Planting for Winter

I love summer on the allotment, the plot is filling out with plenty to pick and a promise of more to come. The weather has been so hot, too hot for me to visit the allotment during the day. When temperatures soar I prefer to visit early to late evening when it’s cooler and not so busy.

Although it’s nice to kick back, relax and admire the fruits of my labour, to ensure the plot keeps on producing food well into winter and beyond the hand trowel cannot retire to the shed just yet.

I planned sowings of brassicas for planting in summer with the aim of harvesting towards the end of the year and beyond. Brussels sprouts and winter cabbages are in (a little later than I would have liked due to having Covid last month) along with purple sprouting broccoli for picking early to late spring when little else is available. Turnips sown into module trays for autumn/winter use will be planted out soon along with another sowing of kohl rabi. I have also sown cauliflower to plant out towards the middle of next month to try to get a spring crop, I didn’t sow a variety specifically for spring harvesting as I’ve done in previous years, choosing instead to use a general all year round type. It’s an experiment so we shall see how this goes. I do love experimenting.

What I’m Growing in 2021

The weather is just miserable and no doubt there will be more yukky stuff to come, spring can’t come soon enough and I think we’re all holding out for some better weather, a good potter around the allotment without 20 layers of clothes or a snorkel would be lovely. My seed orders have all arrived and now I can list exactly what I plan to grow, there are a lot of old favourites on the list but each year I like to grow one or two new varieties (more have snuck in somehow) and sometimes a crop I’ve never grown before. I hope you enjoy reading through my list, it’s quite long so well done if you make it to the end! 

Beetroot Boltardy, a variety that always does well for me, resistant to bolting hence the name. Deep red colour, super sweet if pulled around the size of a golf ball, lovely earthy flavour when larger. Sits happily through winter. Rather than sow beetroot direct I multi sow into cell trays, around 3 to 4 seeds per cell and plant out in clumps once the seedlings have their first set of true leaves, not only do you get more beetroot this way but they tend to stay smaller for longer due to the restricted space in which to grow. 

Beetroot Sanguina, another lovely variety with deep red colour and sweet flavour. Produces lovely leaves which are edible and useful in salads when small or cook like chard. 

Borage, pretty star-shaped blue flowers, great for pollinators and edible too. Will self seed readily.

Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia, great for autumn sowing to get an earlier crop the following year and to avoid blackfly, which doesn’t always go to plan! Mine went in a raised bed in November and are doing well under a tunnel cloche which is open to the elements at both ends. 

Brussels Sprout Bedford, a variety I haven’t grown before so I’m looking forward to seeing how this does. I didn’t choose it for the name – purely a coincidence it will be grown in Bedford, my decision was swayed by the height the plants grow to (2.5ft) which will be better for my exposed plot.

Cabbage Golden Acre (summer), I grew this variety last year and if you could picture the perfect ‘Peter Rabbit’ cabbage then this would be it. Firm ball head cabbages which are a joy to grow and beautiful to look at, a shame to cover them with butterfly netting!

Cabbage Romanov (red summer), beautiful and delicious with a long growing season. Last year I planted strong plants during late summer so no surprise they didn’t get going in time to harvest for a summer crop, however they sat well through late autumn/early winter eventually producing lovely tight heads of rich burgundy red so you could squeeze in a late crop if the weather plays ball. Very nice raw and in coleslaw.

Cabbage Traviata (savoy winter), I do love a savoy cabbage and this is a lovely one to grow, beautiful crinkly leaves which are very winter hardy. Slugs can be more of a problem to winter cabbages due to wet and cool conditions, I keep the numbers down by regularly tidying the plants, removing yellowing or very damaged outer leaves. I find wool pellets (organic and wildlife friendly) to be beneficial.

Calendula Pot Marigold, single orange flowers which are beautiful and edible. 

Carrot Mixed, a blend of purple, orange and yellow carrots – Rainbow, Red Samurai and Purple Haze F1 varieties. I’ve not grown this blend before but I have grown purple carrots which are amazing. The big kid in me chose this variety, I like the idea of not knowing the colour of the carrot I’m going to pull. 

