Notes from a small allotment
By Peter Hordern
The allotments became more than somewhere to grow flowers, fruit and veg in 2020, they became a haven away from the stresses and confinement of Covid lockdown. Allotmenting was, fortunately, classed as exercise and we all made the most of it. I have never seen them looking so well tended.
Unusual weather seems to be the norm these days and we are going to have to plan for it. Mini droughts, as we had last May, are now commonplace and I suspect the answer lies in mulching to keep the moisture in. Heavy rain earlier in the year made my strip beds and permanent Mypex paths a good choice because even in the wettest weather you can do the weeding.
One of the famous seed companies, Mr Fothergill, managed to sell courgette seed that produces really bitter fruits and of course I ended up with one of these. Apparently all cucurbits in their natural state are really bitter and the fruit that we enjoy are a product of very careful plant selection. Occasionally the bitter gene fights its way back and that happened in this instance.
Last year I reported that I had double dug my runner bean patch to improve yield and all was going well until we had five fiercely hot days in August. This heat managed to wither almost all of the flowers which meant no beans. It wasn't until mid September that a few new flowers brought a late crop, much to the surprise of everyone.
In the polytunnel everything thrived. I grew two cucumber varieties. The first was Market More which produces dozens of small delicious fruits, ideal for the lunch box. The other variety, Telegraph, was more of a problem. Unless you remove all the male flowers the fruits are really bitter and those male flowers appear at an alarming rate. Fortunately we did manage to grow several edible specimens.
Tomatoes grew in abundance. My two mainstays, Shirley and Sun Gold, were as good as ever but the new kid on the block was Mimi, an all yellow cherry variety which was both delicious and prolific. Apparently yellow tomatoes are less acidic than their red counterparts and these were no exception. In 2019 I grew a very dark variety called Rosella but due to increased demand for all seeds was unable to get any. I noticed that several seeds had germinated where last year's Rosella had grown so I transplanted a couple and 'hey presto' I produced one very healthy plant and lots of delicious fruit.
We had a bit of a disappointing year with sweetcorn. I was unable to get hold of my favourite Lark seed so had to make do with Incredible which proved tasteless. I still had some of my other favourite Swift so at least we had some good cobs.
I have already started the construction of a geodesic dome to grow my runner beans up. I am building it with discarded bicycle wheels (see picture opposite). We hope to open the allotments this year as part of the walkabout so look out for this unusual structure.
Elsewhere the wild flower allotment has flourished. The yellow rattle I sowed last year has borne fruit and we counted about 40 plants. These have produced lots of seed so hopefully yellow rattle will soon cover the whole plot. I was also given a small, preformed pond liner so we have installed this to help the wildlife settle in. On the allotments we are all trying to encourage hedgehogs because they feast on slugs. Unfortunately it seems that foxes like nothing better than a tasty hedgehog. You can't win! The foxes are becoming very bold and are regularly seen striding up the paths between the plots, often with the family in tow.