Friday, March 18, 2016

Ten years without losing the plot

A sixteen month sabbatical from this blog, but all the while busy on the plot. It's ten years this month since taking it on, but this year, time's going to be very limited so it's worth considering what to grow and what not to bother with - which is extremely difficult for someone who wants to grow everything.

Is it worth growing carrots when it's hard to protect them from carrot root fly and they're so cheap in the shops? The same goes for potatoes, wire worm and potato blight and onions, garlic and white rot. Those all take up a fair amount of space too, which is limited, like the sunny patches and the beds with the best soil and drainage. Marrows, pumpkins and squash are all a bit fussy, thirsty and hungry and take up loads of space, if they don't get eaten by slugs and snails before they get the chance to, or battered by cold winds in June. They might not be worth bothering with anymore. Well, maybe a courgette or two and a pumpkin.

Greens and fruit are the least labour intensive and the most expensive in the shops. Healthy and tasty too.They tolerate quite a bit of shade, but need protecting from slugs, snails and birds. At this time of year, the allotment's full of plots with brassicas - broccoli, kale and cabbage - torn to shreds by pigeons. (Why don't people protect their crops?*) Soon the sparrows will be after emerging blackcurrant and redcurrant buds.

*There's never enough netting and it's forever blowing away or getting ripped. Last month, a pigeon got trapped in a neighbour's netting and it took a while to set it free. It's best to use heavier scaffolding netting, which won't trap birds but still lets enough light through for the brassicas and protects them from snow damage in late winter.

Birds never seem to go for the strawberries, or perhaps they leave enough behind to make it unnoticeable and they seem to find harvesting gooseberries as potentially painful as humans do, what with all the sharp thorns, so don't bother. Strawberries are rather high maintenance though, forever requiring watering, weeding and checking for slugs and snails and when they're ripe, it takes half an hour a day for a fortnight to harvest them and they rot quickly.

Blackcurrants aren't so demanding, though they take an age to pick and unlike strawberries, seem to ripen at random over a much longer period. Like everything, it's a good idea to water them well when they're in flower, quite early in the year and to give them some potash to help fruit formation. Rhubarb's very low maintenance and has few predators, though it's not a good idea to let it dry out, which can happen quite easily as the large leaves prevent the rain from getting to the roots. Like rhubarb, apple trees, once established just get on with it without much need for attention, but if you're not careful this lack of attention can be mistaken for lack of ownership and someone might pinch your crop.

Herbs, flowers and a peaceful green space are all worth cultivating. It won't really matter if it all runs wild this year.

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