Welcome to Lesley Upton’s allotment blog, where she looks at life on her allotment in July. Here she looks at the runner beans, sweetcorn and pumpkins growing on her Berkshire plot

Life on the allotment in July has been taken over by watering! The weather has been so dry – apart from a bit of rain last Sunday – that I’m having to water the allotment every day. Beans need a lot of water, so I’m soaking them in the evening. Along with the beetroot, spring onions, carrots and sweetcorn, it’s a full-time job, especially using watering cans!

It’s nice to see even more people taking up allotments. A few of the plots hadn’t been worked on since last year, but now new people have taken them on and are clearing them. Most have covered the majority of their new plots with cardboard or black plastic, as the ground is so hard it makes digging difficult.

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Life on the allotment in July – Runner beans

Last Sunday I picked my first crop of runner beans. There weren’t many, and some of them were a bit thin, but I couldn’t resist. They’re a mixture of ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Polestar’ varieties – and they were lovely and soft. As the beans were young, they weren’t ‘stringy’.

My first crop of runner beans - a mixture of 'Painted Lady' and 'Polestar

My first crop of runner beans – a mixture of ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Polestar’.

‘Polestar’ is a variety that’s supposed to be completely stringless, so I’ll try to keep these separate the next time I pick the runners. I can then cook them to see if they live up to their stringless reputation.

The red-and-white flowers of 'Painted Lady' runner beans

The red-and-white flowers of ‘Painted Lady’ runner beans.

The ‘Painted Lady’ beans are covered in masses of red and white flowers, and the bees love them. The plants look very healthy – in fact, I’ve never seen so much foliage on runner beans. Maybe it’s the comfrey I used as a feed when they were young.

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Life on the allotment in July – Sweetcorn

There are lots of cobs forming on my sweetcorn. All nine plants have survived and are growing well. The variety is ‘Swift’, and I’ll wait until the silks turn brown all the way down to the husk before I check whether they’re ready to pick.

'Swift' sweetcorn.

‘Swift’ sweetcorn.

I find the best way to see if sweetcorn is ripe is to pierce a kernel with my fingernail and see what colour the liquid inside is. If it’s clear, it’s not ready. If it’s creamy, it’s ready to pick. Then it’s a case of twisting the cobs off the stalk, taking them home and cooking them immediately.

If I’m freezing the sweetcorn, I boil the cob for 3-4 minutes, submerge it in iced water and, when it’s cool, remove all the kernals and place in a freezer bag.

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Life on the allotment in July – Pumpkins

My ‘experimental’ pumpkin is growing well. I planted it in a growbag and then placed the growbag (with holes cut in the bottom) on top of my well-established compost heap. The idea is that the pumpkin will use the nutrients in the growbag and then its roots will travel down into the – hopefully – nutrient-rich compost heap.

The 'Mammoth' pumpkin growing on top of the compost heap is about the size of a small honeydew melon.

The ‘Mammoth’ pumpkin growing on top of the compost heap is about the size of a small honeydew melon.

The variety is ‘Mammoth’, and while the packet states that this orange-skinned pumpkin can grow to a weight of 50kg (110lb), I don’t think mine will be that big. At the moment, it’s about the size of a honeydew melon, and I plan to grow just one pumpkin on the plant, removing any others that appear.

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Let’s keep gardening!

One of the great things about lockdown was that more people discovered the joy of gardening and growing things and we greatly hope that this won’t wear off now that ‘normal’ life has resumed.

This blog is an insight into what the AG team is up in their gardens, what we like to grow, what we pick and harvest, what’s worked for us and what hasn’t – because like everyone, things go wrong for us too!

John Negus, questions, answers

AG’s agony uncle John Negus is still answering your questions and solving your problems

Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer within 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at: amateurgardening@futurenet.com

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We already have thriving Facebook page but are also on Twitter and Instagram. These sites are a brilliant way of chatting to people, sharing news, information, pictures and just saying hello –we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Best of all, as gardeners are generally lovely folk, more interested in plants, hedgehogs, tea and cake than political shenanigans and point-scoring, so the chat is friendly and welcoming.

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So please drop by, follow us, ‘like’ our posts and say hello – we will reply as soon as we can. Happy gardening!