Gardening Blog – Top Allotment Tips

Hellebore

‘Think about the things your family will eat’ was just one of the brilliant tips Tamsin Borlase gave Allotment Association members at the ‘Plan Your Garden Year’ evening this week. It’s good advice and something we often forget. I could have done with the reminder a couple of weeks ago when I was ordering my seeds. They’ve been delivered and I see that I’ve been as over ambitious as ever.

Thanks to Tamsin and members of the Allotment Association Committee I came home with masses of helpful advice from both professional and amateur growers. What a relief to hear that other people struggle with Pak Choi and that I wasn’t the only one whose carrots were a disaster in 2014. The only tip I was sorry to hear is that Maris Piper potatoes don’t do well in the soil on my new plot. Guess which variety of seed potatoes I bought last week?

Crop rotation was a big topic of conversation. As you probably know, the idea of rotation is to grow a different crop in a particular patch of ground each year. This helps to avoid the build up of disease and the loss of nutrients. A 3 or 4 year rotation seems to be usual for allotment holders. Tamsin is just coming to the end of a 12 year cycle but the principle is the same.

As my plot is new to me, I don’t know what was grown where or when – I’ll be starting from scratch. This year I’ll add manure or compost to the soil in whichever section I decide to plant my potatoes (not Maris Piper!). Next year I’ll use the same patch to grow peas and beans. In year three I’ll add some lime and grow alkaline loving brassicas. They’ll be followed in the fourth year by roots.

Another useful piece of advice was that it’s a good idea to keep a record of what is planted where and when. We always think we’ll remember from year to year, but rarely do.

I was pleased to hear that some people sow or plant when there’s a new moon. When I had enough space to grow fruit and veg in my own garden I used the lunar calendar for planting and harvesting. It might sound a bit whacky to 21st century ears but our ancestors would have seen it as common sense. Once I got used to the idea, there was a comfortable rhythm to it that I really enjoyed. Whether I’ll manage to do the same on my allotment remains to be seen.

In early March, just before the season really gets going, the Allotments Association will be offering us even more help. There’ll be sessions of practical advice down on the allotments. If you are interested and would like more info email Andrew Hawkins awaj@waitrose.com

Just a few of the many top tips from the ‘Plan Your Garden Year’ evening:

  • Don’t use old parsnip seed
  • Carrots hate competition. Sow them thinly
  • Sow broad beans 6ins deep in autumn to keep them away from mice
  • Add lime when planting brassicas
  • Try undersowing beans with white clover
  • Make sure manure is well rotted before adding to the soil
  • Protect carrots with fleece as soon as they germinate
  • Don’t sow carrots and parsnips while the ground is too cold
  • Remember that things never go to plan