Shallots and Cucumbers
7th Oct 1998
It doesn't matter how old or how knowledgeable you are in gardening terms, you are never too old or knowledgeable to learn, this fact comes home to me every time I visit a Flower Show. I inevitably learn something or pick up a snippet of advice from someone, even if that person is only considered to be a novice grower.
It was at the Bath and West show a few weeks ago that I met a grower who had some terrific shallots that had been started into growth at the end of September last year, directly into the soil as well, I couldn't believe it!
He was convinced that early growth gave him much better shallots and as they were capable of being harvested earlier as well, there was less likelihood of them going double and misshapen. I can tell you that at first I just didn't believe him, until I thought more about it and realised that it was perfectly feasible. We are of course talking about planting shallots in a southerly part of the country where prolonged periods of hard frost are an extremely rare event.
Having thought more about it after, I have decided to have a go myself and have just planted last weekend 20 shallots in the same bed that they grew in last year. Preparation of course was easy at this time of year as the soil was nice and crumbly and I added 3 ounces of fine bonemeal to a yard run of bed. Growth should start fairly quickly at this time of year as it is perfect for root development with plenty of moisture on the soil and that soil being warm and conducive towards even growth.
I am lucky in one respect living on the Isle of Anglesey, we are on the Gulf stream and even though we are suspect to strong bouts of gusty winds, these winds can however be beneficial by blowing in the sea air which prevent us from having prolonged periods of hard frost. If the trend is towards global warming in this country then who knows that even gardeners up North might be able to plant shallots at this time of year in the very near future.
Growth is quite fast he said and by Christmas time you have plants that are between six and nine inches tall and a few degrees of frost won't harm them. In my case though it will be a belt and braces job, I shall have some fleece on stand by to throw over them should the temperatures fall dramatically. No doubt during the Winter months growth will be slowed down considerably with the plants getting accustomed to the colder regime but the benefit should be apparent next Spring when growth will be quick.
This I suppose is only common sense because the shallots by next March to April will have a tremendously strong root system capable of a faster and increased growth rate in a short space of time. The other interesting statement he made was that he never had one go to seed on him. Well I've tried it anyway and I shall certainly keep you informed of their development. Just one other point, my beds are raised well above ground level with friable loam that is free draining; if I was going to grow them on the flat and in heavy loam or clay I would have to be a lot braver to even consider it.
Have you ever had your cucumber plants collapse on you when they are fully grown and producing plenty of fruit? Well I have as well and though I have it very rarely, this season was worst than ever and it's soul destroying to walk into the greenhouse to be met by limp foliage that eventually turn yellow and die. This is a bacterial disease called basal stem rot which has other common names as well such as soft rot, cucumber foot rot and canker. It affects the base of the stem, sometimes at soil or compost level, other times just below the soil level which makes it difficult for the uninitiated to understand what is happening as they just can't find out why such a big plant is wilting. The immediate reaction is to give more water, exactly the same as one would when the brassica leaves wilt during the Summer when the roots have been eaten by the cabbage root fly; a complete waste of time.
If you scrape around the soil you will note that the stem is soft and the canker has destroyed the plants cells rendering it incapable of taking in any further moisture or nutrients. If you can catch it in time you can sometimes dust some flowers of sulphur over the brown area and then apply a moist peat mulch around and higher up the diseased area.
The problem with the all female cucumbers that most of us these days seem to grow is that they really require a minimum of 70°F whereas the older ordinary varieties would grow well at 60°F. This summer has certainly not been warm where I live and the cooler temperatures with the plants need for regular moisture at the roots as well as a surrounding humid atmosphere can cause the incidence of this disease. The two affected plants have now been removed and destroyed, shall I let you into a little secret, I shall be glad to see the back of this awful Summer.