Cooking,  Growing,  Making

Christmas at the Allotment

Snow at the Allotment – Christmas 2009

Home-grown veggies for the perfect Christmas Dinner, using your garden to decorate your home, the gift of growing, what to put on your your list to Santa and how to escape the chaos for a bit of allotment time. Here is Don’t Crop Me Now’s guide to a perfect Christmas at the Allotment!

The perfect Christmas Dinner
What is the perfect Christmas dinner? In all honesty I would say one that is made with love. Nothing shows that more than a yummy plate of home grown veg!

Brussels: Start in early March and transplant out after the last frosts. Cover these well to protect from cabbage white butterflies and pesky pigeons. It took us a good few years to learn how to get decent sprouts. My best tip is to ensure that you stake plants well (we tie them into a 4ft cane for each plant). The plants really don’t like exposure to the wind has it rocks their roots and this can cause the difficulty in the formation of the tight sprout heads.
Our favourite variety = Trafalgar. These are perfectly timed for Christmas picking!
Parsnips: Start in mid March. Controversially we start our parsnips (mainly) in toilet rolls in a cold greenhouse and transplant out as soon as the seed leaves appear. Key is to do this very quickly before the tap root reaches the bottom of the loo roll to prevent forking.
Our favourite variety = Gladiator. Very reliable and grow very large without getting woody.

Potatoes: We love Kestrel or Picasso potatoes to store for winter potatoes – fab mash, steamed and roasted! Most of our potatoes this year were grown in 30L tubs in a mixture of homemade and bought compost.

Red cabbage: Stewed down with some apple (allotment grown of course) and you can’t go wrong. This freezes well so can be made ahead of time.
Our favourite variety = Kalibos. This is a pointed cabbage so do not grow as big. A little less daunting than a huge allotment cabbage!

Carrot & Swede mash: Carrots started end of April store well in the ground write up to the New Year. As do swedes!
Our favourite variety = Autumn Giant (Carrot), Bora (Swede).

Why not try a redcurrant chutney or jelly as a replacement for cranberry sauce? Don’t forget to use some nice homegrown onions and sage for a good stuffing!

Early in our allotment years I did wonder why some of the experienced allotmenteers were putting so much effort into marking their crops with canes prior to Christmas. One year where we did get snow (Rare in South Manchester at Christmas) all was revealed. Christmas Eve there was so much snow we were left guessing where the raised beds actually were to try and locate the crops!

Using your garden to decorate your home
Christmas is a traditional time to bring a bit of the winter greenery indoors. Making a wreath isn’t actually too technical. A search on Youtube will bring up plenty of tutorials, but if you want some guidance support a local florist. They often offer masterclasses at this time of year.

Christmas Wreath Making

Why not grow your own Christmas tree? I wouldn’t recommend planting one on your plot as most varieties grow very big when planted in the ground, but you can buy small pot-grown trees for £10-25 that you could re-pot as they grow and bring in each year.

What to put on your Christmas List to Santa
Seeds/seed vouchers are always a winner, but here are a few suggestions:

1. Very sturdy 30L plastic pots for growing potatoes. These will last for years!
2. A subscription to the Heritage Seed Library. Grow interesting varieties you can save year on year!
3. Fruit trees, vines or bushes. These will produce fruit for years to come and most can be planted during winter when they are dormant.
4. Decent gardening gloves! Never have enough of these.
5. A good quality hoe.
6. A good quality ‘jam pan’
7. A box of jars you can re-use time and time again. Ebay is a great source for good value jars. You can obviously recycle shop bought jars, but sometimes it is much easier to store items that are the same size!
8. Some light allotment reading Allotted Time: Two Blokes, One Shed, Minding My Peas and Cucumbers: Quirky Tales of Allotment Life, My Life on a Hillside Allotment – all story telling rather than guides on growing.
9. A camping stove and kettle.

Finally, the best give you could give an allotment gardener!!!

10. An IOU for time to help in your garden or allotment – priceless, especially if you are a new plotholder and may have significant clearing or structural work that is required before Spring planting.

Escape the chaos for a bit of quiet planting time!

Chillies at the start of Feb that were planted on Boxing Day.

It may seem that Christmas is a quiet time in the garden, but there are some jobs that are traditionally completed over the holiday period. You can always use tradition as an excuse if you fancy a hour or so of family-free time. To produce the largest onions from seed an early sowing under protection is essential. Sowings can be made as early as December, and for many people, Christmas Day afternoon remains the traditional sowing time. Christmas is also a great time to start chilli seeds which need a long growing season. Chilli seeds will require heat to germinate so sow these in a propagator on the windowsill—heated or with a cover. You can also start these off in the airing cupboard, although get the seedlings into the light as soon as they germinate (which can be 21-28 days). We start all our Chilli seeds around Christmas – to New Year at Don’t Crop Me Now.