Tag: beetroot

Ulluco Woes: DEFRA Biosecurity Alert Issued

June 2017 Ulloco pots
Our first and probably last ever batch of Ulluco plants, in happier times.

This year we’re growing three Andean tuber crops down on Plot #59: Oca, Yacon and Ulluco. It could also be the last year that we grow the third of that trio. DEFRA – the government’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs – have issued a biosecurity warning, because some Ulluco tubers imported into the UK may be infected with several non-native viruses.

The situation is a serious one: the viruses could potentially infect plants of three major families: Amaranthaceae (spinach, beets, chard etc.) Cucurbitaceae (squash, pumpkin, courgette, etc.) and Solanaceae (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) so that’s a number of our major food crops. I double-check with the head gardener where I work – Lindsay Berry, M.Hort – and she confirmed that yes, this sort of warning should be taken very seriously indeed.

Frustratingly, DEFRA haven’t updated their website with their own biosecurity alert, so I can’t point you straight to the source, but Emma at the Unconventional Gardener blog has posted details of the warning, along with a copy of the DEFRA document that was issued to tuber suppliers and sent on to me by the folks at Incredible Vegetables, from whom we bought our tubers this year.

This is the relevant section of the DEFRA document, with instructions to Ulluco growers:

  1. Ulluco should only be harvested for personal consumption and should not be sold or transferred to other sites (and all tubers should be removed from the soil).
  2. Tubers of ulluco should not be saved for planting in the following year.
  3. If potatoes and species of Amaranthaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae are also grown nearby to ulluco, these should only be harvested for personal consumption and any seed/tubers should not be saved for planting in the following year.
  4. Any remaining waste from the vegetables, including peelings, can be disposed of in general waste bins to go to landfill and should not be composted.
  5. Remaining plant material (leaves and stems) of ulluco, should be destroyed following harvest, either by incineration (burning on site), via deep burial (to a minimum of 2 m) or bagged and disposed of with waste for land fill.
  6. Remaining plant material or potato and species of Amaranthaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae, which you have grown, should be destroyed following harvest, either by incineration (burning on site), via deep burial (to a minimum of 2 m) or bagged and disposed of with waste for land fill.
  7. The planting area should be cleared of all plant material, including weeds.
  8. If any ulluco and potato plants regrow in the following year, they should be destroyed as for the plant material above.
  9. The viruses are potentially transmitted mechanically (on people, clothes, equipment etc.), so hygiene best practice should be followed:
    • Wash hands with soap before and after working on a crop.
    • Clean any tools and equipment which have been in contact with ulluco thoroughly to remove all plant material and soil.

Once again, rather frustratingly, there’s no information on how to spot signs of a definite viral infection, or whether the viruses are likely to persist in the soil next season, which of course would prevent growing any crops from potentially infected species. Although, as DEFRA hasn’t told us to immediately destroy all Ulluco crops and remove the soil, it would seem that the viruses in question might need a living host to persist?

In any case, because of the potential risk for mechanical transmission, I spent an unpleasant couple of hours on Sunday dragging half-decomposed vegetable matter out of our large compost bay – to which for the past few weeks I’d been adding the foliage from this year’s squash plants, which had been growing right next to the Ulluco – then bagging it up and taking it to the municipal tip.

So that’s an entire year’s worth of compostable material destroyed, because DEFRA haven’t specified the precise conditions under which the viruses can persist. Still, better safe than sorry, eh? I’d rather loose a year’s compost than risk a future year or more’s potato, tomato, squash and beet harvest.

I just hope we have a decent Ulluco crop this year, to make up for all the hassle.

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Soilfixer Trial Part V: First Results

I’ve harvested the first batch of produce from the SoilFixer trial beds down on Plot #59.

Quick Recap

I’ve been carrying out a soil improvement product trial this year at the invitation of the folks at SoilFixer.co.uk, testing two of their compost and/or soil enhancement products, versus ordinary compost and untreated soil.

It’s a very rough, ready and rather unscientific method that I’m following: I set up four small raised beds, planted broad beans and sowed two varieties each of turnip and beetroot. In mid-June I reported on the good growth so far.

Harvesting

I took a look at the beds last weekend and realised that it was past time to pick some crops. I freely admit, I’ve left the harvesting a bit too late, and should probably have done so sooner, but Jo and I were on holiday in mid-July and things have been hectic before and since.

There was really no point in picking the broad beans; the blackfly had all-but wiped them out and the few pods left on the plants had all gone over anyhow. So, I decided that for comparison purposes I’d lift the four largest ‘Boldor F1’ golden beetroot (the ‘Detroit 2’ don’t look like they’re worth harvesting yet) and the largest ‘Purple Top Milan’ turnip. Just the one? Well, yes, because frankly I’d let them get a bit out of hand:

July 2017 SoilFixer Harvest
Nice-looking golden beetroot and… turnip, or deadly weapon? You decide.

