AAA newsletter Archive

AUGUST  2011

 

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Friends & Subscribers,

 

IN GENERAL

It's arrived - August  - the month of plenty!

We should all, by now, be in the middle of our annual glut. You know the one I'm talking about, where you vow under your breath (AGAIN this year) not to plant so many damned courgette plants next year - (as you also vowed last year for this year no doubt . . .) !

Your neighbours, friends, pensioners in your neighbourhood, family and even Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all, possibly let out a quiet groan when they see you coming with a wide smile and your latest armfuls of runner beans, courgettes, cucumbers and lettuce. The pleasure is ALL ours though isn't it?

That's probably one of the nicest aspects of allotment gardening, it's a direct throw-back to the old days when communities DID share what little they had. A time when being sociable, charitable, kind and friendly was not a choice - it was a given - something that was expected of you and not something that was just a personal whim, in your gift - when it suited you to be gracious. Sad to say we now live in far more independent, cold and uncaring times in 2011. However that little glow we get from sharing our hard worked produce is a nice reflection of perhaps how our lives should be - before we lost our way and became islands in our own communities. Not so (we'd like to think) within our allotment community!

So if you're keeping up with the other jobs this month (weeding, watering & hoeing etc.) you should be harvesting lots of lovely veggies now, and looking forward to more great harvests over the coming weeks.

It's easy to see that brassicas, beans, peas and spinach are now ready to pop from plot to plate. But what about root crops? You can't beat the pull-it-and-see method of determining when these crops are ready to uproot, but there are a few tips to help you pick your moment.

As a general guide:

  1. radishes should be around the size of a 10p coin,

  2. carrots should be showing around an inch of diameter, and

  3. beets should be about the size of a golf ball, with their shoulders raised above the soil line.

To make sure that your crops reach their destination (wherever that may be :-) unharmed, keep up your slug and aphid defences, and if you're harvesting potatoes, make sure you get them all out of the ground. Any tubers that are left in can lead to disease and weeds. After harvesting, you could consider sowing some green manure to condition the soil for the next lot - more about that below. So it's not a month to sit back on our laurels!

Do you remember our little friend to your left who was featured in our July newsletter? For the less squeamish amongst you you're welcome to see a video of what to do with one of these little fat, winged "meat treats" - should you be able to catch one!

Please - no complaints about cruelty to animals as no animals were treated cruelly in the making of this video. As for any whingeing vegetarians who may insist that we should not kill and eat our fellow feathered creatures who are our travelling companions whist on this earth - I say, "you're welcome to get your protein from  whatever source you can, I'll choose where I get mine". Preferably from something that robbed me of my brassicas & couldn't get away fast enough - probably because it was full of cabbage leaves!

 


OUR OTHER ALLOTMENTS SITE NEWS

1.  Aberaeron in Bloom Competition

 

Wooo-Hooo!

Whilst not every Aberaeron Allotment Association plot was entered into the Aberaeron in Bloom Competition, we have swept the board in the Best Veg Plot/Allotment section of the competition! Not only were some of the plots on our allotment site entered but other privately owned and tended vegetable plots in the town were also entered and were competing with our members who have allotment plots at our Cae Ffynnon Wîn site.

The Result?

1st Prize has been awarded to Tig (Brenda George Plot 11). Tig is our very popular "tattooed lady" who tends plot 11 - all on her own. From digging & rotovating to planting, weeding watering and harvesting she does it all single-handedly. Not only is she a prize-winning allotmenteer but she also looks after a severely disabled husband and young family. What an example!

The prize which has been awarded after all entries were independently judged by the Aberaeron in Bloom Committee judges will be officially presented to Tig at the town's annual carnival event on the August Bank Holiday Monday. For those of you who can - please be there to support and clap our Tig. WE ARE IMMENSELY PROUD OF YOU Tig!

But it doesn't end there! We also have two runners up from amongst our members. Because the judges could not decide on an outright winner for second place that award has been split equally between Phil Harries (our allotment association secretary on Plot-07) and Anne Lewis (our allotment association treasurer who tends Plot-12). Congratulations to you both as well.

We are extremely proud that the three of you have put our little allotment association firmly on the map of our town. I'm SO pleased your efforts have been rewarded in this way - you thoroughly deserve it. The three of you have not just put on a quick show  for the competition. You have been diligent, and have worked hard at your plots throughout the year. In gardening, input (work) is directly proportional to output (good crops & rewards). There is no short-cut. WELL DONE!


