The Cottage Smallholder

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2012 New Year’s visit to the allotment: January update

A small selection of vegetables from our allotment

A small selection of vegetables from our allotment

I was very busy before Christmas stocking The Cottage Smallholder shop and making up orders, so I didn’t have time to go to the allotment regularly. In fact I probably haven’t been up there for a couple of months. We’d planned to go down for some Christmas veg but in the end ran out of time.

I had also found fleece to make cloches to protect the more tender salad crops. This mighty plan had fallen by the wayside too. We keep on promising each other that we would pop down at the weekend but Danny’s armchair football passion and the great cottage reorganisation plan has got in the way.

I’d begun to worry that after all our hard work from July to November, vegetables might be just sitting there and rotting. So today I was determined to check what was going on allotment wise and took a detour there on my way back from Newmarket.

I swung open the heavy gate and stepped onto the grassy path that leads to our plot. Within seconds I was enjoying the calm that seems to radiate from this allotment site. It’s strange but most worries and niggles are left behind as I walk up the concrete hill, turn left and pick my way up to where our plot lies on a warm slope beside a large chicken run.

The broad beans had germinated and were now small yet strong plants. The garlic is doing well – we planted lots of garlic in the autumn – at least 120 cloves to give us a decent harvest this year. Everything looked lush and healthy. Yes there were a few weeds but, in our absence, the plants had developed and grown well.

I examined each border carefully and was astonished how many vegetables were now ready to eat. Turnips, beetroot, carrots, cauliflowers, cabbages and kale are waiting to be harvested. Buds are beginning to form on the top of the purple sprouting broccoli plants so they’ll start to be guzzled in a couple of weeks if the weather stays mild. The collards are looking sturdy but need another month or so to mature.

The salad beds were packed with lettuces, chicory, frissé lettuce, wild rocket, mixed salad/stirfry leaves and claytonia. The winter spinach looks great and the summer spinach is still going strong.

Winter vegetables are often ignored by a lot of vegetable growers which is a shame as there is nothing better than tucking into your own super fresh produce when the days are short and cash is a bit tight after Christmas.

Once they have established in the autumn, the plants need far less care than the summer crops. As the winter has been so mild to date, the salady crops have survived well too. Winter lettuces, chicory, frisse lettuce, rocket, peppery salad/stir fry leaves, radishes, baby carrots and cute mini beetroot.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the whirl of summer weeding and watering and leave thinking about winter veg until it’s too late. A lot of seeds need to be sown relatively early in the year – sprouting broccoli plants for example are generally set out in July with the seeds being sown in May.

If you’d like to try growing a decent range of winter vegetables I would highly recommend How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding. I’ve found the book to be invaluable as it contains definitive instructions and timings for sowing, planting and protection. It also draws on the author’s broad knowledge and experience of growing vegetables to fill the hungry gap April – June with something a bit more exciting than just rows of leeks and cabbages.


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  1. Gosh, you’re so lucky to be having so much ready to eat! I paid my first visit of the year to allotment 2 at the weeekend…and it was great to pick some curly kale for our Sunday roast…and some fresh fennel.

    I don’t plant my broad beans in the autumn but have blogged about my early attempts this year…. I want more of them this year…and a longer harvest time!

  2. The Liquineer

    Because our raised beds were late in the creation,and we wanted to grow a green manure crop, first we only had the opportunity to plant overwintering veg, and some Charlotte potatoes. The potatoes were harvested a few days before Christmas and were delicious.
    We have Twinkle pea plants already flowering, and the broad beans are romping away. We have leeks, garlic, purple sprouting broccoli and chives all quietly minding their own business, and two rhubarb crowns, one new and one old but transferred, are just showing signs of waking up.
    Sometimes nature is amazing- lwts hope the weather does not turn to severe and kill off all that potential bounty.

  3. Wow, what a harvest. I’ve still got some beetroot and carrots going on and spring cabbage (whats left of it, after the slugs have had more than their share). Hoping for some serious winter veg growing this year.

  4. Domestic Executive

    Wow, what a wonderful surprise. I grow through winter but our NZ climate is a little more temperate than the UK. I will see if I can get this book though as it will be a bit help to getting me more organised for winter.Glad there were lots of goodies for you to harvest.

  5. Amazing. My plot is lying bare at the moment, but I can’t wait to get sowing again soon!

  6. I had a similar great surprise harvest after a month or so of allotment neglect, so good to know everything is growing well without constant attention.

  7. Hi I love going down to my allotment and get he same feeling as all my worries are washed away on the path down to it. It is so calm and peaceful it’s my paradise island!

  8. Frogdancer

    It’s lovely when the veggies suddenly become ready for harvest!

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