The days are growing longer and birdsong is all around. The air is cold and crisp, rainfall is frequent and the spring bulbs are finally showing face. Although it is still winter, February is the start of a busy growing season on the plot.
Chit your potatoes
You can get your first early crop in in March, so now is the time to start chitting. For white potatoes, I have never used seed potatoes. I tend to use potatoes that have just gone passed their best and have already started to sprout and have never had any issues. For the purple varieties, I will purchase seed potatoes but I tend to cut the larger seed potatoes in half. You’ll get double the crop for your money! You will need to leave the cut end exposed for a few days to dry out; a new skin should form. Once the new skin has formed you can turn the halves over and the chits will begin to form after a week or so.
Turn over your plot
If your soil is not boggy and waterlogged, now is a great time to turn your soil. This will help break up any areas of ground which have become compacted over time and allow it to air. You may need to do this process more than once depending on how compacted your soil is. Dig in compost if you feel it is needed.
If you are following the no dig style of gardening, apply a layer of mulch and keep the ground weed free.
DON’T turn your compost heap
You may think now would be a great time to turn your compost or move and empty your bins, but you would be wrong. Frogs, toads, insects and even hedgehogs may be hibernating in your compost bin and you do not want to disturb them.
Force your rhubarb
If you want a sweet, early crop of rhubarb then now is the time to force your crown. Make sure that you are only forcing well established crowns, although try to avoid forcing the same crowns every year. By forcing younger crowns, you may inhibit future growth. Little sprouts may already be peeping out of the ground, but by using a large pot or terracotta rhubarb forcer you’ll get a nice early crop. The stems of this crop will be paler and more pink in colour.
Wash your pots
You’ll be sowing a lot of seeds this month, so make sure you give them the best start by cleaning your pots. This will avoid any pests and diseases which may be left over from last years crop.
2020 was a strange year for most people, but one thing that kept me sane is this little plot of land. It served as an escape for us when there really was no where else to go.
January was a very wet and slow month. The excess rainfall hindered our efforts to turn over the plot. Our soil is heavy clay, so most of the allotment had become quite boggy.
In February we were battered by storms, but our allotment came out mostly unscathed. The allotment really begins to come to life around this time of year; the mild winter brought forward the spring growth.
Spring had well and truly sprung by March. Signs of life were beginning to show everywhere; flowers blooming, seeds sown, blossom on the trees. The ground went from one extreme to another, waterlogged to bone dry! Its a busy time on the plot, as many seeds need to be sown in Spring in preparation for the seasons ahead.
Although April showers hadn’t hit us yet, the allotment was plodding along quite nicely. Seedlings were germinating and growing well in the greenhouse, as well as the makeshift greenhouse in the office. With the ground still being so dry, digging to plant the potatoes was much harder than it needed to be.
By May, it was time to erect our bean sticks. This year we grew four varieties of beans; Golden Runner, Purple Teepee Dwarf, Borlotti and the classic Scarlet Runner bean. We put a tippy tap on the plot as we thought it would be a good idea to have somewhere to thoroughly wash our hands because of how dirty we tend to get in the summer months as well as Corona, as water points on the allotment are few and far between.
We celebrated one year on the plot in June. It really is amazing to see what you can achieve in just one year. Everything is in full swing and although the allotment productivity is yet to peak, we had just begun to harvest crops. The ground was still terribly dry even though the allotment was watered almost everyday. We harvested some of our elderflowers and made the most wonderful elderflower champagne, which we are still working our way through!
We had lost almost all of our fruit on our trees by the time July rolled around, although this is quite common in their first year or so. We were harvesting crops every day, there was a complete abundance of food to be had and some of it was preserved for later use.
In August, we lost all of our tomatoes to blight for the second year running. The weather earlier in the year had been hot and dry, as well as dank and wet. The unstable weather created the perfect breeding ground for blight. Harvests were still daily, as was keeping the plot tidy and the weeds at bay.
As summer slowly faded to autumn, the plot was still giving us hearty harvests every week throughout September. The squash and pumpkin were growing well and were almost ready to be harvested, the gladioli [in pots] continued to bloom right up until the beginning of November. The bean sticks were taken down a little earlier than planned, due to them being battered by high winds throughout the month.
October was still a busy month on the plot. Most crops had either finished producing or had vastly slowed down by this point, apart from the pumpkins and squash. Our orange pumpkin crop was much smaller than last year. Instead, we experimented more with different varieties and have certainly found some keepers. Uchiki Kuri has certainly become a firm favourite.
