A quick guide to managing your allotment all year

Allotments are a fun and good way to supplement your larder with healthy, fresh food. But they are also hard work so you want to be sure of getting the best results from your efforts. The key is to plan ahead; and a great way to start is to sit down with a cuppa by your allotment shed with a notebook or calendar and prepare a to-do list.

As you survey your allotment it’s important to remember that you must rotate your crops, preferably on a three-year cycle. Growing the same crop in one place year after year depletes the nutrients absorbed by that produce and encourages the spread of diseases particular to the crop. You should also stagger when you plant each crop to avoid having all of the same produce becoming ready at the same time.

Here are some ideas on how you should plan your year to get the most out of your allotment:

January
Finish cleaning up and digging bare areas. Finish planting fruit trees and bushes. Plant onions.

February
Cover areas where you plan to plant seeds with black plastic to warm the soil to prevent it becoming too wet and to keep weeds down. Sow summer cabbage, cauliflower and seeds in trays indoors. Start growing tomatoes, onions, celery and peppers.

March
Dig the last of your winter crops (parsnips, leeks etc.). Plant broad beans, asparagus, early potatoes, onion sets, shallots, garlic and artichokes. Fertilise and mulch fruit trees, bushes and trees. Finish your indoor sowing.

April
Be on guard for early pests like slugs and aphids. If there are any, get rid of them. Sow seeds outside and plant potatoes, courgettes and marrows. Plant summer cabbage. Plant French beans and runner beans under cover.

May
Place traps for codling moths in apple trees. Plant out leeks and brassicas (cabbages etc.) and sow French beans and carrots. For any tender vegetables planted inside, put them out in the open to harden before planting outside. Place bird netting over strawberries and soft fruits.

June
Start to plant out tender vegetables/ thin fruit trees. Protect strawberries from slugs and dirt with straw or mats. Thin fruit trees. Place canes to support runner beans.

July
Plant out cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks that were sown indoors during February and March. Sow salad crops. Dig early potatoes. Place netting to protect soft fruit bushes from birds. Cut back excess foliage and runners from strawberries that have finished fruiting. Prune blackcurrants after you have picked the berries.

August
Harvest crops that are ready – peas, onions, cabbages, lettuces and so on – as well as remaining potatoes to avoid them suffering pest damage. Dig out crops that are finished. Sow oriental crops like pak choi and Chinese cabbage as well as spring cabbage and fennel. Continue sowing salad crops and sow overwintering onions and new potatoes for Christmas. Check if sweetcorn and pumpkins are ready.

September
Continue sowing oriental crops. Dig potatoes after they have flowered and their leaves start to yellow. Harvest apples, pears and squashes. Prepare for autumn winds by staking sprouts and overwintering brassicas. Pinch out tops of tomato plants to stop growth of fruit that won’t ripen.

October
Harvest remaining crops that might be susceptible to frost damage. Lift and store remaining potatoes. Dig unused areas and compost green plants and annual weeds. Plant garlic. Start pruning fruit bushes and hang onions to dry.

November
Harvest leeks and other remaining vegetables like carrots. Dig out and compost crops that are past their best. Check that ties on trees are secure. Order new seeds for next year.

December
Dig over bare soil and dig in material from your compost heap. Prune existing fruit trees and bushes and plant new ones – bare-rooted are cheapest. Begin general tidying up.

Other points to remember

These general points should also be included in your diary:

  • Manure, compost and fertiliser – most of this work should be done in autumn and early winter. Be aware though, that fertiliser and heavy cropping tend to increase the acidity of the soil, which crops such as brassicas do not like. You’ll need to add lime, but don’t dig it in and wait until February because lime prefers to be used in isolation.
  • Weeding – weeding is a constant battle. Between rows of plants you can use a hoe but closer to the plants you’ll need to weed by hand to avoid damaging the roots.
  • Watering – in dry weather, you’ll have to make sure that your plants get enough water. At the height of summer, you should water in the evenings, making sure that you water deeply. Too little water is worse than none at all as it merely encourages shallow roots.
  • Look after yourself. Keep a seat in your shed and take a flask or a cool box so that you can have rest and refreshment when you need it.

 

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