2.  Polytunnel Damage - Ongoing Investigation

Remember this?

I certainly do. My polytunnel got damaged by a person or persons unknown on two consecutive days in May and again in identical fashion a month later in June this year.

As some of you who are keeping up with this story will know, the Police firstly took away a spade from the scene of the crime. They checked for fingerprints but could only get a smudged set of results. After the fourth attack they took away some polythene for what they call "chemical analysis".

I had given up hearing from them, because they have taken so long to get back to me. Their reason was that the lab was processing evidence slower than usual because of some murder crimes that happened in our police area around the same time as the attacks on the polytunnel. They did however say that they did not suspect vandals or children of perpetrating the crime and suggested it was probably someone "closer to home". However, they could not approach the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) without concrete evidence. All they had was circumstantial evidence.

RESULT! On the 6th of this month WPC Nia Griffiths contacted us. I assumed she was going to tell me that the lab had not found anything. However I was mistaken. The Crime Lab found not one but FOUR clear fingerprints on the polythene that was taken away, along with DNA evidence from the chemical analysis - presumably from sweat on the culprit's hands.

This is obviously a result. The fingerprints and DNA have been checked against the National Crime Database but no matches have been found - yet.

This is probably the last opportunity that the person responsible will have to contact me personally to come to some amicable arrangement without the matter getting into the public domain.

3. Our Annual General Meeting (AGM)

This year's AGM has been scheduled for September the 20th. It will be held in the upstairs room at the Cadwgan Public House.

Full details of the meeting will be circulated in good time by our Secretary Phillip Harries, via e-mail to all members of the AAA. This will include the deadline for the General Management Committee Officer nominations for 2011. There will also be a deadline for any formal proposals that will be tabled at the meeting. Any formal proposals for changes to our rules or committee officer nominations will need a proposer and a seconder who are both plot-holding members of our association and named on a Tenancy Agreement. All nominations and proposals need to be sent to our secretary by the deadline provided. They need to be either written on paper or delivered via e-mail to our secretary. If multi nominations are received then a vote for the selection of officers will be required. That vote will take place by private, paper ballot on the evening. The results will be counted and declared on the evening.

Ideally, it is the goal to get ALL members to attend the AGM, or as many as possible - it is the most important meeting of the year. Should you miss some other meetings you should make a special effort to be at the AGM.

Consequently the AGM has been scheduled for September, when most members have had their holidays and children are back at school. Our secretary Phil Harries will contact you with the details nearer the time. He will also provide meeting details and an agenda etc. at the appropriate time.


4. Gail's Allotment "Pet's Corner"

Some of us have dogs or cats as pets, but Gail & Richard (Plot-9) are a little more extravagant in their selection of wildlife "pets" on their plot!

Last year they discovered a drowned Larch Saw-fly in their water butt. This year they found another one - still alive, but only just. After masterful execution of micro Cardio-Vascular Resuscitation on the insect . . .   - no silly - just joking!! It was scooped out and left to dry in the sun before flying away. What's all the fuss? You may ask, well it's not one of those insects that you bump into on a regular basis. here's a picture (I happened to have my camera with me on the day it was discovered):

Notice what looks like a huge "stinger" at it's tail end? It's not a stinging implement at all - these flies are harmless - so whatever you do don't kill one in assumed self defence because you think you're about to be stabbed by a giant sting. That organ at it's rear end is a saw that it uses to saw a round hole in larch tree bark where it then lays it's eggs. Unless you think you're a larch tree you don't need to panic!

Not content with larch flies sharing their plot, they then discovered an Elephant Hawks-head moth caterpillar five minutes later. Ever seen one of those? Here it is - don't run away!

Not for the squeamish perhaps, but again don't be alarmed by it's appearance & size. Totally harmless - unless you think you're a fuschia bush, that's right, they have a weakness for fuschia leaves.


WEEDS & WEEDING

Webster’s definition:

Weed - “plant growing where it is not desired.”

