Lounging in the sunshine, sipping homemade elderflower cordial and lazily watching the bees tirelessly going about their daily chores, it’s hard to believe autumn is just around the corner. The telltale signs are there; wasps have upped the ante with their continuous ‘kamikaze’ attacks on all things sweet, the allotment is producing more vegetables than we know what to do with, but the biggest giveaway is that the garden has shifted its colour palette from the coolness of the whites and pastels, into the heat of the oranges and yellows as varieties of Rudbeckia, Sunflowers and Gladioli take up the baton.
My email inbox is under constant bombardment from garden and nursery companies telling me I should buy their autumn bulbs and plug plants for immediate planting. But what if I don’t? Will I be barred from all things horticultural? Will they send the heavies round late one night to ensure I shift a kilo of their top quality Cyclamen Coum? (At this point I have an image of Alan Titchmarsh and Monty Don arriving on my doorstep, in black shades and matching suits, looking menacingly at me.) Or will I be placed in stocks up on the allotment for all to see as a reminder that now’s the time to plant your winter leeks?
But they can email spam me all they want, I’m not afraid. As my horticulture knowledge grows from season to season so does my awareness of the seasonal clock. I’ve always wondered how those ‘old timers’ seem to know when to carry out certain tasks on the allotment, and finally, I’ve been allowed into the ‘circle of trust’. It’s no big secret, it simply comes down to experience.
I shan’t be bullied into panic-buying anything; I know what needs doing. In fact, I’d already got a headstart when I sowed my parsnip seeds and planted out my leeks, swede and sprouts earlier in the spring. Being slow burners, we won’t start enjoying these until the leaves on the trees begin their rich autumnal displays, and a frost or two will help to improve their taste.
But there’s still hard work to be done and this weekend I’ve dug over my hardened, summer beds (my back is now paying for it), freeing them from weeds and replenishing them with organic matter. Finishing with a little consolidation and levelling, I then planted my stash of brassicas and watered them in thoroughly. Rudolph Broccoli, Clemen Cauliflower and Savoy and Marabel Cabbage. Already Agent Soph has broken into a cold sweat with this amount of veg to cook and store, but I assure her with the winter weather the crops will grow more slowly and can be kept in the ground and lifted when needed. Hmm, she’s still not convinced. Looks like people will be getting veg in their stockings this Christmas then.
At this time of year, I’m all too aware of the potential pests and diseases thriving in the summer heat. With the devastation of my onion loss earlier this year (even now it brings a tear to my eye), I have learnt netting and brassica collars are vital on this allotment. Recent banter on Instagram about growing Butternut Squash proves that no two allotment sites are the same. Where runner beans might thrive on a plot in Somerset, the same variety may come to nothing in a Yorkshire garden. So again, experience and understanding the soil, site and weather conditions are the right tools.