What to do in your allotment in January

Leeks ‘Northern Lights’ from Suttons

Written by Lee Senior

This year it was the wet I had to contend with rather than sub-zero temperatures. Along with the traditional sprouts ‘F1 Brigitte’ and parsnips ‘White Gem’, I also dug up some rather claggy Jerusalem artichokes which are delicious roasted. These were supplemented by some good-sized leeks ‘Mussleburgh’ and swede ‘Invitation’. It’s one of the highlights of my gardening year to grow as much fresh veg for Christmas lunch as possible. It means I escape from the kitchen too!

The weather has put a stop to the remainder of my winter digging. However, keen allotmenteers are not deterred from their allotment fix for long. I’ve spent some time getting my greenhouse and shed into shape for spring. Winter is a great time of year to give the greenhouse a good clean with a good greenhouse disinfectant.

A greenhouse heater such as the Palma Heater is a good investment if you are keen to start seed sowing early. Keeping the greenhouse frost-free greatly expands the range of seeds you can sow between now and April. Another boon is a heated propagator, which from February onwards greatly increases the range of seeds you can germinate in a cold greenhouse.

Allotment flowers in January

  • Sow sweet pea seeds in a modular seed tray or a root trainer tray under cover. Use good quality seed compost, and make sure your seedlings neither dry out nor sit in waterlogged soil when they emerge. Sweet peas make fantastic scented cut flowers, and are well worth growing at the allotment.
  • Thinly sow antirrhinums, lobelia and geraniums in seed trays, either in the greenhouse or indoors. Treat your flowers like annual bedding in the spring – plant them up in mixed containers to decorate the allotment.

Allotment vegetables in January

  • Sow exhibition-sized onion seed in the greenhouse or on a windowsill. These large onions benefit from early sowing as they require a long growing season to put on size. Try onions ‘Ailsa Craig’, ‘Globo’ and the giant ‘Exhibition’.
  • Sow shallots such as ‘Golden Gourmet’ and ‘Longor’ indoors this month. For a more spicy flavour, the variety ‘Red Sun’ is excellent.
  • Sow early-cropping carrot ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’ directly into a polytunnel bed, or outdoors in unfrozen ground under a cloche. The sweet roots will be ready in late March and April.
  • Sow rows of the super-hardy broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ or ‘The Sutton’ now if the ground is unfrozen. Use a cloche to protect seedlings and to warm the ground to speed up germination. Alternatively, sow your seed in trays on a sunny windowsill or in the greenhouse and try using a root training propagator to form a stronger root system.
  • Sow aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘F1 Moneymaker’ seeds in a warm bright space. Ensure they stay at a temperature of 15 – 20 degrees celsius for successful germination.
  • Start Leek ‘Lyon’ or ‘Mussleburgh’ this month. If you haven’t got the time or facilities to grow leeks from seed, then plug plants offer a fine alternative. ‘Autumn Mixed’ is available to buy as 20 plug plants which will be despatched by the end of May.
  • If your allotment beds are too cold to support speedy growth, try using the kitchen windowsill to grow some super-quick leaf crops. Sow kale shoots in a shallow tray for nutritious leaves, ready to harvest in 4 weeks. Grow your own pea shoots too! Sow a layer of pea seeds in a repurposed butter tub using multi-purpose compost. Cut the pea shoots when they’re a couple of inches high to add to salads. Sprouting seeds are also a good quick indoor crop to lift a winter salad – try alfalfa or broccoli green sprouting.
  • Sow a mix of salad leaf seeds for a fresh harvest within three weeks. Start off salad ‘Winter Mix’ in a long deep container in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. Sow every couple of weeks for a continuous supply of fresh leaves through the first few months of the year.

Allotment fruit in January

  • Place forcing covers over your rhubarb crowns if they start showing signs of growth this month, to encourage long tender stems to start developing. Make your own forcing covers by repurposing a black plastic compost bin or an upturned rubbish bin with a few holes drilled in the top.
  • Check your fruit tree ties this month. Tighten or loosen tree ties as needed so they don’t rub and damage the bark.
  • Plant new bare root fruit trees. Use a tree guard and support stake to brace your newly planted tree and protect it from damage by hungry deer and rabbits.
  • Sow strawberry ‘Regina’ seeds in a tray of quality seed compost. Place the tray on a warm windowsill to germinate. This alpine variety produces plenty of small sweet fruits in summer.

