The early June allotment

Overnight, the weather turns. The gales are a distant memory and suddenly there are endless blue skies, the hum of insects and the lightest of breezes.

I made my first elderflower cordial of the season this week, using the earliest of Malvern Hills blooms. Truth be told, I’m not that happy about the result – it’s too ‘green’ – so will leave it for another week or two before rustling up another batch.

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Earliest elderflowers in bloom

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First harvest in evening sun

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Wildflowers in the hedgerow

It’s at this time of year that the allotment is most cruel. Whilst gardeners fling open their doors for visitors, be it through the Yellow Book or through village open gardens (of which there seem to be hundreds during June), on the veg patch there is little to show. Actually, worse than that, things are actively either dying, being zapped by wind / birds / foxes or threaten to be overtaken by grass and weeds. Twice this week I’ve visited full of vim for the tasks at hand – and twice I’ve left depressed with the slow progress and failures. For example:

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Exhibit 1: borlotti seedling totally decimated by unknown pest

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Exhibit 2: Despite forking out for all that bark, the raspberries and blueberries are studded with grass and buttercups

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Exhibit 3: The pigeon has got fat on my red kale seedlings. I am leaving them in to see if they regenerate.

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Exhibit 4: French bean seedling suffering, and a few have died. Cause is unknown but might be wind damage.

Also – not pictured – one of the gourds has been completely snapped off at the stem, either by the strong wind or, more probably, by the fox. On a similar note, the chrysanthemum seedlings arrived this week and one was instantly taken by the wind, causing all the growing stems to break off. I’ve potted it up anyway in the hope that it might send out new shoots.

I am told that set-backs are inevitable. But in professional life, failure is hard to take, so why should downtime pursuits be any different? Perhaps there is a lesson there to be learnt. The yogis have a phrase, Ishvarapranidhana, which loosely translates as ‘surrendering to grace’. In other words, if we stop trying to control every last thing then * shock horror! * the world will keep on turning and all will be well. We might even be surprised at the good things that result. I’ll try and keep that in mind.

For all my carping, there are good things happening. Matt’s hops are now 12 feet tall, towering over the beans and the greens in a display of vivacity. We’ve a few broad beans ready for picking, and the lettuces are brilliant. (They are marketed as winter lettuce mind, so the fact that they are at their best now, in June, doesn’t bode well. I’ll gloss over that bit).

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The hopolisk in full glory

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Broad beans near ready for harvest

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Onions and shallots fattening nicely

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Artichoke has once again turned into a monster plant

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Blackcurrants swelling in the sun

There are buds on the nigella and cosmos, and the foxgloves that I sowed from seed last year are nearing perfection. The sweet peas are not good, only a few inches tall. Perhaps this is normal? I have no idea. The carrots and parsnips have come on a few centimetres this week, which I will take as a major victory.

In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are growing with vigour and a few are in flower. So I try to have patience and hope that the graft will all come good in the end.

Planted out: More cosmos, sweetcorn, sweetpeas

Sowed: Fennel (indoors), sorrel (direct)

Potted on: Chillies, basil

The last day of summer

It’s the last day of August today, which to me is the last day of summer. I spent three hours doing the jobs that I’ve been putting off for a few weeks whilst the weather has been so miserable – namely, weeding. Sodding weeds. They get everywhere. Fat hen, thistle, grass, butter-cup, loads more that I can’t identify…we have them all and they are virulent. The violas which I grew from seed back in March have come up, now exhausted after their long season of colour. And the foxgloves have gone in, to hopefully acclimatise for next summer.

The best solution for weeds is total ground cover – just starve them out. The squash are doing an excellent job of that, only 10 weeks old and already threatening to take over the entire neighbourhood. These are Turks Turban and I’m hoping that they get sufficiently gnarled and weird-looking in time for Halloween. There are 9 plants, and around 3 fruit per plant….that’s a lot of squash.

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Squash weed control

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Baby Turks Turban

Only one of the fennel seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago has made it up. I think it’s the bit of land they were planted on – we only had one successful carrot from that patch too. Not much you can do with only one carrot. However I think this little seedling needs saving and so it got its own little covering to stop it being gobbled by the pigeons.

Speaking of being cosseted, the greenhouse tomatoes are proving to be – if I’m honest – a bit of a disappointment. The fruits all seem to be ailed with one of four conditions:

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Issue 1: Blossom-end rot. I thought I’d got rid of all these but obviously not. You could stick your finger in this brown patch and it would come out covered in gunk.

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Issue 2: Scarring. I think this is due to the variety but not sure…it could just be another example of being High Maintenance.

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Issue 3: Splitting. Apparently this is something to do with heat and/or water. Also known as Definitely Being High Maintenance.

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Issue 4: Being gobbled by unknown creatures

I don’t think there’s much I can do now about the first three issues, but I can the last one. The creature in question left a trail of poo which led me to discover its identity (caterpillar) and hiding den (under a leaf). It got chucked onto next door’s strawberries (is that bad?) to survive another day in the Palace of Pigeons.

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Poo! On my tomatoes!

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The culprit. That’s a lot of poo for something so small.

But on the bright side, we’re not far off a hop harvest. Matt’s threatening to put these in the freezer (he’ll be lucky, there’s no room what with all the raspberries) but I think they’d make a good kitchen decoration. God only knows if they will actually ever get turned into beer.

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Flowers nearly at harvesting stage

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Challenger hop has nearly made it to the top of the hopolisk

Took up: violas, marigolds

Seedlings protected: fennel, cima di rapa, spring onions, chard, spinach

Planted out: foxgloves

Harvested: patty-pan, the Spring spring onions, tomatoes