Allotment news - Carol Burke - Jaba 13

The summer months are the most brilliant time for anyone who grows vegetables. I love to wander down to the allotment most evenings and potter around doing a bit of weeding, thinning and watering and best of all deciding what to pick for supper. I've grown two courgette plants this summer which have taken over quite a large area due to a generous feed of chicken manure and comfrey mulch. I picked my first courgette in early June and they will hopefully carry on until October. I don't let them get any bigger than one inch in diameter because they taste so much better small, and even though they don't keep past a day or two, with two plants on the go I can pick fresh every couple of days anyway. Read more on our View From Plot 9 page.

Beans are similar, as the small ones taste good and aren't at all stringy. If I have to go away for more than 3-4 days I take off all the beans and, if for longer, then the flowers too, rather than coming back to large, tasteless, stringy beans. They will start flowering again within a week.

I expect every gardener has struggled with the unusual weather conditions this year especially the late frosts followed by the hot dry months. Some seeds just refused to germinate and even though I watered whenever I could, by the middle of June I was on to my third attempt with beans, peas and carrots.

I even resorted to watering onions which I rarely do as firm onions store better than moist ones. Several were flowering early due to the dry conditions, making smaller onions. I lift the onions when the leaves die down around the end of July and leave them on the ground for a day or two in the sun to dry. In recent years I've grown reds and whites, the whites store better but the reds are milder and sweeter so are good in salads and lovely roasted. Growing 3-4 rows will generally keep me in onions all year.

Of course the outdoor tomatoes, sweetcorn, courgettes and other Mediterranean vegetables thrive in a hot, dry climate. Adding a good cover of mulch will prevent less tolerant plants from drying out too quickly. I use compost from my two wooden composters and comfrey leaves laid directly around crops after a good watering to help prevent evaporation.

When the last of the early potatoes have been lifted I clear the area of weeds, add a feed of seaweed or pelleted manure and use that lovely open soil to plant leeks in for the winter. I buy young plants and after making a 6inch hole with a dibber I drop the plant in and fill the hole with water. This is best done after a bit of rain otherwise the soil just falls back in. Plants are available from July and as I love leeks I usually grow at least 60 plants which will last me all winter and into late spring.

As summer draws to a close and the last of the summer produce is trickling in I'm already thinking of planting winter greens like spinach and purple sprouting as well as the odd sprout and cauliflower plant. Green manures can also be planted in autumn which help retain nutrients in the soil and prevent weeds from taking over. But most of all it's a time to contemplate this summer’s successes and failures and to start planning for the next.

Posted: Sun - October 23, 2005 at 10:48 PM