What to do now - JANUARY

It's that time of year...


It’s the start of the New Year and with it comes a new growing season. Things never slow down for gardeners and there are jobs to be done even if we’re not sowing or harvesting. And any time spent actively outdoors brings mental and physical benefits – what better excuse to get down the plot?

January is usually the coldest month of the year and many planned trips to the plot are likely to be disrupted. When that happens it’s an opportunity to review the year, plan ahead, sort through old seeds and restore tools. If there is a break in the weather, try and complete any winter digging – spreading compost/manure - while there is still time for the frost to further break down the soil and cover any prepared ground with plastic sheeting or tarpaulins to prevent soil becoming water logged.

Now is not the time to be tempted into rushing things – it’s the time to be disciplined and patient.


Pruning Hard Fruit Trees

Always prune established apple and pear trees between November and February – when the weather is coldest the trees are dormant. Use sharp loppers/secateurs and ensure the blades are sharp and clean before making any cuts.

Pruning seeks to achieve three key objectives: to remove and dead, diseased or damaged wood; to remove overlapping or overcrowded branches, and; to boost the growth of buds for the year ahead. The key rules to follow are:

  • Remove branches which are growing inwards, towards the trunk.
  • Shorten long branches by 30-50%, and cut them at a ‘lateral’ – an outward growing side branch.
  • Make cuts at a slight downward angle (so that rain water drains off reducing the chances of rot.
  • Ensure cuts are clean by trimming any torn or ragged edges.
  • Cut out any new shoots from previous pruning cuts.

And work safely – wear gloves and take regular rests to help maintain concentrate, review progress and plan the next series of cuts.  


Plant Them Now - Broad Beans


Broad beans can be planted from October through to February, but the earlier they go in the better the crop is likely to be, but spring sown crops will produce only a few weeks later than overwintered plants – so if you haven’t planted yet there is still plenty of time. Their early flowers attract insects so they will help to pollinate other crops.

Plant in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter dug in. 

Seeds should be planted 50mm (2”) deep, 20cm (8”) apart in rows that are 60cm (2’) apart to allow air to circulate around the established plants (road beans are susceptible to chocolate spot in cool, damp weather. Water every two weeks during dry weather. Beware of slug/snail damage when the plants begin to emerge. If your plot is exposed then the compact shape of dwarf varieties will protect them from the wind.

‘Pinching out’ the tops of plants regularly has two benefits: it encourages pod growth (rather than foliage); and it encourages fewer blackfly which are attracted to younger, sappier leaves.

The beans should be picked (from around May) by pulling the pods sharply downwards and are ripe when the beans within are about the size of the top joint of a finger. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads. 


Growing with children


Allotment plots are an ideal learning environment for children and there are many ways of involving them in the process from planning through planting and harvesting, and then to prepare produce.

The National Allotment Society has come up with the idea of engaging children at this time of year to grow an allotment rainbow. If you need help in thinking of the kinds of plants to provide all of the colours they have the following suggestions:

  • Red – red lettuce, rainbow chard, red carrots, tomatoes, red pepper, poppies
  • Orange – carrots, orange tomatoes, orange peppers, butternut squash, pumpkins marigolds, Californian poppies
  • Yellow – yellow pepper, yellow tomatoes, sweetcorn, yellow carrots, marigolds, poached egg plants
  • Green – spinach, kale, chard, peas, beans, broccoli, cucumber, courgettes, basil
  • Blue/Indigo/Violet – aubergine, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple potatoes, purple basil, sweet peas, borage, cerinthe


Crop rotation


It’s a good time to  think about what to plant and where in the year ahead. A good crop rotation plan will help to limit pests and diseases. 

Here are some common cycles (in order of planting):

  • Three year: legumes and fruiting vegetables, brassicas, roots and onions and leaves
  • Four year: roots, potatoes, legumes, brassicas
  • Five year: brassicas, peas and beans, potatoes and fruiting vegetables, onion family, root and stem vegetables

It’s OK to switch from one system to another, and vegetables that don’t match any of the categories (sweetcorn, squash, spinach, etc.) can be fitted in wherever convenient.




The purpose of fertilisers is to re-introduce chemicals to the soil that are absorbed by plants as they grow. 

Chemical Fertilisers 

The main elements, all of which are available from The Shed, are:

  • Nitrogen, which promotes the growth of leaves and stems (ideal for brassica, leeks, onions and leaf salads.
  • Phosphates, for root growth, flowers and seeds (carrots, parsnips, swedes and turnips).
  • Potassium/Potash, which helps plants to develop resistance to disease and build up sugar/starc (potatoes, beetroot, sweetcorn and soft fruits).
  • Trace elements are taken up in minute quantities by plants and include magnesium, zinc, iron and copper.

Crop rotation is important because different types of plant draw different nutrients from the soil. 

Organic Fertilisers

  • Manure – an excellent source of nitrogen, but use well-rotted manure or pellets as fresh manure can damage plant roots
  • Bonemeal – high in phosphates, ideal preparation for planting perennials
  • Fish, blood and bone – a general fertiliser to stimulate growth during spring/early summer
  • Hoof and horn – a slow release fertiliser that is high in nitrogen
  • Liquid feeds – soak comfrey or stinging nettles in a water butt to make a ‘tea’ (some people use old pillow cases for tea bags!) and add (5-10%) when watering plants 
  • Gypsum – ground calcium based rocks which ‘lighten’ clay soils
  • Wood ash (bonfire residue) – a source of potassium for applying directly to soil or adding to the compost heap 
  • Seaweed – increases pH of soil (reduces acidity) and contains calcium and magnesium