Anne’s Patch: Beware of ‘casting a clout’…

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Anne Akers on her patch in Calverley.

IT’S not spring yet! writes Anne Akers.

It seems as if the winter has been longer, darker and damper than previous years. The thick layer of clay that runs across the site created a quagmire which took weeks to dry out. 

The main activity over the past few weeks has been schlepping barrowloads of wood chippings down to the lot. We have an arrangement with local tree surgeons who leave their load at the site entrance. The message goes out to the lotholders that there’s free chippings and we all race down there with our barrows.

Anne Akers on her allotment in Calverley. Photo: Noel Akers

It really is hard work loading, pushing and unloading, though I do count it as a workout in my run training plan. Most of us use the chippings to create and cover paths, putting a few centimetres depth over weed-suppressing membrane. It makes a satisfying soft crunching noise as you walk over it.

Now that the soil has drained and can be worked, I’m down there making preparations for planting, even though it’s a good few weeks off. Well-rotted manure well dug in adds lots of goodness, a little does go a long way, too, which is just as well as it’s harder to barrow down than the chippings!

Back home, in the warmth and comfort, cuppa in hand, I’ve mapped out the growing scheme and ordered my seeds. Potatoes are a staple and are always good to break up the clumpy soil. Plus nothing is more satisfying than digging them up and popping a few straight in the pot. 

Last year’s cold, then wet, then heat, more heat and wet again made it a poor growing season. The good potatoes were excellent, but there weren’t many and the slugs bored holes in the rest. I’ll be planting Charlottes (second earlies) and Pink Fir Apple (maincrop) when the threat of frost is over. Broad beans, beetroot and brassica grow well, though peas don’t like my soil, so I’ll be giving them a miss. 

Shallots and onions grow well and have the added advantage of scaring off the slugs, who don’t like the strong smell. And squash are fantastic to grow and can be planted out as beans are harvested. Last autumn I planted new strawberries and rooted runners from the old beds, as well as transplanting raspberry canes.

Although folk like to talk about spring being here, it isn’t. We could have more frost and snow before we can cast a clout, so the only sowing I’ll be doing will be in the greenhouse, or the heated propagator. The windowsills will soon be filled with trays sprouting seeds ready for the allotment.

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