Spring Cleaning

Sunday afternoon, the clouds cleared and it felt like the first truly sunny day of the year, warm on the hillside but still cool at the bottom of the allotment.

Over the weekend we’ve been clearing the allotment, planting out new hedging, pruning and thinning existing hedges that have been neglected; our foray into fruit tree pruning has given us courage and a bit more knowledge about the process. We ended up with an enormous amount of wood, so we lit a rare bonfire to burn the diseased applewood that John pruned out last week. We also burnt the hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble – all the vicious stuff – and added the smaller branches to the compost heap to open it up, encourage more oxygen to circulate.

Our hedges badly needed pruning into shape, particularly where they’re growing out into the boundary paths. We’ve also allowed the flowering currant to grow too large. The bushes make a brilliant shady area in the summer but they’ve grown over a path making it impossible to use. Now that the sun’s shifted we also need to thin and lower the hedge at the bottom of the allotment so that the beds get more sun later in the day. We planted a hazel six years ago and it now has some very useful straight trunks ready for use as beanpoles; we’ll coppice it to the ground to encourage new growth for harvesting as native-grown beanpoles, instead of buying imported bamboo. Unfortunately, not all the growth will be useable; the local council send in contractors once a year who mutilate all the hedges without prior notice and the hazel became a victim of this ‘management’ practice two years ago. A case of ‘managing’ rather than understanding or caring about growing practices. Tick the box, job done, contract fulfilled, doesn’t matter that they’ve just ruined a hedge. Continue reading

A fascination with Garlick

I love growing garlic. When we started this blog, garlic was granted a starring role; I also discovered the joys and disappointments of searching for information about a crop on the web – unsourced and unattributed ‘factoids’ that tell you little! My research training swept into action and the results were HortusLudi’s 1st series of posts drawing upon both historical and botanical sources.

My next obsession is testing growing conditions and trailing new crops and ways of growing things. I’ve just planted out a series of special garlic varieties I received from Julieanne @GwenfarsLottie. Julianne also sent cloves to growers in other parts of the UK and we’re intendng to compare results in the autumn. I’ve therefore set myself a record keeping task, checking & photographing, sharing success & failure. As if last year wasn’t hard work!

A beginning
I’ve begun rather late due to weather and work. I do normally plant out garlic in December and shallots in January/February, so not really late, but certainly not the late autumn/early winter that’s recommended. The main crop went in on Boxing Day, using cloves from last year’s crop. I always select the best & largest & hang those bulbs I intend to plant separately to the bunches for cooking. Despite the rain, we only had a small amount of white rot on the crop in 2012 (endemic across the allotment site) and managed to get it lifted at the beginning of July before the rot spread – it’s only ever present in small intermittent pockets. I planted out a special section with 7 varieties, 2/3 cloves each – the rest of the bed has been planted up with shallots saved from last year’s crop – the sets only expanded slightly rather than multiplied. All 3 garlic beds had seaweed on them through autumn before a top-dressing of our own compost mixed with leaf mould. Some seaweed is still evident but will disappear by spring. This is the 1st time I’ve used seaweed directly on garlic beds, even though it went on in November and has been covered with compost. Risky? I’d say its worth a try: the beds are at the top of our allotment, made of old scaffolding boards, set along a chalk ridge, so are free draining but needed compost to enrich a very chalky soil. I’m hopeful the experiment will work. The planting site gets more sun than the rest of the allotment, from early to late, so this might help the cloves grow and ripen, even if we have similar weather to 2012.

The 7 sets of cloves I’ve planted out – I know, they all look the same, but they are quite different, really :
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You can still see the seaweed we put on the bed, but it disappears surprisingly quickly: 30th December 2012. The bed was covered in netting to stop cats, foxes & birds digging in the soil – there was a distinctly foxy smell around the top of the allotment, so probably along a fox route through the site.

So, an experiment started; while the garlic is putting down roots I’ve several new crops to attempt – I’ll tell you about them later.

Nearly forgot practicalities: garlic cloves planted at 7″ intervals in staggered rows, with at least 1″ of soil above the cloves.

Fanged Parsnips: thinking about evidence

I’ve been having a conversation on Twitter with John Harrison (@allotmentorguk) about the truth or otherwise about manure causing forked parsnips. He posted advice a couple of days ago reminding gardeners that carrots & parsnips don’t like soil that has been manured the previously autumn as it causes the roots to fork & split. I disagreed with him, at least about parsnips, as I had a vague memory of reading somewhere that research had indicated that this wasnt actually true. John tweeted back that he’d be interested in the link, but could I find it? Nothing! I’d lost the information & felt a bit silly.

However, I’ve been sleuthing & have come up with some interesting results. Firstly, its evident that information gets repeated without much checking back as to its veracity. Every search I did came up with a list of sources, each merely repeating the ‘fact’ of manure causing forked parsnips, but no evidence.  I know from our allotment that carrots do fork in manured soil, but our parsnips tend to fork if sown in stony soil – & our chalky soil is full of flinty stones. I also remembered the origin of my questioning of the link between manured soil & forked parsnips; it was Joy Larkcom, in her book,  ‘Grow your own Vegetables’, who said: There was a long-held belief that growing on recently manured ground led to fanged roots, but experiments have demonstrated that this is not necessarily true (Larkcom, 2002; 298). Unfortunately, she gives no further information. Continue reading