A weed can be defined as a plant of any kind which is growing in the wrong place. There are many examples of this situation including chickweed smothering lettuces, moss in the lawn and last year’s spuds in amongst current crops such as leaf beet. All weeds compete with cultivated plants for the three essential requirements of life: water, nutrients and light. For that reason alone they have to be removed before you start cultivating and continually during cultivation. Weeding ranks right up there with housework: it's one of those chores that just never go away. As soon as you clear out a patch of weeds, it seems to grow right back, like a gecko's tail. But it IS possible to achieve.

Starting a vegetable plot on an allotment filled with weeds can be an overwhelming task. However, it is possible to start a vegetable plot even from the most weed infested patch - if you put in some hard work!

We have excellent examples of how this can be done when you look at the incredible job that Stephen Parry has done on Plot 14 and Mike & Eileen Evans have done on Plot 10 this season. Both of these plots had been seriously neglected by their previous occupiers. Neither had been cultivated and both plots were absolutely infested with docks and other weeds. However within a matter of DAYS the plots were back under the control of their new occupiers - what another wonderful example to all of us. It also shows us how important it is for us as a committee to be selective in who we rent plots out to. Some on our waiting list are obviously keen, serious and hard-working gardeners. Sad to say not all existing Plot-holders on our site can be categorised in that same way.

Before anyone starts a new vegetable plot, they MUST clear away the weeds, otherwise they will continually struggle to produce meaningful crops, even worse, it will only be a matter of time before they lose the joy of growing their own as the perpetual weed battle coupled to the  sight of their unkept plot and moans from other plot-holders changes their experience from being a joy to being a chore. That would be a huge shame.

The old adage of 1 year’s seeding means 7 year’s weeding is not far from the truth. Some seeds, (such as poppies for example), remain viable for decades and will germinate when moved to the top inch of soil. So it's very important NOT to let them seed in the first place.

The weeds on a plot come in different sizes and characteristics. Weeds can be divided into two groups:

  1. ANNUAL weeds, and

  2. PERENNIAL weeds.

Annual weeds mature, reproduce and set new seeds within one season. They can spread rapidly through wind or mechanical dispersal and set on the soil of neighbouring allotment holders as well as the soil of the plot where they are growing. This is a grossly unfair and selfish deed on behalf of the plot-holder responsible for the weed infestation.

Perennial weeds are much harder to control because they can survive in the winter weather. Perennial weeds can spread by root and seed, as their name suggests they also reappear every year. To completely get rid of perennial weeds, you must dig out the roots to prevent them from growing back. Some perennial weeds such as horsetail and ground elder cannot be got rid of. The only thing that you can do is to control their population.

Having to weed is a bind for most gardeners. It's certainly a headache if it's allowed to get out of hand. The only way to get on top of the job is to snaffle them at a manageable stage in their growth. Give them too long to establish (quite easily done at the height of the growing season because it takes a VERY short time for them to germinate and get going at an alarming rate) and you're going to be staring down the barrel of an impossible task. The weeds will have overtaken your crops and may be growing in greater numbers and more aggressively than your crops. It can soon turn into a hopeless task because your attempts may destroy your crop or the weeds may have strangled and shadowed them out before you can save them. Weeds have also evolved strategies to get the drop on our cultivated veg. plants.

Moisture & Nutrient Robbers

Weeds are serious moisture, nutrient and yield robbers. Sometimes they can have a drastic effect on crop size and quality (onions and sweet-corn are an excellent example of this).

Weeds compete successfully with your cultivated vegetables because they absorb more mineral, nutrients & water in the soil around them, simply put they're better at it than our cultivated plants. Many weeds have very shallow roots & can absorb the rain water before it seeps into the soil for the desired, slower-growing plants who have deeper roots. Fruit trees suffer enormously from weed overgrowth around them – hence the reason fruit tree experts always extol the virtues of keeping the area around fruit trees weed-free and using a mulch to keep the moisture from being robbed by weeds and/ or evaporation.

Weeds can cause significant crop reductions: 10 to 50% or more depending on the circumstances. Sweet Corn plants growing without competition from weeds are taller, more vigorous, & better able to withstand drought & any insect or disease damage than the weedy corn growing right next to them. The weed-free corn yields more & the ears are fuller. When it comes to onions, if you want under-sized bulbs that often bolt, because they're stressed and robbed of moisture - grow them in a weed infested bed. Onions are even sensitive to sharing their water & nutrients with other onions. That's why exhibitors grow them at least a foot apart and remove all weeds from the vicinity.

