We are very proud of our allotments at Ffarm Moelyci.
Moelyci Community Growers was one of the first projects off the ground when the farm was first purchased back in 2003 they are now the biggest allotment group in Gwynedd. To date we have over 60 plots available for the local community.
Moelyci allotment holders have consistently proven the sceptics wrong and successfully grown all kinds of vegetables and fruit on the rocky hillside! There’s a fantastic community spirit among allotment holders and the range of experience means that there is advice on hand.
Moelyci Allotments are members of the National Allotment Society and The Federation of Community Farms and City Gardens.
If you have an inquiry about the allotments at Moelyci please contact us.
Each month, one of our allotmenteers writes us a blog for our bulletin and website. Below is over a year on the allotments, written by Gill.
December into 2017 on Ffarm Moelyci Allotments
This is the time for DIY jobs to fences, raised beds and other structures, digging out of new ponds and reviewing the layout of the plot now that the foliage has died down e.g. maybe your beds are too close together and negotiating your way around with a wheelbarrow in high summer is a challenge ? Now is the time to create more space. As gales become more frequent, more ferocious and from unexpected directions, keep checking netting protecting crops because pigeons are getting hungry for their winter hit of organic greens. Some of the polypropylene netting is very attractive to mammals with sharp teeth – it may be rats but whatever it is your crops may not be as protected as you think they were when you covered them. Check for wind rock of Brussels and next spring’s purple sprouting broccoli which has huge roots but also shrub-sized foliage easily buffeted by winter gales.
Even though there’s little actual growing to be done at the turn of the year on an allotment there’s all the thinking ,dreaming and planning to do! This keeps one in touch with the happy memory of warm summer days chilling out with the wildlife in the most glorious countryside. Consider all or any of the following:
- Conducting a review of last season: what grew well and what didn’t. Try to work out whether soil in a particular bed was appropriate for the crop planted e.g. was it too dry? Dig in more moisture retentive material. Too much greenery and too little fruit or flowers? Maybe the nitrogen rich manure was overdone and/or too little attention was paid to feeding the plants with a potash feed to encourage the formation of flowers and fruit. Soil not draining away well enough for plants that hate sitting in moisture e.g. onions? Dig in some grit.
- Revisit one’s three or four year rotation plan and check whether it will work this next year or did you deviate from it because some crops were late maturing because of the cold spring weather and you had to utilise a different spot of bare ground at the last minute. How will this affect next year’s rotation? i.e. try not to plant the same crop two years running in the same bed because of the build of disease. Veg growing is an intensive use of soil and it needs replenishing, feeding, building up and resting between different groups of plant needs.
- Make sense of notes made through the year so that you can at least learn what particular seed or type of plant was successful and what was less so.
- Study a few different seed catalogues – some give lots of tips and some specialise in less common seeds whilst others give enough info for you to make a sensible choice of plant for the conditions on your plot. Three very different seed merchants are Kings Seeds which offers discounts for bulk purchases so it may suit you to club together with a few other veg gardeners. Garden Organic which is connected to the Henry Doubleday research institute and to Chase organics . It has reliable organic seeds and quite a lot of info on planting times -see http://www.organiccatalogue.com/ A less well known seed specialist is http://www.realseeds.co.uk/ They are passionate young growers based in Pembrokeshire with wide sourcing of hardy seeds. They give detailed advice on sowing and growing and their website is worth checking out for their encouragement to customers to save their own seeds and for their interesting book list and DVDS – their p&p on seeds is very reasonable too. Googling seed merchants generally may bring up a hidden gem worth trying out.
- Make a conscious effort to help the wildlife balance of your plot in a community of other organic wildlife-friendly plots by deciding upon one project for the year and making detailed plans of how you’ll achieve this e.g. build a wildlife pond, deliberately plant a range of flowering plants that extend the season for pollinators, decide to focus upon the friendly invertebrates and their life cycles and create places to hibernate, places to feed, places to breed all close to their food source i.e. the bugs and pests on your crops. You could start now by considering the balance of wildlife struggling to survive through the winter on your plot especially as the more one learns about this the less inclined one is to tidy up the allotment – a win-win option! Deciding whether to dig or not dig includes being aware of the needs of those invertebrates much valued by the veg grower.
Rather than digging over all the beds, leave some rotting plant matter to provide hibernation opportunities for ladybirds, lacewings, harvestmen and spiders. These four species are your friends and in an age of concrete jungles and exceedingly tidy gardens they need your help:
Ladybirds often find warm buildings to nest in large groups but really need to overwinter outside so they remain dormant right through until the spring when their main food, ie aphids ,start to proliferate on your young plants.
Lacewings hoover up aphids . They are successful enough for lacewing larvae to be sold to organic growers as a biological pest control.
Harvestmen (daddy long legs) need a winter refuge so they can emerge to eat your dead squashed slugs and snails amongst other pests.
