Thursday, 31 July 2014

Not Too Bad for Blight Hit Potatoes

That fine July weather seems to have deserted us now as the last couple of days have been cooler especially Wednesday.

I thought I'd lift a few more of our blight hit potatoes which lost their haulms a few weeks ago now.
This is how they looked before I started digging them up. The centre row of Nicola seem to have withstood the blight better than the Winston to the right and Rocket and Casablanca to the left. The ground was very dry and hard and digging out the potatoes was tough going.
I'm glad I don't need to convert this stuff into a fine tilth for planting. It resembles concrete more than it does soil. I'm a little surprised anything could grow in it at all. 
I was pleased with the Nicola potatoes I managed to extract from the hard ground. The crop was heavier than either the Casablanca or Rocket growing alongside and mercifully all the potatoes were free of slug damage.

However even though the potato tops had stood up to the blight better than some varieties I think some of the tubers might have been affected.
I think the damage to this potato is the result of blight. I will need to keep a close watch on stored tubers.

The first three varieties have now been lifted from this bed and the crops are low but I'm pleased to have any potatoes at all after blight attacking the crop in June.

The weights of the first three rows of potatoes lifted are shown below.

I think I'm going to lift Rocket and Casablanca grown under weed control fabric next and see how they have fared.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Unwanted Visitors

Monday was another nice summer’s day with the temperature once again into the mid twenties centigrade.

I now know what is causing the problem with our Oullins gage plums. The tree is infested with plum moth maggots. Today I picked a few fruits that looked like they might be starting to ripen but still had someway to go.
Not a particularly attractive looking collection of plums and I had a sort of an idea what I might find inside one or all of these plums. There was no way I was going to bite into one without a careful inspection inside first.
This is the culprit the maggot of the plum moth. I cut into four plums and each one had one of these pink coloured maggots inside. They are about 10mm long with a dark brown head.

It’s now a question of throwing all the available controls at our plum trees as its likely that they will all be infested. The trees will get a pruning first of all to bring them back to a more manageable size. In winter they will get sprayed with a winter wash and in spring pheromone traps will be hung in the trees to attract the male plum moths who then get stuck in the trap. I’ll try and pick up as many of the fallen plums as possible and dispose of them away from the allotment. There are also suggestions that grease banding the tree maybe beneficial so I might give that a go as well.

Hopefully if I can get all these measures completed it will start to cut down the infestation year by year. I don’t think there’s a quick solution.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Here’s One I Built Earlier

Sunday was cooler and pleasanter than Saturday. We still had plenty of sunshine but the temperature was in the low twenties rather than the thirty degrees centigrade of the day before.

After a week of wall and step building I was in need of a bit of steam train photography but with steam locomotives banished from the main line in Yorkshire due to the fire risk they cause it meant a visit to a Heritage railway. I decided on a visit to the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, somewhere we hadn't been before.
The journey to Lincolnshire meant using the M180 River Trent bridge crossing and as this is a bridge I helped build over 30 years ago now. We broke our motorway journey to see how the old girl is aging. From what I could see she’s still looking pretty good.

After working on this bridge I worked on developing computer simulation techniques to assist in the design and construction of these sorts of bridges. Trent Bridge was the first of its type to be built in this country.
After a short stop we were back on our way to Ludborough Station on the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway. I knew from a bit of web research that it is only a small heritage railway operating steam trains between Ludborough and North Thoresby a distance of about 5 miles.
I always have my doubts when visiting one of these small heritage lines just what we will find. Will it just be men with oily rags and without any efforts to welcome anyone other than a true steam locomotive aficionado. That’s not what I'm looking for. As it happens the railway seems pretty family orientated with a museum, a little snack bar in an old railway coach and very importantly some friendly staff.
After watching one train depart off up the track to North Thoresby we headed for the “Steaming Kettle” buffet for a sandwich, some homemade cake and drinks whilst we waited for the train to return. After lunch we caught the next train along the short stretch of track. The railway seemed to be busy with visitors of all ages eager for their trip on the train.
Our plan was to move on to nearby Cleethorpes for the afternoon to have a little look around the town and a walk along the promenade. The journey to Cleethorpes was uneventful and didn’t give any indication of the masses of people who had descended on this seaside town. 
There weren't any obvious car parking spaces to be had but as Sue commented even if you found somewhere to park there wasn't any space left on the footpath to walk on in any case. We didn't stop to explore I much prefer the rather gentler surrounding of the Heritage railway than the chaos of Cleethorpes on a busy summer’s day.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Phew! A Scorcher Produces Both a July and Yearly High

