I made a little video in April one year giving a quick tour round the plot. It may be accessed here:
April Allotment Tour
I am aimimg to make another one in the next few days. February was a total washout and left me way behind in my schedule. Having planned the beds on the plot I usually stay one jump ahead with the preparation, starting with the first seeds to go in – Broad Beans & Shallots, and then so on. However when February went awol I was hopelessly behind. Then the virus arrived and slowly but surely the allotment became my main preoccupation as all the other outlets for maintaining my sanity went out the window! Now my plot looks as never before. I normally do just enough to stay on top, including planting stuff. But now things are looking up a bit at least for now as they let us still go on to our plots. I have starting getting seeds in – the Broad Beans, Shallots and White Onions went in mid March. Then early potatoes (Accent) were dibbed in - the lates will go in on Good Friday providing we are still allowed on. (Desiree & Carrolous).
I also sowed some Peas, Parsnips, and Beetroot. More Peas and some Carrots will be sown as soon as I can. The Red Onions and remaining White Onion sets will be put in and netted to deter the birds and/or rodents from pulling them out. The Broad Beans are covered with plastic bottle cloches as are and will be the peas when I sow more. The benefit of the bottle cloches is always shown by the odd one which has ‘lost its bottle’ being decimated by weevils. The Rhubarb is brilliant, and is ready to pull. We had a great Rhubarb Fool with the other night.
Traditional wisdom is to plant potatoes on Good Friday. The soil needs to warm up first to make planting most seeds worthwhile. However it’s not the weather now that matters with potatoes it is the weather when the foliage pops through. Any frost then will damage the growing tips. You can help protect them by earthing up for a while, but after that even fleece won’t work if it touches the leaves. However the later you plant the maincrop the more risk there is of the dreaded blight. Hopefully in mid June we will have the pleasure of the steaming bowl of buttery sweet new potatoes for dinner. This is one of the greatest pleasures in growing your own vegetables, They are ready to eat (but small) in about twelve weeks, so I will be feeling around in the soil for the larger ones rather than digging up whole roots straight away. I wondered whether there might be a good reason to follow the Good Friday idea because the location of Easter depends on the movement of the moon. Synodic planting according to the waxing and waning cycle of the moon is coming under scrutiny and is gaining in popularity. Maybe planting on Good Friday is not such a bad idea after all since Easter’s date is decided on this basis.
I am including the March planting chart as well as April in case you need to refer to it.
Summary of Planting in March
dib and earth up against frost might delay until early May
Carrot Fly barrier: ineffective
I will soon sow about half a bed of carrots with Hilari a new variety I tried last year. I usually cover the carrot bed with mesh which I find is the easiest way to stop carrot fly from spoiling the crop. When I took over my plot I was told that you could not grow carrots on the allotment because of carrot fly. I put up a barrier of about a half metre high which did prevent the pest spoiling the crop. It was a pain, though because it is quite exposed on the allotment and I had to keep repairing the plastic sheeting I used. I read or dreamt something about the fly not being active after June so I stopped repairing it. WRONG. I found out what happens if the carrots are unprotected. After that first year I just covered the carrots with mesh, with great success, but then I tried a barrier because it allowed access for beneficial insects and would be slightly easier to weed. Unfortunately I read on a Gardening website that the barrier needs only to be about 20 inches high. WRONG. My lovely crop was riddled. What a waste! I went back to the mesh cover. Ever since I have had a great crop, although I did have a false start one year when the first rows of seedlings vanished. I could not to work out what caused this with any degree of certainty. Frost seems unlikely under a mesh cover while I am not aware of gastropods liking the foliage of carrots. I thought it very odd until I received an e mail from Dawn which said that her carrots are often attacked by slugs and snails.
Coriander easily goes to seed
I am going to scatter the seeds rather than planting them in rows as I know what they look (and smell!) like. These days I don’t really need to plant them at all as they come up all over the place. They are easy to identify, just gently squeeze a leaf with the fingernails and smell the wonderful aroma. They don’t like being replanted so I don’t plant them inside first, but put them straight in. Although they seem to be slightly exotic (less so these days perhaps) they actually don’t like hot dry spells, they get stressed and go to seed. (I know the feeling only too well). You can try to stop this by watering them but they are a bit touchy and grow better outside the very hot summer months.
