The weather has really affected the crops on the potager this year. Although similar things have happened in England – here is an account from my friend Mike in Ealing, London.
This year so far has certainly been a very weird year as far as the weather is concerned. We had a very bad spring this year; an exceptionally cold April with a lot of northerly winds produced temperatures well below average. Many of the seeds that we sowed in pots and trays in our greenhouses in April failed to germinate, especially the courgettes, sweetcorn and runner beans, the things that we particularly enjoy in the summer, and the leeks, salad leaves and beetroots that we sowed directly into the earth have taken an age to mature. In fact the leeks are still so thin that I haven’t been able to transplant them, a job that I normally do at the end of the first week of July. With so many seeds failing to germinate we had to resow and of course you can guess what then happened; they all germinated. So as I type, we have some 30 courgette plants in three of my raised beds producing an endless supply, so now we are able to give courgettes to anyone who wants them, including your former allotment neighbour Michael, whose courgette seeds also failed.
I did manage to grow just 8 runner bean seedlings and these are now doing well around the bamboo wigwam that I constructed and thankfully, we are now harvesting a few ounces of beans each day for dinner. May turned out to be little warmer and so helped things grow, but June was a disastrously wet month, with many frequent heavy rain showers. The result was that our plots have all been infested with literally scores of snails and slugs, to the extent that my favourite shop Wilkinsons sold out of their little blue slug pellets. The slugs have attacked and eaten everything, and especially our dahlia’s which they seem to particularly enjoy. Fortunately, July has turned much better and temperatures in the past 10 days or so have soared to over 30 degrees C on some recent days, and so we have taken advantage this to lift some of our rows of potatoes. These have been much better than we dared hope, especially our Charlotte potatoes which we love, but we have been amazed at the number of slugs lurking below the surface of the earth. It has been a real plague year like some Biblical Egyptian disaster. All of the bad weather has had a disastrous affect on our strawberries and summer raspberries; in short, we’ve had the lowest crop yields of both since we started work on the allotment back in 2004. However, we are now having a few successes, and especially with blueberries. We’ve just had the best crop ever and we think this is due to spreading acidic wood chip around the base of the bushes – they like an acidic soil – and carefully netting the plants to keep the birds, and especially the pigeons at bay. Our autumn raspberries are also looking good and a few are already beginning to ripen, so we may get to enjoy some raspberries this year after all that we have been through.
My experience in France has been similar, with a lot of rain from the beginning of January to about the middle of May. My heavy clay soil was saturated for many weeks, and now is baked hard by the sun. It seems that the vegetable plants are not able to access nutrients in the soil, with the result that the plants are not growing properly and are more vulnerable to disease, especially French beans,tomatoes and spinach and Swiss chard. I am trying to remedy this with liquid feeds and cultivating the soil. However on a happier note the pepper plants and cucumbers are producing fruit and I already have a small melon. I have never grown melons before.
However although the potager has its problems, the front garden with the roses, lavender and other shrubs I planted over the winter is really looking good. I have 21 different roses, both old roses, gallicas, bourbon roses and David Austin English roses, together with 3 different varieties of lavender planted formally on either side of the drive, and various shrubs and herbaceous plants in the border behind the front hedge. It is lovely to sit there in the evening, looking towards the vine fields, the sun and the stunning view of Saussignac the neighbouring village, with the scent of the roses and the bees, humming bird hawkmoths and butterflies busy in the lavender. The white lavender near the house is particularly attractive as it has a spreading habit and falls through the roses creating a lovely picture.