Allotment month 38: don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong

I’ve just had the best day on my allotment for a long time. Zero degrees Celsius, literally freezing, but dry with the sun glowing, muted through low cloud. Throughout the growing season sometimes it can feel like things are all going wrong, a crop fails, weeds take over and everything simply doesn’t live up to our dreams. In reality, with each time you visit your plot and do one thing, you make a difference and over time those little things add up. Today, after I’d mulched and planted a few things, I stood back and saw that no, my allotment isn’t perfect but I’ve made a big impact on my little patch of land compared to what I found when I first started four winters ago. So if you ever feel disheartened when gardening, don’t worry because your gradual efforts will shine through in time.

Mulching

I took delivery of a tonne dumpy bag of compost to spread across many of the beds as a mulch. A little later than ideal for most of the country – it’s better to mulch in late autumn while the ground is still warm – but in London where it’s warmer anytime is fine really. It took a couple of hours to complete because I was mulching beds carefully and covering with weed suppressant matting afterwards. I’ve always practised no dig gardening, where you mulch on the surface instead of digging it in. It works for me and is easy but on my allotment, where many plots are abandoned, the weeds aren’t suppressed by even a thick layer of compost. Gradually I’m switching to using cardboard to stop weeds as I love the way it creates a barrier over winter that can then be planted through in spring. But getting enough down to the allotment is always a challenge. I need a waste box supplier!

Winter salads

I’m very pleased with the way my winter salad crops are growing. I’ve a range of seven different types from lettuce, leaf beetroot, mustards and others. Usually I’d grow them under a cloche to protect them but this year I’m seeing how they do without. So far they’re growing wonderfully.

Overwintering peas

I’ve taken to sowing peas in pots at home and planting out when they’re growing well because I find mice or something else gets to them if sown direct. Today I planted out my peas, despite the frozen conditions, these are tough plants and will have no problem. I gave them a nice blanket of warm compost to see them off.

Overwintering broadbeans

One of my favourite crops is the broadbean, I love the bean itself, I think they’re delicious. And I see them as a crossover from autumn to spring, the very start of the new season. My crop is performing very well this year so far. I planted a little later than normal in November and they seem to be much happier as a result. I’m looking forward to them bulking up over the next couple of months to cover the ground and stop weeds before cropping in spring.

Garlic

This year I planted a lot more garlic than I ever have before. Another change is that I planted much deeper than I usually do at 10cm. The result so far is nothing short of stellar. All of the garlic is now growing away, including one slower variety I thought I’d never see which has since caught up. I’ve fallen for the romance of garlic and its hearty addition to so many meals. It’s a crop that is easy and looks exactly like those in shops. Stored in a cupboard I’ve grown very attached to always having my homegrown garlic to hand for meals.

Fruit

My little orchard is in the grass to the right of my compost bins with stepover apples beyond that

When I first started my allotment I wasn’t that bothered about growing fruit except for apples. I still find soft fruits a bit faffy in terms of harvesting and getting back to the flat but I’ve somehow amassed quite a collection of fruit trees and bushes. Over the last few weeks I’ve been winter pruning my mini orchard of apples and pear trees to train them into shape. I’m growing them here as standard goblets and this is their second year on the plot. I should have some fruit this year though I’ll remove a lot early to reduce pressure on them until year three. Today I mulched my existing stepover apples, rhubarb, gooseberries and raspberry canes. That should see them all well into the summer.

All change

I practice a five year crop rotation to reduce nasties and to allow soil to replenish nutrients between crops. At the moment I’m still deciding where everything will go – the importance of keeping notes is evident as I cannot remember where I grew everything three summers ago now! I know where the brassicas are going though, I remember that one because of the anti butterfly netting. So I mulched that bed and covered in preparation.

Lucky dip

While I was mulching I came across a root vegetables I’d completely forgotten about: some parsnips, beetroot and salsify. I dug them out for dinner.

Other than that I’m pleased to say that the designed borders are looking happy for a good year ahead and my shed is almost fully painted. I like the pink and turquoise of the protective wrap on the windows so I’ll probably find a way to make that permanent. Most of my seeds have arrived now after choosing them at Christmas and the first activities this year will be sowing chillis, onions and chitting the potatoes.

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Allotment month 38: don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong

  1. So, a layer of cardboard, then cover with mulch, and then plant seeds in that mulch in Spring? Seedling roots will grow down into and thru the cardboard? If I have that correct, I’ll try it next Autumn.

  2. Yes. It depends on the cardboard used but usually it’s damp and soft enough by spring for roots to easily get through. If it’s not, you can break it up a bit but it almost always is for me. Avoid card with printing on, so just the brown stuff.

  3. Makes me weep to hear of empty or abandoned plots. Waiting list is years here.
    Am not doing broadies this year, I find I don’t get a worthwhile crop. Garlic though, 2nd year for me, love it. Interesting about planting deeper. Wonder if you’ll get bigger/better bulbs?

    1. Yes I can’t wait to find out. I suspect they will be bigger. It is annoying with the number of unused plots considering so many people want them but at the same time, it makes things more peaceful.

  4. Very envious of your winter salads. Salads are something I have really not managed to master yet! Slugs seem to get to them in spring/autum/winter and they bolt in summer. Will be trying again this year though regardless! 🙂 The mix you have looks fantastically colourful!

    1. It’s worth a go, the mix I got was from Sarah Raven – the team there did a lot of testing to find this hardy and tasty mix. I like it a lot.

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