Overwintered Flat Leaf Parsley
I sow grow this lovely herb direct into the soil, but also inside using same technique as lettuces. ie I will plant them inside in small pots, a seed in each corner, before transplanting them when large enough. When transplanted, the seedlings grow away from each other. I don’t overcrowd them. The first lot should be ready to plant out by this point so it is important to have more coming through. It is a great feeling to be able to grab a handful and think about how much the equivalent would cost in a greengrocer. And, like lettuces, if not overcropped it will keep coming. The slugs and snails are quite partial, however, so vigilance is necessary around the salad bed, especially when very small, otherwise it’s a case of the amazing disappearing plants – overnight if you’re very unlucky.
Home Made Dibber
first early & early maincrop potatoes
I usually plant these on Good Friday but it is so late this year the earlies went in in March. I like Desirée as an early maincrop. I don’t usually plant a maincrop as such because this avoids the worst time for the blight when the hot humid days come along. However this year i couldn’t get Desiree at first and I bought Carrolous instead. Wish me luck with the blight!
When I plant potatoes it takes very little time. I just dib a hole and drop the tubers in, sprouts upwards. When they come through I will earth up the haulms gradually to protect them from the frost and top this off with a mulch of fresh lawn clippings. Many of the established allotmenteers grow them in earthed up adjacent rows with steep, precipitous sides. One of my beds splits neatly into two rows which, once earthed up, look almost the same as their’s. I stagger the dibbed holes but I’m not sure this makes any difference, as eventually the rows are virtually separated.
This beautiful plant is so tasty, chopped raw into a salad or roasted with other vegetables and served with cous cous and a hot harissa sauce. It also braises nicely and is a great accompaniment for oven baked fish. I start them off indoors in individual pots until they big enough to transplant. Romanesco by Suffolk Herbs was a success but Kings stopped producing it when they took Suffolk over. The year before last I tried King’s Sweet Florence which were tasty, and I have also bought some di Firenze. which is just Italian for Florence but which have not grown well at all in Manchester.
Peas and Broad Beans
Sugarsnap Peas and more Peas
Although you never seem to grow enough because the return is small compared to the space they take up, peas are really worth the trouble because their flavour is so good when picked fresh. When I first started I thought it was a good idea to plant everything in a succession to ensure a continuous supply. Of course this excludes produce that is easy to store, like onions or potatoes. The idea is to sow a little and often; a rule of thumb is to sow more seeds when the last sowing pops through. However I soon discovered that later sowings of some crops caught diseases that had attacked the weakened plants of earlier sowings as they reached maturity. I still plant many seeds in succession but not legumes. If I make two sowings , I put the second far away from the first on a different bed. Those who advocate splitting one's plot into four for rotation purposes don’t seem to address this problem.
I put up a wire fence and a wigwam of bamboo canes salvaged from my daughter’s garden when we dug it out. At the base of the fence or wigwam I dib three holes about 4cm deep and near enough to each other that a plastic bottle with the bottom cut away and the screw cap discarded will fit over all three. I then drop individual seeds into each hole. Finally I gently cover the holes with soil using the end of the dibber and cover each set of three seeds with the plastic bottle. This has a number of effects. It provides some protection against the seeds disappearing (mice?). It creates a mini greenhouse in which the seedlings may flourish and be protected from extremes of weather. It stops slug damage. It also delays the inevitable arrival of pea and bean weevil which creates such a visually attractive serrated edge to the leaves. Finally it provides valuable exercise chasing them all over the allotment in windy weather.
Sage with Companion
I will plant various herbs like chives, basil, thyme and sage inside, initially in one large pot for each herb & then prick them out into small individual ones. Once the danger of frost is over and the warmer weather prevails I will plant them out (keeping some basil indoors – if you have any spare they make great impromptu gifts to be put on your friend’s kitchen windowsill). Apart from basil they survive the winter so I don’t need too many to replace the older “woody” stemmed ones and to keep the supply of fresh flavoursome herbs going.
