Well folks, I am back from my week’s holidays loafing around with the day to myself. If anyone is interested, I was in Oysterhaven, a pretty spot on the sea in county Cork. The idea was to have an idyllic week with our teenage children sailing, kayaking, or swimming in the sparkling sea only yards from our rented front door. Parents of older children (sorry, young adults) will already have spotted the rookie error here: Teenagers do not like their parents. At all.
It turned out that what, on the face of it, looked like the perfect holiday destination was actually deficient in a number of ways including the accommodation being too spartan (like camping apparently), the sea being too cold and anything other than the endless stream of slop on their phones being ‘lame’ or the dreaded and very popular word with teenagers, boring.
Here’s a handy tip though. Once your children reach the age that they can’t bear the sight of you, just borrow someone else’s. On the first day I met three very talkative little people while I was setting up my dinghy who, shock horror, seemed keen to converse with me.
Every time I came around a corner I was greeted with ‘HI ANDREW!!!’ from my pint sized friends and sniggers from my own lot. The picture above is me pulling my new pals up and down the shore by a rope tied to the boat (which nautical types will recognise as the bow line or painter). Thankfully their mother never suggested that I take them for a proper sail as, when I did go out, I was never 100% sure I would be able to make it back.
Not all fun and games
Despite being very pleased to be back home again, I did have some unwelcome surprises like the shocker above on some of my potatoes. I would not have expected blight in June (July and August are normally the problem months) but there was a blight warning in the first few days I was away and unfortunately my potatoes were hit.
You will notice that the damage looks very different from ‘normal’ blight because it is probably early rather than the more common late blight. The organisms responsible are different; the fungi Alternaria solani in the case of early blight and an oomycete (related to fungi but not a true fungus) in the case of late blight.
As you can see, early blight has more distinct, hard edged patches on the leaves rather than the soft edged lesions of late blight. I will be honest, this threw me for a while as I had never seen these large papery brown patches but this may be because the initial attack was followed by dry, sunny weather, I’m not sure. If anyone has more experience here and is more familiar with this form of blight please let me know, as I said I have not encountered these odd looking symptoms before.
The other strange thing is that it is only my blight resistant ‘Setanta’ potatoes that are affected while my more susceptible first and second earlies are blemish free. This leads me to suspect the initial infection may have come from a tuber rather than carried in on the wind.
Once blight has infected potato foliage, there is a not a whole lot you can do about it other than remove any diseased plant material to try to control the disease. I have cut out any affected foliage and disposed of it well away from the garden but this only buys more time rather than stops the disease. If the aggressive spread continues I will need to lift the entire row to try to reduce spread to my other potato beds . Unfortunately blight is a serious blow early in the season before tubers have developed below ground but I guess it is all part of the gamble of growing your own.
And that’s not all
Above we can also see a similar fungal infection on my broad beans, this time halo blight which is spread by the same conditions (warm and damp) as potato blight. Halo blight is another disease that I rarely see so early in the season and has the same frustrating qualities as potato blight, i.e. there is not that much I can do about it.
Like the potatoes, I have removed any damaged leaves and stems and, as I write this, am thinking of removing half of the row to try and contain it but, like any fungal disease, it does not look good. The only way of dealing with blight is to spray a preventative fungicide on the leaves before an attack but the old remedy, Bordeaux mixture, is no longer available. There are chemical alternatives but not for the organic garden, I am currently looking at options that we may be able to stock and will keep you posted.
The issue here is my onions are producing seed heads. To be fair, I had been expecting this as the cold April and May made premature flowering very likely. I also know from recent email and social media contact that bolting onions are a common problem this year.
The reason is that onions have a 2 year growth cycle where they produce a bulb in year one and a flower in year 2. Onions sets will read a cold snap in spring as winter passing and go into the flower producing part of their cycle, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done about this once it happens.
The small onions can still be used in the kitchen but won’t store well. It is best to dig up any bulbs that have gone to seed as they won’t get any bigger once the seed process has begun and use them straight away.
Peas please me
Luckily, one of my favourite crops, the peas, are doing well and continuing to scramble up their supports. Above you see ‘Greenshaft’ beginning to produce their beautiful soft white flowers, soon to be followed by pods full of peas. If climbing peas start to lean away from their support, they can be encouraged back in with a length of twine, just don’t pull too tight as the stems are easily damaged.
By the way, I was asked today why it is advised to harvest peas from the bottom of the vine, this is because the lower peas are older so bulk up first. It is easy to miss low down peas and, if they are allowed to ripen, the plant will stop producing so it pays to get down on your knees and be thorough.
This is the fantastic bush tomato ‘Maskotka’ which is always the first to fruit and has an absolutely superb tomato flavour both fresh and when cooked. This is a variety I highly recommend for any situation but especially for smaller greenhouses or if you are growing under a mini polytunnel of cold frame.