Adequate light is essential to plants because it powers the process of photosynthesis whereby green leaves convert the sun’s energy into things essential for plant growth. Weeds that block out sunlight from your crops will starve your cultivated plants of sunshine and consequently they won't be able to convert nutrients into food through photosynthesis. The ultimate competition is achieved by parasitic plants, those that get all their nourishment from the tissues of a host plant to which they are attached. These parasites are almost impossible to control without destroying the host plant. Ivy is a good example of such a parasite.

Certain weeds,  can out-compete other plants by a kind of chemical warfare called allelopathy (examples include creeping buttercup - which is rampant on the Cae Ffynnon Wîn allotment site). Creeping buttercup also depletes the soil of potassium. Some weeds have what is called ‘allelopathic’ (poisonous) tendencies. The roots of such species produce chemicals that inhibit either the germination, growth or development of their neighbours. This can include veggies. Allelopathic plants include creeping buttercup, couch grass (sometimes called twitch), creeping thistle and chickweed. Rhododendron is the classic poisonous plant. An allelopathic plant secretes a growth inhibiting substance (gaseous or chemical). This substance is absorbed by another, sensitive species growing close to it. The result is the target plant's growth is then inhibited - how "sneaky" is that? A good idea to let the weeds get on with it undisturbed? I don't think so - do you?

Pests and diseases can often be harboured on weeds. Fungal rust, an orangey powder that coats leaves, can affect garlic and leeks. It also thrives on groundsel, for instance. Fat hen (also known as Good King Henry) and dock frequently host vast armies of aphids which then home in on runner and broad bean crops. Common nettle is an important alternative host of carrot fly and removal of nettles from hedgerows has been suggested as a means to suppress the pest. Certain weeds are alternate hosts for plant diseases. These are viruses that can only be stopped by destroying the weed. Otherwise, once infected the plant must be destroyed.

Weeds can also be hazardous to your health. They can cause allergic reactions – I personally have a particularly nasty skin reaction to certain nettles. After being stung I develop deep watery blisters that turn ulcerous for about two weeks before they heal - leaving scars. Other gardeners I've met over the years suffer from all sorts of plant allergies - it's an occupational hazard, but it is one that can be reduced greatly if your allergy is caused by a weed.

Among the many thousands of kinds of plants, only a couple of hundred are undesirable enough to be considered important weeds. There are some weeds that thrive only in the wild & there are some that thrive only in cultivated areas. Besides making an allotment plot (or garden) look ugly, weeds rob desirable plants of nutrients, water & sunlight.

Why Control Weeds?

Simply put, if you don’t control them, they WILL control you. The main reason to eliminate weeds is that they are out-and-out robbers. Most are aggressive plants; that’s how they survive in spite of much adversity. Their aggressiveness is often the characteristic that defines them as weeds.

After a while you begin to wonder if it really is all that important to do. After all, many books (and certain modern "garden gurus") espouse the benefits of "green manure" and "living mulches" - what makes those different from your average weeds? These are the red herrings raised that confuses many people

Not only do weeds compete against whole crop and single vegetable plants for moisture and nutrients, they can also harbour insect and disease pests which then move to your valuable plants. Don't be fooled by the "Lazy Gardener Myth" that weeds distract pests away from your crops - they are not blind or stupid! It's a supply and demand thing - you provide lots of food & shelter for pests in the form of weeds - they'll supply the plague that will devour what's put in front of them - including your prized veggies. Worse still you supply the weeds and it may be your plot neighbour who suffers by having his crop devoured by the pests you've encouraged.

I will not put too fine an edge on it, to be bluntly honest, most of the way-out theories of many modern gardening gurus are myths created for lazy gardeners! Unfortunately like many other myths, some of them are picked up and believed. Especially by fresh new gardeners, and through no fault of their own, they get bogged down trying to get things to work. As the theories are often nonsense the new gardeners get disillusioned and pack it in. Thank you for your fine help modern "Gardening Gurus"! Mind you, it's not all to do with "modern" myths. There are some Victorian techniques that need dust-binning as well. As an example they believed that you could get a plant cutting to root better if it was allowed to wilt for a few days! They also encouraged the bending over of onions before they were ready to fall over themselves; believing that you were aiding the ripening process. Crop rotation was new to them and some still used the third year fallow system - believing the only way for soil to recover it's fertility was to leave it alone.  All myths I'm afraid!

