SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2012

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Gardeners, Friends & Subscribers - wherever you are!

imagePLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES IF YOU RECEIVE TWO COPIES OF OUR NEWS-LETTER - that'll be because your e-mail address is registered with both our Aeron Vale Allotment Society & Gardeners Chat-Shed web-sites. Consequently  it will have been automatically added to both data-bases. No harm done - just delete the second one to arrive! Simples!

Whilst you, our Gardeners Chat-Shed friends, may be members of your own gardening clubs and allotment groups, you can still share in what we have to offer here by way of gardening tips, news, information and gossip from our "grow your own" community.

There's something for everyone in our News-letter! If you're not particularly interested in the local gossip from our allotment society, just scroll on down to something else more general.


IN GENERAL

I always think of autumn as the end of our gardening season. I know that some plants grow in winter and you harvest many crops - especially root crops such as swedes or parsnip, after they've become "frosted". However autumn has that "end of term" feel to it. A time for assessments, comparisons and analysis. You will know by now what you'll never attempt to grow again! You'll also know what you tried - that blew your socks off - so you'll ALWAYS grow it in the future. You've had the feedback from the family (no point asking friends you've given stuff away to - they won't tell you what they really think of your offerings, for fear of upsetting you, or perhaps - more likely - in case future offerings dry up!).

Leaves on trees start to change colour as the nights draw in & the temperatures start to drop. The sap begins going back down, farmers are cutting their hedges and everything seems to be yawning and getting ready for sleep. The potatoes should all be out of the ground by now, the runner beans are starting to look their age with smaller toughened pods, and all the vigour seems to have gone out of everything else that's still managing to grow on tick-over. Seed pods are full, with the plants having done their job to ensure that the embryos of the next generation have been produced as seeds, beans or peas. it's all a bit like that little period after a hard day, when you've had your bath, put your dressing gown on, curled up with your Horlicks and you're getting ready to go to bed.

Winter is the rest period. Some of us use this time between now & spring to start planning our plots for next year and ordering our seeds early, if not, it's getting nearer that time when you can put your feet up in front of the fire and start writing your "wish lists" for spring. Assuming you're not plagued by a conscience that you haven't tidied your plot up for another year. Or that the autumn sown broad bean or onion sets that you promised yourself you'd get around to planting hasn't been done! We ALL have those moments - that's where the wet weather comes in handy - to blame it for for our little procrastinations! But it's not a sin! The main point of growing veg. is to get enjoyment out of it.


SOME OF OUR ALLOTMENTS SITE NEWS

Not a lot to report really from around the Aberaeron Allotment Association site at Cae Ffynnon Wîn. This site also has some of us Aeron Vale Allotment Society members with plots on it. It has NOT been a buzzing hive of activity this year. In fact it looks semi deserted. It's a classic example of a phase that many young allotment sites go through. Nevertheless I'm glad to say that the six plots on the site occupied by the Aeron Vale Allotment Society members are in an acceptable state of maintenance, and are all cultivated on this site. So there's no need to press the panic button yet!

Unlike young sites, most established long term sites mature to a point where most of the plot-holders on there are long term gardeners with a real interest and a collective knowledge and experiences of how a site should be run. Allotment sites mellow like a good wine. the initial flush of manic excitement and the inevitable novelty "kick" will have gone. The "fashion fad" gardeners will have moved on to the next fad, and gradually over the years, the dedicated gardeners are in the majority. New gardeners to a mature site settle in with old-hands who encourage and nurse them along. That is how the collective allotment community on a site flourishes.

Conversely when a new site is formed, especially where the vast majority of the founder members have no previous experience of allotment gardening and absolutely no experience of managing an allotment site, then problems inevitable arise of the nature mentioned above. New sites are often overrun with new "gardeners" - full of good intensions and well meaning, but often idealistic in their vision of what an allotment site is, assuming it to be an anarchistic commune with free for all idealistic plans of no substance. Many have completely underestimated how much hard work is involved and realise that in the real world things don't work as they do in gardening programmes on the telly! There are disappointments and failures when it comes to growing veg. - but that's par for the course - regardless of how experienced you are. Unfortunately after the first few seasons (especially with an abysmal season like we've had) the lustre wears off the new hobby for many, and the attraction becomes diminished. Joy turns into a chore. There's not enough experienced and dedicated gardeners on site to nurse them along (assuming they're humble enough to be nursed) and consequently the plots fall into uncultivated weed pits that are seldom visited anymore. However it is only a phase. With enough dedicated gardeners at the core it usually picks up and begins maturing. Hopefully that will be the case on the Cae Ffynnon Wîn site as the future unfolds. We do have a core of good allotmenteers here, and with a bit of effort and re-jigging I'm sure we'll see our way through this little depression.

Summing Up

Moving on. Here's a summary of how I saw things pan out on the crop front this season. Below are a few photos of some of my own produce, (I would dearly love a wider inclusion of other plot-holders produce, but I haven't received any contributions - all readers of this newsletter are warmly invited to contribute anything they think will be of interest or assistance to their fellow growers - just contact me). Space does not allow to include everything but this gives you a snapshot of the successes this year. I've also included a bit of crop variety background & performance notes:

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French climbing beans (I only grow "climbers" - I find the bush varieties are more of a faff, are harder to pick & require more attention during the season). Two of the varieties grown this year have been  Cobra & Lingua di Fuoco (a Borlotta bean). I also grew another flat pod variety (probably the nicest tasting of them all. It has no name - I call it my "Barry" bean, because the stock I have came from a dozen beans given to me in an envelope by a kind visitor who was holidaying here from Barry in south Wales, a few on the site are by now growing the "Barry" bean!). Both the Cobra & the Lingua di Fuoco performed well - all things considered - French beans are a bit more delicate than runner beans. However these were sown quite late and planted out towards the end of May on wig-wam supports. After a slow start they grew to the top of the supports and filled out well. In the later half of the summer they caught up and by the end of September started to crop really well.

