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April Allotment Tips

Potatoes growing on an allotment

Potatoes growing on an allotment

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.

Outdoors, a direct sowing of beetroot, parsnip and carrot seed (carrot seed tapes are a good idea for even germination) becomes a possibility now in milder sheltered areas when conditions allow.

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.

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Lee Senior

About Lee Senior

Lee Senior is an experienced horticultural writer, RHS Yorkshire in Bloom judge and part time horticultural manager. He has also had an allotment for over 25 years. After, initially spurning horticulture as a career option, to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a train driver, Lee soon realised he couldn't resist getting his hands dirty to make a living. Horticultural College training led, to getting an allotment at the tender age of 18 (in the days when you could actually get a plot quickly). My gardening hero, is Geoff Hamilton" says Lee. "It was Geoff who convinced me that you didn't have to spray everything that moved in the garden. Watching him on Gardeners’ World in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a revelation. I was lucky enough to meet Geoff and I’ve also more recently had the pleasure of meeting Joe Swift. Now over two decades of practical experience has taught me to work with mother-nature, not to fight against her and don't try to tame her, as so many gardeners seem to be on a mission to do. Small scale food growing is my passion and I can't wait for my my two daughters, one who is 5 years old and the other who is 3 to hopefully pick up the baton in the future. Nothing beats the flavour and satisfaction of growing your own food. You simply cannot buy the same quality and freshness. Everyone can have a go at growing something says Lee, no matter where they live. Lee has also written his first book entitled "Walking on the Aire".The book is based on another of his keen interests which is walking. The book features 14 short family style, walks in Airedale, Yorkshire.

3 thoughts on “April Allotment Tips”

  1. STAFF says:

    If you still wish to grow potatoes I would examine why the scab is so prevalent. One cause can be a soil with a high alkaline content. It may be worth doing a PH soil test. Perhaps growing some potatoes in containers or barrels filled with compost may be another option worth considering to get around the problem.

    The other thing to think about is which variety you grow. Some are more resistant than others to scab. The variety “Accent” has good resistance to common scab . The variety “Sante” shows some resistance to powdery scab. As an alternative oca is gradually becoming a little more popular. Quite a long growing season is needed but the plants are less susceptible to disease generally.

    Sweet potatoes are another consideration, though they can be tricky to grow to a sizeable worthwhile yield and are probably best considered in warm sheltered areas only.

    Have a look at all of the potatoes that Suttons sell here: http://www.suttons.co.uk/Gardening/Potatoes+Onions+Garlic/Seed+Potatoes/

  2. Lee Senior Lee Senior says:

    If you still wish to grow potatoes I would examine why the scab is so prevalent. One cause can be a soil with a high alkaline content. It may be worth doing a PH soil test.
    Perhaps growing some potatoes in containers or barrels filled with compost may be another option worth considering to get around the problem.
    The other thing to think about is which variety you grow. Some are more resistant than others to scab. The variety “Accent” has good resistance to common scab . The variety “Sante” shows some resistance to powdery scab.
    As an alternative oca is gradually becoming a little more popular. Quite a long growing season is needed but the plants are less susceptible to disease generally.
    Sweet potatoes are another consideration, though they can be tricky to grow to a sizeable worthwhile yield and are probably best considered in warm sheltered areas only.

  3. New allotment says:

    I am not growing potatoes this year on my allotment, because they seem to all get scab and none seem to do well. What other plants would you suggest to grow to replace them for the plate. Someone suggested oca?

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