One swallow does not a summer make….but maybe if you add some cuckoos, then we’re almost there.
The swallows arrived a few days earlier than usual at Lowick, with first sightings on the 5th of April. The cuckoos on the Common however, were bang on time: they always appear on either the 24th or 25th of this month. In contrast to the lightness and grace of the swallows, the cuckoos look much like a lumpen kestrel in flight, but do give out their characteristic call as they fly.
Speaking of birds, the breeding and nesting season is now well underway and care needs to be taken when planning some hedge trimming or major pruning activities as it is an offence under UK law to disturb or damage birds, nests and their contents. A careful visual inspection is advised before any activity is undertaken and works deferred if an active nest is discovered.
April can be a real challenge for gardeners and allotmenteers with sudden dips in nighttime temperatures combined with what seems to now be a regularly occurring extended dry spell. This focuses the attention on water conservation and the careful and considered use of this precious resource. Planning ahead for periods of low rainfall can help reduce plant losses at the start of the season.
The first two guttering sowings of early peas and purple mangetout have just been planted out. This method avoids the problems of mouse and pigeon damage which can occur sometimes with direct sowing.
Lowick Green allotments. Taken in April 2021 by Sue Hotchkiss.
Although the plants didn’t slide out of the troughs as smoothly as anticipated, practice makes perfect and hopefully the next sowings which are galloping away in the greenhouse will glide out effortlessly…just like all the YouTube tutorials! Withies from a coppiced willow, which have been drying over the early months are woven simply through three horizontal canes to provide support for the young plants.
Albert. Taken in April 2021 by Sue Hotchkiss.
Huge thanks to Sheena Taylforth who has brought Albert back to the very best of sartorial elegance on the allotments, with clothing donated by Anne Currie. So many people stop to take his picture, it’s only right that he look at his best.
The Exchange is now being used by allotment holders, leaving surplus seeds, plants, pots etc as well as notes for each other. Even in today’s world of social media, there’s nothing beats a handwritten note. Next month should see the start of the development of the green roof on The Exchange and rather than the usual sedums, we’ll try and create a mini-wild flower meadow which should help attract pollinators to the allotments. Thanks to those folks who have donated old egg boxes to provide a foundation for the soil and seeds.
The warmer weather has encouraged more allotment holders on to site and whilst dry ground makes weeding and preparation much easier, it is certainly not conducive to productive planting. Whether growing on a plot or in a garden, here are some measures to consider to help make the most of your water supply.
- Retain existing moisture in the soil by using mulches. These can be anything from leaf mould, home made compost, chopped straw, permeable membranes, cardboard or even old compost bags. As well as reducing water evaporation, mulching also reduces incursion of weeds…win..win!
- When prepping a planting area, increase the amount of organic matter to the soil, this acts as a natural moisture reservoir and improves fertility and soil structure.
- Choose the most effective time to water: evening is often the best once the warmth of the sun has disappeared. This means that the water has the best opportunity to be taken up by plants rather than evaporating in the heat of the day before it reaches the roots.
- Target your watering: sprinklers and hoses with a fine spray attachment can often waste water by wetting ground that is not actually in production. Using a watering can, or a hose on a low trickle allows the water to be delivered directly to each plant.
- Look at ways of harvesting rain water: simple guttering and a down pipe on a shed, greenhouse or conservatory will soon fill a barrel. Your plants and the planet will thank you.
- When planting out your vegetables or flowering plants, completely fill each hole with water from a watering can and let it soak into the soil before adding your plant. This way you know that the roots will have immediate access to moisture.
A little rain sometime soon will be a welcome thing, but in the meantime we can still enjoy the warm, dry days which inspire and encourage more activity on the allotments and in the garden.
“It’s Growing Time…
Weed seedlings are appearing: a sure sign that the soil is getting warmer and although there’s still plenty of inclement weather to come, we’ve enjoyed the stunning swathes of wild snowdrops which have given way to our native daffodils and primroses that always put on an incredible show here in Lowick and certainly cheer the heart.
By now, every spare window sill, sunny porch and warm, bright corner will be filled with seed trays, pots and tiny plants, jostling for space and waiting for their gradual acclimatisation before being taken down to the allotments. Enormous bumblebees of every species have been noisily visiting the greenhouse, happy to inspect activities, but somehow not able to easily find their way back out again despite both doors being wide open!
A stroll around the allotments at this time of year reveals the remaining stalwarts from last year’s plantings: stout leeks patiently waiting to be lifted before they begin to bolt. Curly kale having a “ bad hair day” and slender garlic shoots from bulbs planted in November that are now waiting to perform their magic. Rhubarb is beginning to push it’s slightly alien-looking pink and ruby buds out of the ground and some early varieties are already in leaf. A spare, lidded but bottomless compost bin placed over part of the crown will provide an extra large forcing pot to help bring on those tender, sweet stems that command such a high price in the supermarkets.
Lowick Green allotments. Taken in March 2021 by Sue Hotchkiss.
