January and the Allotment Garden

By Richard Chivers

When Christmas has passed and life resumes its normality, the biggest problem I find as a gardener is that January is a frustratingly long month.

December, despite hosting the mid-winter, is a month of welcome distraction. I love the festivities that move with us through the month, culminating in the raucous and utter blow-out on Christmas day. Having my seven-year-old daughter Ava in my life makes it very magical and I won’t complain.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that come Boxing Day, I’m sick of the sight of the decorations and I’m simply going through the motions when it comes to shovelling more cold turkey and mince pies into my mouth.

When I awake on New Year’s Day, suffering the consequence of the indulgence of the night before and a belting chorus of Auld Lang Syne still ringing in my ears, I want it all to go away. It’s on this day, more than any other through the winter, I’m desperate to get out and onto the allotment garden.

The allotment never sleeps – not really. Although it’s far too soon to even think of putting a few seeds in the soil, it’s still a great time to be on the plot and carry out other important tasks such as building beds or other structures.

One of the projects I’m looking forward to working on this month is building a polytunnel. I’ve spent far too long without one on the allotment – I’m surprised I’ve not caved in sooner if I’m honest, and so this will be an exciting new ‘tool’ in my gardeners armoury to extend the season and grow some more exotic varieties of fruit and veg.

If you dig, then January is an opportunity for doing that when the weather allows and if you don’t, then spread the organic matter over the beds now. Doing this on a crisp, winter’s day is still an experience I relish.

I learned long ago the virtue of patience in the gardening world, and it’s rarely beneficial to sow seeds before the light and temperature levels improve. However, Sweet Peas are an opportunity to get the fingers in some compost and scratch that January gardening itch.

October provided me with the opportunity of the first sowing of Sweet Peas and it’s a delight to see their bright green shoots against the backdrop of the greyness of January. I’ll be sowing a few more in toilet roll tubes this month and they will be kept in the mini greenhouse.

We may have passed the winter solstice, but the hours of daylight are still short enough to restrict our time in the garden throughout the working week. However, when the darkness takes its early hold, there is still some gardening related activities to enjoy and benefit from.

Armchair gardening is a favourite hobby of mine over the winter. It’s the perfect opportunity to pour yourself a cup of tea and sit comfortably in your favourite seat (Mine’s a burnt orange wing back, by the way) and think about the wonderful crops and flowers to enjoy in 2018.

My ambition with the allotment and with my blog is to engage others, especially working families to join in and grow their own fruit and vegetables. It’s also about supporting my daughter, Ava, to develop a relationship with food, to know where her veg comes from and to really enjoy eating it. To do this, I look for crops that are easy and manageable to grow and provide colour, interest and of course taste.

Since growing fruit and vegetables on the allotment, I have experienced the pleasure that flowers offer from my own allotment neighbours and especially through the fantastic community of gardeners I connect with online.

This year, I’m growing a variety of flowers amongst all the fruit and vegetables on the allotment. This is a new and exciting experience for me. As with the vegetables, my choice of flowers reflect the need to entice others to grow their own and enjoy the experience through interesting and colourful varieties. I love the idea of growing flowers to cut and bring home (like the crops) to the table.

January is a frustratingly long month for gardeners, but if you look beyond the activity of sowing seeds, there is much to keep us busy and active on the allotment and in our gardens. I’d love to hear how you are beating the January gardening blues. Let me know what gardening jobs you do on your plot to ease you through the month in the comments below.

Richard Chivers

Richard Chivers is passionate about growing fruit and vegetables on his family allotment garden. His blog, Sharpen your Spades aims to inspire anyone to pull on their wellies and join in the movement to grow their own. You can also follow Richard on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.