Spiders . Some hibernate outside in areas of undisturbed plant litter but wake up and predate on other semi hibernating insects.
In addition to the fab four invertebrates, all bumblebees die in the winter except the young queens which hibernate until the spring when they look for new nest sites. Hibernating queens seek out overgrown areas like old mouse and vole nests in tussocks or under sheds and other garden structures. Leave some areas messy .
Ground beetles also benefit from areas of undisturbed ground on your plot. Since they mate in the spring the adult beetles hibernate through the next winter to emerge to feed on slugs, snails and caterpillars . Wildlife Trust experts now think that ground beetles may be more effective than frogs at controlling slugs (maybe just due to density .) Other beetles that laid eggs in summer overwinter at the larvae stage in the soil and are most successful if left undisturbed by winter digging. Some allotment holders like to dig before the frosts to ensure the soil is broken up and unwanted pests like slugs have a harder time surviving because birds in particular will feast on the tiny white egg-like structures that turn into slugs in spring. Helping the beetle larvae might involve keeping a few strips of ground fallow between the cultivated beds to allow them to develop a covering of thick matted grass. (Not difficult at Moelyci !) Naturalists call such strips beetle banks . They become breeding sites and refuges for predatory beetles adjacent to their source of food on worked veg patches ie the slug population. Organic farms now create beetle banks by leaving field margins and mid-field strips fallow. Beetles may be more efficient at patrolling your veg beds if there are long grass patches or strips between the veg beds. Less strimming , more nurturing of wildlife may in the long run balance out the density of slugs in the veg beds.
Whether or not you survive a decade on your allotment, consider planting ivy around any structures on your plot. It will be ten years before it flowers but as it becomes more dense it provides a refuge for insects and small birds. Eventually its nectar and berries are a magnet for bees butterflies and hoverflies well into late autumn.
If you do clear old growth to dig a bed, pile it up in a corner and leave it for the winter. Many different creatures will move in until spring but don’t then turn the heap into a bonfire in a frenzy of guilt-driven tidying on a beautiful cold February day. No need to cremate friendly hibernating invertebrates.
Rather than burning organic waste material to keep up standards of tidiness, re-think the function of your compost heap from the point of view of overwintering wildlife. Because most small compost heaps take months to process waste, they are valuable resources for wildlife particularly through the winter. Many invertebrates living in your compost bin will be actively helping the breakdown of the waste while others, such as ground beetles and centipedes, will use it as a temporary refuge. Some of us find whole families of mice too! The abundant presence of these invertebrates will, in turn, attract useful predators such as birds, frogs, toads and slow-worms.
Whatever allotment holders do to fill the void that winter days bring ,March will focus them again on the actual process of growing vegs and any half-baked plans for the infrastructure of the plot or the well being of the wildlife will go on the back burner for another year ,so, for the sake of the general health of the allotment fields, try to stay connected to them through the winter months. You taking some time for yourself to go to your plot in winter and observe, think, dream and plan strengthens this sense of connected-ness. It also tops you up with the Moelyci balm that plot holders so enjoy during the growing months when they are on their plots frequently. Happy New Growing Year!
November on Moelyci Allotments
Autumn is slowly mutating into a very soggy affair on the allotments . However nasturtiums, late lilies ,malvas ,marjoram ,feverfew ,rambler roses even cosmos and some comfrey are all still glowing in what passes for daylight under stormy skies. Self seeded evening primrose,nasturtiums calenduala and purple sprouting broccoli plantlets are dotted all over beds destined for specific veg plants in next years rotation so they need to be moved now into one bed from which they can be relocated in the spring.
Apple tree pruning can go on now as can the annual cutting down of autumn fruiting raspberries which have been so prolific through the last three months .
On dry days a last weeding session may give the gardener a head start in spring. Mulching fruit bushes is useful now.
Some like to cover empty beds to protect from leaching winter rain. The type of cover is a matter of opinion: some prefer black plastic which ensures a slightly warmer start for early spuds, beans and onion. Plastic will not allow the soil to breathe but it will encourage a build up of hibernating wildlife including slugs . Cardboard could be placed over the soil but it needs good anchoring or gales transport it and anything else lying around the plots down into the oak woodland below. Carpet is useful short term but frowned on because of the chemicals in it that gradually seep into the soil. Others leave beds uncovered to allow any frost to balance up bacteria and viruses in the soil and break up the surface.
Some of us are nurturing our winter brassicas, parsnips, turnips, celery and beetroot and checking that any net or mesh covers and cloches are securely anchored. Its worth double checking stakes supporting newly planted fruit trees because our soil is now saturated a foot down for the first time since last winter.
One really successful autumn sown crop this year was red chicory – it is now hearting up and getting redder as the mercury drops in the thermometer. It is peppery enough to deter slugs ,which has to place it higher up the rankings than most salad greens. Dotted in between autumn sown pakchoi it slowed down the slug migration onto the pakchoi, enough to pick them off and enjoy an early winter harvest of mature pakchoi.!!
