August I always find is the quietest month of the year on the allotment. All the sowing and planting is over, save for a few salad crops, the flowers are starting to fade, and the only jobs left are harvesting and watering in the greenhouse. On Durley Field I have known busier Christmas Days than at present.
Even the “builders” seem to have given up. I find that as a broad generalisation plot holders fall into two categories - those who first start building something, or those who first start sowing and planting. For most months I can always hear an electric drill or a saw at work on one plot or another, but that’s all gone quiet now. Why is it that a plot holders castle is their shed – maybe it’s just in our genes.
One thing I’m trying this year is seeing how many tomato trusses I can harvest. The text books say stop tomatoes after four trusses, I normally give them five or six, but this year I’m already up to ten on some plants. These are in the pollytunnel as I vowed never to grow tomatoes outside after losing all the plants to blight for the last four years. Ironically, of course, there has been no sight of blight this year. Another conundrum for tomatoes is whether to strip the leaves or not. James Wong in his book Grow For Flavour advocates keeping the leaves on because they produce 80 percent of sugars in tomatoes. He also states in his book that the sugar content is pretty much directly proportional to the amount of light they receive – but I find the leaves stop the light getting to the fruit which rather scuppers the theory of keeping the leaves. Perhaps like life, there’s not a simple answer. It’s an interesting book though if ever you come across it. Two other tips he gives for tomatoes is to ditch the greenhouse as the glass panels can block as much as 40 percent of the sun’s rays – and to feed tomatoes with molasses. Well I never.
A vegetable I’m trying for the first time this year is sweet potato. I bought the “slips” from T&M and planted up in three 35 litre pots – 3 to a pot – in the greenhouse. And they took off. I tried to train them up canes but they seem to have grown everywhere, competing with the grape vine which also grows everywhere and wants to dominate. In the last week or so they have started to bloom with pale purple flowers which clearly indicate they are from the Ipomoea family or morning glory (water spinach) which is grown extensively as a vegetable in south east Asia – I remember seeing field upon field of them growing in Cambodia. They are also related to Convolvulus or the bindweed family, so I hope the roots won’t go travelling down into the ground. I should be able to see whether I’ll get a decent crop in September, but at the end of the month I’ll take some stem cuttings for next year. Oh, the joy of anticipation.