Sunday, 2 August 2009

Goingt on holiday

Sometimes I really fancy keeping chickens but at this time of year I realise what a problem this would be… for now it is time for our summer holiday. We have a little cottage right on the north coast of Scotland so to make good use of the council taxes we pay all year and the 625 mile journey we like to go away for a full 3 weeks. My husband loves the place and achieves a level of relaxation up there that alludes him at home. I have mixed feelings. Although I enjoy the holiday I’m always reluctant to leave the allotment when it is at its most productive. I’d be quite content to spend 3 weeks at home tending the plants, harvesting the fruit and veg and pottering about in the kitchen making jam and chutney.

Whilst we are away we leave the allotment in the hands of my parents who live a half-hour drive away. Usually they come twice a week to water a few things and to pick whatever is ready. I’m grateful to them and they do a good job but they are not vegetable growers themselves and do not necessarily spot when problems strike or pick things before they get too big. They never complain about it but I don’t know how much like hard work they find it. Anyway, this year I have made an arrangement with a local friend who will come once a week, leaving my parents to come once a week too, reducing their burden but still rewarding them with some fresh produce.

So now you can see why I couldn’t keep chickens. They would need tending every day, not just twice a week, and I find it hard enough to hand over responsibility for my plants as it is!

I find the Growveg.com website garden planning tool useful throughout the year but it becomes really handy at this time of year. I use the planning tool to keep a map of my allotment plot as I go along so when it comes to handing over the allotment keys I can also hand over a map detailing what is planted where. Of course, I can’t help but augment the map with numerous notes such as “will need watering” or “pick regularly”.

For the past few years we have gone away in mid August and both my parents and I have become used to what to expect on the allotment whilst we are away. We usually take as much fresh produce away as possible so set off with bags of potatoes, carrots, beetroot, onions, cucumbers and French beans, all of which keep remarkably fresh. For my parents, there are abundant ripe plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes and French beans. My parents fill their freezer with produce and we usually come home to a fridge bulging with cucumbers and corn on the cob picked a few days before we return.

This year we are going away in mid July so things have been a little different. A few days before setting off, I walked around the plot trying to imagine what would occur within the coming 3 weeks. This is always harder than your think. After all, usually when I don’t get down to the plot for a few days I’m surprised by what has grown in the meantime. I can equally be surprised by what stops cropping too. This is particularly true for soft fruit when three days before may have filled several punnets only to discover that the strawberries, raspberries, tayberries or whatever have become small and sparse all of a sudden.

Already the gherkins, courgettes and French beans have started cropping so they are definitely going to be abundant. The peas and mangetout are winding down so I don’t expect them to be cropping when I get back. The raspberries continue to be abundant but I have no idea for how much longer. There may be cucumbers and calebrese before we return and I have run out of time and energy to pick any more blackcurrants now so they are there for the taking. The plums will only just be ripening when we get home. My main concern, however, is that the brassicas will become overrun with caterpillars and the tomatoes and potatoes will succumb to blight.

In preparation to going away I picked all the mangetout, peas, French beans and courgettes and filled a couple of bags with potatoes. I even picked a lettuce that otherwise would bolt. I nipped out all the side shoots on the tomatoes and tied them again to their canes. As an added precaution, I sprayed the tomatoes with Diathane and left a made up sprayer and note for my dad to spray again in 10 days time. Hopefully this preventative fungicide will keep blight at bay. I also carefully inspected the brassicas and squashed any eggs or caterpillars that I spotted.

So on the first day of our holiday along with our suitcases, I put out a sack of spuds and bags of courgettes, peas, mangetout, beetroot, and shallots, a bulb of garlic and a lettuce. There is, after all, nothing worst than having to buy from a shop vegetables that you know you have grown at home.
When fresh veg isn’t fresh

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