This basket-full was picked on September the 28th. I'm reasonably  happy with them. Taste & texture were up to what I expected and not inferior to previous years' crops.

Here are the first few runner beans from this season's crop. They started off so slowly that I didn't think they'd amount to much, but they shaped up well.

Armstrong & Polestar this year. More about them further on when it came to comparison time!

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Again after an ultra slow start - especially at the time of sowing, when germination rates were unusually poor; thanks to the weather in spring and below par "low peat" compost that WON'T be used again. (I've come to the conclusion that non & low peat products are a total waste of time & money, and the misleading propaganda that's being spread about peat use is nonsense). The marrows have come good.

Tomatoes have done well - albeit a little late maturing. Quantity wise it's a heavy crop this year - amazingly)

The fig crop was limited, but the figs that did crop were of a beautiful quality & tasted lovely - full of sweetness - regardless of the poor summer we've just experienced.

Mr Blight came visiting early this year. We seem to be in the path of a blight stream here. It hasn't missed us in the three years that the site has been in existence. 2012 was no exception, except it came REALLY early. Thankfully it's air borne and not soil borne. However as it came so early not only were the maincrop varieties infected so were most of the earlies.

Nevertheless, after chopping down and discarding the affected haulms the potatoes were dug up three/ four weeks later. A few tubers had been infected, but surprisingly, they had swelled up quite nicely and only a small percentage were lost.

Varieties planted were one (40 foot) row each of:

  1. Winston

  2. Kestrel

  3. Charlotte

  4. Pink Fir Apple

  5. Markies &

  6. Picasso

More about that further down.

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The aubergines, although being a heat & sun loving plant did surprisingly well in the polytunnel. Quantity was down, but the fruits that did ripen were very good. Keeping company to the aubergine in this photo are two of my Kelsae onions. Much smaller than usual and struggling with the cold & wet they eventually made a reasonable standard for the table - not quite up to show bench standard though. The marrow was the first one picked and well within what was expected, but again the quantity of fruit is down. Plants seem to have the knack of knowing what's good for their survival, so this year they seem to have throttled back on the flower production in order to concentrate their energies on producing limited crops, which are of a slightly below par, but acceptable, standard. In the wild they would have ensured another generation lived on.

This photo is not to show off my ugly mug! It's meant to show proportionality - so that the size of the aubergine & onions can be put in context.

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A "lemon" cucumber. As you can see it's about the size of a lemon, but tastes nothing like it! It's in fact a wonderful tasting & slightly sweet cucumber.

An exceptional variety that I will grow more of next year at the expense of the traditional long green varieties. Although the Burpee Tasty Green did perform reasonably well (although less prolific and smaller in size than normal) they tasted fine, but they were no comparison to the superior tasting (in my opinion) Lemon Cucs.

Here's the Burpee Tasty Green - not quite as impressive as in past seasons, but passable although not as uniformly thick or as long as usual. the taste was as good as usual - but I couldn't help thinking they didn't look very "happy" with themselves!

I also grew Marketmore outside - no photo - but they lacked lustre as well, not surprising, I think they shivered through most of the summer.

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This was a turn-up for the books! I remember Terry Walton (the resident "allotment guru" on BBC Radio 2 programme) saying - about a year ago - that some veg are not worth the effort in our climate. He reckoned that he had tried growing Florence Fennel for years but never had any success. Here's the Florence fennel I grew this year. Perhaps they have summers in Florence like the one we've just had in west Wales! I don't think so somehow! An astounding success I thought.

We wish Terry well by the way, following the news of his recent illness with prostate cancer. Hurry up & get better soon Terry!

Peas were a TOTAL disaster! At least the first three attempts were. The first lot got robbed by a mouse in the polytunnel. The second batch just refused to germinate, the third played the same trick! This is the fourth attempt - planted out in AUGUST! I'm embarrassed to say that these were not even sown by me - they were give-aways from Stephen & Phil my allotment mates - who felt sorry for me I think

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If you can't grow peas - grow melons instead! Again, against ALL the odds, the more tender and fussy plants seemed to try to prove a point! Why should macho and hardy peas fail to germinate when melons grow like this? It baffles me! These are cantaloupe melons - probably the most suited to a western UK climate.

Here's a "Beefsteak" tomato variety that I grow most years. It's called Black Krim. A wonderful heirloom variety with a fantastic taste & texture that dates back to the days of the Crimean war. It originates in the Ukraine. The perfect sandwich tom. More on toms further on.

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Finally, from my crops - good ol' faithful. The rhubarb. It's like a faithful old dog that NEVER lets me down - come hell or high water. The weather can chuck what it likes at it and it just ignores it all and simply - without fuss - just grows & grows! I have a real soft spot for it, because it's so reliable and rewards me with masses of crops - for the return of a little bit of muck in early winter. Shown here are the varieties Victoria & Timperly early - both as good as each other.

Mind you it has the advantage over the other crops - it originates in Siberia & grows wild on the banks of the Volga - so it just laughs at our fractionally milder climate!

The other inclusion HAD to be Stephen Parry - for my allotment mate's spectacular spuds & runners. As reported in the last edition of our newsletter Stephen won our Aberaeron in Bloom prize this year for the best vegetable plot. I wanted more pics of his produce but he's the modest & bashful type! Here are sneaked photos of two of his crops.

Winston spuds & Armstrong runners (I sold him on the Armstrong!). 

