This weekend we had our first trip to the allotment of 2014. A combination of high days and holidays, work and weather had kept us away for several weeks, but it felt good to spend time in each others company again.
The purpose of our visit (as well as the harvesting of some Carrots, Parsnips, Kale and Brussel sprouts !) was to get to grips with our fruit trees and bushes, having been told that January and February is the optimum time to do so. Armed with a little newly acquired knowledge, two pairs of secateurs and some optimistic artistic flair, we tackled the Raspberries first. This was one of the easier fruits to prune, as ours is an Autumn fruiting variety which should be cut to just above ground level (not too tricky) and given a good mulch (we used our own compost followed by a layer of wood chippings). So far so good.
Second up for the chop were the Gooseberries, which need to have their main branches cut back by around a third and pruned into an ‘open goblet’ shape. This is where the artistic flair bit comes in. Next the Blackberries, whose old canes should be cut off, and new canes should be tied horizontally along wires or a fence.
And finally the apple tree got a quick prune – mainly of branches which were hanging too close to the ground or raised beds – and the Strawberry bed got a good mulch too.
On our visit we also discovered the first new growth of the year – our Rhubarb is already beginning to peek above the frosty soil and looked beautifully fresh faced and golden in the winter sunlight. If we wanted to, we could now ‘force’ the Rhubarb to produce early light pink stems – by covering the crown with a large pot filled with straw. This would bring forward the Rhubarb harvest and make it ready to pick six to eight weeks after covering. The same Rhubarb shouldn’t be forced again for two years.
A few hours on the plot was all it took for our toes to begin to lack feeling (despite Mr O’s new thermal welly socks !) and for us to retreat back home, happy that our first pruning session had gone without a hitch. The end of our first rookie allotment year is almost upon us, but new life in the Rhubarb patch reminds us that Spring is around the corner, and so the cycle of life begins again.