Five Things You Should Do In September

The air is a little crisper, the leaves are falling and the days are shorter. Autumn has arrived. The allotment is still producing a high yield of produce, even if it is slowing down in parts.

Plant your onion and garlic sets

If you want to get your onion sets planted before Christmas, now is your last chance. If you miss this window, you won’t be able to plant any until the following March. You can plant garlic alongside your onions, garlic grows best when it has been exposed to colder temperatures.

Turn your compost heap

Turning over your compost is important, it allows for the decomposing matter to become aerated, thus speeding up the composting process. Oxygen is the most important ingredient in your compost, if your compost has become too compacted it will not rot down very well. Turning your compost will also help any excess moisture to drain away and create fresh air pockets.

Concentrate on ripening your fruit and veg

Many fruits and veg; such as tomatoes, pumpkin and squash, will be at the end of their fruiting life and may need help ripening the remaining fruit. Remove any new shoots and small fruits that won’t ripen in time. This will divert the energy back into the plant and help ripen the fruit.

Prune your summer raspberries

Your summer raspberries will have finished fruiting soon. Once they have finished, cut back any canes that have bore fruit. Tie in the strongest remaining canes, as these will fruit next year. Remove any excess shoots from the base of the plant. It may also be a good idea to create a support structure for your raspberry bushes, now is a great time to do so as you don’t have to worry as much about damaging the plant and fruit.

Sow sweet peas

Just as this years sweet peas have finished putting on their show, its now time to prepare for next year. You can sow your sweet peas from September onward. Sowing seeds this early on will ensure early blooms and a longer blooming season overall.

Here’s what you can sow in September:

– Radishes
– Winter Imperial lettuce
– Spinach
– Broad beans
– Turnips
– Red and white onions
– Garlic, most varieties

Remember to adjust your sowing times based on your climate.

A Year (Or So) On The Plot

Hard to believe that we have had the allotment for over a year! It really has flown by and I’m so proud of what we have managed to achieve in that time; but what have we learnt over the last year… and a bit?

Enjoy the little things

The first tea of the morning, the second bloom of the season and the last ripe tomato. Sometimes it really is just the little things you need to enjoy. Whilst there is always plenty to do on the allotment, remember to take time to enjoy what you have created. Listen to the birdsong, watch the sunset and relax.

Always sow extra

Sometimes, germination can fail and you may be caught short. It is always best to over-sow what you’re planning to grow in case of any failures. The older the seeds, generally the lower the rate of germination will be. I have sown old seeds that have germinated perfectly well, as well as brand new seeds with no germination and grown in the same conditions are one another.

Seeds can be quite finicky though; if your seeds do not germinate then examine the conditions you grew them in and adjust them for the next time. If by luck they all germinate, you can always give the plants away to family and friends; or just grow more than you intended to!

You’ll find shortcuts

Work smarter, not harder. In the beginning, if you were a complete novice like myself then almost everything you do will take forever. As time goes on, you’ll find your own way of doing things. This relates back to “there are no rules.”

Every season has its own lessons, nothing is ever the same and we learn and grow from these experiences. We are always adapting our methods and routines to become more resourceful. An allotment is a place that grows along with you.

Five Things You Should Do In August

August is a bountiful month on the allotment, the weather is (or should be, but you never know with England) beautiful and your plot is churning out produce quicker than you know what to do with it. Here are five things for you to crack on with in August.

Harvest

This may seem like an obvious one, but harvest your produce regularly. This stops the fruit and vegetables becoming too old and directs the energy to the fruits that need to ripen. For things such as sweet peas, beans, lavender and chillies; the more you pick the more they produce.

Preserving

Now that have you harvested your glut of fruit and vegetables, its time to preserve the excess. There are a plethora of recipes and types of preservation you can try; canning, chutney, jam, dehydration, cordial and even just good old freezing. Here’s a quick and easy jam recipe for some strawberry and raspberry jam.

Tidy up your tomatoes

Your tomato plants should be full of fruit and about to ripen by now, if you’ve planted them outside. Keep any top heavy plants supported by tying them to canes. To make sure that you can get the most fruit from your plants, pinch out all side shoots.

Pinch out your beans
Once your beans have reached the top of their support structure, pinch out any excess growth. This will redistribute the energy below to where it is needed the most – to produce the bean pods.

Feed your plants

Whilst watering your plants is crucial, feeding is just as important. Several plants on the plot will benefit from liquid feed. You don’t need anything particularly fancy, you can make your own feeds if you so desire. Nettle, comfrey, banana peel and even seaweed feed can be made at home. If you don’t want to go to hassle of making your own, then a basic tomato feed will do the trick.

Tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, pumpkins and beans are at their best when they have been fed with extra nutrients. You will want to feed your plants once every 10-14 days.

Here’s a list of what you can sow for the last time in August:
– Potatoes; you’ll be able to harvest these in time for Christmas
– Lettuce; “Mixed Green (baby leaf)” and “Lotto Rossa”
– Turnip “Milan Mixed Purple”
– Chicory; “Rossa Di Trevisco” and “Palla Rossa”
– Perpetual Spinach
– Chinese Cabbage

You may be able to sow several July items in the first week or so of August, depending on the weather in your area.

