I love the allotment garden in Winter. I go down every day to feed the chickens, collect eggs and gather winter greens to eat or juice and always enjoy the feeling of quiet hibernation in the garden. It’s the only time of year that I feel as if I’m on top of things! Of course there are still jobs to do and the over-winter crops to care for, but there isn’t the fabulously frenzied planting of Spring, the constant tending of Summer and the busy harvesting, storing and preserving of Autumn.
Most plants die-back or are pulled out in the Winter, so it’s a brilliant time of year to check structural things like fencing and raised beds. Any dodgy looking bits can be more easily replaced and you can spot the holes in the fencing wire. I’m always on the look out for unwanted visitors – rats, foxes, pigeons, mice – I love them all, but not in my garden, so keeping our fence in good shape is important (essential for the chickens). Snow and frost are also great ways of spotting tell-tale footprints and working out where the visitors are getting in!
Winter is the time for any hard landscaping to be done. Another raised bed? A path? Much easier to do without a jungle of plants in the way. Discussing the layout is a family affair and we all get stuck into the building work. Things get done pretty quickly when healthy slabs of homemade raw chocolate are on offer! This year, we’ve built 2 new raised beds. You can see our plans here.
However dormant you think your winter garden may be, it’s amazing how tough some weeds are (clumps of grass creep into the cut-flower beds, nettles infiltrate the raspberry patch and…..where did that one come from!), so it’s a good idea to keep on top of the weeding before it becomes a bigger problem in the Spring. Bindweed is my absolute nemesis. The hoe is my friend!
We have an established raspberry patch on the allotment, so in the late winter I cut back the autumn fruiting canes to ground level and check on the summer fruiting canes. Summer fruiters are slightly different in that you only prune out the old fruit-bearing canes (usually in the autumn), leaving the fresh new canes to produce the next summer crop. Any spindly or damaged canes are now cut back, the remaining ones pruned to around 5ft and tied in to a support. This keeps all the raspberries healthy and more productive. If you don’t have raspberries in your garden, now is a good time to plant brand new canes – they love loads of well-rotted manure. Big, fat, juicy raspberries here we come!
Tidying the shed is a fun winter job (I wondered where that trowel was) and the tools love a good clean – a wash and a bit of oil on the wooden handles keeps them in tip top condition, but my favourite winter job of all has to be perusing seed catalogues!
Planning the garden for the coming year is a family affair in our house. Everyone is involved and every year the children want to grow something different – this year we’ve got purple carrots and tiny blue pumpkins, so it’s always fun for everyone. I’m a huge fan of getting children involved in sowing, growing, cooking and eating their own fruit and veg.
We begin planting seeds at the very end of January and the first to go in are always the Sweet Peas. I’ve saved them year on year for so long that I can’t actually remember the variety, suffice to say that they smell incredible, have very long stems and range in colour from the palest pink to the darkest purple. I usually grow enough to cover two large wigwams made from coppiced hazel rods, about 30 plants, and always start them off in ‘root trainers’. Sweet peas have very long roots and will always do better in a deep pot, with as little disturbance as possible when you plant them out. These pots are very funky because they open in half which makes it easier to get the plant out and then you close them up to reuse. Awesome idea.
This year we’ll be sowing fennel, early cauliflower, spinach, kale, cabbage, lettuce, broad beans and peas in late winter. The seeds are sown in our own compost mixed with a bit of shop-bought peat free compost and then started off indoors in a little propagator, before moving down to our ramshackle, falling apart greenhouse! They continue to thrive in there until it’s warm enough to bring them outside during the day for hardening off, at which point they make the exciting journey down to the allotment for a little stint in the cold frame before planting out. Exactly how much careful attention they get depends on the plant – some are hardier than others.
If our crop rotation allows the space,as it does this year, then we also ‘chit’ potatoes in the late winter, especially the first earlies. They sit quietly indoors in a light spot (out of direct sunlight) for around 6 weeks growing little ‘chits’ or sprouts. For more info on growing potatoes you can check out my post on the ‘humble spud’. If you’re interested in any of the other crops that we grow on our allotment, the plant lists are here.
I remember feeling very overwhelmed by all these gardening jobs when I had my first ‘patch’, but most are quick and easy to do. Just go for it. Gardens are very forgiving and winter is a great time to start.