Carrot Autumn King, maincrop carrot that I love growing every year. Big roots packed full of flavour, pull earlier for smaller carrots. This variety sits well over winter without splitting, as long as the slugs don’t find them you will still be pulling carrots into early spring. Don’t forget to thin them if you want big carrots, sow direct from March onwards if soil is not waterlogged or frozen and cover with a tunnel cloche or fleece to aid germination. Once the seedlings appear I place a barrier made of fine mesh and bamboo canes around them to prevent carrot fly damage to the roots. This stays in place till the end of the year.

Celeriac Monarch, I grew celeriac for the first time last year and I’m glad I did. Lovely flavour and delicious roasted, sits well all winter so great for late winter harvests. Seeds take a long time to germinate and need some heat to get them going.

Chard Bright Lights, I tend to grow chard for the stems which are delicious roasted, I like the young leaves in salads and give the larger ones to my chickens, beautiful colours of red, baby pink, yellow and white. Quick to bolt in hot weather, remove the flower stems as they appear at the base to keep the plants producing.

Cosmos Sensation Mixed, a favourite flower on the allotment pulling in the bees right up until a hard frost. Great for cutting and will self seed readily, shades of pink and white.

Dahlia, some mixes and dinner plates! I thought I’d never grown dahlias before but looking back through photos I found that I have but the dainty Bishop types. For my birthday last month I received some tubers and some of them are the huge dinner plate types. I’m looking forward to giving dahlias another go, any planting/growing tips would be great, please leave me a comment.

French Bean (Climbing) Cherokee Trail of Tears, a very rare bean with purple flowers and green or red tinged pods. Pods can be eaten fresh or allow them to dry for the small black beans to use when needed. Really nice bean.

Garlic Red Duke, I grow this hard neck variety every year and keep bulbs back for planting in the autumn, usually around November time. They’re doing well in a raised bed which I’m glad I did given the amount of rain we’ve had so far. Pink/red colour to the skin, white when peeled. Strong spicy flavour.

Kohl Rabi Modrava, a lovely purple variety, delicious raw and tastes just like cabbage. Does well in part shade

Kohl Rabi Olivia, a green variety that to me tastes slightly more ‘cabbagey’ than the purple type listed above. I love them grated into a coleslaw.

Larkspur Giant Imperial, cottage garden and cut flower, long flower spikes above feathery foliage. A new flower for me to try.

Leek Musselburgh, long thick stems with good winter hardiness. Sadly leeks are becoming almost impossible to grow on my allotment site due to leek moth and allium leaf miner. I won’t allow the disappointment of last years awful crop to put me off, I’ll try again but use very fine mesh to cover from time of planting out. Fingers crossed it works.

Nasturtium Salad Mix and Bloody Mary, an allotment garden favourite which pulls in beneficial insects. Flowers and leaves are edible. I grow them for the lovely flowers and as a sacrifice plant – attractive to blackfly and cabbage white butterflies which keeps numbers down on brassica and runner beans, the plants are so prolific when they get going they seem to shake off pests very well. 

Onion Bedfordshire Champion, I usually grow onions from sets but last year I gave seeds a go and now I’m hooked. Using the multi sow method in cell trays I planted out in clumps, pulling immature onions through summer as salad onions, allowing the rest to bulb up. 

Parsnip Gladiator, my favourite variety to grow. Long smooth roots some of which are huge! Sits well through winter.

Pea Jaguar, one of the best peas I’ve ever grown and so delicious I eat them like sweeties so hardly any make it to the kitchen. 

Potato (second early) Charlotte, my favourite potato to grow and eat, delicious small as a salad potato and we use the bigger ones in an air fryer cooked with the skin on and sliced into thick chips/wedges.

Potato (maincrop) King Edward, an oldie but I’ve never grown it before, I usually go for Desiree but fancied a change. I know they’re widely available in supermarkets etc but I believe the taste of a homegrown potato can’t be beaten. 

Runner Bean Polestar, my favourite runner bean variety which are stringless when on the small side. Heavy cropper. 

Squash (summer) Crookneck, I’ve been interested in this variety for a while now and finally I got my hands on some seed. Unusual knobbly yellow squash with a distinctive curved stem or ‘crooked neck’. Should be interesting!

