Allotment Diary - End of March - Grow your own in 80 minutes a week

Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
It's only the end of March, and I've only got about 80 minutes a week, but I'm still planting and harvesting this week. If you want to grow your own fruit and veg, use the Easter weekend to get things going in your allotment, vegetable garden, or in containers by the back door. Even if the soil hasn't warmed up yet, you can still be sowing, planting and preparing, even if you've only got a few minutes. You can even be harvesting fresh veg this week. Check out what I've been doing:

March has been a strange and frustrating month here on the 80 Minute Allotment. In addition to all the usual work and family commitments, the "Beast from the East" brought the heaviest snowfall in at least five years, putting a halt to all outdoor grow your own type activity for the best part of two weeks, and leaving me unable to do anything productive apart from sowing seeds indoors:

It's still not very warm outside. Temperatures are only just staying above freezing overnight right now. It still barely feels like spring, even though the clocks have gone forward and given us extra daylight after work in which to get things done.

Grow your own in under two hours a week

I get an average of about 80 minutes a week to grow fruit and vegetables on my allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, then come and visit me regularly on the 80 Minute Allotment. Click here to Subscribe by Email and you'll get regular updates on how I use my time, in short sessions of one to two hours. I'll show you how growing your own can fit into a busy lifestyle and still produce regular harvests of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. 

So starting indoors, I've now sown a few batches of seeds. I don't have a heated propagator or a greenhouse, so they are on various windowsills, shelves or worktops. In our utility room which is poorly insulated, things are slow to germinate. In the corridor leading to the patio, it's normal room temperature. 

GREEN FINGERS TIP: If you're sowing, check packets for ideal temperatures. To germinate, tomatoes, chilli peppers and french beans will need to be warmer than broad beans, peas or lettuce. If you have a choice, pick the best location for each according to temperature. I've sown a few tomatoes indoors but I'm waiting a bit longer before sowing french beans. 

If your seed packets don't give a temperature, check out the useful summary of germination temperatures in this piece by Grow Like Grandad:

Germination Temperatures - Grow Like Grandad

I sowed some peas and broad beans a couple of weeks ago. Now I've sown some more, as well as some carrots, lettuce and tomatoes. The first batch of pea seedlings are now looking really good:
Pea seedlings Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Pea seedlings sown in toilet roll tubes
Next stop for them is the cold frame...

Is it too cold to plant anything?

The soil here is still too cold to sow anything direct, but tough plants like broad beans can be planted out as long as the ground's not frozen or waterlogged. 

First they need to be hardened off in the cold frame. 

All my seedlings will spend a week or two in the coldframe getting used to life outside whilst being protected from the worst of the wind, rain and cold. 

I prop it open every morning to expose them to the elements during the day, and close it again at night. 

The cold frame cost almost nothing - I made it from the remains of a fitted wardrobe we removed from one of the bedrooms, with a piece of clear polycarbonate on the lid.

The coldframe Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Pea, sweet pea and broad bean seedlings in the coldframe

To help warm up the soil in your allotment or vegetable garden, you can cover it with plastic sheets or fleece. This help get it ready for planting a bit sooner than it would otherwise. Fleece is best spread over a frame like the one I've used to protect my onions (see below).

Is anything in the vegetable garden growing yet?

Because it's been so cold, I don't think my experiment of planting onions earlier than usual has paid off. I planted some in early February.

I was hoping they would have a longer growing season and get bigger than last year's, but they've only just appeared above ground - some six weeks after planting.

To be honest I'm just relieved to see them at all. Earlier this month they were covered by two feet of snow! I suppose they are still ahead of the subsequent batches I'm planting. We'll have to wait and see if it makes a difference to the size at harvest time. 

Onion shoots Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Early planted onions - nice to see you at last!

What vegetables can I plant outside before it gets warmer? 

Onions are something you can plant before your soil gets really warmed up. Two weeks of snow just after planting isn't ideal, but as long as it's not frozen they can go in the ground.

I've just planted more onion sets, as well as my shallots. I've protected them with a net to make sure birds can't nibble the young shoots when they appear. My net is over part of an old sofa bed which I'm using as a frame. 

Another great allotment recycle! 

This could also be used to support your fleece if you are using it to warm the soil as mentioned earlier.

Onions protected by netting Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Net protecting onion shoots from birds
I also planted out the first batch of broad beans. They've had two weeks in the coldframe so they should be ok, but it's still pretty chilly so I've covered them with a clear bit of plastic over the other part of the old sofa bed, just in case there's a frost. 

I've left some small gaps for air to circulate a little but it will stop potential frost damage if it turns colder again. Once they're established they'll be fine, but they are still young plants for now. 

Row of broad beans Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Broad beans planted out

To make sure I planted them in the best place (allowing for what else will be planted later) and at the optimum spacing, I referred back to my allotment plan:

Get the vegetable garden ready 

Although it will be a while before certain crops are planted outside, there is some easy preparation you can do to  get things ready. 

Over winter, the rain and frosts work on the soil. Weeds encroach and I dig them out. I've added manure and leaf mould which has been worked in by the worms. I'm left with vegetable beds full of large clods of earth which need breaking down, and some manure remaining on the surface which needs mixing in. 

It's a simple job, and fortunately one that can be done in small chunks of ten minutes at a time. All I do is rake it backwards and forwards, smashing the tops of the larger lumps to break them up. 

A few short sessions of raking and the ground becomes much better mixed in and more workable.

Below you can see one of my beds. The area on the right has been raked finer. I haven't started the area on the left side of the picture. Hopefully you can see the difference it makes, all in just a few minutes.

Raking beds before and after Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Raking - before (left) and after (right)

Carrots and parsnips in particular need a good loose soil for their roots to develop properly, but it makes sowing and planting much easier whatever the crop. A bit of work each time I get up to the allotment, will make such a difference.  

Which vegetables can you harvest in spring?

This time last year I was picking purple sprouting broccoli, but it's later this year because of the weather. It's nearly ready though, you can see the flowers developing with a tinge of colour on them.
Purple sprouting broccoli Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Developing nicely - Purple sprouting broccoli


GREEN FINGERS TIP! When flowers of purple sprouting broccoli appear, pinch out the middle one immediately. This encourages more flowering stems to develop, giving you more to pick in a couple of weeks. The picture shows the larger middle flowering shoot surrounded by several smaller ones.

The broccoli may not be quite ready but the curly kale certainly is. I've been harvesting it regularly through the winter but it's now starting to produce flower buds. These can also be eaten but it means the plant is coming to the end of it's natural life so time to start harvesting the rest. It should all be gone in time to plant carrots, parsnips and beetroot in it's place in a month or so.

Curly kale Allotment Diary 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Curly kale, starting to flower so time to harvest

Have you been able to plant anything in your plot yet? Is anything growing already? Let me know using the comments below, or via my Facebook page - it's always useful to compare how others are getting on. I'll be back soon with more on how to grow your own in 80 minutes a week.

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