One of the things I love about working an allotment is that it really keeps you rooted in the annual cycle of life. And yes, the pun is fully intended, and very appropriate.
Now, in September, as many of the summer crops are coming to an end, I find myself looking back over the year to reflect on what went well, what needs to be different next time around, and what I’d like to add into the mix.
This year the success that gave me most pleasure was growing the sweetcorn in a fenced off corner of the hen pen. Final score this year: badgers: 0; me: plenty! At long last, we had the sweetest, most delicious sweetcorn I’ve ever grown. There is nothing like eating sweetcorn cooked straight from the plant. (Though I dimly recall reading something by Garrison Keillor in which he described the inhabitants of Lake Woebegon comparing the joy of eating sweetcorn with the joy of sex; I can’t now recall which came out better).
Other things were more of a mix. The broad beans were delicious, and we could have used more. Some of the plants I overwintered survived, and I supplemented them with some spring-sown plants. This was a success, because it meant we had a longer succession of broad beans. On the other hand, once the french beans kicked in, as they did quite early this year, we suddenly lost interest in broad beans and were ready to move on, so the last of the broad beans got left behind. I should have picked and dried them, but somehow didn’t.
French beans, as always, were a huge success, and we have eaten pounds and pounds and pounds of them. These beauties never go stringy and always taste fresh and new. I’ve been collecting my own seed for several years now, and will do the same again this year. I’m aiming to gradually increase the range of plants I save seed from. I use them myself, and give some to friends and relatives who have even the tiniest space for growing.
Potatoes have also been a success this year, after last year’s disappointing losses to blight and slugs. I put them in earlier, and was more careful about earthing them up. I noticed as soon as the badgers began rooting around in them, and I covered them over. I also got them in out of the ground earlier than before. I think maybe it wasn’t the potatoes the badgers were interested in, it was the masses of earthworms in the very rich, crumbly broken-down muck I’d covered them with.
Onions and garlic – not so great this year. We had a crop, but much smaller than I would have expected. I’m not sure why – maybe that long dry spell we had in April? Perhaps I should have been watering them to ensure that they swelled as they should have done. That was a weird patch – I’ve never before used so much of my stored water in the garden so early in the year. Worrying about running the water butts in April? never before.
Tomatoes – blighted again. We had a few, but not nearly as many as we should have had. On reflection I wonder if it was carried by the rings I grow them in. I’m always careful to grow tomatoes and potatoes somewhere they haven’t been for several years, to reduce the chance of blight. This year I will carefully wash and disinfect the rings before storing them away.
Cucumbers – most of the plants got eaten early on (slugs? badgers? No idea). I wasn’t able to replace them. I harvested just 2 cucumbers in the whole season. I was picking more than that most days in previous years. I missed them sorely.
Courgettes and squash – another success story, and for once I didn’t grow so many that we were overwhelmed by them.
Soft fruit – a great success and a complete failure. Strawberries and raspberries in great and luscious abundance. I made jam from both, once we’d eaten our fill. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries – none at all, but this wasn’t too much of a surprise as I had moved the plants twice and I figure they just need time to get their feet well into the ground and settle down. Next year will be different (I hope).
Flowers – those that I grew looked really lovely. I want more for next year, including plenty to cut and take indoors.
Salads – I started well, peaked too soon, and failed to continue sowing. So now I have nothing to take us through the autumn and winter. I may be able to remedy that by buying in some plants, and resolve (again!) to do better next year.
I did manage to plant leeks and brassicas at the right time, and they are doing well (despite the best efforts of the caterpillars on the brassicas), so I look forward to a few winter dishes from the allotment.
Eggs – it remains a joy to keep hens. There were some frustrations this year when the three so-called ‘point of lay’ birds turned out to be some long way away from actual egg laying. But now they’ve settled in well and all five hens are laying, and we again have enough eggs to give away regularly to our sons and others as well as providing several meals a week for ourselves. Recently I’ve been pondering on the feed I give them (bought-in organic layers pellets, supplemented by weeds and leftovers from our kitchen), and wondering how that fits with our general policy of using locally grown and produced food as much as possible. More on that later this year perhaps.
My plans for next year (to be put in place this autumn and winter) are:
- build (for which, read ask nicely for Malcolm and youngest son to build) a fruit cage – to protect the soft fruit bushes from the birds;
- construct (probably myself) better protection for the brassicas, with finer mesh netting to keep out the butterflies as well as the birds)
- to plant some fruit trees – I would so like some apples and pears, and maybe I’ll risk a plum again (my dreams would be a mirabelle and a zwetsche, if I can find them and they don’t succumb to silver leaf disease)
- more succession sowing and planting of all sorts
- finish making the pallet terrace in front of the shed, and kitting out the shed with shelves and hooks for storage
- clear out and re-fit the greenhouse in the garden to enhance my ability to grow things in there
So – plenty to keep me busy!