Things had slowed down as November arrived. The last few crops were pulled up and we began processing the seeds we had saved throughout the year. It was the perfect time to have a good tidy at the plot, so whilst I spent a lot of time pottering around in the shed, Tom stripped some pallets for wood to be used for upcoming projects. We also took the downtime at the allotment to turn over the soil and add agricultural gypsum to it. We grow our food without the use of any pesticides but have struggled with our soil as it is heavy clay. Agricultural gypsum is a natural way of improving the structure and nutritional value of the soil and help drainage.
December remained a mild month, surprising signs of growth were popping up here and there. Spring bulbs were just starting to peek out from under the trees, and even the garlic was making headway. Visits to the allotment were few and far between during this month, although I still found some time to sow some sweet peas to ensure early blooms for Spring.
The branches now sit bare, the days are shorter and the nights are cold. The plot is empty but the pantry is full. The pace of things on the plot has certainly slowed down, but there are a few things you can be getting on with over winter.
Tidy up your plot
Some parts of your plot may have become unruly, but now the majority of crops have finished now is the perfect time to catch up. Trim back any hedging or brambles that may be on your plot, dig up the overgrown strawberry patch, weed the border and tidy and touch up the shed.
Plan your plot
Your plot is now a blank canvas, so plan where and how many plots you want for next year. Order your seeds and bulbs, get sowing and propagating and make some raised beds if you wish. Now is the perfect time to refresh and redesign your little patch.
Create habitats for animals
Bug hotels, hedgehog houses (although by now they should be hibernating), bird boxes, solitary bee houses and even piles of leaves are all fantastic things to have on the plot. Place these in a quiet patch on your plot where the animals will not be disturbed.
Cut back your autumn fruiting raspberries
Autumn fruiting are much easier to prune than the summer fruiting. If this is the first year of having your bushes, then you will not need to prune. Leave them to get established. Simply cut back all of the canes to ground level after they have finished fruiting.
Clean your tools
Your tools will need refreshing in time for the spring season. Use a scrubbing brush to loosen and remove any soil and dirt from the metal part of your tools, try to avoid getting the wooden handles of your tools wet. Use wire wool on the blades of more delicate tools, such as secateurs and loppers. You can also sharpen your tools using a sharpening stone or a drill attachment.
Every year, millions of pumpkins are thrown away after being carved for Halloween. Pumpkins are delicious and often over looked, so here’s a simple recipe for your Jack O Lantern.
Half a small pumpkin, peeled
One small butternut squash, peeled
Two vegetable stock cubes
Two chicken stock cubes
100g of butter
Two bell peppers
Four small onions; three white and one red
Five cloves of garlic
Two teaspoons of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
This will make six good sized portions, if you wanted to use all of the pumpkin then just double the ingredients. This will take around an hour and a half to prepare and cook.
Roughly chop your onions and garlic and place in the pan with the butter for around ten minutes, or until soft. Mix the four stock cubes into 800ml of boiling water and pour into the pan.
Dice the peppers and add into the mix. Peel and cut your pumpkin and butternut squash into chunks, adding them into the pan as you go. Once all of the ingredients are in the pan, leave on a medium heat for around 20-30 minutes, stirring intermittently.
Once the cubes of pumpkin and butternut are soft, pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pan, adding the cinnamon, salt and pepper.
This year, we have grown some more unusual types of squash. Naturally, as it is autumn, we decided to make a tasty soup with a couple of them.
One large Uchiki Kuri, around 450g when peeled
One large Patty Pan, around 550g when peeled
80g Courgette, peeled [optional]
Three white onions
One red onion
Four cloves of garlic
One vegetable stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
This will make enough for four generous portions and takes approximately 45 minutes to prepare and cook.
Slice and dice the onions and crushed garlic and place them in a pan with a splash of oil to caramelise. Whilst the onion and garlic are cooking, roughly cut your squashes into cubes [2cm across].
Crumble the stock cube into 500ml of water, or you can use homemade vegetable stock if you would prefer. Put the squash and the water into the pan and simmer on a medium heat for 20 minutes or until the squash is soft.
Add the onion into the mixture and pour into a blender or food processer and blend until smooth. Once smooth, pour back into the pan and bring back up to heat. Once the soup is warm through, stir in the butter and add the seasoning.
No cream is needed for this recipe, but you could add it at this stage if you prefer. If you do not have a blender, you can use a masher (metal is the best for the task) but the soup will be of a chunky consistency.