Wednesday, 14 July 2010

When Good Allotments Turn Bad.

It's not all roses (so to speak) in the land of Grow Your Own. For the past few years we've grown a fairly small amount of veg in our garden but have foraged vast quantities of fruit, this year with the allotment, I was hoping for similarly vast quantities of veg. I'm now realising that I probably had unrealistic expectations for our inaugural allotment year.

After a couple of days of heavy rain softened the soil to a workable consistency I decided to dig up a few carrots - and just look at what I found! I'm assuming this is the work of the dreaded carrot fly but I'm happy to be told otherwise if anyone disagrees. I haven't seen any actual insects, just the bore holes left behind. So that would be a resounding 'no' to my earlier question "will shade netting provide any protection from carrot fly?". Almost every carrot I pulled up seemed to be affected so that's goodbye to my carrot crop this year.

I'm also a bit concerned about this year's runner beans, they've flowered profusely but the flowers seem to be falling off without producing any beans (both at home and on the plot) After careful searching I've found 2 baby beans on about 8 plants so don't hold out much hope for runner beans either.

The soft fruit section of the plot is also ailing. My raspberries completely failed, haven't got a clue why, they were from 2 different sources, different varieties planted at different times. Out of 8 canes, I think 2 or 3 put up a few tentative shoots before they died off, never to be seen again. The redcurrants seemed to be doing well at first but have now taken on a yellowy tinge and haven't flowered (maybe I'm expecting too much for their first year?) The strawberries have been OK but we haven't had as many as I'd hoped.

It doesn't help that the fruit corner is infested with Horsetail (or Marestail, or Devil's Fingers, depending on where you live) My plan next year is to double the size of the strawberry bed and move the fruit section (aka '3 enfeebled redcurrant bushes') to this year's 'fallow' section which we set aside for the children to play in and give the children Horsetail HQ instead.

To add insult to injury, my elderflower champagne didn't work out this year either. I think the hot and humid recent weather is responsible for the slimy film of mould growing across the top of the flower heads, such a shame as it smelt marvellously alcoholic as I tipped it down the sink and I could do with a stiff drink to be honest!


  1. Oh no! It can be dispiriting but maybe this wasn't a wonderful year to begin (which, of course, you weren't to know!). It was a slow start because of the cold spring, then really hot.

    I don't know what's wrong with your carrots as don't get carrot fly. Haha! Don't get carrots (well, not this year). Have you tried companion planting? Onions and carrots are a good combo but you might know this.

    I usually plant my runners and sweet peas together and that usually results in a good harvest.

    You wait, next year will be wonderful!

  2. Do your runner beans have red/orange flowers by any chance? My white ones (White Lady I think, came from school) are fine but the red ones have been inundated by pollen beetle who seem to prefer brightly coloured flowers (and T-shirts)

    Next year I shall grow only White Lady (they are supposed to be a more superior bean allegedly...)

  3. Hi tracey,the only thing i can comment on here is your raspberries,mine are now in their 3rd year and this is the best year we have had.We have 6 canes in and we have had a few handfuls every couple of days,so perservere!!My strawberries i have had for years and just extended each year and this is the worst year i have ever had,only a few to nibble on so far!!Im sure i will be coming to you with my concerns and worries during my very first year with my allotment,love amandax

  4. Deb - it is a hard year isn't it? At least I have my home veggie experience to draw on, think if I was going in cold I'd be giving up by now!

    Helen - yes, they are red. Pollen beetle are crazy this year. We noticed them a couple of weeks ago but didn't realise what they're called. Do they actually damage the plants? I found a BBC website article suggesting they didn't really do much but the numbers I saw on the allotment today are quite alarming.

    Amanda - Good luck with the new allotment, I'd love to have a nosy round your plot, am desperate to see the Louie's Lane site. Have wondered about putting my name down as it's so close but moving would be a bit deal.

  5. I'm not 100 sure it's carrot fly - the holes are too big. When I've had the problem in the past, the skin of the carrot has gone patchy brown with tiny holes and it's only when you break into it you see the devastation it's caused.

    However, assuming it is, apart from the companion planting idea above, I only have one other suggestion. Carrot flies can't fly high. So quite a low raised bed or even planting them in tubs (you can get a surprising amount in a tub) should solve the problem. The other thing which can help is harvesting everything at once - digging them up (even just brushing the fronds), can release scents which will attract them, only somewhat disguised by alium companion planting.

  6. Thanks Catherine, that's interesting. I've also noticed that the affected carrots have split and the holes are in the splits so maybe an opportune anonymous grub has burrowed in?

  7. Chin up, it is all probably due to weather and being your first allotment year.

  8. I never saw carrots so badly damaged. Usually there was one or two, but this seems like a total disaster. The netting might help since the flies fly low around the carrots. Try to put some yellow sticky plates next time, they might help. Milch the ground with grass clippings. It makes difficult for fly to find the place to lay the eggs. Good luck next time!

  9. My runners are doing ok....plenty of flowers but this is the second set i have planted as the first all died...the good thing about runners is they flower for a long time so once the dreaded beetles have gone you will still have flowers coming and then some beans.

    Carrots usually fork like that when the earth is really dry, I haven't had problems with carrot fly before so can't comment on the burrowing but maybe you will get more next year.

    You haven't started your allotment on the best of years...we are all having problems of one sort or another due to the weird for your raspberries...don't worry too much...those that seemed to have died this year may pop up again next year...also don't worry about your redcurrants yellowing, again this is due to the weather but next year they will be well enough established for it not to bother them.

    I know this doesn't help right now but I really hope you realise that things can get better!!

  10. My carrots are the worst you've ever seen!? I guess that's an accolade of sorts! Good tip re grass clippings though, may try that one - if I can get Adam to mow the lawns!

    Thanks Tanya - I'm sure you're right re the weather. I think our allotment site is also quite hard work due to no running water, heavy clay soil and VERY established perennial weeds. It does feel like the odds are somewhat stacked against us!