Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Haemopsis sanguisuga, Herpobdella octoculata or Trocheta subviridis?

The problem with tweeting about one's allotment adventures in an hour or so after they occur, is that if you've made a proper Charlie of yourself, for example by crushing a blameless leech beneath your Dr Marten's boot, you're revealed to the entire twitter-sphere - in particular your fellow allotment tweeters - as the aforesaid proper Charlie.

This afternoon, with a combined sense of contrition and curiosity, I've been researching this whole flatworm and leech business. It's now pretty clear to me that this was a leech, more of which in a moment.

But I have learned this about flatworms, there's no evidence that they are causing damage to earthworm populations in the UK. Fear of them appears to be another aspect of the hysteria regarding almost any "invasive" and "non-native" species. Grey squirrels and their persecutors are perhaps the sharpest example of the phenomenon in the UK.

A whole host of beasts prey on earthworms in addition to the flatworms: hedgehogs, foxes, moles, frogs - and, for goodness' sakes, bloomin' leeches. Naturally, even in our anxiety to ensure a good earthworm population for the benefit of the soil and all that grows therein, we're not going to attempt to exterminate everything that uses them for food. Indeed, the existence of flatworms and other predators could be argued to be indicative of a healthy earthworm population.

My best guess now is that the poor beast I stamped on the other day is a carnivorous, amphibious leech, which has got under the plastic sheet in search of earthworms and perhaps slugs and their eggs, (another good reason to have left it in peace). I've been looking at photos online, and my best bet is Trocheta subviridis. I hope to find more of the same when I lift the opaque tarpaulin in early autumn, a job I'll undertake with great care, a few feet at a time. Hopefully, I can get hold of one to examine it more carefully before releasing it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Leech or flatworm? Ants and Swiss Chard

For the 2nd time in a week or so, (1st time regarding dwarf beans), I'm following Alys Fowler's advice, this time with regard to Swiss chard.  Long story short, after midsummer plants which often bolt if planted in spring will resist the impulse to do so, probably because of shortening days; (I say shortening, but in Glasgow, in July, we're still getting 18 hours of daylight).  

I got a packet of Bright Lights, at a good price, (another reason to wait until July before sowing, lots of bargains, I've noticed). But where to sow them? Most of the 2nd bed is under a tarpaulin, but it wasn't quite big enough to cover the whole bed, so the last 5ft or so went under a sheet of plastic, (in the background of the photo in this post, here.)

Transparent plastic was a foolish idea, weeds were growing underneath it, so I covered most of it with sheets of metal from the old shed. I decided to leave the tarp, but use the area beneath the plastic for the chard. Who-ah there! Teeming with life: ants' nest, worms, and... what I took to be the mythical New Zealand flatworm, rumoured amongst plot-holders to be responsible for a perceived shortage of earthworms. 

When carrying it in a gloved hand to a sheet of tin for this pre-execution photo, memories of leeches came back to me: a big population of them in the Basingstoke canal fascinated me when I was a kid. But this one was moving like a worm, with the shuffling spasm along its body. Now, having thought it over, I should have settled the question by putting it into a jar of water, which a leech would have taken in its stride, not so a worm. 

The leech-or-flatworm despatched, I went back to hoe the new patch of ground, spotting two other worms there, a brandling and a regular earthworm. And the ground was absolutely gorgeously loamy and of a good tilth. Last winter I was still digging oomska in, I notice, sowing it with Hungarian rye seed which the birds devoured. Something has feasted on and broken down that horseshit. 

Maybe it was the ants, but I suspect an improving earthworm population. And now I'm pretty sure I executed an innocent leech. Which is an uncomfortable thought, but it's not the end of the world. It all means the good worms are coming back, and that there's also a leech population in the plot, probably centred in the pond. I'm looking forward now, come the autumn, to lifting the opaque tarpaulin, and see how things have been going under there.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Neeps, French Beans, Carrots from France... Voila!

That's neeps at the back, beans to the left, carrots to the right. Don't know why I've broadcast the seeds in this way, rather than rows. Something to do with making it more creative, but I'm still just mixing the paints and cleaning the canvas. Planted all in rows, like soldiers on parade, might have its place but shouldn't be the norm.

Several times as I hoed and raked the ground, getting up the weeds, spreading the oomska around, I thought: if anyone thinks no-dig is a lazy option, forget about it. All of that hoeing, particularly, is bloomin' hard work. This is it, though, I've started no dig. There were some stones and glass, but I got them out fine with the hoe.

It was forecast to rain in the later afternoon, and right on cue, about 5pm, it started. Which was absolutely perfect to water-in the seeds.  By then I'd finished the sowing, and was filling the comfrey-liquid barrel with water from the allotment tap, with a 10 gallon container and a wheelbarrow. I'd put a lot of comfrey in there, no hessian sack this time, but it only had a little rainwater in. As it filled with tap-water, I thought how integral the dubious odour of decomposing comfrey in water is to my conception of an allotment.

Friday, July 14, 2017

July Planting of the 3rd (NW) Bed

The 3rd bed, (the bed formerly known as the NW bed), has become a miniature allotment in its own right this year, as I'm so invested in the resurrection of the 5th bed, and don't have time to cultivate the whole plot. There was a heap of oomska, now greatly diminished by usage. The garlic there has now been harvested. The tattie patch is thriving, in the southern third of the bed, and will continue to do so for another month or two, being planted in mid May.

This afternoon, apart from working some more on the 5th bed, (which shows progress, albeit very slow), I'm going to hoe the other two thirds of the 3rd bed, incorporating what's left of last winter's oomska, and sow neeps, French beans, and carrots.

