HERE WE ARE - THE FIRST
NEWSLETTER OF 2013! It's a bit late, but as you more ardent
news-letter readers will have noticed, the news-letter is now a
bi-monthly offering. It's a bit of a weighty project to produce one
All the cold
and wet weather we've had is no help either. With an extremely
wet season in 2012, followed by more of the same throughout the
winter, it's been impossible to get all the chores of various
seasons accomplished. Still Spring is on the way with the days getting noticeably
longer. Roll on the equinox, when we'll be invited to play with our
clocks once again!
These two months aren't exactly a hive of activity down on the
allotments anyway. Having said that I'm sure some of you readers are by now
eyeing up the broad bean, onion and parsnip seed packets, the end of
February is traditionally the start of the spring wake-up process on
Things will have
to get a lot more weather-friendly before I get kick-started into
life though! Over the years I've learned the hard way that rushing off too
early - before the soil has warmed up - invariably leads to tears
because of poor germination and checked growth. E.g. did you know
that carrot seeds won't germinate unless the soil temperature is
above 7oC and grass needs 11oC to start
Traditionally February is the month to sow parsnips - my advice
is DON'T! Why this month has ever been ear-marked for sowing parsnips
is beyond me, at least not in our northern climes. Unless you
want tears of frustration! It's far better to wait until the end
of March at least. I have a nagging feeling that whoever
promoted sowing this member of the Umbelliferae family in
February in the UK was actually promoting a sick joke!
This is the
Umbelliferae family of plants:
them are notorious for their poor germination rates - especially
in cold & wet soil. If your soil is warm enough in February then
of iffy germination rates many in the Umbelliferae group have
quite short seed lives, consequently it's a good practice to
refresh your seed stock of these plants on an annual basis.
some confusion may have arisen because some plants (like
parsnips) are "cold weather" vegetables. Meaning that they have
a long growing season and are often better left to "frost"
before being lifted as the sweetness of flavour is enhanced.
Because they have a long growing period it really is not
critical to get them sown too early. On the other hand, they are
best left in the ground until they have been exposed to coldness
at the other end of their growing season - usually around
February in the FOLLOWING season after they've been sown.
Gardeners Chat-Shed web-site has past the 300 registered members
These are registered members who have opened a member account
with us. Many more unregistered visitors browse the site on a
daily basis to check it's contents, read the blogs and generally
to glean information from the gardening articles and fact-sheets
on there. Registered members can also do more, like chat about
gardening subjects, exchange comments on our "Twitter" type
service called The Wire and upload photos of their allotments
and gardens. The bulk of our members are from the UK, with a
strong following from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US,
Denmark, France, Sweden & Germany - some are ex pats, others are
just interested to meet and make friends with other gardeners
from around the world, and to get answers to their gardening
problems from like-minded people in the gardening community.
Using Your "Home Grown" Produce
joy of preparing, sowing, growing and harvesting our fresh &
healthy allotment/ garden produce is at the heart of the reason
why we put in so much hard work into our gardening hobby.
However that is only half the story.
a sad fact that tons of home grown produce sometimes goes to
waste across the world, simply because many of us run out of
ideas about what to do with all those fresh & healthy vegetables
& fruit we grow so successfully (sometimes!). The grower is not
always the person who then has the headache of knowing what to
do with the produce - especially in times of gluts!
We've always had a
"recipes" section on both the Aeron Vale Allotment
Society web-site and the Gardeners Chat-Shed site.
However, I've put a little more thought into this
section of the sites over these winter months.
Sorting out recipe
indexes is more complex than most people realise. E.g.
do you categorize them in meal types (e.g. breakfast,
dinner/ lunch, tea/dinner & supper). Or do you go for
main dishes/ starters & side dishes/ salads/ chutney,
relish & pickles/ preserves, jams & jellies/ cakes/
desserts etc. etc. etc. It's mind boggling!
started off with five categories, each with it's list of recipes.
However I soon discovered that some recipes crossed over from one
category to another and it meant that the reader had to go down the
list in each category, to find what he/ she wanted, or to see what
caught the eye. This, by the way, is how most cookery books do things.
So I sat
down & started thinking laterally (outside the cook's kitchen!).
of growing food is a seasonal one, you don't normally come home with
apples and spring cabbage. You don't normally think up or look up a
good recipe and then toddle off to the allotment to fetch the
ingredients. Chances are you wouldn't find what you want at all
times of the year.
what happens is the allotment grower turns up in the kitchen (after
a hard day's slog on the plot) with a big trug full of what's ready
to be harvested and eaten at that specific time (often in gluts).
