COLUMNIST: Derbyshire allotment holder on how to cope with darker nights

Winter diggingWinter digging
Winter digging
As the nights draw in and the long summer nights seem an age ago, getting to the allotment can be a challenge, especially if like us, you work full time.

Not only is it difficult due to the lack of daylight but decent weather and days off don’t always come together! We’ve also had the added setback of COVID recently but thankfully we are all recovered. Now more than ever it is best to make use of the little and often rule to make progress.

Thankfully as the temperature drops and the veg’ growth slows, so does the weed growth too, so it’s possible to get away with longer gaps between visits if need be.

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We have been clearing the ground of spent veg and building up the compost pile. I’m a fan of the no-dig method but it can be difficult to provide enough organic material to layer up a whole allotment (or two) when going no dig, so we do a combination of a few methods of winter ground preparation, no rules are saying that you have to stick to one!

Onions getting a heeadstart in the tunnelOnions getting a heeadstart in the tunnel
Onions getting a heeadstart in the tunnel

Firstly, we supplement homemade compost with a few peat-free bags of compost and layer it thickly on a few of our beds, a quick internet search of the no-dig method will provide a wealth of information on this. Secondly, we cover. This year we made quick work of our pumpkin patch by harvesting the fruit and covering it with a large black plastic sheet, which we will leave in place until spring, uncover and plant straight into the ground.

Thirdly is winter digging, this is turning the ground and removing the weeds.

When winter digging, if I’m not adding any fresh compost, I will scatter some chicken manure pellets. Many of our allotment site members will arrange cattle and horse manure deliveries that they will dig into their ground over the winter but this isn’t accessible to everyone.

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Ground preparations, tidying and repairs can often take us through the entirety of the winter months, I’m always amazed when neighbours say they have nothing to do this time of year, we always have plenty to do!

Onion sets deliveryOnion sets delivery
Onion sets delivery

As far as planting, in our tunnel, we have sown a few different varieties of onion sets (including Senshyu Yellow, Radar, and my favourite Red Baron) and garlic into pots.

These will hopefully get a head start and can be planted out into the ground in the spring. We will also be planting some salad into the tunnel, it won’t grow at the same pace as summer leaves but we don’t tend to eat as much salad in the winter. If you don’t have a suitable outdoor spot, edibles can be grown on window sills. I’m in the process of adding some as houseplants,

I’m hoping the chilli plants that live in the dining room window will make it through the colder seasons rather than our usual sowing from scratch.

There’s no harm in trying!

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Salad leaves in the tunnelSalad leaves in the tunnel
Salad leaves in the tunnel

At the top of our jobs list for the coming weeks, we have some potatoes left to harvest and I will be cutting down our raspberry canes to the ground. Our greenhouse has sustained some damage from the massive growth of our grapevine, so that will also need repairing too.

A veg grower’s work is never done!


Twitter @sarahltaffe

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