Steve Harrison, Plant Area Manager at Hillier Garden Centre Newbury, is an expert in growing and caring for plants. But this year, a kindly neighbour has given him a piece of allotment and for the first time he is turning his hands to allotmenteering. In the fifth installment of his allotment diaries blog, Steve Harrison revels in continued success from his food produce and gets set for autumn with composting and late planting.

No.5 Summer Success | July 2021

“It seems July is becoming one of the loveliest of the months so far, with the changing of the allotment. I always gathered this would happen, but had not really thought too much about it. All the catch crops that I first planted what seems so long ago are finishing, along with the lettuce, carrots, and spring onions. The beans are now well underway, giving their all and podding up nicely.”

A satisfying summer haul of runner beans, lettuces, carrots and more

“Much as in June, the main activities this month have been regular watering and feeding to get the best rewards from all the hard work.”

Putting Strawberries to Bed

“The strawberries have been a big success but now it’s time to give them a rest and well-deserved thanks. I’ve been taking all the weeds from the strawberry beds to give them some space, and have given them a good feed to build them up. The cardboard between the rows worked so well this year, but between them, couch grass had been starting to take over along with the ever-present bindweed. There was one surprise blessing from this – the bindweed offered the strawberries a good leaf covering and protected the fruit from the birds! Along with weeding, I’ve pruned away the old fruiting stems and leaves to avoid fungus, allowing them space to put on some growth. 

“I’ve also pegged down some runners from the larger strawberry plants. I’ll either save these for later or share them as growing gifts. With the smaller plants, I’ve taken the runners off completely as they take too much energy from the plants. Then, all that is left to look after the strawberries is to give them a light feed of pelleted veg food and water periodically to keep them ticking over.”

Cool as a Cucamelon

“My decision to grow cucamelons was taken purely because I needed another plant to make up a multi-buy offer! I know, it sounds like one of those novelty hybrid plants, but it’s surely worth space somewhere. These particular ones were developed by James Wong and are apparently quite popular among his fans and celebrity chefs alike.

“This tiny watermelon lookalike has a refreshing flavour and bags of personality. The lush vines produce masses of fruit throughout the summer with a cucumber and lime taste. They are ready to eat when they are large enough to fit onto a teaspoon but still firm. As they are pest and drought-resistant, they have been surviving in the strip for ages, left alone by the birds and other chompers.  I’ve planted them up this month into a well-composted sunny position with some mesh for support. Let’s see if I can get them to embrace the summer, grow like the wind and possibly offer a few fruits to enjoy.” 

Seen in the background, tiny cucamelon plants growing in a sunny, supported position

Water Bowl

“I have been noticing that my squash and courgettes are growing way behind the other ‘plotters.’ Theirs are a couple of feet long already and, for some, starting to produce the first fruits. I noticed that many had created bowl-shaped hollows in the soil around the base of their plants. This is a handy technique to get the maximum amount of water and feed to the plant and I have now put this into practice with my crops- I’m enjoying learning from the experienced plotters. Hopefully, this will stop these thirsty plants from meeting the same fate as my celery, which sadly bolted – possibly due to lack of water.”

Slow and steady progress with courgettes

Quick Guide to Compost

“I need to make space for some late autumn crops. My challenge is – where? Could I find some space around the edge of the courgettes and runner beans, maybe where the bolted celery is or where the infamous ‘has beans’ are? Which crops are to make their way to the compost heap ready to decompose and return again after a year or so as great compost, if all goes well?

“My experience of composting to date isn’t a great success. I need to get this right as one of the basics of the no-dig style is the regular applications of a good healthy growing medium.

“There is quite a complex science behind composting. But, in basic terms, any plant material will naturally decompose but composting is the speeding up of the process. It’s all about layers of green and brown waste. Green waste (such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds) and brown (prunings, wood chippings, paper, cardboard, straw from pet beds, dead leaves, etc) should be combined with a mix of between 20-50% green and the remainder brown. 

“Soft green waste is nitrogen-rich to feed micro-organisms and brown waste is carbon-rich. Both are needed to develop good compost. Don’t add cooked food though, as this encourages vermin.  Then air needs to be added. Turning the heap once a month should help achieve this.”

Layering the compost bin with a mixture of green and brown waste

Planting for Autumn

“I made the decision that the broad beans would be first to go on the compost heap, along with the celery and garlic, giving me quite a bit of space. I topped up the soil in the corner of a section of my plot, which gave me space for a few mini rows of salad and the return of rocket. 

A corner of the allotment cleared for new crops

“I planted a wide drill of mangetout shiraz peas. Hopefully, they will give a few small pods before winter arrives, which would look so good on the dinner plate! I added a couple of rows of parsnips and some radishes to help define the parsnip rows, as parsnips are slow starters. Parsnips need a soil temperature of less than 18 degrees, have sporadic germination and can take up 28 days then a further 120 -180 days till matured enough to crop. I think I will plant both rows together. There are far too many variants, it seems unlikely they will all be ready at the same time. Hopefully, I will be eating these parsnips in January or February (if at all!)    

“Good luck with your catch crops and keep the watering can at the ready.” 

Steve from Hillier Garden Centre Newbury