Here are the results, table-wise:

Bed Crop Weight
One (C.H.A. Compost) Boldor F1 Beetroot 290g
  Purple Top Milan Turnip 935g
Two (Compost) Boldor F1 Beetroot 305g
  Purple Top Milan Turnip 1147g
Three (Soil & SF60) Boldor F1 Beetroot 414g
  Purple Top Milan Turnip 1678g
Four (Plain Soil) Boldor F1 Beetroot 371g
  Purple Top Milan Turnip 1141g

And here’s a quick graph I threw together:

That’s right folks, I’ve picked almost 5kg of turnips so far, and there are plenty more to come. If anyone knows any good turnip recipes, please do post links or details in the comments (I’m begging you…)

Conclusions?

Well, what can I say? Based on this very small and not-at-all statistically significant sample there’s a clear winner in terms of yield – the soil that had been enhanced with SoilFixer’s SF60 product – as long as by ‘yield’ we mean sheer mass, rather than anything relating to how usable and tasty the veg might actually be. (I hasten to add that the beetroot were fine, it’s the massive turnips I’m worried about.)

Would I be happy to use SF60 again? Most certainly, and I plan to use up the rest of the tub I was sent in next year’s greenhouse containers. Likewise, I’ll be adding a good scoop or two of C.H.A. to my home compost bin when I put the lid on it at the end of the year.

But would I be happy to put my hand in my pocket and buy a supply of SF60 or C.H.A. for my personal use? Well, that will depend on my doing some further testing, and also reading the results of the other triallists’ efforts (which were hopefully a bit more usefully clear-cut than mine).

Hedging my bets, I’d say that if I was trying to grow a specimen crop – super-hot chillies, say, or something tropical in a greenhouse, or a heritage vegetable that I wanted to save seed from – and wanted to give my growing medium a boost, then I think SF60 would be a good product to use. Commercial growers might want to investigate further.

I’m not so sure about the C.H.A. for my own use. I don’t think my compost quality requirements are stringent enough to require much in the way of amendment. Again, if I was producing a lot of compost for a commercial or specimen growing project then it might be worth trying. But I’d need to see more evidence of a clear-cut and dramatic compost improvement before I’d be able to commit.

Room For Methodological Improvement

On reflection (hindsight being a wonderful thing) I could have designed and executed the trial much better; either by growing a smaller selection of crops, or even a single crop – ideally one that wasn’t quite as prone to pest-problems as broad beans (blackfly) or cabbages (slugs) – and assessing how many plants of usable size and quality had been grown by a particular date. Either that or growing something simple to assess, like potatoes (again though, potential pest and disease problems there) and simply harvesting them all at once and weighing the yield from each bed. Or I could have tried something like strawberries; grown the same variety, then assessed both yield and flavour with a blind taste test.

I could also have done better with the production of the compost used in the first two beds. Unfortunately I used too much touch grass in the original mix (the stems didn’t break down properly) and the bags I used didn’t drain as well as I’d hoped. Plus, I started the compost off late, or rather, early in the year, which didn’t give it enough time to break down fully into the humus-rich material that the C.H.A. product is designed to produce.

What I can (and will) do next is harvest the rest of the turnips and beetroot from the trial beds and weigh them, to add to the data-set, on the off-chance that clarifies anything. Although after eating a few meals’ worth of roasted beetroot, I reckon that’s going to leave me with around 25kg of turnip to dispose of. They’ll be destined for a return trip to the compost heap, unless I can think of something more intelligent to do with them. I know for a fact there not room in the freezer for that much turnip soup…

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Soilfixer Trial Part IV: Strong Growth So Far

Let’s take a look at how the SoilFixer trial beds are coming along.

Quick Recap

I’m participating in a trial for Soilfixer.co.uk, testing two of their compost / soil enhancement products against regular compost and plain soil. In mid-April I’ve set up four small raised beds, and planted broad beans and sowed two varieties each of turnip and beetroot in each. The simple aim of the trial is to assess whether the product-enhanced beds result in better crops.

Planting and Sowing

Each bed was planted with two broad bean ‘The Sutton’ plants (stated off in modules in the greenhouse, in identical, shop-bought compost). I also direct-sowed a row each of beetroot ‘Detroit 2’ and ‘Boldor F1’, and turnip ‘Purple Top Milan’ and ‘Petrowski’.

Good, Strong Growth

The beetroot and turnip seeds germinated well – I made a note that the germination in the SF60 bed seemed to be slightly stronger than the others, although not by much – and, along with the broad beans, have grown strongly in all four beds. Here’s a quick comparison of just one bed (the plain soil control bed) to give you an idea of how much growth they’ve put on:

May 25th – Just over a month after planting / sowing, and following an earlier thinning of every row, and everything is starting to grow away nicely:

May 25th 2017 - trial bed #4
May 25th 2017 – trial bed #4

May 31st – A few days later and the increase in leaf-mass on the turnips in particular is quite considerable:

May 31st 2017 - trial bed #4
May 31st 2017 – trial bed #4

June 11th – Another 12 days’ worth of growth and the plants were beginning to choke each other:

June 11th 2017 - trial bed #4
June 11th 2017 – trial bed #4

At this point all four beds were thinned to 10 or 11 beetroot and six turnips per row.