Plot holders who have not yet hibernated are usually heard hammering away on dry weekend days ,making raised beds , repairing rabbit proof fencing creating new compost bins . Some will put their plots to bed by the start of December until March . Others of us will be there all winter dreaming of spring sunshine. One still warm day a week ago saw a few lone hoverflies venturing on to the late flowers, toads were heard testing their grunts , jays fought vocally over territory whilst our overwintering robins chaffinches and blackbirds had a late practice warble ready for spring. In between the cacophony were moments of quiet ,quiet enough to hear the rustling oak leaves detach and float onto the plots. Mice and voles are still active whilst the rabbits and pigeons are just smacking their lips anticipating winter on the allotments.
October on Moelyci Allotments
Here’s a very good excuse not to over-tidy your allotment or garden now: help wildlife by avoiding cutting back borders in autumn. If you leave them as they are until the end of winter, you’ll provide plenty of cover for insects and birds in mild spells.
Everything on the Moelyci allotments is drenched, leaning ,browning decaying or becoming tough – the runner beans are pushing out their stringy, inedible seed cases ready for the chubby beans to be dried and kept for next years planting; courgettes ,now morphed into marrows, have grown skins like rhino hide; pumpkins skins are thickening and darkening ensuring their keeping properties into 2017. However, whilst many veg still in the ground are toughening , rusting and reaching old age ,the late flowers shine out now. Deep mauvey purple self -seeded malvas, scarlet Rambling Rector roses that will go on til December scramble through the still flowering honeysuckles; those Cosmos that are regularly dead-headed behave as though its still high summer ;the gorgeous starry blue of Borage flowers nod through the decaying mess of their long now-slimy flopping stems; Calendulas` stunning oranges look like half buried neon lights; Nasturtiums are sprawling and glowing through the silvered effect that a much lower sun casts on the wet leaves. In the herb gardens, lavender is still flowering away as are the sedums ,the feverfew daisies the marjoram and the camomile flowers. Lemon balm clumps are still displaying their tiny little flowers that the bees love and somehow access.
Sunflowers have finished flowering now and look decidedly wonky on their giant stems . Don’t cut them down yet as the seeds attract birds and insects even as the whole thing rots . Robins are friendly again having largely settled territory disputes . Weeding and digging on the plots now always lures at least one busy red-breasted wonder with the possibility of an easy meal.
Work on the more established plots continues through this month . Consider:
- Keeping some fleece, plastic or cloches ready to protect chard , spinach, winter lettuce, peas, broad beans and any other crops that are overwintering ;
- Stake Brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli plants to prevent them from being blown over and drag soil up around the plants for extra support;
- Throw some bonemeal on winter greens ;
- Sow spring bulbs, crocus and daffs ,to help pollinators on warmer days ;
- Lift remaining beetroot which can be stored in boxes of moist sand or leaf mould and kept in frost free shed . If you cannot store beetroot then leave it to overwinter and harvest just the fresh new leaves in spring;
- Harvest squashes and pumpkins;
- Plant field-grown fruit trees and soft fruit bushes to benefit from still warm soil
- Place a cloche over French beans that are still growing – this will extend their season
- Pruning gooseberries
- If you didn’t plant in September, an October planting of garlic will still allow them to establish before any freezing weather, so that when spring arrives the plants will be able to take full advantage. Not all garlic types are best planted now – some are better in January.
According to the Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight – LINK – autumn variety planting is best for:
- Soft necks: Tuscany, Iberian, Picardy, Provence, Solent, Carcassonne, Avignon & Albigensian Wights.
- Hard necks: Spanish Rocambole, Lautrec, Chesnok, Bella Italiano Wights & Eschalote Grise.
Consider growing a green manure on any empty patches- there’s just about still time in our mild moist western climate. Lots of info online – have a read of the following sites for detail:
Here is a summary:
Why grow green manure?
- Provides habitats for wildlife but, like all vegetation, they will harbour slugs – this of course is food for thrushes, blackbirds, black beetles ,any awake frogs toads and newts for starters. Slugs abound at Moelyci anyway – at least you ll know where they are through the winter!!
- Green manures protect soil from leaching in heavy winter rains.
By October the only green manures that are likely to grow before cold halts them are
The best green manure for heavy soil is Hungarian grazing rye (Secale cereale) This annual crop is good for soil structure and overwinters well; sow in August to November and dig in the following spring. Reasons for growing grazing rye :
- It grows fast
- It can survive an icy winter.
- It produces a thick mass of foliage that suppresses weeds.
- Its strong roots help to break up the soil
- It mops up and stores nutrients.
- It releases 90% of the nutrients back into the soil when its dug in so the next crop benefits
- Grazing rye inhibits germination of fine seed so wait a month if sowing something like carrots. Small plants will be fine to plant out straight away.
- Rotation of veg families is not an issue
Winter field beans (Vicia faba)
- prefers cooler weather to germinate.
