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Planning the Plot – What to Grow?

Growers often spend a lot of time planning rotations and reading seed catalogues (or checking the web) but the first thing you should do is to decide what you want to grow and how much. It’s obvious when you think about it but we often miss out this first step.

Glut of Sweetcorn

Val stripping a glut of sweetcorn. Maybe 30 plants was a bit too much!

What to Grow?

If you don’t like celery or celeriac, then why grow it? I’ve seen people grow vegetables on their plot which are harvested and composted. They didn’t know why they grew them either.

So the first thing to do is to make a list of what you actually want to crop. I do believe it’s worth trying things out you’ve not had before and sometimes home grown is so different to shop bought you discover you do like something you haven’t liked before.

How Much to Grow?

Having decided what you want to grow, the next thing is how much. This can be really tricky. Crops aren’t guaranteed or perfectly predictable. One chilli plant will provide all the chilli peppers we need for a year but if something happens and it dies we could end up with none so we grow two or three.

Most often the problem is one of planning though. The funniest thing was seeing an allotment with about 30 courgette plants. The plotholder wasn’t even that keen on courgettes! He’d planted the seeds and they’d all germinated. Rather than waste the plants he grew them on and, in the end, wasted masses of courgettes.

You may like cauliflowers but how many will you eat? A large cauliflower will last the two of us a month so we only need to grow a dozen but a large family may want twice that or more.

Plants or Seeds?

Once you’ve worked out what you want to grow and how much your next decision is whether to grow from seeds or buy in plants. The advantage to buying in plants is that you don’t have a lot of seeds, some of which are bound to be wasted. You do need a good and trusted source though. If you buy in some brassicas that are infected with clubroot then you have a major problem.

You’ll need to consider the price as well. I’ve seen just six plants going for 99p in the nursery and a pack of 200 seeds going for £1.19. Even if only a quarter germinated, they’re still only 14p for six! Stored properly your cauliflower seeds should easily last 4 years, if not 5 There’s an article on seed life and testing germination here.

One thing I have taken to is growing tomatoes from plants. Recently local nurseries have taken to selling wider range including heritage varieties and the quality is as good as I could grow. So rather than buying a packs of seeds to produce a couple of plants each I can buy a selection of plants for the same result with less effort and cost.

Finally, before you start buying your seeds for next season, do check what you have from previous years that you can use. If in doubt of how good the seeds are, check the seed viability and germination rate.

You can’t avoid gluts but you can reduce them down and be more productive with a little planning.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
18 comments on “Planning the Plot – What to Grow?
  1. Andy Mahoney says:

    Planning is the million dollar question! Over the last 3 years I have been making mental notes of what we actually eat, when and how much. Turns out for us Onions, Garlic, Kale, Spuds, Parsnips and carrots are the things we eat lots of. I gave up on carrots as they are so cheap locally and mine always get carrot fly. This coming year I am going to give them one last chance.

    My personal choices are as follows:

    Onions – Shakespeare & Yellow Senshyu
    Garlic – Solent White
    Kale – Dinosaur Kale
    Spuds – Sarpo Mira
    Parsnips – Various (Love them all!)
    Carrots – Going to try Sweet Candle this season…

    Andy from Lincolnshire UK

    • John Harrison says:

      @Andy Mahoney: Hi Andy. Don’t forget you can try some other Sarpo types cheaply with the voucher offer I posted recently.

      You can get carrot fly resistant carrots – Resistafly, Flyaway and Early Nantes. Sweet Candle are a favourite of the show growers. Considering the sprays the farmers have to use to produce those cheap carrots, I’d stick to growing your own if you can.

    • Richard Plant says:

      @Andy Mahoney: Hi Andy, I grow carrots on my allotment surrounded by onions either main crop or (spring onions which are surrounded by normal run of the mill Fleece) but it must be higher than 18″ supported by canes, IT WORKS!!!

    • Linda Thomas says:

      @Andy Mahoney:

      Hi Andy

      I, too, have had problems with carrot fly. However, this year, I invested in a fine mesh net barrier as the allotments where I garden are all completely organic and no chemicals are permitted at all. {For the record, I wouldn’t garden any other way]. Problem solved – I had a great crop of tasty carrots that were completely free from carrot fly. The nets are in perfect condition and will be used again in 2016 and hopefully for a few years to come. I thoroughly recommend trying something like this to resolve your carrot problems. As Brian le Mesurier has indicated, you may also like to try raised bed growing too, though I didn’t find it necessary with the nets in place.