Well Saturday really has set the bar very high as the temperature reached 30.3°C in the middle of the afternoon. That’s our hottest day of the year and a record high for July but only by 0.1°C. 
In spite of this spell of fine weather it now looks as though our on’off crop of Oullins gage plums is now definitely off. It’s around now that we would expect them to turn from a dark green to golden, orangy, yellow as they ripen. Instead they’re turning rotten directly from their green colour and falling off the tree. 
To add insult to injury the wasps still find the partially rotted fruit attractive so picking up the fallen plums from around the bottom of the tree isn't the safest of tasks.

Oh well perhaps our Victoria or Marjories Seedling trees will produce some ripe plums. It’s a funny old year on the plot.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Cucamelon Day

Another day of hot sunny weather and another record as Friday takes over from Thursday as the hottest day of the year. It was only by 0.1°C but we have reached the 28°C or 82°F mark for the first time this year.
At lunchtime the decision was made to try a taste test on our cucamelons. Critically we now had two tiny cucamelons so we could have a whole fruit each to taste. Sharing one would have been tricky. 
The two tiny fruits got a careful wash and were the first things to eat from our lunchtime plate, a sort of fruity amuse bouche. (I've stopped watching so many cooking programmes now).

Being a bloke I just popped the whole thing into my mouth and gave it a chew. Sue was far more lady like biting off a small piece as a taster. I chewed and got a faint flavour of cucumber. Sue’s verdict was that it was more or less tasteless. Certainly we both thought the fruit was a disappointment and unless there’s a great improvement in any later fruits it’s something we won’t be growing again. Sorry James it‘s not for us.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Little and Large

Thursday continued the spell of fine weather as it became our hottest day of the year reaching 27.9°C notching up the record by 0.5°C.
It wasn't a good day for doing this.
It’s worth noting that the standard size potting trays sold by all good garden centres are just about the right size for mixing a standard size 25kg bag of ready mix mortar or concrete. They’re not much use in the greenhouse afterwards though. It was hot and sweaty mixing concrete for foundations and mortar for our blockwork wall outside our summerhouse but with only a little bit of mortaring up left to do this little project is just about completed.
In our home greenhouse our tomatoes are continuing to grow well unlike the plot greenhouse ones planted in similar grow bags.
Our little Sungold tomatoes are now starting to turn. We've had a few from the plot greenhouse and they're really tasty so are already added to next year’s growing list. Who else will join them?
These large Big Boy Hybrids are looking good but aren’t showing any signs of turning just yet. Will they too pass the flavour test and get added to next years list?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Maximum Zoom!

Wednesday continued the spell of beautiful July weather.

On Monday we visited RSPB Dearne Valley or Old Moor. As usual the birds played hard to photograph insisting on making sure they were out of decent photographic range. Sue posted some photos on her Flickr page here. Just to be different here are a couple of pictures I managed, one not too bad but could do better and one well, shall we say at the very end of the cameras zoom range. That’s my excuse any way.
This is my not too bad one as this blue damselfly sat just long enough for me to find it in the camera viewfinder before it was off whizzing around the pond not settling again and disappearing from view.

