One of the frustrations, and joys, of having an allotment is just how unpredictable it all is. I said a couple of weeks ago about how my strawberries had started well but then died a death. Last week was the time to pick the gooseberries. Now this is a job I hate, I like everything else about allotments but I do not like picking. Normally my partner, Jeni, helps me but she decided to go off with our dog, Strummer, in her campervan. Now I have a suspicion that the timing was quiet deliberate, but we’ll never know – conspiracy theory or what. Anyway, I was left alone to pick these wretched gooseberries and it has turned out to be a bumper crop. I have a limit of 30 minutes of picking at a go, any more blows my mind. But I did find this year that a pair of medium thick plastic gloves worked a treat, and I managed to pick a bucket a day. In total I picked 3 bucket loads which equated to something like 18 kilos – just from two bushes. Now what on earth do you do with 18 kilos of gooseberries – so I gave them to anyone who wanted any (and probably to some who didn’t), I froze as many as the freezer would take, I made jam, I made chutney, and I made ice cream. Now the ice cream was a winner – gooseberries boiled with a little water until softish, pushed through a sieve for a puree than mixed with effectively custard (egg yolks, sugar, milk and cream), and then whizzed in the ice cream maker. A total joy, beats Kelly’s anytime, and made the picking all worthwhile – well, nearly.

This week it’s the turn of blackcurrants and again it’s a good crop. Half of me is perhaps wishing the crop fails so I don’t have to do the picking, but then I realise that’s stupid, just grin an bear it. So far I’ve picked 3 ice cream cartons full – something over 3 kilos. So I’ve frozen some, made ice cream, made cordial, given some away, and I’ve still got about another 4 cartons to pick. Infamy, infamy.

The biggest failure so far this year has been the garlic – totally overwhelmed by rust. I’ve had to dig them all up, strip them down, dispose of all the effected leaves, and string them up to dry. Their size is generally no bigger than a gobstopper (whatever happened to them), altogether a very miserable crop. I’m not sure what the answer is in future – I’ve had rust for the past few years, but this year seems worst than ever. There’s no available way of combating rust, and in an allotment environment preventative actions are pretty ineffective. If anyone has any ideas, answers on a postcard – maybe I’ll try some under cover next year.

Onions also seem to be effected by rust, not as much as garlic but certainly some signs. The sets of Shakespeare planted last October have all finished growing and need to be lifted, stripped, and dried off as best I can. The spring sets and seed grown onions are still going but showing signs of dying off. I can remember years ago that this all happened in August rather than July. This is a very early season.

Another crop which is disappointing is potatoes, which have so far been affected by scab. I grow potatoes in containers – 17 litres, 35 litres, and 50 litres. This mainly because it’s much easier, saves space, avoids the problems of slugs, and that they can be harvested as when needed. The last point is very handy – after the foliage away when it dies, then move the container under cover for the winter, and pick out the potatoes when needed. I kept this going well into March this year – much easier than digging up and having to store them, which I never found satisfactory. But they do seem to be susceptible to scab (I also had this problem with growing in the ground). I follow all the guidelines I have researched – regular and consistent watering, a ph of 6.5, a scattering of sulphur pellets – but still scab appears, the potatoes are still edible but a little unsightly. So far this year I’ve so far tried Casablanca and Winston varieties – no luck. Oh well, I’ll keep trying different varieties each year until I find a winner.

The unpredictability of it all.

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