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Comparisons

Runner Beans

Every season I like to make comparisons between different varieties that I've grown. In the case of runner beans, for a long time I've made a point of comparing two separate varieties. The winner is grown again the following year and put up against another variety - like a knock-out competition for veg.!

This started off as an experiment to see which variety works best for me. So the constant variety comparison should eventually turn up with the best I can find (until something new is bred and comes along to beat the previous "champion").

For a long time my best performing variety has been Armstrong. It has a good pedigree. It was originally bred from the famous "Enorma" bean, as of course was the "Stenner" bean. It's often advertised as an "improved strain of Enorma". It's close cousin - the Stenner bean - was bred by Brython Stenner from Cefn Cribwr in south Wales. For many years the Stenner was unbeatable in veg. exhibition shows all over the UK & beyond (and still is the standard bean of choice for the serious competition growers), but unlike other show varieties the Stenner & Armstrong beans are also some of the best for the table. "Taffy" Stenner - as he was also called - bred his world famous Stenner runner bean from selective breeding of the Enorma bean strain. Armstrong has been bred from the same gene pool.

This year Armstrong was up against Polestar. This is a bean I'd grown in the past, but I'd never compared it in a head to head with Armstrong. Here are my findings. Each bean is marked out of a possible 10. Whilst this is not a scientific trial, it does give me a good benchmark of what works best in the soil & climate where I grow my veg.

 

FEATURE

ARMSTRONG /10

POLESTAR /10

COMMENT

Germination

8

8

Nothing to choose between them. It was a bad germination year but they both performed well. Virtually no failures. Both quick to break the surface.

Vigour

9

8.5

As usual Armstrong - once germinated is the first to start climbing when planted out. However Polestar is no slouch!

Hardiness

8

8

Nothing to choose between them - this season was a good test of hardiness - both came through with flying colours

Final height achieved

10

10

Both grew well past their 8' poles. All plants had to be stopped by pinching out the tips.

How prolific

9

9

Nothing to choose between them, both are very prolific

Length of pod

10

8.5

Armstrong had noticeably longer pods - it's parentage would ensure that, being a descendant of "Enorma". Polestar is longer than average but did not achieve Armstrong's often 18" (45cm) length.

Size of beans

8

8.5

Nothing to choose between them really, but Polestar seemed to mature to full size slightly sooner

Stringlessness

9

8.5

Both are genuinely stringless. Armstrong remains stringless, but some of the Polestar started showing slight signs of stringiness on the occasional pod with age

Flavour

9

8.5

Polestar is above average in the taste category, but Armstrong is in a class of it's own

Length of Cropping period

8.5

9

Armstrong started to show signs of fatigue first. Polestar seemed to go on slightly longer. Both are still producing in October, but the Polestar seem to have a bit more left in the tank in the tank.

TOTALS

88.5

86.5

Armstrong is the trial winner again this season, but Polestar was a worthy competitor, certainly one of the better choices. Last year St. George narrowly missed out to Armstrong by a similar margin. If I had to choose between Polestar & St. George then it would definitely be St. George - due to the fickle fact that it has pretty white & red bicolour flowers! Both Armstrong & Polestar have red flowers. next year Moonlight will be competing with Armstrong - it will be easy to spot - it has white flowers.

 

imageColour of pod: Polestar pods are usually a bright green in colour whilst Armstrong is a darker green. Although it narrowly missed out to Armstrong in my little head to head trial this year it did come up with a real bonus. One of the plants produced not bright green pods - as usual - but sprung a surprise on me, it produced what must be a throw-back to a purple podded variety in it's ancestry! this is extremely unusual. Unless the beans I got had crossed with a purple variety somewhere.

In dahlia circles this type of thing is called a "sport". As soon as I discovered it, I picked about three pods for a taste test & then allowed ALL the other pods to mature on the plant.

The beans we tasted from this plant were superior to their bright green podded brothers & sisters! It gets better & better doesn't it?! I will now keep the beans from this purple podded individual to sow (in isolation - away from all the others) next year, to see if it comes true to type. If it does produce more purple podded specimens I will keep testing it. If, as I hope, it is a new variety then I'll go about building up a breeding stock.

If things go according to plan, then the next stage will be to give it a name. How does "Aeron Purple Queen" sound? Or perhaps "Aeron Purple Star" - it's all exciting stuff! Perhaps I'll arrange a naming competition for it in The Gardeners Chat-Shed sometime in the future. I hope I'm not running ahead of myself - but it's the excitement of it all! You could spend a lifetime waiting for something similar to come along. It is a bit early to go hooting about it though - the offspring next year may revert back to boring old green podded plants. We can only live in hope!

 

Potatoes

As with a few other crops, potatoes are usually something that I like to annually compare when it comes to varieties. Like many allotmenteers I usually grow early & maincrop potatoes. There are some that are annual favourites - Charlotte & Pink Fir Apple being two of them. With the others I try to grow a selection that I've either not grown before - or have grown in the past but forgotten how they performed!

Many crops display a level of quality and success that reflects the type of soil and the climate they are produced in. Local variations in climate can have quite a pronounced effect as well. Here in Aberaeron - on the west Wales coast - we have quite a mild micro climate, and compared to other areas both north & south of us, we tend to miss the worst of the weather. In fact, it's noticeably dryer here than it is just five miles down the coast in New Quay & certainly at Aberystwyth about 15 miles north. We're in a little cove that seems to dodge the frost and showers that usually blow from the south west up Cardigan Bay to the north west & visa versa during the winter!

Our soil is not great, it has a clay nature (although clay can be quite fertile), so it's heavy and tends to be water retaining and slow to warm up. However with time and a lot of effort (adding humus and manure) allotment plot soils do greatly improve as they age.

