Tips for growing your own

Allotment

Mention growing your own fruit and veg and almost everyone will tell you how much better home-grown produce is than stuff you can buy in your local supermarket.

And it’s true. But the real taste is one of satisfaction in digging up your own potatoes, pulling some fresh young carrots, cutting a lettuce - or even snapping open some fresh pea pods and eating them on the spot.

And this, of course, is the time of year when you can really reap the results of your previous hard work as you harvest the fruits of your labour. And if you haven’t done it before, why not put your name down now for an allotment?

While there are waiting lists in some areas, others have vacant plots just waiting to be snapped up.

Some are run by local councils and others by allotment societies and while most have a few site ‘rules’, what you decide to grow on your allotment will be down to you.

Traditionally, most people opt for growing staple vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cabbages, runner beans, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, kale, pumpkins and the like - but there’s nothing to stop you from being a bit more adventurous.

And while a greenhouse is useful, it isn’t essential even if you want to try your hand at growing non-frostproof plants such as sweet potatoes, cucumbers, melons and peppers. All you have to do is sow early and pray for good weather.

Well, it’s not quite all: there’s no getting around the fact that cultivating an allotment is hard work. But the secret to success is keeping on top of the weeds which will always grow at a faster rate of knots than anything else.

If you’re new to allotmenteering and taking one on now - during National Allotment Week - clearing the weeds will be your first and biggest task.

But if you start with a relatively small clear patch, there’s still time during August to sow your first crops. You should still be able at this time of year to sow a quick salad crop: lettuce, spring onions, radishes, lamb’s lettuce and the like.

If you’re lucky, your plot might still contain the remnants of someone else’s previous efforts with apples, pears and autumn raspberries just waiting to be picked.

Once you have gone on and cleared your plot of weeds, you need to dig it over - and make sure it remains weed-free throughout the dormant winter months, or it will be back to square one in no time.

As you plan your action timetable for spring - the gardener’s busiest sowing and planting season - there are still many jobs you can tackle. The secret is in always planning ahead.

Peas and broad beans can be sown in October for an earlier crop than those that are grown later in the spring.

There’s no need, of course, to limit yourself to fruit and vegetables. Many herbs are surprisingly hardy and will give you a year-round fresh supply. Sage, rosemary and thyme are all a good bet.

Chives not only taste great, but have pretty blue flowers as well - although the plants will die down during the winter months before emerging once more in spring.

And don’t forget flowers. Bees, of course, love them and they will help pollinate your vegetables.

Many are quick-growing and can be sown and grown in a single season. Look out for tall-growing sunflowers, ground-trailing nasturtiums and brightly-coloured calendulas - the flowers of the latter two are also edible and will provide a posh touch to your summer salads.

You might even save some money – edible flowers are now all the rage but cost a pretty penny in upmarket supermarkets.

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