Monday 28 June 2021

Allotment update - 28th June 2021

Well, it has just been Midsummer and the weather has decided that it is late September. Whilst the rain is welcome, in that we don't have to do much watering, it does mean that the local slugs and snails have some exciting meals out....

The allotment is divided into five main sections, four rotational beds and one permanent bed, although at the sides of each rotational patch are some permanent planting or pots. The view above is of the top section this year nearest the gate. In the far corner have been some radishes, which are sown every so often so as to keep a succession throughout the season. The turnips that were planted next to them went to seed as this Spring has been rather topsy turvy in terms of weather, first very cold then very dry then very wet into the start of Summer. In the back right there's a bed of mini sweetcorn, started indoors in cardboard tubes and peat pots, at least fifty plants. Each plant will usually produce about three cobs and we freeze them in portions or have them fresh in stir fry. 
The net is covering a mixture of brassicas, some cabbages, calabrese and broccoli, all of which seem to be doing well. The net is to stop sparrows and pigeons from nibbling them and the cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs on them. 

The view above is of the second section of the allotment. This year there's onions, some of which have been picked now, and two stacks with carrots in, both of which have young carrots in now. There's some parsnips out of shot to the right, as well as some leeks and spring onions. In the foreground are the tops of the blueberries which are in pots of ericaceous compost, these are now fully enclosing in the cage now to protect the fruit from birds as it ripens. Though that didn't stop a blackbird trying to poke its beak through last year! In the middle are some cosmos and wallflowers. I have left a few forget-me-nots, ragwort and poppies to grow in gaps, the poppies do seem to attrack blackfly away from other plants and many other insects seem to benefit from their presence. 

One of the carrot tyre stacks, with comfrey to one side and pear trees and the grape vine in the background. The comfrey is a favourite of several bee species that come into the allotment. At the moment the bees seem to be feeding on the blackberry flowers, some nettles and dead nettles I have allowed to grow in a patch of the allotment near the hedge, the comfrey and the cotoneaster. 

After the permanent bed which consists of blackcurrants, raspberries, a damson tree and an apple tree, there's what is. this year, the pea and bean bed. We grow borlotti beans (and occasionally yin yang and kidney beans) nowadays though we used to grow runner and french beans for family until they had access to an allotment themselves through an In Bloom group. There's a few courgettes in this bed too, alongside the overwintered broad beans, which are producing well at the moment. It always has puzzled me why broad beans need so much pod for perhaps five or six beans, though it has been suggested to me that they need plenty of insulation given the cold Spring we have had!

Down the bottom of the allotment this year is the potato patch. Red Duke of York and Kestrel this year. We used to grow a lot of Desiree but in recent years the yields haven't been too great. I did get some Sarpo Mira one year which were really productive but are difficult to get around here without ordering them, and that is an expensive way to get potato seed when there is a nearby nursery we can get loose ones in any quantity from. 

The potatoes had plenty of earthing up against the very late frosts (last one was early May and there were some cold nights even after that) and there's a few flowers on them now. Once we have finished the sack of potatoes bought from the local butchers (with the potatoes coming from the Yorkshire Wolds) then we'll start on ours. At the back of the picture above is the hazelnut tree which grows very enthusiastically, hopefully we'll have some hazelnuts again this year. We didn't plant the tree, it was there when we got the allotment and survived half of it being chopped down in the neighbouring allotment when it was cleared for use by the landowner. There's blackberry bushes at the back too, which the bees are loving for the blossom at the moment. 

So, lots of work to do. Today, having checked for birds, I finished off giving the hedge a trim, having started this last week and combined this work with removing nettles from the blackcurrant and raspberry bushes and some other weeding. We also got some swift boxes put up on the house today but that is for another blog...

Friday 25 June 2021

Local Bees

We spend quite a bit of time making our garden, yard and allotment a pollinator-friendly oasis. Quite apart from the benefits to the local insects, another motivation is that over the past few years many gardens in our street have been paved or tarmac-ed over and some of the other nearby allotment owners still cling to the weedkillers and other chemicals or insist on mowing and strimming everything in sight. So we want to do everything we can to provide an oasis in this increasingly barren local landscape.

In this blog I talk about the Tawny Mining Bees that appear in Spring in our garden and make their little holes in the blank spaces in the flower beds. They came again this year and it was fascinating to watch them popping in and out and excavating with their legs. 

More recently, a friend in a neighbouring allotment has had Tree Bumblebees set up home in a bird box they have put up on the side of their shed. These are regularly in our allotment foraging.

The Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is a recent arrival to England, having only first been reported in 2001 in Wiltshire but has quickly spread north as far as Scotland. More about the Tree Bumblebee - even known to evict Blue Tits from nestboxes (!) - is on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website

I was doing some weeding in the allotment not long ago and wondered what an unusual bee was that has stopped to visit some half grown poppies amongst the potatoes. Online enquiries found that it was an Orange-Vented Mason Bee (Osmia leaiana), not commonly recorded in our part of the world.

I contribute records onto iRecord, the NBN (National Biodiversity Network) recording scheme for flora and fauna. They also have species maps  which give a reasonable idea of the distribution, although this is from comparatively recent sightings. 

This last Wednesday I was in the yard with my daughter when a bee that looked like it was stuck to a section of leaf landed on a flowerpot! It spent a few minutes resting on the edge of the flowerpot before taking off, still with the leaf. 

Upon research, I discovered that this was a Leafcutter Bee, although I am not yet sure of which species, there are potentially three different ones that it could be that are found in North Yorkshire. 

Leafcutter bees cut out and take small section of plant leaves to line their nests and do no lasting damage to plants.  

A close up (a bit blurred as I only had the small Canon camera to hand) 

In the photo, you can see that the bee is using all its legs to hold onto the segment of leaf it has obtained, I would imagine that it needs rest every so often if it is carrying these all day! 

Sunday 6 June 2021

Allotment Update - 6th June 2020

Finally, over the past week or two, the weather has improved and there's been some warm sunshine! The garden and allotment have responded and it now looks like we actually grow things!

Today, these were the first of the broad beans to have with Sunday lunch, the plants being overwintered with protection on the coldest nights in winter and early Spring.

They have grown a bit sideways rather than up but I think that is the wind, rain and a bit of snow over the winter months. 

Also shown on this photograph is what may be the last of this season's asparagus, as we've been picking it now for several weeks it may be time now to let the plants rest and recover for next year. There's three asparagus plants and an action for over the winter will be to build this bed up better to give more protection from late frosts.

Sunday lunch was a piece of lamb shoulder from our local butchers, the lamb having been raised on a farm three miles away. Quite lean actually for a shoulder cut and delicious with mint sauce, gravy and vegetables. 

"Peas release me, let me go.....". Maybe not quite the song of Engelbert Humperdinck but it is now time to uncover the pea plants now they are flowering and hope that the local pigeons and sparrows don't have some kind of party! 

For some reason this year we have had trouble getting peas to germinate so this row is all that we have, which is a shame. 

This is the potato patch down the bottom of the allotment this year. Struggled to find space to get all of them in to be honest and had to do a lot of earthing up against frost until May, Now, they seem quite healthy and are growing well. Just need watering now until picking the first ones come the end of July. 

This photo is taking looking over the blueberries, whch will need netting over soon, and the carrot tyre stacks towards the blackcurrants and pear trees. Plenty of pears on the Comice (nearest the camera) but fewer on the Conference (behind) due to the late frosts. Not many damsons for the same reason but we still have some in the freezer from last year! Although you can't see them very well on this photo there are some Cosmos between the tyre stacks.