In the foreground, old secondary double glazing is laid on a bed to warm the soil ready for a speculative sowing of salads.
Behind that is a protected early sowing of Crimson-Flowered Broad Beans. Hard frosts were forecast so I used whatever I had to hand to add some protection. A single layer of new fleece would probably be as effective.
I’ve put homemade compost on some of the beds. That’s why they differ in colour.
After a warmer & wetter weather forecast, I removed the protection from the broad beans. The old canes laid diagonally tell me that seed has been sown. Thus I will not absent-mindedly hoe the bed and destroy the crop just as it germinates.
I also had a look under the warming glass. I found that some weeds have germinated, which indicates that the soil is warm enough to make small early sowings of radish and lettuce. Even better, there are some seedlings that might be self-set lettuce, so I will leave them and sow fresh seed in the gaps.
This bed is marked with two parallel lines in preparation for sowing onion sets. I use nylon builder’s line stretched between strong metal stakes to get straight rows.
FAQ: Why sow in boring straight lines? You could grow in pretty circles instead!
A: I plan to use a hoe to control the inevitable weeds, and hoeing is easiest along a straight line. If weeds grow unchecked the crop will get smothered and fail. This is true of almost every annual vegetable, and especially of onions.
Sow your veg seeds in a mandala pattern or inspirational spiral if you want — you can hand-weed this effectively on a small scale. But whatever scale you grow at, you should have a realistic plan for weed control!
The fine mesh was added last week to protect my leeks from Allium Leaf Miner. This fly can be on the wing mating and seeking laying sites throughout March & April. The hungry larvae cause serious damage to onions & leeks. There is a second brood in autumn so crops also need protection then. At other times you want to leave the mesh off to allow more light in, and easier access for weeding and harvesting.
In the foreground are my last parsnips which will need digging up in the next couple of weeks. You can see that they are already growing new leaves. This is the start of the flowering process when the roots lose food value. Get them out and eat them!
That’s our plan. It may be cold and wet as I type this on a February afternoon, but recall the dry spring/early summer 2020 during lockdown, the hot & dry spells in 2019 when Cambridge broke the UK temperature record, and the very long hot & dry 2018 season. Rainwater butts were empty and we had to wait for the dip tanks to re-fill. We should aim for better water provision on site, and we should make the fullest possible use of rainwater to reduce dependency on the expensive mains supply.
Superbutts – Large rainwater containers collecting from our existing roofs. A 6250L butt by the Trading Hut will serve plots 13, 14B, 14D, 17B, 17D, 18A, 18C, 18D, 19A, 19B & 19C. It will have a dip tank for convenient use. Expect calls for help installing all this. If this works out we may add superbutts on the polytunnel.
Auxiliary dip tanks – Connected to the existing tanks at plots 16A and 18B, these will double the current capacity for immediate use at busy times, so there will be less queuing to fill your watering cans.
Rainwater butts on all sheds – The committee wants to see covered butts collecting rainwater from every roof on site, including all sheds and chicken huts. On the veg plots, currently 22 of our sheds have butts collecting up to 24,000L of summer rain. 20 other sheds do not have butts: these could collect another 17,000L. To help you install cost-effective rainwater collection we will purchase some good quality water butts and guttering and offer to you at a good price, all on site at the Trading Hut. Watch out for Pat’s emails with details. If you cannot afford these or need practical advice, please contact the committee and we will help.
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: We did one lovely GYO session on March 15th 2020, respecting social distancing, but due to the lockdown I then suspended sessions. For what it’s worth, in general I think that allotments are relatively safe for a small group respecting distancing, wearing masks and aware of shared surfaces such as tool handles. But regulations disallow gatherings so we cannot resume.
For 9 years I ran ‘Grow Your Own’ sessions on my plot. I really hope we can resume for another season later in 2021.
The sessions are ideal for novices but equally if you want to come and tell us what to do, that’s great too. Get stuck in as we sow, nurture, harvest and eat. And frankly I want your practical help because illness is slowing him down these days.
We have Janet to thank for designing the society’s new logo which appears in the header above.
The design is officially a funky Trumpington pumpkin because it was inspired by the winning entry in the “Funky Vegetable” class at this year’s Cambridge Produce Show, which was grown at Foster Road allotments.