Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Save the beans!!

A somewhat text heavy entry this week as I didn't have my camera with me and had to rely on a phone camera so I apologise for the quality of the photos but you'll get the idea. Over the weekend we found that the beans had deteriorated and became even more yellow. At this stage they also seemed to have stopped putting on any new growth. We needed something and we needed it fast. What is worse is our onions are now also showing yellow tips. I had posted up on the gardenplansireland forum looking for a root cause to our problem and all signs seem to confirm that our beans are suffering from a nitrogen and possibly magnesium deficiency aswell. This would make sense as beans are extremely hungry plants and need a well manured and nutrient filled bed, which we didn't have. We hadn't applied any manure to the beds and the soil nearest the river is so sandy it would appear that without the manure and lots of organic matter the nutrients just drain away too easily. With proper ground preparation this autumn we hopefully shouldn't have this problem next year. So I did some research frantically looking for a high nitrogen liquid feed for our plants and was surprised to find that there is not a lot out there in liquid form that is organic. Plenty of organic tomato plant food, but this is high in potash, and while great for flowers and fruit, would, if anything make things worse for our nitrogen hungry green beans. There were ravings of how good a home made nettle or comfrey and manure liquid feed is but it was nearly impossible to find a good commercially available quick release organic liquid feed. We have plenty of nettles and manure around the site but a home made feed takes a few weeks to brew, a few weeks we didn't seem to have. Things were getting desperate and we began wondering if it would be possible to save our beans at all organically or would we have no choice but to let them go, as we really don't want to turn to a synthetic chemical fertilizer. I had already top dressed the bean bed with fish blood and bone meal, a good organic all round fertilizer high in nitrogen and other trace elements, but this unfortunately is slow release and just isn't acting fast enough for our starving beans although it will go towards sustaining the plants over the growing season if they make it. Our beans had survived the marauding bands of squirrels/rats, slow germination, acid soil, and I couldn't let them go without a fight! we had laboured too much and tried too hard for these beans!! It was then, during a trip to Newlands cross garden centre we discovered the wonders of chicken manure and seaweed!! I picked up a massive tub of chicken manure pellets, high in nitrogen, and on the advice of the assistant a bottle of maxicrop organic seaweed extract. Easy to miss as its not exactly advertised as a plant feed as such, but as a growth stimulant and good all round 'tonic'. Sounds a little airy fairy to me but we said we'd try it anyway. We flew down quickly and I surrounded the beans and onions with some chicken manure pellets, lightly hoed them in and we drenched the beds with a solution of the seaweed extract.

As the sun was splitting the stones for the last couple of days we decided this evening to take a quick spin up to plot 103 to give everything a good soaking. To our delight, the beans had not only greened up in the last 3 days and lost almost all of the yellowness, they had also put out lovely new growth!!

The seaweed extract certainly is a good tonic, is organic, and works extremely quickly, I'll be stocking up on this stuff, I have discovered the miracle of seaweed and will forever sing its praises!!! The onions were also showing greener growth and the yellowing tips were decreasing. As yellowing onion tips can also be a symptom of onion fly, alium leaf miner and white rot, we wanted to just make sure it was none of these. William the allotment gurus onions are also displaying the same symptoms in that end of the plot so we pulled one up just to check, and thankfully there was no sign of onion fly maggots, leaf miner catterpillars or any rot. So it would seem that so far we have escaped these dreaded pests and our only problem is with the nutrient deficiencies which can be easily fixed.
We also ran into our new plot neighbour Noreen who has really hit the ground running having only started about 2 weeks ago, she already has her plot completely covered in lovely raised beds and is planting away. She also let us in on a home made remedy for the midges that plague the site in the evenings. We have all at some stage over the last few weeks gone home looking like we were used as a pin cushion. At first we thought she was rubbing in some sun screen or something until we got a little closer and ...could dinner!!!! Noreen has concocted a homemade mosquito repellant!!! and as long as you don't mind smelling a little like christmas stuffing, it works a charm apparently!!! This is genius!! and really does seem to work. The concoction consists of olive oil, garlic, onions, basil, rosemary, lavender and I'm sure one or two other easily available (secret!!) ingredients I can't remember. Noreen mentioned that the midges really don't like the lavender, garlic and basil portion which would agree with the companion planting guideline of using onions and garlic among your carrots as carrot flies don't like the smell, or planting basil with tomato plants to deter aphids and black flies. This weekend Annamoe allotments is having an open weekend where members of the public are welcome to come and have a look at the plots and see how we're doing. Martin, the allotment owner is also looking to take names for phase 2, another 10 or so plots, in Annamoe allotments for the 2010 growing season and fill the remaining 2 plots left for this year. We're certainly learning something new every week up at plot 103 and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

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