- survives freezing winters.
- is good for heavy soils
- this annual legume can be left for two or three months after sowing (up to flowering)
- sow in September to November.
- Consider mixing it with hungarian rye grass
1. (Synapsis alba).
- It grows so fast it should have time to forge ahead and be big enough to cope with the first frosts.
- It is good for fine soils that lack organic matter
- Its the ideal choice to follow the potato crop as it is said to rid the area of eelworm.
- This annual crop from the brassica family should not be followed by other brassicas, as it could encourage build up of the disease clubroot;
- Sow in March to September stretched to October in mild autumns
- Leave for two or three months before digging in.
2. Caliente Mustard
Caliente Mustard goes one step further than the others as it contains bio-fumigants which suppress eelworms, wireworms and other nematodes organically. By combining the lush organic matter with the plants biofumigant properties the activity of beneficial soil microbes is increased, so they can outperform the pathogen microbes and this helps keep harmful soil diseases down. NB To get the benefit , you need to be prepared to chop it up really finely in spring before incorporating it back into the soil. Use a sharp spade , shred in a leaf shredder or pile it up and run over it several times with the mower. It only works if the finely chopped up Caliente is incorporated into the top soil within 20 minutes so as not to let the valuable gases escape. The soil should then be raked to a fine tilth and rolled or lightly stamped on to keep the gases in. When you have chopped it down next year, leave the ground for a couple of weeks before sowing the next crop.
Bees in October
Hoverflies and Common Carder bumblebees are still active now. The Common Carder Bee is a brown and orange bumblebee, sometimes showing darker bands on the abdomen. As one of our most common bumblebees, the Common Carder Bee emerges early in the spring and can be seen feeding on flowers right through to November. It ranges across gardens, farmland, woodland edges, hedgerows, heathland. It nests in cavities, such as old mouse runs, in bird’s nests or in moss mats in lawns. Nests may contain up to 200 workers. The queen emerges from hibernation in spring and starts the colony by laying a few eggs that hatch as workers; these workers tend the young and nest. Males emerge later and mate with new females who are prospective queens. Both the males and old queen die in the autumn, but the new queens hibernate. Experts say that when young bumblebee queens visit the late flowers in autumn on sunny days, they drink as much nectar as possible to build up their fat stores and fill their honey-stomach before pre-hibernation. They may hibernate under hedges or other sheltered spots near the allotment site .
Bee hotel According to the following link http://www.foxleas.com/make-a-bee-hotel.asp the solitary bees that help to pollinate fruit crops nest differently from bumblebees but apparently many commercially bought `insect houses’ are unsuitable . Now may be the time to learn more about this and craft ones own for next year.
September on Moelyci Allotments
The best September days on the allotments are those soft mellow ones when the sun, now noticeably lower in the sky, filters shafts of golden haze through drifting seed heads from thistles and rosebay willow herb. Not that the seedheads are really welcome but they do dull the realisation that summer is spent. As do the September sights of mad daddy long legs flying in all directions at once , spiders webs after a heavy dew , jays and grey squirrels harvesting acorns along the fringe of the oak woodland and burying them in the plots-no wonder we have so many seedling oaks here. Blackbirds and thrushes are still gorging on blackberry, sloe , crabapple, elderberry ,rose hips and haws in the scrubby environs of the two allotment fields. Some plot holders collect hips and haws for wine making and syrups to ease winter colds and coughs. The seed pods of Himalayan balsam explode in September sending the seed several feet further forward .It is very noticeable how this beautiful creeping menace has encroached onto the allotment fields in the last two years.
On the plots we are harvesting leeks and calabrese ,a welcome respite from six weeks of trying to vary servings of courgettes. This has been an excellent year for beetroot and beans, parsnip and celery. The bumper slug population has done for some plotholder’s summer cabbage and cauliflower. Onions have suffered from too much wet weather and the pumpkins sulked through too many grey sunless days in July and August. Autumn raspberries have flourished and there’s a bountiful apple crop.
September has allotment holders taking stock and making plans before the memory of success and failures goes with the sun. Its a time to plant `Early Purple Wight ‘soft neck garlic for harvesting next May and the giant elephant garlic .Overwintering onion sets ‘Senshyu’, ‘Radar’, ‘Troy’, ‘Swift’ or ‘Electric’ and shallot sets Jemor’, ‘Eschalote Grise’ and ‘Yellow Moon’ can go in from now until November. Likewise early broad beans:`Aquadulce Claudia’ are generally considered the hardiest. Turnips sown now will grow slowly during mild spells and provide green tops in winter months .In sheltered spots oriental greens that mature rapidly are worth a try – Claytonia, Pak Choy, Mizuna – keep fleece handy for early frosts though. Mustard greens grow through cool weather and provide a rich non spicy flavour when cooked. For a range of these cool-weather greens see http://www.realseeds.co.uk/mustardgreens.html.
