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Allotment tips and ideas: Extending your growing season

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Now that my blogs aren't all about saving cash, I guess they should really be called tips and ideas, rather than money saving tips and ideas. Don’t worry if I can think of a way to save cash I will blog it, but some of these blogs might entail spending a bit!

This blog is probably a bit more for the novice to fairly new allotment holder, rather than the seasoned pros, but we can all learn something so let’s see what I've got.

I started my allotment one April and as I dug a bed I planted stuff in it. People offered me spare plants, I bought some cheap seeds and I popped them all in the ground. There was no science. I invested a couple of quid in the current gardening mags and they suggested, what should be sown at the time, so I bought more seeds and a few plants and filled the rest of the beds up. This resulted in a massive crop (probably the fact the soil hadn't been used for years rather than my gardening prowess) and too much to eat.

Had I been a bit wiser or read this blog, perhaps I could have extended my growing season and harvested stuff over a longer period.

So I’m going to give you a few simple tips, to extend your season, get a better return per square yard and I’m sure somewhere save a few quid.

Firstly, don’t go and buy all the books on gardening you can find, but pop up the library and borrow one. Look in the index and list all the veg you would like to eat and by doing so, you will then know what you need to grow. There is a caveat on that last sentence, if there is a crop that takes up a fair bit of space, yet is available all year round in the shops at a reasonable price, consider not growing it and utilising the space better.

So now you have a list of what you want to grow, go back to the index and look up the actual articles. You should find a sowing, planting out, harvested timetable for each plant, or even a chart with loads of veg and relevant dates on.

On a large piece of paper list the time something will be in the ground and also when it comes out of the ground. Now you can map out where you are going to plant what and also, what will follow a particular harvest.  For example, once you have harvested your Autumn broccoli in August/September, you can sow your overwintering broad beans, where they were. This is a simple explanation and you will need to ensure you research this thoroughly.  Basically you want to keep your plot as productive as possible. Don’t forget that crop rotation is important, but by good planning and keeping your growing maps safe, this is not a difficult task.

Catch cropping is also a great idea. This is where you have sown something that will take a long time to reach maturity and whilst you are waiting, you can throw in a row of quicker growing seeds that will be out of the ground long before the main crop arrives. A good example of this is planting a row of radishes over/next to a line of cabbage plants. The radishes will be out of the ground in 6 weeks leaving the brassicas to be harvested in the future. Catch cropping does not have to be simultaneous; it can be between harvesting one crop before the following year’s crop is to be sown.

All the Veg growing guides on the site, have storage guides at the end of them, be it by freezing, drying or placing in layers of sand. There are also some pickling guides. All these allow your crop to last longer, some of which will therefore still be available, during the leaner months of the year.

Starting your crops off in propagators or on windowsills, mean that when the growing season arrives, you are ahead of the game, with trays of seedlings, rather than seeds. This can be taken further by getting hold of a greenhouse or polytunnel and growing veg, when the weather outside would not allow. This can extend your growing season by several months and some crops can be grown all year round in this manner.

Whilst talking about greenhouses; they come in all shapes and sizes and I don’t just mean 8’ by 6’ and 10’ by 8’. There are some cheap and simple mimics of the good old fashioned greenhouse. How about a cloche, purchased or made? How about using pop bottles with their bases cut off? These not only provide some heat and wind protection but also keep the birds away from your seedlings. In order to keep a supply of fresh water for tea and coffee down the plot we have purchased several 5 litre water bottles. These are of course refillable (penny pinching) but when they get a bit tatty, they will become mini cloches. I've even seen bales of hay used as a season extender, by forming a square and placing an old window on top.

Some gardeners, wait for the soil to warm up, others help it on its way by covering with various types of sheeting. Clear plastic works like a greenhouse and warms up the soil well. If you use black plastic, it needs to be held firmly against the soil as the heat is transferred from the black sheet to the soil. Any gaps/air pockets will reduce its performance.

Using protective fleece when a frost is expected, means that plants started off earlier, can cope with the lower temperatures, but frost will still get to your plants if it is a prolonged spell, so don’t expect miracles from fleeces. Talking about frost, make sure your containers drain well or the water in the container may freeze. Consider putting feet under your container to assist with the drainage.

Another idea I have heard used is to put polystyrene under your containers as this will, insulate them from the cold ground

Placing a tray of herbs on your kitchen windowsill, is a very effective use of space, also saving a trip to the allotment, every Sunday to get the herbs you want to accompany your roast. Larger herbs can be grown in containers on your patio.

So there you are a few simple tips to extend your growing season, let’s get sowing

JS

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