I like to do a bit of a review of the growing year at my allotment, and look back at ones in previous years to compare. Its especially needed this year as I have been very busy and not had time to write my blog as I'd have liked. Its a nice thing to do on a day when its grey and raining outside, listening to Test Match Special where England team are basking in the sunshine in South Africa! Looking out of the window here at my own garden and the allotments beyond, all is looking very brown! Its good to remind yourself that it will be all change again in a few months time and this hibernation is good to recharge the garden and ourselves.
I don't know about you but I always go through a phase when I get tired of gardening and definitely need a break. Getting back into reading gardening books at this time of year and browsing seed catalogues I can feel the love coming back to me and the excitement building for the new season. The feelings of renewal that you have at this time of year, like a clean slate, you even believe your own hype that next year you will be a perfect gardener. I will keep the weeds away, I will sow in succession to have constant crops, slugs won't decimate my seedlings, I'll remember to sow biennials in June, I'll cut the privet hedge at the right time rather than leave it till it gets out of reach, I'll get to my redcurrants before the blackbirds, I'll not get too keen and sow tender veg like squash too early and end with them sulking in a cool Spring, I'll plant bulbs when I get them rather than forgetting them and then finding them weeks later dry and starting to sprout. Ah if only but I know what happens, you get so busy that all good intentions go out of the window. But its a real joy to review what grew well, which varieties you might grow again or what new varieties to try.
It was a reasonably cool start to the year, with snow in the first few weeks of January and into February. I had a go at growing onions from seed for the first time this year. Its traditionally said that you sow onions on Boxing day but I sowed a variety called 'Ailsa Craig' on the 14th January. They just need a long growing season so the earlier you sow them the better, basically the more leaves that you have when you come to plant them, the bigger the onion. I must admit I was a bit sceptical because its so easy to just grow onions from sets but actually they did OK. I pricked them out at the beginning of March into pots. Then they got planted at the allotment at the end of April. There was a bit of an issue then in that we had quite a dry spell so that had to be kept watered. They were harvested at the same time as the main-crop onions that were grown from sets. They were less uniform in size as those grown from sets but I got some quite big ones. Not quite exhibition quality but a good crop. So I've sown some again this year, that was my job for this morning. I'm also growing some Welsh red onions which are supposedly perennial, so will see how that goes this year.
Now I've finished all the paths at my allotment and the structure is all sorted its much easier to get the plot set for the spring. By April all was ready for the season ahead.
I had a fabulous crop of rhubarb this year, enough to have a go at making some rhubarb wine! It is truly my favourite first crop of the year.
Mid May and everything was getting going again in the sunshine but it was a very slow start this year, cool really until late June I'd say, and even then it felt like we just kept waiting for summer to come and it probably arrived in September. August was just a wash out with lots of rain and cool too. The best weather was at the start of the year in April and May and then in September and October and even into November. But at the allotment some crops loved this weather and as always the key I think when growing your own is to try and grow a range of crops, some will grow well and others may struggle one year, but then the next it will be completely different.
This year the crops that really struggled for me were the ones that like a warm summer, so cucumbers, squash and sweetcorn. I didn't manage to grow a single cucumber and the previous year I'd had loads. They sulked when planted and either rotted off or got taken out by slugs. I sowed twice but nothing. I had about 4 squash but compared to previous years this was really poor. I did get some sweetcorn but they were very late and not as sweet as normal. Courgettes did get going eventually but I had a much smaller crop this year, though actually I normally have too many, so this was probably just right this year!! The picture below was taken in mid-May and the allotment is still looking bare.
On the other hand, the brassica's loved this weather, as did chard, beetroot, runner beans (once they got going, but again they were later to crop), I had good crops of onions and garlic, potatoes were OK, they suffered a bit with the dry weather we had in Spring, but had a reasonable crop although perhaps smaller potatoes.
At the end of June it was looking a bit fuller.
Other troubles this year were peas, which again I think struggled with the dry start to the season, had a poor crop from those, they never really got going. I had to do about 3 sowings of the dwarf french beans to get some plants. But once they started they cropped well and for a long time. Runner beans I always sow direct now and it seems to work for me. Think I might do that with the dwarf French beans next year.
One crop you'd think might do well this year in the cooler conditions would be lettuce, but again I had a poor crop of that, I really struggled with slugs with these and unless I get up to the plot frequently they can just graze a whole planting in one go. So I have virtually given up on lettuce at the allotment now and I'm just growing them in pots at home, where I can keep a closer eye on them.
By July everything in and starting to catch up a bit but most things were late for me this year. Though with the extended Autumn we can't really complain too much.
At the end of August everything looking very lush, the sunflowers hiding the shed.
One crop that has liked the wet and mild end to the year and that is Celeriac, I try it every year, its a crop that needs to be started early but what do you get at the end of it, a tiny knobbly ugly looking thing with straggly roots and by the time that you have peeled it you wonder whether it is worth it. But this year it seems to have thrived and are a decent size.
The plot was still looking full in mid October but this is when I started to clear some crops.
End of November and crops were cleared and beds were put to bed for winter.
This is the first time that I've managed to do this before Christmas so hopefully this will free up my time in early Spring when I'm usually rushing to get this done. I share a delivery of manure with a fellow plotholder, we got enough this year to put on the beds and also to pile up for next year and keep undercover.
This was the first year that I really had the greenhouse in my garden in full use and this has been a bit of a learning curve, the surprising thing for me was the temperature range in there. Even in January in the sunshine the temperature in there can get up to 19oC, but it can then drop like a stone at night. This is a real issue for growing and lots of door opening and closing!! But it really helped with all the sowing and growing that I do.
In the greenhouse I had a great crop of tomatoes, I grew 'Sungold' and 'Lucciola' two plants of each, which are great for me, they crop over a long period and slowly ripen, not all at once. 'Sungold' is so sweet but can be prone to splitting a bit later in the season. This trait can be forgiven as they tend to just get eaten straight away after picking anyway. I can't imagine not growing this variety. I am going to try a variety called 'Marmande this year as well though, this is a big beefsteak variety. Another greenhouse success was Aubergine 'Ophelia', this is a dwarf variety which I grew in pots and which produces golf-ball sized fruit. I had two plants and picked a good number of fruits. I love aubergines and these were perfectly sized fruit.
So not a disastrous season but a challenging one I think for growing vegetables. But my other main reason for having an allotment is growing flowers for cutting and these have been fabulous this year. I'll review this in another post I think.
Some people ask me why bother growing your own, and its definitely not straightforward, but I love the challenge each year and the fact that I'm learning all the time about which varieties grow best for me and more crucially which taste the best. But more importantly its the joy I have just spending time at my plot, the fresh air, the chatting, the exercise, the wildlife and the satisfaction of watching plants grow and flourish. I love it. Here's to another exciting year with new challenges and successes!