By now ,plotholders are clearing veg beds ,turning and covering compost heaps and sowing overwintering green manures to dig in in the spring. There is time to watch the last stragglers of our swallows depart and to enjoy the chevrons of noisy garrulous geese wealing above Moelyci and into the Glyderau , back and forth for days ,suspended between summer and autumn enjoying the last of the warmth , having left their summer breeding grounds further north.
Balmy September days at Moelyci do seem to pause time and on the allotments the urgency has gone – what we’ve managed to grow is a sublime pleasure and dreams of what to grow next year are boundless. The rustle of drying leaves and grasses, the harvesty smell and warm buzz of late summer all signal that this growing year has rolled full circle ,again.
Moelyci Allotments in August
August can be hot and humid – keep checking for blight on spuds. Growth slows and, hooray, so do the weeds . The birds are quieter – they are preoccupied moulting and growing new plumage. The swallows line up on telephone wires preparing to fly south. Swifts go first. House martins and swallows later. Blackberry and autumn raspberries ripen and drench the warm air with their smell. If some flowers and veg plants run to seed now there’s extra food for the wildlife in autumn. Likewise, windfall fruit. Bumblebees, moths and butterflies feed on nectar from buddleia , cosmos ,dahlia, asters, green manures like phacelia ,buckwheat and clovers. Young bumblebee queens stock up preparing to hibernate. Hoverfly larva continue to gorge on aphids. Hoverflies are harmless flies but look like wasps. Wasps spend all summer hunting aphids, caterpillars and other pest insects to feed their larvae . Its not til the colony starts dying in August and worker wasps have no larvae to care for anymore that they become a nuisance. If you find tiny holes at the base of runner bean flowers they may not have been pollinated because the holes are made by short tongued bumblebees that cannot access the nectar from inside the flower and have learnt to bite form the outside . This means they don’t crawl down the tube and hence do not collect pollen for when they enter the next flower. Nectar rich flowers like those on comfrey attract both short and long tongued bumble bees but the former bite a hole to access the nectar. Studies have shown that once a hole has been made other bumblebees use it too . The flowers do not then get pollinated. On veg flowers this matters!
Sow in August
- Spring Cabbage, lettuce, spring onions, spinach, kohl rahbi , turnips.
- Green manures in empty beds. Sow Mustard for a planned potato bed next year :eel worms don’t like it – sow now and dig in in the autumn. Sow at end of month: alfalfa,crimson clover,winter tares,grazing rye or Italian rye grass
- Savoy cabbage, early caulis, kales .
- Beware the second generation of Cabbage white butterflies,. Cover all brassicas- in August the cabbage whites are rampant and very hungry .
- Check ripeness of sweetcorn .When silks become dark brown pull back the outer husk and scrape into the corn :if ripe, a milky substance flows; if not,it will be watery; over-ripe corn is doughy.
- Lift chives, mint, lemon balm ,split by pulling the roots apart and pot on ready to take indoors as the season turns.
Strawberry runners can be pegged down to root, then potted on ready to transplant.
- Runner beans will crop well into the autumn if they are picked regularly.
- Prepare to lift onions according to the weather. The tops begin to fall over as the bulb stops swelling.
- Thin apples and pears down to one or two fruits per cluster.
Moelyci allotments in July
The July allotments burst with colour. A riot of flowering herbs and wild flowers and cottage garden favourites keep the precious pollinators busy, act as decoys for insects hell bent on decimating the produce and feed the soul of gardeners after a long grey winter: poppies, lavender, sage nasturtium, calendula, borage, bergamot, evening primrose, feverfew, camomile, mints, marjoram, buckwheat, phacelia,digitalis, oxeeye daisy, campions plus the self seeded escapees from gardens and other soil types either blown on winter winds or dropped by birds – one self seeded Great Mullein grew 30 centimetres in a week in June’s warm sun and showers.
In early July the plots smell of ripening soft fruit: summer raspberry and strawberry, red, white, black currants , tayberry, logan berry goji and and gooseberry. The wildlife smells it too. Many people have netted their soft fruit but some escapees provides rich picking for small mammals and birds. Field mice often bite into strawberries and other soft fruit before they are fully ripe and then leave the rest.
Allotment holders have most of their beds planted up by the beginning of July but vigilance watering ,weeding and mulching is essential now as the weather continues to keep us from lounging around. The poor soils of Moelyci retain little moisture for long.. The heat from the sun even on an overcast day causes evaporation around tiny roots of seedlings and surface rooting plants like tomatoes. Some days in June the drizzle hardly wet the top layer of soil whilst the roots of most plants were sitting in the bone dry below.