Crops to harvest in January

  • Keep harvesting your leeks, leaving them in the  ground until you need them.
  • Enjoy harvesting brassicas like Brussels sprouts, kale, savoy cabbage and cauliflower this month.
  • Pull up root vegetables like swede and parsnip.
  • Keep an eye on your purple sprouting broccoli as it starts to crop this month.

General January allotment jobs

  • Have a go at growing your own mushrooms. Indoor grow kits come in a choice of regular button mushrooms, or the more exotic oyster or shiitake varieties.
  • Invest in a heated propagator to speed up germination of seeds and allow all year round sowing.
  • Buy necessary growing supplies for the coming year like fleece, compost and plant labels.
  • Check on your stored potatoes, garlic, onions and shallots. Remove any that show signs of rot, or that are soft to the touch.
  • Use the hard frozen ground as an opportunity to do some manual work on the plot. Shift manure, planks or erect compost bins while your plot is mud free. If the ground is soft and wet, then stay off it to avoid compaction.
  • Review what worked in the allotment last year, and plan your beds for next season. January is a great time to order seeds and work out your crop rotation.
  • Keep checking over allotment structures for wind damage. Check the netting on your brassicas to fix any holes and cover any exposed plants.
  • Sharpen loppers, secateurs and pruning saws. Check over power tools and mowers – now’s the best time to conduct routine maintenance on garden machinery.
  • Clean your allotment greenhouse or shed ready for the coming growing season. Check over shelving and glass, and tidy away clutter.

Planning ahead

  • Order your asparagus crowns for planting in February. Prepare your asparagus beds now by digging in deep ridges. Planting your crowns on top of the ridges will keep them free draining, just as they like it.
  • January is the ideal month for ordering seed potatoes. Ordering early means you are more likely to get your variety of choice. When they arrive, do begin the chitting process as soon as possible. First and Second early varieties in particular produce heavier yields from chitted tubers. I use a frost-free windowsill and even a heated greenhouse if space is tight. When they arrive, lay them out somewhere cool and dry to ‘chit’ prior to planting.
  • Order chilli seeds to sow next month. Choose a mix of heats, colours and growth habits to ensure you get a fun and versatile harvest in summer. Remember, the hotter the chilli, the longer the growth period it’ll need to develop a strong flavour.
  • At this time of year, I also like to do an audit on what supplies and materials I need for the forthcoming year. Essentials include:
  • Cloches, forcing tunnels and frost protection fleece – absolute must-haves for protecting early crops.
  • Slug protection
  • Plant labels
  • Garden canes and twine
  • My shed is benefiting from an annual winter tidy up too. There is always clutter to remove and it is amazing how much bigger the shed looks when I’ve finished. It’s not uncommon for the shed to be home for all manner of insects. Last year, I discovered a queen wasp, and another overwintering in the greenhouse!
Lead image: Leeks ‘Northern Lights’ from Suttons
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About Lee Senior
Lee Senior is an experienced horticultural writer, RHS Yorkshire in Bloom judge and horticultural consultant. He has also had an allotment for over 30 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 had the pleasure of meeting BBC gardener, Joe Swift. Now, over three 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. I feel strongly that we should all respect nature and do our bit to help our ailing planet. Small-scale food growing is my passion and I can’t wait for my two daughters 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, no matter where they live and it is great to see how growing food in containers is taking off now,” says Lee. When he isn’t writing for the gardening press, Lee runs his own Allotment Consultancy business, advising individuals and organisations and Councils on how to get the best from their land, either in person or remotely. Lee’s website is: https://allotmentsandgreenspaces.wordpress.com or you can email him directly at: allotmentsguru@gmail.com. Away from horticulture, Lee is a keen walker and he has written a number of successful walking books which are available at his online bookstore: https://www.etsy.com/shop/WalkingintheAire/