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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
As spring slowly fades to summer and the days get longer, the list of jobs at the allotment is ever growing. There are always seeds to sow and weeds to hoe.
Keep on top of your weeds
If you follow the no dig way of gardening, please ignore this step.
We all know that weeds are the bane of our life, it is a never ending and fruitless task that we must do in order to keep our plot and plants happy. Weeds can be quite invasive and in some cases even damage your crop.
The weed you really want to worry about is Bindweed, whilst the flower is beautiful; it is a very invasive weed and needs to be completely destroyed. We have had to dig down to almost 3ft deep in order to remove all of the root. Make sure you remove all of the vine and the root, even the smallest bit can re-root. Do not put this in your compost heap, place it in the general waste or burn it.
Whilst brambles, dandelions and nettles can also be invasive; they have some fantastic uses. Brambles will provide you with blackberries and you can even weave baskets with the bramble stems. You can make a plethora of things with dandelions; such as wine, fritters and a honey like syrup. They are also an important source of early nectar for the bees. Nettles can make a fantastic fertiliser for your plot, just be careful not to sting yourself in the process. Nettles are also high in vitamin C and can be added to many recipes.
Mound up your potatoes
As the greenery of the potatoes grows, you must continue to mound up the soil around the base. By leaving only the top leaves exposed, this ensures that light doesn’t reach the tuber below. If light does reach the tuber the potatoes will turn green [and possibly contain toxins] and thus be inedible.
Trim back your herbs
Herbs are due their annual trim to refresh the growth and provide you with an ongoing harvest of herbs throughout the summer. Sharp snippers are the preferable way to trim back the herbs, but a good pair of scissors will do the job. Any sort of blunt instrument will damage the plant and possibly stunt future growth.
You may find that some of your herbs have already started to flower, this really isn’t an issue. The majority of herb flowers will be edible and put on a wonderful display; chives especially! Plus, the bees won’t complain. Some of the herbs you have cut off may not be as flavoursome if they have flowered, but are still perfectly adequate to add to salads or for drying.
Protect your delicate crops
Our crops need help from time to time, everything is starting to come into season so now is the perfect time to take some precautions.
Brassicas are a favourite of whitefly, pigeons and caterpillars (to name a few). A brassica cage is a great way of keeping out most of your unwanted visitors. The smaller, finer netting is the best to use so that birds and other small animals do not get tangled up in the netting. You can also net your fruit bushes and strawberry patches, although this is not integral.
Straw is also a great addition to your allotment for keeping pests at bay. By lifting your fruit or vegetables off the ground with straw, this will help prevent slugs from eating them. Slugs and snails hate anything rough on their bodies. This works well for strawberries and courgettes, but there many other low lying growers that would benefit from this.
Woollen slug pellets around your crops are a great alternative to the classic blue slug pellets. Once water is applied to the woollen pellets, it forms a rough mesh that the slugs will not want in contact with their bodies. It is also chemical free. The blue pellets contain Metaldehyde and are poisonous to animals that eat slugs and snails, such as; hedgehogs, birds and the French.
I know this seems pretty obvious, but it is extremely important that you water your plants well. Make sure that you are allowing the water to soak deep into the soil so that the root system of the plant will grow further down into the soil, which in turn will ensure a strong and stable plant. If the water only reaches the surface area, the root system will be shallow and affect your crop. The type of soil you have will affect how often you need to water your crops.
I have raided my box of seeds to see what can be sown for the last time in June. Here is your last chance to sow these vegetables:
Garden Pea (Early)
Cabbage – Golden Acre
Cauliflower – All Year Round, Macerata Green
Red Kuri Squash
Rhubarb [Swiss] Chard
Cucumber – Japanese [Zipangu], Gherkin, Tasty Green, Crystal Apple and Lemon.
Basil – Sweet [Original] and Mrs Burns Lemon Basil
Broccoli – Green and Summer Purple
Poppies and wild flower seed mixes [until October]
The sowing months are a general guide so please take into consideration the weather and soil in your area.