July is the most fecund month for the natural world yet caterpillars slugs snails and aphids can reduce a veg grower to despair. Most of the wildlife on the allotments in July is after the produce or after the wildlife that feeds on the produce to nourish their young or replenish their own stores after a hectic breeding spring!! There is a visiting heron that flies into the larger natural ponds on one of its patrols. Herons eat mostly fish but also amphibians and small mammals, with small quantities of reptiles, insects, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and birds. Herons fish mostly at dawn and dusk so they are rarely noticed. Young herons teach themselves to fish, and when they leave their nest in June and July, small garden ponds are attractive to them because they often provide easy fishing.
The Moelyci swallows wheel and soar after the midsummer multitude of insects, feed their fledged youngsters on the wing, sit on the wires and chatter very noisily. Some of them may have a second brood by now; many are teenagers exercising their wings ready for their first migration . Thrushes and blackbirds are quieter now but many robins are still in full throttle but looking ragged either because they are exhausted parents or they are teenagers not yet in full feathers.
The ever present rabbit population frolic early and late in the day. A resident stoat family was spotted last summer – they predate on rabbits but they don’t seem to have made much of a dent in the extremely healthy population. As more of us fence and net our raised beds along the bottom of the allotment fields the rabbits seem to have moved up the hill and are making their presence felt burrowed into the bank below the dividing wall between the two fields.
We have a resident buzzard that sits on posts and surveys the wildlife living on the plots from different vantage points. Lots of native ladybirds with their 2 or 7 spots have been seen – so have the aphids they feed on . Toads are now out of the ponds and growing up secure in moist patches of lush undergrowth.
As we finish planting out our beans and brassicas some of us are very aware of the vole networks of tunnels running beneath our veg beds and pathways. Put the trowel in the soil four inches and a much larger hole appears bringing daylight into a vole tunnel. The unwary new plotholder may have sown peas sweet corn or beans direct into their plot and wondered why they didnt grow or, if they did, why the foliage disappeared one night. Voles love them so do field mice . Field voles (the short tailed vole) are predated by foxes cats stoats weasels owls and birds of prey such as Kestrels and Barn Owls. Field voles are active during the day but spend much of their time in runs and burrows so are not so easily seen. Field Voles can have three to six litters a year, of up to seven young each. Field mice often bite into strawberries and other soft fruit before they are fully ripe and then leave the rest.
Quite a range of moths have been spotted including one ominous unconfirmed siting on the second field of the diamond backed moth which decimates brassica crops and has been blown into the UK from Europe this summer. To date there seem to be fewer butterflies. July marks the highest numbers of the dark green Fritillary feeding on the nectar of thistles and knapweed . The hindwings are dappled with large silver spots and the underside is tinged green.
Aphids caterpillars and slugs are all feasting on young brassica foliage now. A spray of pure soap and water frequently can correct an aphid infestation if the area is not too large. Feeding the young plants with a nitrogen feed like nettle juice will build them up to help recover from insect predation. Leaves chewed around the edges are usually young slugs or caterpillars . Snails tend to make holes in leaves. Inspecting regularly is the only way to become familiar with the different attacks . Early in the day one can pick off the offenders or search for them lying sated underneath nearby leaves or pieces of wood or stone. Decoys of yummy alternative slug food like comfrey leaves and growing marigolds nearby can deter them but its not a substitute for vigilance and action. Hoe the ground between crops to disturb existing slime trails – there’s evidence that other slugs use these tracks as guides to food. Try placing piles of pinhead oatmeal at stations on the bed between the plants. Slugs love it but so do birds that may enjoy a double whammy consuming the slugs too.
It helps veg growers to know their friends. Shrews ,ground beetles and centipedes are all voracious eaters of slugs and slug eggs. Shrews may be mistaken for mice but they have long snouts . Ground beetles are often shiny black or metallic in colour with grooves down the wing-cases. They are voracious predators of slugs .Centipedes feed on many ground-living and soil-dwelling insects and will also eat slugs and their eggs.
Direct sow into warm moist soil now
- Fennel – this is the best time to sow.
- Last sowings of beetroot
- Herbs: coriander,dill,parsley
- French and Runner Beans
- Kohl Rabi ready in 8 weeks.
- Continue small sowings of lettuce , spring onions and radishes every three weeks
- Pak Choi is best sown now – it bolts if sown earlier
- Last sowings of peas
- Perpetual Spinach and Swiss chard for autumn winter and next spring
- Spring cabbages can be sown now in a well prepared seed bed for transplanting later.
- Turnips sow now but keep moist. Harvest in 2 months time.
Plant out seedlings into permanent beds
- sprouting broccoli, 2ft apart; Calabrese 1ft apart.
- winter cabbages 3ft apart
- winter cauliflowers, kale and leeks
- A regular supply of water aids healthy growth and helps ward off diseases and premature bolting- usually a sign of dehydration but some veg ie Lettuces, rocket, spinach, cauliflowers and Florence fennel are prone to it as temperatures rise.
- Try to hoe off weeds in dry weather rather than wet when they may re-root.
- Stop cordon tomatoes by removing the main shoot above the fourth truss to ensure all ripen.