Five Things You Should Do In July

Blink and you’ll miss it, somehow June is over. Hopefully you managed to keep on top of your to do list for the month. We all know that the tasks on the plot are never ending, but here are five things for you to do in July.

Thin out your fruit trees

If your fruit trees have not experienced the “June Drop”, then now is a good time to thin out any excess fruits you may have on your trees. With apples and pears, make sure there are no more than two fruits growing within close proximity of one another.

Keep an eye out for blight

Blight can be absolutely devastating to your tomatoes and potatoes if it is not caught in time. If you see any affected leaves on the tomatoes, remove them and place them in the general waste rather than the compost bin. Unfortunately, this may not be enough depending on how early you catch the disease. You may have to destroy the plant entirely.

Last year, our blight problem was exacerbated because we had planted our tomatoes too closely together. Plus, the clay soil didn’t help. To prevent tomato blight, make sure there is plenty of room between your plants and snip off some of the lower leaves and side shoots to allow the plants to breath.

Top tip: some of the side shoots may be big enough for you to plant on [from non infected plants]. Every hair on the tomato stem has the ability to become a new root.

With potatoes that have developed tubers, remove all of the greenery on the infected potato plant. This will help protect the tubers underground. If your potato is yet to develop any tubers, completely remove and destroy the plant as you will not get a successful crop. If you do not remove all of the infected areas of the plant, it will spread to more of your potatoes as potato blight spreads via the wind. The fungus can also lay dormant in your soil if any matter remains, so it is important to be thorough.

Train your unruly strawberry runners

Strawberries can spread like wildfire when left to their own devices, make sure to either pin down the runners you wish to keep in your patch or remove the ones you don’t want. You can also cut off small runners and plant them in a pot for them to set root. You can then plant them else where or give them away.

Pick your lavender

Lavender is a beautiful and versatile flower, which can be used in cosmetic and food recipes. Depending on the variety and your location, the lavender may well be ready to pick. It is best to pick it before the lavender heads bloom, but if it has bloomed it is still worth drying and using later on. It may lose its fragrance quicker than the lavender that has not bloomed. Also, by cutting your lavender you will prolong the production period.

Get a head start

Summer may have only just begun, but it is now time to start thinking about sowing your autumn and winter crops to see you through the quieter months on the plot. By sowing your autumn and winter crops in July, you will literally be reaping what you sow. Carrots, hardy leafy greens and Swiss chard are a great place to start.

Once again I have raided my seed stash for you. Here’s what you can sow for the last time in July:

– Spring onions
– Carrots; purple sun, baby chantenay
– Borlotto beans, purple teepee bean, sunshine french bean
– Shiraz Mangetout
– Lettuce; Little Gem, Iceberg, “Webbs Wonderful”
– Pea “Kelvedon Wonder”
– Turnip “Sweet Marble”
– Kohl Rabi
– Beetroot; Rainbow mix, Chioggia, Red River

Elderflower Champagne

After much trial and error, I have finally created a recipe for a lightly carbonated, delicately floral elderflower champagne. This should make six 750ml bottles.

Ingredients:
– Twelve to fourteen elderflower heads
– Two medium sized lemons
– 600g sugar
– 1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid (optional)
– 4.5 litres of water plus an additional 100ml overage for any lost during the heating process.

Equipment:
– A large cooking pan
– Wooden spoon
– Tea towel
– Muslin cloth
– Funnel
– Ladle
– Scales
– Empty glass bottles, sterilised

When foraging, try not to take all of the heads from one bush.

Firstly, do not wash the elderflower heads. Give them a good shake over the sink to make sure there are no creepy crawlies remaining on your heads. Cut off as much of the green stalk as you can, as it is poisonous in large quantities.

Heat the water on the stove top. Once the water has begun to boil, pour in the sugar bit by bit and stir until it has dissolved. Once dissolved, turn down the heat to keep it hot but not boiling. Prepare and add in your sliced lemons and elderflower.

You can add the citric acid, but it is not essential. It adds a little extra sweetness and helps with preservation. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring in intervals. Place the tea towel over the pan and let it cool. Over the next three days, make sure you stir your mixture 2-3 times a day to activate the natural yeast in the elderflower.

You will know that the mixture has become carbonated once the elderflower has risen to the top of the mixture. It is now ready to be bottled!

The bottles will need to be sterilised. If you need advice on how to sterilise bottles, please see here. Pour the champagne into the bottles using a ladle and a funnel. Place the muslin over the funnel to ensure that no bits make it into your final brew.

Make sure that you burp the bottles twice a day for the first week. Leave the bottles to settle for another week before drinking so that the yeast settles at the bottom. Whilst this drink is called champagne, it is actually very low in alcohol due to the natural yeast.

If stored correctly it can last up to a year, but it is best drank within six months. Once opened, keep refrigerated an drink within three days.