November and its rapidly shortening days generally means a reduction in allotment activities. It can be a logistical challenge to visit your plot in the daylight, given busy weekends. However, there is still plenty to do, if the soil isn’t too wet.
We are clearly deep into autumn now and tree leaves are falling fast. Deciduous leaves make a wonderful leaf mould, a very useful soil improver, in just twelve months. I simply gather the leaves from my plot and surrounding area and store them in a leaf sack. It is very satisfying to have something for nothing, in true allotment style!
Regular readers of this blog will know that broad beans are my favourite vegetable. Cue the fanfare! This month, broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ can be sown, preferably in rootrainers or cells in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. Another variety with good cold resistance for sowing now is ‘Luz de Otono’. Both varieties can also be sown directly on your plot in sheltered areas or in well-drained soil.
On my plot, brussel sprouts are firming up really well. Hopefully we will get some decent frost before Christmas as I think this improves the flavour of the buttons. It is good practice to remove any lower leaves as they turn yellow. This improves airflow around the plants and visually improves the appearance.
From now until the end of March is the bare-root tree planting season. There is no better time of year to start a new fruit area or mini orchard on your allotment. Good ground preparation is key and it is worth taking your time with this. Remember the trees are going to be in the ground a long time. Remove all weeds and break up any soil pans, before adding plenty of soil improver or well-rotted manure to the planting area. Firm the soil around the roots and don’t forget the tree supports.
I’m a big admirer of dwarf fruit trees and also family trees as they take up less space. Once established, they crop heavily too. I’ve got three apple trees that have been cropping heavily for almost years now. This is treemendous value for money!
For something different, why not try a range of nut trees. The Purple Filbert tree makes a fine feature in its own right with stunning copper foliage and purple fruit. It can be grown as a productive hedge too.
Allotments can give so more than just food
Some of the most aesthetically pleasing plots I’ve seen over the years have natural living boundaries. They are great for wildlife too.
For a security hedge around part of your plot, holly (Ilex aquifolium) can be planted over winter as bare-root plants. Sprigs of it could come in handy at Christmas too. Admittedly it will take a number of years to establish.
I’m a great advocate of growing a few flowers for cutting. Allotments traditionally have been used for this. Sweet Peas can be sown now for overwintering in a cold greenhouse. They can be planted out next spring. Flowering from the resultant plants will be several weeks earlier next year.
We are still in the bulb-planting season too. Daffodils ‘large cup mix’ is perfect for large blooms with a choice of wide-ranging colours. It is on the late side for daffodils, but last year I planted some in November and they caught up.
Tulips are another of my favourites. They can be planted until the end of December. Indeed later plantings are thought to be less prone to tulip fire disease. I grow tulips next to some comfrey under a tree on the edge of my plot. This is good use of an area that isn’t really suitable for a food crop.
All of this just goes to show, allotment plots can contribute far more to the household than just food.