- Climbing beans may need stopping at the top of canes cropping on sideshoots. Watering helps the bean pods to set.
- Check climbing veg are securely tied to supports. Shore up supports as the weight of the climbers increases.
- Summer-prune gooseberries, redcurrants, and whitecurrants. Cut back to five leaves all this year’s new side shoots, except any to develop into new branches next year. Removing foliage lets in light and air, helping remaining fruit to ripen and reduce the risk of disease. Cook any under-ripe gooseberries that are pruned away.
- Check maincrop spuds for signs of late blight and cut down diseased foliage before it can travel down into the tubers. If in doubt google “blightwatch”.
Soft fruit, salad crops, garlic, broad beans and any second early spuds not already gracing the table in all their meltingly earthy newness .
May on the Allotments
May on the allotments is bright light, early sunrises much further round on the eastern horizon and clouds of apple blossom on the fringes of the plots. Hawthorn clothes the hedgerows at Moelyci. Veg growers keen on biodiversity would do well to find a space for at least one hawthorn on a boundary. Common hawthorn can support more than 300 insects. Caterpillars of many moths feed on it. Dormice eat its flowers .Bees and pollinators feast on the nectar. It provides dense shelter for nesting birds. In autumn redwings, fieldfares and thrushes stock up on the fruit. Allotment ponds in May see dragonflies crawling up pond grasses, shedding their chrysalis, drying out their new wings and doing a fly past with a flash of breathtaking colour. After about 21 days as spawn, the embryonic frog leaves its protective jelly as a tadpole, complete with organs, gills and a long tail.
But May can also be a challenge for allotment growers: at Moelyci we have had more droughts in May than any other time- this is the most damaging for young plants – vigilance to keep the soil moist is essential -keep all water containers filled before they are needed – with sudden heat wave conditions some young plants might not cope without some shade . Fleece is useful too for any late season hail,frost, heavy rain and cold winds .
We’re making great progress with a sustainable water supply, something allotment holders have wanted and needed for a long time, so fingers crossed that will go ahead soon. The new service arrangement agreed on by allotment holders will make a really big difference too, as the foot paths will be maintained much better and so the allotment site should become a really well maintained, tidy and safe place for everybody to enjoy.
We’ve had 8 new allotment holders join us since November and they all love the views over to the Carneddau. It must be one of the most beautiful places to have an allotment in Wales.
There are a couple of allotments vacant at the moment present so if you’re interested in having an allotment please contact
firstname.lastname@example.org or tel Ffarm Moelyci Office 01248602793
Moelyci Allotments in April
A glorious exuberance infects both wildlife and growers as April unfolds. Swallows re-convene, swooping around the old Moelyci barns and chattering on the telegraph wires; buzzards seem to cruise the thermals more purposefully ; sparrowhawks dart through the woodland ; woodpeckers hammer the trunks of the Moelyci oaks ;skylarks, skeins of geese, squabbling jays, watchful ravens reinvent themselves; thrushes, blackbirds, great tits, treecreepers, nuthatches are visibly busy in the the still greening oaks on the margins of the allotments. In the ponds, tadpoles are lengthening out from black dots . On the boundaries, apple ,plum, damson and blackthorn blossom. In the plots, currants flower. There’s room on or near every plot to plant a few April blossomers to help hungry early pollinators. Perennial flowers of comfrey, forget- me-not and aquilegia nestle and nod next to the still-brown veg beds. Bright greeny- ochre coloured toads can still be sighted meandering near to their late winter spawning grounds. The soil is much warmer now and its time to get cracking.
April sowing and planting
- Frost burns new shoots of early spuds – keep earthed up . Maincrops can go in throughout April. Some organic growers use the first cut of comfrey to line the potato trench before planting .
- Start successional sowings of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, spinach, spring onions, radish, turnips, early peas, Swiss chard.
- If mild, try an early sowing of dwarf and climbing French beans towards the end of April. Use hardier darker seeded varieties, protect from frosts and be ready to re-sow if fail.
- Sow leeks and summer cabbage outside in a prepared seed bed
- We sow under glass the seeds of runner beans, sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins, squashes, outdoor/ridge cucumber ready to plant outside in May .
- Tomato plants that were started inside can be planted out towards the end of April but keep some frost protection handy. Many grow tomatoes under plastic or glass and still sow tomato seeds through April – they ripen here well into autumn.
- Herbs: plant lavender and rosemary outside . Sow dill, fennel, hyssop, marjoram, thyme and parsley under cover.
- Sow annual flowers direct: marigolds and nasturtiums as companion plants, sunflowers for their flamboyance, nectar and seeds.
- Create support for peas with brushwood or netting.
- Strawberry plants need replacing every 3 to 5 years. Cheapest method : plant your strawberry runners into pots in April. When rooted, cut the runner. Removing flowers in the first year gives larger crops later .
- Try using liquid seaweed as a tonic .
- Protect any early strawberries with netting to keep birds and squirrels out.