I cultivate potatoes in the traditional way. Trenches are opened up in spring and a liberal amount of the magic ingredient (well rotted farm yard manure) is spread along the length of the potato row trench. A layer of about 2 - 3 inches if soil is used to cover it, so that the seed potatoes are not in direct contact with the manure (especially if it's a bit fresh). Soil is then used to cover the seed potatoes and throughout the growing season the rows are earthed up as the haulms progress in growth.

This season I prepared my usual six rows. they're about forty foot (approx. 13 metres) long. Three earlies, one early maincrop and two maincrop.

The earlies were Winston, Kestrel & Charlotte, the early maincrop was Pink Fir Apple, & the maincrop varieties were Markies & Picasso. This is how I rate then:

FEATURE

WINSTON

KESTREL

CHARLOTTE

P. F. APPLE

MARKIES

PICASSO

Chitting/ sprouting success

9/10

8/10

9/10

8/10

9/10

9/10

Vigour

9/10

8/10

8/10

7.5/10

8/10

9/10

Tuber quantity

7/10

8/10

8.5/10

9/10

8.5/10

9/10

Size of tubers

10/10

8.5/10

8.5/10

7.5/10

8/10

8.5/10

Blight resistance

6/10

8/10

9/10

8.5/10

8/10

8/10

Flavour

4/10

8.5

10/10

9.5/10

8/10

8.5/10

Tuber quality

7/10

8/10

8.5/10

7.5/10

8/10

8/10

Cooking quality

4/10

8.5/10

9.5/10

9.5/10

8/10

8/10

TOTALS

56

65.5

71

67

65.5

68

 

So that's how the spuds panned out this season. Top marks to Charlotte (unsurprisingly). in my neck of the woods it's by far one of the best early salad potato that I've grown, so it's always top of the list. Consequently, until I find a variety that surpasses it, then I will continue to grow it.

Picasso did particularly well. Whilst it's not that popular amongst commercial growers it is a firm favourite on allotments. A prolific cropper, it tastes nice and it looks nice (quite similar to Kestrel in looks).

 

 

Good ol' Pink Fir Apple comes third. The taste - as usual - was beautiful, with a hint of nuttiness and although it's supposed to be an early maincrop it actually tastes and cooks like an early waxy salad potato. It's right up there with Charlotte for taste, but hasn't got Charlotte's good looks! In fact it's a bit of an ugly duckling and is a pain because of it's lumps & bumps! It's an heirloom variety that was bred around the 1840s - long may it continue to be around! In fact it's making a bit of a come-back apparently, but you'll seldom see it on supermarket shelves.

Pink Fir Apple was originally imported in 1850 and kept solely by British enthusiasts for decades, because of its very fine flavour. The shape of the Pink Fir Apples are long and narrow and famously knobbly, often with side growths. The skin is part pink/part white with yellow flesh. It really is unique. It also provides the parentage for Harlequin (another "must try" maincrop) that has Charlotte as it's other parent. I grew harlequin last year - it was outstanding, but not a particularly heavy cropper - for a maincrop.

 

Joint fourth were Kestrel & Markies. Kestrel was "nice" flavoured but not quite up to the other early - Charlotte. However, if I was a show-bench frequenter I would be very pleased with it. A pretty potato - it has mauve colouring around the eyes -  with uniform shape, nearly every tuber was identical to the other!

Markies are a new rival to the famous and ever-popular Maris Piper. They have excellent cooking and frying qualities to match Piper but they have the advantage of better blight resistance and overall higher disease resistance. This was the first time I tried them. they got blight but survived!

 

Winston came a poor fifth - way behind everything else. I have a faint recollection of growing this potato years ago. I tried it again this year & now remember why I didn't continue growing it before! If you grow potatoes to compete with your plot neighbour - this is the one to go for. It grows to enormous sizes (although the quantity of tubers is not great). You can see a picture of it on the scales above. If you grow potatoes for taste - forget it. It's big, watery & tasteless when boiled and isn't much better baked or chipped! A thorough let down - we couldn't wait to finish the row off so that we could enjoy something better. The type of potato that I would grow if I kept pigs, so that I could make pig swill! How it ever got an RHS Award of Garden Merit I'll never know - unless it's particularly unsuitable for my type of soil. I suppose one man's meat is another man's poison - perhaps someone somewhere (who works for the RHS) loves it - I certainly don't. It also seemed more susceptible to blight than any of the others i grew.

Tomatoes

It's a bit unfair to make comparisons of the different varieties of tomatoes because they vary so much. The qualities expected of a beef-stake tom are totally different from say a cherry tomato. However, when it comes to taste, crop size and usefulness then comparisons can be drawn. Also of course I can report on how good I think a variety is within it's own category - even if it wasn't compared to another variety from that category in a head to head trial.

I grew three varieties of cherry toms, three standard cordon types & one beef-stake. The cherry types were:

  • Black cherry (not a very original name, they were a little bigger than average cherry types & they're more purplish grey than black!)

  • Sungold and

  • Gardeners Delight

The cordon types were:

  • Ailsa Craig

  • Shirley and

  • Golden Sunrise (a yellow variety - as you might have guessed from the name)

The only beef-steak was Black Krim.

