June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain


This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:


And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

50 thoughts on “June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

    1. Thank you, Sue. Truth to tell, I’m rather keen on digging, at least while my grandfather’s razor sharp spade is still with me. It gives that claggy soil what for, apart from the fact that I then end up with lots of lumps 😦

  1. Looks very productive. The path through the high grass looks kinda like my back yard before mowing. Which means I had to rake the yard. Not good in this heat,which I am glad to say we are getting a short break from.

  2. Wow, what a large garden, lush and full of growth! Do you tend to it all on your own, or? When we grew vegetables my husband helped me, but now we only have flowers and some herbs and tomatoes. And that is just about what I can manage nowadays…

    1. Other half does structural things like making raised beds, but it’s mostly me who does the gardening. But I can rely on him to shell the beans though 🙂

  3. Love seeing your allotment Tish and bravo for the no dig have-a-go though yours is no Eden – even so quite evidently not one of loves labours lost. Potatoes are just the thing for tilling the soil to a tilth – at least for many years to come! Your description of the base rock makes me wonder if some pre-dawn crustacean is your bean biter – and now I can see a B movie in the making. Ooh those foxgloves give me heart flutters!

    1. Ha! You made me smile, Laura – some ancient bean eating gastropod stalking the allotment. Yikes! As to spuds – they do indeed do their bit for the soil, but it doesn’t seem to last. I’ve grown them all over my plot, but by the next season the soil reverts to clag as if the spuds had never been. I think it needs about a ton of compost to the square yard.

      1. Hard not to lose heart in clag- and this cold inclement rain now but summer is yet to arrive with the solstice and the optimistic gardener dreams of wonderful weather and a harvest festival!

      2. It has been cold, hasn’t it. Had moments last week when I thought it was autumn. So thank you for ‘regrounding’ me with thoughts of summer to come 🙂

      1. I’m not sure, Tish, to be honest, it’s certainly not looking good here for the next week or so, unfortunately. Although, it’s fairly countrywide, according to the forecast.

  4. A lot of gardening advice doesn’t seem to take into consideration the “lay of the land,” so to speak. We don’t have soil. We have rocks and roots. Which is why our only garden is raised above ground in loam, which is why it is surrounded by giant rocks to support it. Grass? Vegetables? Even “real” flowers? Not on THIS land. There are farmable areas, but we don’t live in one of them.

    1. Those are key thoughts – ‘the lay of the land’. You have to enter into negotiations with it, while at the same time knowing that you’re one that will have to yield.

    1. Thanks for those encouraging words, Su. We will enjoy – something anyway. You just never know each year what will work. Or how busy the slugs are going to be.

      1. I guess gardeners make inventive cooks. I’ve learned lots of ways with kale and chard, since they both grow very well in my little (somewhat neglected) garden.

  5. Your allotment is looking fabulous Tish – you obviously put in a lot of hard graft. About all I can manage are tomatoes and chillies and salad leaves, but even the tomatoes are struggling this year to put on any flowers. I think we need a burst of summer heat!

    1. Thanks, Jude. My allotment so loves praise. But you’re right. The weather has been challenging to say the least. Some sustained warmth would be lovely – for me and our plants.

  6. What a amazing plot you have Tish, all looks wonderful and good growth, despite the problems with the soil. I find it inspiring to read other’s experiences with their vegetable growing.

    1. I’m still aiming for no dig, Pauline, if only on some of the beds. Just have make much more compost! With all the rain we’ve had and are about to have, there is surely enough weedy overgrowth in Wenlock to make some small mountains – if I shift myself to collect it 🙂

  7. oh wow! How glorious . . . . . you have been so busy. We are delighted to have the rains here in Hampshire on our chalk soil, being so dry!

    And I think the no-dig system is definitely for soils other than clay, and the people who really need to take note of it are the commercial farmers!

    1. A very very good point re the commercial farmers, Becky. Also take your point about the clay. I guess what one needs to do is build up a planting zone above it – which will take time. This year I’ve followed a Monty Don suggestion with new spuds, and planted them in a raised bed. I made it 18 inches tall and filled it with compost, and then earthed the spuds up with more. Which is another reason why I’m short of compost! So far they are looking very good, but as they almost say proof of the spud is in the cropping.

  8. This is most inspirational Tish. You have great success even with such difficult soil. There is no substitute for hard work! Makes me feel ashamed of our neglected patch. Even what I did put in this past season mostly did not do as well as usual, perhaps because it was a season of such extremes. Thanks for the pea-growing tip. I am wondering if the length-of-guttering idea might work for seedlings of some other plants as well,

    1. That’s a thought about guttering for other seeds. I’m instantly thinking nasturtiums and French marigolds. I bet you could do beetroot that way too, and lettuce. Food for thought, as they say. No-dig Charles Dowding has a ‘quick and dirty’ way to make raised beds. Cover weedy ground with cardboard, dump several inches of compost on top, and plant. It sounds appealing. But as you say, hard work usually comes into it somewhere 🙂

      1. I think I might try the guttering come spring. Yes I turned some lawn into a flowerbed using cardboard and clippings (I was too stingy to use lots of compost) and it was remarkably successful. I have used newspaper and cardboard to try to smother weeds in the veggie garden. It helped but I didn’t use enough. I do find that if I dig a lot, more weeds sprout as the seeds/tubers get exposed when the soil is turned over, so I tend to just loosen and compost the bits that I plant as I go. However, this past year neglect has been the biggest feature of our veggie patch, sadly. So thanks for the inspiration that you provide and I resolve to mend my ways 🙂

  9. Your have such a lovely garden! I feel so inspired and am looking forward to following your blog and reading more!

    ❤ Alana

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