The poor cook/partner is left scratching the head about what do do with
all this lovely fresh produce!
dawned! What's needed is a list of recipes for specific produce. So
when the grower turns up - whether it's with beetroot or broad beans,
what the cook needs is a recipe that can be quickly & easily found that uses
those specific ingredients either separately or together.
SO our recipe
page is in the process of being revamped. As I write this
news-letter it's still a "work in progress" but it's getting there!
When the new recipes section is completed I'll mail out a memo to
everyone to let them know that the new recipes section is up and
running (I hope it doesn't overlap into the spring-time sowing
IT'S THAT "CHITTY" TIME OF THE YEAR
you got your seed potatoes yet? If you can't find what you're looking for
locally (and please DO try to support your local suppliers whenever you can) then
why not give JBA Seed Potatoes a look-up?
JBA are one of our society's web-site
sponsors and they have a wonderful range of seed potatoes at excellent prices.
Established in 1895 as Jamieson Brothers of Annan they've been going strong for
118 years! So they know their spuds. You can order from your armchair off their on-line shop. Just click on the
graphic above to have a peek.
A fascinating veg. is our humble spud. It's
history is amazing, and we seldom realise the journey it has taken to land up on
our plates. It's difficult to visualise life without potatoes isn't it? But up
until the late 16th century the potato was the secret food of the South American
Indians. It was domesticated by pre-Inca people about 8,000 years ago (they
selectively bred the poisonous wild plant until it was safe to eat - I wonder
who the guinea pigs were?).
The potato is of course a close relative of
the Tomato and the Dahlias. It's not recommended that you eat their leaves
either, because like many plants of the Solanaceae
family the leaves of
potatoes do contain high levels of a certain poison. Potatoes (like
tomatoes) contain poison in the stems and leaves – and even in the potato itself
if left to turn green (the green is due to a high concentration of the
glycoalkaloid poison). Potato poisoning is rare, but it does happen from time to
time. Death normally comes after a period of weakness and confusion, followed by
a coma. On a humorous note - I know many allotmenteers who get stuck in too
quickly at this time of the year with an ensuing period of weakness and
confusion, followed by a (sleep) coma!
The majority of cases of death by potato in
the last fifty years in the western hemisphere have been the result of eating green potatoes or
drinking potato leaf tea. Potatoes are direct
of nightshade - the deadly member of their family! This little snippet of
information also helps us understand why our tomato plants are so vulnerable to
blight. In the blight spore's eyes the tomato leaf is just as inviting as those
of it's cousin the potato.
Why? What Problems?
Across the land
regiments of potatoes will be forming sprouts in egg boxes and
other containers as the Nation's gardeners get down to chitting.
But what is it? Is it
necessary? And what do you do if it all goes wrong?
don't chit their potatoes, but have perfectly good harvests. A
potato peeling in a compost bin may happily develop into a
healthy plant (annoyingly, and quite often - these "volunteer" spuds,
as they are known, appear in the most unlikely of places!). A potato will grow whether
you chit it or not. From a personal point of view I'm not
obsessive about chitting. If commercial growers, who always want
to maximise their crops don't, then I really don't think it's a
must for us amateur gardeners.
So why does your
common-or-garden gardener have this obsession with chitting?
Having said all I have in the last paragraph, there's something
very traditional about this happy habit - it's just part of the
scene. For me the very process of putting seed potatoes in used
egg trays, bringing them into the light and watching them
gradually develop stubby little green leaves is a buzz that
lifts a gardener's heart at this time of the year. Of course, it
also keeps the allotment chat going - "have you started chitting
your spuds yet Charlie . . . . ?"
there are other arguments for chitting - apart from tradition &
"buzz". Chitting is exposing potatoes to light so that they
sprout. It gives your potatoes a head start, a bit like
germinating your other seeds under protection before planting
them out. Potatoes are not hardy (they originate in Peru) and
are prone to blight; by chitting them you are giving them a good
chance of survival once they are planted. It also gives you a
chance to remove any diseased tubers and to reduce the number of
sprouts on each tuber to encourage larger potatoes, After all,
unlike a commercial grower we have to make every tuber count.
