Gardening: August 2017

August 04 2017

SINCE we started our allotment it has provided us with potatoes for about ten months of the year, last year however our crop was only fair to say the least.

SINCE we started our allotment it has provided us with potatoes for about ten months of the year, last year however our crop was only fair to say the least. Apart from blight which did not help, many tubers had been attacked by underground predators. Our preparation had been the same as always, a trench dug which was lined with compost, seeds planted then earthed up. Over the following weeks we had excellent foliage but the harvest was, well as I said, disappointing.

So a new approach was considered for this season, namely No Dig. The ground for our potato crop was selected and cleared in the late winter of any remaining crops from 2016. The ground was then divided into 4ft wide beds with an 18 inch wide path in between and then left until planting with two rows per 4ft bed in early April. The soil by then had become somewhat compacted and needed forking through, not digging or turning over but simply inserting a fork every few inches and easing the soil until it became loose. Using a dibber our seed potatoes were then simply popped into its hole about 4 inches deep.  Planting a row of potatoes this way was very much quicker and easier than we have ever done.

Some readers may remember that we had been making homemade compost over the winter months for earthing up our spuds. Fortunately, enough had been made which was of a suitable texture and was easily piled into a heap along the rows. And apart from initial watering, no other water apart from minimal amounts of rain in recent weeks was applied. We waited in eagerness until the end of June for the results of our newly adopted method.

For our earlies, different varieties were tried this year, but just five seeds of each. We had sampled Vivaldi a week or so earlier which was an excellent cropper all-round with a superb taste. We’ve never weighed our potatoes before but felt we had to for the results of this trial at least and found that

Charlotte produced just over 5 kilos. Accord was a larger tuber but less of them with 4.5 kilos. But our best to date has been Picola Star which produced 6.4 kilos. 

Not including the Vivaldi which was not weighed, our plot has so far produced well in excess of 30 pounds of potatoes for those of us that prefer the old weight measurements from just 15 seeds and we still have our main crops of King Edward and Majestic to come.

Our trial concludes that it is easier and more beneficial to make compost than digging, hope you agree. Additionally, as the beds were cleared from  the harvested potatoes the compost that was used for earthing-up helped retain a loose texture of the soil and just needed to be raked over to which we have immediately followed with a crop of leek seedlings.

Hopefully, you’ll see from our success with potatoes that having an allotment does bring its rewards but more so for Sue and Martin who took on a half plot at Hillside Allotments back in February that was somewhat overgrown to say the least. It was a bit daunting for them as they had little gardening experience but lots of determination as our pictures show of just what has been achieved. From a near wilderness they turned their plot around as it now has a superb shed, water butts and raised beds which have produced an excellent mix of crops. Well done both of you! Needless to say, they already have plans for next year as they will also be tackling an adjacent plot as well.  

 If like us you sow seed in multi cell or single trays you’ll know the importance of adding a label to remind us with what we’ve planted. We offered our neighbour on the allotment a tray of six pumpkins to fill a spare bed. Delighted he was,” I’ll make some soup with those in the winter,” as I handed them over. Unfortunately, the tray did not have a label, a golden rule was broken, but I was sure they were pumpkins as I happily watched him plant them a few weeks ago. The plants matured quickly with several flowers forming. But oh, oh in the last few days those pumpkins are rather long and green my neighbour tells me. “It must be the variety” as I tried to convince him, but he was not having it. “They are Courgettes” he said without doubt and I had to agree. Sorry mate, no soup for you!

Think I had better pop into our allotment shop in Nicholas Lane, St. George and stock up on more labels. Do you have any spare ground or an area that will become vacant after crops are harvested over the coming weeks? Green Manures are excellent as a short term crop and come in a range of varieties and uses. Our shop has many of these on sale and if you would like to know more we have a free handout that we can email to you, simply get in touch with us at and we’ll send you one.

Before we close for this month, just thought we would remind you that whilst next spring seems a long way off right now but it’s time to be thinking ahead of what we could be harvesting from March onwards. By then our winter crops will be all but over and at that time of year there is always a lull of anything to pick on the allotment. Durham Early cabbage sown in trays by the end of August will be ready for planting out by October. Maturing slowly but steadily throughout the winter months you’ll be cutting your first spring greens as the days are getting longer, leave them a few weeks more so they heart up and you’ll have a very pleasant tasting cabbage. But whilst they are growing, be sure to keep them covered with net as pigeons just love them!

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