Green manure, properly used is fine and cannot be ruled out as a myth WEEDS ARE NOT GREEN MANURES for digging into soil. Green Manure is the name given to plants/crops sown that will later be tilled into the plot soil. These plants are usually those that provide nutrients to the soil (like nitrogen) and as a rule are planted in off years when you don't put any food crops in the bed. Green manure plants include amongst others, plants like clover, alfalfa, mustard, fava beans, rye and buckwheat. They are also great for attracting pollinators. You DON'T sow green manure plants among the plants you're cultivating, anymore than you allow weeds to grow around them. Often used in the vegetable garden, their foliage smothers weeds and their roots prevent soil erosion. When dug into the ground while still green, they return valuable nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure.

Living mulches, on the other hand, are plants you stick in the ground in and among your food plants, like clover. In theory they stay low, shading the soil from the harsh rays of the sun and the sharp patter of raindrops. Additionally, they are supposed to smother out "weeds." I know someone who tried some of the clover last year...it did very well, it grew quite tall, and took over a section of his garden. It seems to me like what we're talking about here is just another weed! I.e. "a plant of any kind which is growing in the wrong place" (at the wrong time).

So where do you draw the line between weeds and living mulches? Maybe it all comes down to the species of plant. Clovers, after all, do help provide nutrients to the soil. "Weeds," on the other hand, steal the nutrients and water from your crops, reducing your yield, sometimes monumentally. Does the clover not do this, too? If you sow it amongst your food crops it will. Because although it contributes nitrogen to your soil via it's root nodules when it's dug in, it also has to live on something whilst it's growing. The idea is that those nutrients it sucked up are returned to the soil when you dig it in NOT whilst it's growing and competing with your vegetables for nutrients, water & sunlight.!

We'll just have to resolve ourselves to pulling the weeds out by hand or by using some weeding tool like a hoe. And, if you are like me, and keep putting it off, let me give you some hard-learned advice: don't. Get out there and pull those weeds as soon as you see the little swines sticking up between your plants. If you don't keep on top of them, they will take over and before you know it, those lovely plots that you sweated and strained over, digging by hand, planting with loving care, will once more become part of nature's jungle and you'll stand there looking at your strangled veg wondering what happened. Yes - and then you'll find yourself back at square one, having to re-dig those beds, only this time you'll have to be careful not to damage the surviving food plants as you thrust your spade into the soil to uproot the weeds and grasses. The hard-won truth is that you must keep up with the weeding every week.

Gardening - including weeding is a management exercise. You can only cope with what you can manage (each individual has his/ her own level - depending on age, health, strength, knowledge, experience & efficiency). Provide 50 square metres of food for pests in the form of crops AND weeds and you'll have the corresponding greater number of pests to deal with. Cut out the weeds and your management load decreases - it's quite simple. If you have a pest problem that you can't cope with - (through bad weed management) then you may be shipping that pest problem on to your plot neighbour. Not to mention the weed seeds that will land on his/her soil. Is that fair on your neighbour?

Know Your Weeds

Click on any weed name from the list below to see pictures and a full description of that weed from the Garden Organic web-site. Fascinating! It's always good to be able to recognise your enemy - before you meet it face to face!

