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January Allotment Tips

We’ve welcomed in a new year and excitingly we can begin to look forward to a productive season on our allotments. Although spring is still some way off, there are subtle changes already taking place. The most obvious is that day length is slowly increasing. Gradually, plants, wildlife and birds will all begin to respond favourably to this. My Rhubarb for instance, is already showing very early signs of buds swelling. I’ll force some of it with a forcing pot for an even quicker early crop, perfect for making rhubarb crumble.

I’ll be slowly increasing the amount of time I spend of my plot as the weather allows. It pays to keep off the soil when it is really wet, so patience is the key at this time of year. However, given dry conditions, I’ll be manuring two beds earmarked for my brassica’s this year. I’ve got a stockpile of well rotted horse manure that I’ve left for almost a year. This can now be added to the beds. Additionally some of my home-made garden compost will go on my established asparagus beds. This organic matter will add some nutrients to these hungry but very special perennial vegetables. If looked after, asparagus crowns should last for 15-20 years offering great value for money.


To keep the fertility cycle going, I also need to get some fresh manure down to my plot, to stand for twelve months to rot down. The cold weather of winter is great for these essential jobs. It is possible to buy bags of farmyard manure via mail order if you prefer.

I’ll be doing some very basic preparatory work on the bed earmarked for root crops too. Parsnips and carrots don’t like recently-manured soil or any obstacles in the soil such as large stones or debris. A light forking of the soil should unearth any erroneous larger stones allowing them to be easily removed.

carrots parsnips

Wind and snow can play havoc with any netting covering your brassica’s. Regularly check that the netting is still in place and not damaged.

Last year I used an old raspberry cane to mark a row of parsnips. Assuming the cane was dead I stuck it in the ground, so job done – a recycled temporary stick! Recently while harvesting parsnips for Christmas Day, I noticed the cane had started to form buds. Inadvertently I’ve gained a hardwood rooted cutting and new raspberry plant! I love these surprises that allotments continually throw up.

There is no getting away from the fact that most January tasks involve spending time in the relative sanctuary of the polytunnel or greenhouse. Now is the time to get your greenhouse and potting area organised and cleaned. Also do a quick audit and order any supplies you may be lacking such as propagators, fleece, seed labels or pots. On the windowsill at home I’m chitting my seed potatoes.

Finally let’s not forget the most important part, the seeds themselves! This month we can sow sweet peas, broad beans, early round-seeded peas, seed onions and shallots. We are on the cusp of another year of allotment fun!

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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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