Gardening Blog – Getting Started at the Allotment

HH late March

‘Plant out at the full moon and sow seeds with the new moon’ – just one of many helpful tips passed on by Andrew Hawkins at the recent allotment workshop. Fortified by coffee and cake, experienced and not so experienced allotmenteers picked up ideas that will help us to grow healthy crops this year.

Andrew has been working on his plot since 1973 and knows it very well. As he pointed out, getting to know our patch of soil is very important. We need to adapt any advice we’re given to the conditions we work with. No one else knows our plot or garden as well as we do.

Good Friday is traditionally the day for planting early potatoes. If, like me, you were away for Easter, it isn’t a disaster. There’s still time to follow Andrew’s advice.

Before he plants his potatoes, Andrew turns over the soil. He digs in any annual weeds but removes perennial weeds such as couch grass, dandelions and buttercups.

He digs a potato trench three spits wide – a spit being the width of a spade. He puts a layer of well-rotted manure in the bottom and then refills it with soil. Using his spade, he makes a slit in the soil and pushes one potato at a time to the bottom of the trench, leaving a foot or so between each one.

When the potato plants are about a foot high, he hoes the soil up around them to make a protective ridge.

Many of us have trouble growing carrots. We sow batch after batch of seeds but they don’t germinate reliably. Andrew’s suggestion is to sow them straight after the new moon and to sow them thinly.   Germination will be more reliable, the carrots will grow bigger and they won’t need to be thinned – a big advantage as this avoids releasing the smell of carrot into the air.  Carrot flies love the smell of carrots!

Onions and carrots work well together as the onions disguise the smell that the carrot fly finds so attractive. Andrew plants his onions near his carrots and about a hand span apart. ‘Plant them with the pointy bit up’ is his advice ‘and deep enough so that you can’t see them. Birds are very keen on pulling up any bits that poke up above the surface’.

Another very useful tip when we’re sowing is to mark the ends of the row with sticks before we rake the soil over the seeds. Once they’re covered up it’s impossible to remember where we’ve put them!

Andrew is planning another workshop soon. Look out for further details.