Squash (summer) Verde Di Milano, dwarf bush courgette from Italy. Dark green fruit with bushy growth so great for small spaces, but still produces lots of fruit if regularly picked. I pick them small, lovely raw too.

Squash (winter) Rouge vif d’Etampes, French heirloom pumpkin which is my favourite to grow. Cinderella pumpkins with lovely flavour, I use them to make pumpkin and raisin cake.

rouge vif d' etampes

Squash (winter) Galeuse D’Eysines, another variety I’ve never grown is this French heirloom, fruit ripens to a shade of pink and develops a warty surface when stored. Sounds fab! 

Squash (winter) Crown Prince, I’m super excited to grow this squash as I have heard it tastes great, I can’t believe I’ve never grown it before. Blue/green coloured fruit with yellow flesh. Can’t wait to taste it.

Squash (winter) Sweet Dumpling, lovely little squash with light ribbing and green speckled stripes, attractive and easy to grow and very tasty with a nutty flavour.

Sunflower Russian Giant, Black Magic and Copper Queen, my plot is naked without a sunflower or three and these varieties are just some of my favourites. This is a great mix of single big yellow flowers we all know and love and the multi-branching burnt orange and rich purple that just keep flowering all summer. Just stunning to grow and the bees adore them too.

Sweet Corn Incredible, I really like this variety and it usually grows well for me, producing well-filled sweet cobs from late July onwards depending on planting time and weather. Will grow like stink in well fed soils, plants can reach well over 7ft. 

Tomato Sweet Success, red cherry type for greenhouse or outdoor. New variety for me, looking forward to tasting them.

Tomato Sungold, probably the sweetest tomato I’ve ever grown. Orange/yellow cherry type for greenhouse or outdoor.

Tomato Ruby, large red tomato with superb flavour, I really like this variety and usually grow it every year.

Turnip Petrowski, old variety, yellow in colour with a sweet flavour. I confess to never growing turnips before so I’m excited to give them a go.

Turnip Navet de Nancy, a very old French variety with deep purple colouring to the upper part of the root. I decided to try two different varieties of turnip to get a good feel for growing them, a nice mix of colours. 

Zinnia Forecast and Whirlygig, bold and colourful flowers that look almost tropical, need a good summer otherwise they don’t do so well, great for bees and butterflies.

Leave me a comment if you’re planning to grow something you see, keep in touch, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

Even Rainy Days Are Allotment Days

It’s dark and uninviting outside, and according to the weather forecast the cold nip has been replaced by milder temperatures, although it still feels nippy to me. I don’t mind the cold if I’m wrapped up with plenty of layers on but the rain is back which is just miserable. Allotment mooching is out of the question today, I can’t really do much on the plot at the moment but I do love to potter around and randomly poke at the soil, wiping my muddy finger tips on my clothes then wondering how the mud got there.

Seeing as it’s pouring down I decided that I would still have an allotment day but from the comfort of my home, going through my seed stash to get organised for the growing year ahead. January is a great month to think about and make a list of the things you’d like to grow and the seeds you still need to source. The first Coronavirus lockdown last March made it tricky to get things such as seeds (due to panic buying, staff shortages/illness, rise in vegetable growing and concerns over food shortage), I usually make a list early on in the year and then take my time gathering the things I need, however I feel a bit rushed to get my seed order in earlier than I would normally and I have already made a start buying certain seeds such as parsnip, carrots and sweetcorn which are best sown from fresh seed every year. I do collect seed where I can, particularly from beans, non F1 hybrid tomatoes and flowers, but not from pumpkins and squash which can be promiscuous so you never know what you’ll end up growing! I lack the skill and time to ensure no cross pollination takes places in my pumpkin patch, I tend to grow so many varieties it gives me a headache even thinking about trying. 

So after a good sort through my seed boxes I pretty much have all that I wish to grow this year, I have plenty of usable seed left over from last year which is great and I just need to put in a very small order to a particular seed company that I like but it’s proving a bit difficult due to the volume of orders they’re currently receiving. A repeat of last year. Hopefully I will make it in time to the next open slot on their online shop before the shutter comes down. I’ve already got my seed potatoes from a local garden centre, stock is running low on them already where I live. I will write another blog post with my full list of what I plan to grow this year once I have everything in place. Ooh look at me getting all organised!

