What To Do In December On Your Allotment

December is a cold and wet month when many of us feel quite down that we can’t get outside and enjoy our allotment or garden. Despite the frost and snow there is still plenty that can be done both outside and in the warmth of your home.

The cold weather is surprisingly useful to you as a gardener. It kills off pests and diseases so that they do not build up. When winter isn’t cold enough there is always a big problem with diseases and pests the following year. The frost can also help break down soil that you have dug over and is necessary for some plants to germinate or fruit.

allotment in the snow

(This picture shows the snow drift I woke up to find on my allotment one year … underneath there was both onions and garlic which surprisingly enough survived and produced a great crop)

So, what can you do in the cold month of December?

Harvesting
There isn’t a lot to harvest in this month. You may have some potatoes planted for Christmas that you can lift and brassicas that can also be harvested. If the weather is particularly cold and wet, then root vegetables are best lifted to prevent rot.

Parsnips and leeks can be left on the ground, the former benefits from frost as it turns the starches into sugars giving a sweeter, tastier parsnip. However, if the ground freezes these can be difficult to dig up and if it gets too waterlogged then they can rot. If this is the case, lift them and store them in containers of soil or compost. Cabbages and Brussels sprouts can be stored in a similar way.

brussels sprouts image

Keep an eye on your sprouts as they can blow open and be ruined. You may need to harvest these and store them if they look like they are going beyond ready.

You may also be harvesting the last of your crops from your greenhouse.

Sowing and Planting
There isn’t much to be done here. If the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged then you can plant garlic, but for most people it is too late. You can sow winter hardy broad beans under cover.

Now is the time to divide rhubarb crowns and plant bare root fruit trees and bushes.

Onion seeds can be sown in trays or pots towards the end of the month. These will need heat to germinate so a heated propagator or on a sunny windowsill.

December Jobs
Although there isn’t a lot of planting to do, there is still plenty of work to get on with. Most of these jobs are involve physical activity so they will keep you warm whilst on your plot.

Tender plants, both outdoors and in the greenhouse, need protecting from the cold. Fleece and bubble wrap are useful to wrap around pots and plants to help keep them warm. Bubble wrap can often be found for free from shops where it is used in packaging and then thrown away. If you have any outdoor water pipes then they will need lagging, as will your greenhouse irrigation system.

fleeced plants image

(This is my butternut squash plant fleeced to protect it from the frost. It was the first time I’d managed to get one to produce fruit due to its long growing season and was keen for the fruits to ripen without getting damaged by the frost. I got a great crop from this plant and managed to harvest them all without frost damage thanks to the fleece)

For the greenhouse owners, there is a bit more work. Make any repairs to your greenhouse, checking rubber seals and glass clips, replacing where necessary. Clear out your greenhouse and sweep out all plant debris and loose soil; this prevents pest or disease build up. Clean the glass, both inside and out with plant friendly disinfectant. Algae builds up on the glass which reduce the amount of light your plants receive. If you are overwintering plants in your greenhouse then choose a sunny, warmer day as you will need to put all the plants outside whilst you work. You may want to fleece them whilst they are outside to protect them from the worst of the cold.

Now is a good time to clean, oil and repair your tools. Sharpen any that need it and remove any rust with wire wool.

Fences and other structures should be checked for damage and any repairs made good. You may want to paint your shed or fences on a sunny day to protect the wood.

Check through your pot and seed tray collection, throwing away any that are damaged. You can replace them now or ask Santa to bring you new ones!

December to mid-February is a good time to prune apples and pear trees. Gooseberries and currant hushes can also be pruned back at this time of year. Autumn fruiting raspberries can be cut back to ground level. Stone fruits such as plums and gauges should be left until summer before pruning to prevent silver leaf disease.

Cut away any dead, damaged or diseased branches as well as crossing or rubbing branches. For gooseberries you want an open goblet shape to allow for good air circulation. Train your apple and pear trees into the shape you desire.

If you grow grape vines, then these need pruning before Christmas otherwise they will bleed.

Earth up any Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli to give them extra stability in the winter winds. Any yellowing leaves should be removed and composted.

Now is a good time to manure your vegetable plot. You can use the manure as a top dressing or dig it in; its up to you. Put a manure mulch around your fruit trees and rhubarb, careful not to cover the crowns.

manured vegetable bed image

Your winter brassicas will need to be netted. Pigeons are hungry at this time of year and they will decimate your plants.

