is a full time job.  They seem to be surviving and may be beginning to grow and climb the canes.  They are very slow at growing thought.  
Cobra Climbing French Beans.
The runner beans on the other hand have shot up and are climbing the canes.  I have given them quite a bit of protection though and this may be what the climbing french beans need.  
Runner beans
There are two varieties at least in here.  Scarlet Emperor, painted lady, Aintree and maybe another unnamed one.  They all seem healthy enough though.
The blackberry has certainly given a fantastic display of flowers this year.  I hope that the flowers are converted into fruit.  
Blackberry in full flower.
The sweet cicely has grown back after I had cropped it but I am going to leave it a while to get its strength back.  It looks even better from the south facing side.  Needless to say I forgot to take a photograph of the other side.
Some of the brassicas have been devastated with slugs and others by flea beetle.  The flea beetle has been particularly bad this year.  They are recovering now but it has put them back a few weeks.  
Broccoli and Kale slug eaten
I have covered the whole of the brassica bed with netting to keep the pigeons off. This has been quite successful, however the slugs and flea beetle do not seem to respect the netting and have devastated some of the plants.
Brussels flea beetle eaten
Also two of the calabrese have been killed by cabbage root fly. So not a very successful year for brassicas.
Winter cauliflowers flea beetle eaten.
I have put some enviromesh over the summer cabbages and cauliflowers to keep the slugs and cabbage white caterpillars off them.  I am hoping that it will keep cabbage root fly off them as well.  It seems to be working up to now.
Cabbage and cauliflower under the mesh.

The Hugelkultur trench under the
This is where I made one of my Hugelkultur beds. Under the cauliflowers is a lot of brushwood and logs.  However, it is producing some really good summer cauliflowers and cabbages.  I don't usually grow summer cauliflowers because they get full of green caterpillars, however I think that the enviromesh might keep the worst off.  It also keeps off some of the slugs and snails.
The swedes and the kohlrabi have suffered from slugs and snails during April but they have now recovered and are growing on well.  
Swede and kohlrabi.
I am going to sow some American land cress along the slabs where the turnips have been taken out.  One or two of the turnips were very good but the most of them were eaten by cabbage root fly.  I don't think that I will be planting any more this year.
I have weeded the brassica bed now and planted the American land cress. Hopefully there will be room for rocket as well.  While I was weeding I hoed up the plants and this seems to have given them a new boost of life.  
Strawberries are growing and flowering well.  I should get a fair crop of berries if the weather stays fairly mild now.  

Although the black currants are small because I cut them back very hard, they are still producing a good crop of berries.  I have put a net over them but I don't think that it is very effective because it has big holes in it.  
Peas are doing well but I am a little put out that I have to grow them in succession.  I would rather plant them all  at once.  I may not have to pod  so many at once but this will just drag it out over the whole summer.  These are second in the succession.  I am planting in succession for the allotment competition.  
Oskar peas
Onward peas under the cloche
The Early Onward are the third in the succession. They are growing so slowly because of the very cold weather in April so I have given them some protection to boost their growth. 
More Early Onward peas and fourth in succession.
They are being a little overshadowed by the winter cauliflowers that have not headed up yet.  Actually they are now forming quite big flowers but the cold weather in April really affected them and put them back  more than a month.  I am harvesting them now (4th June 2012) and they have produced some really good cauliflowers.  The should have cropped in April though.  
Winter cauliflowers should have been harvested in April!
Maybe the succession is a good idea because I have had to wait for the ground to be cleared of cauliflowers before I could plant the last line of peas.  These will be Hurst Green Shaft.   It used to grow really well on the allotment until a few years ago but now does not perform as well.  I will give it one more chance this year  but will be planting Onward as a main crop next year if the yield is poor.
Douce Provence peas
These are already forming pods so I will be cropping them in the next couple of weeks.  It is true what it says on the packets.  This is a very early producing pea.  I think that the Oskar will be early too by the looks of it.  

First succession of peas Douce Provence 

Trail of Tears Climbing French Bean
The heritage climbing french beans Trail of Tears is growing well now that the slugs are leaving them alone.  This is where the other Hugelkultur raised bed is.  Under the beans is a lot of brush wood. See the photographs below.

This is the Hugelkultur trench made during
the winter
Lots of brushwood put into the trench.  
I put weed turfs on top of the brushwood and these had some bindweed in them.  I had an inkling that they might and it has been confirmed because a little of it has started to poke through the soil.

Weed turfs

Now once you have bind weed it is a devil to get rid of but I am not too worried.  This bindweed has had to push its way through some lawn turfs and leaves so it will be quite weak.  I have just hoed it off at the moment because I don't want to disturb the Trail of Tears beans.  I will keep on pulling it out as I see it.  This worked when some found its way into the raspberries so it should work here.  It just shows you that couch grass will not reappear but mares tail and bindweed will.

I have had to resow both the carrots and the beetroot because they failed to germinate during the cold April weather.  They are coming now but are much later than last year.

Beetroot with protection

Carrots under the enviromesh.
Still battling with the carrot root fly Psila rosae but the carrots are growing on now.  They will need to be thinned and weeded in the next few weeks which can be done by taking the mesh off. However, you need to get it back on as soon as you can to avoid the fly.   It is amazing how much research there is into the antics of Psila rosae.  I just leave the mesh on and tuck it into the soil all the way round until the autumn so that whatever the fly is doing I will avoid it.  
Spinach, dill and more lettuce
I am growing quite a lot of herbs this year because I like them in salads.  I have a whole section of this top bed devoted to the "leaves"
Parsnips and lettuce
The parsnips are thinned out already and growing on well.  I sieved this soil during the winter so I am expecting some good long parsnips and carrots.  The tarragon and chamomile I am going to use in teas.  I do like chamomile tea.
Tarragon, lettuce and chamomile
This has been the first time in many years that I have tried to grow celery.  It is growing well as you can see but now it is going to seed.  It is a very contrary vegetable and I would rather have celeriac.
Chard, Celery and celeriac 
A  succession of lettuce
There have not been many slugs and snails on the lettuce and this may be due to the Nemaslug nematodes I put on earlier in the year.  I also used beer traps between the lettuce when they were under the cloches.  The cloches kept the rain out of the beer cups.
Where the large lettuce have been taken out I have planted a row of bulb fennel.

That is how the allotment looks at the end of May.