My second picture as I said is by any standards not very good but the chatter in the hide was all about a golden plover which was hiding itself amongst a large flock of lapwings. With the camera acting as a telescope it took me a long time to pick out this individual.
 Just to give you a better idea of where this bird was below is a general shot taken from the hide.
The golden plover if indeed that’s what it is is amongst the birds that can be seen wading just off the mud bank in the centre of the picture. I've also learnt that the tiniest speck of dust or mark on the camera lenses is also magnified to enormous proportions on maximum zoom. I've still to find a good method of cleaning a camera lens to absolute perfection.

This particular golden plover must have problems with its internal clock as RSPB Old Moor is, according to the RSPB, a good place to see wheeling flocks of migrant golden plovers in autumn. This ones’ arrived a couple of months early.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

An Evening Visit

Tuesday was another lovely warm July day with the temperature making it up to 26.6°C in the afternoon.

We left it until early evening to pop down to the plot to do a bit of watering and any harvesting that took our fancy. As it was we spent a bit of time callin’ as they would say in these parts or gossiping about the rather pathetic set of allotment rules and regulations the council have introduced this year.

We did manage to water the greenhouse and a few newly planted crops as well as harvest a few Sungold tomatoes, Loch Ness blackberries and the first crop of Cobra climbing French Beans of the season.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Strange Year for Potatoes

July seems to be back into its warm and sunny mode after a rather poor Saturday. It’s turning out to be a rather pleasant month weather wise.

This year we started lifting our first early potatoes on 20 June 2014 as opposed to 08 July 2013 and 02 July 2012. Normally I lift a few early potatoes as soon as they've finished flowering and whilst they still have plenty of green haulms. This year some potatoes succumbed to blight early in June and when I dug up our first roots they had already lost all their foliage. Our remaining potatoes have been sprayed against blight a couple of times now with an application of Bordeaux Mix two weeks apart.

No more potatoes have been affected by blight but some have already died down naturally which I think is very early for us, some are just refusing to grow at all and some have produced some fantastic foliage and hopefully an excellent crop.

The video below is a tour around our plots to see how the potato crops are performing.

Monday, 21 July 2014

When’s a Cucamelon Ready?

I thought that the Met Office had all the bases covered for Sunday’s weather, cloud, rain, thunderstorms, and maybe an odd sunny spell. Fortunately for us they hadn't covered a nice summer’s day which it turned out to be with the mid afternoon temperature reaching a very pleasant 24.5°C.

I thought I'd start the week off on a positive note and what I'd like to think of as the exotics growing in our home greenhouse are doing well.
This will be our first ever cucamelon. I’m not sure how much bigger I should let it grow before we sample it but at its current size there will only be a tiny morsel shared between two.
Our “Himrod” grape vine never seems to let us down and this year is proving to be no exception. So far this summer I have just about managed to keep it in check by cutting back the new shoots to prevent them taking over the greenhouse. We'll have to wait a few more weeks before the grapes fully develop their lovely sweet flavour.

On the other hand our “Brown Turkey” fig growing just inside the doorway of the greenhouse now has some figs ready to pick.
Whilst growing your own has a few setbacks now and again it also has its upsides like picking your own figs and grapes.

I’ll let you know how that cucamelon tastes as soon as it’s given the taste test.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Welcome Rain and a Strange Forecast

The Met Office forecast for us was right for Saturday as we had spells of rain on and off throughout the day with some thunder late afternoon/early evening but without the storm if you get my drift.
Saturday’s rain amounted to 8.6mm bringing our monthly total up to 60.8mm which is above average for the month. At least the allotment shouldn’t need watering for a few days.

