sowing seeds on the allotment

The middle of February is starting to feel like Spring so I’m getting things going, BUT, all my work could be undone if we have a harsh March with snow and heavy frost. If you feel it best to wait till the clocks go forward that’s OK. But I feel it’s worth taking a chance now, so, here goes.

Last season, around March 2018, I planted potatoes in 70 litre sacks. Mainly early potatoes like Rocket & Charlotte. I found that these are still edible after digging a few out earlier this month (February 2019). All in all a very successful result and I can recommend growing your spuds in sacks above ground using compost.

digging out potatoes grown in sacks

End of Season Potatoes on the Allotment

So, after rooting the potatoes out I now have quite a lot of usable compost and I’ve started off some onions and peas by making beds from around 100 litres of used compost and planting into it. The compost still has a reasonable level of nutrients, but this can be supplemented with a liquid feed made from urea, water and comfrey which I keep mixed in a 200 litre water butt on the site.

As with all my no dig beds, I spread the compost over the ground making a bed around fifteen to eighteen inches wide and having a depth of two to three inches. Pat down to firm with the back of a spade and plant into the bed. My beds are around four yards long and I can plant roughly a hundred onion sets into each bed. I get about forty peas into the same size beds and I’m using Kelvedon Wonder as they don’t grow too tall and can be supported with short canes and string around the perimeter.

no dig onions planted into compost

No Dig, planting onions into compost

I’ve also used the spent compost from the potatoes to start off my carrot seeds (Early Nantes). I first mixed the compost with building sand at a ratio of one third sand to two thirds compost. I then placed the compost into the 70 litre sacks, filling to a suitable depth for the carrots (about six to eight inches should suffice). Then I sprinkled carrot seed on the top (sparingly), covered with some more compost and watered in. Last year, I tried sowing carrot seeds into the beds as described above, but they were too crowded and suffered from carrot fly and slug damage. I think sowing into the growing bags should work this season, but that remains to be seen.

Sowing carrots into sacks

No dig carrots sown into sacks on the surface of the soil

Now is a good time to start off some seedlings in the greenhouse. I’ve just started peppers, chilli’s, kale, cabbage, leeks and bedding plants too (Marigold’s and Petunia). I mostly sow in cells which will be planted on, into “six packs” or small pots. I’ll need at least 144 bedding plants for my two “living walls” I have in the back yard. I’ll make sure I take a few photo’s when I start those off in late May or Early June.

sowing seeds on the allotment

sowing seeds on the allotment in February

I’ve also decided to grow a few strawberry plants in the greenhouse too. I usually grow them outside, but they suffer from slug damage and the birds like to feed on them. I dug up a few of the newer plants from the allotment and planted them in Clover compost in medium pots. I’ll keep them fed with a nitrogen feed until the fruits start to form when they’ll need phosphorous for good growth. Use a good tomato feed to get large juicy strawberries.

greenhouse strawberry plants

Strawberry Plants growing in the greenhouse

 

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I’ve been making my own beer for many years. It’s easy once you have the equipment and a little knowledge. You can easily make a pint of ale for 30p or thereabouts, and the spent grain can be used on your allotment to add nutrients to the soil.

I use a gas ring powered by propane and a large 30 litre boiling pan. I’ve adapted a coleman coolbox to steep the grains. The whole process takes about 4 hours to make 20 litres. Of course, you then have to allow for fermentation and conditioning, but I reckon about 10 days from start to finish. If you want details on this, leave your comments and I’ll answer your questions if I can.

Allotments are recreational areas, so plant flowers as well as vegetables and make a space for the family to enjoy as well. You can sow cosmos seeds in March or April in plug trays.

Sow two seeds per plug and prick out one if both germinate. Then plant in the garden about a foot apart. Cosmos provide a large amount of cut flowers over the season and are great for the bees. You’ll probably need to stake the plants once they grow as they do have a tendency to fall over especially in windy areas. Cosmos need to be picked or deadheaded regularly to ensure flowering through the season. Cosmos are annuals and you could try “Dazzler” and “Purity” or any other variety of course.

Winter is a great time of year to get things done ready for the new season. Here are a few things that I’ll be doing…

  1. Fixing the roof on my greenhouse – the greenhouse has a solid roof on one side which is rotting due to water ingress. I’m going to replace this with clear plastic corrugated roof panels from B&Q at a cost of around £20.
  2. Digging up dahlia’s, lillies and gladioli bulbs to store for next year. Lillie’s and gladioli form small bulbs which can be planted out next year. You’ll probably not get flowers as it takes a couple of years to form a full sized bulb.
  3. I want to clear an area at the back of my allotment to make room for an apple tree and possibly a pear and plum too. Winter is the best time to plant dormant fruit trees.
  4. Continuing to make compost by turning the heap every four or five days. Keep at it throughout the winter months.
  5. It’s surprising just how many dry and sunny days we get here in Winter. I’ll be using these days to rotovate chicken pellets and spent beer grains into the soil ready for the spring. Feed the soil not the plant.
  6. I’m cutting the foliage off my strawberry plants and potting any runners to leave in the greenhouse over winter.
  7. My allotment has a mass of overgrown hedges and bushes at the back and I really need to get on top of this. Now growth has stopped it’s the best time to get stuck in.
  8. I’ve just ordered a soil PH tester, so I’m going to be using that around the allotment. Costs about a fiver on ebay.
  9. Collecting sunflower seeds from the flower heads.
  10. Painting the greenhouse and cold frame on dry sunny days.

