The hustle and bustle of the holidays is over and like every January we’re left hanging. Everyone is skint, the weather’s wet and cold, and there’s not much else to do but stay inside and try to keep warm. It’s like a collective grin-and-bear-it has taken over the northern hemisphere and constant storms have only made it worse on the Isle of Man.
Luckily there’s a break in the clouds every few days and the gloom that blankets the island lifts – even if it’s just for a morning. I took advantage of two such days in the past week to make a move on preparing the new allotment and to dig up the Oca I planted last spring. Oca, if you’ve not come across it before, is a South American root vegetable that grows well in Britain and seems to suffer no known pests or diseases (that anyone is aware of yet). It’s also said to taste like lemony potatoes.
Oca needs a good frost before their tubers begin to grow properly and in the weeks after they swell to a harvestable size. Though it’s January, I’ve not seen a frost anywhere other than the hills, so I took a chance. Sadly, I dug up enough tubers to re-plant for next year but there wasn’t the 2.5kg per plant bounty that I’d been hoping for. In fact, it looked to me as if there were dozens of tiny tubers still forming. You’re truly always learning something new when you take up gardening.
The average Laxey allotmenteer doesn’t make an appearance at the site until the sunnier the days of March. That meant that both days I was working were punctuated only by the presence of one other plot-holder on the first day, and my boyfriend Josh on the second. I actually prefer it this way. Silence helps put your nose to the grinding stone.
I’m going to need to move all of my soft-fruit bushes up from the old plot in the coming weeks but in the meantime I’ve pruned the raspberry canes on the new plot. The canes were barren and brown and obviously dead. There are two types of raspberries – the type that fruits on second year wood and the type that fruits on new wood. Mine is the latter so needs cutting back every winter.
While I’m still in the process of planning where everything will grow in the coming year I decided to once again start off the garlic in modules at home. With the flooding and high winds we’ve had I’m glad I did it this way anyway! I spotted another plot-holder’s garlic battered and torn by the windy weather. No doubt it will recover but I think that mine will fare better having had a more protected start. The leaves are green and undamaged yet the small plants are only partially under cover. They’ll be tough enough to thrive in their new home when I transplant them in spring.
If you’re planning on putting hard landscaping or wooden supports into your gardens, winter is the time to do it. First of all there’s very little growing so you can work with the space better. Secondly, you’ll have the time for it at this time of the year. When you’re in the thick of it in May or June, building a raised bed is the last thing you’ll want to add to your to-do list.
The wooden frame aside (thank you Josh for building another one!), you’ll need to fill it with compost, well-composted manure, top-soil, and/or other organic material. You’ll dig it, rake it and potentially layer plastic over it to warm it up quicker in early spring. Best do it now and that’s what I’m doing.
Though working in the allotment garden this time of the year is important for my growing plans it’s good for my soul too. I never used to feel pent up in the winter or affected by the dark but this year has been bad. Though we’ve moved on from the darkest days, the sun doesn’t rise until 8.30 and it’s set by half-past four. Then the weather keeps you indoors where only diffused white light filters in through the windows for a few hours at a time. How do people in Alaska or Scandinavia survive?
It’s days when I can work outside that I feel alive – the cold makes no difference. And afterwards it’s the ache of the allotment in your muscles and the feeling that today you accomplished something that has literally left a mark on the land. You might laugh, but I can’t wait for another sunny day spent toiling on my plot.