Winter can feel such a dreary and empty time for us allotment gardeners.
December brings the merry distraction of the festive period, but when the New Year has passed and the middle of winter sets in with cool temperatures, low levels of light and short days, we really begin to crave for the spring and the life and resurgence it brings.
To fend off the feelings of longing and despair, I have learned to focus upon the opportunities the winter months bring for us allotment and kitchen gardeners.
As well as simply absorbing the often scarce clear, crisp days when winter’s hazy sunshine bathes us in its soft glow and brightens the bleakness of the winter garden, there are tasks that allow us to maintain our engagement with the allotment garden and help us prepare for the long awaited spring.
Garlic is an essential ingredient in our kitchen and away from the supermarket shelves there is a huge variety available. Garlic is a very easy crop to grow and one of its benefits is it may be sown anytime from mid-autumn to late winter.
Rake in a measure of general fertiliser to the top few centimetres of soil and plant the individual cloves at a distance of 6 inches in rows 12 inches apart. Garlic requires very little attention apart from another measure of fertiliser in early spring and to be kept weed free. It is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the stems start to fall over which will be anytime from mid-summer.
For me, as an allotment gardener, digging is an activity that links me intrinsically with the winter season. The beds are redundant of their fruits and vegetables and the weeds, for once, retire from their tenacious ferocity. When the weather is on side, take up your spade and warm those chilled bones with a good dig of the plot. Turn the soil and add to it as much organic matter as you can get your hands on. This is a time when frost is on our side – breaking down the clods of earth and killing the last of the pests that have taken shelter against the winter weather.
Now is the time to take stock of your tools. Spades, forks and trowels should be cleaned of any soil, then dried, oiled and stored either elevated in the shed or some other appropriate safe place. Buy any replacements necessary in readiness for the new season.
We are not alone in the battle against the cold, wet and sometimes unforgiving weather of the winter months. Our wildlife is especially vulnerable at this time of year. We can and should provide the natural world with all the support we can as, not only is this wildlife beautiful, but it is an important asset for us as we create and care for our plants and crops in our gardens throughout the season.
Get the little helpers involved and make a seasonal cake for the birds, or provide some welcome shelter for our feathery friends by constructing a home for them in a well-placed tree around the allotment. Here’s a simple way to make a bird nesting box from the RSPB.
You may also like to take the time now to plan a patch to grow some suitable pollinator plants in the New Year. It’s a fantastic way to help our declining bee population and join in with some bee-friendly gardening.
One of the necessities in life is toilet roll. We Brits go through a huge amount of it every single year. Instead of throwing those cardboard tubes away with the recycling, reuse them to make some handy seed pots ready for spring.
You can simply stand them in a tray and fill them with compost. This is a great way to sow beans as when the young plants are ready, they can simply be popped straight in the ground, cardboard tube and all.
I also like to make some with a base by squashing them into a square, cutting flaps at one end and pushing them inside to form the bottom of the pot.
Plan the plot
The weather during the winter will no doubt be against you at times. This is a chance for some armchair gardening, a moment to think and plan your allotment garden for the year ahead.
Planning crops for an allotment is not just about looking forward, but reflecting on the season gone to consider what has worked well, what didn’t and why. It’s wise to get a balance between the fruits and vegetables you enjoy eating as well as new crops that sound interesting to try.
Owning an allotment or kitchen garden provides the opportunity to choose different varieties of your favourite vegetables, new ones not readily available in the supermarkets and the varieties that will flourish in your own specific conditions.
I enjoy the process of planning our allotment with pen and paper, but if you prefer things a little more technical, you may like to take advantage of Veg Plotter, a free online kitchen garden and allotment planner.
Are you making time for your allotment and kitchen garden this winter? Leave any suggestions you have to keep us engaged and active on the plot during this season in the comments below.
Guest Author: Richard Chivers is an allotment blogger and “grow your own” enthusiast. He manages sharpenyourspades.com , where he writes about all manner of allotment gardening topics, as well as providing updates on his own family allotment, which he works on with his young daughter. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.