The forecast for Sunday is unusual in that the hourly details are for cloudy conditions or for sunny spells. In the evening a couple of hours are indicated as a light showers day. All that seems reasonable except that we are in a yellow warning area for possible heavy thundery showers which might develop at any time through the day leading to localised flash flooding or of course some areas might stay dry all day. Not much of a forecast as I don't see how it can be wrong with all bases covered from no rain to flash flooding.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

“Britain Burns on Hottest Day”

I just thought I'd pinch one of the over the top media headlines for Friday’s weather. The headline does say Britain so where do I live? Our “heat day” came and went on Thursday and even then it wasn't quite our hottest day of the year.
Friday’s high for us was 22.3°C. The cloud was thick enough to give some light rain around lunchtime and the sun managed a very brief appearance around 13:00 before disappearing behind the clouds for the rest of the day.
We had a mooching about sort of an afternoon on the plot doing a little bit of harvesting, feeding, and dead heading - that sort of stuff. I finished digging up our first row of early potatoes, Casablanca which haven’t had any foliage left on them for a few weeks now. The yield was small, 5.3kg from about 12 roots, but only one of the tubers had any slug damage so all the rest of the harvested potatoes can be used. 
Digging up the potatoes I couldn't help but notice how dry the ground was and I did considering giving some of our newly planted leeks and brassicas a good soaking but then with lots of rain forecast for Saturday I decided to wait and see.

Friday, 18 July 2014

No Wriggle Room

Thursday was a very warm summer’s day but a high of 27.1°C wasn't quite the hottest of the year missing out by a mere 0.3°C to 12 July. Another hot day is forecast for tomorrow and then thunderstorms.

In the garden I've had to relegate work on the coldframe courtyard to complete what I’m going to call the summerhouse steps. As each little bit of garden renovation takes place I loose one of those areas where all the things that will come in useful one day are stored. The coldframe courtyard is one of those places and some materials stored there are to be used constructing the summerhouse steps. I've got no wriggle room left for the materials so the steps have to take precedence.
I'm rather ashamed to say that this little project has been left unfinished since our summerhouse was built. This was partly because we weren't too sure how to finish off this little area and it was easy enough to get to the summerhouse in any case. 

Day one involved a little bit of planning and a little bit of setting out to figure out how the treads and risers of the steps would work as well as a little bit of foundation works.

The foundation works were left to go off for a couple of days which gave me time to visit the local DIY shop for ready mix concrete, mortar and a few walling blocks.

Thursday wasn't the best of days for hand mixing either concrete or mortar. A little bit too warm but I mustn't complain about a spell of fine weather. I had a final inspection of my setting out details to make sure I thought all the levels would work out and then started mixing.
So after a rather sweaty afternoon I'm now back at the stage of having to give the steps a couple of days for the concrete to set. I’m hoping that another couple of afternoons will see the job finished.

It’s just a possibility though that those thunderstorms in the forecast might delay progress. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tomato Advice from the Royal Horticultural Society

Tuesday and Wednesday were rather similar days being cloudy and muggy throughout the day but clearing early evening to give a nice sunny end to the day.
As we are members of the RHS, Sue decided to e-mail them taking advantage of this part of the members service and see what advice they had to offer regarding our plot greenhouse tomato problems. I must admit I'm very pleased with their response which was almost within 24 hours. They think that the tomatoes are suffering from stress due to high greenhouse temperatures. Now I must be honest this could be true as trying to control the temperature in a greenhouse several miles from home is a bit tricky. It does have an automatic vent which opens as the day warms up but it does get very hot inside the greenhouse with only this vent open. I can't really put my finger on why but it just seems wrong to leave the door slightly ajar all the time on the plot greenhouse and we also thought that keeping the door shut would help protect from blight.
Not all the varieties of tomatoes are equally badly affected. Our three Sungold plants are doing okay and are the best looking plants in the greenhouse. We grew this variety after all the blog recommendations it received and it certainly has lived up to its billing. We tested three tomatoes today and they tasted really ‘tomatoey’ especially after all the shop bought mass produced ones.

The good news for us is that our plants don’t have some dreadful lurgy which is gradually destroying all our plants and if we can improve the ventilation we might yet salvage some sort of crop. Does this sound like someone who isn't going to grow tomatoes next year?
I've managed to open a couple of low down vents on the old aluminium greenhouse which haven’t been used for many a year. I've fastened some old chicken wire over the opening to hopefully deter any larger creatures from entering the greenhouse. I know there are several frogs inside the greenhouse who jump around when I'm watering. There’s a couple of vents around the other side of the greenhouse and I might see if I can get them open too.