You can see on the leaves that there is a little bit of magnesium deficiency showing (yellow between the leaf veins) but this is quickly and easily solved with a dose of Epsom salts.
Sweetcorn Sweet Nugget
My sweetcorn ‘Sweet Nugget F1’ is growing as you would expect in the warm climate of the polytunnel, it seems to get bigger every time I turn my back. The plants are growing in a mix of mushroom compost and topsoil which explains the mushrooms growing around their feet. I had mixed in some seaweed and poultry manure pellets when I planted the seedling plants but, despite their vigourous growth, I will be adding a layer of well rotted compost around the roots at the weekend to give them a boost as they are now beginning to flower and produce their cobs.
Sweetcorn flowers are produced at the top of the plant, the image above is peering into the top whorl where you can see the male flower beginning to develop. When growing outside, the wind shakes the corn and drops pollen on the sticky threads of the female flowers which are conveniently placed below.
As there is very little wind in the polytunnel, I will need to hand pollinate the corn by manually shaking the plants, or to be doubly sure, transferring pollen from the male to female flowers using a soft brush. I think I mentioned it in an earlier mail but every tassel on a female flower is directly connected to a kernel on the developing sweetcorn cob; if the tassel doesn’t get pollinated, the associated kernel won’t develop and you will get gaps in your cobs.
Pepper Hungarian Wax
I usually grow peppers directly in my polytunnel beds but this year due to the cold start to the season I put most of them in large 19cm pots instead. So far the pot grown plants are doing better than those planted directly in the soil; they got a head start because the smaller volume of soil/compsost in the pots warmed quicker but I would expect the direct planted chillis and sweet peppers to overtake them later in the season. You will find that potted chillis and peppers, while they will produce smaller plants, will flower earlier due to being a little cramped in the pot which can be a benefit in a poor summer; it is better to have small number of ripe peppers rather than a lot of unripe ones.
You need to be careful with over watering potted peppers, I have already killed one from being over zealous. It is better to let the pots get nearly dry before giving them an infrequent soak rather than little and often. They will be much happier kept slightly dry than constantly moist.
While my outdoor grown garlic has done very badly (growth was slow in the cool April and May), the cloves planted in the polytunnel last October have been fantastic. I had 2 full beds on the go which is a bit of an extravagance but if you have less growing space in a tunnel or greenhouse, you can plant garlic amongst winter salad crops. The garlic puts down very little growth over winter so doesn’t need much room and the winter salad will be cleared in early spring giving space for the garlic to bulk up.
By the way, it is often advised to harvest garlic when the leaves have turned brown but you will find the bulbs won’t store as well if you do this. Ideally once the lower leaves have browned but the rest of the stem and leaves are still green you should lift your garlic by loosening the roots with a trowel. The reason is that each leaf represents one layer of papery wrapping on the bulb; the more leaves that die back, the less protective wrapping the bulb has.
Above and below you can see early carrots sown in raised beds outside in early May. I should have thinned them out before going on holidays as they are looking a bit crowded but will get this done at the weekend. While carrot root fly is not so much of a problem from mid June until early August, remember that smell of bruised carrot foliage will attract them so it is best to thin quickly in one go and to cover with a protective mesh as soon as you are done.
Apart from covering for a week after thinning, I often leave carrots uncovered for the summer with very little root fly damage but it is essential they are covered from early August onwards or root fly will be a major issue.
As regards sowing maincrop carrots, the best time is late May or early June but if you have not done so already, there is still time to sow now and harvest a worthwhile crop for winter storage.
Of course another good thing about going on holiday for a week is knowing my plants were being watered regularly while I was away by my irrigation system. While we were in grips of Covid order madness we were sadly unable to draw up polytunnel irrigation plans but I am pleased to announce we can offer this service again. If you would like us to draw up a plan or give a quote on an automatic dripper irrigation system please drop me a line, we will need the number and size of the beds in question, the general layout of the location of the water source.
Building a polytunnel irrigation system is actually very simple, it is fun plumbing for kids. The tubing is easy to cut with a knife or secateurs and simply slots onto the connector pieces. Mistakes are easily rectified as cut pipes can be joined with a connector piece (I would recommend including a couple of connectors in any order, they are only only a couple of euros) and the whole thing goes together a lot quicker than you might think.
I made a video of the installation process in my own polytunnel in 2019 if you would like to see how the system goes together, the same system was moved to the new tunnel this year with only a couple of alterations so they can be easily moved if you want to change location. You can watch the video by clicking the video image above.
To view the different irrigation system parts available on our site, please click the blue button below.
That’s all folks!
That’s about it for this week, I hope you found some of the above helpful in your gardens. If you would like me to cover any specific topics on our blog, please let me know.