Last Friday, June 23rd, EAGS hosted 4 fruit and vegetable experts from the RHS on a visit to Eastbourne. Evidently the RHS make two or three visits a year to allotment societies throughout the country, and we were lucky enough to have been selected.
In the morning we all split up and showed them separately around three sites; Priory Road, Churchdale, and the Gorringe Road complex.
I was lucky to accompany Guy Barter around the Gorringe Road plots. Guy is the Chief Horticultural Advisor for the RHS, and I suppose it’s easy to say that he should know his stuff, but I was amazed at his knowledge. We stopped and chatted to plot holders and Guy offered advice and solutions.
After a pleasant lunch in the marquee set up in the Gorringe Road car park, we transferred to the Fishermans Club for a Q&A session. This was attended by between 30-40 EAGS members and lasted an hour and a quarter. I found it both enjoyable and informative.
So what did we learn from the visit.
The main line of questioning unsurprisingly covered pests and diseases. With regard to pests I think their advice could be summed up as, in ascending order, firstly by hand, then water jet spraying pests off of plants, use of a soap insecticide containing fatty acids, use of a pyrethin based insecticide, and finally as a last resort, and obviously non organic, using a chemical based spray. Companion planting was rather dismissed as having no evidence of success. And no mention was made of nematodes, which in hindsight, we should have done.
On diseases there appeared little hope, the products available to the amateur gardener are now few. The most mentioned problems were garlic rust and potato, and tomato, blight. Here there seemed very little we can do, especially in an allotment environment, where spores are ever present. They did say good housekeeping was essential, such as clearing away and disposing of effected leaves, not overcrowding, and providing good air circulation between plants. Apart from rust and blight, their general advice was that if a plant was looking sickly, feed it.
Three products that were recommended during the day were Uncle Tom’s Plant Tonic, and SB Invigorator, and Bug Clear Gun with pyrethin. The SB Invigorator, and the Bug Clear Gun are available in the EAGS shop.
Other subjects which were covered during the day:
I think it came as a surprise to everyone present at the Q&A when it was said that at Wisley they water by hand, and in general on a 10 day cycle. They believed that amateur gardeners are too obsessed by watering and that holding a spray at waist height and spraying over the plants for a short period is a complete waste of time. They recommend to water plant roots thoroughly and not too frequently. This of course does not apply to pot plants which need more frequent watering.
Starting a New Plot:
Basically their advice was firstly to clear the plot to ground level, either by skimming with a spade or strimming. Secondly, to dig the plot removing as many of the nasty weeds as possible but don’t overdo it – continual hoeing and digging will gradually weaken weeds, including they said mares tail (they thought that trying to dig mares tail out was a waste of time).
If you are unable to dig the plot all at once, they recommended covering the ground with a ground cover membrane fabric (phormisol is available in the EAGS Shop). Interestingly, they recommended a strip method. Dividing the plot into strips, covering alternative strips with membrane and digging the strips in between. Then plant ground cover vegetables in the dug area such as pumpkins, squash, or potatoes. Then digging those planted strips when the plant has finished.
Trying Something Different:
In answer to a question on which vegetables and fruits to try for something different they recommended spinach beet, Japanese onions for over wintering under cover, and scorzonera (black salsify). For a fruit they recommended worcesterberry, which I had never heard of but will now probably give a go.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the items discussed, taking sweet potato cuttings and growing potatoes in containers I’ve just thought of, oh well.
I just wish they could return regularly, or that we could have regular talks by experts. Unsurprisingly, experts don’t come for nothing (the RHS provided their services for free) and I’m not sure there is the demand among our members for paying for expert talks. We’ll see, and maybe we can arrange something if the demand is there.