I should mention (for my own future reference) that this was, theoretically last year's brassica bed, but that actually only involved 2 rows of neeps at the far N end, and so of course I won't be sowing this year's in that part of the bed. And I'm giving this entire bed a rest next year, with phacelia or maybe buckwheat.

The French beans are dwarf 'filet' type var. 'Cupidon' from  I've had a bit of research to do to get clear the nomenclature of beans. What supermarkets call 'green beans' are actually any immature beans, which you eat without shucking, the mangetout of the bean world. 'Filet' I have learned carries the meaning of 'string' as well as 'fillet', so these really are 'string beans'. Too late for climbing beans, now, but great for these wee (2ft) dwarfs, and all being well I should be harvesting them up until the frost arrives.

I got the idea to plant them this late from Alys Fowler. I've lent my Charles Dowding book to someone, so can't check it just now, but I seem to recall he suggested it's often better to plant in midsummer, the planting instructions on most commercial seed packets being more closely related to the seed merchant's retail cycle than the reality of growing a plant from seed to edibility.

The carrots are also from, 'D'Eysines', a form of 'half long Nantes', apparently, which are a 19th Century French variety, according to the Carrot Museum. And Eysines is a small town in Gironde, not far from where we once stayed, in Andernos les Bains.

Last but, in our house anyways, not least are the 'Champion Red Top' neeps, which want picking young, so hopefully I'm not too late with them, fingers crossed for a mild early winter. I hope they're better than 'Joan' grown last year, of which the general opinion was 'not bad', that is, indistinguishable in flavour from supermarket neeps.

What's wanted is a variety we all really like to grow on for seed. I could fill a whole bed with neeps, even the indifferent 'Joan', as the family's favourite brassica. Cabbage, for example, is usually eaten with a sense of duty and notion of it being one the five-a-day. Whereas neeps always get eaten with genuine enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Typha latifolia seed germination

Lombardi et al (1997) found very high germination rates of T latifolia at a fluctuating 20-30C, with plenty of light. They suggest each cat-tail contains 1000s of seeds. If the anticipated invasion of the pond doesn't materialize next year, in the October I'll harvest a few and then sow their seeds in the poly tunnel the following spring. A few dozen plants should be enough. Eventually, I want the whole pond to be a solid mass of 8ft tall bulrushes.

Lombardi, T., Fochetti, T., Bertacchi, A. and Onnis, A., 1997. Germination requirements in a population of Typha latifolia. Aquatic Botany, 56(1), pp.1-10.

These boots were made for weeding

The area in between the pond and the Eastern boundary - about 6x12ft - has never been cultivated by me, and I don't think it's received much of anyone's attention, ever. Last year, mind, I was away during July, the whole plot was under siege from weeds, and that area in particular went "stark staring mad". 

So this year I'm going to work that bit of ground. No corner of the plot should be neglected. I'm collecting plenty of compost material, getting the off-cuts from a florist, an neighbour's guinea pig bedding, our own kitchen waste, and of course waste material from the plot itself, such as the winter field beans. On top of that, there's a lot of comfrey, which I've already cut down and composted twice this year.

An area 6x12ft is big enough to heap it all up and then turn it. I'm going to add my old compost heap, (in the far NE corner, where gorse is to be planted), but I'm waiting for some turnip seeds to ripen - they're growing from a last year's discarded neep.

This is the approach I'm taking: if an area gets neglected and weed infested, cut them down and use it to do some sort of physical work, and your boots will do the weeding.

Typha latifolia in flower at last

The plants must be almost 8ft tall, which means the flowers are at eye level when viewed from the path, as planned. The second part of the plan is that the flowers will produce a lot of seeds, which will germinate in the pond next year. It's now full of weeds: several kinds of grass, docks and clover. Bit of a mess, frankly. But it's doing its job, getting water from out of the beds, so I'm inclined to leave well alone for now. Either the bulrushes really take over the pond, and shade out most of the weeds, or I re-excavate it and puddle the clay, removing and re-planting the bulrushes. But that's a year or two away, I'm still far too busy with the riddling and weeding just now.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Picardy Wight Garlic - Harvested

A few of them were a little rotted, and the air turned blue as I vented my feelings on appearance of onion white rot. But a closer examination suggested the rot was at the base of the stalk, the top of the bulb, and NOT around the roots. So, it was just some rot, perhaps caused by rainwater lying too long on the surface. I lost maybe 7-9 bulbs that way.

The carcassonne wight are still growing. Anyway you look at it, we've got enough garlic for the next year.

Beans, beans, beans, beans, beans...

The last blog post was also all about the Vicia faba, winter field beans. They dominate the plot more than somewhat, being now 7ft high and occupying the 4th bed. Many of them are flopping over.

So I decided I'd have a go at harvesting them. After an hour and a half, I had two barrows-full of stalks, and a plastic loaf tray (a bit less than 1/2 metre sq.) full of pods. All of this from just a couple of square metres in the bed - I cleared the end of the bed, near the pond, where the beans had flopped over and covered the skinny path. I'm thinking, how the hell am I going to get these seeds dry?  And, what an awful lot of beans I'm going to have.

The answer to the drying problem: leave the bloomin' beans on the plant until they dry out, (according to I'm just going to have to get over the fact that the 4th bed is now looking like a jungle. The thing to take away is, a patch of, say, 50sq ft sown in September, will yield enough beans 10-12 months later to sow the entire plot.

This year with approx 300sq ft sown, I'm going to have sacks-full. Which is fine. A neighbour is providing me with guinea pig bedding, and the Secretary is getting waste from a florist, contributing to the huge amount of compost I'm going to need for no-dig. So I owe a couple of favours, which I'll return in the form of beans.