They were all grown using the ring culture method in the border beds of my poly-tunnel. They were germinated in the same low peat seed compost

FEATURE

Black Cherry

Gardeners Delight

Sungold

Shirley

Aisa Craig

Golden Sunrise

Black Krim

Germination

7/10

8/10

7/10

8/10

9/10

8/10

7/10

Vigour

7.5/10

8/10

9/10

8/10

6/10

7/10

7/10

Crop quantity

7.5/10

8.5/10

8.5/10

9/10

7/10

6/10

6/10

Crop size

8/10

8.5/10

8.5/10

8.5/10

8/10

7.5/10

9/10

Blight resistance

7/10

7/10

7/10

8/10

7/10

8/10

6/10

Flavour

6/10

8.5

9/10

8/10

8/10

7/10

8/10

Sweetness

7/10

8.5/10

9/10

7.5/10

7.5/10

7/10

7.5/10

Fruit quality

8/10

8.5/10

8/10

8.5/10

8/10

8/10

8/10

TOTALS

58

65.5

66

65.5

60.5

58.5

58.5

So according to my personal trial this year this is how they faired.

Cherry Types

Sungold comes out top. In my opinion it's probably one of, if not the best, sweet cherry type tom available. It has an orange coloured skin. It's down side? It's an F1 hybrid and the seeds cost a packet (excuse the pun). Having said that, whilst most of us are afraid to save the seeds of F1 hybrids, for fear of them not coming "true" I had one plant that was a "volunteer" from last year. One of the fruits must have dropped and a seed germinated. I let it grow to maturity out of curiosity. To my surprise it grew exactly the same as the other Sungold plants, it's fruit, and the flavour of that fruit, was identical to the other plants! So more seeds will be saved this year to see how they fare next year.

Gardeners Delight really IS a delight. It comes a very close second to Sungold. It has bright red fruit and if left to ripen is every bit as sweet as Sungold. It also has a stronger traditional tomato taste - which you'd expect - it's been around for a century, when tomatoes tasted like tomatoes! It really does take some beating. highly recommended.

Black Cherry. I have to admit that this was a freebie packet of seeds off the front of a gardening mag. I'm not sure whether seed companies do that to advertise how good their offerings are, or whether it's a means of getting rid of surpluses that don't sell! If Black Cherry was the benchmark I would opt for the second theory. The fruit were not even black, more of a dark grey/ dark red - not exactly very inviting when displayed in a bowl of of other bright orange or red cherry toms. The fruit was larger than the average cherry type tomato - more like a small standard size tom. Taste? Typically supermarket standard - bland & watery (very much like the taste of the over rated Moneymaker variety). I would not grow it again.

Cordon Types

imageShirley by a long shot. A really heavy cropper. The fruits are very uniform and it has an excellent flavour. If I had one criticism it didn't ripen quite as well as some others. However given how reduced the sunlight levels were this year and with lower than average temperatures, it can be forgiven. In a better season it would have been outstanding.

Ailsa Craig. Wonderful flavour but a bit sickly in the vigour and crop quantity departments. However a worthy second to Shirley.

Golden Sunrise. The fruit was probably the prettiest in the polytunnel. It's a bright yellow colour and looks gorgeous on a plate. In the taste department it fails and can only be described as mediocre. Low on flavour and sweetness a bit tarty. I would call it tarty & bland - another Moneymaker type supermarket shelf offering. I won't grow it again. As it happens this variety was also a freebie offering on a magazine cover, which adds weight to my theory that what seed companies give to magazine sellers is often what "old hand" gardeners sniff at.

 

 

 

Beef-steak Type

imageI only grew Black Krim. Beef-steak toms are big and fleshy. They're good as sandwich fillers but are often low on flavour - that's my personal opinion. This heirloom variety is probably one of the better tasting. It originates in the Ukraine and not the island of Krim in the Black Sea as some seed companies wrongly assume & advertise. It's overall score is quite low here, but that's because it's not prolific, it has a tendency to be blight susceptible and is not particularly vigorous in the early stages of growth. However it's one that I consistently grow because compared to other beef-steak varieties that I've tried in the past it more than holds it's own in the taste department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


OTHER ALLOTMENT & GARDENING NEWS

A Bit of Bad News

I'm sure many of us in allotment and gardening circles will have been saddened by the recent news that Terry Walton has been diagnosed with prostrate gland cancer. Terry has become one of the most popular allotment gardening commentators on the radio in recent years, with regular slots on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie & Louise's programme. He's also a regular contributor to the Jeremy Vine programme on BBC Radio 2 and more recently Louise Elliot's new afternoons programme on BBC Radio Wales.

Terry is from Tonyrefail in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales. He was born in 1946 and has lived in the area all his life. He has gardened, since the age of four, on the same allotment - that's 62 years on the same plot! Most of Terry's working life was spent with a local company, he'd worked his way up to managing director by the time he retired. Since then a new career - based on his hobby - has beckoned in the media, following his appearance on Radio 2.

I also lived and worked in the Rhondda for 13 years (up to 1993 - when I moved back to my roots in west Wales). Terry just epitomizes the warmth, humour and down to earthness of the people in that neck of the woods.

In his typically jaunty, friendly & humanitarian fashion Terry has said he wants to help others by speaking out about his condition. So rather than mope around the house with his head down in depression he's set about making his condition a catalyst to help others - by talking openly about his diagnosis, his condition and treatment during the time he's scheduled to have radiotherapy. Thankfully, prostrate cancer is quite treatable in this day and age - as long as it's caught early. In a truly self-sacrificing way Terry is now determined to make sure that he can alert others to the importance of getting early diagnosis. What a hero! It says it all about him really.

On Wednesday the 3rd of October this year he appeared on the "Louise Elliot in the Afternoons" programme on BBC Radio Wales. I took it upon myself to e-mail the programme to wish him well. The message was read out on air and Terry seemed to appreciate it very much. Here is a copy of the message I sent:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 1:25 PM
Subject: Best wishes to Terry Walton

 
Hi Louise,
 
Just a quick message for Terry Walton who I believe is on your programme this afternoon.
 
