Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Wellies, washouts and wormeries!

It's been a mixed month for weather. I booked the last few days of June off work, intending to get some time in at the plot and was very fortunate with some of the hottest days this year falling in the first days of July and the tail end of my holiday. I actually returned to work with an impressive tan. I of course didn't wish to gloat so wore my whitest shirt on the first back and spent several hours with my sleeves rolled up and working near light fabrics!

But that was the opening week of this month. Since then the much lauded barbecue summer has been, at best, intermittent.

We were warned earlier this decade that global warming would bring extreme weather. Most of us, myself included, thought the emphasis would be on the warming part. Garden gurus advised on desert plants and water conservation, medical experts warned against skin cancer and that nice Scottish chap on tv tried to sell us solar panels along with triple glazing. Sadly we are having the extreme weather across all forms. Flooding followed by record breaking heatwaves, snowfalls that bring the country grinding to a halt and, more recently, mini tornadoes or funnel clouds along the south west and welsh coasts.

The desert planting schemes will have been as relevant as a bog garden or an alpine scree bed, which is why many of this year’s winning designs at Chelsea and other garden shows have been strong on hard landscaping, the bricks and mortar or paving and arbors that provide the skeleton of the garden rather than the actual plants. Without being able to determine the growing conditions to come in the following months, it is difficult to be specific with a planting scheme. Better perhaps to design a colour theme and find varieties to fit your palette nearer to the day.

The combination of a nature friendly policy and a wet but warm summer has devastated parts of my allotment with slugs rampaging over my salads and greens, decapitating new shoots and seedlings and with caterpillars settling in their thousands amongst the brassicas. I fear my attempts to keep the pigeons off my cabbages has meant all feathered predators have given the plot a fly past and allowed the juicy bugs free reign. I netted my soft fruits and have reported bumper crops but I may have been protecting the currants and strawberries against an enemy that had decided to look elsewhere much early in the season. The raspberries, tayberries and blackberries have been left uncovered with no noticeable losses.

Every year has its losses and its champions and this year is looking good for fruit and alliums despite last year’s white onion rot problem. There have been reports of potato blight from around the site and online but my new potato crop barely registered an appearance so I have to wait to see whether there will be enough of a main crop to differentiate.

The hot weather and regular downpours have produced perfect conditions for accelerated growth and created lots of sappy weak stems for the slugs and snails and other pests to gorge on. The weeds have grown tall and thick in these conditions too but they must taste like Brussels sprouts to a school boy because the bugs don't seem to have left a mark on them!

The compost heap has always been seen as the engine room of the garden or allotment but recently there has been a noticeable move towards a more advanced form of composting, the wormery.

All compost heaps contain or should contain plenty of worms. They convert the vegetation, paper and other ingredients into friable healthy nutrient rich compost but wormeries work more intensively as a breeding and feeding ground for worms. The waste is added as a bedding and food source for the nursery that holds thousands of young worms. These beds of worm youngsters are stacked like a beehive set on its side. This allows smaller pieces of food and liquid to pass through each layer until only the finest compost and the richest liquid reaches the bottom tray, where the liquid can be taken off via a tap and the compost removed by a slide out tray.

The concept has been a great production line for worm cast compost and many small holdings run profitable businesses selling worm compost to discerning gardeners but the idea first came to my attention when I started growing pumpkins many years ago. I had a friend whose father had a wormery. I visited them at home one day and was offered this gallon container of evil smelling brown liquid to use as a plant feed for my plants. I started by diluting the murky satanic juice with water but as the beasts grew to huge proportions, I diluted less and less until they were getting two or three feeds a day of neat worm wee!

The effect was phenomenal but I have yet to start my own worm farm!

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