Last of the summer whines
A bunch of gremlins came together this year to stymie growth in the kitchen garden, but there are ways to cope with some of them, writes FIONNUALA FALLON
THERE ARE YEARS when everything seems to go swimmingly in the summer garden – when beans are produced in profusion, potatoes crop with abundance and fruit trees are so heavily laden, it seems a miracle they remain upright. This summer is not one of them. High rainfall, low temperatures, poor light-levels and late frosts have conspired to make it the summer that never came. Most plants have suffered accordingly, but none more so than those in the kitchen garden. Here’s a guide to dealing with a few of the problems that beleaguered kitchen gardeners faced this summer.
Plants need oxygen to grow and will struggle badly in very wet soils, while the risk of fungal and bacterial diseases also increases.
Tip: This autumn, improve the soil with the addition of garden grit and plenty of organic matter. If the site is prone to flooding/ waterlogging, consider building raised beds.
Weeds, weeds, weeds
It’s a strange conundrum for most gardeners that weeds are never affected by a poor growing season. In the kitchen garden/allotment, these can usually be managed with a regular hoeing routine, but the summer’s damp weather has made this less effective, while also increasing the germination rate of weed seeds.
Tip: Try not to let weeds set seed. If possible, hoe on a dry day, which is better for the soil and will encourage any recently hoed weeds to shrivel up before they can re-root. If that’s not possible, use a spring-tined rake to gather up the hoed weeds. Rather than dumping them on the compost heap, put them in black bags to rot down into compost. When beds are not in use, cover them with black plastic.
Slugs, slugs, slugs, and snails
As mentioned here last week, slugs and snails have devastated gardens this summer, but kitchen gardens have probably fared worst of all. Surface-feeders such as the grey field slug (Deroceras reticulatum) have damaged leafy crops, the common garden slug (Arion hortensis) has severed the stems of beans and courgettes and burrowed below ground level to damage root crops, while potato tubers are being hit by the Budapest slug, another tunnelling specialist that’s hard to catch above ground.
Tip: Grow plants hard (don’t overfeed them), hand-collect molluscular offenders at night and give them a quick death, spread organically acceptable slug pellets such as Ferramol, use nematodes, practise good garden hygiene and use sharp grit, ash, coffee grinds, sheep’s-wool pellets and plastic cloches.