Sorry to hear about the news of your illness Terry. All the best from me and all the allotmenteers here in Aberaeron on the west Wales coast. It's a sad time for us here at the moment with the horrible happening in Machynlleth. It seems to have been a week of bad news - including the news earlier of your health problems.
 
Can I also wish you the best from the Gardeners Chat-Shed as well - which is a social network web-site that I run for gardeners and which has members from all over the world. I'm sure as fellow growers we all feel for one of our own, after your sad news.
 
Chin up - the spring will soon come and by the time there's flowers on the peas and the cuckoo sings again you'll be back to full gardening fitness!
 
Take care of yourself Terry!
 
Kind Regards,
 
Gwilym.

(On behalf of The Aeron vale Allotment Society & The Gardeners Chat-Shed)

I take it as a given that all our members who know of Terry were in full agreement with the "get well soon" message that I sent on their behalf.


Strutting Their Stuff!

Here's a photo of me and my old mate Dave Amphlett from King's Norton across in the Midlands. The photo was taken on my plot earlier this summer, when Dave and Samantha his partner came down to visit us (he's the handsome one on the right!). Until the launch of The Gardeners Chat-Shed web-site - about three years ago - we didn't even know of each other's existence. Since the launch we've become firm friends and Dave now helps me administer the web-site.

Dave belongs to the West Heath Allotment Association and is their treasurer. His allotment site has been going for 72 years (possibly longer, but for 72 years they've been holding an annual allotment show for the public).

The plot-holders get together every year to stage the show for the public & then auction off their produce at the end of it, and the proceeds go to their allotment association. This of course is a classic example of how mature allotment sites work. After 72 years, the bulk of the members are dedicated gardeners who have established a proper gardening community. Consequently, there is a well established structure and gardening culture in place, based on proper site management and member acceptance of standards. Involvement & support of their association is a key factor.  New members buy into that culture and expand it, so that future generations can continue using an established method of time tested communal growing. This should be the the goal to aim for - especially amongst young sites that have been established very recently - our own here in Aberaeron included. Seventy two years of conducting an allotment show is a testament  to how harmonious and successful allotment sites can be - if they are run properly by dedicated allotmenteers.

Here's a glimpse of what they had on show this year (the captions are Dave's - he's the one guarding the fire extinguisher!):

 "Well considering the bad year we have had the show went down very well indeed quality and quantity down on last year but all things considered we did very well.  We took nearly Ł250 from the auction and refreshment sales + raffle ticket sales".

"Sam's cake First time entry and First prize".

That's the way to do it Folks! Let's hope they keep on going for at LEAST another seventy two years!  It's difficult to imagine what things will be like in 2084!


 

Parks and Gardens 'Vital' for High Streets

Parks, gardens and trees are a 'vital part' of what makes a town centre inviting to visitors yet are often overlooked, according to new government guidelines for town planners.

The guidelines are part of the government's drive to revitalise town centres in the wake of an independent review by retail marketing consultant Mary Portas last year in which she said high streets have reached crisis point and need urgent reform.

Among recommendations are the use of community growing projects in otherwise neglected spaces to 'turn eyesores into attractions', and the planting of 'pocket parks' and wildflower meadows on vacant sites awaiting development.

Redesigning public space to include parks and gardens could have economic impacts too, the report suggests, pointing out that research has shown people who walk to their local high street spend more and in a wider range of shops than visitors arriving by car, bus or bike.

'Attractive features such as planting, waterways and pocket parks along the route to the high street or town centre can help make walking and cycling a pleasant alternative to driving,' the report says.

And so say all of us!


Even The Students Are At It!

 

Welsh Government Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths (that's him on the right in the picture alongside the Deputy Vice Chancellor Graham Rogers - doesn't he look like Brian Murphy who starred alongside Yootha Joyce in the sit-com "George & Mildred"? - Maybe not - a bit before your time perhaps!). He's seen here officially opening Newport University’s new allotments last July - called "Student Digs"

Mr Griffiths met staff involved with the project before formally cutting the ribbon to launch the site, which is based on the University’s Caerleon Campus.

The project has been funded by the University and has taken about 12 months to complete through significant teamwork from across the University including the Universities Environment Officer, ground staff, lecturers, caterers and students. The group currently has 47 members and 18 plots and aims to recruit more students at this September’s Fresher’s fair.

The allotments will also help students and staff financially whilst re-connecting people with how and where their food comes from. Allotments and gardening has been proven to have health benefits not only from eating fresh locally produced food but also by having a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.

Jayne Hunt, Community Development Officer and Senior Lecturer at the University who has led the creation of the allotments said: "The idea behind Student Digs is to increase student and staff food resilience, and to increase the universities sustainability and self sufficiency.

"Growing food locally is a small but not insignificant step to addressing climate change and helping people become more self sufficient and not reliant upon food grown many thousands of miles away. I hope it will also be great fun for everyone involved."

John Griffiths AM said: "The Welsh Government is committed to developing allotments sites across Wales and this project is an excellent example of what a community can achieve. This project will benefit student and staff wellbeing, help to further develop the university’s community, whilst also helping to benefit the environment. I am therefore delighted to open these allotments and hope other universities will consider similar schemes."

Wow! Things have changed since I was a student at Cardiff's University of Wales Institute of Science & Technology back in the early seventies! The nearest we long haired scruffians  ever got to a bean in those days were the ones in tomato sauce that we ate cold straight from a tin!

Some things really HAVE changed for the better!

 


KNOW YOUR PESTS

When we think of a "pest" in our vegetable growing plots we usually imagine slugs, snails, caterpillars, aphids, root flies etc. In fact some of the more devastating pests are often of the fungal variety.

