2020; a year to remember and forget

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.

Here’s hoping for a brighter, more fruitful 2021.

Five Things You Should Do In Winter

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.

Five Things You Should Do In October

The landscape is now awash with hues of yellow, orange and red. The golden hour come earlier each day and Jack Frost is at our door waiting to come inside.

Harvest your apples and pears for storage

Apples and pears can last for months if stored correctly. When choosing the fruit to store, make sure that it is not blemished for bruised. Wrap each apple in newspaper and store in a cool, dark place. Pears do not need to be wrapped. The fruit can either be stored in a tray or on a shelf, but make sure the fruit is not touching one another. Check your fruit regularly to see if any have deteriorated and remove.

Remove nets from your fruit

Fruit bushes and strawberry patches should be un-netted now so that the last of the fruits can be picked off and any little critters can escape. Now is also a good time to cut back our fruit bushes and tidy the strawberry patch.

Gather leaves for leaf mould

Leaf mould is a fantastic source of nutrients for your soil, so now is the perfect time to utilise this resource. Gather leaves from around your plot (make sure no creatures are preparing to hibernate!), shred or cut the leaves and leave in a composter for 6-12 months.

Plant your spring bulbs

Many blubs need a cool period to produce plenty of flowers in the spring. Plant your spring blubs in pots and borders to ensure a wonderful display. If you are planting your bulbs in a large pot, you can layer the bulbs for continuous flowering.

Pick and harden off your pumpkins and squash

Your pumpkins and squash should be ready to pick by now. Cut them off the vine and leave them in the sun or in a greenhouse to harden. The harder the skins are, the longer they will store for in the right conditions. Pumpkins and squash can be used in a plethora of recipes and are quite versatile, but personally I like to use them in soups. You can check out my pumpkin soup recipe here.

Here’s what you can sow in October:

– Round seeded peas
– Broad beans; most varieties
– Cauliflower; All Year Round, Snowball, Orkney, Gypsy
– Swiss Chard; Bright Lights
– Sweet Peas; most varieties
– Poppies
– Lupines

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.