Providing the soil isn’t frozen or too waterlogged you can continue digging your plot to prepare it for spring planting.

Of course, when it is too cold or wet for you to work outside there is plenty to do indoors. You can sort through your seeds, throwing away those that are out of date. Plan your planting for the following year, including your crops rotation and any new seeds or tools you will need.

If you are not able to dig all of your beds, then cover them in black plastic or with tarps to keep the weeds down. Covering prepared beds will warm the soil so the beds are ready for planting slightly earlier.

This s also a good time for a general tidy up, not just around the plot but in your shed too. For most of us it will have degenerated into a state of chaos with constant use throughout the year. Have a good sort through and make good any repairs that are necessary.

If you have stored any fruit or vegetables for the winter, then check them to make sure they are OK. Any rotting or damaged items need removing as they could destroy your entire store.

Pests and Diseases
The only real problems you will encounter will be slugs and snails as they are problem throughout the year. Removing debris and tidying your plot will reduce their hiding places which will let the cold reduce this voracious pest’s numbers.

Mice and rats can be a problem. They will try to get at your stores as well as any broad beans or garlic you have planted. Take the usual precautions against them. Pigeons can also be a problem for brassicas crops which will need protecting with netting.

There is still plenty to do in December at your vegetable plot and the crisp, sunny winter days are a pleasure to be outside in. On wetter days there is lots to do in the shed or greenhouse plus fun to be had planning your next year!

frosty manured bed picture

What To Plant In January – Jobs At The Allotment

January is traditionally a quiet month down at the allotment, but then that is usually down to the fact the weather is cold and wet. However, for those who are either willing to brave the elements or lucky enough to get decent weather there is still plenty of work to do.

Vegetables

allotment under snowWhilst the ground is frozen you are best to not put anything directly into it, but you can start plants off in your greenhouse, on your windowsill or in your polytunnel.

For the flower gardener now is the time to start your sweet peas, in a gentle heat, as well as pansies, geranium, begonia and lobelia. These can all be started off indoors so they are ready for the planting season and an early splash of colour.

In the greenhouse you can start off your celery and celeriac in a heated propagator as well as start off your herbs on your windowsill. Onion seeds need sowing now as this gives them the chance to grow as big as possible, important if you are showing them.

If you are growing rhubarb then now is a good time to get it in the ground. You can force it under a cloche but be aware this exhausts the plant and it will need a rest next year.

Your first early potatoes can also start chitting now. Put them on a bright windowsill and let them get started for planting in 3 to 6 weeks.

If the ground isn’t frozen then you can sow a hardy broad bean variety directly into the soil. You may have overwintered some broad beans and these will give you a more continuous crop throughout the fruiting season.

You can also sow seeds such as aubergene (eggplant), cabbage, carrot, cauliflower and more. All of these can get a head start and then be planted out when the weather is suitable.

If you still have Brussels sprouts in the ground they may start to look a bit leggy and become vulnerable to being blown over by the wind. If this is the case then either stake them or earth them up. Remember to start picking the bigger sprouts from the bottom of the stalk first.

Fruit

Not much is happening in the fruit garden at this time of year but it is the best time to prune your fruit plants such as apples, pears, medlars and quinces. Autumn raspberries can also be cut back at this time of year as can gooseberries and currants.

Check your apple trees for any signs of canker and if there are any then prune it out and destroy the damaged wood.

All fruit and nut trees will benefit from a top dressing sulphate of potash at this time of year.

General Maintenance

There is a lot of other work you can be doing down at your plot too. Seed beds can be prepared for planting; dig in manure or compost, weed and then cover with fleece or polythene so it warms the soil before planting. If you have a very heavy soil then don’t cover the soil, leave it exposed to the elements as this will kill off pests and help improve the structure of your soil. For heavy soils you should also work in organic matter now as that is going to help improve drainage.

Most of us are going to have wet soil at this time of year and standing on it compacts the soil so work your soil from a plank of wood. This makes it easier to dig, ensures the soil is a better quality when you plant and stops you loosing a shoe or boot in the mud!

Anyone who has stored fruit or vegetables over winter needs to check them. You may need to put something to control mice in place as they are going to start appearing soon and be hungry. Any rotten or damaged produce needs to be removed from the store and used otherwise it will cause the rest of your produce to rot and go bad.

Remove fallen leaves and other plant debris from your vegetable plot as these are going to provide a perfect hiding place for pests such as slugs and snails.