Annual meadow-grass    
Annual mercury    
Barren brome    
Black bent    
Black bindweed    
Black medick    
Black nightshade    
Black-grass    
Bracken    
Bramble    
Broad-leaved dock    
Bulbous buttercup    
Canadian fleabane    
Caper spurge    
Cat's-ear    
Charlock    
Cleavers    
Cock's-foot    
Coltsfoot    
Common amaranth    
Common bent    
Common chickweed    
Common couch    
Common fiddleneck    
Common field-speedwell    
Common fumitory    
Common hemp-nettle    
Common mouse-ear    
Common nettle    
Common orache    
Common poppy    
Common ragwort    
Common sorrel    
Common toadflax    
Corn chamomile    
Corn marigold    
Corn spurrey    
Cow parsley    
Creeping bent    
Creeping buttercup    
Creeping soft-grass    
Creeping thistle    
Curled dock    
Cut-leaved crane's-bill    
Daisy    
Dandelion
Dove    
Dwarf spurge    
Evening-primrose    
Fat-hen    
Field bindweed    
Field forget-me-not    
Field horsetail    
Field Madder    
Field pansy    
Field penny-cress    
Flixweed    
Fool's parsley    
Gallant soldiers    
Garlic mustard    
Giant hogweed    
Goat's-beard    
Greater plantain    
Ground elder    
Ground-ivy    
Groundsel    
Hairy bittercress    
Hairy Tare    
Hedge bindweed    
Hedge mustard    
Hemlock    
Henbit dead-nettle    
Himalayan balsam    
Hoary cress    
Hogweed    
Ivy-leaved speedwell    
Japanese knotweed    
Knotgrass    
Lesser celandine    
Lesser trefoil    
Long-headed poppy    
Meadow buttercup    
Mouse-ear-hawkweed    
Mugwort    
Nipplewort    
Onion couch    
Oxford ragwort    
Pale persicaria    
Parsley piert    
Perennial rye-grass    
Perennial sowthistle    
Perforate St John
Petty spurge    
Pineappleweed    
Prickly lettuce    
Prickly sow-thistle    
Procumbent pearlwort    
Red dead-nettle    
Redshank    
Ribwort plantain    
Rosebay willowherb    
Rough meadow-grass    
Rushes    
Scarlet pimpernel    
Scented mayweed    
Scentless mayweed    
Selfheal    
Sheep's sorrel    
Shepherd's purse    
Slender speedwell    
Small nettle    
Smooth hawk    
Smooth sow-thistle    
Soft brome    
Spear thistle    
Spear-leaved orache    
Sticky mouse-ear    
Stinking chamomile    
Sun spurge    
Swine cress    
Thale cress    
Thorn-apple    
Thyme-leaved speedwell    
Volunteer cereals    
Volunteer oilseed rape    
Volunteer Potato    
Wall Barley    
Wall speedwell    
Weed Beet    
White campion    
White clover    
Wild radish    
Wild-oat    
Winter wild-oat    
Yarrow    
Yorkshire fog    

EUREKA! Then Disappointment.

As some of our members who venture into my polytunnel from time to time will know, I've had a little problem with tomato leaf curl this summer. The tomato plants appear healthy and were producing well, BUT their leaves look as if they've got big problems.

They've been curling upwards, and although there are no signs of dryness, brown edges or the like, it's been the source of a little mystery. Another popular name for this condition is "tomato leaf roll". The plants are meticulously watered every evening during sunny spells, and are fed with organic tomato feed containing seaweed extract once or twice a week during watering sessions, the leaves still give the appearance that they are growing in the Gobi desert!!.

I've had suggestions  that vary from a virus infection, to herbicide exposure, as the possible causes. The most popular theory being the effect of heat - as polytunnels aren't as well ventilated as greenhouses. Also air dryness and night cold have been added to the list. The general consensus is that overheating may be the culprit. Well it seems that the over-"heaters" have it!

On the left is an excerpt from the Grow Your Own magazine. It seems to hit a chord when it comes to describing what seems to fit my tomato leaf problem symptoms.

So - EUREKA - I've found it! Without a doubt the cause is too much heat. So now I've deployed the services offered by Graham Thomas (one of our waiting list friends who is standing in the wings patiently waiting for his plot). As Graham, walks his dogs past our site every morning, at a very early hour, he has kindly offered to open my polytunnel doors for me on sunny mornings - as he goes past.

As the temperature in there has been recorded at over 100o F at ten in the morning then Graham's help will be invaluable. THANK YOU VERY MUCH INDEED Graham. Your kindness is greatly appreciated!

According to Chris Beardshaw (see the article to your left), leaf curl (or "roll") is nothing to worry about, as long as the plants are healthy and producing.

With such a drain on their energies - to produce and ripen fruit - they can't concentrate fully on their leaf condition because energy resources are being diverted elsewhere.

So there we are then - it's nice to know they're not suffering!!!!

 BUT I spoke too soon. No later than a few days after writing the above I've been hit with blight!

On going down to my plot on the 15th of this month I was confronted with an "S" shaped swathe that looked as if a huge snake had slithered across my potato patch! You guessed it - BLIGHT. The scourge of all potato and tomato growers. Late blight had raised it's ugly head once again this year. It wasn't unexpected. During that warm but humid weather we had, the Fight Against Blight team from the Potato Council had had sent me quite a few warnings that "Full Smith Periods" had occurred in the SA46 & SY23 areas (those are the areas that I watch for the Potato Council as their Allotment Blight Scout).

