Potting, planting, preparing: the allotment comes to life

27 Mar 2013 @ 8.24 am
| Food & drink
It’ll soon be time for the next food swap

It’s officially spring. Honest. And despite the wintry weather March remains an optimistic month on the allotment, as Sue Jewitt & Vicky Swift report

March is the month we’ve been patiently waiting for, the month where we finally feel able to get some seeds into some soil – albeit cautiously: March is also the month of the destructive late frost, so much of what gets planted will remain under glass (or Perspex!) for just a little longer.

When to put the potatoes in becomes a hot topic on both our allotment sites. Some stick to traditional St Patricks Day or Good Friday, regardless of the weather conditions. Others play it more by the forecast, hedging their bets to avoid a late frost, which can be devastating for young potato plants. We’re in the Good Friday camp here in York, whilst Vicky in Cheshire errs on the side of caution and uses a combination of weather forecasts and the views of Alan on the plot opposite to make her mind up.

broad-beansOn both sides of the Pennines, though, our chosen spuds are chitting away indoors. We’ll be putting in second early Charlottes for a small salad potato and good old Desiree and Pink Fir Apple varieties for our main crop and roasting, baking, boiling, chipping needs. Don’t be put off by the knobbly appearance of Pink Fir Apple, they’re an old variety dating back to 1850, with a yellowy, waxy flesh which is very tasty.

From planting we should have Charlottes ready in about 12 weeks and main crops in about 17-20 weeks. Vicky’s chosen the much-lauded second early Vivaldi, after a disappointing, blighted crop of Rocket last year, with fingers firmly crossed for less rain.

We’re also going to be sowing our broad beans this month, starting them in pots in the greenhouse where they’ll stay for a few weeks before planting them outside. We don’t want to take any risk with these as they’re one of our favourite crops and get used regularly in salads.

We’ve always got plenty to blanche and freeze, which we use throughout the autumn in risottos. The onion sets will also be going in soon, and in Vicky’s case, she’ll be doing a spring sowing of garlic too.

Beetroot and tomatoes, both good sources of iron, will be planted outdoors and in the greenhouse respectively. Again these are staples for us – the beetroots grated raw into salads, or roasted with garlic and herbs. The tomatoes are also roasted with onions, garlic and herbs to make a tomato sauce for pasta which can be frozen and used throughout the autumn.

Alongside planting (and of course some late digging!), we’re busily preparing for our upcoming Food Swaps in York and across the Pennines in Cheshire, which has involved a bit of extra seedling cultivation to provide us with some additional spring swapping material. (Seeds, seedlings, strawberry runners, even spare chitted potatoes have appeared at our previous spring events.)

Sweet peas ready for planting
Sweet peas ready for planting

Perfumed sweet peas are amongst the pots we’re making up in preparation for the York swap on April 27th, and we’ve also got high hopes that the forced rhubarb will be ready to go. If you’re interested in coming along keep an eye on our Facebook page for regular posts on swapping ideas.

So it’s definitely beginning to feel like the new season is here. And with all the imagery associated with the festival of Easter, named after Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, there is no getting away from the fact that spring really is a new start to our growing year.


Our March to do list

  • Finish winter digging
  • Clean greenhouse/ cold frame
  • Finish cutting back blackberries
  • Weed, tidy & mulch strawberry patch
  • Plant early potatoes outdoors
  • Plant broad beans outdoors
  • Plant onions/ shallot sets outdoors (and in Vicky’s case, garlic which she forgot to put in last November)
  • Plant radishes outdoors
  • Plant tomatoes/ peppers/ chillis indoors
  • Plant sweet peas indoors


Food swap

Apples for Eggs Spring Food Swap takes place on Saturday, April 27, 5.30pm to 7.30pm at Ambience Cafe Bar, Gillygate. To register for this FREE event go to the Eventbrite page

To get a flavour of what food swaps are about visit our Facebook page