January should be a time when you can put your feet up in front of the fire and not worry too much about the vegetable garden. Only this year with all the gales it’s been a real struggle to keep bird protection netting in place. There’s also been quite a lot of damage caused to greenhouses etc around neighbouring allotments. Luckily our newly planted fruit trees have stood up well to the strong winds.
The growing season will soon be coming round again, and one job that has to be done before the end of the month is selecting and buying seed potatoes for chitting. Last year we grew the Charlotte variety for an early crop. Not without good reason these are a very popular variety. They cropped well for us last year so we will be planting them again this year. We will probably forget about first earlies. They don’t come in much sooner than the earlies so are a bit of a waste of time.
Last year we chose Sarpo Axona as a main crop for their resistance to blight and other diseases. Also they were recommended on the River Cottage blog.
We were not impressed by the results. Neither the flavour or texture lived up to expectations, and many of the larger tubers had a dried, hollowed-out interior.
So this year we have gone back to an old main crop favourite – King Edward. This variety has been around for years. In fact it was introduced in 1902 at the same time as the coronation of King Edward VII, and the story goes that the grower wrote to Buckingham Palace and received the royal assent to the name!
King Edwards are not particularly heavy croppers, but they are renowned for their texture and flavour, which are far more important to us than outright tonnage. Like all vegetables, different varieties suit different areas, soil types and micro climates. So we’ll see how we get on with the KE’s this year.
So this season’s growing will be a year of consolidation. The soft fruit should do well. Gooseberries and black currants fruit on old wood so should give us a good crop. The raspberries fruited right up to November, and with another year’s growth should do even better this year. We re-planted a small bed of well rooted strawberry runners in December. These are ticking over under a good dressing of manure, with some slow new growth in spite of the frosts and harsh weather. They should really take off with a bit of sunshine and warmer weather. Rhubarb does exceptionally well on our soil, so we reduced the number of plants and gave the remainder a top dressing of manure to get them going in the spring.
Broad beans planted at the end of November are just starting to show through. We still have plenty of beans in the freezer, so are in no hurry for the new crop. Climbing French beans are far superior in terms of flavour than the dwarf variety, and easier to pick. We will be cutting back on the number of runner bean plants this year. Last year we had an embarrassment of over-production!
Garlic is sprouting well. We simply bought 2 or 3 of the larger variety from the supermarket as we did last year, and had good results. Onion sets are a bit slow so maybe we will have to plant some more in the Spring. We shall have to start thinking about an early sowing of leeks before too long. These are an excellent and versatile winter vegetable and will last well into early summer.
We are also harvesting the first winter cabbages – excellent with roast beef! Purple sprouting broccoli should come in next month, with spring cabbages to follow.
So all in all our first 18 months’ of allotment gardening have been a success. We are virtually self-sufficient with vegetables, and although not every crop is as big and blousy as what you see on the super market shelves, the flavour has been outstanding, and we know exactly what fertilisers have been used. We do not aspire to be out and out organic fanatics, but we do care about what we are eating, and the chemicals used in its production.