The Allotment Diaries: January

Feb 4, 2020 | The Allotment Diaries

I’ve recently set up a new Instagram feed just for my allotment! It’s @allotmentfourteen so please do follow me over there if you are interested.

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January, it turns out, is a rather frustrating month to be an allotment owner. I popped over to my plot almost as soon as I came back after Christmas, yet although there was a lot to do, the sodden, sticky soil and almost constant drizzle meant that I wasn’t able to do any of the jobs all month. My patch was looking slightly forlorn and soggy, and there were plenty of dead leaves around the bottom of plants that needed clearing – yet they ended up staying there, dropping, brown halos. Excitingly though my onions were already pushing through, tiny green shoots of promise, and my wild rocket was growing back after its last, rather brutal, haircut. My spring cabbages are finally turning their attention to forming hearts, and my purple sprouting broccoli to actually sprouting. I harvested what was there – plenty of Cavolo Nero and Red Russian kale, and a small amount of curly kale. A couple of small, but beautiful, cream fading into purple swedes, and a few heads of chicory. But other than that, I grumpily stayed away.

Instead, cosied up in my warm flat with gardening books spread over the floor, I started planning next year. Given that I got my plot in April last year, and had literally no clue what I was doing, my planting was very ad hoc to say the least. I basically cleared a bed, then went to Homebase and planted whatever seeds or seedlings I found there. There was no logic or plan to it, everything ended up all over the place, and often not sown or planted at the right time (RIP runner beans).

I started with thinking about what I really wanted to get from my plot this year (a hangover from my “day-job” – everything starts with intention!). The main thing I want is to see just how much of my own vegetables I can grow, but I also want to make sure that I don’t overcomplicate things. I want to hold on to the joy of having an allotment and not put too much pressure on myself. I’d started following other allotmenters over recent weeks on Instagram, and while I love seeing their amazing plots, I almost instantly started feeling overwhelmed. I live in a rented third floor flat, and have no shed or greenhouse to propagate seedlings in. I do have amazing, big south-facing windows with sills but although my spare bathroom has already been commandeered as a cool store room for my seed potatoes, I don’t want to get dirt all over my lovely flat. I also do all the work myself, and I am definitely not practical or good at building things. So while I’d love to have raised beds and home-made cold-frames, it’s just not possible. So I’m going to continue to sow direct as much as I can, propagating inside just a few things that really need it (namely tomatoes and sweet peas I think).

So the first thing I needed to decide was how I’m going to measure how much of my own food I grow and consume. I thought about doing it via weight or even cost, but it just felt too much of a hassle and something I would quickly lose track of. So I decided to do it as a rough percentage based on portions. I eat roughly 5 portions of vegetables a day, and I’m going to keep a note of how many of my own I eat, and what they are. I’m hoping this will also hold me accountable to eating as much of what I grow as I can. As I found last year, the growing was sometimes the easier part! Making use of everything could be tricky. I meal plan every week, so have vowed rather than just treating my vegetables as extras on the side, to plan them into my meals, and go to my allotment every week before I go to the farm shop or supermarket.

With this method worked out, I started actually planning my plot. Having it in the back of my mind did actually, I think, change how I viewed things. I’d thought about getting asparagus and rhubarb crowns in this year, but given that you don’t get any crops from them for at least the first year, I decided against them. I also decided not to grow any fruit. I didn’t really grow any last year, and although I’d love to have my own strawberry patch – that can wait a year! So I will focus exclusively on vegetables, most of which were successes the year before, with a few new crops and another attempt at growing my favourite vegetable, fennel. I’m also going to try to succession plant a lot more this year. With just one of me eating most of my crops, I need to make sure they’re spaced out to avoid gluts going to waste. 

The few potatoes I grew last year were my absolute favourite harvest so I want to grow a lot more this year, plus some main crop to store over the winter (plus one big potato is one portion, and you can ten or so from each plant so it’s a good yield for space). I might, however, have got rather carried away with my ordering! I ordered from seedpotaotesdirect.com as they had a good selection, including the varieties I really wanted to grow. I ended up ordering 8kg of seed potatoes, which, if I plant them all will give me 80kg at least back! After placing the order I held a bag of 500grams of potatoes in my hands and tried to picture what 16 times that would look like! I ordered Charlottes, Maris Bards, Anyas, Desirees, and King Edwards. I’ve already spread word to other allotmenters that if anyone doesn’t need all their plot, I’d be willing to take over a portion of it! I’m desperate for more space. 

I also ended up ordering all of my seeds in one go. I’d been recommended Sarah Raven seeds by a few different growers, and loved her choice so ordered everything from there!

You can see what I’ve ordered in the very satisfying tables below:

And here is it mapped out onto my allotment.

(I’ve already made a couple of changes. I’ve decided to grow all my leaves (spinach and salad) in vertical rows down the sides of my beds. One of the reasons I didn’t harvest as much spinach as I should have last year is it was hard and awkward to access beneath the nets. I hope this makes the process much easier.)

The other thing I’ve noticed is just how small some of my plants are this season. I think the quality and fertility of my soil is really uneven. I’ve changed the plot layout a lot from previous owners, and they also didn’t cultivate large chunks of it either – so some patches are really thin and hard. So now I have a settled layout, a large dumping of rotted-down manure is called for!

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How much of my vegetable intake did I grow this month?

NOTE: This is going to be very low for the next few months, as I don’t have anything in store other than preserves. I’m hoping this time next year I’ll still be eating my own potatoes, onions, and possibly squashes!

Winter greens (Cavolo Nero, curly kale, Red Russian kale and chard): 8
Chicory: 4
Swede: 2
Preserves: 4

Total portions: 18 / 155

Total percentage: 12% (woohoo!!!) 

And how I cooked them:

Swede laksa from Meera Sodha’s EAST (roasting swede this way is honestly amazing! Best use of my beautiful swedes!)
Olive oil roasted bitter greens from Diana Henry’s FROM OVEN TO TABLE (how I used my chicory)
Tomato Kasundi from Kyle Newton’s THE MODERN PRESERVER (I made a couple of batches of this last year with my tomatoes – its so good and I have it alongside anything Indian-inspired) 
Cauliflower rice with eggs and green chutney from Anna Jones’ THE MODERN COOKS YEAR (Good way to use chard! I also used a cauliflower I’d grown for this back in December. I cook from this book at least a couple of times a week) 

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I’ll write the next instalment at the end of February. I’ve already been out a few times to my plot and done some actual work so will update on that! I’ll also be chitting my seed potatoes and possibly sowing some sweet peas in pots too.