Allotment: 12 words I learnt in 2020

2020 was a year of new words and terminology for all of us; R rate, self-isolation, social distancing, PPE, Coronavirus…..

But 2020 taught me a few other things too and thankfully for a far more joyful reason. Here are twelve pieces of allotmenting lingo that I picked up in my first year on the plot.

Chitting is something you should do before planting potatoes (seed potatoes, which are explained later). It means putting them in a cool, dry, light place to encourage sprouting. You place the potatoes upright in egg cartons with the end with the most eyes (the bobbly, knobbly bits) pointing upward and leave them until 1-2cm long shoots have grown. People normally start chitting *still makes me chuckle* in about February,

Seed Potatoes are disease–free potatoes that have been selected, tested, and kept in a cool dark place until needed for planting. It’s not recommended to use potatoes from your own previous year’s crop or from the supermarket because they might carry diseases that’ll ruin your crop.

Brassica is a family of plants that include vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and turnips. This term as well as legume (coming later in the list) is important when deciding what to plant where each year. To avoid depleting the soil or passing on disease from one year to the next it’s best to rotate where you plant things and not to plant certain things in the same place 2 years in a row.

Dibber is a pointed stick, normally wooden, that is used for making holes in the ground to plant seeds, seedlings or small bulbs. Dibbers come in a variety of designs and some have depth markings to make it easier to know how deep to sow.

Ericaceous relates to plants in the Ericaceae family, which have the defining trait of only being able to grow in acidic soil. Ericaceous compost is used to make soil more acidic and is needed for some fruits like Blueberries.

Legume is a term used to describe plants and seeds of plants, from the legume family which includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. Same as for Brassicas, its good to know what is a legume so that you can switch what you grow in beds year on year. Legumes are nitrogen fixers meaning that with the help of bacteria in the soil, they can convert or fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and is normally added to soil through nitrogen fertilisers, so legumes can be helpful in improving soil quality from that perspective.

Coldframe or the “poor man’s greenhouse” is a box that lies flat on the ground and has an openable, sloping, transparent lid – sometimes glazed although the one we inherited on the plot has a Perspex-like lid. These are handy when you don’t have a greenhouse for “hardening off” (explained later) and for moving things into to protect from a cold snap or a frost. The cold frame that was already built on our plot was filled with soil, so we added fish, blood and bone and peat free compost. Its a big one so we use half of the space in the coldframe to put pots of seedlings that are hardening off and used the other half to plant a chilli plant. It must have been the warm microclimate but the scotch bonnet chilli plant thrived, producing what seemed like hundreds of chillies throughout the summer and into Autumn.

Thinning out is when you remove some seedlings to give enough space for the vegetable to develop fully – as in the case of carrots and beetroot. It’s best to give the seedlings a good water before you do it so that you don’t damage the root. You need to remove seedlings so that they end up being about 2-4cm apart and go for the weak looking ones, savage I know but it makes sense, you want the strong plants. If you’re careful removing the seedlings by gently pulling up holding the leaves at the top and not touching the roots then you should be able to plant the seedlings you’ve removed.

For carrots, the aroma released when pulling up a seedling can attract carrot root fly so its advised to cover with protection afterward.

Harden off is the term used to describe toughening up a little seedling that has been raised in the comfort of the indoors/a heated greenhouse. The idea is to acclimatise the little ‘un to the big, bad, world outside, ideally over the course of 2-3 weeks, by putting the seedling into an unheated greenhouse or coldframe and gradually exposing it to the elements for longer and longer periods of time. You don’t want to shock the thing so slow and steady is best and moving it back inside if there’s a risk of high wind or plummeting temperatures is best.

Pinching out specifically pinching out tomatoes encourages the tomato plant to produce plenty fruit. To pinch or not to pinch is a question of the variety or type of tomato that you’re growing. If you check the back of a tomato seed packet it will tell you whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate; determinate (also called vine or cordon) grow short and bushy and do not need pinching out, indeterminate grow taller, need support from canes and should be pinched out. Semi- determinate also benefit from pinching out. Exactly how to do it is something I’ll come back to another time but its worth saying that I didn’t do this early enough in the first year and it was quite the task to bring things back into order – lesson learned.

Companion planting is planting different types of plant or crop together to achieve greater productivity through pest control, pollination, boosting fertility, and creating the best growing environment. The practice has been around for millenia – North American indigenous communities developed the “three sisters” which is to plant maize, beans and squash together. The maize provides support for the beans, the beans are great for fixing nitrogen in the soil and improves soil quality and the squash acts as ground cover with sprawling leaves acting as a weed suppressant. Another popular example is to plant French Marigolds with tomatoes. As well as being very pretty, the French Marigolds, emit a strong odour that repel pests like green fly and black fly.

Leggy unlike in catwalk models, being leggy is not a good thing when it comes to seedlings. “Being leggy” describes a seedling that for one reason or another has grown tall, pale and spindly meaning it’ll be very difficult for it to grow on, harden off and eventually be planted out. Growing leggy happens to seedlings that are grown indoors and may be a result of days still being too short and the seedling not getting enough light, overcrowding in the seed tray, inconsistent watering or too much heat causing a growth spurt.

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