Down on the Allotment, the question I get asked the most at this time of year is “when should I plant my potatoes”? Potato planting is one of the key allotment tasks in spring.
As soon as the soil is dry enough and not too cold is a good guide. The main clue the soil temperature has slightly increased is when the weeds start growing consistently. If the soil is not too sticky, we are up and running and our first early potatoes are worth a go. No matter how much our experience of running an allotment, there is no definite planting date. Heavy claggy soils are often later to be useable. Conversely a few raised beds on the allotment offer a good alternative as they are often useable a little earlier in spring.
The planting window for early varieties is usually mid March –mid April. “Second earlies’ follow two –three weeks later, with maincrop types always the last to go in usually no later than the middle of May.
So far on my plot, I’ve been lucky enough to get early varieties “Winston” and “Foremost” safely in the ground. Second early varieties “Maris Peer” and “Vivaldi” will be next as soon as conditions allow.
For beginners starting out, the number one tip is don’t worry too much about planting dates. Potatoes sown a little too early will simply take longer to grow. Healthy tubers shouldn’t rot in normal conditions. Conversely, if you are late planting any type of potato out, they will catch up.
Always worth remembering, is that successful allotment holders garden by the conditions rather than the calendar. Last spring we were over a month later than this year so far, but we plot holders are nothing if not adaptable!
Do keep an eye out for frost when early growth emerges.
Protecting new growth is a key theme on the allotment at this time of year, with ultra-hardy broad beans usually being the exception.
Fleece is the plot holder’s best friend. It is the thing I use most of in spring and it really is effective at keeping cold winds and moderate frosts at bay.
Alternatively, pop up cloches and other types of cloche are also great at keeping inclement weather off our young plants.
Now is the time when our young early summer cabbage plants can be gradually taken out of the cold frame and planted out under cloches or protective fleece.
If your onion sets are growing strongly in the greenhouse or a cold frame- gradually acclimatise them to life outdoors as the month wears on. They should be ready to plant out into beds containing humus rich soil and organic matter by the end of the month if conditions are favourable. Try to keep your eye on the weather forecast and be ready to protect from sudden cold snaps.
In your frost-free greenhouse; sweet corn, runner beans and courgettes should now be coming along nicely. Again if you haven’t had time to sow any of the above, there is still plenty of time to do it.
Over time as we get to know our plots, we find out that the soil in one area, can be often very different to another. When we work out our plot rotation this is something to bear in mind that comes with experience.
Do try to enjoy April, as it is an exciting. progressive month on the allotment.