It has been a challenging year for many plot holders. Last winter the Beast from the East, (who remembers that?) followed by the Mini Beast ensured a late start. Beyond this, periods of relentless heat combined with lack of rain, meant yields with many crops are down. Food prices are expected to rise this winter. In some respects allotment holders have fared better than farmers.
When the rains finally came in August, soon after came the weeds. Hoeing now, to catch those young weed seedlings is an important ongoing task. It almost feels like a second spring! Nevertheless, how nice has it been recently to be able to work softer, dark coloured soil again. Gone is the need to water the soil before we can sow or plant!
It is interesting how many crops have behaved differently due to the extreme weather. One plot holder told me, she’d harvested eight pumpkins from four plants as early as mid-August here in the North. This is at least a month earlier than normal. It is a similar story with sweet corn. Rarely, have I had any ripe cobs before September, except this year. Yet some plants just seemed to run out of steam almost overnight. Sweet peas were a case in point. Out came the aphids, mildew struck and the plants just gave up.
In early August, cabbage white caterpillars hatched in spectacular fashion. I had two (foolishly) uncovered trays of cabbage seedlings that fell victim. In just one morning, I hand-picked twelve tiny caterpillars from them.
On a more positive note, the ladybird and wasp cavalry came just in time to rescue several sprout plants, becoming overrun with aphids. The plants are now miraculously recovering, aided and abetted by wetter weather. Wasps are understandably disliked by most, but this was a timely reminder, of the part they play with pest control.
This month is perfect for sowing a bed or two of green manure seeds. Winter mix is perfect for sowing now until early October. Next spring it can be dug in before the flowering. The plants reduce nutrient leaching from the soil by winter rains. They also play an underrated part in improving soil fertility.
Slugs are still active and I’m keeping a close eye on my overwintered cabbage. I give protection where necessary with the Slug Gone product – made from sheep wool. This provides a natural control. The wool makes an impenetrable barrier, the mollusc’s won’t cross. As the wool biodegrades, it enriches the soil too.
At this time of year, the aim is to produce as much food as we can as quickly as possible. The speedy veg range offers a number of quick maturing crops. Leaf Salad winter Mix is perfect for sowing now outside in a well-prepared bed. Excitingly, it can also be sown through autumn into winter on the windowsill or in a cold frame. The leaves should be ready to cut in less than four weeks.
There is also a Leaf Salad Italian Mix containing, basil, cress, mustard and wild rocket that can sown until the end of October.
Another key focus of September is to begin to tidy my plot in readiness for the onslaught of winter. Non-diseased spent crops can be composted. Diseased material such as potato blighted foliage should be put in an incinerator, provided they are allowed for use on your allotment site. This is worth checking with your local Council or Allotment Society as rules do vary. The square incinerator is ideal and the ash can be used on your plot!