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Designed by David Frary

Logo photographed by and copyright Rogan Macdonald

Life on a London allotment.

Crop costs and yields.

Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

This plant produces underground tubers like potatoes and is a valuable food resource for the winter months. Unlike the potato, jerusalems do not suffer from the affects of winter cold or summer drought and are largely free from pest and disease. Slugs can damage emerging shoots and damage overwintered tubers but the plants are resiliant.

Each good-sized tuber planted in fertile soil will produce 1-2 kilo for the kitchen and the average family eating a hearty meal of them once or twice a week would require no more than 15 - 20 planted tubers. Tubers are best left in the soil to be dug up as required. Frost will not harm them but if grown where hard frosts are common, the area should be covered with a mulch of straw or similar to prevent the ground freezing too hard to be dug.

Jerusalem artichoke plants.

Tubers should be spaced 30-40cm apart in a row and a bit more (say 50cm) between rows. Plants grow very tall and substantial post and wire supports should be provided. Can be grown in the same spot for many years without problem. Keep a few tubers for replanting the following year. In view of the fact that you only buy the original tubers, and simply replant a few each year, this is effectively food for free.

Peas and Beans

Wigwam of runner beans.

Runner beans are best grown on a wigwam of canes with typically 10 canes of approx 2.5 mtr length. These plants can get quite heavy and the wigwam construction remains much more stable in windy weather than the more common straight row. Ten plants will produce a continuous supply of fresh beans from july through to october provided they are constantly picked. The more you pick, the more you get.

To get the best bean plants aim to grow your own from seed. Sow each bean in a small pot from mid - late march and keep indoors until they germinate. Sow a few extra to allow for losses and place the pots outside during the daytime once they have started growing to give them good sunlight. Do not leave outside during cold nights. Plants can be planted out from early may.




Onions, Shallots & Garlic.

String of mature onions.

This is one of the largest and diverse groupings of allotment plants and really requires a whole book on the subject. Here I will limit the scope to general fodder for the kitchen and exclude salad onions, bunching onions such as chives, ornamentals and showmans varieties. Garlic requires no introduction as it is known by all and loved (or hated) with passion. Shallots are basically just small onions but tend to have a stronger flavour. The difference to the gardener is the manner in which they grow.

Onions will grow quite happily from seed but the main method for reliable results is to plant what is called a set in late winter or early spring. A set is just a baby onion roughly the size of a fingernail, and grows up to be a single large onion. These sets are simply pushed into the soil with their noses above ground. Planting roughly 15cm apart in the row and 30cm between rows.

The individual cloves of garlic are planted at similar spacings to the sets above but somewhat deeper at about 50mm depth. Garlic also does better if overwintered and November is a good time to plant. A spell of cold weather does them good so get them in as soon as the soil is cultivated.

Tray of harvested shallots.

Shallots are effectively a full-sized bulb, and what you see is what you get, just more of them. The shallots should be spaced a little further apart than the onion sets at 20cm apart in the row and 45cm between rows, again leaving their noses sticking up.

Yields for these crops are fairly easy to predict as typically one clove of garlic will produce one head of garlic. One onion set will produce one large onion. One shallot will yield 8 - 12 shallots. From this it should be fairly easy to calculate the kitchen requirements and hence the planting requirements. With all these early-sown bulbs, the expected harvest time is usually July to early August. This frees up the land for late summer crops to maximise the yield from any given space.

All these plants will require good soil that has been well manured and must be kept weed free. Do not allow the crops to go short of water as this can cause brown skin inside the onion, or stop them developing any further. There are a number of pest and disease problems but they are all pretty resiliant. Slugs are the most common and measures must be taken to reduce their numbers.

Courgette, Marrow, Squash and Pumpkin