Plant inside, initially in one large pot like the herbs & then prick them out into small individual ones. They will grow in situ but the slugs like them and they are apt to disappear when small or,worse stillas they reach the surface so they appear to never actually see the light of day. I have a lot of seed I collected which should germinate. I love this beautiful and useful flower.
Sunflower always has visitors
I usually plant some indoors in individual pots, when I sow the corn and concurbits. Much self seeding usually occurs, as with Californian Poppy, Pot Marigolds and Poached Egg Plants, they just keep going. Providing you recognize them when they come through they can be left where they are, or if they are really in the way or growing near something they don’t like, all of these lovely flowers don’t mind being transplanted.
Just be Cos and Gastropod Psychology
I have now accumulated numerous varieties, mainly because I am so sparing in planting them. I will plant them inside in small pots, a seed in each corner, before transplanting them when large enough. I don’t know if the others need to be discarded but I will ‘have another try’ with them before taking such drastic action. A few years ago Eric said to me one evening: “Great idea of yours”. "Which one?" I responded, thinking that there might be more than one. “Picking the lettuce leaves,” he said. It transpired that when I told him about picking the leaves from Lollo Rossa he thought I meant to do this with all lettuces. The result is that since then neither of us allow lettuces to reach maturity but keep picking the outer leaves. It’s just like those packets of leaves you buy in the supermarket except Eric and I haven’t yet worked out how to squirt carbon dioxide on them. Oh, and another difference is they taste like lettuce. With a bit of foresight you can have fresh green salads nearly every night with your dinner, right through to the first frosts in October. You just need to sow some more when the last lot are small, and not wait until they eventually bolt, which is a surprisingly long time. Incidentally, I no longer grow Lollo Rossa, I picked up Grenoble, which has a red tinted leaf, in Tarbes market (strongly recommended if you are in the area) a couple of years ago when we were on holiday in the foothills of the Pyrenees. C’est magnifique. Of course if I say this to Sam, he just has to say “magnifique”. Terrible. When picking the leaves I rarely discard any lettuce leaf which has been partially eaten as this will generally be on the outside. This will provide the next meal for any returning gastropod which I may have missed when hunting the little blighters in the vicinity. When I pick the leaves I go for the next available clean and uneaten ones working from the outside. The worst pests are the tiny white slugs which get inside the plant, but, with patience, they can be removed before their dirty work becomes too much of a problem.
I am not planting tomatoes at the allotment any more, as in the past few years with more and more people following suit potato blight has spread with an inevitability. It is one of those instances where common sense is shown to be much less common than the name suggests. You would think that those who spend hours nurturing the seedlings and planting them out in straight lines would remove diseased plants immediately. Unfortunately not. One nearby allotmenteer who objects to me planting pot marigolds left his decaying vines in situ for weeks, but then he did not see the need to remove numerous prolific weeds including fat hen going to seed. If you are in a position to grow tomatoes outside I would advise growing cherry tomatoes as they have a far greater chance of ripening. I would start them off indoors, planting seeds in compost in individual pots, slightly more than you estimate that you need. When they get too big for the pot, upgrade them to a larger one of about 15cm. Prepare beds for them to be planted out in May once the chance of frosts has gone. There is little point in being too early as if they are kept inside too long the plants are weakened by growing too leggy (with long stems and too little foliage) and they only sulk outside in cold weather, making no recognizable progress and looking thoroughly miserable.
I don’t grow many but I will be starting a few off inside to plant up half a bed. It is especially nice to have your own sprouts on Christmas Day
You’d best take no notice of me whatsoever and let me know what to do. I have some Derby Day and Primo cabbage seed, Red Cap which believe it or not is a red one, and Long Island and Evesham Special sprouts. I tried yet another Calbrese: di Sarno but like all the previous ones it sprouted and went almost straight to flowers. The first year I successfully grew a variety produced by Johnson’s and when I tried to order it they had been taken over by Mr Fothergills and production of this variety had ceased. Ever since then everything I have tried has sprouted to nothing. Aargh!!!! Never mind I have just sown red and green cabbage and sprouts inside. Hopefully this year will be different!