- If mild, the first slugs will be heading for seedlings – be vigilant – nurture your slug eating wildlife – thrush ,blackbird, ground beetle, hedgehog, shrew, amphibians and reptiles.
March on the Allotments
Some plotholders are still harvesting leeks, parsnips, chard, perpetual spinach, the last of the brussels and winter caulis, kale and swedes. Immature spring cabbages planted last August will be waking from a long droopy sleep now and growing into their splendid best during March. They will also be checking purple sprouting broccoli – some plants will be very early after the relatively mild winter. Leeks need to be cleared and frozen. Parsnips too – otherwise they start growing again.
We now have a thriving newt population here but the frogspawn is taking a hit because newts eat it, but hopefully some froglets will survive to eat our slugs. Many plotholders reported seeing plenty of frogs and toads on the plots last year as well as newts.
If you think the winter has been tough for veg growers, spare a thought for the early wakening pollinators as well and plan to help them next year by identifying an area on your veg plot where you can plant bulbs and perennials that will flower in March next year. Early flowers include: Perennials; comfrey, primroses, hellebores, pulmonaria, thrift, Vinca, winter flowering heather, Bulbs; crocus, winter aconites, daffs, fritillary grape hyacinth muscari, bluebells, snowdrops; Shrubs;rosemary, mahonia, ribes, brooms.
Our early spuds need to be in by mid March, second earlies by late March and maincrops from late March right on through April. Many of us grow mainly earlies and second earlies because blight is prevalent along this area of North Wales by July and sometimes even earlier.
Plant out onion sets and shallots and the very last of garlic but reject any of these bulbs that have started to send out green shoots -they will bolt too soon in warm weather.
Transplant any early veg started off in polytunnel or greenhouse. ie broad beans and peas sown in gutters
Early sowing : In a nursery bed outside :: plan to transplant in early May
summer cabbages like Hispi or Greyhound, Brussels, Broccoli, Leeks
In permanent beds outside in a mild spell :: round seeded spinach, chard, early beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuce -with cloches, spring onions, broad beans, turnips.
We’re still harvesting leeks, turnips, parsnips, swede, broccoli, kale. Sprouts ,perpetual spinach and chard . Throwing fleece over some you plan to dig up during a freeze keeps the stock pot on the go. The soil can start to warm up after mid February when light levels are improving. Its a last chance to plant garlic to harvest in August . Plant shallots under cloches and try sewing spring onions, rocket , radish and early lettuce in a polytunnel. Sew summer cabbage ,turnips and spinach. under cloches but remember they are still vulnerable in cold snaps – insulate with fleece. Parsnips sewn now risk canker developing, so leave ’til March . Broad beans and early peas can be sewn outside in late February but voracious field mice and voles drive allotment holders to sew beans in trays and peas in gutters in a polytunnel , only planting them out when established . Ensure you buy the hardy early types though – read the packets. Sow aubergines and peppers using bottom heat in a propagator or on a window ledge but consider where you will place the seedlings as they grow on in early March or you’ll lose the gains made from early sewings. If you love the nuttyness of jerusalem artichokes they can be planted out in late February as can asparagus crowns.
It’s a quiet time on the allotments at the moment with the main task being to prepare the ground for the Spring and a general tidy up of the seasons growth. We’re looking forward to the new year which will bring a new and fresh face to the allotments. Watch this space!
Are you interested in improving your species ID skills? Look no further! The allotment group have arranged to have an ID skills training evening with Bob Griffith from OPAL (Open Air Laboratory Project) on September 7th (time to be confirmed). Bob is providing us with a great training and skill building opportunity. This session is open to everyone and not just to allotment holders so do please come along and join us for this brilliant opportunity. Remember to wear suitable clothing according to the weather. There will be a panad and a bicci in the barn afterwards.
The Allotment committee will now be meeting on a quarterly basis. For this reason the allotment 100 Club raffle will also be drawn on a quarterly basis at the committee meetings. The next committee meeting on will be October 4th at 11:00 and the August, September and October 100 club raffle will be drawn then.
Our allotments are brimming with life and not just in the form of all the wonderful fruit, vegetables and flowers grown by allotment holders! The allotments are home to an array of wildlife: ants and spiders, stoats and foxes, as well as the occasional passing buzzard or barn owl. Most wildlife sightings go unrecorded, this means that we do not have an accurate idea of the numbers in many populations – meaning we could miss vital early warning signs of a population decline. That is why a group of allotment holders have got together to organise an eco survey group for the allotments, with the aim of recording wildlife sightings and submitting them to COFNOD, our local records centre. Training will be provided, thanks to Bob Griffith from the Opal project, to help those who are interested in honing their skills. It will also mean we can keep track of where beneficial pest control species can be found, e.g. If one allotment is a popular haunt for ladybirds, we can ask questions as to why and see what can be done more widely to encourage them.
For More information or how to get involved the contact email@example.com