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February Top Allotment Tips

My allotment doesn’t know if it is coming or going! The weather is playing havoc with plant cycles. In January we had crazy temperatures of 15C, snow and oh yes rain, lots and lots of rain.

Nonetheless, it is encouraging to note how quickly loamy soil drains after a respite from the incessant downpours, so we shouldn’t get too despondent.

I’m in the greenhouse fairly regularly now. Around half of my Onions sets ’Sturon” and the red variety ”Electric“ are planted in multi-purpose compost in a combination of trays and pots. I’ve found “Electric” to be the most dependable red variety grown from sets, with less bolting in my experience than some others. It can be overwintered too. Although there is no additional heat in my greenhouse the onions will be fine and develop steadily. I’m looking for root development at this stage, the shoot will develop accordingly. I will plant the remainder of the sets towards the end of February.

The trusty electric heated propagator is currently happily doing its stuff on a windowsill in the house. I’ve sown some fast maturing early pointed cabbage seeds Greyhound along with the Cauliflower All the year round This tried and tested variety is still my favourite cauliflower and is good value too.

Also in the propagator are the tomato seeds F1 Shirley and Sweet Pepper Rainbow Mix which has a lovely sweet  flavour.

Also on the windowsill I’m chitting my early and second early potatoes.

Outdoors I still have a plentiful supply of leeks Musselburgh to harvest along with sprouts F1 Brigette. This variety has held the sprouts over a two month period amazingly well, with the bonus of a delicious flavour and no bitterness. Finally not forgetting the always dependable Swede, Brora.

My major failure of last year was parsnips. My very small haul that did decide to grow, has long since been used up. The problem last year was very poor germination of the seed. This can be a problem with parsnips in poor weather and ground conditions. Note to self, must do better in 2016….

I’ve been harvesting lots of tasty finger sized carrots over the winter, Amsterdam Forcing and the variety “Ideal” are perfect for growing in bucket-sized containers. My children love them as snacks and they are so easy to grow. They are perfect for beginners. It is possible to almost have carrots all year round when grown in containers to supplement the summer and autumn crops in the ground. Here in Yorkshire the carrots have sat unprotected right until harvesting, from a mid-late summer sowing last year. If your allotment has heavy clay or very stony soil, this is the way to grow carrots, the size of which is determined by the spacing’s. I’ve also had considerable success with stump-rooted varieties grown to maturity in window boxes. This week I will be sowing some carrot seeds of both “Amsterdam Forcing “and “Ideal” perfect for containers in the greenhouse to be put outside in April.

If the ground dries out I hope to do some light weeding of the soil soon. Inevitably during mild winters, weeds and grass never totally stop growing. Couch grass has even been sending up new growth in one bed! It seems the winter respite of no weeding, is over before it even begun.

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Lee Senior

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 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 two daughters, one who is 8 years old and the other who is 5 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 two books; 'Pennine Way, The Highs and Lows' which is a humorous, personal account of walking this momentous iconic walk. His second book 'Walking in the Aire', features 14 short walks in Yorkshire.

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