So yesterday I started thinking about the colour set for the red cabbage leaf painting. If I were to use the closest colours I could get to the ones printers use in three colour printing, I could use them in two alternative combinations of warm and cool. But this morning as I was trying a few swatches, it occurred to me that I could get closer to the purple red I need by using alizarin crimson. Then a couple of experiments with the two blues moved me towards French ultramarine which gives a warmer touch. But there are also many browns and greens to be got and sticking with my three tube resolution I tested cadmium orange and Indian yellow. Why bother? Why not just open a different tube for every colour I can see? Well, because it’s far less interesting and it costs a fortune and I don’t need to work that way. I’m just an apprentice, and I just learn a lot more by using a restricted palette. Didn’t I learn all this at art school decades ago? No I didn’t because art schools went through a long phase of treating technique with great suspicion. Imagine a conservatoire that didn’t allow students to practice scales because it might disrupt their inner musicality? That was what art schools were like in the seventies – ideas were supposed to emerge untroubled by anything resembling skill. I’ve no idea whether things have changed, but if I were offered that kind of education on a huge loan I’d think twice.
Anyway, today was meant to be a drawing day because the forecast was for rain, but it didn’t rain and so we went up to the allotment and while Madame sowed peas – douce Provence do well over the winter – I dug up strawberry offsets and planted them out in their new bed. It’s a little late to be doing it but if they get their roots down and we have a decent autumn we’ll have new plants for free and we can give many of the fruit bushes more space when we move them.
It’s been a good year for Jays – we saw six together yesterday, but todays unusual sighting was a parakeet. We heard it first, and then caught sight of its brilliant green plumage. Sadly we also noticed that someone has nicked a bag of compost – there’s obviously a thief on the site, but very little we can do about it. I’m cooking pork shoulder in cider tonight, with pommes dauphinoise and chard off the allotment. If this is brief it’s because I’m knackered. The only thing we could do to prevent any more compost being stolen was to get it all on to the beds – which involved much heavy lifting. As I was prepping the new strawberry bed I noticed that the worm population has exploded since last year – good news and confirmation that all this emphasis on organic matter is paying off. Not so, sadly, with the leeks which have been struck down for the second year running by allium leaf miner. There are just a couple of plots that haven’t been affected but the variety doesn’t seem to matter. Next year we’ll have to think whether leeks are one crop we should give up for a year or two.
I’ve ordered second hand copies of Gerard’s and Culpeper’s herbals – Gerard was only 17p so well worth a try. Culpeper just arrived and that’s where I’m off next.
You know how it is when it seems something might be amiss with a crop but you hang on in the hope that it was just a silly mistake and it will all blow over as soon as the weather improves. Some hope! We try to celebrate life’s rich tapestry as best we can but when push comes to shove a bit of ruthlessness is called for. These onions, (Autumn Champion, grown from sets), looked fine until a few weeks ago and then, just when they should have taken off, they began to show signs that something was wrong. We had been careful because we previously lost a crop of leeks to allium leaf miner, and so they were covered with fine insect mesh from winter onwards. However, facts are facts and these onions looked sick. It’s sometimes difficult for a non expert to diagnose these pests and diseases, but the effect on the leaves was very like leaf miner. So that gave three possibilities – allium leaf miner, onion fly and eelworm. According to the books it’s a bit early for leaf miner, the mesh should have seen off the onion fly as well and so that left eelworm as the prime suspect. Whatever it was, the remedy was much the same – dig them up and burn them and then don’t grow alliums on the plot for three years. The RHS rather loftily suggest that the ground should be left fallow, but our allotment doesn’t stretch into the blue remembered hills, and we can’t afford to leave a whole bed empty so we’ll probably try to kill any remaining eggs, cysts or pupae with the flame gun and then observe the rotation carefully.
It’s always sad to lose a crop, but we have the spring planted onions which appear to be OK, and the leeks, garlic and shallots are all alright too, so in a break in the rain and for fear of going stir crazy we went up and did the deed. As we were pulling them out I examined them carefully to see if any further light could be shed on the problem, and most of the post mortems showed no signs of maggots or pupae, supporting the eelworm hypothesis. However I did find a couple of plants with 2mm brown pupae that looked very like allium leaf miner – so it was an open verdict. Much as I hate any green material going off the allotment, I’m afraid this lot went straight to the tip. Just for reference or any further ideas I’m including a photo of the pupa and another plant. Please don’t take this as a sign I know that much about plant pathology, I’m only one page ahead in the textbook!
This photo of our first real garden was taken in 1970. We were students at Bath Academy of Art and we rented this cottage on a farm in Corsham, Wiltshire for two and a half years. The art school was a twenty minute walk across the fields. You can just see through the doorway to the back garden where we kept a goat. We had an outside toilet, a very deep well which must once have been the water supply and a gigantic water cistern which we discovered by accident when we were ploughing there and the plough caught on a large metal ring which, when we levered the stone up led to a two chamber storage cistern big enough to swim around. The connection betwen the two chambers involved diving through a small hole – I was thin in those days!
There may be some small correlation between the garden and the fact that I was on probation for the whole of the second year for failing to attend! These were magical gardening days that all came to an end when a herd/drove/drift/sounder of pigs somehow got in and rooted it all up in an hour. It was a good training in philosophical patience! – and I resumed my studies in ceramics in the nick of time.
A wet and windy day day today – the opportunity for searching through the albums this afternoon – but the temperature stayed in double figures so we managed a couple of hours on the allotment where we installed the insect mesh over the overwintering onion sets. It’s been so windy we haven’t worried too much about allium leaf miner, but this is the beginning of the season when the females lay their destructive eggs. Storm Gareth has had a very long tail but the forecast is for improving weather after a last wet weekend and so we felt that regardless of the weather we needed to protect the alliums. The insect mesh is expensive but since we took to protecting all our vulnerable crops with it we’ve been mercifully spared the maggots that cost us our entire crop of leeks in the first season. It should be said that we’re also growing from seed now, meaning the young plants are not out in the open and exposed to the flies in garden centres. Madame checked the stakes on the tallest brassicas to protect them from the wind.
The biggest point of interest now is the possibility of a small crop of asparagus quite soon. Storm Gareth seems to have slowed things down but the Mondeo – the early variety is showing signs of producing its first spears. We’ll harvest each variety for a month, enough for a few tasters we hope, and then let the plants continue to establish themselves. We’re hoping that the thick mulch of seaweed over the winter will help them to grow vigorously. Elsewhere we’re harvesting purple sprouting broccoli, savoy cabbages, kale, carrots Swiss chard and rhubarb. Next week the weather looks fine and we’re hoping to get a good number of seeds in.
Every time we go to the supermarket now we buy any variety of pears we can find because we’re taste testing them before ordering some container grown cordons in the summer. At the moment the front runners are Doyenne du Comice and Conference but there’s a cross, bred from the two parents, called Concorde. I’ve never seen it in the shops but it’s billed as a heavy yielding pear with the best qualities of flavour and texture from both its parents. We’re looking to plant five more cordons and a damson, a plum and a greengage are the fruits I’d most like to grow.