Potatoes will, or
course, sprout without exposure to light, but this produces long,
white sprouts that break easily. What the gardener wants are
short, thick, green or purple sprouts that will promote quicker
growth when the tubers are planted. To obtain these your seed
potatoes need to be placed in a light, cool place and protected
from frost. Cardboard will protect your potatoes from cold which
is why egg boxes or trays are ideal. A night covering of straw
or newspaper strips will also offer frost protection.
sprout at different rates but on average it will take about 4-6
weeks. You should get more than one sprout per potato. To
maximise the size of the potatoes in your crop, you can remove
all except the two strongest sprouts. Just rub the others off
with your thumb. Large seed potatoes can be cut in half, with
two sprouts left on each half. Although that procedure can
actually be counter productive, as it exposes the tuber to
disease and rot in the soil.
Grow when you leave
your potatoes in the dark. Simply rub the white shoots off with
your thumb and set your potatoes to chit in a light & cool (but
frost free) place. There's no harm done and new, dark shoots
will still sprout.
If your shoots have
black tips you have them somewhere that is too cold and the
shoots are dying off. Before you rub them off, double check -
the shoots could be very dark purple. If the tips are black, rub
them off and move your potatoes somewhere warmer. No harm has
been done and there may still be time for them to sprout. If
not, plant them anyway.
Green and/or Mouldy
If any of your tubers
are green, mouldy or very soft they are bad. Remove them
immediately to prevent any infection from spreading. Some
suppliers will offer replacements but there may be a time limit.
Forgot to Chit?
If you have completely
forgotten to chit, but the time is right and the soil is ready for
planting, go ahead and plant. You don't have to chit. It's not a
complete disaster. Your potatoes will still grow.
Likewise, if any of the
above problems occur and it is time to plant, go ahead and
plant. Some gardeners get obsessive about potatoes, about
chitting and planting. I remain in awe of a simple spud that I
can stick in the ground and a few months later have 15-20 spuds
just like it. Chit if you can, but if you can't then don't be
disheartened or have a nervous break-down over it!.
OF MY OWN ALLOTMENT PLOT NEWS
trusty seed box (a small wooden drawer, that now has a new
lease of life as a seed box - since the item of furniture it used
to belong to took a hike to the recycling centre) is out of
hiding, for checks on seed stocks and their dates, (who can
resist doing that at this time of the year?).
will be sent to Lajos at Seed Parade in the coming week. I
usually try and buy most of my stocks locally, however there are
a few things I get from our web-site sponsors & supporters. Seed
Parade is one of those sponsors and they supply me with the seeds I
use each season. Any varieties that I can't source from
Lajos will be hunted down nearer home.
shallot (Golden Gourmet) and onion sets (Autumn Gold) have been
sourced, and I'm going to sow some of my onion seeds (Ailsa Craig) in
a seed tray in the polytunnel in the next few weeks. The Broad Beans may also get started
in there, they'll be planted in saved winter stocks of spent toilet
roll tubes. That'll be in the next couple of weeks as well, along with Early
Onward peas and possibly some sweet peas. The plan is to have a show
of sweet peas along the fence between my plot and the public footpath -
they were planned for last year, but rain stopped play so many
times, with floods that cover that area, that the plan got
squeezed out of contention. Better fun this year - hopefully!
compost, none of this can take place. Last year I got caught out
badly with low peat content rubbish that over 70% of my seeds failed to
germinate in (some will remember my rant on the subject in a
news-letter from last year!).
mistake this year. Thank goodness for Jack's Magic - REAL peat
based compost -
from Neal at Blondesbury Park Garden Centre in Cardigan. Neal is
another web-site sponsor. He's also supplied me with my shallot
sets and other bits and pieces this year. There's nothing quite
like a friendly & helpful relationship when it comes to these
things. When you have people like this that you can deal with
who needs a cold indifferent service from a large national
Magic is not the cheapest around, but the extra few pence is
more than worth it - if you want proper results.
be using Jack's Magic for our hanging baskets & tubs again this
year. However that's at HQ and not on the lottie.
Hopefully that will be a
task after a breather from veg seed sowing and
planting in the frantic spring. It's never safe to put out the
more delicate pretty things in our area before the end of May.
Although we live by the sea on the west coast, Jack Frost (there
seems to be a lot of "Jack's in this news-letter!) has a
sneaky habit of having one last nip around May.
then, it'll be a trip to Alan & Erika at Grannell Nursery.
They're another of our web-site sponsors and usually supply me
with the plants I need for my baskets & borders.
I decided to give Vales Emerald a go as one of my early
(new potato) varieties - instead of the usual Charlotte.
