Life’s rich tapestry – blight!


They’ve gone down like ninepins on the site. After the recent wet weather it was pretty obvious we were in danger of  visit from Phytophthara infestans alias potato/tomato blight and yesterday we found the first signs on some of the outdoor tomatoes.  There’s no point in beating about the bush or hoping for the best, because with blight there is no best and the only remedy us to get the plants down (carefuly) pick up every scrap of debris and consign it all to the burning fiery furnace (local authority waste site).  My instincts would be to burn it all in the incinerator but rules is rules, and until October we are forbidden to burn anything on the site – and so, as I know I’ve mentioned, the waste begins its slow and expensive/high carbon footprint journey to the same fate at the council incinerator. With blight it’s not a sensible option to leave the diseased material lying around until later. So that’s the entire crop of small tomatoes gone, but fortunately the main crop are blight resistant “Crimson Crush” and they’re perfectly fine. Other allotmenteers on the site are trying different blight resistant varieties and we’ll see how they do this week.

However, the same blight affects potatoes and so today it was essential to dig all our potatoes except for the Sarpo Mira which have proved brilliantly blight resistant. This is, or rather will be, the second and third sacks full of potatoes this year, with at least two more sacks still awaiting harvest – far too many for us, and so they’re being shared around with our neighbours.  In the wheelbarrow are the last of the Arran Pilot and the Pink Fir Apple.  There are still some Red Duke of York to remove from their containers. Next year I’ll be a lot more careful about the potato order quantities, but I’ll probably grow the same varieties. I have to say, though, that we’ve yet to find the ultimate first earlies for this soil.  The Pilots are lovely, as were the Jazzy, but they didn’t quite recapture that waxy sweetness that you get with the best Jersey Royals.  That said though, even the Jersey Royals have dipped a lot in the last few years because the growers are not allowed (apparently) to fertilize the soil with seaweed any more for fear of salt build-up. That won’t stop us from bringing a load of seaweed back from North Wales next time we’re there!

Elsewhere on the allotment everything’s going well and we’ve just started eating our first apples from the cordons we planted two autumns ago. Of five cordons four have produced fruit with the James Grieve doing spectacular things.  The first off were Katy, which are very attractive but also very sweet and lacking the acidity that we both like in an apple – the grandchildren will love them! We also had the first sweetcorn yesterday.  It’s been netted and completely surrounded by courgettes so the badgers haven’t found them yet.  There’s a saying that you should put the water on to boil before you go out to cut the corn and it’s certainly true that you’ve never tasted sweetcorn until you’ve eaten it five minutes after it was cut.

We love many of the heritage vegetables and grow numbers of them wherever we can, but I’m so grateful for the work of the plant breeders for producing disease resistant varieties of potatoes and tomatoes. For organic allotmenteers like us, there’s no easy fix for diseases and the only way to outwit the pests is by building up the soil and using crafty inter and companion planting. But blight is on another scale, and breeding varietal resistance is by far the best plan. I’ve a lot more I want to write about some science I’ve just stumbled on, but I need to get this online first so I can go and bottle up the raspberry vinegar. Much more later!




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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