To work - usually the procedure is to cut the haulms at ground level and then lift the tubers before they get affected. They shouldn't be left longer than about 3 weeks after disposing of the blighted haulms. However as my main crop was reasonably mature I set about lifting the tubers straight away. Thanks to some help from Stephen & Ben his son (Plot-14) I managed to get most of them dug up in two evenings.

Then the horror of horrors. Not only had the blight got to the spuds, but because my polytunnel doors are open during the day (to stop the tomatoes getting too hot), the blight spores must have blown straight in there and blighted ALL of my tomato plants (blight spores get carried by wind AND rain in temperatures above 10oC- as it does not rain in a poly-tunnel I can safely assume it was the wind). Now that WAS a BIG disappointment. Indoor tomato plants are usually pretty insulated from blight, it's their outdoor relatives that usually get struck down. AMAZINGLY I see some outdoor tomato plants on our site that have survived unscathed (yet that is). I'm in the process of disposing of my poor plants right now - most are covered in semi ripe but now rotting fruit! You just can't win sometimes can you?! OK - think positively - only six months to go before I can start next season's off. Who am I kidding - I'm gutted!


DID YOU KNOW?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest tomato tree grows at Walt Disney World Resort’s experimental greenhouse and yields a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes and weighs 1,151.84 pounds (522 kg). The plant was discovered in Beijing, China, by Yong Huang, Epcot's manager of agricultural science, who took its seeds and grew them in the experimental greenhouse. Today, the plant produces thousands of golf ball-sized tomatoes that are served at Walt Disney World's restaurants, and can be seen by tourists riding the "Living With the Land" boat ride at the Epcot Center.

"Not a lot of people know that!"


THE RIGHT TOOL 4 THE JOB!

Series of articles on traditional gardening tools

"Why do we insist on making such hard work of digging and cultivating our plots with tools that make us bend and strain our backs when millions of people all over the world work the soil with faster, easier and more logical tools which avoid much of the drudgery and backache that we take so much for granted?" (Simon Drummond - Get Digging web-site).

In fact we have come to expect pain when gardening in this country! How many times have you heard quips about gardeners and their aching backs? Or how the bank holiday will come and bring sore backs and lost work time to over enthusiastic "Sunday" gardeners!

If you subscribe to the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" then go no further - if, on the other hand, you see no virtue in making hard work even harder then try these tools and you'll wonder how you ever managed without them.

A few issues ago I promised our readers that I would write a series of short articles on traditional gardening tools. Here is the second tool described in this series.

Part 2

The Aberaeron Shovel (Y Rhaw Goes-hir)

The second tool in our series is the Aberaeron Shovel. This shovel is also known in other parts of the country as a "lazy-back" shovel (e.g. Pembrokeshire Lazy-back shovel), Cardiganshire Shovel, Cornish Shovel, Celtic Shovel, Lurgan Shovel, Irish Potato Spade etc.. From this selection of names it becomes evident that this tool is the product of the Western Celtic Fringe of Europe. It is still widely used to this day in upland Wales, Cornwall, Devon & Ireland.

This shovel has a long, slightly bowed ash staff with rounded end and a wide pointed blade. People who have used this type of shovel will tell you how much easier it is to use than the conventional spade/ shovel. The steam-bent ash shaft allows the user to dig and twist the shovel, the front of the thigh is also used to push the shovel forward into the soil when shovelling and loosening the soil while keeping an upright posture.

Shovels with triangular blades and long curved handles were made in the forge in the mill in Aberaeron by the Davies family which was established in the 1850s.

Surviving records show that thousands of shovels were made at this forge each year from the 1850s until January, 1939.

They were also made by Griff Jenkins of Cwrtnewydd, Ceredigion until 1976 and similar shovels were made in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. They were designed to avoid back-bending work, and for that reason were sometimes known as lazy-back shovels. They were also known as the Irish potato spade, the Lurgan shovel and the Celtic shovel. Large firms such as Elwell and Nash also made shovels of this type.

The photo on the left (date not known but probably around the 1930s). Was taken of a work gang. Notice that every worker in the gang is armed with an Aberaeron shovel. Ceredigion County Council road workers were all issued with this type of shovel.