Well, Winter is here and I have to say that this is my favourite time of year. If you shut down for Winter and think, that’s it till next Spring, then you’re really missing a trick.

There are so many things to do. We’ve had quite a lot of wind damage over the last few months and now is the time to fix all that. I’m also considering a new layout for the allotment and Winter is a great time to plan and implement the changes necessary. I took over my allotment about ten years ago and I’ve never really made the space my own. I’ve stuck with the original layout and (dull) colour scheme and I’ve come to realise that this is not what I want at all.

So, in Winter, I can sit down and have a good think about what I really want from my allotment. I want a place to relax and take in the beauty of Nature. I’m thinking about a lawned area to sit out on surrounded by flowers and vegetables. As to the vegetables themselves, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a waste of time trying to be “self sufficient”. Space is limited and I want to grow some fantastic flowers as well as unusual and delicious veg. For example, hop shoots are one of the most delicious (and expensive) vegetables and I’d like to have a go at growing them. I also brew my own beer, so I may be able to use the hops for that too. Also, I used to eat white Asparagus when I lived in Germany, and I’m going to plant out an Asparagus bed (I’ve actually been meaning to do this for the last couple of years but have never got round to it). I’ll grow new potatoes in largish pots, but I’ll grow several varieties instead of just one or two. I’m looking for quality, not quantity in 2018.

I’m mulling the idea of having a centre circle of lawn with lawned paths extending from it. Beds can be planted with low planting at the front and with taller planting to the rear to create a privacy screen for the central area. I’m definitely going to take up the concrete paving slabs on the allotment and replace them with turf. It looks so much better and I have recently bought a push mower which will keep the grass looking good. An arch with sweet pea climbers would look good too. What do you think? 2017 has been the first year that I’ve grown cut flowers on the allotment. Lillies, Gladioli and also Sunflowers have worked really well and I intend to grow a lot more in 2018. I grew quite a few good carrots (Early Nantes), this year so I’ll try to repeat my success, and I’m going to get some Scorzonera seeds. Scorzonera is a root vegetable which is not available in the shops in my area so it could be worth growing. As always, I’ll be growing onions, leeks and spring onions, simply because they’re so easy to grow and useful in the kitchen. Last year, I wanted to grow pumpkins for the grand kids. I managed to grow three smallish ones, which were used and I hope, appreciated. I’ll try to grow some bigger ones for next year.

I’ve had chickens on the allotment for years now, but, I don’t think I’ll continue to keep them. Eggs are cheap to buy and quality is easy to obtain so I can’t see the point anymore, especially when I have to buy feed when they’re not laying. My chickens have quite a large area to play in and this space can be used for a more productive purpose, namely, making compost. I started a small gardening business this year so I have plenty of grass cuttings and leaves to compost. I’ve already started making large piles in the chicken run and I can see that my method is starting to work. Rich compost is the key to a productive allotment, and the more I can make, the better.

So, take my advice and get cracking this Winter. Make your plans and start to work on them now. What are you planning to do on your allotment this Winter?

Salad potatoes are great when steamed (or boiled if you must) and served with butter they also can be used to make potato salad of course. My favourite is Charlotte and I also like Nicola.

If you grow them yourself, you can harvest before the skins have formed or are so thin that you don’t have to bother peeling. This year, I’m growing Charlotte and Nicola varieties in 70 litre sacks in the greenhouse. I’ve done this before and have even started as early as January, but this year I planted at the beginning of March. For this, you’ll need 70 litre plastic woven sacks (I got mine off ebay around 5 years ago). You’ll also need some good compost, and this year, as always, I’m using Clover. If you have made your own compost over the past year, then use that as it works out much cheaper.

You’ll need to spread a layer of compost on the bottom of the sack (around 2 inches), then place a seed potato in each corner and one in the middle. Cover each seed potatoes with compost (again about 2 inches) and water. Keep watering regularly and after a while (mine took a couple of weeks), you’ll notice the plants start to push through the compost. Cover the growth with a layer of compost. Repeat this process (water, cover growth with compost), until the bag is full. You can then transfer the bag outside if you wish, but make sure that any chance of frost has passed. Potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to die off. To test if ready, push your hand into the soil and pull one of the potatoes up. You really can’t beat the taste of home grown potatoes.

