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A few more jobs, and it’s time to put the allotment to bed for the winter

Posted: Sunday 12th November 2017 by My-Wild-Garden

The weather is turning colder, the days are getting shorter but the allotment keeps on giving, both to wildlife and me.

While visits are now mostly geared towards clearing away exhausted plants and attempting to clean the soil of the dreaded bindweed and couch grass, I’m unable to make a start until I’ve picked the latest offering of autumnal raspberries, which pair very nicely with windfall apples from neighbours’ gardens.

I’ve also harvested several large pumpkin-like squashes from a plant that seemed to cover the soil with its tendrils, the presence of which hopefully suppressed some of the weeds that tried to take advantage of the August rain.

So far I’ve brought home five of these squashes, but I won’t be surprised if I uncover more as I work my way along.

Elsewhere some nasturtium seeds scattered under my rose bushes are putting on a wonderfully colourful display and joining with raspberry flowers in providing a spot of late season nectar for insects that are still out and about this late in the year. Their double value is all good reason to delay tidying them up until the first really hard frosts arrive.

Meanwhile the strawberries have been busy producing runners and I’ve been trying to pot up as many as I can to provide productive new plants, both for my own allotment and to give to friends.

New shoots
Now that the blackcurrants have shed their leaves, I’ve started taking pencil-like cuttings in the hope that some will root and provide me with a number of new bushes to keep me going when I get around to relocating the fruit patch, on which I’m sadly losing the battle against bindweed. I’ve popped my cuttings into a pot of Dalefoot compost, a growing medium made from British sheep wool, bracken and other natural ingredients.

It’s peat-free and the people who make it, Simon Bland and his wife Jane, an environmental scientist, are also involved in restoring peat bog habitats.
Even though the icy fingers of Jack Frost are making their presence felt, there are some crops I’m able to sow ready for next year.

A few overwintering broad beans are in: it’s a gamble whether they’ll survive the rough winter weather we get here, but experience has shown me that those who make it through to spring are less likely to be infested by blackfly.

Broad beans planted now are less likely to be infested by blackfly

I’ve also put in some garlic, which need a good period of chilly weather to ensure good bulb development, along with some sweet peas in toilet tubes indoors. My sweet peas haven’t been great over the past couple of years and the only thing I can put it down to is sowing them in spring rather than autumn, which I’d always done in the past. I don’t know if they’ve suffered through not having time to develop good enough roots before being put into the ground, so I’m going back to sowing the year before to see if that makes a difference.

To dig or not to dig?

All this aside, digging is the job that’s taking up most of my time and I’m enjoying the opportunity to turn the soil, check its structure and count the number of earthworms living within it. There are two schools of thought about digging: some gardeners swear by it while others prefer to practise the ‘no dig’ method championed by Charles Dowding from Somerset. I’ve tried both and on my allotment and have found that the weeds, and my inability to keep on top of them over the summer months - despite my best efforts – mean that digging is still the best option for me. Nevertheless I will try to incorporate a bit more ‘no dig’ into my future routines as I can see the merit in not disturbing the creatures living in the soil – if I can get the soil clean enough beforehand.

I will try to incorporate a bit more ‘no dig’ into my future routines as I can see the merit in not disturbing the creatures living in the soil

One thing I am mindful of, however, is the folly in leaving soil bare and at risk of leaching during periods of heavy rainfall. An unexpected offer of the contents of a compost bin has come in very handy on one section of the allotment, and I’ve been using leaves to cover those areas not protected by green manures.

All in all, it’s time to put the allotment ‘to bed’ for the winter so that it has time to rest, relax and re-hydrate ready for the demands I’ll be putting on it next year. It’s a bittersweet time, but I like to think of it as preparing for the future and learning lessons from the past.



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