Comparison

As for the comparative growth rates between the four beds, I have to say that there’s not much in it at this stage. Here are the four beds on the 25th May, which probably gives the clearest indication of how the individual plants were growing, before the mass of foliage makes differentiation difficult:

(Click on the images for a larger version, if you’re interested in more detail, and your screen-size allows)

May 25th 2017 - trial bed #1
May 25th 2017 – trial bed #1
May 25th 2017 - trial bed #2
May 25th 2017 – trial bed #2
May 25th 2017 - trial bed #3
May 25th 2017 – trial bed #3
May 25th 2017 - trial bed #4
May 25th 2017 – trial bed #4

As you can see, much of a muchness. But the end result that matters is the quality of the crops, so there’s still a way to go before I can draw any firm conclusions.

Next Steps

I’ve planted out a pair of ‘Redbor’ kale in each bed, to start filling up the as yet un-planted half. I’ll be adding two or three cabbages before too long as well.

Pest Problems

Unfortunately, the broad beans in the trial beds have been hit pretty hard by an aphid infestation of assorted blackfly and greenfly. Or at least, three of them have, so far. Here’s a pic from June 11th of the beans in bed #4, the plain soil control bed:

June 2017 - broad beans, many blackfly
Trial bed #4, plain soil, major blackfly infestation

The same problem was spotted on the broad beans in beds #1 and #2. However, bed #3, the SF60 bed, was pretty much pest-free:

June 2017 - broad beans, no blackfly
Trial bed #3, SF60, no blackfly?

A couple of days later I checked again, and there were now a few blackfly on the bed #3 beans. It could be that the pest just hadn’t found these beans when I took the pics on the 11th, or it could be that something in the SF60 imparts a quality to the beans that makes them less attractive to the fly. It would need a much larger trial to reach a firm conclusion, of course.

And I’m happy to say that a small tribe of ladybirds has since moved onto the beans and is hopefully making short work of the blackfly problem:

June 2017 - broad beans w. ladybird
Organic pest control, ladybird style.

Additional Observations

As I mentioned, it did seem as though the SF60 bed produced slightly stronger seedlings, but as all the others have performed as well in the long run, it may just have been a quirk in the seeds.

Also, all four beds have been quite weedy – as you’d expect on an allotment site such as ours; very windy and so open to incomers from all directions – but the two compost beds were the weediest. That’s more likely to do with the quality of the home-made compost that was used. Sterile, shop-bought compost might have resulted in fewer weeds, but the point of that part of the trial was to see if the C.H.A. produced better home-made compost, so the weed seeds were probably inevitable.

I’ll continue to observe and record, and the next update will hopefully include a cropping comparison.

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Soilfixer Trial Part III: Setting Up the Trial Beds

Old pallets, as long as they’re in reasonably good nick, are a great boon to the allotmenteer. Especially if you need to knock together a few small raised beds. Such as these four, which I set up yesterday for the trial of four different soil mixes that I’m running this year for the folks at Soilfixer.co.uk.

April 2017 Soilfixer trial beds
Half an hour with a saw, a hammer and a bag of nails did the trick.

I nipped back down to Plot #59 this morning, lugging a tub of Soilfixer’s SF60 along with me, and back-filled the four beds. In all four cases, I’ve re-used the soil from last year’s carrot bed, which I know is of a reasonably uniform texture and plain composition, as it was all sieved through last year and didn’t have any fertilisers or other amendments added to it.

April 2017 SF60
Soilfixer’s SF60 soil improver. Looks a bit like someone set fire to a compost heap…

In bed #1: a mix of soil and the compost that I made with Soilfixer’s C.H.A. (composting humification agent) over the winter.

In bed #2: a mix of soil and the non-C.H.A. enhanced compost.

In bed #3: a mix of soil and a few measures of Soilfixer’s SF60 Soil Improver.

In bed #4: plain soil, no enhancements.

Here are comparison pics of the contents of the four beds (as above, clockwise from top-left) just after the relevant amendment had been added (or not), before final raking in and levelling.

April 2017 Soilfixer trial soils
The contents of four beds, amended (or not) as required.

The pics were all taken at roughly the same time of day, in similar light conditions (direct sun, little or no cloud cover) so I think we can safely conclude that the C.H.A.-enhanced compost is a little darker in colour than the non-C.H.A. compost. Whether that’s down to an increased amount of colloidal humus or simply the darkening effect of the C.H.A. (a charcoal-dust-like black powder) I’m not able to say. But the darker colour might help the soil to warm marginally quicker.

I’m going to leave the beds to rest for a few days, then I’ll be back at the weekend to plant out the first crops: a couple of broad bean ‘The Sutton’ plants in each bed, for starters. I’ll also be sowing a few seeds that I think will be reliable germinators: beetroot and turnip. Later on I’ll add some more veg plants, maybe a tomato and a kale, and probably a couple of flowers as well, perhaps some Tagetes or French marigolds, and possibly a mignonette Dahlia or three.

Then it’ll be a case of observing and recording any observations as often as I’m able to, including rates of germination, any noticeable differences in growth patterns, the degree of weed infestation, and anything else that I notice.

I’ll keep you posted.

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