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Growing Questions & Answers 1 April 2019

I seem to be getting a lot of questions at the moment so rather than a monthly Q&A, this may be the first of two for this month.

What is this?

John, can you tell me what this is? – found in my allotment
Brandjohn

Fungi in Soil

Fungi in Soil

My first thought was pasta shells! But I reckon it’s some sort of fungus. Is it in compost or soil with a lot of decomposing wood? It won’t do any harm so I wouldn’t worry about it. It will die back of its own accord as the soil gets back into balance.

Happily fungi are beneficial to soil health and do not compete with our plants. Some are actually helpful symbionts and help plants grow – like the mycorrhizal fungi we inoculate shrubs and trees with.

Coping with Couch Grass

My young family and I got a half plot in August. Unfortunately it is infested with couch grass, almost 95% of the plot is covered. I strimmed it all down to ground level and covered with weed membrane in August.
I have tried to dig it out but it is taking me such a long time, my question is whether you think it would be a good idea for this season to grow through the membrane? And carry on digging and getting the couch grass roots out as much as I can. Also, in your opinion, does couch grass die off while it is covered?
Many thanks
Stuart

The problem with couch grass is that it spreads from the long white roots that snake along under the soil, putting up new leaves every few inches. If you miss a bit of root when digging it out, that piece will throw up leaves and pretty soon you are back where you started. This makes organic control difficult to say the least.

I must admit I’m not too keen on weed membranes – basically I don’t much like the look of black plastic – but it is effective. Planting through the membrane will make use of the ground whilst the membrane is killing off the couch grass.

As long as there are no leaves above ground to power the roots, couch will eventually die off when covered. Once dead, the roots will rot and add to the humus in the soil.

I’d say the plan of covering the plot with weed membrane and digging out as you can is a pretty good way to clear it. There’s actually an article about controlling couch grass on the site which goes into a little more depth.

Clearing Couch Grass (Twitch Grass or Scutch, Wickens, Quick)

Growing in the Dung Heap

Hi John.
Thanks for your news letter.
I am planning to experiment this year with growing directly into a fairly fresh horse muck heap. The heap has been sitting since Jan and is 70% dung to 30% hemp bedding. I know that courgettes will thrive here, what chance do my runner beans, chard and potatoes have. I’ll be growing my carrots elsewhere.
All tips gratefully received.
Many thanks
Ruth

I reckon the potatoes will like it but I don’t see the point in using that super resource for chard or runner beans. Squash and pumpkins will think they’re in heaven. If you could add more browns (straw, shredded card, etc.) it will probably heat up. Pop a cloche on the top, case with some sieved soil and you’ve a hot bed.

Raspberry Growing

Thanks for the gardening tips.
I have very small garden . Last year I awaited a few raspberries ; but only got half formed ones and very few. How can I improve that this year?

My Dad grew lovely Raspberries but I never asked how he looked after them when he was alive.
Tessa Yardley

I’m sorry for your loss, Tessa. I’m afraid there’s not much to go on but we know your father got a good crop so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. There’s an article on the site about growing raspberries here: Growing Raspberries – How to Grow Raspberries

Hopefully that will give you a place to start, at least.

Asparagus Shooting

Dear John,
My asparagus spears seem to start coming up already. Do I need to protect them from frost? as normally they would be much later. I inherited the asparagus plot on my allotment and covering it with manure and compost every autumn it seems to do quite well, but has never been so early.
Can’t find anything much in asparagus literature.
Thank you.
Ursula Madel

Hi Ursula – as I say in the article here Growing Asparagus – How to Grow AsparagusProtect from late frosts with fleece.

Bottle Cloches

Hi John, Thanks for your top tips on growing sweetcorn. One question, you mention using 2L water bottles as mini cloche’s. Do you leave the screw tops on or off ?
Thanks for your advice (and a GREAT newsletter)
Michael J

Hi Michael – At last a simple question. Leave the tops off to allow them to breathe. Remember the idea is to just provide a little shelter and a few degrees extra warmth – plant sweetcorn out when it’s safe from frost.

Peas

Hi John
Last November I planted Douce Provence peas in a seed tray and left them in a plastic greenhouse over winter.About three weeks ago I replanted them into pots and they are now outside. They are now about six inches tall but they have flower buds. As I think they should be a lot taller before flowering I have been removing the buds. Am I doing the right thing?
Fred Grundy

Pea Roots

Root Development of Peas from Root Development of Vegetable Crops, Weaver & Bruner

Hi Fred, I don’t think you are doing the right thing. They’re reacting to the constraint of being in the pots and would be best planted out into the ground as soon as possible. Peas are pretty hardy and Douce Provence are an early pea anyway, suggested as a replacement for Feltham Early

As you can see from the drawing, in ideal soil the pea puts on far more root growth than you may have thought. The roots are concentrated in the first foot of soil but some go down to three feet. They spread horizontally to near two feet.

