Autumn jobs on the allotment

Even as I write this there’s a bit of an inward groan – it’s so, well …. everyday. There’s very little breathless excitement about allotmenteering, after all a potato is just a potato and you’d need to be a bit of a propeller head to get excited about the minutiae of varieties.  But that’s just the way it is – you need to keep on keeping on.

About two months ago we took a calculated risk on sowing new runner beans in order to get a continuous supply into October. Although the past few nights have seen the temperature fall to around 5C according to our windowsill thermometer, the plants have not been touched by any frost and they’re thriving.  The official frost dates for Bath are between Bonfire Night and May 6th however there’s always a chance of an outlier breaking the pattern. But of course all the usual autumn jobs are still stacking up and so we made a start on digging the potatoes read for storage. I was interested to see how our two maincrop potatoes shaped up.  We planted Sarpo Mira, a blight resistant variety, alongside Desiree which did very well for our neighbour last season. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Sarpo Mira did better for us by weight and size.  Blight wasn’t much of a problem for any of us this season, although drought certainly was.  None of these potatoes got any more than a very occasional splash of water, it’s simply too hard to carry it down from the troughs when there are many other plants that wouln’t have survived, demanding constant attention. We also grew Jazzy, an early salad potato; Red Duke of York which is very early and delicious new, but will stay in the ground and make the best roasties ever. The last variety was Pink Fir Apple which – steamed in their skins – are lovely in salads.  Our only real problem after a careful look at the fruits of our labours was scab, which was quite pronounced on the Desiree but better on the Sarpo Mira. All in all it wasn’t a bad crop considering the summer weather.

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Last year we left buying garlic from the garden centre until the last minute and so the cloves we planted were not the best quality. This year we got our order in early and we’re trying five varieties which I planted in the week.  As soon as I get the overwintering onions and shallots in, when they arrive in the next couple of days, I’ll net them with fine Enviromesh to keep the allium leaf miner away.  Last season we lost all our leeks to this little pest and so we’ve learned that they need protection if they’re to thrive. Once the tops started to twist and curl we could see there was a problem, and before long they developed rot and there was no alternative but to burn them.  This year the leeks are looking fit and healthy so far, and the rest of the onion crop has been harvested for weeks. As each season progresses inexorably. Only a few weeks ago we were cropping and re-sowing as fast as we could, but now the balance has changed and we need to leave some of the allotment composted and covered with the horrible black plastic sheeting to keep it clear of weeds. We’ve used the same sheeting for years and it seems to keep going as long as it’s not allowed to flap about in the wind.  Each time we take it off we fold it carefully and store it.

It’s been a great year so far and we’ve managed to successfully ripen aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and chillies outside, although they did better in our tiny 6 X 4 greenhouse. Later today we’ll be picking and shelling the borlotti beans for the freezer. Next month there’s a whole new bunch of beds to make before the winter and the rain really set in.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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