It's a Maris Peer/Charlotte cross,
so, with such tried and tested varieties in its pedigree,
I was fairly confident that this new First Early was going to be a
The proof of the pudding will
remain in the eating until this year. Unfortunately Vales
Emerald never made it to my collection last year - I missed the
boat and failed to get my hands on some decent tubers. However,
this year my better half's eagle eyes spotted them for a good
price whilst she was passing through Wrexham on one of her
pilgrimages to visit family up in Birkenhead. So one quick
phone call later they were snatched up and brought back to base!
I've read some good reviews about
Vales Emerald, one reviewer saying
"An ideal variety to grow as a ‘baby' potato". Apparently
"each root will yield a high number
of round to oval, white skinned, firm, cream fleshed, great tasting
tubers". We'll see - watch this space around June/ July, when my
personal female food processor and the rest of the family will give me
their verdict! That's the most important and critical review of all!
So here's my list of this
year's proposed plantings:
That'll be my little lot for
2013 - I'm hoping they don't all get drowned too often - as
their brothers & sisters did last year!
OTHER ALLOTMENT &
Horticulture on the Curriculum
from Next Year
will now be taught in schools
from September 2014, a move very
much welcomed by those of us who
were brought up in the good old
days of common sense following
the second world war! That
"common sense" was borne out of
the nasty fright we received
when we realised that not enough
of us knew the basics of growing
our own and nearly went on to
feel the pangs of starvation
during the food blockade during
that war - despite the Dig For
In my grammar school days (in the 60s), there
was a subject called "Rural
Sciences" that was still taught
in secondary schools in Wales.
An excellent subject that gave
all children a fine grounding in
the art of horticulture, and
even if you didn't go on to do a
degree in horticulture and
become something like a head advisor at the Royal
horticultural Society (or
similar!) Then you at least knew
the rudiments of the subject.
The consultation on reform of
the National Curriculum states
that pupils from Key Stages 1–3
will be taught ‘to cultivate
plants for practical purposes
such as for food or for
decorative displays’ as a key
activity in design and
The next challenge, however,
will be ensuring that all
teachers are prepared for this
important addition to the
Sarah Cathcart, RHS Head of
Education and Learning, says:
'We’ve been campaigning for this
for nearly 10 years so we are
thrilled that the Government has
recognised that there is a need
for children to be taught
gardening at school. Our
research shows the huge range of
benefits to pupils, so this is a
significant step and one that we
are delighted by.'
'We now need to help teachers
and school staff get the support
they need to teach horticulture
to children. More than 16,300
schools are signed up to our
Campaign for School Gardening,
which gives teachers access to
useful resources such as lesson
plans and tips for planning and
setting up a school garden. We
also have a team of RHS Regional
Advisors who work directly with
The Food Growing in Schools
Taskforce report, which
referenced research carried out
by the RHS in 2010, highlighted
the following benefits for
school pupils through gardening
achievement e.g. gardening
literacy and language
Builds life and
employability skills e.g.
financial literacy, builds
enterprise and communication
skills and helps motivation
Improves health and
well-being e.g. growing fruit
and vegetables leads to a
better understanding of food
and nutrition and an
increased consumption of
Sense at last say I - so there
IS a glimmer of hope for the
KNOW YOUR PESTS
Whilst the carrot fly,
also known as carrot root fly, won't be a problem in February,
you can bet your last pair of little white cotton socks
it'll come visiting later on - when you start to thin out your
carrot seedlings! So it would be a good idea to read up on this
pest right now.
in mid-April to May to begin laying eggs in the soil close to
plants. Eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days. The small maggots burrow in
roots for 3 to 4 weeks, then pupate. They can have two or three
generations per year. The first generation adults are active
from mid April to June. Larvae feed on roots starting in May and
June with the subsequent second generation adults emerging in
August and September. Late second and early third generation
adults are active at the same time with the second generation
adults lasting into October. Crop damage accumulates over time.
They infect their host
plant's roots causing widespread damage to crops. The damage is
caused as the fly larvae feed. Signs to check for are leaf
discolouration, and holes or tunnels in the carrot. The holes
often turn a rusty colour due to a fungal disease called carrot
or parsnip canker which commonly infects the damaged area.
Plants affected by
carrot flies are (as you might have guessed) the whole carrot
family. The main host plant is carrots but they also attack
celery, celeriac, parsnips and parsley - our old friends
the Umbelliferae family group again!
Carrot root fly is a major pest of these plants, and is a very
carrot flies are part of a group known as stilt-legged-flies.
They have long orange legs, a black body and a red/brown head.
They're about ¼" (4mm) long and poor fliers.
