The strawberries are all tidied now and so I had a chance to assess how each variety had fared over winter. You may remember that we planted new plants last year so they have just come through their first winter. Although this was mild it was also very wet.
We planted though weed control fabric mulched with bark chippings.
Last year I was convinced that some adventurous slug has slithered its way up the trunk of the peach tree to nibble at the fruits so this year I decided to take what I hope will be preventative action. This involved donning a plastic glove as things were going to get messy. The aim was to smear some tree grease low down on each of the trunks of the apricot, peach and nectarine trees in the garden greenhouse.
I'm hoping we don't have any super resourceful molluscs that find a way of bridging the gunky barrier.
I haven't produced a harvesting chart for last year's brassica crop as basically, barring failures, what you get out is very much dependent on how much you plant. Instead I have categorised the plants as below.
To be fair the plants that underperformed were at a disadvantage as we held off planting as the ground was really dry - hard to believe now isn't it? This resulted in the plants being past their best when planted.
Success with brassicas doesn't come easily on our plot. Some beds have club root which at one time we could control by dipping plant roots in a control solution which is now no longer available. Once club root is in soil it is more or less there to stay but there are some things you can do to increase your success.
Club root likes an acid soil so increasing alkalinity by adding lime helps. We also grow all our brassicas on in pots or modules before planting out to give them a chance to develop a root system before coming under attack.
There is also an ever increasing number of club root resistant brassica varieties available and the ones that we have tried seem very good. We have beds that don't seem to be affected and so any varieties without resistance are planted in those. We are never really ready to start sowing seeds in time for the early brassicas and so we 'cheat' and buy a collection of young plants.
I have to admit being shocked the first time we received an order as the plants looked nothing like as strong and healthy as those we grow ourselves but after being given some tlc they do recover. Once brassicas are planted on the plot we have to cover them. Whitefly are a real nuisance on broccoli plants and so these are protected under enviromesh.
Any brassica plants left unprotected at any time of the year attract the attention of the many resident wood pigeons which in a surprisingly short time can strip a cabbage down to just leaf stems. They also spoil any plants that survives by leaving a 'waste byproduct' on plants making them unappetising,
Caterpillars of the large and small white butterflies will also wreak havoc given half a chance. The large whites are more devastating as they 'hunt' in packs where the small white lays eggs well spread apart.
If you are in any doubt about how voracious caterpillars are then watch this video that we put together some time ago.
As double protection against wood pigeons and butterflies we use butterfly proof - well almost - netting. If there is a way to sneak under a resourceful butterfly will find it.
So what will we grow this year?
An early plant collection from Marshalls containing: calabrese - Marathon, Cabbage - Duncan and cauliflower - Mayflower. These have arrived and potted up in modules. Martyn posted about them here.
The rain held off for a day or two and on Saturday we managed a long overdue visit to the allotment.
My main focus was centred around fruit. I had tackled the most dangerous pruning back in February. This involved battling with the vicious thorns of the tayberry.
I was very severe as I think leaving too many canes causes problems later when much of the fruit is hidden beneath a tangle of thorny growth. This year I will also remove some new canes as they grow in an attempt to make final pruning a little less hazardous.
This weekend it was the turns of the gooseberries and jostaberries to face the chop. The gooseberries didn't require much attention. It was just a case of thinning the shoots by removing those growing into the centre of each bush and taking out any growing too close to or crossing paths with a neighbour.
It's not easy to show before and after in photographs but hopefully you can see how the centre of the plant has been opened. You can also see that the beds need weeding. The bushes were planted before we became converts of weed control fabric. Six gooseberries were give this treatment.
The jostaberries needed a bit more attention but I worked on the same principle as for the gooseberries. If the weather had been friendlier I would have pruned earlier as I had to be careful not to knock off the buds already clothing the branches.
I hope you can see a difference. Maybe it isn't obvious from the photos but the prunings from the gooseberries and five jostaberries filled a wheelbarrow.
Next I started on tidying up the strawberries by removing dead and old leaves.
The back two rows in the photo above have been tidied and the front row still needs doing. In all I think I have tidied about a fifth of the strawberry plants.
Before we came home we gathered together a few vegetables.
A while ago we bought some beetroot and mint dip from the supermarket and really liked it. Then the second lots that we bought, (like most of their soups) tasted of nothing but garlic. After perusing the label I came up with my own version.
The beetroot we harvested is destined for another batch.
It was very topsy-turvy last season as far as our onions were concerned with the autumn planted sets not only out performing those planted in the spring but also keeping better.
Autumn set are planted straight into the ground. As with much of our planting we plant through weed control fabric. Channels are cut into the fabric and the onion sets are planted along them and either a well rotted manure or wood chipping mulch (whichever is available is applied). I always found weeding between onions to be a problem. It was difficult to avoid bending their leaves or uprooting bulbs in the process. The weed control fabric makes this easier and also avoids weeds out-competing the onions.
At the beginning of July we started pulling the autumn onions as we needed them and in mid August we lifted all those remaining.
Autumn onions are not supposed to store well but these onions kept well and we were still using them after we had pulled the spring planted ones.