Gardening Blog March 2017

March 03 2017

THE vegetable section of any supermarket will offer a vast range of produce, a significant amount of which will be out of season and to meet the demands of many will have travelled thousands of miles to get on the shelves. Runner beans and courgettes in the winter for example, ours will have finished cropping on the allotment with the onset of autumn.

THE vegetable section of any supermarket will offer a vast range of produce, a significant amount of which will be out of season and to meet the demands of many will have travelled thousands of miles to get on the shelves. Runner beans and courgettes in the winter for example, ours will have finished cropping on the allotment with the onset of autumn. 

With this vast range of choice and availability it begs the question, why grow your own? The answer most definitely is, taste, quality, satisfaction that you have grown it yourself in the knowledge that what, if any, chemicals have been used in the process. And lastly, your veg has only travelled a couple of miles and possibly minutes to reach the kitchen.

Many allotments were created during the First World War out of necessity to provide fresh food for families. Thankfully, these days allotments exist for very different reasons, leisure and pleasure gardening. But whilst gardening methods have evolved over the last hundred years to become much easier, the basics remain the same.

Lifestyles have also changed considerably since allotments first came about and demand for plots today often exceeds supply, with some plots being divided in two, three or even four smaller ones to create more availability for gardeners. This has been beneficial in some ways, both to those who administer allotments and those who want them. However, those that do have plots still need to create a balance between work, family and all the other social opportunities that are available to us, a few reasons why reduced size allotments are so popular.

For those that have a busy way of life, smaller plots are more easily managed and can still be extremely productive with a range of crops. Just a square metre of ground can yield fresh salad crops throughout the summer. Runner beans are always popular, however a packet of these seeds will cost over £2 and contain about 45 seeds, usually far too many for even a large plot. Often garden centres sell them loose, so you could buy just a handful if that’s all you need. Making a wigwam of canes takes about another square metre, interplant your runners with climbing French beans (the variety cobra are excellent for this) and you’ll have two prolific veg from mid-July well into the autumn.

With only two square metres taken up so far, a small plot will generally allow for much further planting with whatever you might fancy, perhaps something that is either too expensive or simply not available in our supermarkets!  An easily managed plot certainly instils confidence particularly if you are a newcomer and will almost certainly entice you on a warm summer evening to pop down, pick some veg, do a little weeding and perhaps spend a few minutes chatting with others to discuss your achievements (or failures, sorry it does happen) and maybe think to yourself…'I could do with a bit more space next year’.

Our raised bed in the picture is 1.8m x 1.2m, about the same as mentioned above, and was filled last year with homemade compost. Being quite densely planted, it required little weeding or watering and produced excellent leeks, carrots, beetroot and swede. 

But is an allotment expensive? Rents are usually paid annually and generally ours average about £1 a week. Initially there may be some other outlays but these can be kept to minimum, usually a few basic tools will be all that is required to start you off.

March is generally a good time to plan your seed requirements and where possible start sowing into trays if you may already have the advantage of a greenhouse at home, if not a window sill can work effectively to get seeds germinating. You may be keen to get going but the weather in early Spring can still be unforgiving for planting outside, but here’s an idea to grow some quick, early salad. Take a small plastic container about 6 x 4 x 4 inches deep will do, ensure it has some drainage holes. Fill the container just under half way with compost. A pack of ordinary dried peas is all that’s required, these usually cost about 50p. Spread a layer of peas on the surface, you can put them fairly close together but not touching, cover with about an inch of compost keeping it damp but not too wet. Place the container onto a kitchen towel to absorb excess water and then place it on a warm window sill. Within two weeks green shoots will start to push through the surface, when they get to about 3 or 4 inches tall start cutting them. They make a superb addition to sandwiches or side dish for any meal and you’ll be cutting them several times.

The dried peas in the picture were planted on February 20, we’ll be back here next month and we’ll let you know how ours have progressed, but in the meantime you can look us up on our Facebook page, just search for Hillside Allotments.

If you would like to enquire of plot vacancies at Hillside, please email us at: hillsideallotments@gmail.com

Ron Heath