May I wish a Happy New Year to all readers of this blog. January heralds an exciting new decade for our allotments. With rising food prices and the uncertainty around Brexit, never has growing our own food been more important than it is today. Nevertheless, current affairs are only part of the justification of the allotment adventure.
The wider, timeless benefits of fresh air, exercise and social inclusion know no bounds. The mental health benefits and de-stressing properties of actively working the allotments are proven, yet they are often overlooked. Allotments are a win-win for anyone lucky enough to have one. If you are reading this and contemplating having a go, then without question do make it a New Year resolution.
Sometimes allotment waiting lists can be long or there may not be a site near to your house. Growing vegetables growing at home is the next best thing. This at least saves on the travel time! It need not take up too much space, if specific varieties used for square metre gardening are selected. Even if you don’t have a garden in the traditional sense, growing vegetables in containers or small spaces is a great option.
Looking ahead, the New Year is a great time to purchase seeds and gardening equipment. It is good to be organised and popular varieties are often in demand. It pays to beat the rush!
This is still early days in the seed sowing calendar. This month patience is a virtue with those twitchy seed sowing fingers. However, broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and ‘The Sutton’; Onion ‘Bedfordshire Champion’ and Ailsa Craig and finally carrot ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ are all suitable for greenhouse sowing later this month. Amsterdam Forcing is a quick to mature variety that is a stalwart in my greenhouse. It can be sown in in gentle heat and grown to maturity under glass. This small finger-like carrot is perfect for containers and also sowing directly in the ground from March onwards. If you have a heated propagator or a warm windowsill then aubergines benefit from an early start. It is important to be able to provide warm frost-free conditions after germination.
If the weather is inclement a worthwhile ‘indoor’ job is to clean the greenhouse. Use a disinfectant to clean pots, staging and glass. An organic option is Citrox, which doesn’t harm plants and is effective against fungal and bacterial diseases. Good husbandry in the greenhouse is important to minimise overwintering pests and diseases.
Another often overlooked mid-winter task is to check your greenhouse, polytunnel and shed for any damage. Felt often comes loose from sheds and an early repair can prevent more serious damage. Small tears or holes in greenhouse and polytunnel covers can be repaired early to prevent them getting worse. Regular visual checks are important as prevention is better than cure.
In a similar vein, it is good to annually check and do routine maintenance on both your powered and garden tools. If the blade of your secateurs, shears or loppers becomes blunt, then clean cuts will be difficult. Cuts that leave a snag or uneven piece of wood are less likely to heal and are an entry point for disease. A blade sharpener tool is a good investment that will repay itself many times over the years.
Finally, beginners to the allotment scene may be surprised how much fresh food is still available from our plots in January. There is an exciting bounty of fresh vegetables to harvest in January. Brussels sprouts, winter cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, parsnips, swede and turnips are all in still season to name but a few!