Pigeon pestilence on the plot | The Voice of the Allotment


Pigeons are presenting a real problem to the Brassicas – Barry Cuff shares his challenges, along with his monthly harvest and growing notes
Barry’s thriving pea rows in front of the covered blackcurrants –threatened not by pigeons but by thieving blackbirds

We have a major problem with pigeons on our plots – this year has been the worst since we took on our allotment in 1989. Their main target food is brassicas. Spare plants in plug trays were destroyed overnight. These had been destined to fill gaps and to give to other plotholders.
We’ve tried the usual deterrents of black cotton, CDs and glitter strips, but the pigeons soon become used to them. So the only protection is a physical barrier and initially we use net cloches that cover one row. When our Brussels sprout plants were uncovered, having grown too big for the cloches, they were attacked after a few days in the open. A barrier using fleece and posts was then erected to protect them.
But when fully planted up with brassicas the area will be about 400 square feet, and this large area will need to be protected in some way. As we are surrounded by houses and industrial units we are not allowed to shoot the birds.
Another problem that has never occurred before is honeydew, a sticky liquid secreted by aphids, on some of our gooseberries. A few of the bushes lie underneath a line of cob nuts which are infested with Hazel Aphid. These are specific to Corylus (hazel) and produce the honeydew. It means that we have to wash the gooseberries before use. Whether the aphids will lower the production of nuts in the autumn remains to be seen.

Still sowing
During the month we sowed more carrots, beetroot, snap peas and mangetout, and made our first sowings of Witloof chicory and coriander.
A further 20 Swift sweetcorn plants were added to the block, making a total of about 50 plants.
Brassicas planted out from plug trays included Fargo, Cheesy and Cendis caulis.

Starting to harvest
June was a very busy month on the plot, with weeding both by hoe and hand. We had enough rainfall to ensure good growth of vegetables, fruit … and weeds.
We picked our first broad beans (Witkiem Manita) on the 2nd and the last (Masterpiece Green Longpod) on the 26th.
Our first lettuce was cut on the 1st – we sow lettuce every month from March to August in plug trays for transplanting when large enough. We only use one variety, Little Gem, as this is a quick-maturing variety with crisp, sweet hearts.
The first carrots (Early Nantes) and beetroot (Crimson King) were pulled on the 22nd, which is a little later than usual.
Both varieties of garlic were harvested on the 16th, and once again a few plants were lost to white rot, a disease we have to live with despite a six year rotation.
We have picked quite a few punnets of blackcurrants from mid month, and our strawberries did well despite being old plants. As the bed now has a bindweed problem a new bed will be created next year with new plants.

Free skulkers
We normally dig one or two early potatoes in June, but this year we had a good crop of skulkers. This is a Dorset word for volunteers – potatoes left in the ground when harvesting the previous year’s crop. The smallest tubers are easy to miss when digging the crop. Normally they are removed before they have produced anything worthwhile, but as we do not dig in the winter, these were allowed to grow until we needed the plot for brassica plants in June. Basically freebie potatoes!
Half way through the year and the plot has done well despite a few problems.

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