Carrots are a great staple, but can be hard to grow successfully due to the dreaded carrot fly. The received wisdom when growing carrots is that we sow hundreds of seeds and then thin out to the desired spacing. However, thinning the seedlings attracts carrot fly and can lead to a ruined crop.

A couple of years ago, I tried a method which, while arduous, did work and I’m using the same method this year. First, I want baby carrots and I want them fast! I’m concerned that the longer they’re in the ground, the more chance there is of infestation and a ruined crop. I’ve already planted out a carrot called “Eskimo” as the seeds were just lying around in my seed box, but these are maincrop, overwintering carrots, so I’ve now bought some “Early Nantes”which should mature in 60 days (or less for baby carrots).

Last Autumn and over winter, I dug lots of pelleted chicken manure into my plot and, turning a few beds over last week, I could see lots of worms which is a good sign. This year, I’ve decided to make my beds “straddle-able” which simply means they’re around 15 inches wide so I can straddle the bed whilst planting, sowing or weeding. Before I start sowing the carrot seed, I dug in some more chicken pellets (about a handful per square foot) and then compressed the ground by walking over it. I then use an old fork handle to bore holes in the ground (the handle is just under 2 inches in diameter). I space most things so I can get a hoe between the plants as I find this easier to weed. I then fill the holes with a fine compost and sharp sand mix (50:50). This mixture is tamped down to get a firm growing medium. I then poke a little hole into this mixture with my finger and place ONE seed per hole. The seeds are then covered with a little compost and then watered. Now, this isn’t the most efficient method as you could space the carrots closer, and, if the germination rate is poor, you’ll probably have two thirds of your bed unproductive, but, you won’t get bothered with carrot fly and you can always plant more carrot (or other vegetables) into the holes that haven’t germinated. You can feed the carrots weekly to encourage better growth.

 

It’s been very cold here over the past week and it’s snowing outside today, so not much happening on my allotment at the moment I’m afraid.

The chickens have to be kept indoors due to the avian flu warnings and I’m considering putting netting over the top of the chicken run. This will keep wild birds out and I’ll then be able to let my flock out. One advantage to keeping them indoors though is that they are very clean now. While outdoors, they do like to scratch about in the mud and the muck. The government order may be lifted at the end of February and that will be three months in total.

I have three small heated propagators and I’ve sown King of the North Sweet Peppers in one and Carolina Reaper Chilli Peppers in the second one. Carolina Reaper are officially the worlds hottest chilli, so I’ll have to be careful with those. I’ll probably sow some pumpkin seeds that I collected last year in the third propagator. I don’t sow directly into the propagators. I use six pack modules for larger plants and smaller modules for leeks, spring onion etc. I made a video when I sowed the Sweet Peppers which you can find here.

I’ve also ordered some melon seeds (from ebay), namely Melon Cantaloupe Di Charentais and Melon Honeydew Temptation. Hopefully, I’ll get these sown next week. To grow them on, I’ve set a table up in the window of my front bedroom which gets full sun and plenty of daylight. It’s much too cold here to consider growing on in the greenhouse, but I want to give these plants a good start as our season here is quite short.

I’m considering starting a gardening business shortly. I already have a petrol strimmer and a rotovator for the allotment, but I need a lawnmower so I’ve been researching heavily on the internet. There are many good reviews for Honda mowers and also I like the look of the Rover brand, but for now, I need a machine that will fit in the back of my small hatchback (with the back seats down of course). I eventually narrowed my search down to a Mountfield HP414. It’s a push mower, so no self propelled mechanisms to go wrong. It has a 15″ cutting blade and the cutting height can be adjusted by using a lever on each wheel. The best thing about it is the weight, which at 19kg means it’s easy to handle and lift in and out of the car. Also, it has very good reviews over several seasons, so it’s a proven quality machine. If my business takes off and I get a van, I’ll probably get something larger, maybe in addition to the Mountfield. I’ll also need a blower/vacuum mulcher and a hedge trimmer. I’m looking forward to having loads of grass cuttings to add to my compost and I’ve decided to add a grass patio to the allotment instead of the flagged area I have now.

My greenhouse is glass to the front and wooden walls and roof to the back, but the roofing felt is coming off and the wood is starting to rot. Rather than replace the wood though, I’m going to get polycarbonate on the back to get more light into the structure. You can get it cheaply enough on ebay and I may replace the polycarbonate sheet on my cold frame too this year.

I’m just recovering from a nasty sprained ankle that I suffered six weeks ago and I can thoroughly recommend comfrey to speed the healing process. I think another couple of weeks should see me right and I’ll then be able to get working on the allotment. I have many flagstones to move and a few structures to paint before spring and I also want to get serious with my composting. The area at the back of the allotment needs strimming and clearing too, but I think I may be too late to plant fruit trees before spring. We’ll see how it goes.

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