For the last five weeks I have been managing the allotment plots on my own whilst my partner, Sam, has been away. He arrived back in the UK last week and I have put him to good use this weekend at the allotment. During the last five weeks, the weeds have grown quicker than I have been able to hoe (as you can see from the picture)! And unfortunately for me, my weed nemeses include bindweed, nettles, willowherb and dandelions! No matter how much I pull these weeds they keep coming back with a vengence! I also have fat hen everywhere but it is easy to pull out and it is a good sacrificial crop for leaf miners, or so I have read.
Left: My allotment last week; the weeds have encroached onto the strawberries and the bed in the background is covered with weeds.
Below Left: Fat Hen
Below Right: Bindweed
We got to work straight away pulling up all the weeds on the large bed. We pulled the weeds by hand rather than hoeing to ensure that we got up the roots too. As most of the weeds were perennials they were piled on the empty potato bed for burning whilst most of the annuals were put on the compost heap. This bed has been used for garlic, shallots (both harvested a month ago), onions (harvested last week) and leeks which are still growing. The leeks are still quite small but now most of the weeds have been cleared they should grow a bit better.
This bed is a very large 6m x 6m bed which we found to be quite difficult to handle at times. We often have to walk on the bed to water the plants which compacts the soil and leaves a hard pan which does nothing for good soil structure.
So to overcome this problem we decided that we will break the large bed into 4 smaller beds and sow the empty beds with a autumn/winter green manure.
We started by thoroughly removing all the weeds and dividing the bed into four quarters. As we still have leeks growing in this bed, the bottom half was left as it is and will be divided up when the leeks have been harvested. We then laid strips of old carpet (generously given to us by our friends Susan and Chris) across the bed which will act as a pathway for us.
Then we laid bark chip across the carpet to add some weight and stop the carpet being blown around by the wind as well as suppressing any weeds that may seed themselves on the carpet. The bark chip is given to us free of charge by the council and is an excellent mulch!
The next job was to break up the hard pan by lightly forking over and then raking the soil to a fine tilth ready for the green manure to be sown. We used Mr Fothergills Autumn/Winter mix. It’s a nice mix of clover, rye grass and mustard to improve the soil and fix nitrogen. I have read that the mustard helps to get rid of wireworm in the soil which has been quite a problem for us in the last two seasons.
I have never used a green manure before so this will be a nice little experiment to see how good the benefits are and whether it is worth doing every year. The opposite side of this bed (that currently has the leeks in) won’t have any green manure sown in it this year. We plan to put potatoes in all four beds next year and will be interesting to see if one half does better than the other half!
One thing that has grown just as fast as the weeds is the butternut squash. I unwittingly had sown an exhibition variety and we are starting to see some of the biggest squash I have ever seen! I just hope they taste good too. With so much rain recently, the plants have doubled in size and I had to spend a good amount of time cutting the vines back as they had started to grow over into our neighbors’ plot.
I have already counted 12 butternut squash where the fruit has set but I can’t get into the middle so I don’t yet know what treasures are lurking in there! The main problem is finding the right spot to water!
We also made the decision to sacrifice one of our courgette plants. We have been harvesting, on average, 15-20 courgettes a week and we felt that five plants was just too much!
I was also pleased to discover our first ripe tomatoes in the poly-tunnel this week. We harvested a few tigerella variety and a couple red cherry tomatoes. I look forward to eating these later in the week!
I hope everyone else has had a good weekend and made the most of the lovely weather we had!