      Regards
      Linda

  2. Peter H Bewers , Jersey C.I. says:

    Thank you John for your E-Mails over the Year, much appreciated, I have enjoyed Gardening on my small allotment which is about 20 Minutes drive from where I live, Somethings, namely Broad Beans , were not good , as were my Tomatoes ,but other Veg did grow well, namely Runner Beans and French Beans, Potatoes ( Jersey Royals ) not my best year but us Gardeners are an optimistic lot , so there is always next Year , and the hope that the Planting will produce even better crops.
    Parsnips which I love, once again failed to grow straight ! so I will have to make much better preparation to my soil, but I enjoyed my best Onions and Leeks ever !

  3. wrinkly1 says:

    i enjoyed your newsletters john. and wish you and yours all the best at xmas and a good year in our allotments next year cheers wrinklr1

  4. Penny Turner says:

    Thank you for the emails they are much appreciated as they help me with what to plant when being a bit disorganised. With your help we have had a good year in the garden but it is over now horrible weather! This year I grew tomatoes in the asparagus bed which seemed to lessen the dreaded beetles and very little tomato blight do you think it is coincidence?
    looking forward to next year.

  5. Phil Hayward says:

    my roots,beans and onions did ok,but brassicas struggled particularly swede and turnip.ah well theres always next year.

  6. Brian Le Masurier says:

    A note for Andy Mahoney.
    You may know this method already Andy but I grow my carrots in a raised bed with a 500 mm high small mesh screen all round it and I have not lost a carrot yet to carrot fly. Just a thought that may help. Home grown carrots do have lots of taste to them, better than bought ones.
    Best Wishes,
    Brian Le Masurier

  7. Jeannie says:

    Thanks a lot for all your help. I have three very small plots in different parts of the garden where I grow the veg we like. This is mainly, French Beans, mange tout, chards and spuds. One of my plots, this year only, hasn’t done at all well. I put different things in it when it failed but nothing grew. This is usually my best plot. I haven’t done anything different with it, it had about 3 lots of compost before planting as usual. I’ll try again next year. All the best for the festivities.

    • John Harrison says:

      @Jeannie: Hi Jeannie – could you have composted lawn clippings from a lawn that’s had a selective weedkiller applied or possibly added manure. If manure, just pop aminopyralid into the blog search box above in case it’s that.

  8. WOBBLY BOB says:

    Re carrot fly. On my allotment I cannot grow a single carrot which is not attacked.Invested in micro netting and had no carrots affected-BUT-the netting now has one or two small holes in it and the little divils are getting in again. Got new netting for this coming year. Flyaway etc made no difference at all on my plot.Thanks for the newsletters John enjoy reading them.All the best forthe festive season. Wobbly Bob.

  9. pat naylor says:

    Hi john and partner wishing you all the best for Xmas and 2019. I always find your newsletters very helpful and over the years have had a lot of pleasure reading them.
    I have also grown lots of courgettes we didn’t eat so I cut out half the plants leaving the roots insitu. Now I have about 8 pepperplants in a leaky draughty polytunnel which has seen better days. A grape that was so bitter it was inedible ( its about 10 years old recently replanted and the first time I’ve had fruit.) lots of cabbages that looked ok on planting now are straggly with slug/caterpillar chewed leaves I’m really the only person who likes them….!
    Your wisdom on planting what you eat reverberates through me but I couldn’t throw ” those poor little seedlings so lovingly grown away” idiot as the waste of space shows. just as well it’s not paying for its keep. After 14 years on my plot you’d have thought I would know better.definately a “must try harder” or wiser for next year. Thanks for your encouragement, best wishes pat.

  10. David Ball says:

    For some years I could not grow carrots on my allotment because of the dreaded carrot fly. Then two years ago I planted several lines of Tagetes ( French marigolds ) between the carrot rows – absolutely 100% improvement. This year I planted Tagetes around the cabbages, broccoli, etc – no signs of whitefly! Next year I am surrounding the plot with marigolds – they cost nothing as I save the thousands of seeds they produce. They attract bees and hover flies which hopefully eat or deter the bugs, and of course, the bees help pollination generally. Apparently the smell of the marigolds hide the smell of carrots, a bit like using onions as a deterrent.
    Christmas wishes to John and family ( and, of course, to all who share this great website )

  11. John Andrews says:

    Thank you for the excellent news letters throughout the year John and I like to wish you and your good lady a very merry Xmas and a Happy and productive New Year.

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