I went to pick blackberries for summer pudding this week. The berries have shrivelled to a brown knob on their prickly sprays from the heat, with only a few having swelled with the expected shiny black berries, much smaller than usual. So, it took longer to find enough for the pudding, but they tasted good, more intense in flavour, in fact.
Potatoes are also smaller than usual and they were ready sooner. There was just not enough rain to swell any of them to a large baked potato size. But the small ones have a more intense and delicious flavour. Farmers in Lincolnshire, where most British potatoes for the shops are grown, say the harvest will be less this year because of the lack of rain.
Dry summer: no weeds!
The effects of no rain can be seen on the plots where there is bare compacted soil, with no weeds. In a normal rainy summer such a plot would be full of weeds.
The sun was so hot on a few days in July that my Christmas tree got scorched along one side. Conifers like this are, of course, Nordic trees, and maybe I will have to give up trying to grow it on from year to year.
Because the climate seems to be changing to give us such dry summer months in Kent, we should be changing to growing plants happy in hotter arid conditions. Tomatoes have been growing well, but they need to be regularly watered. Maize is a crop that does not mind sunny rain-free days and some of the plots have quite tall plants.
I have been watching the fields on the road to Faversham and note that the field planted with maize will shortly be ready to harvest although the plants are not as tall as they might have been with more rain. Tall maize plants yield more cobs on the stalk – say three instead of one or two.
My Sunflower seems to be doing all right on the allotment. I watered mine and it grew to over two metres.
Grapes are increasingly being planted in Kent, with the expectation that the climate is becoming more like the wine producing areas of Europe. I have just one vine, a Kent cultivar, in the garden. It grows ferociously from May–July (about 3–4 metres along a wire) and then starts to get heavy with bunches of small sourish black grapes.
To my astonishment, there are enough bunches to fill my 20-litre bucket about three times and the resulting juice, after the bunches are stripped and squashed and the liquid drained, is about eight litres. I have not yet succeeded in making this into drinkable wine, but it makes nice jelly if sweetened a bit. The leaves on the vine redden in the autumn until by November this is the main colour focus In the centre of my garden.
Greens with a difference
Another crop we should all be trying to grow is amaranth. This produces highly decorative red tassel flowers. The leaves are more nutritious and delicious than chard or cabbage, especially if fried with garlic and mixed with tomato. This is a plant which does not need to be watered as assiduously as brassicas and it does not attract slugs. So, we may see more of it in Kent allotments as people adapt to droughts in summer.
Some like it hot
Butternut squash also thrives in hotter weather, and pumpkins seems to be doing okay. They look ready to pick now, early, almost two months before Hallowe’en.
Those who are devoted to dahlia growing seem to be able to keep them flourishing by watering and dead-heading frequently.
Dry summer: more need to water
It is the runner bean season just now. Most allotment gardeners have a well-practised routine with erecting poles for their beans. In a rainy summer the yields from these poles overwhelm family consumption rates but fortunately they keep well in the freezer if dunked in boiling salted water and chopped first.
But they do need watering, as evident in these contrasting pictures of neglected and flourishing bean poles.
No more cardboard tubes!?
Leeks are really a cold country crop: they do okay in a dry summer if watered, but the onion harvest is much reduced this year because of a lack of rain. I usually plant my parsnips (and leeks) in empty toilet rolls, as this stops the roots branching out in our clay soil. But the bad news is that the manufacturers are about to start selling us loo paper without the cardboard inner roll. Oh dear!
Keeping up with climate change and dry summers
Enough of this veg-growing bulletin now. What we gardeners must do more regularly is keep notes on what flourishes where and when. Then we will be able to adapt better to the way Kent is heating up and drying out.