There's certainly good guys and some VERY bad guys in this group. Without the good guys the whole earth would become barren, because they have key functions in the soil's mechanisms, without them the soil becomes useless dirt. We also eat a few - like mushrooms - although some of those are deadly poisonous to us! Then there's the very unwelcome ones, from potato blight, to downy mildew and everything else in between. They tend to be long-lived and are notoriously difficult to control, let alone eradicate. The soil borne spores of many devastating fungi stay put in contaminated soils. Consequently ANYTHING that's been attacked by a bad fungi should be carefully burnt (a good distance away or off the site if possible) and NEVER added to the compost bin. An infected plant may look OK for the compost bin, but spores are microscopic. The main weapon in the war against the "bad guys" is meticulous hygiene and the careful future use of known contaminated areas. Sometimes you have to sacrifice an area for exclusion from growing the same type of plants for many years. One of the more common fungal pests on a plot is:

Club Root

It's a fungal infection of the roots of brassicas, such as cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and swede, leading to swollen and distorted roots and stunted growth. It is also classed as a common pest. Most long term gardeners have come across it at some time or other

Club root is an infection of the roots of brassicas and related plants by a "bad guy" fungus called Plasmodiophora brassicae, a soil-dwelling  micro-organism related to the slime moulds, leading to massive swelling, distortion and severely retarded growth.

Plasmodiophora brassicae is loosely described as a fungus, but is in fact more closely related to the slime moulds. It produces resting spores that can contaminate soil for up to 20 years! In the presence of susceptible plant roots, these resting spores germinate and infect the root hairs of brassica family plants sown in that soil, causing the distortion and eventual plant death. The fungus produces more resting spores in the affected tissue, which eventually rots and releases them back into the soil, ready for the cycle to start over again.

It affects cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, swedes and radishes, and ornamental relatives such as wallflowers, stocks, aubrietia and cabbage-family weeds such as shepherd’s purse, wild radish & charlock etc. amongst many others.

As many weeds are from the brassica family, it's so important that the weeds are kept to a minimum on any allotment site. When plot-holders are pulled up for allowing uncontrolled weed infestation, the newer or more immature amongst them will often complain that they are being dictated to by others, or that they have the freedom to weed or not weed their plots as they see fit. They overlook the fact that their actions may cause enormous problems for their fellow growers. Contamination of fungal pests from certain weeds can in some cases render a vast area of soil useless for certain plants for many years. In the case of club root it could stop fellow gardeners from growing cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts etc. for up to twenty years on the same spot. So weeding is usually a mandatory requirement on virtually all allotment sites.

The symptoms of club root are very easy to spot. You may see the following:

Above ground:

Stunted growth, purplish foliage and wilting in hot weather, which may recover under wetter conditions.

Below ground:

The root system becomes massively swollen and distorted, with a loss of the finer roots.

Growth and yield are severely reduced and very badly affected plants may die.

To help control the spread of club root you need to follow some basic common sense guidelines and be meticulously hygienic if there is a risk of infestation in your area. Wet, acidic soils are more prone to it, and liming to increase the pH of the soil prior to planting brassicas is considered to be helpful, along with good drainage - but it is not a cure. Brassicas prefer a more alkaline soil anyway.

Here are few practical guidelines:

  • If you buy brassica plants, rather than grow them from seeds yourself (which is a safer option), take great care that they come from a guaranteed club root-free source. Be particularly careful in accepting plants from gardening friends, who with the best of intentions may be an unwitting source of infection

  • If the disease is known to be present, try to give plants a head start by growing them on in healthy soil to a larger than normal size before planting out, so that they begin growth in the affected soil with a larger than usual healthy root system

  • Grow transplants in pots of at least 9cm (3˝in) diameter, which give plants a head start with a larger than usual healthy root system

  • Beware of spreading contaminated soil on tools, wheelbarrows or footwear

  • Club root is reduced (but not eliminated) by raising the soil pH by liming. On acid soils, lime at the rate of 500g per sq m (15oz per sq yd), with lighter dressings of 270g per sq m (8oz per sq yd) in future years

  • Along with the liming regime, take care to improve drainage, by making raised beds for example

  • Keep down susceptible weeds like shepherd’s purse, charlock, wild radish and the like

  • Some cultivars show some levels of resistance: calabrese ‘Trixie’, swede ‘Marian’ and kale ‘Tall Green Curled’. Cabbages ‘Kilaxy’ and ‘Kilaton’ and cauliflower ‘Clapton’ show resistance, but no variety has yet been bred that is immune to club root

If you're not an organically sensitive grower & don't mind using poisonous chemicals on your food crops, then it's bad news for you I'm afraid - there are no chemicals available to gardeners to treat club root.

More info. on other pests will be published in future issues of our NEWSLETTER.


imageDID YOU KNOW?

Ants are a delicacy for woodpeckers! If you have a woodpecker in your area that you can watch, see if it picks up ants with it's beak! They'll do this and then crush the ants on their feathers. The purpose for this strange behaviour is to protect themselves from parasites! During the crushing process, tannic acid is released and it kills any parasites that are on the bird.

"Not a lot of people know that!"


SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT

Virtually every allotment and veg. garden throughout the UK is characterised by the familiar runner bean supports made from hazel sticks or bamboo canes. Everyone's vision of a plot of ground used to raise vegetables invariably has a runner bean "ridge" support or a "wigwam" associated with it.

The standard bamboo cane ridge support has it's merits. It's easy to assemble, and practical, it requires very little skill and it does the job. If you're a real traditionalist, who likes to make a work of art of it - as seen in the first picture on the right, then you'll go to the extra effort to build a "rustic" one. I personally think that the one shown is absolutely beautiful - I only wish more gardeners could have the time and skill to produce such a work of art on every allotment plot throughout the land! It's reminiscent of the type of structure my grandfather used to meticulously assemble. The hazel sticks were then carefully dismantled at the end of every season and kept in his shed over winter - they lasted for years.

