Real Men Sow

5 Common Mistakes I Make on the Allotment


New year, new plot, new start…

…well that’s the theory anyway. :)

My latest patch in Somerset will be my second kitchen garden space, on top of the two allotments I ran previously. This year will also be my 10th year of growing veg, a decade that has brought me much joy, lots of tasty food and yes – plenty of mistakes.

As I begin clearing the area that will become my veg patch I’m in reflective mood, and now seems to the perfect time to start a new series on the blog: the best and worst of Real Men Sow; the good, the bad and the ugly of the last decade.

And where better to start than the cock ups. Here are of 5 of the most common mistakes I make during the allotment year.

Underestimating Pests and Diseases
If there is anything that can turn a summer from plot pleasure to plot pain, it’s pests and diseases. Once they take hold of a plant, it can be decimated in less than a day so the best approach is prevention rather than cure.

For example, protect plants as soon as you can to keep the pests off, and don’t plant too close together to help airflow. This will help stop blight.

I learnt this the hard way, being far too lackadaisical about my brassica plants. I netted far too late and the whole lot were wiped out by cabbage white caterpillars. I now net at the same time as planting out.

Growing Too Much
Upon visiting the garden centre or browsing seed catalogues, the temptation to buy everything and anything is massive, especially in the first season as a grower. Trying to curb the enthusiasm is tricky, but big growing plans can definitely be counterproductive, especially as a beginner. Keeping the plot manageable is vital for successful growing, as allotments can be time consuming. One thing I’ve learnt, especially now I’ve got a young family, is that it’s better to devote efforts to growing 6-8 good quality crops than 12 plus average or poor ones.

Growing Veg I Don’t Like
Again, this sounds obvious, but if you fought with your mum over eating sprouts, then don’t bother growing anything you’re not going to eat – as tempting as it is to deck the whole plot out with every vegetable under the sun! The temptation to grow everything is strong, but do your best to refrain!

Don’t Sow Too Early
Temptation is a running theme in GYO, and the desire to sow as soon as possible is equally as strong as purchasing hundreds of seed packets. The new year comes, days get a little longer and suddenly we’re rushing out to the greenhouse to sow early seeds. From my experience, there is no need to panic.

Early harvests are very handy and satisfying, but they do take attention and crops sown later will often catch up anyway so don’t get too het up about early sowings. Sowing in April is just fine, but if you do want to sow earlier, make sure you check for your last local frost dates.

Insufficient Watering
As Lewis says, ‘plants need sun and water and then they will grow big’. Of course, we can’t control the sun, but we do have some power over how much water our precious plants receive. I can be a forgetful and slightly lazy gardener who finds watering a chore, so come summer I have to sometimes force myself to get out and water. I stick a plan to the fridge a as a reminder, separating water-needy plants and those that don’t require as much, and I find this breaks up the watering into pleasant chunks.

I also quickly learnt that a rain shower is not always sufficient to quench a plant’s thirst. In the early days, there’d be a brief summer downpour and I’d kick back with my feet up content that I didn’t need to water for a couple of days. However, hot weather can leave the soil like concrete meaning rain won’t penetrate and instead it will run off away from the plants.

Oh, and don’t neglect the greenhouse. Boy does that dry out fast. Water in there every day!

Not Keeping on Top of Harvesting
Just like watering, not keeping on top of harvesting is one of those mistakes I look back on and can’t believe I’ve made. All that effort to grow lovely crops and I don’t visit the plot enough to grab the best stuff. Before I know it, the beans are stringy, the courgette are marrows and the kale tough. Get down to the plot as much as you can to get the crops whilst they’re at the very freshest, especially during the summer months.

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  1. JacquelineJanuary 18, 2017 at 7:00 amReply

    Thanks for this Jono. It complements the day I spent with Sarah Raven learning about veg growing. Even after 6 years I wasn’t making the most of my allotment and last year was a disaster, for many of the reasons you helpfully set out above. Sarah started by pointing out that some crops were really not worth growing if they take up a lot of space for a long time, if they are prone to pests and diseases and if they really don’t taste better than those you can buy. Most brassicas are in that category so they are definitely off my list this year. Thanks for a great blog and I shall follow your new plot with interest.

  2. CaroJanuary 20, 2017 at 1:57 pmReply

    This is a list that all food growers should pin up every January – it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the pits and downfalls ahead and how to avoid some of them! Good luck with the new plot, will look forward to seeing how you get on.

  3. PaulJanuary 26, 2017 at 9:49 amReply

    You’re right Jono, you should only grow what you are going to eat. I am sacrificing a veg bed and planting a bed of perennials, at least these will give pleasure before ending up on the compost heap.

  4. MalJanuary 30, 2017 at 10:09 pmReply

    Very timely advice Jono! As a adjunct to the “don’t sow too early” point I would add “but its never to early to start your soil preparation ” I don’t know how many times I have ended up preparing and sowing a bed all at the same time! And I always promise to do better in future years!

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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