This shovel was the primary tool used by all workers on farms and building sites, not to mention gardening plots. It's ergonomic shape and efficient leverage meant that a worker could continuously use it as a tool to move earth without undue strain or tiredness.

The use of all types of shovels has fallen into disuse with the advent of mechanical diggers & excavators over the last thirty odd years. However on the allotment plot this long, bow-handled shovel  can still rule supreme in the tasks it was originally designed for. It's greatest use - where it cannot be equalled by any other tool - is in the job of digging out potato rows and then ridging the rows. Later, it is perfect for the task of earthing up, after the ground between rows has been loosened up using a mattock or azada (the Spanish name for mattock, that comes in many varying forms, the azada was features in Part 1 of this series of articles).

So popular was it's use in the potato fields of yesteryear that many local shows still have ridging competitions where these shovels are used to compete in the task of ridging. The winner is the competitor who digs the straightest row, at a set depth against the clock.

 

This is a photo of David Williams from Broad Oak, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. Mr Williams, a country carpenter, is seen here shaping the handle of an Aberaeron shovel at his village workshop in 1982.

 

Then and now.

On the far left is a picture that shows off the carefully crafted "bow" of the shovel. Notice that the end of the shaft is also shaped slightly to provide maximum comfort and ease of use. A lot of thought had gone into this design. The tool has been made around the body of the worker. Not only is it ergonomically efficient, but the principles of leverage are used to their full potential.

This type of shovel is still available. Most large shovel manufacturers and tool suppliers sell them, usually by the tag of "West Country" shovel. Whilst the West Country shovel is very similar in design to the Aberaeron shovel, it does vary somewhat in it's design. The modern West Country shovel, whilst sporting an almost identical blade, has a straight shaft.

To the connoisseur who has been brought up with the Aberaeron shovel, this straight handled version does lose a lot of it's efficiency by not having the key feature of a bow in it's handle.

However, beggars cannot be choosers. A long (but straight) handled shovel still scores very high over the "mad-man's shovel"! That is the quintessential blunt, square blade, with a yard long shaft (designed for a dwarf) that needs you to stay doubled up with your back bent whilst you try to scoop & lift your material in the most awkward "stress" position that you could imagine. A torture tool - obviously not designed by the person who had to use it!


BIG "TATERS"

 

Big, Bigger, Biggest!

Never let it rest,

'Till the BIG is bigger & the BIGGER'S BIGGEST!

 

Try saying that after trying out the home-made rhubarb wine!

I can't finish this newsletter without giving large potatoes a mention. It all started off with me opening my big mouth about my modest 1lb ¾oz single Maris Piper spud (see below). Well I thought it was quite big at the time!

Quick as a flash Tig pops up and informs me that she had a 1lb 6½ oz single "white" and  single Kerr's Pink that weighed in at 1lb 3½spud - both beating the pants off my effort (I now have the evidence - she forgot to attach her pics to the e-mail she sent me earlier. - but I believed her! ;-) Now here's the proof. .

I then casually mentioned this in the Gardeners Chat-Shed. No sooner had I done that, than my friend Dave Amphlett (a keen allotmenteer) from Shirley up in the Midlands comes back with pictures of his effort which he posted on his Blog in the Chat-Shed. Wait for it -

 

To put this in perspective, here's another photo of the same spud but this time he's taken it on a shovel!

Mama Mia what a whopper!!

Tig & Co. this looks like a gauntlet throw down to me!! Are we going to take this lying down? Time to plan the strategy for next year!

I think this has the makings of an annual cross-border competition don't you? With the prize being the bragging rights for a full 12 months after winning. In fact if it catches on perhaps some gardeners in Scotland & Ireland might want to join - then we could make it the "Four Nations Biggest Tater" prize!

Let battle commence!!

 

 

 


That's it for another edition. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any contributions you would like to make to our future newsletters then feel free to contact me by clicking on this e-mail address below:

 

 

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Until the next time - keep busy, keep hoeing those weeds, but have fun & ENJOY on your plot!

Remembering the golden rule:

"Always treat others as you would wish them to treat you . . . "

 

Kind Regards,

 

G

Gwilym

Aberaeron Allotment Association Chair

AAA and Gardeners Chat-Shed Webmaster

 

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QUOTE:  

"The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies." -- Gertrude Jekyll