Some allotment holders have their tried and tested methods of cultivation: large open plots with trenches for muck, or raised beds which help the soil warm more quickly and are easier to access. Some prefer to experiment with no-dig methods ( which always involves lots of cardboard) and for the first time, one of our allotment families is using Alpaca poo to help improve the soil nutrient level and structure. It will be fascinating to see how well this works over the coming growing season…watch this space!
At 8pm on the 28th of March it will be a Worm Moon and a Super Moon. For those who like to sow and grow by the lunar calendar, this will be a crucial date to get seeds sown. It’s also the start of British Summer Time and the beginning of the horticultural Hokey Cokey….in-out, in-out…The process of hardening off young plants which have been cosseted indoors or in the greenhouse and now have to get ready to take on the vagaries of the British climate. Keeping an eye on night-time temperatures is especially crucial over the next few months and if you’ve got a bit fed up of the daily routine of moving plants, then the judicious use of spare bubble wrap is a great way of giving your plants a bit more protection from late frosts.
This year, we’ll continue our search for funding to help provide improvements on the allotments. Thanks also to the anonymous person who has kindly donated a new outfit for Albert our scarecrow; looking forward to seeing him in his resplendent duds very soon.
Here are a few things to think about over the next few weeks
- Keep your watering can topped up but keep it indoors or in the greenhouse so that young tender roots don’t get “shocked” by icy cold water.
- Think about successional sowing, not only for vegetables such as peas, beans, salad crops etc, but also for annual bedding plants so that you can enjoy the benefits of colour as well as food through an extended season.
- To get the most productivity out of your crop plants, include some flowers alongside to attract pollinators. Different insects pollinate different plants so provide a variety.
- Be aware however, that one combination that doesn’t work is marigolds/tagetes planted next to beans or peas, unless the flowers are in containers. Their roots give off an allelopathic chemical that retards growth in legumes and you will end up with a poor crop.
- Sow peas and mange tout in short lengths of guttering and bring them on in the greenhouse. This reduces damage by mice, encourages early germination and the whole thing ( minus guttering) can be slid into a prepared bed in the ground once the young plants have been hardened off. This is also a great way of trying successional planting.
- When potting on tomato and sunflower seedlings, plant them deep so that the stems will produce adventitious side growth below soil level; increasing stability and water/nutrient uptake.
Enjoy the daffodils and look forward to the bluebells.
The Exchange goes live!
We are happy to announce a full compliment of allotment holders and welcome them warmly to the new growing season.
February has seen the arrival of a new “cupboard on legs” on the allotments. Constructed by Rob Dove and installed by Dan Hotchkiss, The Exchange provides a much needed resource for all the allotment holders. We now have the perfect opportunity to swap seeds, plants, ideas and information, even if we might be the only person on the site.
Inside, there are a couple of boxes to keep the “swaps” dry…and out of the reach of mice! There are pin boards to leave messages, share ideas and top growing tips as well as a “heads up” for bargain purchases. To make sure we are Covid-compliant, hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial spray are immediately available for everyone’s safety.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll install a lower shelf on The Exchange to take all the extra seedlings and young plants that we’ve produced ( yes…we all do it!) so that nothing goes to waste. It means that all the growers benefit all through the season. Any surplus packets of seeds at the end of the year will be sent via various charitable organisations to developing countries to contribute to their own support programmes that help people live independently.
Although the weather is rather brisk at the moment, once things improve, it will be a great time to get started on the green roof project for The Exchange. The design has given us a space in the roof area to develop a green sward, hopefully with some wild flowers that will help The Exchange blend a little more into the landscape, we just need the smallest sheep in the world to browse it!
Fingers crossed, The Exchange is just the start of exciting things to happen on the allotments this year. It’s the middle of February and seed sowing has already started…watch this space!
Looking forward to the year ahead
This year the Association will be actively pursuing any available grants and funding and it is hoped that the allotment holders themselves will provide the strongest steer for those things that they feel are important to help the allotments thrive and flourish in future years. It is immensely pleasing to see young children coming onto the allotments with their parents, they are after all, the guardians of our amazing community facility and their participation should be encouraged every step of the way.
Although the weather is still inclement, there’s still plenty of jobs to do both on the plot and in the garden.
- Get your seeds ordered early: many people were caught out by a huge increase in demand last year and 2021 looks to be heading the same way.
- If you have one, wash down your greenhouse, inside and out and clear the guttering. This will make a huge difference to the amount of light coming in and also eradicate pests and disease that might have taken up residence.
- Re-use pots and labels, spend a couple of hours washing, cleaning and drying them: you’ll be glad you did it now.
- Clean, sharpen and oil your garden tools.
- Take an inventory of things that you almost ran out of at the end of last season: fertiliser, string, canes etc and make a note to buy more.
- Identify seeds that can be sown early, either under glass or on a warm windowsill such as sweet peas, hillies, aubergines, broadbeans…
- Decide on one brand new thing to grow this year that you’ve never tried before!
And finally, Albert, our resident scarecrow is in desperate need of a new set of clothes. It may be some while before he can peruse the charity shops again, so if anyone has anything suitable: a straw hat, waistcoat, shirt, pants, braces, then all offers kindly received.