This may mean cooler temperatures in the greenhouse by night. The temperature in the early hours of Wednesday morning fell to 9.6°C so it’s possible this may delay ripening of our fruit but that’s a far better option than no tomatoes at all. It now remains to be seen if any of the badly affected plants can make some sort of a recovery. One poor plant has had all its black fruits removed. It didn't have any normal green tomatoes and all the current flowers have died without setting fruit. It would be rather amazing if it now actually managed to produce any fruit.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Are Tomatoes Really Worth the Effort?

Monday morning was lovely and sunny but after lunch we had lots more cloud about. By late afternoon it was that sort of cloud that makes you think its going to rain any minute but it never actually did.

Last week I blogged about our home greenhouse tomatoes and the fact that they were doing much better than last year. I shouldn't have done it and as if by magic on our next visit to the allotment we realised that the tomatoes growing in our plot greenhouse are lined up for a disaster this year.
A rather casual glance and the plants don’t look too bad but when you look a little closer the green tomatoes have a problem. Look at the green tomatoes at the top of the plant on the right of the picture. First reaction is that the fruits have developed blossom end rot.

Then after actually inspecting the plants more closely I’m not so sure. This isn't blossom end rot.
As if this isn't bad enough the whole plant is showing signs of distress. The plants have certainly stopped growing and the leaves at the top of the plant are curling inwards and look very fern like whilst the older leaves are turning yellow rather prematurely.
The leaves look very similar to the fern like appearance cause by hormonal weedkillers which we’ve had problems with in the past. All the tomatoes are planted in large size Levington growbags with three plants to each bag. I'm not entirely convinced that the problem isn't something to do with the growing medium.

Now we're into environmentally friendly peat free composts it seems that anything can end up in the compost you buy. I've yet to find a peat free compost that gives consistently good results but I suppose that’s another story.

Like many gardeners these days when I find a problem it’s time to have a look on the Internet to see if there are any solution out there. The nearest disease I've found so far is tobacco mosaic virus but how the plants have actually got this I've no idea. If my hunch is correct then it seems most likely that all the plants will be infected and will need to be destroyed.

Now I'm not going to compost these diseased plants and the Local Authority allotment rules prevent me from burning the plants so they're going to go in a large bag and finish up in the green waste bin that the council will collect compost and add to new bags of peat free compost and so the cycle goes on.

Like I said at the beginning of this post I don’t think tomatoes are worth the effort as a successful crop has probably got nothing to do with effort nowadays but whether or not you are lucky enough to get a batch of decent compost to grow the plants in.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Last of the Trio

After overnight rain Sunday took until  lunchtime to brighten up to give us a bright and breezy afternoon.

Back in March I bought a trio of early brassicas from Marshalls seeds. These were cabbage Duncan, calabrese Marathon and cauliflower Mayflower. The cabbages and calabrese produced some good crops which we finished picking a few weeks ago. When the cauliflowers arrived on the 23 March 2014 they looked like this.
They didn't look the best of specimens and the cabbages and calabrese looked much the same. All the plants were potted on and given some tlc in the greenhouse and the cabbages and calabrese responded well but the cauliflowers were another matter and didn't seem to want to grow at all.

By the 05 May 2014 when the name suggests they should be “cauliflowering” the plants still hadn't done much growing but we decided to plant them out on the plot and see what would happen to them.
I wasn't sure if they would survive or become another meal for the slugs. Surprisingly they survived and after a settling in period started to grow away well. As you can see from the picture below by the 29 June 2014 they'd gone on to produce some excellent plants but up to that point no cauliflowers.
On Sunday we harvested our first cauliflower. I must admit I expected them to be ready before July but it’s a bonus as in May I wasn't expecting them to grow let alone produce any crop.
The Marshalls plants certainly filled a gap producing some early summer brassicas well before the cabbages, calabrese and cauliflowers from my spring sowings. I might even give them a try again next spring.