Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bumper harvest of vegetables and caterpillars

Is it just me being daft or does anyone else get withdrawal symptoms when they can’t get up to their allotment?

For two days, I have not been able to just nip up there even to dump compost, so I was chomping at the bit to go there this morning to see what’s been occurring. First thing I noticed is that another chap has got himself a tractor, he and his brother share 2+ plots and they usually get another allotment holder to do theirs. There are just a few plots now that do not have tractors, me included. BUT, those which have their land done with a tractor, have to rotorvate ASAP after ploughing as the ground sets to concrete if you have a dry and windy day, making it almost impossible to work the deep grooves. The other disadvantage is that you have to have the whole site clear, no fences or permanent structures in the way (although some of the guys have greenhouses and sheds right down the bottom ends). They mainly grow just potatoes, some brassicas and sometimes broad and runner beans, but suffer terribly from rabbit damage etc because they only put up temporary fencing mainly to keep the pigeons out. They also leave the weeds to grow up around their produce which deter the rabbits to some extent.

I like to grow lots of things in smaller quantities as there are just the two of us at home now the kids have long since flown the nest. So it is easier for me to tackle bit by bit. Hence my three raised and protected beds, fruit cage, rabbit proofed (so far) fenced off main vegetable growing area, and a fenced off area for flowers and things that rabbits don’t really bother about. I don’t have the strength or energy to put up and take down lots of fencing each year. It is lovely to see all the different sorts of tractors, and I do feel rather envious when they just plough up all the weeds etc every year leaving a blank canvas – and it only takes them an hour! Still I am getting lots of exercise doing it my way.

Today was sunny and windy day, and I went without a definite plan of action, which is just as well. Once there, and after a quick chat to Geoff, the phone rang, which made me jump as it only rings when Pat phones to say that he is back from golf and it is going home time for me!

I then decided to harvest first – like a warm up session at the gym before you get into the hard work. (Now that is a joke). Although I picked the runner beans clean of any of edible size, a couple of days ago, lo and behold there were some that needed picking and we still haven’t had any rain, so they must be living off the pig muck trench underneath them. I picked a carrier bag full, and that must have taken getting on for an hour as I was on my hands and knees putting my arm through the protective fencing at the bottom as well as picking from the top. After that I noticed that there were more ripened tomatoes again after just two days, and when I weighed them when I came home there was 9.5lbs of those. They are at this moment bagged up and in the fridge awaiting transfer to the freezer. I roasted them with basil and black pepper and a touch of olive oil – they taste yummy as we had some for lunch.

At that point I decided to go and have a look at the broccoli, but when passing the other bean row, I got such a lovely surprise. I noticed that the leaves were falling from the runner beans which did not perform well (my fault entirely, lack of water and lack of a deep trench before planting). What the leaves did reveal though was the Cherokee climbing beans had survived and grown up very late behind them, and had a wonderful crop. I picked a carrier bag full of those and they weighed in at over 4lb. These beans are delicious and I grew them for the first time last year, and got a mammoth crop. We had a wet June and a wet August so that was the reason. This year it has been dry all the time. The beans are slim and small and you just nip off the top that is attached to the stem, so not stringing, slicing or top and tailing. These have been blanched etc and are bagged up in the freezer. The runner beans will have to wait until morning as I am tired out – but happily so.

That done, it was lunchtime by then. The children are back at school and their happy voices carry over the field behind the allotments, so I can tell the time by them, no need for a watch, which I don’t have anyway.

Time for the caterpillar safari. Now I did not expect to find any or maybe just a few, as several times now I have religiously sprayed all the plants and picked off the caterpillars. Monty Don’s suggestion of spraying with salt water was less effective than soapy water! I was mortified to see that in just two days there were horrid caterpillars on the plants again. I stopped counting at two hundred – and those were the biggies that I could pick up. It is so soul destroying that I feel like leaving them to it. I sprayed yet again, and took off those I could, shook off those I could, and picked off any eggs that the butterflies had laid. I really don’t think that I can do this every day until October. But on the other hand I have invested so much time and energy on them all the summer that it would be silly to stop now. Watch this space.
I was so worn out that I packed up to go home, after 3 and a half hours. I did take some photos of the flowers at the bottom of the lottie to remind me of how it looks this year, as next year it should be a riot. So I took time to just wander and examine the flowers on the crocosmias, delphiniums, persicaras, lavenders, roses, Achilleas, and a lovely little peachy spiked dahlia that I forgot all about.

It was nice to end the day on a high note.

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