The more modern bamboo version of this structure is even easier to assemble (not least because you haven't got to go hunting hazel wood in your local forest). The bamboo ridge support is the type of thing that's seen in the majority of our allotment gardens all over the UK.

These structures whilst being easy to build do the job admirably, after all they've passed the test of time over many decades of runner bean cultivation. However they have their limitations - as I'll explain further on.

The structure which has gained popularity in recent years is the aptly named "wigwam" support. It's noticeable how popular the wigwam structure seems to be amongst the younger "tree-hugging" generation of growers (probably because it has pleasing visual reminiscences of the structures used by the nature tolerant Native North Americans - that's only my personal theory!) In reality the wigwam support is practical, very rigid and it allows the grower to monopolise on limited space. I tend to grow my climbing French beans on wigwam support.

There are of course other methods of supporting your runner and French beans. Some even use string instead of poles. In seaside fishing towns it was not uncommon to see fishermen use old discarded rope nets for their beans to climb up. The same is probably true of lots of ingenious ways of providing something for them to climb up. As many allotment gardeners over the years have more often than not come from poorer working class backgrounds, then a tradition has cropped up of using "recycled" things for use down on the plot. In fact that tradition thankfully remains - even amongst those who can afford nice new shiny stuff! Allotment growing is not just the art of growing veg., but also the ingenuity of recycling discarded items. The exceptions are the Margo Leadbetter types (from the Good Life sit-com) in yellow "jump" suits with pink gardening gloves and pink flower patterned ankle wellies. they occasionally turn up with their arms outstretched (for balance and to keep clean) whilst tip-toeing along muddy paths - enthused by the "grow your own" fashion trend down at the local yacht club or WI. They usually disappear after the first season of getting dirty and tired! Sorry I'm digressing again!

Finally, the other frame support that I've come across is the "Munty Frame". So called after a certain  Mr Munty who invented it I assume - but I'm only guessing! It certainly has it's merits. The beans climb straight up the first set of poles and then they do an angled change of direction. They continue growing up the second set of poles. It's a good idea, as long as the structure is facing south. The bean pods, as they mature, hang down inside the frame for easy picking (the foliage also shades the picker in the height of summer I presume!). Here are a couple of photos of this structure. Notice that some use string rather than poles for the structure. From my experience string is not the best medium for runner beans to climb up, and of course the whole frame becomes a bit like a cow's tail! It looks a bit like a headache to erect on your own - but what the heck, just imagine the number of admiring passers-by you'll attract & educate!

As I said earlier, the traditional "ridge" support has it's inherent weaknesses. Due to it's shape it is not particularly stable. Often, the weaker constructed supports take on a leaning stance after a storm with the whole row looking like a domino collapse!

Going back to the traditional ridge structure. As the runner beans grow up the poles and converge at the top of the ridge, the area in the middle becomes dark and sunlight starved. The leaves form a weather proof canopy and there's a distinct lack of moisture, as the rain gets deflected away from the middle of the structures bed - where the plant roots are.

Finally, due to the natural effect of gravitational forces, the beans hang down inside the cavity of the ridge support. This makes them harder to pick from the outside, and of course, the flowers on the inside are hidden from pollinating insects like bees.

I got to thinking about these problems and decided there must be a way of improving on the common type of supports that are in widespread use. So I fell on this idea for a support design that counters the negative characteristics of the conventional type of "A" Frame (ridge) supports. So enter the "V" FRAME!

On the left is a photo taken this year, of my own support. You'll notice that the concept of a ridge ("A" frame) structure has been turned on it's head - literally - to form a "V" instead!

The advantages?

The support is inherently stronger - both ends being supported by a 2"x2" stake driven into the ground, with a "T" piece crossbar bolted on to it. The upper "box" section is made of batten and the canes are tied to those lengths. Consequently lateral movement in wind is reduced greatly, as each cane forms a strengthening support and the end stakes do not lean over.

Being a "V" shape the plants grow in a diverging manner (they are further apart at the top than at the bottom). This allows sunlight to enter the inside of the structure, and all the rain falls down inside the structure to moisten the bed where the plant roots are.

Finally, by the force of gravity the beans naturally hang down the outside of the structure. This makes them easier to see and pick, they get exposed to more food through extra sunlight exposure AND the flowers are easily accessible to pollinating insects.

Below is a diagram of the V-Frame that I've designed (I'm sure there are similar designs around). You can use it as a guideline to construct your own support next season. Do try it and compare the results with the type of support you've used in the past. I think you will be pleased with the results. The dimensions are not critical. As I tend to use 16' x 4' beds for my plot, the diagram reflects the size of support that suits me. You can build yours to suit the size of your own growing area.

 

 



If you would like to download and save this V-FRAME diagram to print out, them feel free to do so by clicking on the icon below:

No charge! Unless I catch you mass producing & selling them!


That's it for another issue friends. If you would like to write something for our NEWS-LETTER then all contributions are gratefully accepted. You can contact me via either of our two web-sites:

aeronvale-allotments.org.uk or gardenerschat-shed.net/

If you have any friends or gardening acquaintances who you think would like our news-letter and would benefit from it then by all means point them towards our news-letter archive on the web-site where they can also subscribe on-line to receive the publication by e-mail - it's FREE!

 

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Until the next time - keep busy, keep tidying up your plots before you put them to bed, but above all have fun & ENJOY on your allotment plot or in your veg. garden!

 

Best Wishes,

G

 
 

Gwilym.

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