The larvae of the
carrot fly are the major cause of plant damage. They are maggot-like in
appearance, growing to about ½" (10mm) in length and are creamy
yellow in colour. Carrot fly pupae are
brownish yellow in colour and are found in the soil. Carrot fly larvae often
cause widespread damage since they move through the soil feeding
on different roots.
Adult carrot flies
overwinter below ground and emerge in the spring to mate. The first generation of
eggs are laid into the soil surrounding the host plants. A second generation
emerges in July and August. It's this generation that
over-winters in the soil. Occasionally there can
be three generations a year if environmental conditions are
If carrot or parsnip
canker spores are present within the soil, they can often infect
the areas where carrot root fly larvae have been feeding. This
causes a rust colouration of the affected areas.
lot written about carrot root fly, including some myths about
the way it can be controlled. Many tips are given about e.g.
companion planting. Some organic growers reckon that by sowing
onions alongside your carrots, you can fool the fly into not
attacking because the onion odour masks the carrot smell. In my
experience, to depend on the fly being fooled into not zeroing
in on your carrots with onion odour "masking" is highly
speculative to say the least! In my own (admittedly not under
strict scientific condition) experiments I have found that this
method does not work very well - I would not depend on the fly's
uncanny carrot scent mechanism being confused by a few dozen
onion plants! You can try if you like, but don't tell me I
didn't warn you!
the fly is admittedly not a very good flyer and tends to hog the
ground in flight - it will fly above two feet. Some gardeners
are convinced that if they sow their carrots more than two feet
above ground then they'll be safe from this inept flying pest. I
can only quote Medwyn William - the prize veg growing expert -
on this one. He grows his show carrots in blue barrels that are
twice that distance above ground and even he has problems
keeping the dreaded carrot fly away. So don't rely on that
method on it's own either! Whilst growing carrots halfway up to
the sky will perhaps reduce the risk - the fly will find them,
especially if there are no easier hunting grounds nearer the
soil for it.
fly are attracted by the scent released from bruised foliage.
They mainly take to the wing during the day and in bright
sunlight. If you have to weed or thin carrots, do it on a dry
evening with no wind when the scent of the carrots will not
spread so far. Pull carrots for eating in the evenings too, for
the same reason. All thinnings should be removed from the near
vicinity as soon as they are taken out of the ground.
is being done to develop resistant strains of carrots. If you go
down that route then choose those that show at least some degree
of resistance, such as Fly Away F1 and Resistafly F1. I don't
like using F1 hybrids - on principal. Whether it's my
imagination or not, but I also tend to think that "resistance"
bred varieties tend not to taste as good as the established
varieties. If you breed for resistance then flavour is not
usually at the top of your priority list as a plant breeder. The
same I find applies to blight "resistant" potatoes. But
sometimes "beggars can't be choosers" when it comes to these
layer of grass clippings about 2½" (that's about 5cm) deep
between the rows of carrots when they reach about 4" high high.
This should come right up to the base of the plants. Top up with
a further ¼" (1cm) layer at weekly intervals for four weeks. The
mulch enables the carrots to make better use of nutrients and
water in the soil, it smothers annual weeds, encouraging healthy
growing conditions and improves their ability to resist attack.
It also makes it more difficult for the female flies to lay
their eggs in cracks in the soil. A range of creatures will make
their home under the mulch, some of which will be predators of
the carrot fly such as ground beetles and centipedes. BUT watch
out for slugs and snails which will also thrive in those
For The Good News!
simple and VERY effective way of avoiding problems with this
VEGGIEMESH or FLEECE! I call it the "barrier method".
has replaced the insect netting, Enviromesh, that used to be so
popular. The quality is better and the prices are much lower. It
is made of exactly the same material, it has exactly the same
hole sizes and is available in exactly the same widths, the main
difference is the reduced prices.
experience the only way to truly protect your
carrots & parsnips from carrot fly is to cage them in so that
the fly is thwarted from being able to get to them. Don't leave
any gaps though!
need is some alkathene (blue water pipe) cut into lengths to
form hoops. You then cover your rows of carrots with this
Veggiemesh "tunnel". Some growers use fleece instead - draped
over the crop. That is an inferior way to do it, although it
does work well & keeps frost away from tender seedlings. The
choice is yours!
- and you can sleep quietly in your beds at night - whilst
knowing your carrots & parsnips are tucked up safely in theirs!
info. on other pests will be published in future issues of our
200 sq ft garden, with a low worm
population of only 5 worms/cubic foot,
will be provided with over 35 lbs (about
a third of a pound per worm) of top-grade fertilizer
- by the worms - each garden year.
"Not a lot of people know that!"