Saturday, 18 April 2009

Sowing root crops

After a gloomy morning doing housework, the sun came out and out we went to the allotment. I started by sowing some carrot seeds. We, like so many others, suffer to some degree with carrot root fly damage. I was reading about ways to tackle the problem in the April edition of the Kitchen Garden magazine but none of the answers seemed satisfactory. It suggested fine netting completely covering the crop as one solution but this brings other problems such as inability to weed or deal with other pests. And if you miss-time the netting then you could trap the maggots inside, free to do their damage without attack from their predators. Last year I tried sowing my carrots with a row of onions for every row of carrots. It mentioned such companion planting in the article but suggest that far more onions were needed to make it work. Well, socks to that, I'm sure it helped.

Anyway, this year I have decided to repeat the carrot/onion planting. It certainly didn't do any harm last year and I want to grow both anyway. I've also decided to sow flowers around the outer border of the bed too. This may add to the confusion of perfumes but mainly it is because I seem to have accumulated a load of flower seed packets and it would be nice to have some flowers somewhere on the allotment for the pollinators.

Last year I tried sowing some parsnip seeds in 4 of the carrot rows. Parsnips are notoriously temperamental germinators so if you sow them on their own, firstly you struggle to remember where the row is whilst the parsnips get round to germinating, and, secondly, the germination is usually patchy and you end up wasting a row for 3 or 4 plants. The idea behind sowing with the carrots is that you know where the row is because the carrots germinate fairly quickly, secondly you don't waste a row because the carrots are there to fill the spaces, and thirdly, once you have harvested all your carrots you have a lovely thinned row of parsnips for the winter. Anyway, this worked so well last year that I have decided to sow parsnips in every carrot row this year. That could result in a lot of parsnips but they are a brilliant winter crop and I love roasted parsnips with a roast dinner.

Carrot seeds are very fine and need a fine "tilth" to germinate well. To help us achieve this in our heavy clay, Steve rotavated the bed for me earlier in the week. Having pulled out "drills" with my hoe, I then sprinkled in potting compost and sharp sand to give a lovely surface for the seeds. If the soil had been dry I would have watered the bottom of each drill at this point but having had 10cm of rain (according to my daughter's rain gauge) in the last two day watering wasn't needed.

Finally it was time to sow the carrot seeds - 8 different varieties - I like variety! This included some purple and some red carrots because novelties like this amuse my girls as much as they do me. There were also the old reliables such as Early Nantes, James Intermediate and Autumn King, as well as a variety I'd not tried before and have now forgotten the name of.

I often sow beetroot seeds in the same bed as the carrots but with room taken up with the flower seeds and onion sets I'd run out of space and I had to sow the beetroot elsewhere. We love beetroot and it stands well until it gets very frosted. The year before last I really struggled to get beetroot to germinate and we had very little to harvest so last year I decided to see what would happen if I sowed some in modules and planted them out as plug plants. They took ages to germinate but it was useful to plant them out well spaced rather than having some bunched together and then large gaps elsewhere as you get from sowing seeds. This year I didn't get round to sowing them in trays so I needed to sow direct. I read recently that soaking the seed for half an hour before hand can aid germination so I have tried this. We'll have to see what happens.

In the same bed as the beetroot I also sowed a couple of rows of spring onions, some rocket, spinach and two types of lettuce. I've also left some space so I can successionally sow more salad leaves over the next few weeks to help avoid a glut at one time and then nothing.

Having done all that I still had quite a lot of onion sets left and it really is getting a bit late to get these in so I needed to get on with it. A quick survey of the plot told me that the best place to plant these would in the bed next to the carrots. On the other side of the carrots I had already planted shallots and a few red onion sets so if I put onions on the other side the carrots would be flanked with onion as well as interplanted with them, surely some help against carrot root fly! Does that sound like a lot of onions? Well, they store well and we use them all the time but they are also an essential chutney ingredient.

The only problem with my assessment was that the bed on the other side of the carrots still had the remains of some brassica plants in as well as a good scattering of weeds. Brassicas, you should know, like a firm soil and I didn't much fancy having to dig over firm soil. Still, it needed doing and as it happened the soil was remarkably soft thanks to the recent rain. So it didn't take long to dig over and then I filled it up with rows and rows of brown and red onion sets.

Time to stand back and admire my handwork I'd say! Things are beginning to take shape!

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