Allotment

Winter Salad Days

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It’s mid-November and things are undeniably slower and less immediately exciting on the plot, but nevertheless things are still happening and there are harvests still to be had. An hour or two spent gardening on a crisp winter morning is about as good a remedy for the winter blues as you can get, and I’ve been keen to try and make use of the allotment in winter rather than having the typical hiatus between the end of October and the start of March (there’s something quite sad about seeing allotment beds covered in fabric through winter with nothing growing). Here’s some of the current goings-on:

Winter Salad

We’ve been harvesting beautiful salad leaves for the last 4 weeks – a mix of lettuce ‘Winter Density’, salad rocket, mustards, land cress and raddichio, some of which is growing outside and will be covered with fleece through the coldest months and some of which is growing in the polytunnel in trays or in the bed vacated by our tomatoes. The mustards and rocket have done far better in the polytunnel, away from flea beetles that bite holes in their leaves, and are more tender without a noticeable loss in flavour for having grown faster undercover. I’m hoping we can keep on cropping these leaves a little right the way through to spring.

Brassica woes

This year has been terrible for cabbage whitefly – an aphid that feeds on brassicas. They excrete sticky honeydew which then encourages a whitish mould to grow on the leaves – not appealing, and while I’m still hopeful for a good harvest of sprouting broccoli in spring I don’t see us wanting to eat mouldy kale leaves! I’m thinking we might avoid growing any brassicas for a year to try and put a halt to their rapid expansion, a prospect I’m feeling pretty positive about – the plants take up a lot of room for a very long time and there are plenty of other crops I would like to grow more of, plus brassicas always need netting against the pigeons – not the most aesthetically pleasing thing to look at. Onwards and upwards!

Sowing legumes

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I’ve always had good results from autumn sowing broad beans, and this year I’ve decided to try autumn sowing peas too. A round seeded pea variety such as ‘Douce Provence’ can apparently be sown outdoors now (the round seeds being less likely to rot in cold wet soil), so I’ve sown a row outside and another in guttering in the polytunnel – let’s hope for an early crop of peas next year! I’ve also sown sweet peas in pots in the polytunnel – a job I have never previously been organised enough to do before spring. Most of them have already germinated, so all being well we should be able to cut a sneeze-making vase’s worth of Lathyrus a little earlier next summer!

Winter roots

We had total germination failure on the parsnip front this year, but on the upside there’s plenty of tubers to be harvested for those winter roast dinners – Jerusalem artichokes, oca, mashua & yacon tuber are currently a few inches underground, gently swelling ready for harvest. It’s our first time growing mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum – a close relative of the nasturtium) but we ate some last year and thought they tasted amazing – sweet, mustardy, with almost a hint of five-spice. Time will tell how these South American tubers fared in our Newcastle clay soil.

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Winter jobs

Plenty to be getting on with through winter – I want to make a proper area for composting rather than using the plastic bins which fill up too quickly and make it impossible to turn the contents. We’re also halfway through replanting one of our ornamental beds at the front of the plot with some new perennials, and I’ll order our annual tonne of compost to spread over the no-dig beds at some point.

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