Allotment sites across the country are slowly waking from their winter slumber. My biggest challenge at this time of year is to contain my enthusiasm! Something for us all to remember is winter could yet have a sting in its tail. There is little to be gained by getting too far ahead of ourselves. Yet, still, I can’t wait to get stuck in, with all the exciting jobs ahead.
Already, Rhubarb is breaking into leaf. Winter garlic, onions and broad beans are growing strongly. Snowdrops and Crocus are out.
I welcome a sprinkling of flowers on the allotment. They brighten our plots, giving welcome bursts of colour. Even the most ardent fan of allotment gardening will admit that our plots can look a bit drab, especially in spring.
There is a practical reason to have some flower power on our plots. Flowers play a vital and often overlooked role in attracting bees and flying insects to help with pollination of our vegetables. This is particularly important. So anything we can do to attract bees and other flying insects to our allotment, has to be welcome. Insect houses and bug boxes are a great help with this too.
There are also more subtle benefits of colour and scent, as flowers can help disguise our prized crops from pest attack.
I believe that experienced allotment gardeners and beginners alike should grow a few annual or perennial flowers. They really are worth the tiny bit of space they require.
In milder areas there are plenty of early seeds to sow indoors this month. Early peas, such as “Early Onward” or “Avola” are ideal for starting off in cells or seed trays on the windowsill or in a greenhouse with gentle heat. They can be grown on outdoors in cold frames or kept in a greenhouse until early April and planted out on your plot, with protection from fleece or a cloche. Moderate frosts should not harm them. As the soil warms up they can also be sown directly from April.
The hardy, Broad Bean is one of my favourite veg. Few other plants offer, such a fantastically tasting end product, following lovely scented flowers of crimson, black and white, or white, depending on your choice of variety. As a further bonus, broad beans produce nitrogen in the soil via nodules on their roots as they grow. For a beginner, they are the easiest way to get the allotment moving. This time of year is perfect to sow copious amounts of beans in a cold frame or gentle heat. Or they can be sown directly from April. Broad beans will give you very little trouble as they grow and develop.
Indoors now is the time to start chitting your early potatoes. Simply place your tubers in egg boxes or on seed trays with eyes pointing upwards. Chitting is a simple process providing light and cool temperatures to the dormant tubers, so the sprouts are encouraged to grow.
Finally remember to put a top dressing of well rotted manure or good garden compost around your fruit trees and bushes this month, keeping the area around the bark clean.
Having a dedicated soft fruit area, is important to allow you the choice of erecting a fruit cage or using netting to protect from birds.