The joys of June

Oh, how I love my allotment in June. May and June are my favourite months, but when it comes to the allotment, May’s to-do list is ridiculously long, and this year felt more frantic than ever after a long harsh winter and a miserable wet April. There’s also very little to harvest (mainly rhubarb), making it all work with little payback. But then along comes sweet June, and finally you can enjoy the fruits of your labour, and while there’s still plenty to be done, it starts to get a little easier. The coldframe or greenhouse slowly empties out, and the plot begins to fill out and take shape, and for a brief spell it looks lush with all the fresh new green growth.

There are many pickings to be had. The last of the rhubarb and asparagus, along with the first peas, broad beans, lettuce, spinach, and for many people, the first strawberries and early new potatoes. The herb bed is flourishing, and I’ve also been filling vases and jugs and little glass bottles with bunches of Sweetpeas and Sweet Williams. We’ve also recently harvested our garlic and over wintered onions, and (very early) the first little courgette. The firsts of the season are always the best tasting and most welcome, which is another reason why I love June.

We’ve had an extended dry spell here in East Anglia, the thunderstorms that thoroughly watered the rest of the country a few weeks ago seemed to skirt around us, so apart from a few brief showers that barely wet the soil surface, we’ve had nothing for weeks now. So there’s been a lot of watering to do, but on the plus side, the weeds have been fairly scant. The few feeble specimens that have managed to break the surface of the soil, have swiftly and heartlessly had their heads chopped by a hoe. Mostly it’s been volunteer potatoes coming up everywhere.

So here’s a little photo tour of the plot so far this year:

At the top end (beyond a herb bed that needs a little work) is a square bed containing carrots, parsnips (including some from last year that have been left to flower), spring onions, lettuce, beetroot and some spare garlic that we ran out of space for further down. Next to this is a flower bed that has turned a little wild. Poppies, feverfew and oxeye daisies, none of which were deliberately sown or planted by me. What I did plant and sow were foxgloves, cerinthe major and the few Sweet Williams you can see to the side. Mother Nature obviously turned her nose up at this and decided she had better plans. Whatever! I’ll let the bees have their fill and then try to restore some kind of order. There’s a couple of rows of Charlotte potatoes next in line. We’ve been giving the potatoes plenty of water now that they’re in flower, as apparently this is when the tubers are starting to form and when they need it most.

Then we have shallots (the leaves are just starting to bend down, so they should be ready to lift soon), behind them a row of calendula (pot marigolds) and then a square bed containing four squashes in the middle with four tomato plants at each corner. Who needs straight rows anyway? Then there’s sweetcorn (I annoyingly lost one from the middle of the block), a remaining few onions, and then spinach which we’ve been picking and using in abundance. Next up is an A frame of sweetpeas and climbing French beans. Oh, with a few nasturtiums growing beneath, you might be able to spot those! I like to think they’re at least suppressing the weeds, keeping the pea and bean roots cool, attracting pollinators, and more than likely harbouring frogs to keep the slugs at bay. I just hope they don’t compete too much.

Beyond the shed we have six dahlias, backed by a bed of brassicas covered with netting, a row of lettuce, the over wintered onions that are in the process of being lifted, and two rows of Desiree potatoes.

Next in line is the feathery foliage of chickpeas, which have just started to produce little pods (so exciting, these are new to me this year) and a bed of newly planted (and still very small) chillies are behind them. Then we have three tomatoes intercropped with a couple of courgettes. The tomato in the foreground is a little sickly, I’m hoping he’ll pick up a bit, but all of my others are growing well. I have deliberately separated my 7 tomato plants so that in the quite likely event that one of them develops blight, it won’t spread too quickly to the others, and it might be easier to tackle.

Behind the fence of environmesh are purple mangetout peas, and behind them a couple of short rows of broad beans, which are late this year as I had trouble getting them to germinate in our exceptionally cold early spring. Maincrop onions are growing at the back of this section, and then you can just see another two rows of potatoes (Anya) and the remains of our broccoli which has now been replaced with leeks.

So that’s all folks. The very bottom bed was home to garlic that has now been lifted, and asparagus that has mostly now gone to flower. Beyond that are apple and plum trees (lots of small apples, but the plum tree was quite drastically pruned in winter and there’s no signs of fruit this year) compost bins and lots of stinging nettles.

It’s not perfect by any means, there are always a few weeds, a few plants that get nibbled, a few black fly on the broad beans, a few generally untidy (I like to say naturalised) areas. But my priorities have never been tidiness or order, but the health and happiness of both the plants and the wildlife that enjoy and thrive on this little patch of earth as much as I do. It’s our sanctuary and playground, and provides us all with fresh air, exercise and organic, tasty food. I just hope the wildlife leave a little bit for me.

Talking of which, throughout June I’ve been illustrating garden wildlife as part of the 30 days wild campaign organised by the Wildlife Trust. I’ve been drawing a little creature every day of the month. Here’s where I’m currently up to:

VCIFE6695

If you’re on Instagram you can follow my progress at @zoes_artworks or on Twitter @zoes_garden. Once I’m finished, they’ll be available as a set of stickers, and I’m also hoping to create some colouring-in boards with space for the stickers, as a little activity (and an education) for children. My idea is a bit sketchy at the moment, so any thoughts on this (especially if you have little ones) are welcome, and if you’d be interesting in trialling this for me, let me know.

6 comments

  1. Those potatoes look rad! Perhaps I should try them again. There is always some reason why I do not grow them. In one place, the weather was too damp and foggy. At another, the soil was very rocky. At another, the soil was too inert. I should just go for it and see what we get. After all, the other vegetables make accommodations where necessary.

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    • Maybe it’s a British thing, but potatoes are a staple for most veg growers over here. They seem to mostly do okay for us, despite a wet spring and now a dry spell. Give them a go, just make sure they have some manure or compost.

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      • My colleagues have been wanting to, and since we got a big load of that sandy but good soil (that I wrote about on Saturday) we may do so. Some of us could use the extra produce for our families.

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  2. your allotment is flourishing! I loved seeing your onions laid out, stringing was one of my favourite post harvesting activities! What tasty dinners you must be having.
    I love the sound of your colouring in boards and stickers. Euan would be delighted to be your guinea pig if you want any road testers. He likes activity books that come with stickers but always prefers to do his own thing with the stickers rather than sticking them over the place where the books says to stick them! I can see how larger versions of your insects in black ink would make great colouring in activities

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    • Thanks Nic, I would love it if Euan could try them out for me. I’ll get in touch once I have something ready. I was kind of thinking about a garden design on A4 with flowers and foliage that could be coloured in, with spaces for them to put the stickers wherever they want. I originally thought about making it a challenge where they have to spot the critter in the garden or out and about, and can then put a sticker on a chart, but I think that might be too much for some children, so I’ve simplified the idea.

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