We plant peas quite closely so the roots from one plant share space with another. But that ‘crowding’ has far less effect than limiting to a pot.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
21 comments on “Growing Questions & Answers 1 April 2019
  1. Rowland Wells says:

    We sprayed our couch grass with Roundup and the ground is clear of it except for patch where we had our strawberry bed. When we set the bed up we put breathable membrane down, planting the strawberry plants through the membrane had no problem. They picked clean then it got took over by couch grass coming through the strawberry holes.

    We planted the bed about three seasons ago so its about time to move it but the bed is absolutely full of couch grass. I pulled up the membrane and sprayed the couch grass with Roundup, Give it about three weeks and we can cultivate. The Roundup will have done its job.

    thankfully we have moved the strawberry bed to another part of the allotments that’s clean no couch grass I know some don’t like using chemicals but I’ve found that’s the most quick and effective method each to there own John

    • John Harrison says:

      Roundup is effective but I assumed from the email that Stuart was looking to handle it organically, especially with all the recent safety concerns about Roundup being voiced.

  2. Rowland Wells says:

    well John everyone to there own organic or not one pays your money you takes your choice and by the way I’m not trying to railroad Stuarts topic far from it

    I would never say that I’m organic because that wouldn’t be true and as you say your quite rite voices have been made regarding the use of Roundup but there are many people still using roundup and although organic gardening is probably the way forward for some gardeners

    I think there are still gardeners out there like myself that still use and will continue to use roundup until such times as its totally banned

    having said all that I respect your organic views and I would agree to disagree on this topic but there you go we all have our views on what’s good or bad don’t we

    thank god and this site for the rite to reply to such matters

    • John Harrison says:

      Rowland, I think Roundup has its uses and the problems not relevant to gardeners who use very small amounts in comparison to farmers.
      I like to be open to both organic and conventional gardeners – both schools have plus points. So don’t worry, my friend.

  3. Rowland Wells says:

    I like your replies John spoken like a true gentleman and a scholar

  4. Sally Gray says:

    My french parsley sown last year is now bolting. Should I cut off the flower buds and is the parsley still good to eat?

    • John Harrison says:

      The flower stems will exhaust the plant. So your best plan is to cut down the plants almost to ground level and give them a little fertiliser and some water.
      And yes, still good to eat!

  5. Jim Batt says:

    Hi John,firstly I must say what great fun your readers are,lovely to hear about the up and downs of their garden allotments,I live in the weald of sussex and its all clay,however I put in raised beds made from 3mtr decking,which made 3 x1.5 areas,I grow pots,french beans,sweetcorn,onions,also have black currant bushes ,pear tree ,(concord)bramley apple ,,which is about 80 years old,my compost is entirely made from grass plus vegie offcuts plus tea leaves from the kitchen,it seems to work too,but one question to you and your readers,what do you do with all those worms,million of them!will the eat my potatoes if used as a mulch?.keep digging .
    Jim

  6. Patricia Scott says:

    You could always try the No Dig method to remove couch grass. Put 2 layers of cardboard over it and a good layer of well-composted compost on top. The lack of light means the couch dies off. Some will pop through to the surface, so remove with a trowel to get as much of the roots out as possible. It’s easier to trowel out because of the soft compost. You have to stay on top of getting out anything popping through, but it gets less very quickly.

  7. Stewart Jones says:

    Re: Fred’s peas
    I did not appreciate that pea roots went so deep. After many years of trying all sorts of varieties I now only grow Hurst Greenshaft as there are 9 or 10 peas in a pod and unlike some varieties they are easy to shell. I chit them and them put them in a 6″ wide trench very close together rather than messing about leaving a space between each pea in nice rows. I find that setting them like this reduces the weeds. I have 2&1/2 rows in at the moment and they are doing well. I try to have them podded and frozen before the pea moth arrives. Last year I had no pea moth whatsoever.

  8. ann jackman says:

    Regarding coping with drought… last year my sweet corn plants were started in the glass house and planted in holes filled with water and drained. The surrounding land was at perfect moisture content at the time and is clay improved by adding mulches at every opportunity, but only the worms dig it.. I mulched with grass cuttings and layers of cardboard held in place with planks of wood etc…. I gave no more water all season and harvested a fantastic crop ..2 or 3 cobs per plant.
    Most of my crops are treated this way… I grow a lot of green manure plants for mulching with, especially over winter… never let the sun see you soil and neighbours bring their grass mowings to my plot.

  9. Archibald Cook says:

    I have 3 raised beds 4ftx4ft in 2 of them there appears to be a mantle of low growing moss type sort of algae will this affect vegetable growth and is there any wAy to get rid of it,thank you.

  10. mark priestley says:

    Hi John, can you advise. We have planted brassica’s from seed this year. They started great but have grown rather spindly. There doesn’t seem to be any problems but don’t look as bulked out as garden centres. Am I growing them correctly?

  11. douglas davison says:

    many years ago i used to grow a winter cauliflower which matured march, april, may. i think it was named after a royal person. does it still exist or is there an equivalant?

  12. Arthur Makinson says:

    I have been growing rhubarb in a large pot but a lot of the stems are weak and I don’t get many large stems to take off. I have fed the rhubarb with chicken manure pellets. Do you think it would grow better in the ground?

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