Are you experiencing problems sourcing seed or other garden-related things?

A Very Messy Leek Lesson

A third lockdown for England was announced by the Prime Minister on Monday which comes as no surprise given the infection/death rate statistics and concern over the new virus strain. Allotments are classed as a form of exercise which means plot holders are permitted to use them, the very nature of allotments means close proximity to others can be avoided but of course we should still be sensible. I don’t know how often I will visit the plot because the weather has taken a wintry turn, no snow here in Bedfordshire yet but it’s certainly cold enough. It’s just nice to know I can go to my allotment if I want to, I feel very lucky to have it.

I did visit over the weekend to clear the leeks and it was a horrible job, most of the leeks were just soggy mush under ground and covered in allium leaf miner cocoons (yuk), the rest were formed but in a sorry state and not fit for eating even though they looked fine from above ground. On reflection I should have pulled the lot when I first realised the problem rather than leaving the ‘good ones’ in the ground in the hope they would recover from allium leaf miner and leek moth attack.

Soup anyone?

Allium leaf miner cocoon

Allium leaf miner cocoon on my finger for size comparison

Mushy leek

Visible cocoons of the allium leaf miner fly buried inside the stem of the leek

Don’t be fooled. this leek was full of hidden horrors!

I will now avoid growing the allium family in that particular section of the plot for a while, certainly not this year. I removed as many of the cocoons as possible from the soil along with the damaged leeks and took everything home with me to burn.

Going forward I will use a very fine mesh to cover leeks from the moment of planting, probably Enviromesh or similar. Apologies if the photos gross you out, it’s not something I find pleasure in photographing I can assure you! Hopefully you’ll never experience this, but sadly the two leek pests I mention in this blog post are becoming more widespread and our allotment site is now very hit and miss with leek growing without protection.

Stay safe, wrap up warm and carry on gardening (if you can) x

A New Year Begins

It was cold and frosty this morning, a fresh new year, very fresh indeed. My early morning routine is pretty much the same each day, I let the chickens out of the coops and fill up their feeders, on a cold morning I defrost the drinkers too. I don’t keep my chickens on my allotment, there’s not really enough space as our site and plots are on the small side, I’d worry about them too much anyway so I chose to keep them in the garden at home.

My chickens are also on lockdown, an outbreak of bird flu (becoming a regular occurrence at this time of year) means they’re not allowed to free range and have to be kept in a covered enclosure away from wild birds until it’s safe to let them roam again. Luckily my walk-in roofed runs are adequate for keeping my flock safe and unwanted creatures out. When I catch them sulking about the situation I tell them they’re lucky they can still mix with their friends! I will properly introduce my feathery friends on the blog at some point. 

Celeriac and carrot bed weeded and mulched with fresh compost.

I popped to the allotment this afternoon to do a spot of light hand weeding and grab a celeriac and some carrots to go with dinner. The ground was slightly frozen in places but the weeds pulled up easily enough. I love how clean the ground looks after weeding, wrapped up warm I really didn’t feel the cold and it felt good to be doing something on the plot.

Bean bed weeded, I still need to take the hazel poles down!

The leeks are one of the disasters of last year, thanks to leek moth and allium leaf miner. I gave the stronger looking plants a chance to see if they’d improve and some have but others really are just mush waiting to happen now, one small tug and they’ll disintegrate. I’ll be lucky to get a small batch of soup out of this lot. On a positive note I have fallen in love with celeriac after growing it for the first time. Looks aren’t everything, it’s true, for this rather ugly-looking vegetable is absolutely delicious roasted, I like slicing it up thinly and cooking it as crisps. 

My dad was on his plot today, he popped over with Jess the Border Collie to say hello from a safe distance before heading home.

Jess edged her way to the shed to check if I had any biscuits…

And…..

YIKES!!!!

It’s ok, I made it out of the shed in one piece! 

Happy weekend x