March into Spring

A reminder that Spring has officially begun!

Allotment spring flowers

Daffodils on the allotment

Metrologically Spring began on March 1st. However according to the astronomical calendar, Spring started on Friday with the vernal equinox and perhaps you were lucky enough to see the eclipse. I was in Bruges, had a great holiday but it was so overcast that there was no chance of seeing the eclipse!

So Spring is definitely here and I am starting to panic. Fellow allotment bloggers, I am very envious when I read how much you have achieved on your plots, I am way, way behind. Not all the plot was dug over at the end of last year and that has been the first task to complete this month.  Last weekend started off bright and sunny so The Husband and I set to work.

Digging allotment plot

Let digging commence!

The original plot had been mostly finished and is now ready to go.

Plot dug

Dug and done

The newer plot needed more work –

Plot to be dug

Bed needing attention

and is just about finished. This bed had loads of bindweed in it last year and so I was having to try and dig out the roots as we went along in the vain hope that it won’t be quite so prolific this summer! I took on this second plot last year as it’s adjacent to my original plot and had been neglected for the last few years. It needed a lot of work to bring it under control (credit given to The Husband for this achievement). One bed was devoted to potatoes and the existing fruit bushes, one to butternut squash and some flowers. The third, small bed was carpeted(!)and will probably be used for the compost bins.

I’m feeling happier that most of the ‘groundwork’ has been done but there’s still so much more to do and I know that we have limited spare time over the next few weeks. The raspberry canes on the second plot require pruning, the strawberries should be thinned out, all the fruit bush beds need weeding…. So much to do, so little time!

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Top tips for planning your allotment!

Here are my top tips for planning your allotment. Spring is in the air, the ground is drying out so now is the time to get started.

Firstly, decide what you want to grow. Only grow what you like. I know it sounds obvious but……..for several years I had a beautiful white currant bush on my allotment which cropped prodigiously. However, the fruit was very sharp and was left on the bush to rot as I couldn’t find enough recipes to use more than a handful! Even the birds didn’t seem interested! Also bear in mind how you’re going to store your harvest when you have a bumper crop, see my previous post – 5 questions to ask before taking on an allotment. My top tip is to sit down with a seed or plant catalogue and write a list of all the things you fancy growing. Then go through your list again, eliminating anything that is not suitable for your soil or climate.

Use catalogues when planning your allotment planting

Browse through the catalogues

Next you need to decide how to grow your plants. There are two main options – from seed or plants. Seeds are obviously cheaper, but are more labour intensive. Oh, the satisfaction when the seeds germinate and the little seedlings appear – you can’t beat it! If you buy plants, then it can end up becoming pretty costly but you do see your plot filling up quickly and not worrying about whether conditions are right for germination. Another possibility is to start your seeds in the greenhouse. Sadly, I don’t have a greenhouse but I do have a conservatory and, yes you’ve guessed it, it doubles up as a hot house for my seeds and seedlings. For beginners, my top tip is to include both seeds and plants then you get the best of both worlds.

Order seeds for your allotment

Seeds or plants?

Having decided what to grow, now decide where to grow. Look on the seed packets or plant labels to see how much space everything needs and then roughly map out the position of your rows. In the past I have always drawn this out freehand, however this year The Husband has gone all techie and produced plans on the computer. Impressed?! This is important to do for two reasons. Firstly, you will need the plan when you actually arrive at the allotment ready to start work. Secondly, you need to keep a record for next year so you can ensure you rotate your crops. Obviously fruit bushes etc will remain in position but brassica, roots and legumes should be rotated in a 3 year cycle.

Allotment plot records

Keep a plan of your allotment

It’s getting closer to the time when you actually need to get out there and do something. So finally you need to decide when to plant. Look at your seeds (or plants), find out when they need to be started off (either indoors or outdoors) and write yourself a list. Then get your calendar or diary out and schedule in some time over the next few weeks when you can get down to the allotment and get your hands dirty!

Work on the allotment

Trug for the allotment

So there’s my top tips for planning your allotment – hope they help any of you just starting out on your allotment adventure!

 

Muddy Plot!

A sunny Sunday morning! Lots of work to do on the allotment.

Muddy boots

 

Oh dear! It’s a bit muddy! So work has to be postponed until the ground dries out.

At least I managed to dig up the final crop of last year’s leeks,

Leeks

The Husband managed to prune some of the fruit bushes,

Pruning fruit bushes

 

and we saw the first crop of the new year starting to grow!

Rhubarb

 

There’s so much to be done – we didn’t even finish digging all the beds over in the autumn. So much to do but we will just have to wait patiently for the soil to dry out…..

5 questions to ask before taking on an allotment

I have had an allotment for 7 years and it has been such a rewarding and enjoyable experience, so much so that last year I even took on another plot! It’s great spending time in the fresh air, watching your crops growing, harvesting the produce and then being able to cook and eat food you’ve grown yourself.

Allotment

 

However, if you’re thinking about starting up an allotment, or even a vegetable plot in your garden, then you need to ask yourself these questions before committing yourself.

Am I prepared to make a regular commitment? The allotment requires tending nearly all year round, so you need to be prepared to give your plot regular attention. (Well, you may allow yourself a break in the winter months!) There is no point spending all weekend working on your plot then not touching it for a month. Why? If left unattended, weeds will take over and you’ll waste your time  To have a successful plot you need to commit to working on your plot regularly from March to October.

Do I have the time?  Without a doubt, having an allotment takes up a lot of time. Are you motivated enough to make the time to go to your plot? As a rough guide, I would estimate a minimum of a couple of hours each week is needed – more in the planting season, and even more if there is a hot, dry summer.

Am I up to the physical work? When I took on my first allotment it was a wilderness. Luckily The Husband was brilliant and thanks to him it was knocked into shape in no time. You may find that you inherit an overgrown plot and that is a tough job. If you’re not up to it, is there anyone else you can call on for some muscle power? Hopefully, you will be taking on a well-maintained plot and won’t have to sort out a jungle but even then there is still a fair amount of hard physical work. My advice is to do a little and often. Don’t spend a whole weekend digging your plot over and then not be able to get out of bed on Monday morning!

Am I prepared for disappointment? Sadly, sometimes things go wrong. After spending much care and attention on a particular crop, it doesn’t produce anything. All sorts of reasons come into play; it doesn’t suit the climate or soil, wildlife devours it, it becomes diseased. Be prepared for the fact that not everything you plant will be successful. Try to learn from your mistakes so that the following year you could try a different approach. Don’t let your failures discourage you – it’s all part of the fun!

What will I do with the produce I grow? Brilliant! You’ve got a bumper crop! Now what are you going to do with it all? Obviously eating it fresh is the best – but sometimes there’s just too much! Believe it or not, some years I get sick of eating raspberries and strawberries! Friends, however, might be delighted to share some of your harvest. Some produce can be frozen as it is, some might need to be cooked in some way before freezing – think soups, purées. Last year I had to invest in a chest freezer just to store my produce. Other produce can be stored for a while, like potatoes, apples and onions or preserved in other ways, like pickling or jams. So when you’re planning what to grow, bear in mind what you’re going to do with all your lovely fruit and veg.

So you’re prepared for the hard work and ready to commit regular time to your allotment. Great! Now you need to decide what you’re going to grow so I will be sharing my tips for planning your plot in a future post. Watch this space!